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The Matanuska Colony: The New Deal in Alaska
September 10, 2008 6:47 AM   Subscribe

The 'Dirty Thirties' saw farmers hit with the double-whammy of the Great Depression and the ecological disaster of the Dust bowl years. "In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt offered 203 families from the hardest-hit areas of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan the chance to start fresh in a new land, in a fertile Alaskan valley with the melodic name Matanuska." "It was heady, fine-sounding stuff on paper. Picked from relief rolls in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, the prospective colonists knew their Promised Land was a wilderness, but the Government was going to turn the wilderness overnight into an Eden with running water, radios, a cinema. It was going to set each family up on fine 40-acre farms with every necessity, many a luxury, 30 years to pay." It didn't quite work out as well as they'd hoped.thirties' saw many farmers in the United States

Most of the Colonists spent the first year in tents. Fresh food shipped from the Lower 48 spoiled because it wasn't refrigerated, sharpeners arrived before there were axes to sharpen, rifles were in short supply and when 24 carpenters arrived to build a school, hospital and permanent housing they found only four hammers.

67 families left within the first year and by 1939 fewer than 100 of the original Colonists remained.

A handful of farms
remain.

One business begun by the Colonists, state-run Matanuska Maid dairy closed it's doors last year in spite of Governor Palin's attempts to keep it open.
posted by merelyglib (33 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Er, your wikipedia link about the dairy just got deleted.
posted by Zarkonnen at 7:09 AM on September 10, 2008


Sounds like what what happened in the 1800s in Octagon City, Kansas.
posted by crapmatic at 7:13 AM on September 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure this article is a dupe, as well.
posted by delmoi at 7:14 AM on September 10, 2008


delmoi, it looks like the first post was by merelyglib also, and deleted at their request.
posted by theclaw at 7:19 AM on September 10, 2008


(oops)
posted by delmoi at 7:22 AM on September 10, 2008


FWIW (and from the looks of it, that might not be much), the Wikipedia link still exists thanks to the magic of the Google cache.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:26 AM on September 10, 2008


It was there this morning, I swear! Here's another.
posted by merelyglib at 7:30 AM on September 10, 2008


It's an interesting story. The memory of going West to make one's fortune or to just escape abject poverty was still alive in the 30's and Alaska was sort of the last frontier. If you are Jewish, today your frontier might be Dothan, Alabama.
posted by caddis at 7:35 AM on September 10, 2008


Wow, that article really was utter unencyclopedic crap. Never thought I'd write that, especially after the jedi fighting styles article.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:48 AM on September 10, 2008


It's that deja-vu experience all over again. Didn't I see this in the blue very recently?
posted by Laotic at 8:00 AM on September 10, 2008


The Colony Farm House Museum in Palmer is really nice. The docent when I visited a couple of years ago was born soon after her parents arrived from the Midwest. Palmer is one of the few towns in Alaska that is actually shaped like a town, rather than just being a string of buildings along the highway.

It was mentioned in the museum that there were several other farm resettlement towns across the U.S. Among those resettled were Johnny Cash's parents to Dyess, Arkansas, and Elvis Presley's parents to Tupelo, Mississippi.

If you'll forgive the self-link, here's a photo of one of the original barns just outside of Palmer.
posted by plastic_animals at 8:06 AM on September 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'd actually be curious to hear how the other two Dust-Bowl communities mentioned in the second (there was one in Florida, I think, and one in...Georgia?) turned out. there's vanishingly little information about any of these elsewhere online, and this has now sparked my curiousity.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:29 AM on September 10, 2008


What an interesting surprise. The things people post about here. Thanks for your informative and interesting post merelyglib.

It happens my grandfather, Wessel Smitter, wrote a readable novel in 1938 on the Matanuska experiment topic, Another Morning, based on the experiences of Matanuska colonists. It's one of the few novels about this.

He dedicated his book to Dr. Carl Earl Albrecht, a "frontier physician" and health administrator at that time in Alaska.

Googling around I found a few tidbits and thought I'd add them to your thread. A decent video about Matanuska put out by the despicable Monsanto, images: a settler in 1917, 1918, in 1920. Image of the area. mmm, Birch Syrup (like maple) from that neck of the woods. What the place looks like these days. The Matanuska Glacier.

And, goodness gracious, Matanuska seems to be known for weed, "Mint" variety as well.

This Alaska history site discusses the Matanuska experiment financially.

Just found out there is a recent documentary about the Matanuska settlement, Alaska Far Away. Thanks to your post I just found out the makers of the documentary read and recommended my grandfather's book. I'm sure he'd have been so pleased.
posted by nickyskye at 8:59 AM on September 10, 2008 [15 favorites]


PS It's so telling the Wikipedia article about Palin's botching the Matanuska dairy situation has been deleted.

One of your links led me to Andrew Halco's blog discussing that in detail. It certainly is plain that plenty of people in Alaska do not like Palin's way of handling things.

This has long been an exercise of protecting the governor's friends and neighbors and Alaskans are paying the price which continues to grow everyday.
posted by nickyskye at 9:10 AM on September 10, 2008


nickyskye: PS It's so telling the Wikipedia article about Palin's botching the Matanuska dairy situation has been deleted.

Why? That was a horrible article - badly written and not likely to inform people who read it. Your comment is miles beyond that article in terms of informing and interesting the reader in what happened and providing backup links.

I found it a nice surprise that Wikipedia would delete a delete-worthy article. It'd be nice now if somebody'd write a good article to replace it. Knowing Wikipedia, however, I don't expect lightning to strike twice.
posted by koeselitz at 9:26 AM on September 10, 2008


Most of the Colonists spent the first year in tents. Fresh food shipped from the Lower 48 spoiled because it wasn't refrigerated, sharpeners arrived before there were axes to sharpen, rifles were in short supply and when 24 carpenters arrived to build a school, hospital and permanent housing they found only four hammers.

ZOE: "The border worlds -- just like the central planets, they're as close to Earth-That-Was as we could make 'em: atmosphere, gravity and such, but..."

MAL: "Once they're terraformed, they'll dump settlers on there with nothing but blankets and hatchets and maybe a herd. Some of them make it, some of them..."

I wonder if some of Whedon's inspiration for Firefly came from places like this.
posted by quin at 9:26 AM on September 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


koeselitz, Thanks for the kind words about my comment.

Do you think it was the writing style that got the entry about Palin botching the Matanuska dairy deleted in Wikipedia? There are many not so well written articles/entries in Wikipedia that haven't been deleted. The Matanuska Maid Dairy controversy Wikipedia entry that saulgoodman linked was basically a list of events in the controversy with 13 reference articles mentioned. It wasn't an article so much as a timeline.

(drat, won't be able to reply until tonight, have to leave for work)
posted by nickyskye at 9:36 AM on September 10, 2008


PS, more links about the Matanuska Maid controversy. Reading them I feel sick thinking Palin may well inherit the presidency.
posted by nickyskye at 9:41 AM on September 10, 2008


Reading them I feel sick thinking Palin may well inherit the presidency.

I'd put it more like she "may have even a very remote but nevertheless frightening chance of inheriting the presidency."

Why be defeatist? I swear, I hear more from those of us who oppose McCain about the plausibility of a McCain victory these days than I do from McCain supporters (who, like my born-again hazardous material removal contractor cousin really aren't particularly jazzed about the Republican ticket, but just need it made a little clearer that no-way, no-how is Obama a secret muslim extremist before they'll abstain from voting and let Obama win).

This is the Dem's race to lose, for once. Let's keep that in mind. Those recent polls that seem so discouraging? They're probably BS, for a couple of reasons. First, small samples (I've been seeing samples as low as 900 pretty consistently); second, samples that include only "registered likely-voters" (which is poll industry code for "we shaved off demographic groups, like young people, that we felt wouldn't yield our client's desired outcome"); third, polls are paid commercial products, subject to absolutely no independent regulatory oversight, so no matter what anyone says, who really knows whether their methodologies and results are sound?

Sure, the polling industry likes to brag about how well it polices itself; and yet, every major polling organization keeps certain aspects of its methodologies under wraps, with the justification of protecting trade secrets. (And cheerleaders for the mortgage backed securities industry and other failing financial sectors all like to tout the effectiveness of self-regulation, too.)
posted by saulgoodman at 10:26 AM on September 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Those recent polls that seem so discouraging?

What worries me is that people buy into them. One place I worked at back in 1992, a couple of the people said they were voting for a candidate because they thought they'd win. WTF?
posted by crapmatic at 10:49 AM on September 10, 2008


Wow! Thank you, nickyskye!
posted by merelyglib at 10:59 AM on September 10, 2008


*reads comments, is confused*

Sarah Palin's old enough to have been relocated to Alaska from the Dust Bowl in the 30's?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:00 AM on September 10, 2008


EmpressCallipygos (fun handle), you're naughty. ;-) You know it's the Matanuska connection, then and now, right? Palin has recently been involved in Matanuska Maid, a 40 year old company based in Anchorage but not far from Matanuska or Wasilla, where Palin was mayor.
posted by nickyskye at 2:26 PM on September 10, 2008


There is no revision history for this page.
Memory hole!

[When is Metafilter going to fix its </blockquote>\n\n problem?]
posted by vsync at 2:51 PM on September 10, 2008


What worries me is that people buy into them. One place I worked at back in 1992, a couple of the people said they were voting for a candidate because they thought they'd win. WTF?

This attitude is very common. Maybe hearing it called a "horse race" all the time has something to do with it?
posted by telstar at 4:58 PM on September 10, 2008


merelyglib, congratulations on an excellent first post.
posted by nickyskye at 5:49 PM on September 10, 2008


EmpressCallipygos (fun handle), you're naughty. ;-) You know it's the Matanuska connection, then and now, right? Palin has recently been involved in Matanuska Maid, a 40 year old company based in Anchorage but not far from Matanuska or Wasilla, where Palin was mayor.

I do know, actually.

But when the last three comments haven't had anything to do with Matanuska at all and are EXCLUSIVELY Sarah Palin, it just makes me mad that a thread that's actually about something else at heart is going to get ganked.

...I was just trying to be subtle in my protest.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:01 PM on September 10, 2008


Do you think it was the writing style that got the entry about Palin botching the Matanuska dairy deleted in Wikipedia?

That was part of it. It really wasn't an article and it did look like political soapboxing. Honestly, it looked like an attack on Palin, and I'm an Obama supporter. I just don't think it was seen as neutral or encyclopedic. Someone else should try to recreate it. Maybe I should.
posted by IvoShandor at 1:31 AM on September 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


/go for it IvoShandor. Please.
posted by nickyskye at 7:39 AM on September 11, 2008


Sorry to derail (or participate in a derail), but this caught my eye:

(I've been seeing samples as low as 900 pretty consistently)


Ha! This is actually pretty standard for a political poll, where 300-500 is considered a small sample. Anything above 1000 is considered extravagant in the world of political polling. Why? A sample of 900 has basically the same margin of error as a sample of 1500, but the 1500-respondent survey is so much more expensive.

So all those polls we liked earlier that showed Obama wiping the floor with McCain were probably around the same size. At the same time, election day is still almost two months away and I think things will settle back into neck-and-neck.


OK, I'll go back into my stats hole now.
posted by lunasol at 8:57 AM on September 11, 2008


Seconding nickyskye's proposal that you do a rewrite of that wikipedia article, IvoShandor.

I'm pretty sure the dairy never actually made a profit (except on paper, with some very creative accounting). It costs far less to have surplus milk shipped up from Seattle.

Maybe it was a good thing that it was finally put out of it's misery.

Oh and: Mat Maid was 71 years old when it closed, it was opened by the Colony's cooperative a year or so after the Colony was started.
posted by merelyglib at 9:19 AM on September 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


lunasol: Fair enough, about the sample sizes (I still think it's insane to put that much faith in sampling--convince me that a bucket-size sample of salt water collected from random regions across the Gulf of Mexico would manage to contain even a tiny fraction of all the species of life found in the Gulf, and I'd believe sampling makes sense; I believe there are just as many black swans as white ones in the wild, and since even our best statisticians don't seem to be able to predict the future much more consistently than if by pure chance alone, I don't feel particularly inclined to defer to the authority of statistical methods), but the more critical problem is with how the samples are attenuated after the fact to include only "registered likely voters."

And I don't necessarily put much stock in those previous polls you refer to either. Polls since before the time of Caesar have been more instruments of politics than of science. And the results have been subject to political influence for just as long, too. Mussolini's state famously manipulated polls; the soviet state manipulated polls. It's SOP.

And even discounting poll manipulation, most if not all recent polls still suffer from the increasingly serious sampling bias of being conducted over the phone--and usually only over land-line phones, in an age when I can practically count on one hand the number of Luddites I know who still even have land-lines for their primary phones (I'm one of the few among my own peer group). And then, there's also this: in many cases, the press isn't even accurately interpreting and reporting on the poll results that do obtain.

/statistics derail

posted by saulgoodman at 9:29 AM on September 11, 2008


You know that documentary nickyskye linked to above? It was good.

I highly recommend it for anyone who's interested in this obscure part of history.

It's unlikely anyone is checking this thread anymore but hey, you never know.
posted by merelyglib at 8:41 AM on October 2, 2008


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