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Home  >  Digital Archives  >  Industry  >  Agriculture
The Matanuska Valley Colony  -  Historian's Comments
By Jim Fox « Prev   Page 2 of 2  

Having just found and read much of this history of the Colony. I noted a major error in the beginning and some finer points.
First, the article states that the "North Star" ship met the first colonists in San Francisco, taking them to Alaska. This is not correct. It was the USAT "St. Mihiel" which met and took to Alaska the first colonists, from Minnesota, and additional transient workers at San Francisco.
The "North Star" took the first contingent of Transient workers and ARRC officials to Alaska from San Francisco, a few day prior, traveling along the Inside Passage picking up lumber and supplies in Ketchican. It arrived just a day before the "St. Mihiel", which upon arrival at Seward had to wait most of the day in Resurrection Bay while the "North Star" finished unloading.
When the "St. Mihiel" docked, the biggest ship ever to come into Seward, it crunched the dock sending the welcoming dignitaries and band running for safety. The ship stayed at Seward for a couple days housing the colonists while it's load of Transients went on to the Matanuska Valley and Warton (Palmer was the name of the Section House, the small frame post office was called Warton) to help the other Transients build a tent city for just the Minnesota colonists and a camp for the workers. When the "St. Mihiel" was disgorged of the first group of colonists it returned to Seattle to pick up the Michigan and Wisconsin group and head back to Seward. It was this second group while traveling by railroad across country that was incubating childhood diseases among the children, which begin to erupt in Seattle.
Meanwhile, the "North Star" returned to Seattle to pick up more supplies and 8 of the Michigan and Wisconsin families left behind because of severe illnesses. It also loaded with cattle and with two nurses Max and Dorothy Sherrod and their 3 year old daughter Janet. Max not only helped in nursing the ill colonists but cared for the cattle, milking the cows among them.
Your article appears to rely heavily on Atwood's book "We Shall Be Remembered." While she drew some very good and insightful conclusions and observations about the Project in a very approachable and interesting history, she later told me that she came to realize she had relied too much in parts on contemporary newspaper articles which were oft in error.
Orlando W. Miller's book "The Frontier in Alaska and the Matanuska Colony," scholarly and some times intimidating, is the best work published so far. I used to say it was "the definitive work" but new papers and diaries that neither Miller and nor Atwood had access to have come to light which show in greater detail the confusion in the Project in 1935; destructive machinations within Colony management that went on for several years; so called rebel colonist groups which now are shown not to have been so rebellious; new federal government reasons for creating the project; and Alaskans who looked at the colony as a cash cow which they proceeded to milk to their advantage.
The documentary, "Alaska Far Away", for which I was the historian, references some of this new information and gives a clear and definitive outline of the Project. It also lists on it's first edition back cover the first accurate list of all the families chosen as the first Colonists in 1935. Neither Atwood's, Irwin's or many authors' list of colonists are correct, most having copied each other.
In "Building a Town", a brief history of the Transient Workers I wrote for the Palmer Historical -- posted on their website at <http://www.palmerhistoricalsociety.org/New%20Deal/New%20Deal.htm> -- there is a lengthy footnote addressing the actual number of families who were chosen as colonists in 1935. The site also has what we believe to be the complete list of Transient Workers brought to Alaska in 1935 to build the Colony.
 
About the Author: Jim Fox is a historian who lives in Medina, Washington.
 
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