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It’s Mothers Day weekend and I can’t think of a better way to pay tribute to my mother than to post one of her letters I am compiling as part of my Alaska book project. As you can tell from reading it, she was a strong woman and somewhat fearless. She and my dad, with four young kids in tow, finally started that homesteading venture in Homer in July, 1961 – almost two years after arriving in Alaska on July 1, 1959. They spent that much time in Anchorage waiting for a homestead to become available and the weather  pretty enough to make the roads passable, allowing us to get up that hill.

Be prepared. This letter is lengthy – about 1800 words. I never said my mother was a “How are you? I am fine.” letter writer.

July 5, 1961

Dear Letaine and All,

This is the third attempt I’ve made to write you since we moved onto our homestead. If I sounded enthusiastic before, it was merely ignorance of what homesteading in this country means. All this beautiful view of the bay and the glaciers and Ohlson Mountain means absolutely nothing as long as I’m out of electricity and have to carry water uphill about ½ mile.

It would be our luck the Homer Electric Association would be out of funds at this time and has to wait for a federal loan.

The water situation is another thing. Vernon hasn’t had time to explore enough yet for a good spring. If he doesn’t find one, we will have to have a well driven. It cost a minimum of $50 just to get the equipment moved in and then $12 a foot. It wouldn’t cost more than $200 for pipe if we found a spring within a mile of us. Please pray that we do. The pump and purification plant are minor objects where wells are concerned.

Vernon has been kicking himself all over the place for forgetting that pump he left there.

Vernon spent all day Wednesday getting everything ready to move Thursday. We left the trailer court at eleven o’clock and were on the road all day. He had two of the children – Chip and Nomie and the dog – in the truck with him and I had Lindy and Deb and the bird in the car with me. As much as I hate to drive on the highway, that trip behind Vernon – watching my house sway and just knowing everything was being jarred to bits – was pure torture.

We crossed the Chugach Mountain Range with no trouble. In Soldotna our road became gravel for the rest of the trip. I took the lead then to keep from eating so much dust and the children went to sleep just when I would have loved their company. This was the start of moose country and twice big bulls crossed the road and each time they stopped halfway across to give me the once-over.

Another time at Ninilchik four cows and three calves were grazing right beside the road. If I had seen them soon enough I would have gotten some pictures of them. But, I’m chicken – I won’t stop close enough to any of them unless I’ve got a running start.

We arrived at the home of Dusty – the cat skinner – who put our road in about 9:30pm. We had coffee with him and Charlie, his wife, and found out that our road was one of the best around, but the first part of it, which is Al’s, is horrible. He promised to come out the next morning and pull the trailer in with the cat.

We spent the night in the trailer at the end of Al’s road just off the East Road. Sure enough, Dusty arrived at seven-thirty. It took him almost an hour to get his Cat out to the trailer. He had been clearing five acres of Al’s land.

He hitched the truck onto the Cat and away we went!

About 300 yards up the road they hit bottom and the trailer took the damage. Result – a broken front axle and later investigation showed busted rear insulation and the water inlet is missing. From then on they had to skid the trailer in.

I took the children back to town to feed them and to pick up coffee and sandwiches for Vernon.

We explored the town, (Homer) found a battery for the radio, and laid the groundwork for the electricity. I met Mr. Farnn, the president of H.E.A., (Homer Electric Association) and he told me how to go about getting the request in and the operations started. We also found the general store and the drugstore and steered clear of Dr. Fenger. In the restaurant, I met a woman who told me he was waiting anxiously for my arrival. He is without a nurse at the moment and wanted someone to let him know when I arrived. I have Dr. Phillips to thank for this. He thinks he is doing me a favor and of all things I don’t need right now is a job.

When we got back up the hill we found the trailer in and on blocks. Two tired and very disgusted men were waiting for us and I’m afraid I didn’t help any. I took one look at my house and could have started bawling. It was a mess. My sewing machine was way over in the middle of the floor and I thought I had braced it so well. The tables and couch and chairs were all over the place.

Apparently the worst part of the trip was Al’s road. I vowed that if I could manage it I would go to work when school starts just to put gravel on that road. Because of it now I have to walk in and out and over a mile each way just to get to the mail box. It didn’t do one bit of good to fix a good road on our land when we can’t get in to use it. I’m thoroughly disgusted with Al and Jill. They may be used to walking in and out, but they don’t have four children to do it with.

If I can arrange it with Ben Walter, the only other permanent resident this side of Al’s road, I’ll see if we can get right-of-way permission from him and put in another road. It would only be about a ¼ mile from where our own road now ends. It’s downhill too and mostly flat. As it stands now I couldn’t even get fuel oil or propane in during wet weather. If I sound angry, I really am. We agreed to fix that road for half of the cost and Al and Jill won’t do it. They say they’ve been walking seven years and don’t mind continuing. They probably think we will get disgusted enough to do it alone. And if the cost of extending ours amounts to more than fixing theirs, we probably will. This is what angers me. But if I’m going to live here forever I want a few conveniences. A good road is a necessity.

While on Saturday Vernon dug a cesspool, Nomie and I started the sewer ditch. We finished it on Monday. We weren’t able to excavate a huge boulder in it so we dug around that. On Monday morning the people from the light company were out and we found out I had to go in with Vernon and sign a right-of-way waiver. That was my first experience of tramping down that road. By the time I did so once I was really worked up.

On Tuesday we had to rush everything because Vernon had to leave to go back to work that evening. We got in enough water to do me while he is gone – I hope – and we also got the boulder out of the sewer line. It must weigh 300 lbs. It took three hours to dig it out and then to pry it out with an iron pipe. I’m going to build a flower bed around it so I can have it here for you to see. It’s only glacier boulder and apparently there are many, many on this hill. Vernon and Dusty shoveled out plenty of them when they put in the road.

All men must be alike. Vernon went off to work yesterday afternoon, perfectly unaware that I’m terrified to be out here alone. It’s silly to be so, I know, but of course, I can think of all the awful things that can happen. He wasn’t gone an hour before a tremendous cow moose and little calf walked out into our clearing and that sent us all scurrying into the house. While I was preparing supper the camp robbers put up an awful squawk and I got out the binoculars and found a black bear off in the woods. It won’t come near us, but it certainly isn’t a good feeling to know it’s there. I just hope the bear is aware of the fact all books say he isn’t going to get near civilization. But, this couldn’t very well be described as civilized!

It’s raining this morning, but is supposed to clear up by late afternoon. If the sun comes out and the wind blows our hill will dry out.

Vernon will be back Friday night and will have to put in some hard work over the weekend. We have to put cesspool logs in and lay the pipe in. He’s going to get a chainsaw while in Anchorage and also see about a few other items.

I’m not out of contact completely. Junior Alexander, who works for H.E.A., has his own plane and was up here yesterday. He has promised to fly over every evening and see if we’re ok and to drop me any messages that may come in. And of course, if I need it, my car is waiting about one and a quarter miles down the hill.

I’ve got some material and if I had electricity and if I finish all the outside work Vernon laid out for me, I’d sew. I made all of the girl’s outfits for the summer so far and I’d like to start on clothes for school. Dress days are over for us. It’s lined jeans and snow suits for us from now on.

I must close now that I’ve poured out my whole heart.

At the moment it doesn’t seem worth it to go through all this just for 155 acres, but I’m sure I’ll look back on all this someday and wonder why I fussed about it – that is if my back holds up.

Please write often and don’t think I’ve forgotten any of you if you don’t hear from me for a while.

I suppose Rigsby’s vacation is over now. Sure hope he has recuperated completely and everything is okay. Would love to have Bill for a year. It sure would be nice to have him going up and down this hill with the girls to get the school bus.

My letter to Mother and Dad is not going to be as much in detail as yours, so please don’t enlighten them any. They worry so much and if I told them all this their hair would stand on end.

Give our love to all and write soon. Junior Alexander’s phone number is 235-**** and Vernon can be reached at Kwik Log in Anchorage or at Al and Jill’s in Anchorage at DI-*****. Junior will drop any messages to me.

 Love as ever,


This is my favorite picture from Alaska. My brother Chip and my mother on Berry Hill

This is my favorite picture from Alaska. My brother Chip and my mother on Berry Hill

Happy Mother’s Day!


Keep up with the weekly updates and pictures on my Alaska book by liking Elle Knowles Facebook page.

About Elle Knowles

Elle Knowles lives in the Florida Panhandle with her husband and off-at-college-most-of-the-time son. She has four daughters, one son, and eleven beautiful grandchildren. 'Crossing the Line' is her first novel. The sequel 'What Line' is a work in progress. Recently published is Coffee-Drunk Or Blind - a nonfiction story of homesteading in the Alaska wilderness with her parents and four siblings, told through letters by her mother and remembered accounts from the family.

17 responses »

  1. I loved this Elle – a precious glimpse into what it takes to step off the beaten track.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a document! Fascinating reading – look forward to seeing more of it – all the best….

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, that’s quite a story! I’d be upset, too, to see my sewing machine get knocked around. Yes, she’s one tough cookie, all right.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow this is such an interesting read!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Bears and moose and heaven only knows what else! Adventurous spirit, your mother was! Loved this little peek inside her world.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow…she was a writer wasn’t she. I feel like a fly on the wall whenever I read a a personal letter. no wonder you’re immersed in her story. Wonderful Elle…just wonderful.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This is a really wonderful tribute! What a life she led up there! I am looking very forward to the book!

    Liked by 1 person


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