Grandson Huck and I mark the channel in Pete Dahl Slough. It has silted in so badly that Pete Dahl would barely recognize it. Photo by Dick Shellhorn

Ask any gill netter and they can tell you exactly where “pea doll” is. Ask a newcomer, and they may perhaps, justifiably, scratch their head. 

It turns out that many of the slough names on the Copper River Delta were established on the basis of pioneer gill netters who fished the mouths of particular sloughs with nets stretched between poles.   

These hardy fishermen would establish camp sites at these spots, and tenders would come by on a daily basis to pick up their fish and bring them supplies. 

Hence slough names such as Joe Reeve, Johnson, Tiedeman, Whiskey Pete, Gus Stevens, Storey, Cudahy, and Gus Wilson. 

And of course, Pete Dahl. 

Recently, thanks to Pete and Robin Blake, I learned of an undated clipping from the Cordova Times that told much about Pete Dahl. It turns out that Pete Blake was a stepson of Hugh Hosick, who was a grandson of Pete Dahl. 


The article was titled “1900 Census, Alaganik.” 

Peter Dahl, from San Francisco, came to the area in 1890. Elizabeth Dahl, daughter of Peter, was born at Alaganik. Elizabeth was his only daughter. 

Pete Dahl was the grandfather of Tina Tapley and Hugh Hosick. He left his name on Pete Dahl Slough, often pronounced as “peadoll.”   

Pete was a fisherman, gathering fish from stake nets, and storing his gear at Alaganik. 

At that time there was a small settlement at Alaganik, located on the slough banks directly opposite the site of today’s U.S. Forest Service McKinley trailhead cabin. 

Buildings at Alaganik where Pete Dahl stored his fishing gear in the winter. In the grainy left foreground, men clad in rain gear are preparing to launch a wooden dory. Photo courtesy of the Cordova Historical Society

These days commercial fishermen in massive jet-powered bow pickers roar out from town across shallow waters to arrive at Pete Dahl and other popular fishing spots, traveling an hour or so within comfortable boat cabins, and equipped with hydraulic reels to pull in the much sought after Copper River salmon. 

They deliver pristine fish that are bled and iced immediately after being caught, to nearby tenders. 

One has to wonder at what it was like in the early days, not only regarding the quality of fish, but the rugged conditions living in small camps on the banks of sloughs.  

Every now and then I am reminded of all of this history while launching my river boat at Alaganik Landing on the way to our duck cabin at Pete Dahl. 

One time, a visiting biologist involved with nesting island studies for the declining Dusky goose population, came over to mention he had recently been at “Pete Dahl” (two distinct words), and added that the eagles were preying heavily on the nests because there were no “haul-a-gain” (aka “hooligan”). 

I figured he had enough on his mind to not deserve a lesson in local dialect, but chuckled to myself when I thought about the way my Dad pronounced Pete Dahl, specifically: “Peed-all.” 

This synonym was adopted in 1959 after we were busted for shooting after hours in our first year at the cabin. Dad and a visiting eye doctor named Harrison Leer lost their shotguns to a Forest Service officer. I was 15 and strangely, as a minor, allowed to keep mine. 

The arrest was made to the sounds of shotguns blazing so loudly around us that Leer, who had a great sense of humor, protested he could not hear what the agent was saying because of all of the noise. 

Back then there were four cabins at Pete Dahl filled with hunters, and when we arrived back at our cabin, word spread that the Mayor of Pete Dahl (Dad) had been arrested.   

In a unique showing of protest, partly aroused by post-hunt liquid inspiration, they lined the banks of the slough and fired three-shot volleys to show how upset (i.e. “peed off”) they were.     

In the darkness the flames shooting out of their barrels were truly spectacular. 

Alas, four days later Cordova Magistrate Todd Moon suspended Dad and Leer’s licenses for 30 days. 

Leer headed back to Juneau without his shotgun. 

Guess who was my retriever for the rest of our first season? 

The Mayor of “Peed-all.”