With the passing of Buffalo Bills superfan Ezra Castro AKA Pancho Billa, the NFL fandom was reminded just how fragile life can be. Fans and players of all teams came together to mourn a man that loved his team, family, & everyone that came in contact with him.
Thirty nine years is not enough for most people, but in those years Ezra gave a lifetime worth of kindness and love. After every kind act shown to him, Ezra was shocked & often humbled at the kindness that people gave him. He never got that people thought he was a big deal and downplayed his importance. In a social media world where the need for attention and self importance is the norm, Ezra was a regular guy and a breath of fresh air.
When Greg Dresko and I did our podcast with Ezra, it was obvious he did not feel good but he rarely cancelled anything. Even on his bad days he would do interviews with a smile. After our podcast I created a prayer night for him that Greg & I promoted. Literally thousands of people got involved praying for Pancho and all of those battling cancer. We did a second one not too long ago that also was also greatly supported. People really cared and it was inspiring.
Buffalo was the perfect team for Ezra. It is a team that is set back in the time of the old AFL. An old stadium, the second lowest ticket prices in the NFL, and a raucous loyal fan base makes Buffalo so special. While everyone else changed, Buffalo didn’t.
With fancy, expensive stadiums pricing out many fans, the Bills are stuck in a wonderful time warp that allows for a foundation that continues to come to the games year after year. A loyal following that braves bitter cold and wind to support their Bills. From Jack Kemp to Joe Ferguson, to Jim Kelly to Andre Reed, the Bills rich tradition is steeped in a blue collar us against the world mentality. What an amazing place.
I don’t think any fan base or team other than Buffalo could have survived losing 4 Super Bowls while still coming back with dignity and grace. Through all of the jokes and taunting, winning 4 conference championships is still among one of the greatest achievements in NFL history & they are very proud of it.
Ezra & the Spirit of Buffalo:
In true Buffalo Bill spirit, Pancho Billa battled until the end. Just like Steve Tasker making an amazing play in a Super Bowl that had long been lost, Ezra never gave up. Adversity was what Ezra faced each day after being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Even in his darkest days he would show a positive, caring spirit that inspired so many. We DM’d each other on Twitter and his last message to me was a smiling emoji with a halo over his head. He knew. He also though remained positive asking people to never quit praying for a miracle. Giving up was never an option.
In reality the biggest gift Pancho Billa gave to people was the way he handled his illness. Even with social media bringing out the worst in people, he showed a spirit of pride and kindness that touched so many. He remained positive at the worst of times inspiring us all to not take ourselves too seriously. In a world where many get angry at the drop of a hat, he showed a calm passion and compassion for others during his fight.
The Power of NFL Fans:
Ezra reminded NFL fans everywhere that we are not gang members or part of a football militia that should hate anything not affiliated with our teams. He showed that in reality we are all on the same team of life and that football is a fun outlet & family to belong to. Happiness, health & supporting each other during the best and worst of times is what life is about. We all saw how our hearts are more powerful than any owners money or new stadium. It’s about the fans and the amazing relationships that we create from being fans. The simplest of things.
How I’ll Remember Ezra & You:
What I’ll remember most about Ezra, was how he brought everyone together. For a moment in time fans in New England and Oakland were on the same team. Dallas and Philly fans prayed for a miracle together and people began to realize all of the petty arguments and hate was not what being a fan was about. It’s a willingness to help when hope is hard to find, and being there to support and love someone during great times as well as their darkest hour.
Many of you have really touched me with your sincerity and compassion and I’m very proud of everyone. Your kindness touched Ezra and helped him and his family get through such an unspeakable tragedy. As much of a gift people felt Pancho was, he felt the same about you. He brought out the best in all of us and it sure felt good.
How to Keep His Legacy Alive:
If you really want to keep his legacy alive, lets be like him. Give as much as you can to others and show kindness with a calm spirit. As Ezra once said, “don’t bring flowers to my funeral. I hate flowers. Bring backpacks full of school supplies for kids”. Think of others first, and show love and appreciation and support to one another. Most of all do it without judgement or opinion. Love completely without complete understanding. What an amazing legacy that would be. And nothing would be more pleasing to the great Pancho Billa.
Florence Carmela is “In The Spotlight”✨ with Jon Bon Jovi’s Soul Kitchen
“Together, WE can make a difference…. One SOUL At A Time.”
JBJ Soul Foundation
What can you say about a man who not only creates music that millions of people enjoy and spent the better part of their lives swooning over. That Musician, Songwriter, and Philanthropist Jon Bon Jovi; along with his wife of almost 30 years Dorothea; have created an amazing Foundation that helps thousands of people through out The United States. The organization is The Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation and it is hands down one of the best Foundations out there!
The JBJ Soul Foundation assists and supports the efforts to shed light on the issues of hunger and homelessness in our country and to produce community awareness as well. It is a non profit organization that does all this and much, much more. The Foundation has helped provide assistance and support in several states across the country for so many people who are struggling, including our veterans. Jon says that his wife Dorothea should get the credit since she is the one that has been doing most of the work to make their Foundation a success.
Their overall mission is to help those who are in need of food & shelter. They currently have two JBJ Soul Kitchens that provide nutritional, hot meals to people in need in his home state of New Jersey. The meals are paid for by a small donation (whatever can be provided by the customer) or by volunteering in the Community Restaurant, to pay it forward in a positive, productive way. Recently, both Soul Kitchens locations in New Jersey, in partnership with The Murphy Family Foundation has provided free meals to furloughed Federal Workers who were in need of a hot meal.
This is truly an amazing organization! If you are looking for a cause to get behind, lend your support or donate your time and money to I suggest you look towards the JBJ Soul Foundation, their partnerships and all the incredible projects they are currently working on.
If you would like more information on the JBJ Soul Foundation and Soul Kitchens go to
The NFL draft has always been fascinating to me. It’s an amazing thing to see how teams choose who they want to create the foundation of their team. It’s not a coincidence though that with the greatness of the Raiders of the 1960’s into early 1980’s, most of their drafts were excellent getting at least 2 good starters in many drafts. Director of Player Personnel Ron Wolf was a key element of these drafts and he is now in the HOF. As John Madden said, “Al listened to only one person and that was Ron Wolf”.
To establish a great team you have to have excellent drafts. Back in the day, a guy that could scout and pick out a good player was worth their weight in gold. A recent ESPN study showed just how bad the NFL teams of today draft, especially missing on so many QB’s that it’s ruined some franchises for years. In the olden days they relied on game films and occasional interviews with the players and their coaches. Now they over analyze and see things that aren’t there and refuse to see things that are. Paralysis by analysis. If you look at something long enough you begin to see flaws.
For now though, and look to the draft picks that did work out well often leading to wins and championships.
#5: 1974 Draft:
1st Henry Lawrence T
2nd Dave Casper TE
3rd Mark Van Eeghen
4th Morris Bradshaw
Henry Lawrence was a pillar in the OL for 13 years for the Raiders with much of it being as a starter. He has 3 Super Bowl rings and in the last 2 Raider titles he was a starting tackle. Dave Casper is a HOF player and was one of the best all around tight ends in history. With his tough and physical blocking and his amazing hands; Casper, Biletnikoff, Cliff Branch, and Ken Stabler made one of the greatest passing combinations of all time.
Mark Van Eeghen took over for Marv Hubbard and could do it all. He wasn’t fast, but he was amazing at following his blockers and soon became one of the best all around RB’s in the NFL. A great pass catcher, Mark also was a key pass protector for his ability to pick up blitzing LB’s. Even though he ran for over 1,000 yards in the 1976 season, Oakland’s game plan was for Mark to be the lead blocker for most of the game and the speedy Clarence Davis (who ran for 516 yards the same year) would get the bulk of the carries against an older Minnesota Vikings team. The plan worked to perfection as Mark had an amazing game blocking and Davis ran 16 times for 137 yards. Van Eeghen ran for 73 yards and the Raiders rushed for 266 yards which is still the 3rd highest Super Bowl rushing game in history. You wonder if players of today would sacrifice like that.
In the 4th Round the Raiders got WR Morris Bradshaw who became a key member of their special teams unit for 8 years. He also was a part time starter with his best year being 1978 when he caught 40 passes for 552 yards.
#4: 1972 Draft:
1st Mike Siani WR
2nd John Vella OL
4th Cliff Branch WR
4th Dave Dalby OL
7th Alonzo “Skip” Thomas DB
To be honest you could interchange the #4 and #3 drafts and still have winners. What a problem to have. Mike Siani was a poor man’s Fred Biletnikoff and while he never lived up to his #1 status, he was a vital contributor in the Raiders passing game with many key pass catches in important games. John Vella and Dave Dalby were part of what many consider the greatest offensive line of all time. Their size and toughness wore opponents down. Dr. Death Skip Thomas was a key member of the famous “Soul Patrol” that many feel is the greatest defensive backfield in NFL history.
Cliff Branch will eventually get into the Hall of Fame but he remains one of the greatest deep threats the NFL has ever seen. During a talk show Raiders great Ken Stabler said, “I had a great offensive line, Casper, Biletnikoff who caught anything and Cliff Branch who could outrun half of the cars in the parking lot”. This amazing draft class is just another reason why the Raiders were so dominating.
#3: 1977 Draft:
2nd Mike Davis
4th Mickey Marvin
5th Lester Hayes
5th Jeff Barnes
8th Terry Robiskie
12th Rod Martin
Maybe this draft didn’t have the iconic talent of other drafts, but it definitely filled a lot of holes with excellent players. Mike Davis was a key member at safety and his interception against the Cleveland Browns in the playoffs helped propel the Raiders to eventually win a Super Bowl. Mickey Marvin was an excellent OL for years. Lester Hayes started out slow, but eventually became one of the best cover corners in the game and should be in the HOF. Jeff Barnes and Rod Martin were excellent LB’s that helped the Raiders shore up their defense after the Villapiano, Willie Hall and Monte Johnson era. Terry Robiskie was a great special teams player and backup RB.
#2: 1971 Draft:
1st Jack Tatum DB
2nd Phil Villapiano LB
4th Clarence Davis
5th Bob Moore
12th Horace Jones
“They changed the rules because of Tatum and Atkinson”, said HOF QB Fran Tarkenton on San Francisco’s KNBR radio. “The 5 yard chuck rule was created because of them and the other Raiders DB’s because the WR’s literally could not get off of the line against them. They were so physically imposing and strong.”
Jack Tatum hit harder than any DB in history and should no doubt be in the HOF. Phil Villapiano said, “Tatum’s shots just sounded different. His hits sounded like a car wreck”. George Atkinson added, “I once saw Jack hit Denver’s Riley Odoms so hard that I thought he killed him. It sounded like a car wreck”. He was a star at Ohio St. where Woody Hayes loved his hard hitting style and instinct to be where he needed to be, and he brought that to the Oakland Raiders. Jack’s timing was unmatched. If it wasn’t for the Darryl Stingley hit, Tatum would already be in the HOF. RIP to both of them.
A huge get was Phil Villapiano. Supposedly an undersized LB out of Bowling Green, most teams had him as being too small. Almost everyone had him as a possible 3rd round pick, but most had him going into the 4th round. The Raiders; who were the only team that would not share information with other teams; picked him in the second round. They knew that Phil was really 225 and not the 210 that everyone else said he was. Villapiano became a key element shoring up their back 7 on defense. He could tackle and stop the run, and with his lateral speed and timing he was a great pass defender. There are many that feel Phil should be in the HOF as well. His personality and fun spirit is classic Raider. The below video shows Phil Villapiano leading the Raiders on and off the field.
Clarence Davis was a fast and clutch player. His catch in the famous “Sea of Hands” game and his amazing performances in post season including his 137 yards rushing in the Super Bowl win against Minnesota are immortalized. Bob Moore was a solid NFL back up tight end and Horace Jones was an important defensive starter for four of the 5 years he played for the Raiders.
#1: 1968 Draft:
2nd Ken Stabler QB
3rd Art Shell T
4th Charlie Smith RB
7th George Atkinson DB
11th Marv Hubbard
Now finally the greatest draft in Oakland Raiders history, the 1968 draft. If you can draft 2 quality starters in your draft, usually your draft is considered pretty good. Draft 5 key starters and 2 Hall of Famer’s and I’d say your draft was awesome.
In 1967 the Raiders drafted HOF guard Gene Upshaw who would help anchor an amazing offensive line. In 1968, they chose other big pieces that would lay a foundation for their success in the 1970’s.
This draft was the key to the Raiders success in the 60’s and 70’s and this draft topped them all. They now had one of the greatest QB’s in history in Ken Stabler, and another HOF player on the OL in Art Shell. With Charlie Smith and Marv Hubbard they had a set of starting RB’s that could run and catch the ball. All 4 players were big parts of the success of the Raiders in the 1970’s and late 1960’s.
Then oh by the way add 7th round pick George Atkinson who was considered too small to be a full time safety. What teams didn’t get is that Atkinson was as tough as nails, hit like a ton of bricks, had a bad attitude on the field and was as fast as lightning. Early in his career he was a great kick returner on both punts and kickoffs and held records for a number of years in the return game. He was also the voice of the famous “Soul Patrol” defensive backfield.
So there you have it. These are the 5 greatest draft classes in Raiders history. The hope of all fans is that their favorite teams draft choices will reach their full potential and step up to be great players. In the following years we will find out how the draft choices of the new millennium rank. History shows us that if you consistently draft poorly, you will eventually erode your foundation and have to start over. If you excel in the draft, you create a winning team for years to come. When the Raiders had great drafts, they succeeded and were the winningest franchise in U.S. sports. When they didn’t, they failed and struggled breaking records for futility. Here’s to a future of great draft picks and great success to this amazing franchise.
While people were trying to figure out why the Raiders were 2-4 in the early season, I and others took a simple approach and looked at the x’s and o’s. Teams had adjusted to the short passes of the Raiders passing game and we’re forcing them to throw deep and they were failing. I’ve been screaming for three weeks for the Raiders do to two things; open up the offense and throw downfield; and blitz often. They did both and pulled out a win at home against Kansas City and looked like a different team.
Even with the trying season and the need to talk fans off the ledge due to week to week reaction, in reality the Raiders have more of a chance than people think to get into the playoffs and possibly even win the division.
Let’s stop kidding ourselves. No, the Raiders don’t have amazing talent on defense and no they are not going to be good on that side of the ball this year. They may have some moments but for the most part they are not able to get it done. The offense is going to have to carry them and if they don’t play well, the Raiders are toast. Next year the Raiders HAVE to fix the defensive front 7 or they are going to turn into the Miami Dolphins of the 80’s and 90’s; all offense, little defense. Ask Dan Marino how many Super Bowl trophies he has.
No, Derek Carr isn’t the greatest QB in Raiders history and yes, he struggles big time if he’s rushed. Last year he was the best protected QB in the NFL and he thrived. This year he has had just ok protection and he’s struggled for the most part. In the KC game he was never sacked and had great protection and threw for over 400 yards. NOT a coincidence.
After admitting these facts, we can now look at the 4 teams and how they may fare for the rest of the season.
Los Angeles Chargers:
As wrestling star Big Poppa Pump Scott Steiner used to say, pass rushing star Melvin Ingram is “legit”. While future star Joey Bosa gets most of the publicity, Ingram has turned into a one man wrecking crew with his fast and physical style. The Chargers DL is the real deal.
I like what is happening on the defensive side of the ball in Los Angeles for both teams. The formula in the wins for this team is simple; keep it close or get a lead, and then let the pass rush and pass defense take over. In the last 3 weeks that formula has worked.
The Chargers have been on their biggest high in a very long time. They have won their last 3 games beating the Giants and the Raiders on the road in close games, and then last week they shut out the punch-less Denver Broncos 21-0 in Los Angeles.
Their defense has been a key to their wins, especially in the red zone, not allowing a red zone touchdown in 3 weeks. They are 5th against the pass but are 31st against the run.
We will find out just how good the Chargers are this weekend when they visit New England. At 3-4 they still have a long way to go to take the division and their offense hasn’t exactly been lighting up the scoreboard. They are still very one dimensional being 8th in the NFL in passing yardage per game, and even with Melvin Gordon they are 31st in the run game.
Can They Win The AFC West:
The Chargers have some brutal road games ahead at New England, Jacksonville, Dallas and at Kansas City. They also have home games with Washington and Oakland ahead.
They will go as far as their offense takes them which I don’t think is far enough. Even with all of the publicity Phillip Rivers gets, earlier this year they broke a 24 game streak of not scoring a TD in the last two minutes of the half or at the end of a game. Could you imagine Tom Brady, Joe Montana or Ken Stabler having that streak? I don’t trust Phillip Rivers who to me is more of a stat stuffer than a winning QB at the end of games. A good guy, good QB but not great. The new rules are making legends out of average to good Qb’s because their stats are extremely hyper-inflated due to the rule changes the past 6 years. Look at the ridiculous illegal use of the hands call against KC on the play when Derek Carr fumbled. He literally didn’t touch the WR after 5 yards and barely patted him within 5 yards. In the 70’s-90’s that would have been considered a hand shake. That changed the game and it was a call you don’t see in flag football. The rules have gone overboard, but that is for another day.
The Chargers lack of a running game also continues to limit their offense. I don’t see them winning the division but a possible .500 record isn’t a crazy idea.
Kansas City Chiefs:
I’ve never been a huge Andy Reid fan but I’m really not getting what is going on in KC. I just read where Justin Houston; the Chiefs all star stud pass rusher; is now being asked to fall back into pass coverage 25% of the time. That is the third highest % of any edge rusher in the NFL. Here is a guy that can take over a game by himself and he’s in coverage 1/4th of the time? Wow.
The Chiefs defense used to carry them, and now it hinders them and they continue to struggle on defense. They are 25th against the run and 28th against the pass. Their pass rush when only rushing 4 players, hasn’t been good at all. They have only 15 sacks in 7 games and that is not KC football. The offense continues to shine being a top 5 offense. They did fail on their last drive against Oakland though when they could have iced the game.
The Chiefs offense is still on a roll and they have a key game at home with Denver next. With Denver struggling so much on offense this looks like a Chiefs win right? This is the NFL folks.
Can They Win the Division?:
Right now they are in the drivers seat, and if they beat Denver they are in great shape. With the easiest schedule ahead of all of the 4 teams, it will be hard to beat the Chiefs for the division. KC is the odds on favorite right now but anything can happen.
I don’t care about all the love that Tony Romo and all of the other announcers give to Bronco QB Trevor Siemian; I think it’s become illegal for announcers to tell the truth anymore about NFL QB’S; he is a bad NFL QB.
With a lack of accuracy and vision to make the right throw, the Denver offense is hamstrung at QB. In their 3 losses this year, Denver has scored a total of 26 points. And to be shut out on the road against the Chargers 31st ranked run defense, is a bad sign. Bill Musgrave is Denver’s QB coach and he seemed a lot better coach when he had Derek Carr didn’t he? For all of you that want coaches fired after every loss, isn’t that crazy how that works out? Better players make coaches look better? Insane, I know. (highly sarcastic comment)
To be fair the Broncos left side of their offensive line has struggled all year and that hasn’t helped. Denver is 24th in scoring offense and is middle of the road in many offensive categories, but where they fail is in the red zone. They are 29th in scoring TD’s in the red zone and in their last 3 games they scored a TD in only 11% of their times in the red zone. On the road for the year their % is an abysmal 25% TD rate in the red zone. I don’t think this trend ends any time soon either. Siemian is a very limited QB and they will struggle in the red zone all year. What is scarier is how come Paxton Lynch cant’ beat him out when he was healthy?
Defensively Denver is 6th against the pass and 2nd against the run but they are 13th in sacks with 18 for the year. Their defense is still really good, but just not as dominating as in the past.
Can They Win The Division:
Denver will always be in the hunt because of their defense, but their offense is a hindrance. It’s hard seeing Denver taking this division unless Siemian improves, especially in the red zone. Don’t be surprised if you have a Brock Osweiller sighting soon. Osweiller was re-signed in the first week in September. Looking at the QB situation in Denver, it’s like I’m a sick child and the doctor asks if I want castor oil or a shot. With Paxton Lynch’s constant injury issues, the QB situation is as bad as it gets in the mile high city.
In regards to their schedule, Denver also has to play away games in Kansas City, Oakland, Philadelphia and Washington, along with home games with New England and Kansas City. With that schedule the odds of winning the division is shrinking. They are on the outside looking in if they lose to Kansas City in their next game.
After 4 straight losses with some Raider fans getting ready to throw everyone off the plank including the cheerleaders and announcers, the Raiders saved the season from going under with a big win against Kansas City at home. Even with this win there is a lot to do.
With the signing of Navorro Bowman, the Raiders now have a quality LB that is better than anyone they presently have on the roster. He’s no where near the same player that was one of the best in the NFL, but he definitely can still produce. Even with Bowman the Chiefs were 8-15 on third down and had 425 totally yards of offense. I’ve talked at length about the defense in past articles, so let’s just say that Oakland’s defense is not good, and it’s not going to be good for the rest of the season. He’s not going to help much in coverage but he does make the defense a little better.
For the Raiders to win, their offense will have to carry them like they did in the previous game. I was against the signing of Marshawn Lynch from the start and I really like the Raiders stable of RB’s. It will be interesting to see how they do against the stout defense of the Buffalo Bills. The Raiders have a nice match-up against a Buffalo team that has a solid defense but not much of an offense outside of LeSean McCoy. Tyrod Taylor is very limited at QB and a close Raiders win is probable but nothing is for sure.
The problem is down the road. After playing in Buffalo, they play a night game against Miami which I think they can do well in. Then it gets interesting. The Raiders go to Mexico to play New England, and have home games against Denver, Dallas & the NY Giants. Add road games in Kansas City, Philadelphia and against the Chargers and the Raiders second half schedule is as tough as anyone’s. The Chiefs and Eagles (on Christmas Day) games will be at least cold if not snowy. California teams don’t exactly thrive in the snow. As a lifelong northern Californian, I personally don’t even like to open the freezer let alone be in the cold midwest or east.
Will The Raiders Win the Division?
There are two huge games that will help in determining if the Raiders can win the division. One will be the Denver game in Kansas City this weekend. If KC wins that game, they regain control. Another game is the Chiefs hosting the Raiders in December. If the Raiders lose that game it’s hard to impossible to see them winning the division. As viewers it’s always fun to look ahead but in reality every week is like the playoffs and you can’t take anyone lightly anymore in the salary cap era. Every team has issues and it all changes week to week, especially with injuries.
The Bills game should be a tough, grinding game for Oakland. With temperatures in the 40’s with a 70% chance of rain expected, the road starts out as a tough one in upstate New York for the Silver and Black. The road to the AFC West crown will be a wild one for each team.
We all have a story. It doesn’t matter if we think we are exciting or not; all of us have a story. Courtney Agnes is no different. People probably see Courtney as a tomboy who is just like one of the guys, but she is much more than that.
Courtney is a self proclaimed “girly girl”. “I just don’t have any fashion sense” she admits. Courtney is a good athlete as is displayed by her talents in sports. She is also a highly skilled artist in bead work and crafting, creating amazing clothing and jewelry. This skill was encouraged by her grandmother Carrie who always seemed to supply her with amazing material to work with. How about Courtney’s Native Craft’s for an online store name? Her love for her culture and the Athabascan way of life is embedded in her heart through generations of tradition and respect for the land and what it provides. She works at keeping that way of life alive in the future generations to come.
Jim Jax: Describe your relationship with your dad Pat and how has it changed since you were a kid?
I was always my dad’s baby. I even told mom and dad that they couldn’t have anymore kids because I had to be the baby forever. From the first moment I had him wrapped around my finger. He was the one to get up with me in the middle of the night when I cried and he would spoil me rotten. I am now getting paybacks with my two girls and my husband, Archie. I find that Cuppy and Carrie pull the same tricks that I used to do when I was their age with their dad and I feel like my mom did back then. Nowadays, I get really upset when my dad leaves town without telling me. He also really relies on me to help him around the dog yard, or to even ground him in his busy life. We really enjoy doing things together, like planting his huge garden that’s almost as big as the bottom section of my house.
Jim Jax: What type of amenities do you have at your house. I.E. Television, cable, wifi/internet, running water, electricity, etc…..
I lived my entire life without running water until I moved out of Tanana. About half of the homes in Tanana finally got hooked up to the water system in 2006-07. My home has cable, wifi, and electricity; all of the comfortable amenities. The only thing I miss about city life are the readily available fresh groceries. We have to plan for shopping excursions and freeze, dry, or blanch veggies and fruits to make them last.
Jim Jax: I always think about the normal every day things. As a teen and a young woman, how hard was it to date with so few men around, and what activities as a young person did you have to do to meet people?
When I was a teenager, I was kind of awkward and geeky. I always had straight A’s and had my nose in a book (I have bad eyesight from it). I wasn’t really interested in boys; nothing serious anyways; and I wasn’t really that popular. That really didn’t bother me though. Living in a remote village, it’s kind of common to play sports or travel, or to date someone if you already hadn’t found someone to hang out with in your own village. Most people are related to each other in our small rural populations, so it’s easier to date outside of your hometown. I always played basketball just to get out of work and chores, so I met new and interesting people that way.
Jim Jax: What is your favorite food to eat that you can only get in Alaska?
My family and I just got back from a vacation in Hawaii, and I have to admit the girls asked for moose meat as soon as we got home. Luckily my best friend had moose roast in her fridge in Anchorage while we hung out there for allergy appointments to appease the girl’s cravings. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t ever live without moose soup either. The only other food that I couldn’t live without is Yukon King Salmon. I’m sure it’s because I grew up eating it, but no other salmon compares. All of the people that I grew up with here in Tanana are pretty picky about the salmon that we eat, and pretty much don’t really like any other kind.
(Above: Some of Courtney’s Jewelry)
Jim Jax: What was your scariest moment while filming Yukon men.
The scene when I shot the black bear was the absolute scariest moment while filming. It was slightly raining when I was stalking the bear, and I kept hearing him but I couldn’t identify where the sound was coming from. We were walking through a small stream, so I had to also focus on being quiet when I moved. It is pretty hard to do with rain gear and rubber boots on. Ryan (camera man) had seen him first and he was headed straight for him, although the bear had never seen us. The instant that I saw the bear, I pulled my gun up to shoot, but he walked behind a huge clump of willows so I had to wait for the shot. I got him with one shot to the neck and he was only 20 feet from Ryan. So in short, the bear almost ate Ryan. Although he was packing, it still could have gone way wrong if I hadn’t waited for a good shot.
(Above: Alaskan wild blueberries and kippered fish)
Jim Jax: Your husband doesn’t get to be on camera much; explain what kind of person he is.
Archie is a really quiet guy and he’s often gone for his job. He works on an oil rig up north in Alaska. He usually works 2 weeks on and then has 2 weeks off, but he has to add 2 travel days to the days he’s gone so we basically get him 12 days per 28 days. He sacrifices so much to provide for us to live here in Tanana. It’s a really tough work environment that he has to leave us for and we really appreciate him. He’s an avid outdoorsman like I am, but way shyer than me. He also lives for speed. He used to race boats in the Yukon 800 race, and now races snow machines in the Iron Dog across Alaska. Both are physically brutal races, but he races them for the physical and mental aspects of it. He’s an amazing dad to our girls, he’s very patient and kind, but he’s also a pushover when it comes to them.
Jim Jax: What is the thing you like most about filming Yukon Men and what is the worst thing about filming it.
The thing that I love most about filming Yukon Men is that I am paid for doing things that I normally do anyway on a daily basis. I mean, we always have to get food, wood, fuel, and get ready for winter, so it’s kind of easy to just do both at the same time. It’s kind of like killing two birds with one stone. The hardest thing about filming is being away from the girls. I’m a pretty hands on mama. They really have a hard time going to sitters and not being in their own familiar environment, although we do have an amazing support system here in Tanana.
Jim Jax: With the new road comes a whole new group of people coming to the area. Do you ever worry that things will never be the same and it may get harder to survive?
I really worry about what kind of people the new road will bring in. There was a straggler in Manley Hot Springs 20 years or so ago, (which is now 50 miles away from us on the road) who shot and killed 9 people and threw them in the Tanana River.
(Courtney is talking about the famous 1984 mass murders by drifter Michael Allen Silka in Manley Hot Springs. He was a military marksman and he shot and killed 9 people. One was a trooper who was flying overhead in a helicopter. After murdering a neighbor he befriended people in Tanana saying he was a mountain man. He often camped near the one of the docks. People were impressed with his skills and he said he wanted to make roots in Tanana. His victims included a trooper, a pregnant woman and a 2 year old child).
My husband’s family also has land not even one mile away from the road, and we worry about encroachment from trespassers. What people don’t really understand is how resilient Tanana people are, and we will fight for our way of life.
Jim Jax: What hobby or personality trait do you have that would surprise viewers of the show.
I really hate being idle, so I’m always doing one thing or another. I really love to play basketball, I grew up playing with 6’ or taller guys who had the mentality that you had to be tough to even try to play with them. I remember getting elbowed or punched in the face and getting told not to cry when I was like in the 10th grade. Being pretty short (5’5”) enabled them to practically jam the ball down my throat so I had to figure out ways to shoot and score around them. When playing in tournaments in Fairbanks in later years, teammates would tell me, “I don’t know how you get in there and shoot like that”. Sometimes a ref asked me why I hadn’t ever played college ball (I was too shy). The only other thing I can think of is that I really am quite girly. I love make up but I have zero fashion sense.
Jim Jax: What message do you hope to communicate about your way of life to those that enjoy the show.
When I was in high school, my late Grandmother Carrie used to always tell me to learn to live off the land. At the time I really did not understand what she was trying to tell me, so I basically disregarded her advice. It wasn’t until I moved back home and started to hunt, fish, and trap on my own that I learned what she meant. She was trying to explain a simpler but rewarding lifestyle where she learned intrinsic life values from living off of the land. This would allow me to be able to care for my family while living off the land. It is an inherent value in keeping our traditions and culture alive that I will always appreciate.
I’d like to humbly thank all of those in the Discovery Yukon Men family for the kindness and trust they have shown me in telling their stories. Thank you to the fans of the show for their support. I so enjoy their passion and dedication to the show. Thousands of people have read these articles and I hope you have enjoyed reading them as much as I liked writing them.
Even with all of the amazing positive feedback though, I’ve also received negative responses too. I’ve been contacted by various publications and websites speaking out against me for writing about Yukon Men. I’m small potatoes I’m sure but there have even been petitions started to stop the show.
First off I’m not naïve. Most reality shows are extremely fake and staged. People always say they know that yet they act like it’s real. Out of all of the shows though, Yukon Men is right up there with being as real as it gets. Are some of the scenes enhanced? Of course they are. Ask hunters how exciting it is walking in the freezing cold for hours looking to hunt something. Then you must ask yourself how real was it for George Roberts to lose his life in a snow mobile accident? Ask if it was real when a young pilot Seth Fairbanks died after his plane went down? A while earlier he helped find a stranded Joey Zuray who was slowly being surrounded by water and ice. While the most popular network shows lie to no end; (yes I’ve talked to some of the actors and behind the scenes people and you have no idea), Yukon Men tries to keep an integrity that is rarely seen anymore on television.
The struggles are real. And while many crews on other shows stay for short times and move on, the film crews for Yukon Men have spent significant time in the area and have tried hard to win the respect of the communities.
Like I said, I’ve seen petitions to try and cancel the show in the past due to the hunting and trapping scenes. In reality these are not trophy hunters cutting off heads or antlers of animals and leaving the meat. These aren’t people laughing and partying after killing an animal for show so they can take selfies so strangers will increase their likes on Instagram or Twitter. These are people who for generations have respected their surroundings and gratefully used the land to survive in one of the most difficult places in the world to live.
As long as I write about Yukon Men I will continue to send the message that the Athabascan lifestyle tries to teach. Respect and love for your family, with an appreciation and love for what the land provides and gives you through a subsistence lifestyle. And lastly the constant reminder to never forget the great skills and pride that have been taught through previous generations. Like I said, we all have a tale to tell so let’s always respect and appreciate where we come from. And may we always respect each other’s story.
My love for Alaska first started when I watched the amazing PBS special “Alone in the Wilderness”. It was the story of the famous Naturalist Dick Proenneke who went to Twin Lakes and lived mostly alone for 30 years. He made his own cabin, cache, tools, and anything else you could imagine. He also filmed his adventures in a 2 part series called “Alone in the Wilderness” and I was hooked. His cabin and building area is now on the National Register of Historic Places. He was the king of sustenance living.
I don’t watch much network television anymore but when I first watched Yukon Men, I was hooked. I approached Stan and Kate Zuray for interviews and they graciously agreed. Here are my interviews with them below. Please support them!
Ironically the first person I asked to interview was Courtney Agnes. She had some things come up at the time, but she agreed to do it at a later date. I enjoyed her personality and her ability to do whatever it took to get the job done. I also liked her dad Pat a lot (Go Raiders Pat!) and the story of her mom Lorraine was a touching one. Battling a dangerous aneurysm and arthritis, her mom was now a living miracle surviving a terrible ordeal. Once the rock of the family, she now has to be the emotional inspiration due to her health issues that have been difficult for all. The family takes care of her with a dedication and love that can be very challenging at times. It’s obvious she is a huge part of the foundation for Courtney and her family, and the struggle is a daily one. Courtney’s mom’s amazingly kind and giving spirit has touched many people over the years.
Courtney is the epitome of an Alaskan “girl”. She is at home in the wilderness and can do whatever a man can do, but she also can show the maturity of a woman, mother and daughter which is needed in such an environment. She’s done construction, dog mushing and can hunt. When the family desperately needed a moose, she got it. When Pat needed help with the dogs, she did it.
I also enjoyed her mischievous and fun nature. Courtney; and Alaskan women in general; show a huge strength and work ethic and passion for their families that is inspiring. I live in California and though we have a lot of beautiful women on the outside, for some there is something major lacking on the inside. Courtney and many other women in Alaska may not be glamour girls, but their kind and vital spirit and passion for life and family creates an outer and inner beauty that makes the world a more beautiful place because they are in it. I hope you enjoy learning about Courtney as much as I have. Here is Part 1.
Jim Jax: What were your first memories growing up in Alaska as a little girl.
Courtney Agnes: The most prevalent memories that I have of growing up in Alaska as a little girl had taken place at fish camp. I think I started climbing trees at the age of three, and by age five I had excelled at climbing. I would often climb 20-30 foot tall trees. One time I climbed a smaller willow tree to the top and after it bent over from my weight, I had to scream for my dad and he had to catch me from about 20 feet as I fell out of the tree. I also have amazing memories of dog mushing with my dad. He stayed home with me while mom worked and I would ride a snow racer behind a team of dogs that pulled both my dad’s dog sled and mine. We were always outside doing something together; mostly working; but he always made work fun.
Jim Jax: Growing up as a kid, what fun activities did you do outside of working? Who influenced you?
Courtney Agnes: Growing up with the parents that I had, we didn’t have much time at all for play, because we were always working. I mean, my girls don’t even know the meaning of chores compared to my brother and I back in the day. From the time that I turned 8 years old, I never had a real fancy, huge birthday because we were always cutting fish from 7 am to 12 am in the summers. We survived from making a living off of selling the fish that we cut. The fish could be jarred, and put away for the winter so the entire family’s help was vital.
We were super lucky to grow up with thousands of cousins to play with. We even played baseball games on the airport runway, which was located next to mom and dad’s camp. I did have a tight knit group of friends who all took turns helping each other do their chores in order to play. We mostly raced our four wheeler ATV’s around town at break neck speeds, jumping them anywhere we wouldn’t get caught. There wasn’t much else to do, other than invent games of our own because we didn’t have the luxuries that the city provided.
Jim Jax: Every family has stories; what is a good story while you were a kid
Courtney Agnes: Here is my absolute FAVORITE story of the adventures of my oldest brother Thomas and I. When I was about 8 and he was 12, (I was all knees and elbows then) during the summer he and I were left home at camp together. We always had chores to take care of, like watering the dogs, watering the garden, and many other things. Mom and dad always went to work and we were left alone to be savages. Dad found a parachute at the dump that was discarded, and Thomas pulled it out and decided to play with it.
It was a windy day so we strapped him in and he tried to launch himself on the airport runway. I really do not know what he was thinking, but it didn’t take off, so he said we needed to go down to the beach. (I was at the age where I had to do whatever he said because he would have killed me if I didn’t). I stood back and held the parachute end up and FREAKING A if he did not take off like a rocket! He didn’t take off in the air, but the parachute did and it started dragging his limp butt about a 1/4 mile up the river on the beach over rocks, mud and sticks. He was moving faster than this skinny ass girl can run after him slipping in the mud the whole way.
As I’m watching him being drug like a limp noodle, he was screaming at me saying, “Siiiiiiiiiiiiis, heeeeeelp meeeeeeeeee.” He was terrified and I was running so hard that I slipped in the mud too. At one point I was laughing so hard that I couldn’t even get up out of the mud. Finally the parachute strings caught on a log and it stopped him. He had bruises and scratches all over his body and was sore for days. This is just one of the amazing stories I have of my brother.
Jim Jax: Was there ever a time as a teenager where you wanted to leave Alaska and go somewhere for college and leave the lifestyle behind?
Courtney Agnes: When I was a teenager, I couldn’t wait to leave Tanana. I hated it. I hated being so confined to one place without many outlets which is typical teenage stuff. I always dreamed of going out of state to college, but I didn’t know what kind of career path that I wanted to pursue so I played it safe and went to college in Anchorage. Before I moved away my dad called it. He said that I’d miss Tanana and I would be back. It took 1 year in Anchorage and 4 years living in Fairbanks for me to decide to come back home. I disliked the monotonous everyday driving place to place, fighting crowds and paying for any kind of small activity that was to get me out of the house. Everything cost money, and here in Tanana all we have to do is buy gas and we’re gone for the weekend camping on a sandbar or crashing through the forests chasing a moose for dinner. I still love to travel though and Europe is on my bucket list of places to visit.
Jim Jax: You have a close relationship with your mom and dad. We’ve learned about your dad Pat, but please tell people what type of person your mom is?
Courtney Agnes: My mom worked my entire youth to support our family and was always taking care of something or someone, no matter how tired or exhausted she was. We always had different kids staying with us for extended periods of time, whether they were cousins or kids that wanted to go to school in Tanana (the school used to be pretty big in my youth). In college, if I ever needed money, $500 would show up in my bank account. She was always a giver. Before her aneurysm she had a really close relationship with our oldest daughter, Cuppy. Cup would run over to Gramma’s because she would spoil the crap out of her. The aneurysm really changed mom. She became fully disabled and unable to do a lot of things, but she constantly still worries about all of us in everything that we do. She also lives vicariously through me in wishing that she can race dogs still. She always cries before any of my races. She’s so tough physically when she wants to be though. I really don’t know anyone else who might have survived the scale of aneurysm that she survived.
Please come back tomorrow for Part 2 of my interview with Yukon Men’s Courtney Agnes.
I’d like to thank all of the families associated with YukonMen who have shown me nothing but patience and kindness in our interactions. I hope that all who read this will support them in all of their projects and passions, including Stan’s amazing book above!
I hope that everyone that has enjoyed the show and read my articles will feel the great sense of family that these fine people show us week after week. I hope that it also teaches us that even though we all have different backgrounds, races and beliefs, what truly makes us a great nation is the respect and sense of kindness that we show one another. We all count, and our importance in our families and social circles are most felt when we are giving of ourselves unconditionally with a pure heart and an open mind.
Jim Jax: What is the coldest temperature you’ve been in and what did it physically feel like?
The coldest temperature recorded in Tanana was -76 F on January 27, 1989. From my memory I have experienced -60 F in the month of January. I was getting ready to drive somewhere in my car and it would not start even though it was plugged in. I didn’t want to push the car’s limit so I just let it sit until it warmed up and then the car started. My friend didn’t turn his car off, and just let it run for a whole week. Yes, even during the night, because he knew it wouldn’t start again if he turned it off.
I walked outside to take an iPhone picture of the frozen frosted trees and my phone immediately shut off and froze. It physically starts to cause pain and your skin starts to hurt and you run back inside. I basically wear ski pants for the entire month of January even when I’m inside because I like to dress up and keep myself warm. During this time you don’t go outside often unless you really have to, like to go get water from the Laundromat. You spend a lot of time inside with friends and family when it’s this cold.
Jim Jax: How difficult was it to go from living in Alaska and then all of a sudden being in the public eye?
I don’t consider myself being in the public eye; now Joey and Stan; my brother and dad are more in the public eye. When my dad leaves Tanana and goes to any city, he constantly has people coming up to him wanting a picture or just to meet the Yukon Man. If someone knows who I am, I’ll say “wow you must be a very big fan”. My name Zuray is more recognizable than my face, which is completely okay with me though. For example, if I go to the post office and they see my name on the mail they know who I am and usually ask “how’s your dad doing?” or “I love Joey”. I kind of got scared during season 1 of YukonMen. I remember going on my Facebook and I had 500 friend requests in just a couple days. It kind of scared me and I ended up deleting my Facebook for 3 years or more. But I love when people come up to me and talk to me about my family or the show. I’m always friendly and open to conversation.
Jim Jax: What part of your life living in Alaska isn’t shown on the show?
So much isn’t on the show, we do a lot of cool fun things as a family and with friends. However it shouldn’t be on TV, because it wouldn’t be entertaining or shocking enough. I’m presently a student. I have been a water treatment operator for the past three years. I am an activist for subsistence hunting & fishing and attend meetings about the health of the salmon run on the Yukon River, I’ll be going to Canada soon to learn about the salmon communities on the upper Yukon River. I am a member of the Tanana Traditional Dance group where we wear our native regalia and sing traditional Athabascan songs. It was filmed a couple times but never went on the episodes, which is fine. I totally get that the viewers want to see guns and wild game.
Jim Jax: I’ve enjoyed watching your brother mature on the show; what type of relationship do you have with him?
Joey and I are very close. We are two years and two days apart in age, so we spent a lot of time growing up side by side together. I sometimes say when he is happy I’m happy and when he is sad I’m sad. We always text and keep up with happenings in each other’s lives. We have similar personalities, beliefs and political views so sometimes I’ll just speak to him about frustrating things and we back each other up because we think the same.
As children I was the boss, but as adults he has acted like an older brother to me and even corrected some mistakes I’ve made. Once he even heard I was dating a certain person and put a stop to it because he didn’t believe the person deserved me and I’m thanking him now. Joey is courageous and I learned this through hard times in our family. Sometimes I will keep my mouth shut and not tell people to be better because I don’t like confrontation, but if Joey loves you, he will tell you to be better and to stop bad habits, be a better parent, and to me that’s courage.
He will also stick up for himself or his family at any time. He has taught me to be stronger and not just hide in the dark when things get hard.
It seems like many people in the show have very deep relationships with their family. It must feel good knowing what a familial bond you have especially in times of trouble and need. I’m a very independent person and I like to spend time by myself, but I need my family and I appreciate their support & love.
My parents did a lot of things to keep us close. A simple thing was, we always ate dinner together sitting down at the table every night. It takes a lot of work to make any relationship or family unit work though. It’s not always perfect and we have disagreements but work through them. Another way we stay close is communication. We are always contacting each other to see how everything is going and we tell each other I love you. I’m very grateful for my family and I have to remind myself to not take them for granted. In Tanana, everyone belongs to a family, and if you don’t have a family, someone will adopt you into their family.
Jim Jax: What would you like people to know about you that isn’t portrayed on the show?
That I’m a happy fun outgoing person who loves to laugh with my family and make jokes. We are not constantly in turmoil and pain. Yes it’s a hard life, but it’s also healthy and a lifestyle we choose to live. I’m really excited for summer because we all head up to camp and in the morning we make a huge pancake breakfast while talking about our ancestor’s oral history and traditions. We will work all day and then eat a big salad from our many gardens and a salmon dinner, usually grilled by Joey.
Jim Jax: What are some of your future aspirations?
I haven’t filmed a lot because I’ve been going to school and working. I’ve been very focused on my goals. It didn’t happen over night and its been many years of staying motivated and I want to continue reaching my goals. I recently got a great job that will allow me to be in Tanana more so that’s really exciting. I want to repair our fish camp, because a lot of things are aging. I also want to build a huge kitchen shack, and eventually build my own house in Tanana. I feel like it’s been so much hard work to get where I am today and now I just want to start enjoying life, doing things that make me happy. I want to do things like buying a four wheeler, boat & motor and spending time on the river and mountains. Some hobbies/aspirations I am interested in is film and continue concentration of the health of the salmon run in the rivers.
Jim Jax: What are you most proud of in regards to your family being on Yukon Men.
When this show first came out there was a lot of backlash and jealousy. I even told my dad that I didn’t want to associate myself with the name, but we learned to not let that bother us and just kept working & filming. When people come up to me and tell me “your dad is my hero” or “you’re brother is an amazing young man who takes care of his family”, it almost brings me to tears because everyone is seeing what I’ve seen all my life. I’m so proud to be their sister/daughter. So I’m most proud of the strong family values that people can see because it’s something we work hard on to have.