Alaska News

Curious Alaska: What’s the story behind the Too Much Johnson Cabin in Wrangell-St. Elias?

Sid Johnson  ONE TIME USE

Curious Alaska is an ongoing feature powered by your questions. What do you want to know or want us to investigate about life in Alaska, stories behind the news or why things are the way they are? Let us know in the form at the bottom of the story.

Question: There is a cabin named Too Much Johnson in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. National Park Service and U.S. Geological Survey maps provide no explanation for the name, but I feel like Alaskans need to know how much is too much Johnson.

The “Too Much Johnson Cabin,” built around 1913, was located on First Avenue of Chisana, a gold-rush-era mining camp. At one point, it had some 400 cabins and was known as “the largest log cabin town in the world,” according to the National Park Service.

Today it is a public-use cabin located in the backcountry of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, and available on a first-come, first serve basis. It’s only accessible by air in the summer, or by snowmachine in the winter.

The cabin’s name is associated with a real person: Sidney “Too Much” Johnson, a freight and express musher. According to a 1985 National Register of Historic Places nomination form, the cabin was his.

References to Johnson are spotty and inconclusive throughout Alaska’s history books and documents. It’s fairly unclear as to who gave him the nickname, how long he lived in the cabin or where he came from.

But what is clear is Johnson’s proclivity for loading up his sled — and that’s probably where “Too Much” Johnson came from, based on references to him in the historic places nomination and a National Park Service publication called “Gold in Alaska.”

“Local miners nicknamed Johnson ‘Too Much,’ for his habit of unloading freight on the Nizina Glacier whenever and wherever its weight got to be too much for his dogs,” the publication said.

He’d take the “goods and 200 pounds of mail from the railroad 73 miles over frozen rivers, the Nizina and Chisana Glaciers, up the Whiskey Hill grade, and down into Chisana,” according to the nomination form.

A National Park Service cultural landscape inventory document says he operated both a horse and dog team out of Chisana City, the mining camp, in both the 1910s and 1920s. The cabin was rehabilitated by the park service in 1994, according to the inventory.

There seems to be no connection between the cabin and “Too Much Johnson,” the 1938 Orson Welles film, or the 1919 film of the same name based on the 1894 play by William Gillette. But we here at Curious Alaska are always curious and open to the possibilities.

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Morgan Krakow

Morgan Krakow is a general assignment reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. She is a 2019 graduate of the University of Oregon and spent the summer of 2019 as a reporting intern on the general assignment desk of The Washington Post. Contact her at mkrakow@adn.com.

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