Tauriainens celebrate 50 years of homesteading

Posted: Tuesday, June 09, 2009

May 30th, 1959 was a special day for the pioneering Tauriainen family. It was the day their covered wagon (a 1953 Buick) loaded with most of their earthly possessions crossed from Canada back into the United States of America. Only four months after Alaska had officially become the 49th State of the United States. "It was the real Memorial Day, the original date," recalled Mike Tauriainen as he remembered that day last week, "We left home on April fools day and we planned to be here sooner, but we encountered some delays along the way so it just happened to be Memorial Day when we crossed the border," said Tauriainen. The meal that day however, was no coincidence, "We crossed the border about 5:00pm and went a little further until we came to a gravel pit where we stopped. We had saved a special dinner for when we made it to Alaska and that was a can of chicken and a box of instant mashed potatoes, so our arrival celebration dinner was chicken and mashed potatoes and ever since then on May 30th our family has celebrated our arrival anniversary by having chicken and mashed potatoes, and this is our 50th anniversary, and what else would have on Memorial Day except chicken and mashed potatoes," added Mike.

There must have been 50 or more family and friends of the Tauriainen's that gathered at the end of Halbouty Road on the family's original homestead to enjoy the 50th feast of chicken and mashed potatoes and a traditional sauna. "The first thing we built was the sauna. We only stopped in Nikiski to visit a friend, we were heading to Homer, but a friend wanted to show us some land and when my dad saw this lake from that ridge I remember him saying this is it, we're home," said Mike.

The matriarch of the family Meimi "Mim" Tauriainen also recalled that particular day when she and her five children set foot for the first time on Alaskan soil, "It was a very nice day and of course very light yet and we were very pleased how pleasant it was here. Alaska just became our home automatically and naturally we missed family and friends back home but was up to them to come here to see us, it's been a wonderful life homesteading here," said Mim. Indeed most of Mim's children still live in Alaska and some cousins later moved and became "North Roaders" as well. "I was happy when we finally got here, but as a 14-year-old boy to me it was a lark and I didn't really appreciate the enormous step that it was for my mom and dad to leave everything behind and come to Alaska with a '53 Buick and a 20 foot house trailer, a '49 Ford truck with a Farmall tractor on it along with everything else we could get on it and what we didn't, we left behind," added Mike.

The Tauriainen family hailed from Michigan where earlier that spring a group of Michiganders known as the 59ers decided to trade the rat race of city living for the challenges of pioneer life in the Alaskan wilderness.It wasn't the promise of yellow or black gold that called them nor did they dream of permanent fund dividend checks or longevity bonuses. They planned to homestead the wild Alaskan land and carve out a new life while escaping the hardships in Detroit. These were regular folks raising families and trying to make ends meet in Detroit where cars were not selling and the unemployment rate had jumped to 15 percent. The group included autoworkers, homemakers, pipefitters and machinists. The new state was luring new inhabitants with the promise of a new life on homesteaded land for a $10 filing fee -- in effect free land to people who agreed to live on it for a certain length of time. The hardy group set off in a caravan from the parking lot of a drive-in theater and their odyssey captured the imagination of other Americans, like the Tauriainen's who piled into house trailers, pickup trucks and cars to join them and seek their fortune.

"We didn't come with the actual 59er group, but we were right behind them and left about a month later," recalled Carol Tauriainen-Ernst, "I was twelve, just the wrong age to be uprooted and I had an attitude for sure. It was a rough trip. We barely made it up some of the hills and the bridges were really dangerous back then. It may have been the Peace River Bridge, I don't remember, but mom was so worried she wanted us to walk across rather that ride. My dad was the kind of guy who would stop for anything he saw along the way if he saw a pretty rock we'd stop and take a look, but I still wasn't a happy camper," said Carol. Fifty years later Carol, Mike and Mim are certain that when Alaska celebrates it's centennial year of statehood in 2059, there will be Tauriainen's somewhere in Alaska, and probably out the North Road that will be eating chicken and mashed potatoes and enjoying a sauna down by the lake near the million dollar outhouse with its crystal chandelier.

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