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

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

Cast:
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 Chechahcos." 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.

Trivia
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 Amazon.com. 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."


Special train on the Alaska Moving Pictures Corp. on the Alaska Railroad.
Used at location at Tunnel (Mile 52) while filming "The Cheechakos."

 

Added by Chris Beheim on 8/22/14 - I am working on a grant for the Anchorage Centennial called the Cheechakos Project.  It is a celebration and exploration of early Anchorage with emphasis on the first full length feature film produced in Anchorage.  I've already spent many hours researching and gathering information including historic photographs and newspaper articles of the time.  I have several 1923 photographs taken of the Alaska Moving Pictures Corporation's special train at McKinley Park and at Tunnel  and some early "Tent City" pictures.

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Private car of the Alaska Moving Pictures Corp. used while working on location at the entrance to McKinley National Park, on the Alaska Railroad, in making "The Chechahcos."
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Gladys Johnstone crossing the ice at the foot of Spencer Glacier in "The Cheechakos" now being filmed in Alaska by the Alaska Moving Pictures Corporation.

Movie Troupe Leaves
Anchorage Daily Times 4/11/23

The entire cast, assistants and outdoor equipment of the Alaska Moving Pictures corporation departed from Anchorage today for Mile 52, in five special cars, of which a diner, cook car and sleeper were included, were work will start immediately on another huge set. As previously stated an excursion will be run to Mile 52 the latter part of the week, possibly Sunday.

 

Free Excursion, Thursday, 8:00 AM
Stage Set for Typical Alaskan Picture Featuring Golden Days
Anchorage Daily Times 4/17/23

All Aboard for Mile 52, the scene of the million-dollar picture which is destined to make Alaska famous. Watch The Times for definite date. Weather alone prevented the excursion last Sunday when everybody was primed to go. Weather reports today advise small flurries of snow and a falling barometer. The thirty members of the troupe, together with a small army of attendants are on the ground taking pictures between squalls.

Advices from Mile 52 report some splendid pictures have been taken, but the big thing comes of when the 250 Anchorage people arrive on the scene to take part in the mad gold rush of '98.

Captain A.E. Lathrop, in charge of local affairs, invites the public to take part in the scene that so aptly shows Alaska during the olden, golden days. This is a free-for-all, and everybody is welcome. Hot coffee will be served on the trail, but guests are asked to take their own lunches.

This scene will appear prominently in the production of the "Great White Silence" being filmed by the Alaska Moving Pictures corporation, owned and managed by Alaskans.

Captain Lathrop also asks the guests to dress in the manner of the typical stampeder. Wear old clothes, mackinaws, boots or mukluks or rubber pacs, flannel shirts of brilliant colors, fur caps and other clothing featuring the mad rush of the gold stampedes. These articles of clothing are not absolutely essential, but the idea is to wear old clothes and not white collars.

It is up to Anchorage to assist in this pictures and at least 250 men and some women are needed to furnish the local color. Take a day off and make the trip and at least see how moving pictures are made. Women, of course, Captain Lathrop says, are more than welcome. But they too are asked to dress accordingly. According to present plans the free excursion train will leave Anchorage depot at 8 o'clock Thursday morning and return the same day. Definite announcements will be reported in Wednesday's Times. In the meantime, make preparations to participate in the moving picture; take a day's vacation and at the same time assist the management in producing a typical Alaska Picture.