The following is an article in the Petersburg Pilot Newspaper of Petersburg, Alaska on August 11, 2016
Longtime resident and author turns 90
by Jess Field
If you ask Wayne Short what his profession was he'll most likely respond with acute, warm laughter. The Petersburg resident will be turning 90 next week, and his resume includes veteran, carpenter, hunter, trapper, fisherman and author.
Short's first book The Cheechakoes, published in 1964, became popular in Europe, and it bought him his first big boat, the F/V Denny M, a 45-footer that allowed him to start making "real money." The story of Short's life strongly follows the footsteps of his pioneer relatives, including his father, a man who could not stay in one place for too long.
"I just like to do things myself, and that's why I got into boats up here as soon as I could and I kept getting bigger boats," Short says. "You needed a boat big enough so you could pack a lot of ice, in those days we didn't have refrigeration or anything."
The Cheechakoes detailed the adventures of his family moving to Surprise Harbor on the southern end of Admiralty Island, in the 50s. The famly stayed there for seven years and battled brown bears on the doorstep of their cabin and took on the steep learning curve of becoming commercial fishermen.
One man read Short's book and became inspired to "become a mountain man." Short refers to the man as a goodhearted storyteller with a strong imagination and a love of guns. He often could be seen carrying a .44 magnum like Clint Eastwood's movie character Dirty Harry, even though he weighed 100 pounds soaking wet, and liked to shoot jelly fish off docks with the hand cannon.
"He though the Commies were coming over the hill any minute, you know," Short says laughing. "Oh my god, he had machine guns and mortars."
The idea for the book came on the radar of a New York agent after he and Short started corresponding. The agent pushed Short to write about living the pioneer life in Alaska, because it's northing short of remarkable. The agent's persistence paid off, awaking the storyteller in Short. One winter, after Short completed his fishing season he sat down and started writing.
"At that time, I wrote three chapters and I knew kind of how it could end and I wrote the end chapter, and just a one page outline of the other chapters just off the top of my head," he says. "Sent it in, he took it over to Random House and sold it, and I got advance money."
Writing became a way to supplement his self-sustaining lifestyle. One trick Short uses while writing is stopping the day's work in the middle of a sentence. Then the next morning, he gets up and does something , like chop wood, to get going then come in and reread the last chapter he wrote and start writing again.
It's a process, and one Short has honed although he won't be writing about his experiences during World War II anytime soon. Short joined the Navy the day after he turned 17 years old and got out the day before he turned 21. During his service, Short took shrapnel in his back from a suicide plane, but the injury wasn't anything major, he says. Short spent time in Saipan, Okinawa, and Iwo Jima on a 328-foot by 50-foot wide landing ship tank or LST.
"We could hold about 25 or 30 tanks, besides a lot of Marines, and after Saipan and Iwo Jima sometimes we'd have that fll down there of wounded and dead," he says humbly. "Somebody asked me why I didn't start writing about the war, you know, because I was in plenty of action there. But I don't know, I just saw so much damn death."
Short says the war is "still a sore spot." For him, living in Alaska meant freedom to be his own man. It was still a territory at the time and a man could make his own way by working hard. Short and his brothers, Duke and Dutch, did everything they could to get ahead instead of constantly working for wages, including earning extra money by bounty hunting seals with their .220 Swift rifles. Wayne and Duke even ended up buying a crab cannery in Kake on a whim.
One day the brothers were looking to offload crab and the cannery was quiet as a ghost town. They soon discovered the cannery wasn't operating for the day because the owner had a flat tire on the vehicle he used to shuttle workers to and from work.
"So Duke and I went back to our boat, and got out a jug and poured us a few tosses there," he says. "We decided to go and buy him out or try to."
Short hails from a long line of pioneers who fought Indians in Texas, and one family member who is regarded as one of the Old West's most colorful gamblers and gunfighters. Luke Short had a talent for gambling, was a dead shot and good friends with Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson. In fact, the biography Short wrote about his relative caught the attention of Hollywood moviemakers, and he recently signed an option for the rights to the story. There's been talk of Tom Cruise playing the lead role, and Michael Mann is slated to direct the film, Short says.
"I hope they get an actor I like. They want to get going on it pretty quick, and I hope they do. Before I kick the bucket, I'd like to see it," he says with enthusiastic laughter.
Wayne and his wife, Barb, have called Petersburg home for decades and a small celebration of his 90th birthday will take place at the couple's Mountain View Manor residence next week. Short is truly Alaskan, and his stories will live on in the hearts of many long after he is gone.
Books by Wayne Short, which can be purchased at Amazon.com:
This Raw Land (the sequel to The Cheechakoes)
Albie & Billy, the Skypilot and Other Stories
Luke Short: A Biography of one of the Old West's Most Colorful Gamblers and Gunfighters
My name is Vicky, and after researching my family history since 1999, I have found amazing stories that need to be told. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have!