Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Introducing Alaska, and its treasures buried within Aunt Phil's Trunk by Laurel Downing Bill. Enter the giveaway and win your very own copy of Vol 1 & 2.

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Alaska History Decoded!

Aunt Phil’s Trunk, volumes 1 and 2, feature Alaska history stories written by Laurel Downing Bill and her late Alaska historian aunt, Phyllis Downing Carlson. The photo-laden books are a delightful journey through Alaska’s rich past.

Released in April 2006, Volume 1 includes stories from early Alaska up to about 1900. Tales include nuns mingling with rough-and-tumble adventurers on the banks of Nome, the last shot of the Civil War booming in the Bering Sea and the scoundrel Soapy Smith serving as an angel of mercy before he became the undisputed king of crime in Skagway.

From grizzled old prospectors to poke-stealing highwaymen to the magic of Alaska Native shamans, this book is a treasure trove of nonfiction short stories about Alaska’s colorful past and is filled with more than 300 rare historical photographs. This volume ends with the famous Klondike Gold Rush.

Volume 2, released May 2007, picks up where Volume 1 ends – right around the Klondike Gold Rush – and ends in 1912. It includes stories about Alaska’s early lawmen, and the criminals they pursued, along with pioneering postmen and rugged adventurers who challenged the Great Land’s highest peaks.

The second collection of stories also shares how towns like Fairbanks, Valdez, Cordova and Seward were born, the Iditarod Trail was blazed and the largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century.  This volume contains close to 350 historical photographs to complement the lively storytelling.

This series of books, suitable for ages 9 to 99, is a labor of love from a niece who wanted to keep the legacy of her aunt alive. When Carlson, a well-known Alaska reference librarian at the ZJ Loussac Library in Anchorage, passed away in 1993, Bill inherited her aunt’s research, award-winning historical articles and rare Alaska books. Bill has spent the past several years organizing and editing the historian’s work and writing her own pieces to dovetail with Carlson’s.

Aunt Phil’s Trunk volumes 1 through 4 are available through http://www.AuntPhilsTrunk.com and Amazon.com.

 The print versions retail for $19.95. Ebooks sell for $14.95.

Biography Laurel Downing Bill

Born in Fairbanks, Alaska, in 1951, Laurel Downing Bill moved to Juneau in 1959 after her father, Richard Downing, became the state's first commissioner of public works. Eight years later, she began traveling when her father took a job with a company building roads and bridges around the world.

Laurel returned to Alaska in 1970, where she eventually met her husband, Don, in Fairbanks. In 1974, the couple moved to King Salmon, a small village about 360 air miles southwest of Anchorage, where they raised their two children, Kim and Ryan. Don worked as area biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commercial Fisheries Division and Laurel worked her way up to assistant general manager for the Bristol Bay Telephone Cooperative Inc.

After 24 years, they retired into Anchorage, which is when Laurel received her late historian aunt’s body of work. Phyllis Downing Carlson, who passed in 1993, worked as the Alaska reference librarian for Anchorage’s public library and wrote award-winning stories about the state she loved.

Laurel decided to turn her aunt’s work, as well as her own research into Alaska’s colorful past, into articles for new generations. However, she knew she needed to know about researching, writing and publishing to do the job right, so she returned to college to learn everything she could to make her project successful.

At 52, Laurel graduated from the University of Alaska Anchorage in 2003 with a degree in journalism and a minor in history.

She became one of the main reporters for a weekly newspaper, The Anchorage Chronicle, during her junior year and birthed an Alaska history column titled Aunt Phil's Trunk. The column continues to be printed today in the monthly newspaper, The Senior Voice.

After receiving an enthusiastic response to her column of tales from Alaska's days gone by, she turned her

Volumes 1, 2, 3 and 4 - released in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 - are flying off shelves of both major and independent bookstores, as well as Amazon.com and gift shops and chain stores across Alaska. She’s currently working on Volume 5.
attention to developing the state's history from thousands of years ago – when the Native people first arrived in the country – up to the present.

Her award-winning stories have appeared in newspapers across Alaska, as well as the Alaska Magazine, Mushing magazine and First Alaskans magazine.

Contact: Laurel Downing Bill

Sample of reader comments: 1. Laurel, I don’t think you realize how many people enjoy this series. Anyone interested in Alaskan history must have these books (I have all four). Every time I’d go into a store (Fred Meyers, Carrs etc,), I go to the book section to see if Volume 5 was out yet. The subjects are short enough to prevent being boring but informative. I can’t wait till No. 5 comes out! – Larry Anderson, BP Exploration Alaska 2. Hi Laurel! I am still re-reading your books - I met you at a market, maybe Anchorage, a couple of years ago whilst on my dream trip to Alaska. The gold mining days must have been a great adventure, although dangerous. You weave a great story – thank you!  – Rosey Sandford, Townsville, Australia 3. Got your books and can't get anything done. I sampled one before going back to critical activities, but it's like sampling a new flavor of a gallon of ice cream. "Even a gallon is a sufficient sample," you grumble as you try to get your face into the carton to lick the bottom. – Larry Winebrenner, Miami Gardens, Florida
 4. These are the first books I've read in years and couldn't put one down once I started! Cindy Yates, Anchorage, Alaska
 5. Hello Laurel, I received the books today!  Thank you and I am enjoying reading the first book, which I took home with me, and it is so interesting, keeps me spellbound!!  Thanks again! – Donna Morgan, Nome, Alaska 6. I have enjoyed all three immensely — but then I love adventure.  Congrats on such wonderful, mind stimulating reading — just the right mix of pics and words — in short stories. The stories are as big and satisfying as Alaska itself. – Steve Wharton, Indiana


Review 1Aunt Phil s Trunk: Volume OneReview from Fairbanks Daily News-MinerDavid James, ReviewerJune 17, 2007 Aunt Phil’s Trunk: Volume One, published last year, was an unexpected gem. The book was a compilation of historical essays about early Alaska, ranging from Native life in the pre-contact period through the era of Russian possession, and onward to the purchase of the territory by the United States and the gold rushes that ensued a few decades later.
Most of the book’s stories were compiled by the late Phyllis Downing Carlson, a near-lifelong resident of the state who published many of these tales in numerous publications. When she passed away in 1993 at the age of 84, her countless files fell into the hands of her niece, Laurel Downing Bill.
As luck would have it, Downing Bill also has a flair for writing and a passion for Alaskan history. As a memorial to her aunt and a gift to the rest of us, Downing Bill has been organizing these stories, adding her own details, exhaustively illustrating them with period photos, and publishing them in books which deserve to be snatched up by anyone with an interest in our state’s rich past. 

Review 2The Anchorage TimesAnchorage Daily News/Voice of the TimesWilliam J. Tobin, senior editorJune 18, 2006 While handing out compliments, let's give a big pat on the back to Laurel Downing Bill, who has just published what she calls an Alaska historian's collection of treasured tales. It's a beautifully printed 344-page soft-cover book, Aunt Phil's Trunk, illustrated with a hundred or more great old photos that dramatically show what life was all about in Alaska's early pioneer days. The illustrations alone are worth the $19.95 price, but the narratives from front to back are equally praiseworthy.This book contains a collection of Alaska history stories written by Phyllis Downing Carlson, as well as stories written by Laurel Downing Bill that came from tidbits found among the notes and rare books Bill inherited when Carlson died in 1993. For those who love Alaska history, this easy-to-read collection is highly recommended.

Review 3Amazon.comLorrie Farrelly, ReviewerMarch 2014 AUNT PHIL'S TRUNK, VOL. 1, by Phyllis Downing Carlson and Laurel Downing Bill, is a wonderfully written, eminently readable, and richly illustrated narrative of Alaska's history up to 1900. Ensuing volumes – including one expected to be released within the coming year – continue the story through the 20th century.
I especially loved the wealth of vintage photographs in these pages that made frontier Alaska spring to life. So many cultures and so many characters populate this book: native tribes, Russian and American explorers and fortune hunters, trappers, prospectors, merchants, heroes, shamans, and scalawags. They are all here in their wild and woolly glory, pitting themselves against one of the most beautiful and forbidding landscapes in the world. In pre-1900 Alaska, fortune and disaster are never more than a hair's breadth apart.
AUNT PHIL'S TRUNK is full of well-researched tales both wonderful and tragic. Written in a clear, coherent, and evocative voice, it is a fascinating window to Alaska's wild past. Highly recommended! 

Review 3Writer’s DigestAnyone interested in Alaska history will love this book. It is full of interesting and little known facts about the state. The stories behind these facts are colorful and entertaining. Phyllis Downing Carlson was clearly in love with the history of Alaska, which is shown by the kinds of anecdotes she collected, and the attention paid to each of them. The same passion for the subject is evidenced in the author, Laurel Downing Bill, through her treatment of both Alaska and the memory of her aunt. The photograph selection in this book is remarkable, both due to its relevance to the related anecdotes and for the ambience they exude. * Comments from Writer’s Digest Judge in the 14th annual International Self-Published Book Awards 2007

My 5 Star Review for Volume 1

I received this book from the author for an honest review.

This is not your regular documentary. My limited view of Alaska was broadened and what I have learned from history class. But this book really pushed my boundaries out of its limits. I was really caught up in the events and stories of this book giving me a clear picture of the different periods in Alaska. A land that came from almost nothing, to a place that was involved in so many stages of many prominent countries development, and the riches that led hordes of people flocking to  its riches; to make their claim on their own wealth. Where do you start? There is so much detail and history revealed in this book.
I really discovered the full content of the words “the Good the Bad and the Ugly”, all this get revealed in this book regarding the development of Alaska. What stood out most was that the native people of the land consist not only of Eskimo’s, but different tribes of Indians. I never knew they lived in Alaska, but now I know. We also discovered the influence of Russia in Alaska, how they moved in to the land claiming vast parts of the land as their property. They started trading with the natives, and also became involved in the fur trade that was the gold of that time; until the Gold rush to the Klondike in 1896. A very interesting fact that was highlighted to me was that America bought Alaska from the Russians, not the native’s of the land, amazing.

There is a fast amount of historical information in this book capturing the many
people that contribute to the development of Alaska, as we know it today.

If you like History, and want to know more about Alaska, and especially how the gold rush affected Alaska, this is a good book to use; it has a lot of historic photos as well that is placed strategically in the chapters for you to have a better grasp of the times. A must have for the history junky.

My Review for Volume 2

I received this book from the author for an honest review. 

This is the second book in the Alaska documentary series,  the development of the vast land of Alaska continues; with all the different gold rush time periods from the early 1800’s until the early 1900’s carefully documented, and the landscape of Alaska that had evolved tremendously. In the beginning of the book we had the feud concerning the border between Alaska and Canada, which made for some interesting reading. At the end Canada won and the border was laid down as they wanted it.
A lot of information was given in the first book, but in this book a lot of missing detail is presented so the first book becomes more real as we meet the different people that had a lasting influence in the early years of development in Alaska. We see how a new country developed, and how the things that happened draw the good and the bad. All of a sudden authorities had to be appointed, and we see how law enforcement, police judges and the postman were added to the mixture.
We learn more about the people that used their positions, to steal the claims from the uninformed prospectors, with legal paperwork.  Alaska became a country that was a haven for the outlaws running from America, but they were caught and brought to justice, in most occasions, immediately.
This volume has more detail, which fills the blank spots, and answers questions you maybe had when reading the first book.
Very well written and researched, I found this book highly informative. A resource for the history junky, filled with facts and photos that gives you a clear picture of Alaska’s history.

This is also a tribute to Phyllis Downing Carlson’s lifelong work by Laurel Bill. Showing her dedication to her cause, and to enrich us with the rich history of this fascinating country. Really a great book to be enjoyed.


  1. Thank you for the wonderful reviews, Lynette. Love the layout!

    1. It's a great pleasure. Loved the books.