Matanuska Project Index
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  Matanuska Valley Colony


June 1935


June 5, 1935  page 5

Tent City Houses Pioneers Building Alaska Homes

Housing the 500 [should be 200] midwest families colonizing the Matanuska valley in Alaska, this tent city teems with activity as the pioneers, aided by details of transient workers, build their homes, clear the timber, and prepare the land for their first crop next year.  Soaring back of the picturesque town of canvas are the snowcaps of the Chugach mountain range, a vivid contrast to the fertile valley where the sun now shines until nearly midnight.




June 5, 1935  page 9

Daughter Born to Alaskan Colonist

Merriweather, June 5--Word has been received here of the birth of a daughter to Mr. and Mrs. Donald Parks of Palmer, Alaska.  The child was born the day the boat carrying the colonists from Michigan, arrived in Alaska.  Mr. and Mrs. Parks left here May 13 to make their home in the Matanuska valley.




June 7, 1935  page 5

Colonists Are Organized Now

Matanuska Pioneers Have Own Government and Even Baseball Team.

Palmer, Alaska.  June 7--(AP)--The 1935 pioneers--Matanuska Valley's colonists from the United States-- have spanned the gap to modernity in one month.

A month after the first contingent of middlewest farmers and their families arrived here, the eight-camp community has a government of its own, railroad service, supplies of fresh food--and Sunday there will be a baseball game.

Harry Campbell, formerly of Abrams, Wis., was named head of the council.

Working side by side with their husbands, the women of the colony played an important part in the colonization.  Each of the eight camps have a man and a woman as their representative on the colonists' council.

Mrs. Neil Miller, formerly of Blair, Wis., was elected council secretary.

Over the wide stretch of the colony, building sites were located and cleared, in preparation for the construction of log cabins.  In the woods, crews of men chopped down trees.  The various labor assignments for the colonists, such as unloading freight and police work, were discontinued to enable them to work on their own farms.

Already enough wells have been drilled to permit the Alaska railroad to withdraw its water cars, and more were being sunk.

Authorities received word that 80 more transient laborers, to be recruited from Washington state woodsmen, will be sent north shortly, to be added to the construction division.  Their arrival will raise the number of such workers to 500.

Daily train service between Palmer and Anchorage was started June 1 by the Alaska railroad.  It will assist the colonists in obtaining supplies, fresh foods and vegetables daily until gardens become sufficiently grown.

Next Sunday, the Anchorage baseball team will play here, and a special train will bring 500 visitors.

The arrival of the first shipment of cows and horses from the states, a trainload of them, was welcomed by the farmers, and more are to leave Seattle shortly on the steamer North Star.

The camp surgeon has pronounced sanitation conditions as very good and health conditions as excellent, with a few cases of measles and colds the only illness.




June 10, 1935 page 2

First Drawing for Alaska Farms

Hope and anxiety reigned as this group of modern American pioneers, brought from impoverished midwestern farms to carve new futures in Alaska's Matanuska Valley, excitedly awaited the drawing that would determine their future homes and farms.  In this scene, Martin W. McCormick, former Michigan farmer, is drawing from a box the slip of paper designating the 40-acre tract that will support him and his family.  Fears of separation form old friends were lessened by the announcement that slips might be "swapped."

Additional pictures of the land draw: 






June 19, 1935  page 2

Alaskan Colonists Protest Conditions

Palmer, Alaska.  June 19--(AP)--Patrick Hemmer and Mrs. I.M. Sandvik, Matanuska Valley colonists, who said they represent 40 other colonists, sent complaints today regarding project conditions to President Roosevelt; Senators Couzens, Schall, Vandenberg and La Follette; Harry Hopkins, relief administrator, and Gov. John W. Troy of Alaska.

Asking for an investigation, they asserted the cabins are not being constructed or wells dug; no preparations are under way for school; there is not sufficient medical aid available; roads are not being built into the tracts as promised and prices at the commissary are much higher than at the Palmer store.




June 20, 1935  page 3

Colonist Protests Are Minimized by Officials

Palmer, Alaska.  June 20--(AP)--Strains of discord emanated from a group of colonists at the government Matanuska valley project today but relief administration authorities minimized their importance.

Conditions and work formed the basis of letters and messages of protest to President Roosevelt, Administrator John W. Troy of Alaska and four United States senators.

The protesting group was headed by Patrick Hemmer and Mrs. I.M. Sandvick.

Don Irwin, project manager, said unrest had been reduced "to a minimum.["]

In Washington, Lawrence Westbrook, assistant relief administrator, said he had received only one complaint.  A load of lumber was late in arriving, he added.

Grievances are Listed

Senator La Follette of Wisconsin said he had seen a telegram from colonists to Senator Couzens of Michigan.

Hemmer, as a leader of the group, cited a number of matters which he said called for an investigation.  An early meeting between Irwin and the protesting group was planned.

Specific so-called grievances listed by Hemmer and Mrs. Sandvik were that prices are much higher at the commissary than at the Palmer store, unnecessarily depleting the $3,000 government loans to each family; that wells had not been dug to provide water and cabins not built; and that not enough medical aid is available.

Another protest, that no preparations are under way for schools in the fall, found a partial answer in the statement that the Pacific northwest lumber strike had caused delay in shipping lumber.

The group also asserted that roads were not being built into the tracts as promised.

Messages were addressed to senators from the states which the colonists left this spring, Senator Couzens and Vandenberg of Michigan; Schall of Minnesota and La Follette of Wisconsin.

Shelter is Promised

Irwin asserted there was a "natural modicum of unrest: among any large group of people transported such a distance, to a new and strange land.

Shelter for all Matanuska valley colonists before fall, including school buildings, was promised today by Frank U. Bliss, in charge of the construction branch of the rehabilitation project.

"With the addition of 125 carpenters and lumberjacks, all skilled builders, leaving Seattle June 26 on the steamship North Star, my force will be recruited to full strength, he said.

Lumber is being purchased from Alaska mills, unaffected by strikes, he said.  Sites have been cleared for most structures needed this winter, he said, the schools being the largest buildings involved.

Officials of the Alaska road commission said they were hiring 100 men, but warned that the influx from the states was useless, since "Alaska cannot furnish jobs for all of them.["]


Lansing, June 20--(AP)--Complaints from Michigan farmers pioneering at Palmer, Alaska, aroused little sympathy at emergency welfare headquarters today.

Roswell G. Carr, director of rural rehabilitation, who directed the enrollment and transfer of the Michigan contingent, said its members "went into it with their eyes open."

Carr said complaints were to be expected as the pioneers were entering a new land and facing unavoidable hardships.  Those who complain because they are not given their food and clothing, he explained were told before they started that they would be expected to buy them with government loans.

Complaints about food prices, he said, were understandable since prices in Alaska are high and farmers were moved there to produce the food, of which there is a scarcity.




June 22, 1935  page 9

Mercer Pioneer Not Complaining

While some of the hardy pioneers who went to Alaska to found new homes in the Matanuska valley have been complaining recently about the hardships they have encountered, a former Mercer resident is not discontented with his lot.

"We sure like it here.  We had a nice trip and feel good," wrote Eugene Juvette to Henry Peterson of Hurley.

Juvette, his wife, and their child were selected from among the Iron county applicants for the trip.




June 24, 1935  page 7

Alaskan Laborers Tell of Suffering

Transient Workers Return from Valley With Tales of Privation.

Seattle, June 24--(AP)-- Although Don Irwin, resident manager of the Matanuska land colony, branded settlers' criticisms as "greatly exaggerated," transient laborers homeward bound to California today after helping the colonists get a start, told tales of privations and hardships in the Alaskan wilderness.

Murl H. Montgomery, one  of the 31 single men in the party told interviewers that "I only wish that we could testify before a senate investigation committee."

William Peck said three women in the colony begged him for his identification tag, saying they wanted to cut their hair, don men's clothing and get back to the states.

"They wanted to get back here and work to send their families enough to break away, too," he said.

Peck said when he wanted a bath he had to heat water in tin cans over a bonfire.  Men said they went without a bath for three weeks until 12 showers were erected for 400 men.

The valley is mosquito-ridden, the men said.




June 25, 1935  pages 1 & 2

Alaskan Says Tales 'Silly'

Congressional Delegate from North Says Complaints Exaggerated

Washington, June 25--(AP)--Indignantly, Anthony J. Dimond, Alaska's delegate to congress, denies Matanuska valley is a "dusty, mosquito-infested" country--as described by returning California transient workers.

Dimond also termed "grossly exaggerated: and "silly" complaints of settlers in the government's colonization project against its management.  These pioneers went to Alaska from drought areas of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan.

"Did these settlers expect they were going on a nice vacation?"  Dimond asked.  "They knew that hewing out a frontier was not easy, that they would have to work.  I suspect some of them are just beginning to realize their venture was not a lark now that the glamour of adventure in a new land has worn off."

Dimond insisted, in an interview, a good living could be made in the

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Alaskan Says Tales 'Silly'
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valley by those willing to work for it.

Mosquitoes Not So Bad

"Mosquitoes in Alaska are no more numerous or more vicious than in the lake country of Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota where most of the settlers came from," he said.  "New Jersey mosquitoes are much worse.  Besides, the mosquitoes will disappear as soon as the land is cultivated.

"They complained, too, that their houses were being built without concrete foundations.  That's the way we always build houses n Alaska.  I wonder how many of the pioneers who landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620 expected to have concrete foundations."

Dimond predicted 75 percent of the colonists would remain on their farms in preference to returning to the states.

The senate today expected Harry L. Hopkins' report on food and health conditions among the 2,000 [sic;  should be 200] government relief colonists at Palmer.

The report was prepared by the relief administrator in answer to charges by Senator Vandenberg (R-Mich) and others that the colonization scheme was a "crazy adventure" and that a "major catastrophe" impended unless corrective measures were undertaken immediately.

Claims Few Dissatisfied

Vandenberg based his assertions on telegrams and letters from some of the settlers who said that promised houses and roads had not been built, that government food was not delivered and than an epidemic of sickness was threatened through lack of medical supplies.

Relief officials insisted that not more than 10 percent of the single men in the Palmer colony were dissatisfied.

Reports from Anchorage, Alaska said that 400 residents of that city had joined in an excursion to Palmer and had found little discontent among the settlers.  Chief anxiety, they said, was over construction of warm houses before winter comes.

The visitors said timbers had been laid for less than a dozen houses and construction work will have to be rushed.  Gardens, however, have been planted and crops are starting to grow, they said.

The site of the settlement was described by Vandenberg as a "dusty, mosquito-infested country" instead of a "promised land."




June 25, 1935  pages 1 & 2

Most Colonists Pleased; Want Agitators Ousted

The following description of life and the situation in the Matanuska colony project in Alaska was written for the Associated Press by Mrs. Lloyd Bell, one of the colonists who formerly lived in Minnesota.


Palmer, Alaska.  June 25--(AP)--The weather in the Matanuska Valley is wonderful, with the days quite hot at times but the nights cool.  The days are long, with only a few hours of twilight for "darkness" this time of the year.

With plenty of rain, the vegetation grows rapidly and the native blue join grass is already shoulder high in places.  The woods are a mass of flowers, but the mosquitoes are very bad in the timber.  They are no menace in the open and we are told with the settlement of the land they will be eliminated.

Most of the colonists are well pleased with the country.

Lloyd Bell, of Mora, Minn., says it would take a squad of soldiers to get him out of the valley.  Gilford Lemon, of Koochaching county, Minn., says he intents to stay "until hell freezes over."  Many other colonists express similar opinions.

The colonists are highly pleased with the agricultural possibilities here but are disappointed with the

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Most Colonists Pleased; Want Agitators Ousted
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progress being made until corporation control.

Most of the colonists are still in their tents, but they are fixed very comfortably with board floors, doors, and screen windows.  A library has been opened in the community hall, with a few books and lots of magazines.

A bus line makes two complete tours of the different camp centers twice daily, and baseball games are played almost every Sunday.  The children are having a glorious time, with large playground swings, teeter-totters, and games of kitten ball, horseshoes and marbles.  Church and Sunday school are held every Sunday.

There is much sickness but it is mostly measles, mumps, chicken pox and pink eye, and no serious diseases.  Many should never have come here because of poor health.  There are two doctors and one Red Cross nurse with the transient workers and they are aiding the colonists, too.  There are at least five registered nurses among the colonists.

A big complaint is that the doctor has no car of his own and the colonists are scattered all over the valley.

Provisions are being made for about 15 teachers to come here for approximately 375 to 380 pupils in the fall.  The school land is being cleared and more materials are arriving daily.

Several agitators in the colony are keeping things continually boiling.  We would like to have them deported.  There is cause for complaint here, but reports of conditions have been exaggerated.

The construction work is slow, as wrong equipment and materials have been shipped.  Mr. Irwin (Don Irwin, project manager) ordered wagons and received school furniture and gasoline tanks.

The colonists want United States control continued, with Mr. Irwin in complete charge.  He is well liked by all the colonists.




June 28, 1935  page 3

Few Colonists Ask to Return

Mad Dog Scare and Shortage of Reading Matter Big Problems Now.

Palmer, Alaska.  June 18--(AP)--A mad dog scare and a shortage of reading matter shared the attention of the Matanuska colonists today as they awaited the arrival of Eugene Carr, "trouble shooter" for the federal relief administration.

Carr was sent here after nearly 50 of the former midwesterners complained to Washington about conditions in the colony.  Six of the 200 families settled here by the government signed up to return to the state yesterday and began selling their households [sic] goods.

While the buyers talked of their bargains, Don Irwin, the project manager, ordered all dogs tied up or led on leashes because several of the animals recently killed are believed to have been rabid.  No one has been reported bitten.

All available reading matter is being snatched up.  One woman, a Mrs. Alexander, came 15 miles from Camp Four to get something to read.

"We are reading old newspapers--anything we can get our hands on," she said.

She went home with an armful of books.  Libraries of books and magazines are being established in the outlying camps.

Perhaps the most novel complaint is that there is too much sunlight up here--this from radio fans who find their sets work best at night in the land of the midnight sun.  By the time the sun sets, they complain, most of the stations, they can reach in the states have signed off.

Neighbors of the colonists--persons who have carved out homes for themselves without benefit of federal patronage, give little credence to colonists' charges of deplorable conditions in the colony.




June 27, 1935  page 2

Alaskan Colonist From Wisconsin Is Cheerful

Seattle, June 27--(AP)--She had to use wash bluing for ink, but there's nothing "blue" about the letter from a former Wisconsin woman now keeping house in the government colony of the Matanuska Valley in Alaska.

The letter, written to a Seattle friend, was made public today by E.W. Knight, publisher of the Alaska Weekly here.  He described it as "A great deal more typical of the attitude of the colonists than the kind of stuff we are getting from the malcontents who always make the most noise."

Federal authorities are investigating charges of some Matanuska colonists that the project had been misrepresented to them.

The housewife, whose name was withheld by Knight, wrote that on arrival at Palmer, the colony capital, "the fun began."

"Many were so shocked," she said.  "They had left the states with a very vague conception of what pioneer life in Alaska was to be like--and instead of being game enough to face the music, they were miserable enough to want to make everyone else miserable.

"For a few days no one knew just where he or she was supposed to be, but now I believe they all are located in tents and being well fed, and surely they should expect no more.

"We are at the main camp, just about a block from the post office, a low, tiny frame building about 12 by 14 feet, and it is usually just packed.  Alongside the post office is a low log building called lunch and bake shop. [sic]  They are operated by the same family--very intelligent people and I sometimes wonder how they like the idea of this army of civilization marching in on them and disturbing their peaceful life.

"We have chosen plans for our new home and I believe they will be working along those lines within a few days.

It is a much larger project than most of us dreamed.  But the plans are splendid and we must just be patient and give them a chance to carry them out.  Our tents are 16x20--a floor made of rough lumber about 12 inches wide with cracks of half an inch or more between boards.  The stoves look good, if you don't use them--they are not successful bakers.

"It is difficult to keep clean, as it is such a dusty country.

"But you see, we constantly keep trying, therefore we are always busy, thus keeping ourselves contented.  We have church services--Catholic and Protestant--and they are organizing a Boy Scout troop, so, you see, in time we shall be quite well taken care of."

Recent complaints of some of the settlers and some of the unmarried transient workers sent north to help the settlers, resulted in Harry Hopkins, federal relief administrator, sending Eugene Carr to Alaska to investigate.  Reports also were hurried to Washington, D.C. when the matter had congressional repercussions.

Most serious of the complaints have been that house construction was not proceeding fast enough.  There were also complaints about the quality of food, sanitary conditions, mosquitoes, lack of manpower and about the provisions made for caring for the sick.


Kansas City, June 27--(AP)--Two Ketchikan, Alaska, city officials declared today the government's colonization project in the Matanuska valley cannot fail.

"It can't fail," was the unequivocal statement of Harry G. McCain, city attorney.

"Fail?  When those colonists get a start, you watch them go," added J.F. Van Gilder, city clerk and magistrate.

"Of course, pioneering is no bed of roses," continued McCain.  "Personally, I think the project's bound up in too much red tape, but you watch.  The government won't muddle it.  It can't afford the ignominy and ridicule that would result.

"Gee, but it's a great country!  Rich soil, great climate, 20 hours of daylight in the summer, and you know we're in the temperate zone."

The two were here to complete the purchase of Ketchikan's utilities from private operators at a cost of $954,790 under contracts signed in 1920.  They boasted Ketchikan is the only city in continental and territorial United States that owns its own water, light and telephone systems.