Movie: The Chechahcos
Released: 1924
By: Alaska Motion Picture Corporation

Type: Black and white silent picture (eight reels)
Lewis H. Moomaw

William Dills ('Horseshoe' Riley), Albert Van Antwerp (Bob Dexter), Eva Gordon (Mrs. Stanlaw), Alexis B. Luce (Richard Steele), Gladys Johnson (Ruth Stanlaw), Baby Margie (Ruth Stanlaw, as child), Guerney Hays (Pierre)
Additional Information: Produced by Captain Austin E. Lathrop. Scenario by Lewis H. Moomaw. Cinematography by Herbert H. Brownell and Raymond Johnson. Intertitles by Harvey Gates. Intertitles artwork by Sydney Lawrence. Standard 35mm spherical 1.37:1 format. The film was the first feature-length fiction film shot entirely in Alaska

Captain Austin Lathrop was one of those memorable characters whose strength helped build Alaska. Throughout his illustrious career, he had a slew of accomplishments. However, the one we Alaska Railroad railfans are most interested in took place in 1922 when he and George Lewis got together to form the Alaska Motion Picture Corporation for the purpose of making the silent movie frontier saga, "The Cheechakos." The actual filming took place in 1923 with the film itself being released in 1924. In a strange twist of fate, Lathrop died in an accident at the Suntrana Coal Mine on the Healy River on July 26, 1950, apparently run over by a loaded coal car.

The 4th Avenue Theater web site states, "Many scenes were filmed in Denali Park and in Girdwood, where extras climbed Bartlett Glacier to recreate the famous gold rush scene of the Chilkoot Pass."

The National Film Preservation Foundation chose to preserve it as part of a fifty film collection on DVD which is now available through Their web site states, "The Chechahcos, the first feature filmed entirely in Alaska, is a true independent film. Financed by "Cap" Lathrop and his Alaska Moving Picture Company, The Chechahcos boasted an Alaskan cast and spectacular location shooting that vied with the best Hollywood productions. Even the evocative art titles to a large degree were crafted by an Alaskan artist, luminist painter Sydney Laurence (1865-1940), who came to the Alaska Territory in 1903. The Chechahcos (pronounced chee-chaw-koz) transliterates an Inuit word for "tenderfoot" or "newcomer" to the north. The movie tells the story of two good-hearted prospectors who take in a young girl, apparently left motherless after a ship explosion. As the sourdoughs strike it rich and grow prosperous, the younger falls in love with their ward. All learn through hard experience that disreputable gamblers can be as dangerous as the frozen north. The regionally produced melodrama provides ample excuses for showing off the extraordinary Alaskan landscape in dogsled chases, hazardous whitewater crossings, and glacier rescues. When released in New York in 1924, Variety dismissed the plot as "hoke." The trade paper doubted if any film with such an unpronounceable title could be a commercial success even in summer when "snow and ice stuff" was such a welcome relief. True to these predictions, The Chechahcos failed in the Lower 48 and dropped from movie history. The film was thought to survive in the United States only in a 16mm reduction copy, safeguarded by the Alaska Film Archives at University of Alaska Fairbanks. The print was slated for preservation copying through Treasures of American Film Archives, the NFPF cooperative project celebrating film preservation. The publicity surrounding the university's participation, however, led to the discovery of a better-quality 35mm print, which was substituted as the preservation source material. Completely forgotten outside of Alaska, The Chechahcos is one of the most impressive examples of regional American filmmaking. It is one of the four feature films included in the Treasures DVD set, scheduled for release in summer 2000."

From an Alaskan web site listing films for the 2002 Skagway Film Festival, "April 26, the silent film "The Chechahcos" (sic - that’s how they spelled it) will be shown for the first time publicly in Alaska since preservation work was done in 1999 by the Alaska Film Archives at the University of Alaska Fairbanks from a rare 35mm print. While not as polished as "Trail of 98" it is the first and last film produced in 1924 by Alaskan Capt. Austin “Cap” E. Lathrop for his Alaska Moving Picture Corp. One of Lathrop's first jobs before acquiring a fortune through other ventures, including a chain of movie theaters, was piloting boats with gold seekers on board during the Klondike Gold Rush – he lived the story. "The Chechahcos" was the first feature-length film to be filmed entirely on location in the state. There are some hilarious dog sled take-offs and a perhaps, ill-advised chase across a glacier. If you pay attention to continuity in films or know your gold rush history, this one will leave you in stitches."

From long time Cantwell resident Marty Caress, "The dog mushing scene is less than a mile from 'old Cantwell'. It was taken on Cantwell Creek looking west down the north side of Broad Pass. If the film was better Mt Mckinley would be on the left side of the picture. The mountain is only a couple of miles west of Cantwell. And you probably know the Nenana river was originally named Cantwell river, it was changed sometime between 1909-1901."