to Offer Postwar Pioneers?
Do Alaskans Make a Living?
No master of a trade who is willing to work
need find himself out of a job in Alaska. Most Alaskan industries are seasonal,
however, and the prospective Alaskan should be prepared to switch from one job
to another according to season.
Wages are high, to compensate for high living
costs. The custom of the grubstake is widespread: buying necessities
on credit in the slack season, to be paid for during the busy season.
so far in Alaska has not been able to keep up with the demand for farm products.
In 1940 Alaskans were importing from the States $8,200,000 worth of farm products
a year, including $1,000,000 worth of vegetables, and $5,000,000 worth of meat.
Since 1940, due to the war, imports have increased enormously. But there is no
doubt that a large market will continue to exist for Alaskan farmers products,
providing they can raise them and get them to market.
There are four principal
farming areas in Alaska: the Tanana Valley, the area near Homer on Kenai Peninsula,
parts of Kodiak Island, and the Matanuska Valley.
Matanuska, the most famous
of these, is populated by about 2,250 persons, including the residents of the
towns of Palmer and Wasilla. There are about 250 farms in the valley, 144 of which
were established by the Alaska Rural Rehabilitation Corporation, which started
the Matanuska Valley Colonization Project in 1935. Farmers have cleared about
6,000 acres of land and own about 700 dairy cows, some 600 hogs, 1,200 sheep,
about 100 horses, and approximately 100 beef cattle.
The chief types of
farming in the valley are dairying, general farming, truck farming, and poultry
raising. Most of the farmers sell their products through their cooperative, which
operates a creamery in Palmer and a dairy in Anchorage. Dairy farming has proved
profitable for farmers, but they have found it best to raise from their farms
all the vegetables and food crops they can for family living.
lies on about the same latitude as Leningrad, USSR, or Oslo, Norway. In the last
19 years, temperatures in the valley have averaged 13° above zero in January and
58° in July. Precipitation over the same period averaged 15.5 inches a year. There
is an average growing season of 108 days. The soil is a rich loam. There are few
pests or noxious weeds and no snakesbut plenty of mosquitoes!
of 80 to 160 acres owned by the Alaska Rural Rehabilitation Corporation sell,
when vacant, from about $4,500 to $6,000, with about one-fifth down payment. These
farms may be leased the first year. Other farms are sometimes available from private
owners. Undeveloped government land may be purchased at prices ranging from $1.25
to $5.00 per acre. It is usually covered with birch-spruce forest, and must be
cleared before it can be farmed. Special settlers steamship rates can be
secured by farmers bringing their own equipment and machinery. If possible, the
settler should bring with him livestock, farm machinery, tools, and furniture.
fish are more valuable than Alaska goldand the fish come back every year.
Alaskans consider fishing their most important industry. In 1941 food fish and
shellfish taken out of Alaskan waters totaled over $61,000,000 in value. Of this
amount, more than $56,000,000 was the value of the years output of canned
salmonnearly 7,000,000 cases.
The most important fishing areas are
southeastern Alaska and Bristol Bay. Salmon taking and canning is a large-scale
industry of big operators, who import much of their labor during the season, which
extends from about June 25 to about July 25. Local Alaskans pitch in to help run
the catch up to astronomical size. Many southeastern fishermen own their own boats,
and catch shrimp, crab, halibut, and herring.
prospector with his pick, shovel, and pan has not entirely disappeared from the
Alaskan scene. Nowadays he travels by plane and may have a degree from a mining
college, but his job still has its old elements of luck and loneliness. An experienced
prospector can usually make his grubstakeand there is always the possibility
of cashing in on that thousand-to-one shot of finding rich gravel or a paying
Most Alaskan mining, however, is a large-scale affair requiring big
corporate investments and expensive equipment. In southeastern Alaska gold mining
is mostly lode, or hard-rock, in which huge quantities of mineral-bearing ore
are mechanically crushed and stamped to yield relatively small quantities of metal.
In the interior and the southwest, mining is usually of the placer variety, in
which the gold-bearing gravel is thawed and dredged. A favorite combination of
jobs in the interior is working in a mining camp in summer and trapping in the
Gold mining, save for small-scale operations, has been halted in
Alaska for the duration, but will no doubt be resumed after the war.
and Fur Farming
Alaskas seventeen kinds of commercial furs are known
the world over. The land fur bearers yield every year more than 375,000 skins
worth over $2,000,000mink, fox, beaver, muskrat, lynx, marten, land otter,
ermine, and many other varieties. They are found in many parts of the Territory,
so that trapping is a rather general way of supplementing ones income.
say that fur wearers breed faster than fur bearers. For this reason,
raising fur-bearing animals becomes every year a more flourishing industry. The
climate is right, food supplies plentiful, equipment simple, and transportation
problems not difficult.
You can lease a fur farm for 10 years or less from
the government for a maximum annual rental of 1 per cent on the gross returns
from fur sales, and a minimum of $5.00 for not more than 10 acres. A number of
fur farmers lease whole islands. This is permitted if the island is not over 30
There are still free public lands available
for homesteading. Of course, much of this unreserved acreage is not suitable for
making a home. Most suitable for farmsteads are the areas on the Cook Inlet shore
of the Kenai Peninsula, in the Tanana Valley near Fairbanks, and in the Matanuska
Valley. Homestead entries for up to 160 acres can be made through the district
land offices in Anchorage, Fairbanks, or Nome. The General Land Office in Washington,
which has jurisdiction over the public domain in Alaska, will supply full information
Any United States citizen employed in Alaska may purchase one
5-acre tract at $2.50 per acre and the cost of surveying it. It is also possible
to purchase larger tracts up to 80 acres for business purposes, including fur
farming. Private purchase of proved land may be made from homesteaders and others.
Coal and timber on public lands is available to individual users under specified
Buying and Selling
Alaskans demand a high quality in
the goods they buy, since high transportation charges bring the cost of cheap
and shoddy articles into the price range of more expensive ones. Alaskan customers
also demand complete frankness from merchants as to the quality of goods, and
expect long-term credit to carry them over unproductive seasons.
for Alaskan customers, with their large buying power, is keen, and the prospective
merchant will find himself competing against mail-order houses and old trading
companies. He will encounter serious transportation difficulties. In remote regions
the trading post has a virtual monopoly. Persons intending to invest capital in
any selling enterprise should go over the ground carefully and consult local chambers
Professions, Trades, and Services
Young and healthy
men and women with a profession or a skilled trade do well in the larger centers.
They should bring their professional equipment or the tools and machinery of their
trade with them.
Odd or seasonal jobs are usually available according to
the region and season. Some of them are: work in stores, garages, restaurants,
and other services; trucking; construction and building; fishing, mining, and
trapping; timbering and land clearing; surveying; road construction and maintenance;
railroad work; nursing, school teaching; and office work.
was built by people who lived in the futurewho mixed in their ordinary days
work a considerable portion of hope and belief in tomorrow. This is as true of
Alaskans today as it was of earlier pioneers in that region.