Our Alaska Homestead

In the late 1950s, one family set up their self-sustaining Alaska homestead on Gravina Island for under $100.

| November/December 1979

Back in 1958, when Alaska was still a territory, my husband and I carved out our own self-sustaining world—on Gravina Island—under the Federal Homestead Act.

What did our Alaska Homestead cost? You might be surprised to learn that our "piece of paradise" only set us back $89—that was $85 for homesteading fees, and $4.00 for a roll of tar paper to protect the outer walls (under our hand-split cedar shakes) of our driftwood log cabin from the constant dampness of southeastern Alaska's coastal weather.

Childhood Lessons

Doing without manufactured goods—and most of the other folderol that many modern folk seem to think is necessary for happiness—was a way of life in the Ozark hills where my husband and I grew up. Our parents took pleasure in hard work, and they taught us to work too!

In those not-so-long-ago days, chair frames were turned on a foot-powered lathe and were bottomed with white oak splints. Oak strips were also used to make baskets. Corn shucks filled cotton ticking for bed pads, and deliciously soft, warm, feather-filled mattresses were laid on top. Our underwear was created from flour sacks, but the rest of our clothes—made on a treadle machine—were "store-boughten" cotton.

Even then, we knew we lived "modern" lives compared to those our grandparents talked about, but—though we did have "real" cloth—our family understood that such material was a luxury to be conserved until the rags of former outfits were used in rugs. Each scrap that was left over from the sewing became part of a quilt.

The fact is, the true homesteader has little need for store-bought "newness." The homestead itself—with satin-sleek newborn kids, silky soft rabbits, and fluffy chicks—is always an exciting and ever-changing world to those who are attuned to its wonders.

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