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THE FIRST FARMERS IN THE
MATANUSKA VALLEY  1898-1925

Coleen Mielke  
2015

 

The U.S.Homestead Act of Alaska was passed in 1898. It was designed to transfer federal land into private ownership for the purpose of farming. Originally, it allowed a person to claim an 80 acre homestead, but in 1903 it was increased to 320 acres and reduced back to 160 acres in 1912. Many disillusioned Gold Rush prospectors took advantage of the program and staked homesteads in the untamed Matanuska Valley; supporting themselves by farming, hunting and trapping.

Staking the land was just the first step in the homestead process. In order to receive patent to the land, it had to be surveyed; the applicant had to be at least 21 years old (or have served in the United States military); they had to be a U.S.citizen (or become one before the patent was approved); they had to build a habitable dwelling and live in it for five consecutive years (tents did not qualify) and they had to cultivate at least one eighth of their staked homestead in either grain, vegetables or livestock.  Single women were allowed to stake a homestead if they fulfilled all of the above requirements AND were the head of a household.

Pre-1898, a handful of trading post agents in south central Alaska began growing vegetables to sell. Thomas Hanmore, an Alaska Commercial Company agent at Tyonek grew vegetables as early as 1891 and Holmes Tuell, the Alaska Commercial Company agent at Knik was growing and selling potatoes and turnips in 1898.

The same year that the Homestead Act was passed, the U.S.Department of Agriculture sent Dr. Charles Georgeson to Sitka to research Alaska's agricultural potential. Experimental stations were approved for Sitka and Kodiak in 1898, Kenai in 1899, Rampart in 1900, Copper Center in 1903, Fairbanks in 1906 and the Matanuska Valley in 1915.

In the summer of 1900, Dr. Georgeson sent free vegetable seeds and seed potatoes to a variety of settlements throughout south central Alaska and asked the recipients to report their successes and failures to him.

George W. Palmer, the agent at the Alaska Commercial Company in Knik in 1900, participated in Georgeson's program. He grew potatoes, lettuce, rutabagas, kale, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, parsnips and turnips. The garden produced enough potatoes and root crops to stock the store well into the winter months. Palmer also wrote letters to Dr. Georgeson asking him to send extra seeds for the Knik Native population because they were eager to grow vegetables to supplement their wild game diet. By 1904, at least two Native men (Stephan and Nakita) had their own vegetable gardens near Knik.

Another Knik merchant, Orville G. Herning, had success with potatoes. In the spring of 1904, he planted 65 pounds of seed potatoes which yielded one ton of potatoes 4 months later. In 1906, he was the first person in the Matanuska Valley to successfully grow oats.In 1911, Herning staked a 320 acre homestead 9 miles north of Knik and named it Meadow Brook (today that area is called Meadow Lakes). There, he had excellent success growing barley, wheat, oats, vetch and field peas.




Hay farming  in Knik  
Photo taken by Orville G. Herning



By 1912, ranchers were bringing cattle into Knik by steamship.  They pastured them in the grassy fields of Bald Mt. during the summer and moved them to the Cottonwood Flats during the winter where it was a little warmer. An early cattle farmer named Peter Herbert owned a small beef ranch at Paradise Lake on the Carle Wagon Road (present day Wasilla Fishhook Road).

~~~

In 1915, the U.S.Government approved funding for an experimental farm in the Matanuska Valley.  Milton Snodgrass, who had been in charge of the Fairbanks Experimental Farm since 1907, was sent to the valley to find a good location for the project. He chose a 240 acre parcel of land 2 miles north of Matanuska Junction and F.E. Rader, formerly of the Sitka and Rampart experimental farms, was chosen to manage it.

Twelve acres of land was cleared in the summer of 1917. In the spring of 1918, the farm was increased to 880 acres and 4 1/2 tons of various grain seeds (from the Fairbanks Experimental Farm) were brought to the Matanuska farm. Some seeds were planted and the rest were distributed to interested farmers. In 1919, berry bushes, fruit trees, 40 varieties of potatoes, dozens of grain varieties, legumes, alfalfa, clovers, etc. were planted at the station. In the fall, the seeds were harvested and distributed to area farmers. In 1920, livestock, mutton, pigs and dairy cows were brought in from other Alaska experimental farms; some were kept at the Matanuska farm and others were sold to homestead farmers. In 1921, milking cows were sent to the Matanuska farm from Iowa.

When F.E.Rader died in 1921, Milton Snodgrass took his place as head of the Matanuska Experimental Farm which is still in operation today.
~~~
The Alaska Railroad played a large part in the early success of the homestead farmer. After 1915, when the railroad tracks reached Matanuska Junction, farmers could load their produce onto the train and send it to eager buyers in the new tent city at Ship Creek, 36 miles south.

Homestead farmers grew hundreds of tons of potatoes each summer and desperately needed a bigger market for them. The Alaska Engineering Commission (who was in charge of building the railroad) came to the rescue and lowered the railroad tariff on potatoes to $3 per ton, including wharfage and lighterage charges at Anchorage. Now the farmers were able to compete on the potato market from Seward to Juneau by steamship.

By 1918, about 200 homesteaders were supplementing their farming income by working for the railroad in some capacity. Another railroad benefit for the farmers, was first choice on the AEC's old/discarded horses, which were a godsend to the homesteaders.

In 1922, it took the steam train two days to get from Seward to Fairbanks, so the railroad opened an upscale hotel at Curry, the half way point.
 


There was a creamery at Curry and it used milk and cream shipped from valley homestead farmers to make butter, ice cream, cottage cheese, etc. These products were not only served at the Curry Hotel, but at the railroad hospital in Anchorage.

~~~

In the 1920's, Orville Herning (who had moved his store from Knik to Wasilla in 1917) started selling strawberry rootstock in his general store. As a result, commercial strawberry farms sprung up all over the Matanuska Valley and eager customers along the railroad line between Seward and Fairbanks kept valley strawberry farmers busy for a number of years.


One of the most successful early homestead farmers, was a widower named William Jefferson Bogard III. "Jeff" as everyone knew him came to Alaska shortly after his wife Julia (nee White) died in Idaho in 1909. He staked a 300+ acre homestead on the north shore of Finger Lake before 1914 and received patent to his land in 1919.

Bogard sold beef, mutton, pork, chicken, vegetables of all kinds, potatoes by the ton, eggs, strawberries, hay and oats to people in Knik, Wasilla, Matanuska Junction, the Willow Creek Mining District and the new town of Anchorage. Bogard Road, in Wasilla, is named after him.


"Jeff"  Bogard bringing hay into Wasilla   1930



Palmer,  Wasilla   and   Knik   Area Homestead  Farmers  

PALMER, GEORGE  W.





McKINNON, M.J.  
DID NOT HOMESTEAD =
GREW VEGETABLES IN DOWNTOWN KNIK 1900-1917



STAKED HOMESTEAD  9/3/1905
RECEIVED PATENT ??
Acres
  ?







320acres
LAND PATENT NUMBER






   ?
SOLD VEGETABLES IN HIS KNIK STORE







SOLD VEGETABLES TO WILLOW CREEK
MINERS AS EARLY AS 1905.
HERNING, ORVILLE GEORGE




HERBERT, PETER




MITCHELL, HIRAM
GREW OATS IN KNIK 1906 -- STAKED HOMESTEAD  2/3/1911

 

STAKED HOMESTEAD 4/1/1911

STAKED HOMESTEAD 4/29/1910
RECEIVED PATENT 9/13/1916
320acres





??




303acres

   ?




   ?




545421
MEADOW LAKES AREA    GREW VEGETABLES, OATS AND TIMOTHY HAY




CATTLE RANCH AT PARADISE LAKE




SOLD VEGETABLES TO PEOPLE OF KNIK
MURRAY, PETER
STAKED HOMESTEAD 6/14/1910
RECEIVED PATENT 1/18/1918
320acres
614347
TRUCK FARM and BULK POTATOES
MILLER, OLIVER CROMWELL (also
known as
"40 Mile Miller"
STAKED HOMESTEAD 11/18/1911
RECEIVED PATENT 7/19/1918
320acres
640941
TRUCK FARM FOR MINERS + SAW  MILL
MILE 8  FISHHOOK ROAD
BOGARD, WILLIAM JEFFERSON
FARMING BY 1914
RECEIVED PATENT 7/14/1919
301acres
698285
BULK POTATOES, BEEF, PORK, MUTTON, CHICKEN, EGGS, OATS, HAY, STRAWBERRIES

DUNCKLEE, EDWARD A.
STAKED HOMESTEAD 9/7/1914
RECEIVED PATENT 10/9/1919
319acres
706106
TRUCK FARM and BULK POTATOES BY THE TON TO ALASKA ENGINEERING CO. 1918
YOUNGQUIST, SWAN  
1/8/1920
120acres
706106
TRUCK FARM,  BULK POTATOES BY THE TON TO ALASKA ENGINEERING CO. 1918
BUGGE, JOHN J.
2/2/1920
320acres
731415
OATS and HAY (for animal feed)
CARTER, FREDERICK
STAKED HOMESTEAD 3/13/1915
RECEIVED PATENT 6/16/1920
320acres
757024
BULK POTATOES
(married to George W. Palmer's sister)
MILLER, IRA  V.
STAKED HOMESTEAD 4/10/1914
RECEIVED PATENT 6/16/1920
157acres
757021
OATS, HAY, POTATOES
SPRINGER, JOHN AUGUST
STAKED HOMESTEAD 10/31/1914
RECEIVED PATENT 6/29/1920
287acres
760238
?
STERN, CHRIS
STAKED HOMESTEAD 1913  RECEIVED PATENT 12/17/1920
317acres
787821
TRUCK FARM  LATER LEFT HIS HOMESTEAD TO THE CITY OF WASILLA IN HIS WILL / CITY SOLD IT TO FUND CONSTRUCTION OF TOWN HALL
CROCKER, FREDERICK
STAKED HOMESTEAD 11/1/1912
RECEIVED PATENT 8/29/1921
320acres
820785
BULK POTATOES / LEFT HOMESTEAD TO FLECKENSTEIN/ SMITH FAMILY (about 1 mile from Wasilla on
KGB Road)
BODENBURG, JOHN HENRY
STAKED HOMESTEAD 1917, RECEIVED PATENT 11/8/1921
160acres
831479
LIVESTOCK AND BULK POTATOES
NAMESAKE OF BODENBURG BUTTE
WERNER, ADAM





GUSTAFSON, GUSTOF EMIL
11/15/1921






11/15/1921
320acres






320acres
832506






832500
GREW OATS FOR LIVESTOCK FOOD,
STRAWBERRIES, PEAS AND BULK POTATOES BY THE TON.  


HERNING'S JOURNAL SAYS  "Shorty" PLANTED OAT SEEDS BY THE TON
EDLUND, JOHN FRIDOLF





METZ, JACOB
STAKED HOMESTEAD 5/21/1914
RECEIVED PATENT 3/13/1922

STAKED HOMESTEAD
PRE-1917
RECEIVED PATENT
5/18/1922
240acres







316acres
854587







862883
GREW HAY and had TRUCK FARM







VEGETABLES, OATS, HAY
ANDERSON, OSCAR
STAKED HOMESTEAD 2/23/1915
RECEIVED PATENT 5/18/1922
157acres
862887
GREW HAY and had TRUCK FARM


~~~
JOHN  BODENBURG

This is the personal property inventory of the estate of Palmer homestead farmer JOHN BODENBURG, compiled in 1934. It provides a rare historical glimpse into this rugged pioneers barn:

1  POTATO DIGGER
1  SPADING FORK
1    4# POLSON SLED
OLD SADDLE
1  PAIR DOUBLE TREES
1  PAIR PULLEY BLOCKS
150'   1" ROPE
OLD  BRIDLE
1  POST HOLE DIGGER
1  HAND SLED
1  ROLL BUILDING PAPER
2  STOVES
5   1X12  BOARDS
2  LOGGING CHAINS
14  SACKS BARLEY
1/4  TON  HAY
1  TON  RYE GRAIN
1/2  TON OATS
1/2  TON OAT STRAW
1  BUREAU
1   COLEMAN LANTERN
1   BAKERS SCALE
1   CAN COFFEE
GUM  BOOTS
OLD  SHOT  GUN
COOKING   UTENSILS
3   HAND SAWS
1   WHIP SAW
4   CROSS CUT  SAWS
1   SAW SET
1   SAW CLAMP
2   SQUARES
1   PICK
3   SHOVELS
1   CAN HOOKS
FRUIT   PRESS
2   WHEEL  CART
1   PAIR SKIS
1   PLANE
2   HAMMERS
4   AXES
1    ADZ
1   BRACE
NIPPERS
1   LEVEL
4    BITS
2   IRON RAKES
COLD   CHISEL
SAUSAGE    MILL
2   WASH TUBS
1    BOBSLED
BROAD   AX
1    HOE
PIPE   CUTTER
BLACKSMITH FORGE
MAUL
BLACKSMITH   HAMMER
SPEED   INDICATOR
SHOE   LAST
GRINDSTONE
KRAUT   CUTTER
SINGLE   TREE
2    TOOL   CHESTS
SPRAY   PUMP
600   EGG   INCUBATOR
100'      3/4"   PIPE
80'     1"    PIPE
THRESHER
1    FORD   ENGINE
SPIKE   TOOTH   HARROW
GARDEN   CULTIVATOR
GRIST    MILL
16"    WALKING   PLOW
12"     WALKING PLOW
6'    BINDER
EXTRA   WAGON   BED







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