Peace of Selby History
by Bernice Sheldon
The founder of the site where Peace of Selby Wilderness is located was Charlie Akpelik Sheldon, an Eskimo who was born a century ago in the Brooks Mountains 100 miles north of Selby Lake. (That is a story in itself.) Charlie grew up in the village of Kobuk and on the Arctic tundra along the Kobuk River herding reindeer with his parents and family. In winter his father and the two sons ran traplines. By age nine and twelve Charlie and his older brother were trained in wilderness life and went together on trapping trips for up to a month at a time. As young men they trapped their own lines, traveling by snowshoe and sleeping under spruced tree with a rabbit robe for a cover. Charlie’s trapline ran on the northern side of the Kobuk River in Eskimo lands territory, while his brother’s line ran toward Indian lands. Spruce trees over 100 years old still stand at Selby Lake like a memorial to the man who subsisted and grew strong from that land .
In spring Charlie hunted fur animals and fished, built a canoe and traveled down river to Kobuk to trade furs for basic supplies at the village store. In summer Charlie and his brother gold mined on nearby rivers. Charlie changed to mining jade, took up a series of mining claims on the Shungnak River, had a diamond saw and sawed up jade boulders that he wrestled from the river. Then he could move the sawed jade by backpack to his boat on the navigable part of the river and get the jade to market for cash. Charlie earned enough at mining to be the first in his Eskimo village to buy a boat motor, “snowmachine”, and ATV for travel on river and tundra. Charlie changed with the times and considered modern machines that made life easier a blessing. After he would play the tune, Yankee Doodle on his harmonica he would exclaim, “I’m an American!”
Charlie loved God and became a lay preacher and helped get a church built in his home village of Kobuk where he pastored the church for many years. Charlie was a story teller who could recall all the details of a life full of hardships and blessings. One story was of serving time in Nome jail, but after several weeks being released because he wasn’t guilty of stealing from some past miner’s equipment. Another story was about being a patient for a month at Seward TB hospital in the ‘50s and having a nurse figure out that the hospital had sent the wrong man for TB treatment. Another man from another village with the same name, Charlie Sheldon, needed to be in the hospital and Charlie didn’t have TB. Charlie had become weak from the treatment but made the experience into an opportunity and ended up marrying one of the nurses from that TB hospital.
Charlie was involved with village government and was on the village council and president of it for many years. He applied for his Native Allotments (160 acres of land given by the U.S. government to Natives of Alaska) before the 1971 Native Land Claims Act. One of his parcels is acreage on the shore of Selby Lake where he built the first log cabin in 1971. Where Charlie once trapped and camped under the trees, the area became Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve in 1980. This 8 million acre park is the largest national park in the U.S.A and has no highway access. The park has 694 back country visitors a year, mainly in summer. The arrive in floatplanes. Here visitors view mountain vistas that have been seen by few, fish in crystal clear streams and lakes, hike on bear and caribou trails, and view animals in a pristine wilderness, or float the Noatak or Kobuk Rivers.
Charlie Sheldon died in 1979 and his wife, Bernice inherited his allotment. In 1980-1981 the main log building at Peace of Selby was constructed as Charlie had planned it. Bernice Sheldon in partnership with Art and Damaris Mortvedt developed a guest business there in 1986 to present. Peace of Selby Wilderness is a place to have a personalized wilderness experience in an Arctic paradise.