Monday, May 18, 1959
*I’ll be expecting all letters back in next mail!! [Linda note: So that 50 years later I can transcribe them now, put them in order, and let their words tell her story — now!]
Received your latest letter on the way to town. Idea of book, good, but as you know it’s been my idea from beginning but rush job NO – Please send me back my letters now – I write to you instead of keeping notes – I don’t want a review. I want my letters NOW PLEASE if you want to really know all that happens this is the only way I can keep you informed but you must send each letter right back so I can put it in my 3 hole note book in order. So please send my letters back [from] March on –
I have so much to write and my ideas are endless and there were none at apartment so at least the tough homesteading brings release of ideas and who knows, perhaps some day a book or a movie but it must be done in my way or not at all. You alone can understand that.
Thank him for his interest and maybe later, his help — .
We have had a time – but now I hesitate should I take notes or send them to you? It’s my way of sharing these experiences with you. I want to continue. Read them aloud but they are MINE and MINE ALONE. You won’t ever let him copy them, will you? They are MINE to do with as I want. You must never use them in any way. Promise???
It seems ages since I wrote to you and every day is a book in itself, believe me. Speaking of writing did you know that you sent an envelope – air mail – without contents. This last letter as you can see told about book etc. Well, several days ago I received a plain air mail envelope, addressed and all but empty! Mystery? Did it fall out in the mail OR did you forget to enclose the letter? ______________
Still no news or letters at all from lawyer. Bill said on way to town today – of course, he was very discouraged and I don’t blame him – it’s all been pretty awful – that we “can’t go on if we don’t get some $ to work with.” The ‘so-called’ – rent we’re supposed to be saving goes out on homesteading supplies, gas in our vehicles to get back and forth and repairs on the jeep because of the road – and that isn’t ALL – oh no, we must still pay to get the road fixed enough to get the trailer up – at least 300 –
We brought McCrary – the road-builder everyone tells us not to hire because he drinks and then does some pretty wild things with his tractor BUT [can’t read this word – Trarey?] is too busy and between you and I no sane person would want to risk his tractor (or himself I might add) on our crazy mountain side – so – last week we decided something must be done.
Bill took a vacation (another LAUGH) HA! HA! HA!!! I talked to Principal and teachers several weeks ago about taking children out of school for little remainder of year. They’re so dogged tired by time they get there and it’s so late by time they get home – I promised to tutor them at home – so all was agreed and then jeep broke down so I waited.
Well, as I said, last week we tried again – and since Bill would be home there wouldn’t be any way to get them back and forth [to Anchorage] – we would live on mountain and not come down!
Well, that same day we went to see McCrary who homesteaded also on side of Mountain too – and as he once told me when discussing our ‘problem’ – to put it mildly – he would be better able to build a road to our place because he had been through it all himself and I guess he probably has his very high and has a magnificent view too – but (not bragging) it’s nothing in comparison with our view!!!! And his place is a MESS and his land is not nearly as pretty. His has the biggest trees on his land I’ve seen in this area so he had in a way more of a problem but still he did NOT run into a marsh!
His mother is the old lady – at least 75 – I told you about who drives her own jeep and homesteaded above them! Mom, seriously – now this is a deep, dark secret – after we pave the way and have a decent road and most important of all our PATENT – and if Butner’s give up and I’m sure they will then you could file on their place above us – and only come up summers. We could do the hiring for clearing etc. and it would be little expense for you alone to have a tiny log house.
Well, that’s for the future but think about it!!! A Haven for writing! And so close to us!!!!
Well, McCrary does have a dirt road still naturally – but it’s a road good enough that we drove our Ford right up to his door!! BUT it took him five years to get it that way. They carried in supplies at first, and did everything we’ve had to do. He used to work in town but now is in the road building snow clearing business only. He started in when he bought his first tractor for his own place.
The next day Bill met them – his wife and mother (Eskimo foster child) came too and brought them back. His mother is so nice. They all belie their dirty, unkempt appearance by using an astounding vocabulary and are well read and well-educated. They look always like we look when we’ve hiked through the mud down our mountain! His mother is neat and nice. She had just come back from L.A. where she spent the winter!! – a small world!
He said he’d do it and our hopes were high. He too advised our buying our own small tractor – oh Mom, it’s the only answer – but how?? Then and only then we could:
1. haul our water up
2. haul our supplies up
3. improve present road
4. build a new road (next summer)
5. haul our trailer up
6. plow our own snow and clear our own land
Who ever thought I’d think in terms of tractors and such. I haven’t bought one dress or skirt since I’ve been here and never allow myself to entertain such thoughts – just equipment equipment and more homesteading supplies.
He said he has one big tractor still across the river and the other was broken down. (Some man hired him to build a road across the river – it’s really wild – absolutely nobody over there at all. Its all open but dark as mountain skirts out most of sun) – and drag a 10 foot big new trailer back there. (Tell Carolyn I’m sure she can’t visualize how we’re living on our trailer – it’s 10 years old, narrow and small and inefficient for 6 people – only room for 2 and I feel like a sardine!) [Linda note: Because my body was small when we had that trailer I don’t remember IT being so small. I don’t understand why they even bothered with the trailer. Why didn’t they add more sections on the Jamesway instead?]
Anyways to get back to my story, he did all this – the man put a ‘Yukon stove’ and some hunters went in last winter and burned a fire and didn’t put it out and the whole trailer burned down and no insurance on it!
[picture of the stove drawn in letter] – (burns wood) we just bought one. Bill hauled it one mile up mountain on his back – oh, poor Bill.
McCrary left the tractor there to do some clearing this summer as he was already over there when the first snow fell. That man is not giving up!
Well, anyways our hopes were high – he said that Monday – today he’d be back – then when Bill called him later he said NO he ran into more trouble in repairing the tractor than he’d expected and recommended Mr. Tuck.
So – Friday we stopped to see him. He only has a small tractor and hires ‘an operator’ who he says is good but he’d have to see job first, so Saturday Bill once again had to meet him and bring him back. He too said O.K. Said he would have present road improved only enough to bring trailer up and at least 3 day’s work at 12.00 an hour. BUT it still couldn’t be driven over even by a jeep – another road will have to be built!! So now we know! NOW WHAT? He’s to come out this Wed. or Thurs. and start. What choice do we have!! (I know but the answer is still NO!!)
Saturday we bought a Yukon Stove. We’re down to our last penny and I mean literally – we scrounged for enough $ to buy it. It was 16.35. It’s medium size – 22” wide – lightweight black metal and the answer for us now because
1. We need heat of some kind to take the chill off of the Jamesway –
2. It must be hauled up and we have no way to bring fuel up mountain!
3. It’s inexpensive and economical.
4. It burns wood – which we can gather up there.
Once many years ago there was a forest fire which burned the entire Eagle River Valley. Absolutely nobody inhabited that region at that time so it was allowed to burn out. Consequently there are not many large trees and many young ones as you noticed which is especially noticeable in our ‘homesteader’s valley.”
It takes 50 years or so for trees to decay in Alaska so there are lots of half-burned trees and many rotted, fallen ones – which I want cleaned up anyways – and make ideal dry firewood.
[Linda note: I wonder if that’s part of the reason Alaska didn’t smell as rich and sweet last month (8-2009) when I was there as I remembered and expected it to. As a child all those burned trees were rotting away happily, and I imagine I could smell that! The ‘required’ 50 years has gone by, and those trees mother is writing about are all but gone – and their rich rotting smell with them! Or was I just there at the wrong time of year?]
We also needed a camp stove – as our gas stove is in trailer and anyways we need a camp stove for when gas gives out. We priced them all over town and found the cheapest and same brand of everything at B and J Surplus. – where we bought Jamesway, lamps etc. – a 2 burner one cost about 13.00.
The gun Bill wants was 110.00 and I needed a sleeping bag as we can’t bring our beds up on our backs but can bring sleeping bags up one by one by one. Oh such labor, through that mud and side-stepping it through the jungle and maze of alders – oh, such labor!!!
BUT we couldn’t even afford to price it!! I would sleep on our old chaise lounge mat off of our old redwood lounge. The buttons have come off in the middle and so the stuffing is matted and terribly uncomfortable but I had no choice!
And as it was we only bought the Yukon Stove and nothing else.. We’ll cook outdoors like this until next pay day.
So back home with our stove hating ourselves for not having $ to buy what we had needed so very, very badly!
Saturday nite Bill made a makeshift pack board and carried that enormous stove up the mountain and hooked it up!!
Oh yes, we’ve needed some pack boards!! It would be such an added improvement – rather than carrying things in bags, blankets etc.
[picture drawn here of] rocks, our California BBQ, rocks set on top works very well – and hasn’t it come a long ways? From California patio to Alaskan homestead!!!!!!! But made a nice cook range and worked fine – but last nite it poured rain and we couldn’t work out doors and Jamesway leaked and oh Mom, was awful and then Sharon got sick – very sick and we came to town. More of this later.
But those cost $ to [pack boards]. There’s one especially of lightweight aluminum I need and one for John – well, later, later – anyways I HATE carrying things up that mountain!!
Well, then we all took off. Linda carried the kitten, Cindy carried herself. My they both do well and are all the best sports and John carried a pack and I carried a basket of food and a blanket packed full and poor darling Bill. [picture of dad drawn with is pack made of birth pieces]. Even had a piece of material wrapped around his forehead to help support the box filled with canned goods, blankets, books (school) and clothes! I couldn’t even lift it. [He] should have been stooped over – and up the mountain he trudged.
I felt far better then after being sick and did real well and told Bill I’d start first as I’m an awful slow poke. It’s a terribly steep climb but that now wouldn’t seem like anything if we didn’t have that horrible mud, which we have all the way up through the twisted alder forest, which is so witchy looking we all expect to see a witch riding by on her broomstick!! – We don’t leave the mud until we get to the spruce trees and can see our own beautiful land ahead – such a change, you can’t imagine. [picture drawn of road coming up from trailer and Pollard’s] First our steep trouble hill, dried out but oh, so steep.
Then immediately MUD which gets worse and worse and twisted alter tree forest all swampy, wet and mosquito infested.
Once I looked at Bill and Mom, there were literally millions all over him – it was horrible! I put this OFF repellant we carry at all times all over him – and the children said “Mommy, they’re all over you too – and sure enough each child was swarmed too! I guess Linda and I are lucky – we’re not sweet. We hardly get bitten at all. The others do terribly. Last week we got John a crew cut and his poor head and neck are covered but Cindy’s swell to enormous sizes and give her a fever. She seems to be allergic to them.
Sunday she had a fever and was miserable – I know from the bites. Saturday nite was the worst nite we ever spent – more later.
You can see how I pour all this out to you and my pen won’t keep up with my head BUT I used to write in my note book first and then copy off to you. Now I’m just writing to you and please send back! They’re my gold – and mail each back now with your next letter. I’ll start numbering them. [didn’t happen] I also want you to keep them in the envelopes with post marks on them. Later I feel, who knows we might need them legally if anyone ever tried to take our place away.
As I was saying – we have to trudge on the sides of the road in most places to get out of worst mud. You sink down, down and lose your boots in it. Yet, on sides are alder branches – twisted and you have to climb in and out through brush and it’s marshy and boggy – HORRIBLE and especially with a pack.
Then suddenly you come to the high land – and it’s another world. Oh, for a helicopter to skip over the marsh and land on the mountain!!
As you emerge from the alder forest you come out into the opening and it’s gorgeous sight – but still a climb but dry, dry, dry but oh, so steep!! And by then we’re all so tired. Bill wants to get truck brought (winched) over this area so we’ll have it at least to drive us on over the remaining hike. But once we hit the dry steep area we can look below us and see the view!! And above us see our land to urge us on.
As I started to say way back – I hiked on and with children and Smokey. We were way above him – found out later he had to stop and lighten his load – Smokey bounded off into the woods and all of a sudden we heard her bark (she seldom does). She barked and barked and barked. Bill told me later she barks equally hard at a porcupine, a bird, a squirrel, a moose or a bear. But that doesn’t help either and by her sound it frightened me. Often times moose are fine if not scared by dogs and then will attack or run in fright wildly without any sense of direction.
All around us were those alders. They’re not good climbing trees but grow bent and crooked in all directions. John found a big one and shimmied up to the stronger high branches ignoring the breaking lower rotten ones – to safety. But what about us. I told the girls to climb – ha, ha. We all got up on one crooked branch and stayed and yelled for Bill. He heard us and dropped his pack and came running. We got Smokey back. It probably was a moose as on the way back today the same thing happened – only Bill was with us and I’ll never again hike alone – even though he doesn’t carry a gun, I feel safe and he does carry a knife.
We saw an enormous moose standing in the alders. He scared it away and we hoped we wouldn’t find her in the road below us. We didn’t.
Several weeks ago Bill was going up alone and he heard a bark and a rush noise of brush and looked up and there was an enormous moose staring him, a few feet away, in the eye. It was an unusual albino color – almost blonde he described it. He says he’s heard they get lighter in color as they get older and ornerier too. Well, he stared at it and it stared at him and he eyed the tree sizes and suddenly it turned around and left! He says he sure had a few bad moments because Smokey ran circles around it and wouldn’t leave – BUT once she did the moose left!
Mom, we’re really camping out and you now I’ve never been camping before. I try so hard to tell myself “Let’s make it FUN – after all it isn’t everyone who can camp like this – “ Well, sometimes it works – other times I want to go home and wash up and relax after my camping trip only it’s HOME – It’s not easy to pretend when you wake up after sleeping on the hard floor on a bumpy pad — the children sleep only in their bags – and look around at the filthy quonset – and know there’s no way to wash them and they should be hosed down – the whole but should be soaped and hosed – ha, ha – we don’t even have a trickle of a stream.
Now doesn’t that beat all. We trudge through water all the way up and get there and no water and no way to haul it. We hike over to the canyon and hear the rushing waterfalls and creek below us – yet no water – we can get to – it’s such a drop and impossible to carry water from!! There’s a lovely wide area next to it and would be lovely to live there but no view except canyon walls. We’ll build a cabin there later – for fun!
It’s a perfectly beautiful spot. I’ve never been down just look down later I’ll climb it!
We went up there knowing there was no water – and wondering what we’d do. Bill had dug several holes hoping a spring would emerge – but nothing at all!!
In back of the hut are several enormous piles of dirt and brush that Pollard shoved back when he cleared a place for the hut and guess what, the snow underneath is till there – insulated against the sun – all other snow is gone. Bill dug a tunnel into it and got snow there. I shuddered to think of using it but it’s clean. We have to hoard it and melt it and then close our eyes but it’s wet. I really hesitate to use it but Bill assures me it’s safe!! It’s slow and building a fire to cook on and melt snow on is slow. The children love it – Saturday nite we had beans, hot dogs, cooked on our skewer sticks from California BBQ days and roasted marshmallows and cocoa (made from melted snow and evaporated milk and instant cocoa) – good – if you’re cold, thirsty and hungry.
Bill had to go back for the pack he left when I yelled and didn’t get back until 12:00. It was still light enough out to eat and we were amazed to find out it was 12:00 and we didn’t know it. [word destroyed by moisture on paper] – and still one month to go til shortest day of the year!! Bill was exhausted and said he smelled camp fire way down mountain!
Then we went to bed – oh Mom, the mosquitoes I think had come in and stayed in folds of canvas – there were millions BZZ- like bombers coming from all directions at once. I couldn’t sleep all nite. We had ‘OFF’ which I put all over every hour but it didn’t help. We needed a spray and didn’t have one. I got up at 4:00. I couldn’t stand it. That morning poor Cindy’s face was swollen terribly from the bites.
I woke up hating mosquitoes, hating the dirty, filthy Jamesway and hating the whole damned mess. I went outside to gather fire wood – completely unafraid – I walked down to edge of drop and looked out – all others asleep and all peace and quiet. The sun hadn’t come up but it was still light outside – it was beautiful. The air smelled like a million flowers so clean, clear and fresh! It was the beginning of a beautiful day and the view below [Linda note: She ran out of paper and now writing on the paper pad’s cover] was breathtaking. I stood there and looked around. I clasped my hands around me and thought – it will all be ours – this beautiful place and I said aloud “Oh, dear God help us get our land – help us, help us!”
I gathered up firewood and reluctantly returned to chores at hand! Sharon and Bill were up and it was 5:00 A.M. [words damaged by moisture] 3 went to the edge and looked and Bill’s eyes shone with pleasure as he saw my delight in the beauty below and all around.
Oh Mom, you too must see it – but how?
Then they were all up, awake and so happy to be on our land at last!!
Bill announced “It’s a holiday.” We’ll eat and see our land! We ate bacon, fried eggs, coffee, cocoa and doughnuts – m-m- good.
Dishes could wait. I took picture of it all. I’ll send you some and we left – oh Mother never will I forget that joyous, happy morning! We walked to our valley, a hidden valley between two hills. It has big, enormous spruce trees and many other trees. The girls played house under its branches – and mosquitoes and mud were all forgotten. They didn’t want to leave their play beneath the big sheltering branches.
BUT oh, so much more to see. We walked down to spruce grove where I want to build our permanent home – our final home. Here Bill says, we’ll get the winds as it’s out in the open but who cares. Will have a view unsurpassed by anyone, a view of the ocean to the right and the mountains across the Inlet. Before us we see the opposite mountains – and below the rivers and ponds. To the left we see the big jagged mountain and the bump where the canyon looks as if it closes but where it doesn’t – it’s a pass and where the park begins. I love that view as here the mountains come together.
Now isn’t that enough but oh, no there’s more. More I tell you. Below us to the left is the creek and the waterfalls. Oh, such beauty and beyond it and up over the canyon is another spot just like ours – not taken. Oh, no they’re all below in the marsh too lazy to climb – or too wise. Which?
They’ve never seen the beauty we have and I tell Bill I don’t want them to or they’ll all want it for themselves.
In some ways I don’t want a decent road. I know it sounds crazy but Mother, you know everyone then will come and until we have patent I hardly dare them to see Our Hidden Valley – our name for our place and anyway – we need $ to clear and get patent. Right?
Oh, I wish I could show you it all – everywhere you look you see a view.
Where our Jamesway is is only temporary. [Linda note: No, it was as far as we ever got.] Bill wanted it put in another place but they couldn’t get to it then because of the snow – now I’m glad. It will later be a barn and is in a flat cleared space we know we’ll never want to live in. Good.
Next summer we’ll move to the little warm sheltered valley I spoke of – then later to my spot!!
See, we can’t give this place up. It’s beautiful and lovely beyond any words.
Poor Mrs. Pollard – she says “You’ll only have the mountain across the river to stare at. I prefer to live in the valley.” And yet how I wish our place was so easy to get to.
Must close for now – next I’ll pick up here! Love, Mildred
Please mail right back or I’ll never do this again.
The rest of the homesteading letters as I am working to transcribe them can be read HERE!
2 thoughts on “*Age 7 – 5-18-1959 Letter – More Classic Homesteading Stress”
Thank you, Linda, for all your hard work transcribing this long letter, and the others as well. Oh, my, it makes me tired just reading of climbing that mountain. She does a great job of describing everything. And, such hope and dreams for the future, it breaks my heart, really.
And yet in some ways homesteading and that Place itself brought out some of the best in her. I can’t imagine what our lives would have been like without it or who I would have become without it. Her mental illness and her abuse of me was not tied to any place. It existed within her. At least the homestead had some sustaining force for her. If nothing else, it was directly tied to the good things and good places she remembered deeply from her childhood.
Steve and I went quickly through the Alaskan slides he has and he shot pictures of some while they were on the screen. Once I get those I will doctor them the best I can and post them. There’s a series of Dad that, to a large extent, addresses the question, “Where was your father in all of this?”
There’s also an amazing series I don’t ever remember seeing before of the parts of the Jamesway being hauled up the mountain and of it being constructed piece by piece. I was looking for that one photo of the Jamesway with its 11 or 13 sections taken looking down on it from above. I don’t think all the pictures/slides survived that fire. I did not see that one. There were some astoundingly beautiful shots of we 3 girls! So precious.
Our story is so complicated!