Book Reviews

Return To Toonaklut: The Russell Annabel Story, Jeff Davis

Russell (Rusty) Annabel’s stories are timeless. Although many of today’s sportsmen may never have heard of Rusty Annabel, that would be their loss. I grew up reading his outdoor stories in the outdoor magazines during the 1940s and 1950s.

Born in Tacoma, Washington, Rusty moved to Alaska at an early age when that U. S. territory (now a state) was a frontier. He homesteaded at Toonaklut, where he married, had children, acted as a guide, trapped and wrote magazine articles about some of his countless adventures.

This man became a legend in his own time. He forged a literary career that captivated kids like me in the 1950s, and he made adults yearn for a chance to hunt Alaska and experience some of the same experiences that Rusty wrote about.

His hair-raising prose may now seem a bit over the top, but in those years, such stories were the engines that helped drive outdoor magazines to success. They were easy to read, laced with wild adventure and filled with characters that only Alaska could produce.

He had a way with words. Annabel could describe a wilderness filled with majestic Dall sheep, ornery moose, dumbbell caribou and enraged grizzlies. As perfect as Annabel was at describing fishing, hunting, bear encountered and other animals at close range, his personal life was far from perfect.

At heart, Rusty was a man in love with the frontier life. After many years in Alaska, he left under a dark cloud, apparently one step ahead of the law. He rambled around Mexico, trying to pull together what remained of his life, and at the end he led a very frugal existence.

Annabel, a gifted writer with an imagination as big as Alaska, cadged stories from everywhere, and seemed to believe in the old adage: “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” His stories captivated sportsmen for many years, and he would often write one story a week from Toonaklut, and send them off by train to his New York agent to peddle to the outdoor magazines.

He created his own personal legend, which was a mix of myth and truth, and made a living for years digging into his memory for more story material. Each month, this tow-headed kid would read a Russell Annabel article and dream of Alaska, the land of the midnight sun. Many years passed before I hunted his beloved Alaska.

I never met Annabel but have read many of his stories and some put the taste of fear in my mouth as he climbed the mountains and fought for the life he wanted. A simple life of fishing, hunting, trapping and writing about his and others exploits.

This is a book that will keep a person up late at night, savoring each chapter like a glass of fine wine. Rusty Annabel’s legacy was his ability to write a good story, and keep the reader hanging on his every word. Return To Toonaklut gives us an in-depth look at the man, the legend, and his talent for writing good outdoor stories.

Leave a Reply