Opinion: Judge heard early Native murder case
"During the summer of 1912, President William Howard Taft appointed Frederick E. Fuller of Nome federal judge for Interior Alaska, headquarters Fairbanks. Fuller, a 44-year-old former Pennsylvanian, immediately faced a difficult trial: A murder case scheduled for September in Iditarod.

The charge was sensational. Joseph Campbell, a 34 year-old woodcutter and laborer, had been arrested for murdering the Nelson brothers, miners John and Gus, on an island in the Kuskokwim River, near the mouth of the Tuluksak River. In June 1911, the two men, both about 40, had been shot, robbed and buried in a shallow grave.

There were no eye witnesses. But Natives fishing nearby heard shots and screams. They also saw a man they identified as Campbell on the island.

The brothers' bodies were located by their younger brother, Nels, in March 1912 after rumors about the shooting rippled through the Native community to his home on Norton Sound. Nels showed the bodies to a deputy marshal, and the deputy telegraphed Commissioner Edward Stier of Georgetown, 190 miles up the Kuskokwim.

Stier assembled a coroner's jury to conduct an inquest at the grave site. It took a week to reach the site by dog team.

Stier later wrote that he had to bring his six-man jury with him because "I could not get a jury of six white men on the Kuskokwim River below Georgetown." He also had to bring an interpreter for the Native witnesses, a man known as Waska The First, one of many Waskas in the region. "

Get the Story:
Michael Carey: Early Alaska judge sided with Native witnesses (The Anchorage Daily News 6/26)