Kindle Edition: “A Mighty Nice Place”

oie_2219423FYtMVMHF“The valley looks great. It looks fine, fine. You got a mighty nice place here.” ~American humorist and commentator Will Rogers, Palmer, Alaska, August, 1935

In 1935 the U.S. Government transported 200 families from the Great Depression-stricken midwest to a valley of unparalleled beauty in Alaska, where they were given the chance to begin new lives as part of a federally-funded social experiment, the Matanuska Colony Project. It was part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal for America, an unprecedented series of economic programs designed to provide aid to people reeling from the Great Depression. Nearly one hundred new communities were designed and developed by Roosevelt’s planners, but the largest, most expensive, and most audacious of them all was to build a government-sponsored farming community in Alaska’s Matanuska Valley.
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“A Mighty Nice Place,” The History of the 1935 Matanuska Colony Project, by Helen Hegener, explains how a few visionary men convinced the planners in Washington, D.C. to extend their community-building efforts north to Alaska, and tells the complex story of this important chapter in Alaska’s history. On February 4, 1935, Executive Order Number 5967, signed by President Roosevelt, withdrew 8,000 acres of agriculturally promising land in the eastern part of the Matanuska Valley from homestead entry. When word of the Federal Government’s new program reached the press there were very mixed reactions and many misunderstandings, but the Alaskan colonization program quickly gripped the public’s attention with images of brave pioneers setting forth to recreate the Manifest Destiny of their forefathers in opening new lands. This mysterious territory of Alaska was, like the frontier west before it, the stuff of legends, with towering mountains, endless forests, unknown coasts and wild uncharted rivers.

oie_2219813tnY6TUDIThe April 13, 1935 issue of the Ironwood Daily News, Ironwood, Michigan, noted: “Two hundred families–including 1,000 persons–have been selected from farms in northern Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin to form the colony. Each family will be lent $3,000 and will be furnished a 40-acre homestead. Thirty years will be allowed for repayment of the money. The 480 relief workers who help launch the project will return to the states in the fall, leaving the farmers to carry on.”

Today there is a broad grassy park in Palmer which features historic signs telling of the town’s Colony heritage. Nearby is the ship’s bell from the U.S. Army Transport Ship St. Mihiel, which transported the first group of colonists from Minnesota to Alaska, and a set of brass plaques with the names of the Colonist families. The Colony House museum in Palmer reflects an average Colonist family’s home, restored to its 1936 -1945 appearance. Seventeen structures have been identified within the National Register of Historic Sites’ Matanuska Colony Historic District, including several Colony farms, a number of original Colony homes, the Matanuska Colony Community Center, the Palmer Train Depot, and others. The Alaska State Fair utilizes several original Colony buildings for administration and exhibit purposes, including a beautifully preserved Colony barn, one of over 60 remaining Colony barns in the Valley.

oie_2219928vflhgQGDThe remarkable photos of Willis T. Geisman, A.R.R.C. official photographer for the Matanuska Colony Project, documented every aspect of the venture, from the kitchen help aboard the North Star to the colonists’ children playing in the tent city, from officials posing stiffly for portraits to farmers working together to build homes before winter. His photographs portray proud farm wives showing their neat tent kitchens, and a small girl sitting in an Alaskan berry patch grinning at the cameraman. Geisman’s compelling images tell the true stories, moments in time captured and preserved, of children laughing, women working, men building futures for their families, brought together here with the detailed history of the Matanuska Colony Project.

The Kindle edition of this 2016 book is formatted as a print replica Kindle book, which maintains the rich formatting and layout of the print edition, while offering many of the advantages of standard Kindle books. Features include a pop-out and linked table of contents, page numbers matching the print edition, the ability to zoom in or pan out on a page, and search, copy, and paste features. Visit the Kindle store on Amazon to preview a sample of the book or to order your own copy today for only $5.99 (Kindle Matchbook $2.99)!

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CLICK THE LINK ABOVE TO VISIT THE AMAZON KINDLE STORE

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Kindle Edition: Alaska Railroad 1902-1923

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My 2017 book about the construction of the Alaska Railroad is now available in an Amazon Kindle edition, giving digital access to this in-depth exploration of an important chapter in Alaska’s history. The story of the railroad’s construction is a wide-ranging look at Alaska’s growth and development, in which the railroad played a major role. From dynamiting the railbed out of the cliffs along Turnagain Arm, to spanning the deep chasm of Hurricane Gulch, and from crossing the endless miles of muskeg swamp to bridging the mighty waters of the Tanana River, the history is told through historic documents, photographs, and publications.

The Kindle edition is formatted as a print replica Kindle book, which maintains the rich formatting and layout of the print edition, while offering many of the advantages of standard Kindle books. Features include a pop-out and linked table of contents, page numbers matching the print edition, the ability to zoom in or pan out on a page, and search, copy, and paste features. Visit the Kindle store on Amazon to preview a sample of the book or to order your own copy for only $5.99 (Kindle Matchbook $2.99)!

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CLICK THE LINK ABOVE THE VISIT THE AMAZON KINDLE STORE

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Frank George Carpenter

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Frank Carpenter (right) with Janet Lindberg, one of the founders of Nome, Alaska.

Frank George Carpenter (1855-1924) was a traveler, photographer, journalist, and lecturer whose writings helped popularize world geography and cultural anthropology. First working as a journalist for the Cleveland Leader, he became a correspondent for the American Press Association in 1884. By 1878 his writings were being widely syndicated in newspapers and magazines, and in 1888 he and his wife embarked on a trip around the world, describing life in the countries they journeyed through. 

The Carpenters traveled 25,000 miles in South America in 1898, and from the mid-1890s until he died, Frank Carpenter traveled around the world almost continuously, authoring nearly 40 books and hundreds of magazine articles about his extensive travels. Carpenter wrote standard geography textbooks and lectured on geography, and he wrote a series of books called Carpenter’s World Travelswhich were very popular between 1915 and 1930. Carpenter’s real estate holdings in Washington made him a millionaire, and he was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, the National Press Club, and numerous scientific societies.

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First hospital in Anchorage [Library of Congress Carpenter Collection]

In 1893 The San Francisco Morning Call wrote “He stands at the head of the syndicate correspondents of the United States.  What he writes is read every Sunday in twenty of the biggest cities of the Union, and his newspaper constituency must at the lowest amount to a million readers every week.”

With his daughter Frances (1890-1972), Frank Carpenter photographed Alaska and collected the images of other Alaskan photographers between 1910 and 1924, and Carpenter’s works helped popularize cultural anthropology and geography in the early years of the twentieth century. A collection of over 5,000 images were donated to the Library of Congress by Frances at her death in 1972. The Frank G. Carpenter Collection at the Library of Congress totals approximately 16,800 photographs and about 7,000 negatives.

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Hauling freight on the Overland Trail between Dawson and Whitehorse.

The Library includes this notation about the prints: “Within the albums, English captions accompany most images, but dates are not consistently indicated. The Carpenters may have taken many of the images, especially those made 1910-1924, but the albums also include images that they collected, and the origin of such images is not always noted.”

An excerpt from Carpenter’s 1923 book, Alaska, Our Northern Wonderland:

“The biggest thing in Alaska is the government railroad. By that I do not mean so much its five hundred miles of tracks, its cars and equipment, or the number of tons and passengers it will haul, but what it stands for in the future of the territory. It means the building of feeder wagon and motor roads and the construction of other railroads. It means cheaper coal, lower freight rates, lower living and mining costs. It means more lands and resources flung open to the settler and the prospector. It means a new era of development and prosperity for Alaskans. “

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Frank George Carpenter

Carpenter died of sickness in 1924 while in Nanking, China, on his third trip around the world, at age 69. The Boston Globe obituary observed he “always wrote fascinatingly, always in a language the common man and woman could understand, always of subjects even children are interested in.”

This article is excerpted and edited from:

CoverFinal Alaska & the Klondike, Early Writings and Historic Photographs, by Helen Hegener, published May, 2018, by Northern Light Media. An engaging journey through the literary history of Alaska and the Klondike, and an introduction to some of the most compelling books ever written about the North. $24.95 (plus shipping), 320 pages, over 100 b/w photos, ISBN-13: 978-1717401991. Click here to order.

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The Beautiful Matanuska Valley

Matanuska ValleyThe Beautiful Matanuska Valley, by Helen Hegener, includes chapters on Palmer, Wasilla, and other communities within the Valley, both still-existing and long-gone. Stories and photos of Knik, Sutton, Matanuska, Big Lake, Chickaloon and others tell the story of the founding, settling, and development of the Valley and surrounding areas.

Details about the Valley’s geography, geology, transportation, agriculture, mining, recreation, tourism, and history – highlighted by hundreds of full-color photographs – showcase the many wonders of the beautiful Matanuska Valley.

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Alaska Railroad Depot at Wasilla

From sled dog races to the Alaska State Fair, and from spring’s colorful flowers to the changing leaves of autumn, the Matanuska Valley is shown in all four seasons.

With photos and information about significant landmarks, attractions, historic sites and other points of interest, this book is a must-have volume for anyone who lives in, travels through, or loves Alaska’s beautiful Matanuska Valley! A web site for the book, with excerpts from several chapters, includes photograph slideshows and short articles about the Matanuska River, Alaskan wildflowers, Independence Mine in Hatcher Pass, Cottonwood Creek, Knik Arm, the Eklutna Power Plants and much more.

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Sailboats at Big Lake Yacht Club

The Beautiful Matanuska Valley

This book is a must-have volume for anyone who lives in, travels through, or loves Alaska’s beautiful Matanuska Valley! 140 pages, full color, large format 8.5″ x 10″ paperback, maps, resources, index and photo index.

• $29.95 plus $5.00 postage and handling.

Valley Buy Now• To place a secure order via credit card or Paypal, simply click this image link:

• To order via check or money order, mail your order to Northern Light Media, PO Box 870515, Wasilla, Alaska 99687-0515.

IndieBoundAvailable at IndieBound

amazon-logo-squareAlso available on Amazon

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Split-the-Wind

Split-the-Wind

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Vilhjalmur Stefansson, 1915

The Canadian Arctic Expedition, organized in July, 1913 under the leadership of explorer and anthropologist Vilhjalmur Stefansson, was designed to be the most comprehensive scientific study of the Arctic ever attempted, comprised of a multi-pronged approach to researching and documenting the most northerly reaches of the North American continent. Stefansson organized and directed the expedition to explore the regions west of Parry Archipelago for the Government of Canada. Three ships, the Karluk, the Mary Sachs, and the Alaska were employed. All three expedition ships were frozen into the ice before they could reach their initial destination of Herschel Island, and the flagship of the expedition, the Karluk, was eventually crushed by the ice. Eleven members of the expedition were lost before the remaining members were rescued by the Revenue Cutter Bear.

Scientists of many disciplines, and from several countries, had answered the call and joined the expedition, and while many of them lost their lives, most returned almost four years later with thousands of artifacts, specimens, photos, film and sound recordings; scientific data and valuable knowledge which has been used in Arctic science and research ever since.

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Photograph of the expedition ship Karluk fast in the ice, about 15 miles west of Manning Point, Alaska, August 1913.An umiak hangs in slings below the bowsprit.

The Canadian Museum of History features an excellent online exhibit detailing the Canadian Arctic Expedition, noting:

“Much of the story of this first major Canadian scientific expedition to the Arctic is yet untold. Though fourteen volumes of scientific data were published, and books have been written on the most tragic or adventuresome parts of the Expedition, much of the fascinating story has remained buried in Expedition diaries until now. Through this virtual exhibition you can explore first-hand the rugged lands and meet the people of the Canadian Arctic.”

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Natkusiak, Emiu and Karsten Andersen in front of a long expedition sled, Borden Island, Northwest Territories, Canada. Photo by Vilhjalmur Stefansson, May, 1916.

One of the most compelling books to come out of the Canadian Arctic Expedition was written by Harold Noice, who joined as a sailor and crew member on the schooner Polar Bearwhen she left Seattle in March 1915. Noice maintained a detailed diary during his time with Stefansson’s exploration party, and was with the intrepid explorer during the discovery of new lands in 1916 and 1917.

In 1924 Harold Noice published an account of his adventures with the Canadian Arctic Expedition, titled With Stefansson in the Arctic. In his book, Noice told of an Inupiat guide for Vilhjalmer Stefannsson’s expeditions named Emiu, who was also known as “Split-the-Wind” due to his fondness for fast dogteams.

Originally from Cape Nome, and formerly a cabin boy on the schooner Polar Bear, Emiu took part in all of the ‘New Land’ sled trips in the Arctic islands between 1916 and 1918. Emiu had, according to Noice, spent two years in Seattle and most of the rest of his life in Nome, Alaska.

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Emui (Split-the-Wind) with one of his dogs, on M’Clure Strait, south of Melville Island, N.W.T. April 10, 1916.

“Split was a game little fellow, like a compact bundle of fine steel wires. He had a habit of pulling his belt tight which made him look even more gaunt than he was, and at camp-time he used to delight in talking about the fine beefsteaks we would order when we finally got back to civilization.”

“Split told us… how on such a date he had trained the team of racing dogs that won the All Alaska Sweepstakes in so many hours, ‘Twenty-three minutes and eighty-nine seconds flat!’” A search of the All Alaska Sweepstakes race results for the early years of the race does not show a team finishing within that specific time configuration, and the available finishes do not include a time for 24 minutes and 29 seconds, which is what the adjusted time would be.

Split was one of several former members of the Canadian Arctic Expedition who succumbed to the influenza epidemic of 1918. According to Noice “Little Split died of influenza a few days after he reached Nome.”

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Dog sleds of the Stefannson-Anderson Canadian-Arctic Expedition, built in Nome, Alaska, 1913.

For the most part, Split-the-Wind has all but disappeared from the annals of history; references to the speedy little musher are difficult to find, and photos of him are rare. Unfortunately this was not an unusual development in early Alaska, when photographers needed to be selective about how they utilized photographic equipment and materials which were difficult to move and to use in the extreme northern weather conditions.

A passing mention of Split-the-Wind is found at the Iditarod Historic Trail Alliance site,  as one of an elite group of Alaskan mushers: “An assortment of travelers used the Trail. The majority were prospectors, trappers, or Natives who traveled—often without dogs or with one or two to help pull a sledload of supplies—to isolated cabins. A surprising number walked along the Trail. The hero of the Trail, however, was the dogsled team and driver.

“These noteworthies earned nicknames befitting the men who raced along the Trail carrying fresh eggs or oranges, mail or express, or shipments of gold—Frank Tondreau, known from Belfast to Point Barrow as the Malemute Kid; the famous racer John “Iron Man” Johnson and his indefatigable Siberians; Captain Ulysses Grant Norton, the tireless Trojan of the trails; the Eskimo, Split-the-Wind; and the wandering Japanese, Jujira Wada. All were welcomed in the camps and became often interviewed celebrities.”

There’s another brief mention of this remarkable musher in the bookAmerica’s Forgotten Pandemic: the Influenza of 1918 by Alfred W. Crosby, who is Professor Emeritus in American Studies, History and Geography at the University of Texas at Austin. Crosby explains that between August, 1918 and March, 1919 the Spanish influenza spread worldwide, claiming between 50 and 130 million lives, making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history. In a strange twist, nearly half of those affected by the disease were healthy young adults between the ages of 20 and 40, and as the pandemic spread through the Eskimo communities around Nome it had devastating results.

Of the intrepid Emiu, Crosby writes: “One Eskimo who died was a twenty-five-year-old named Split-the-Wind, known as the greatest musher that Alaska had ever produced. He had survived incredible hardships while guiding Vilhjalmer Stefannsson, the great explorer, in the deep Arctic, eating snowshoe lacings when there was nothing better; but now he was dead of Spanish influenza, along with 750 other Eskimos of the Seward Peninsula.”   ~•~

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A Woman Who Went to Alaska

000tA Woman Who Went––to Alaska, by May Kellogg Sullivan, was published in 1902 by James H. Earle & Co., of Boston, Massachusetts. The book describes two trips in which the author journeyed to the Yukon and Alaskan goldfields in 1899, a year after the height of the Klondike Gold Rush. Her father and brother were working claims near Dawson City, and they were surprised to see her, and perhaps even more surprised when she continued her travels, eventually reaching Nome and Dutch Harbor. Regarding the reason for her adventurous trip, the author wrote:

“This unpretentious little book is the outcome of my own experiences and adventures in Alaska. Two trips, covering a period of eighteen months and a distance of over twelve thousand miles were made practically alone. In answer to the oft-repeated question of why I went to Alaska I can only give the same reply that so many others give: I wanted to go in search of my fortune which had been successfully eluding my grasp for a good many years. Neither home nor children claimed my attention. No good reason, I thought, stood in the way of my going to Alaska; for my husband, traveling constantly at his work had long ago allowed me carte blanche as to my inclinations and movements. To be sure, there was no money in the bank upon which to draw, and an account with certain friends whose kindness and generosity cannot be forgotten, was opened up to pay passage money; but so far neither they nor I have regretted making the venture. I had first-class health and made up in endurance what I lacked in avoirdupois, along with a firm determination to take up the first honest work that presented itself, regardless of choice, and in the meantime to secure a few gold claims, the fame of which had for two years reached my ears.”

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Porcupine Canyon, White Pass

May Kellogg Sullivan’s description of her travel down the great Yukon River to the golden beaches of Nome, passing through Forty Mile Camp, Eagle City and Circle City, across the Yukon Flats to Fort Yukon, and into the Bering Sea at St. Michael, are detailed, matter-of-fact, and fascinating to anyone interested in northland history. As an example, May describes the morning she arrived in Dawson City:

“It was Monday morning, the thirtieth of July, 1899, and the weather was beautifully clear. I had been fourteen days coming from Seattle. Hundreds of people waited upon the dock to see us land, and to get a glimpse of a new lot of “Chechakos,” as all newcomers are called.

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Dawson City, Yukon Territory

“Soon after landing I met upon the street an old Seattle friend of my parents, who knew me instantly and directed me to my father. This man’s kind offer to look up my baggage was accepted, and I trudged down through the town towards the Klondyke River, where my father and brother lived. I had no difficulty in finding father, and after the first surprise and our luncheon were over we proceeded to find my brother at his work. His astonishment was as great as my father’s, and I cannot truthfully state that either of them were overcome with joy at seeing me in Dawson. At any other time or place they undoubtedly would have been delighted, but they were too well acquainted with conditions to wish another member of their family there in what was probably then the largest and roughest mining camp in the world. The situation that presented itself was this. Instead of finding my relatives comfortably settled in a large and commodious log cabin of their own on the banks of the Klondyke River, as they had written they were, I found them in the act of moving all their belongings into a big covered scow or barge drawn close to the river bank and securely fastened. Cooking utensils, boxes, bags of provisions consisting of flour, beans and meal, as well as canned goods of every description, along with firewood and numerous other things, were dumped in one big heap upon the banks of the Klondyke River near the barge.”

Why May’s father and brother were moving onto the barge, what May did next, and her vibrant descriptive writings of her further travels are all shared in her books, A Woman Who Went––to Alaska, and The Trail of a Sourdough, They are both available to read online or to download at Project Gutenberg,

CoverFinalExcerpts from May Kellogg Sullivan’s A Woman Who Went––to Alaska are included in the most recent book by Helen Hegener:

Alaska & the Klondike, Early Writings and Historic Photographs, compiled and edited by Helen Hegener, published May 10, 2018 by Northern Light Media. $24.95 (plus shipping), 320 pages, over 100 b/w photos, ISBN-13: 978-1717401991. Click here to order.

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Alaska’s Coal History

 

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Coal mines at Chickaloon, north of Palmer

Alaska’s Coal History:
How Coal Played a Role

“Coal played a strategic part in the history and early development of Alaska.” L.J. Campbell, Alaska Railroads (Alaska Geographic V. 19, No. 4, 1992)

Alaska’s railroad history has been interwoven with Alaska’s coal resources almost from the beginning, and the black rock has driven the development of the Alaska Railroad since the days of its smaller predecessors. Historian William H. Wilson considered it such an important part of the story that he dedicated an entire chapter to it, The Lure of Coal, in his classic work, Railroad in the Clouds: The Alaska Railroad in the Age of Steam, 1914-1945 (Pruett Publishing, 1977). Wilson eloquently opened the chapter with these lines:

“The coal lay folded into rock, bound where the violent primeval pressures had formed it. It lay in black scars across bleak cliffs, exposed by centuries of wind and water. Long before men discovered Alaska’s great fields, they knew that some coal was there. They found it in abundance in much the same way as they found rich gold: sometimes by chance, sometimes by intuition, sometimes by careful prospecting.

“Coal worked only a little less magic than gold. Although it could not drive men mad in the search or possession of it, Alaska coal bewitched them powerfully. It led a shrewd and wealthy man into a damaging blunder, helped to besmirch official reputations, and hastened the downfall of a president and his party.”

There were two huge coal deposits which played major parts in the Alaska Railroad’s history and development. The first was located along the Matanuska River, 25 to 30 miles north of Palmer, where coal tested by the U.S. Navy in 1914 would be found suitable for naval use. The Eska Mine at Sutton opened in 1917 and soon reported a daily output of 35 tons; that same year the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce reported two Matanuska area coal companies were producing 200 tons daily. The Evan Jones Coal Mine would open in 1920 and supply coal to the military bases near Anchorage until 1960.

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Jonesville Coal Mine (Stan Stark photo)

The following year, 1921, a huge coal washing plant would be constructed at Sutton by the Alaska Engineering Commission, and the Navy’s Alaskan Coal Commission would build a coal mining camp with a school, hospital, and housing for the miners’ families at Chickaloon. Ironically, these government operations would close three years later, before they were fully functioning, when the Navy converted its coal-fired ships to oil.

The other large deposit was the Nenana coal field near Healy, north of Mount McKinley National Park. Commercial development began in 1914, four years before the railroad would reach Healy. Far-sighted businessman Austin E. “Cap” Lathrop headed the Healy River Coal Corporation at Suntrana, and by 1940 Lathrop’s mine would be producing half of all the coal mined in Alaska. The Healy River Coal Co. would eventually become part of the Usibelli Coal Mine, one of the largest in Alaska.

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Coal and gold areas

There were other great coal fields in the Territory, such as the Cook Inlet Coal Fields which led the industrious Homer Pennock to found the town of Homer on the southern tip of the Kenai Peninsula. There were numerous coal mines along the Yukon River which fueled the great sternwheelers plying its waters with freight for the Alaska Commercial stores and hopeful gold seekers en route to the next rich diggings. Hundreds of small-scale coal mines operated, as coal was needed for such disparate uses as cannery operations, thawing frozen ground for placer gold mining, and keeping the federal government’s revenue cutters moving through Alaskan waters.

Edwin M. Fitch wrote in The Alaska Railroad (Frederick A. Praeger, 1967): “Access to Alaska’s coal was almost universally thought to be a guarantee of success to Territorial railroads that were linked to coal lands. But Congress seemed to be guarding against exploitation whether good or bad.”

Fitch was referring to a series of events which began in 1895, with an appropriation by Congress for the initial surveying of Alaska’s mineral resources by the U.S. Geological Survey. Over time the Alaskan coal fields would prove to be among the largest in the world.

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Editorial cartoon portraying the Morgan-Guggenheim Alaska Syndicate

In 1900 the government extended its mining laws to the Territory of Alaska, which allowed prospectors to stake mineral claims, including coal, on the surveyed lands. Three years later the Bering River coal fields on the eastern edge of the Copper River delta were mapped, and the next year, 1904, saw passage of the Alaska Coal Act, which eliminated the requirement that coal claims be on government surveyed land. Almost a thousand coal claims were were filed in the area, leading to legitimate accusations of collusion and attempts to circumvent the laws as the powerful Morgan-Guggenheim Alaska Syndicate moved to consolidate claims with the aid of Secretary of the Interior Richard A. Ballinger.

Leading the charge against Ballinger and the Morgan-Guggenheims was conservationist Gifford Pinchot, the first Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, who withdrew a huge swath of land in south central Alaska which included the controversial Bering River coal claims. The resulting Ballinger-Pinchot affair in 1910 involved the illegal transfer of federal coal claims to the Morgan-Guggenheim Syndicate. It culminated in a Congressional investigation, contributed to the split of the Republican party, and helped to define the conservation movement of the early twentieth century. ~•~

An excerpt from:

ARR CoverThe Alaska Railroad: 1902-1923, Blazing an Iron Trail Across The Last Frontier, by Helen Hegener, published in May, 2017 by Northern Light Media. 400 pages, over 100 b/w historic photos, maps, bibliography, indexed. The book can be ordered via PayPal for $24.00 plus $5.00 postage, by clicking here (credit cards accepted). The Alaska Railroad: 1902-1923 is also available at Amazon, IndieBound, CreateSpace, and can be ordered through your favorite bookstore.

 

 

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Parks-Archer Colony Barn

The Parks/Archer barn is a familiar landmark in the Bodenburg Loop Road area, being two Colony barns placed end-to-end. In this photo the barn on the left is the Parks barn, built on tract no. 189, and the barn on the right is the Archer barn, moved from tract no. 193. (Photos by Helen Hegener/Northern Light Media)

The Parks/Archer barn is a familiar landmark in the Bodenburg Loop Road area, being two Colony barns placed end-to-end. In this photo the barn on the left is the Parks barn, built on tract no. 189, and the barn on the right is the Archer barn, moved from tract no. 193. (Photos by Helen Hegener/Northern Light Media)

The magnificent Parks-Archer barn which sat on the south side of Bodenburg Butte is gone now, another loss to Matanuska Valley history, but it was included in my 2013 book on the Matanuska Colony barns (see below for ordering). Comprised of two Colony barns moved together, it was a Valley landmark for decades.

In 1935 the U.S. Government transported 200 families from the Great Depression-stricken midwest to a valley of unparalleled beauty in Alaska, where they were given the chance to begin new lives as part of a federally-funded social experiment, the Matanuska Colony Project. As part of each family’s farmstead, a magnificent barn was raised, a sturdy square structure 32′ by 32′ and soaring 32′ high. Today these Colony barns are an iconic reminder of what has been called the last great pioneering adventure in America.

The Parks and Archer barns were built on adjoining 80 acre tracts, numbers 189 and 193, respectively. Local historian Lynn Sandvik explained to me in 2012, “They moved the Archer barn north and put them together and did quite a bit of work on them about 20 years ago, for some kind of centennial something, but then they forgot about them again.”

In a 2012 letter to me, Valley historian Jim Fox related a little of the Parks family history from an interview with daughter Bonita Parks Strong: “Many of the farmers in the Butte had sheep, selling their wool to Pendleton in Washington or Minnesota woolen mills, often getting blankets and winter clothes in exchange along with some cash. The Parks family had a big flock which they drove up into the mountains to the north in the summer, an 18 to 20 mile trip…”

In front of the Archer barn, the Parks barn can be seen in the distance, along with Bodenburg Butte. Glen Archer’s great grandmother Lillian Post wrote near it, “Perle Archer thinks he can handle his big bull. One day it took many to handle him.”

In front of the Archer barn, the Parks barn can be seen in the distance, along with Bodenburg Butte. Glen Archer’s great grandmother Lillian Post wrote near it, “Perle Archer thinks he can handle his big bull. One day it took many to handle him.”

Glen Archer, a grandson of Colonists Perle and Dorothy Archer, wrote to me in 2012, “My sister and I grew up listening to our father, Floyd Archer, tell stories about growing up in the Matanuska Valley and homesteading there and how his parents, Perle and Dorothy Archer, moved the family from Wisconsin to Alaska. He was only 18 months old… there were six children including my father in the family. My father still has lots of memories of life in Alaska, going to school, playing with the Colony kids, and all the hard work and long winters.”

The barn in the foreground is the Otto Peterson barn, the one in the center of the photo would be the Archer barn. The Parks barn was just out of the photo on the left side.

The barn in the foreground is the Otto Peterson barn, the one in the center of the photo would be the Archer barn. The Parks barn was just out of the photo on the left side.

“About 12 years ago, I inherited from my father the old family album filled with pictures of the homestead and family in Alaska.  Among the pictures is a picture of the Archer barn, more pictures of the chicken coop, farm animals, the fields, as well as the house.  All of the pictures appear to have  been  taken  by  my  great grandparents (Dorothy’s parents) during their trip to visit Perle, Dorothy and the six kids, in 1939, which would have been well after Perle and Dorothy were selected as part of the 200 plus families and moved to Palmer.”

In another letter to me, Glen Archer shared some of the family history after a visit with his father: “Dad said yesterday that the original house was a nice fairly large two story log house which had a full basement. It had been insulated with what he remembers as oakum, which he described as fibers saturated with a tar like substance. Somehow, two or three years after being built, his older siblings Betty and Bob one day caught the insulation on fire and the house burned to the ground. Dad said that grandpa (Perle) was very sad about the whole experience as he had really put his heart and soul into building that place and was proud of it. According to Dad, Grandpa was one of the few individuals who truly knew how to build and taught others to build. He was a general contractor for decades after they returned to the states. Grandpa also apparently started a sawmill which employed others so they could have access to milled lumber and was instrumental in building Fort Richardson.”

Parks/Archer barn. Photo by Stewart Amgwert, Wasilla.

Parks/Archer barn. Photo by Stewart Amgwert, Wasilla.

This post is edited from the book The Matanuska Colony Barns, by Helen Hegener, published by Northern Light Media in May, 2013. See below for ordering:

BarnsFrntCvrThe Matanuska Colony Barns 

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• The Matanuska Colony Barns: The Enduring Legacy of the 1935 Matanuska Colony Project, by Helen Hegener, photographs by Eric Vercammen, Stewart Amgwert, Albert Marquez, Dave Rose, Joanie Juster, Ron Day and others. Foreword by Barbara Hecker. Introduction by James H. Fox. 140 pages, full color. ISBN 978-0-9843977-4-7. Includes Colonist families listing, maps, bibliography, resources, index.

• Order directly from the author, Helen Hegener: $29.00 plus $5.00 postage and handling (via USPS Priority; US only, foreign orders please use Amazon). To order via credit card or Paypal, click the link above and send payment to helenhegener@gmail.com

• To order via check or money order, mail to Northern Light Media, PO Box 298023, Wasilla, Alaska 99629 

• Locally the book is available at Fireside Books and the Colony House Museum in Palmer.

• Your local independent bookstore Support local independent booksellers, order my book through any of these fine independent bookstores by giving them the title of the book and the ISBN: 978-0-9843977-4-7 (Any bookstore, anywhere, can order the book with that information):

Fireside Books, Palmer, Alaska

Title Wave Books, Anchorage, Alaska

• Ordering online:

Amazon The best option for foreign orders. 

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New Book: Alaska & the Klondike

CoverFinalThe newest book from Northern Light Media is an anthology, Alaska & the Klondike, Early Writings and Historic Photographs, compiled and edited by Helen Hegener, published May 10, 2018.

Charting an unknown country, exploring a wondrous land, searching for gold, delivering freight and mail beyond where any roads would reach, these were the exciting topics of books which became northland classics, with titles such as Ten Thousand Miles with a Dog Sled, The Land of Tomorrow, and Along Alaska’s Great River.

Wonderful photographs accompany the often colorful writings of Frederick Schwatka, Hudson Stuck, Robert Service, Josiah Edward Spurr, and many others as they tell of adventures, explorations, fortunes won and lost, and the magnificent promise of our great northern lands.
Two Women Waffle House

Two Girls Waffle House, Anchorage

Read the words of those intrepid travelers who accepted the challenge of the north and left an indelible mark in their writing of it. Their first-hand observations are invaluable to understanding the history, as when world traveller Frank Carpenter noted while touring the construction of the Alaska Railroad: “I was so fortunate as to see Anchorage in the stump, tent, and shack stage, though it was growing marvelously fast. I give you my notes just as I penned them when I was on the spot, seeing how Uncle Sam’s engineers and executives were putting through their big job.”

000tSelected excerpts are from the following books:
Golden Alaska, by Ernest Ingersoll
The Land of Tomorrow, by William B. Stephenson, Jr.
The Spell of the Yukon & Other Verses, by Robert Service
The Ascent of Denali, by Hudson Stuck
From Paris to New York by Land, by Harry DeWindt
Through the Yukon Gold Diggings, by Josiah Edward Spurr
A Woman Who Went––To Alaska, by May Kellogg Sullivan
The Land of Nome, by Lanier McKee
Ten Thousand Miles with a Dog Sled, by Hudson Stuck
Along Alaska’s Great River, by Frederick Schwatka
Alaska: Our Northern Wonderland, by Frank Carpenter
A Dog-Puncher on the Yukon, by Arthur Treadwell Walden

Alaska author Helen Hegener has compiled an engaging journey through the literary history of Alaska and the Klondike, and an introduction to some of the most compelling books ever written about the North.

 

CoverFinalAlaska & the Klondike, Early Writings and Historic Photographs, compiled and edited by Helen Hegener, published May 10, 2018 by Northern Light Media. $24.95 (plus shipping), 320 pages, over 100 b/w photos, ISBN-13: 978-1717401991. Click here to order.
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Northern Light Media Books

Books block

Northern Light Media publishes non-fiction books about the history of Alaska, with more than a dozen titles currently in print. Learning more about these titles and ordering books is easy, and there are four convenient ways to do so online:

NLM

Northern Light Media You can order every title I’ve published directly through my website, just click on the title you’re interested in for complete details about the book and a link for ordering through PayPal, which also accepts credit and debit card orders.

CSCreateSpace CreateSpace publishes all of my books and makes it very easy to order them from the CreateSpace Store. Each title is listed and clicking on the title takes you to a descriptive page for that book, with complete details and ordering through the convenient CreateSpace shopping cart.

IndieBoundIndieBound I support independent bookstores and encourage ordering my books through your local favorite brick and mortar store! There are two ways to purchase books through bookstores via IndieBound.org: (1) The “Buy Now” button on every book page allows you to purchase the book immediately, and the sale will support the entire network of independent bookstores. (2) By entering a zip code in the “Shop Local” box, you will be able to choose from among the websites for a list of independent bookstores near you. You will then be transferred to the selected store’s website to complete the purchase.

AmazonAmazon Amazon.com, the largest Internet-based bookstore retailer in the U.S., carries all of my books, simply enter the title you’re interested in and use Amazon’s easy online ordering system! There are other online book services which can also order my books, but I believe Amazon is the best!

If you have questions about a book, an order, or just want to get acquainted with an Alaskan author, please send me an email:

Contact Me:

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