Should I Go to Alaska?

Our last frontier is no bonanza field—no get-rich-quick spot in which to stay a year or two in the hope of making a fortune. Alaska’s boom days are over, fortunately for the Territory and its citizens. The hard-fisted era of gold rushes, miners’ meetings, and frontier justice has vanished. The fortune hunters have come and gone—most of them poorer than they arrived—or have left their bones in remote graveyards. The real pioneers—stubborn and tough-minded men and women who believed in themselves and in Alaska’s future—stayed. A new generation, born and brought up in Alaska and educated in Alaskan schools, has come of age.

This does not mean that the pioneer spirit has disappeared. Far from it. Alaska’s pioneer tradition remains strong and is breaking down barriers today. It is discovering new ways of conquering the Territory’s vast distances, conserving and developing its rich resources, using modern machinery to snake up for its lack of manpower, solving the problem of growing its own food and bringing it to market, keeping its scattered population in touch with one another and with the States by plane and radio, ocean and highway.

Before you decide whether or not to go to Alaska to live and work; ask yourself a few questions and answer then honestly.

Do I like to work?

Almost everybody works in Alaska. If an Alaskan’s job means doing something with his hands, he likes it so much the better. Alaska’s white-collar class is very small. And although some Alaskans are very well off, there is no class which merely lives on its investments. No Alaskan ever “retires” until he is physically unable to work any longer.

Do I get along well with others?

At the last census there were only a few more whites in Alaska than there are people working in the Pentagon in wartime Washington, D. C. The total resident population of Alaska—white and native—in 1939 was 72,524, or about the population of Little Rock, Arkansas. It was probably under 100,000 in 1944.

Consequently, a man is soon known, by reputation at least, to many other Alaskans. Gossip spreads fast in this northern outpost. A show-off, a snob, or a lazybones is soon known for what he is. In Alaska a good reputation is worth more than money in the bank. With it, you can get on credit a grubstake, housing, or tools, and can buy on terms other commodities and transportation which sell for cash on the barrelhead in the States.

Getting along with people is important because there are no large cities, no Coney Island crowds, no mass entertainment. The anonymity and excitement of New York, Chicago, or San Francisco are lacking. You will be judged on your own merit as an individual, not on the basis of how much money you have or who your grandparents were.

Can I do more than one thing?

General all-round knowledge—ability to repair a truck or a boat, shoot a gun; use tools handily, pitch a camp, and cook—are useful in Alaska. Most Alaskan industries are seasonal, closing down in summer or winter, and many Alaskans ply two or more trades. This does not mean that all Alaskan work is manual. There is plenty of need in Alaska for professional men and for skilled workers with a trade. But if you are a dentist and can fly a plane, or if you are a farmer and can run a trap line; so much the better.

Am I physically fit?

Alaska’s climate is healthy and no more taxing than Minnesota’s. But to make your way in the Territory, sound health will give you a good running start.

Have I some capital?

To make a good beginning, with time and money to look around before settling down, the prospective Alaskan should take with him, over and above his fare, enough money to see him through at least six months. A single man should take at least $1,500; a man with a family of, say, a wife and one child, at least $2,500.

If the answer to each of these five questions is an honest “yes,” you should be able to make your way in Alaska.

From EM 20: What Has Alaska to Offer Postwar Pioneers? (1944)