Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Spirits of Modern Homesteading

Thanks to the amazing photographs of Solomon D. Butcher, the thought of homesteaders brings to my mind a very precise image: I see a proud but stern family: the shy daughters, dressed in the same fabric; the sons obediently lined up next to them, mom holding a baby and dad, a large brim hat in hands, looking tired but pleased by this togetherness. The conjugal bed and their cattle have been displayed in front of their dreary dugout for all to admire.

Through the seriousness of this family, I grasp the importance of this moment. This humble and nameless family knows, it seems, that a page of the American history is being written. It is witnessing gracefully the hardship of its life to the future generations.

These aged photographs could lead us into forgetting the more modern homesteaders: the ones who up to 1986 benefited from the Homestead Act in Alaska.

The recent obituaries of the Anchorage Daily News (2007) unveil these modern homesteaders and from their life story, we can recognize the early pioneers.

The love of land and of outdoor life is a must for any pioneer.

Scott McKean, (born in 1955) fell in love with Alaska and decided to make it his home… He homesteaded land in close proximity to Lake Larson near Talkeetna, where he was building a cabin of his own…. Scott loved fishing, camping and everything to do with nature. He led an adventurous life, hitchhiking across the United States several times…(Anchorage Daily News, June 13, 2007).


Like a true pioneer, Beulah Mary Colborn, born in 1921, knew the importance of postponing domestic comfort in order to develop a future income.

In the 1950s, during the territorial years, she began the homesteading process in Big Lake. Living in a wall tent, she and her husband built a sawmill, erected a two-story home and ran a service station for the local airstrip and community (Anchorage Daily News, July 20, 2007).

Beulah Mary Colborn testified that education was important for any pioneers. In addition to home schooling her own children, she was instrumental in developing the first Quonset hut school in 1960 (Anchorage Daily News, July 20, 2007).

As you can guess, traveling to their destination was easier in the 1950s. The new Alaskans used the highway en route to their land, quite unimaginable in the first days of homesteading. Dolores (Maxine Pullen) and Harvey drove up the Alaska Highway, arriving with their children and all their belongings in 1958. They crossed into Alaska on the day Alaska became a state (Anchorage Daily News, July 11, 2007).

It is easy to discover through these antique photographs, as well through these contemporary obituaries, the true spirit of the pioneers: goal oriented and hard working persons.

Editor's note: The photograph is not a picture of Mr. McKean but rather an illustration of a modern Alaskan homestead.

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