by Susan Taylor Block
Dogs were dear to Jim Kidder, but one of his Alaskan dogs tugged at his heart until the day he died. In 1894, he adopted a dog that was half malamute and half wolf. Though considered previously to be too vicious to associate with humans, the dog succumbed to Jim’s “dog-whispering” techniques, and began rolling playfully on his back, soon after Jim first approached him. The dog became a wonderful bear hunting companion, and even when not hunting, Jim and “Stereek” were virtually inseparable.
When it was time for Jim to return to New York, he chose to leave him with an Eskimo he knew would love and appreciate Stereek. Jim often left his coat on the dock when he went out on the water alone, and Stereek would guard his master’s coat until his return. As Kidder left the dock and Strereek for the very last time,
he watched sadly as his faithful friend guarded his coat until the scene vanished in the distance.
The story of Jim Kidder and his wolf-dog’s tender friendship spread across the area in which Kidder had stayed. Before he left Alaska, author Jack London interviewed him. Jim related everything he knew about his devoted pet. Though he gave them fictitious names, London based the primary story line of his best selling novel, Call of the Wild, on Jim Kidder and Stereek. Another author, Zane Grey, was Jim’s closest human hunting buddy in Alaska from 1892 until 1897. In a 2011 interview, Jim’s daughter, Louise Kidder Gadsden recalled him shedding tears, for many years, when remembering his last moments with Stereek.
From Jack London’s Call of the Wild: “Other men saw to the welfare of their dogs from a sense of duty and business expediency; he saw to the welfare of his as if they were his own children, because he could not help it. And he saw further. He never forgot a kindly greeting or a cheering word, and to sit down for a long talk with them (“gas” he called it) was as much his delight as theirs. He had a way of taking Buck’s head roughly between his hands, and resting his own head upon Buck’s, of shaking him back and forth, the while calling him ill names that to Buck were love names. Buck knew no great joy that that rough embrace and the sound of murmured oaths, and at each jerk back and forth it seemed that his heart would be shaken out of his body so great was its ecstasy. And when released, he sprang to his feet, his mouth laughing, his eyes eloquent, his throat vibrant with unuttered sound, and in that fashion remained without movement, “John Thornton” would reverently exclaim, “You can all but speak!”
Jim Kidder decided to sell his 909-acre plantation. The buyer was Percy K, Hudson, who owned Clay Plantation, nearby. After leaving Green Point, Jim Kidder settled in on Lady’s Island for several years, then moved to Beaufort, S. C. According to Northern Money, Southern Land: The Lowcountry Plantation Sketches of Chlotilde R. Martin (Robert B. Cuthbert and Stephen G. Huffs, editors), in 1962, Eugene du Pont III purchased 5,651 acres of land – of which Green Point and Clay Hall are a part. Having owned both Brookgreen Gardens and Green Point, Jim remained a member in especially good standing of the Carolina Plantation Society. He continued to advise the National Parks Service in matters of conservation, and he continued hunting through most of his senior years. At times, he shamed younger hunters. Though in his eighties, and stricken with “palsy,” he missed not one shot throughout an entire day of duck hunting with Donald Dodge at Seabrook Plantation.
Jim survived wife Helen, who died of breast cancer at an early age. When he died on July 7, 1965, at the age of 85, he was buried in the St. Helena Protestant Episcopal Church at Beaufort, S.C. His parents and many other relatives were buried in the Kidder-Hathaway Mausoleum in Brooklyn, New York.
(The author wishes to give special thanks, for information and enlightenment, to Ann Kidder Gadsden and James Christopher Gadsden, Jim Kidder’s grandchildren.)