Friday, August 19, 2011

Homesteading in Alaska

Has anyone here ever wondered what it was like Homesteading in Alaska? Well, I did and I am here to share with all of you what I learned and discovered about the challenges and obstacles homesteader faced in Alaska.

Now, take a moment and imagine what it was like living in Alaska during the late 1800’s into the mid 1900’s when the United Stated first purchased Alaska and homesteaders began claiming the land. In the article Alaska Division of Economic Development (2008a) the Department of Natural Resources states that homesteaders were coming from all over the United States to stake a claim to the land in Alaska.
My name is Samantha Johnson and I am here to share with you what I found during my research on Homesteading in Alaska. I learned that the Department of Natural Resources, the Division of Economic Development and the Bureau of Land Management in Alaska had taken several steps to ensure that the land in Alaska available for sale had certain requirements to meet prior to the actual sale of the land to any person. These organizations were dedicated to the land and the people and ways to preserve yet develop the land.
Today I will be explaining to you about the early years of homesteading in Alaska and the guidelines the potential buyer had to follow to preserve the natural beauty of the land but still meet the requirements to legally acquire the land patent (Alaska, 2008a).
 I will be describing what steps are required in Alaska to stake a claim on the land under the Homestead Act. I will inform each of you of the building and cultivation requirements that homesteaders faced and how they managed to accomplish them. I want each of you to know what types of crops homesteaders were able to grow and what kinds of protection they were able to build to keep their crops safe from wildlife.
After the United States purchased Alaska the land became available to homesteaders under the Homestead Act of 1862. The land became available for anyone to purchase as long as certain requirements were met. The Department of Natural Resources in Alaska claim that most of the land currently owned today was acquired after 1958 when Alaska first became a union state (Alaska, 2008a).
The Homestead Act allowed one homestead of 160 acres maximum for each family to stake claim in. Homesteaders were then required to live on the land, have a residence built on the land, and begin farming a minimum of 10% of the land within the first five years to receive legal ownership (Alaska, 2008a).
There were several steps that were taken before staking a claim in Alaska and once the homesteader completed the steps required to seek ownership he or she would find out if the filing of land ownership was accepted or rejected. Some homesteaders had to apply more than once to receive rights to claim the land (Alaska, 2008a).
The first step in seeking ownership of the land for homesteading was locating the land to stake a claim in and file any and all paperwork with the Bureau of Land Management in Alaska (Alaska, 2008a).
The second step in staking a claim to the land was to purchase it once the buyer was approved. Purchasing the land could be done by paying for it in a lump sum or by making a financial agreement and signing a contract with the government. Homesteaders were able to purchase a total of 160 acres of land for $20.00 (Alaska, 2008a).
The State of Alaska and the Department of Natural Resources worked together to ensure several guidelines were met before land ownership was approved to potential buyers. These guideline included living and farming requirements within a certain time frame before legal ownership was granted (Alaska, 2008b).
Once the buyer was approved to acquire land for homestead he or she must live on the property for a certain period of time or risk losing the land. The article Alaska Land Offering (2011) by the Department of Natural Resources and under Article VIII of the Alaska Constitution states “It is the policy of the State to encourage the settlement of its land and development of its resources by making them available for maximum use consistent with the public interest.”
Some homesteaders were so amped to start homesteading they set up tents on the land to live in until their main homes were built to show they were willing to follow the living on the land requirement. Even though homesteaders had to keep making changes to their tents and add fallen tree branches to keep the cold out they managed to survive the long winter months of Alaska (Alaska, 2008a).
Since homesteading in Alaska took several steps and certain requirements to meet before land could be used, the families within Alaska all worked together to make their living quarters more suitable for each member of the family.
When land was approved for homesteading and the building of homes started, the first proved up was to build a cabin. Homesteaders needed to build a cabin to withstand the harsh cold months of Alaska’s winter. One cabin is still in use over 40 year after it was built and is similar to the cabin being rented in the article Homesteading Challenges (1997) by Dexter, Dexter, Hausmann and IIten.
While building a home was not always an easy task, homesteaders in Alaska managed to make their living quarters suitable for long cold wintery months. Homesteaders often liven in small living quarter to keep the heat in a tighter space.
With limited resources available to homesteader’s and the lack of transportation, building equipment, machinery, supplies and tools homesteaders often relied on the help from a neighbors for these items (Alaska, 2008b).
Getting help from a neighbor was hard to do when you had to travel by horseback and travel some 15 miles or more to reach the closest neighbors house, cabin or tent. Some homesteader even traveled by dog sled to reach a helping hand from their neighbor (Alaska, 2008a).
Using building materials to build a cabin was a struggle when homesteaders had to transport materials to their land before construction could begin. The author Harrington and Merken describe in their article Life on America’s Last Frontier: Alaska’s (1995) about their experiences sitting in a outhouse in - 40 degree temperatures and giving a new meaning to “freezing your buns off.”
Since the building of the cabin was difficult to master quickly most homesteaders managed to complete the first prove up within the first year of claiming the land. When homesteader finished the first prove up he or she had to immediately begin working on the second prove up to ensure they could meet all requirement to receive land ownership (Harrington & Merken, 1995).
After the first prove up of the cabins were complete homesteaders moved on to the second prove up which was cultivating a portion of the land without harming to the natural beauty of the land (Alaska, 2008a).
Cultivating the land was a challenge when the Department of Natural Resources required all land owners keep the land free from being destroyed by removing trees or disturbing the lands natural beauty. Meanwhile having equipment available for cultivating the land was also a struggle for the homesteaders (Merrick, 2000).
Homesteaders often found it difficult to meet homesteading requirements where cultivation was concerned, because Alaska was strict about preserving the lands natural beauty (Merrick, 2000).
With issues meeting the cultivation requirements for the land ownership, Homesteaders were granted the right to remove some trees by chainsaw to meet the land cultivation guidelines (Alaska, 2008a).
After removing the trees the homesteaders were able to meet the required cultivation requirement of a minimum of 10 percent or 1/8 of the land for cultivation. “Homesteaders in Alaska were soon participating in cropping activities that today are not widely considered to be customary or traditional to Alaska Native communities” as the authors Loring and Geriach describe in their article Outpost Gardening in Interior Alaska: Food System Innovation and the Alaska Native Gardens of the 1930’3 through the 1970’s (2010).
Once homesteaders were cultivating the land they soon faced a problem with keeping the wildlife animals away from their cultivation areas. Homesteaders soon began to build so called fences, since they did not have sufficient material to build a fence they used the material they had at their disposal (Loring, Geriach, 2010).
With the help of a 48’ x 24’ garden fence homesteaders were able to keep wildlife like moose out of their cultivation areas during the first five years of homesteading to receive their legal land patent. According to the article Homesteading in Alaska (2000) by Michael Merrick not only did the fences help keep the cultivation areas safe from wildlife they also started building root cellars to grow a wider variety of crops that have a difficult time growing in the colder climates.
 Homesteaders have been able to grow items such as; potatoes, cabbage, carrots and broccoli (Merrick, 2000). And in more depth Merrick (2000) describes more about the crops homesteaders were able to grow and how some homesteaders were able to start cultivating the land for fish, which has boomed in the last two decades.
While acquiring the land was challenging for homesteaders, meeting the homesteading requirement were even tougher to meet. With the building of a residence to the cultivation of the land, homesteaders have worked together to make Alaska what it is today.
While the department of natural resources and the state of Alaska were adamant to keep the land in Alaska pure and free from harm they had to allow some destruction of the natural state to allow homesteaders to build and cultivate.
Today I talked to you about the requirements the homesteaders had to be met before and after the land was purchased in Alaska and how the Department of Natural Resources website listed the guidelines potential buyer had to follow to preserve the natural beauty of the land but still meet the requirement to legally acquire the land patent.
According to the Department of Natural Resources and the Alaska Division of Economic Development while the government had high expectation for potential land owners they kept the rights to acquire land more difficult in the early 1960’s to ensure the land in Alaska would remain natural. The State of Alaska had opened the doors for potential land owners to seek financial options to purchase the land. However each potential buyer would still have guidelines to meet prior to receiving the land and the legal rights. Meeting the requirement for cultivation was tough for homesteaders to meet when the department of natural resources protected the land in Alaska. Alaska soon began to loosen up on preserving the land when they required cultivation. Cultivation was hard for homesteaders to complete when the removal of trees had to be done before cultivation could begin.
Now I am hoping you understand why I was curious to learn more about homesteading in Alaska. Learning more about the way land was acquired for ownership give more meaning to owning land today. Having restriction on the land you own would be difficult for any homesteader but many Alaska Natives managed to succeed and expand their homesteading option in Alaska.


Alaska Department of Natural Resources. (2008a). Alaska Division of Economic Development. Retrieved from

Alaska Department of Natural Resources. (2008b). Fact sheet, land for Alaskans. Retrieved from

Alaska Department of Natural Resources. (2011). Alaska land offerings. Retrieved from

Dexter, B., Dexter, C., Hausmann, B., & IIten, J. (1997, May –June). “Homesteading challenges.”Countryside & Small Stock Journal, (81)3. Gardening, Landscape and Horticulture. Retrieved from Gale Cengage Learning.

Harrington, E. & Merken, H.  (1995, November-December). “Life on America’s last frontier: Alaska.” Countryside & Small Stock Journal, (74)6. Gardening, Landscape and Horticulture. Retrieved from Gale Cengage Learning.
Loring, P.A., & Geriach, S. (2010). Outpost gardening in interior Alaska: Food system innovation and the Alaska native gardens of the 1930s through the 1970s. Ethnohistory, 57(2), 183-199.
Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

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