Millie Jones

 

I originally posted this story several months ago.  But now I need to revise and add to it,  because, on our tour we had several events in Whitehorse, Yukon.  We found Millie again, and she is the same beautiful, smart, engaging lady she was four years ago.

We presented her with a copy of We Fought the Road, of course.  And we told her how pivotal our meeting with her had been in our understanding that the United States Army had brought the racism of the deep south to Canada and Alaska–that the people there really didn’t understand it.

She told us she would never forget the “black white men”.

Pursuing one of our multitude of questions about 1942 in Carcross, we stopped at the Visitor’s Center. The question stumped the friendly young lady behind the counter, but she had an answer—“Millie”. She made a quick phone call and five minutes later she was walking us up the street to point out Millie’s house. Five minutes after that we were talking to Millie.

She not only answered our questions, but also let us know that she would be in Whitehorse for the rest of the week and, should we have more questions, she would be glad to meet with us at her apartment there.  Two evenings later we spent two hours with Millie Jones at her apartment and it was more than a meeting, it was an experience.

Millie was born in Whitehorse but she grew up in Carcross and she was 10 years old in the spring of 1942 when the United States Army ‘invaded’ her small town on the frontier. People in Carcross ordered their groceries in bulk–had staples shipped in to Skagway and then up to them by the railroad. Clothes came from the Sears catalogue. Millie shared the Carcross school with about 13 fellow students.

When the soldiers of the 93rd piled off the train, Millie and the other kids were wonderfully excited. Among other things they’d never seen a black person before.  Her elders may have been concerned that their little town had suddenly become a player in a global war–enough so that they actually installed blackout curtains– but they were equally fascinated by this flood of men from the States.

Millie’s grandfather was the station agent for the WP&YT; and, over the next few weeks and months, he worked himself into a frazzle dealing with the amount of cargo that was coming over the line.  It was during that time that he, in fact, had a stroke and had to retire.

Millie remembers thinking that it was wondrous strange to see the southerners from the States shiver in their coats during weather she thought was pretty warm.

Millie’s mother managed and cooked for the Carcross Hotel. For reasons the local folks didn’t understand, the Army wouldn’t allow the black troops, in the hotel.  But some came to the back door to ask for water and in time Millie’s mother took to serving them baked goods.

Some of the soldiers carried musical instruments—especially guitars. And the hotel had a piano. One day the piano got rolled to the back porch and one of the soldiers sat down to play.  Some of his fellows picked up their instruments and joined him. A small crowd gathered. Millie had never heard anything like the thrilling sound they made.  Telling us about it 73 years later her face lit up with a wide grin and her foot bounced on the floor.

Dennis asked if she remembered the name of the song they played, and she didn’t hesitate. “Pistol Packin’ Mama”.

One evening Millie was carrying a stack of clean plates across the kitchen when she heard the music start.  Not wanting to miss any of it, she whirled to put the plates on a nearby table.  She missed; dropped the stack on the floor!

Mom was NOT happy.

She told us about Johnny Johns who lived in Carcross and made a living guiding visiting hunters and fishermen into the woods. The army hired Johnny to help them plot the course of the road out of Carcross, and local folks noticed with more than a little amusement that a lot of the twists and turns in the road just happened to take it by the best hunting and fishing spots in the area.