Sourdough Carl Cochrane dies at beloved Birch Creek cabin

FAIRBANKS — His cabin just outside of Circle was like a beacon for Yukon Quest mushers, but it was probably Carl Cochrane’s personality that warmed his visitors more than the fire or coffee inside. Cochrane died June 6 at age 77 after battling an illness for several months. Friends say he refused to leave his cabin for medical treatment, scared he wouldn’t be able to return. He died where he wanted to — about 14 miles outside the small community of Circle, on Birch Creek.As a boy in Hawaii, he witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor from his home. His father, a member of the U.S. Navy, was stationed there. When his father left to attend to his ship, Cochrane didn’t see him for another two years until he returned from service in World War II.His family moved to Florida, where he discovered a love for the outdoors, he told the News-Miner in 2010. He also spent time in Korea as a U.S. Marine and in San Diego working in the shipyards.In 1969, he drove up the Alaska Highway, finally stopping in Circle. He lived with Albert Carroll Sr. and Alice Carroll when he arrived but quickly began building a cabin on Birch Creek.Just two years later, Doyon Ltd. was going to reclaim his land through the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. The village corporation stood up for him, according to Russ Sterry, Cochrane’s good friend. Cochrane was allowed to keep the land where his cabin sat.He had lived there ever since.“Well, he’s going to stay there longer because that’s where I’m going to put his ashes,” Sterry said Wednesday.Fond memoriesEarla Hutchison, owner of Circle’s grocery store Hutchison Commercial, remembers Cochrane arriving more than 40 years ago. Her family has been in the area for about the same amount of time. She said he liked living outside of town on his own.“He was kind of a loner and a fantastic artist,” she said. But he always enjoyed the mushers’ company at his cabin come Yukon Quest time.“That was a regular stop, and he looked forward to that every year … and the mushers did, too,” she said. He would offer them a cup of coffee and a place to stay. “They’ll miss that,” Hutchison said.By some accounts, Hugh Neff was Cochrane’s favorite Yukon Quest musher. Neff learned of his friend’s passing Wednesday.“I just hope the Quest honors him,” he said. “When the Quest (mushers) went through, he’d be up at any hour of the day” helping them get settled in for the night or handing off some hot water. “It gets pretty cold down in that river where he lives,” Neff said. He met Cochrane during his first Yukon Quest in 2000.“What we all loved about him the most was just that he was an Alaskan who was an Alaskan, you know,” he said. “He was just an amazing guy.”Sterry became Cochrane’s closest friend through experiencing the “crusty old Alaskan” hospitality, as well.“He’s on my trapline — I trap Birch Creek,” Sterry said. “I would stop and visit him every other day or so (in the winter and) at least once or twice a week in the summertime.”“You end up getting your ear talked off and it was the worst cup of coffee I ever tasted,” Sterry recalled.He said the coffee was always cold and Cochrane never fully heated his cabin. “You slept with your boots on,” he said.Nonetheless, Sterry, 64, returned again and again, delivering groceries. Recently, Sterry said it looked like Cochrane’s health was returning, but it was not so. Sterry discovered him in his cabin, looking like he had just gone to sleep.In his later years, Cochrane had given up dog mushing and trapping, opting for the life of an artist, creating carvings and paintings. He lived most recently with his dog Skookum, “A Heinz 57 variety,” Sterry said. Sterry said Cochrane was a godfather to many children and a great carpenter, building the Carrolls’ two-story house. Cochrane loved passing on outdoor living knowledge to children, teaching Sterry’s own teenage boy how to make a bow and arrow.Appeals from family members out of state for him to come visit or receive medical help were rebuffed time after time.“He said he never once had a bad day when he lived in Alaska,” Sterry said. “He was never bored. He never got tired of it.”From the QuestMarti Steury, executive director of the Quest, echoed the appreciation of Cochrane’s hospitality. She said she would be putting something up on the Yukon Quest Facebook page or the website, where people can come to share their stories about Cochrane.“He is one of the beautiful examples of what the Yukon Quest is all about — it’s community, it’s family,” she said. “The Quest was created to continue the camaraderie and the spirit of the people that live in the North.“Everybody that came in contact with him was touched by his personality. He is who we are.”Contact staff writer Reba Lean at 459-7523.Read more: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner – Sourdough Carl Cochrane dies at beloved Birch Creek cabin

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