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First Five Thousand in Gold is Easy (1958)

But Badger Found Second Five Hard; Returned to Homesteading Here

Harry Badger, now 89 but still a tall, straight man, has the large, gnarled hands of a farmer and during his long life those hands have caressed and wrestled the soil for sustenance.

 

"I'm a farmer," Harry says simply. "I have been all my life and I like to farm."

 

His farming life, which has led him to be a pioneer homesteader in the Tanana Valley, started in 1869, the year of his birth, in Minnesota, the time when great clouds of passenger pigeons passed overhead, filling the sky with the thunder of their roaring wings.

 

Left by Father

Harry Remembers as a boy seeing the now extinct pigeons blackening the sun and he also remembers the drudgery of working in the fields for the couple who adopted him after his mother died and his father, along with his older brothers, headed west to Washington, leaving the young boy alone. "There were times when I didn't like farming," Harry recollects now with a smile.

 

In 1889 Harry cut loose from the toil of the Midwest and joined his father and brothers on their land in eastern Washington. Changing his name back to Badger, he moved into the Cascade Mountains to prospect and mine.

 

"I followed all of the false stampedes as a young man."

 

Walk Across

In 1900, two years late for the stampede to the real Eldorado in the Klondike, Harry and a partner started north. Arriving at Skagway short on money, they walked across the White Pass into the Klondike.

 

"We didn't have enough to buy dogs, so we had to go on foot," Harry remembers.

 

That year Harry hit it rich for the first time in the mining game when he and his partner prospected a small Klondike creek.

 

"That first gold came so easy. All we had to do was wash it out. All I intended to take out was $5,000 but that five thousand came so fast I figured I might as well double it," Harry says.

 

So he and his partner sunk part of their first year's clean-up into supplies and started moving equipment into their claim. The freight costs ate up the remainder of that easy gold and there was no more left in the diggings the two miners sadly found.

 

In 1903 Harry joined the stampede from Dawson to Fairbanks but his luck at mining held. "I never did any good." He looked around the country, grubstaking friends and other prospectors and finding for himself an artesian well. He mined at Cleary and, as with the passenger pigeons, he remembers the days when the pin-tail, or sharp-tailed, grouse covered the hillsides just north of Fairbanks and their wings "sounded like a freight train crossing a bridge when they took off."

 

Cash Crop

In 1916 Harry decided to return to an occupation he knew well and he homesteaded 157 acres on what is now Badger Road. He cleared 20 acres by hand and then looked around for a cash crop.

 

At that time there was a Swiss gardener in Fairbanks named John Scharley who, during the gold rush here, brought the first hybrid strawberries into Alaska. Scharley's berries were a cross between the small and sweet berries common in the north and west and with the larger, more juicy commercial berries of the time.

 

Scharley grew strawberries and sold them here during the summer for $2.50 a box and when he decided to return to the state Badger persuaded him to part with some of his plants.

 

Strawberry King

Thus started Badgers' production of strawberries on his homestead, an enterprise that earned him the name of the "Strawberry King." For 15 years Badger made trips to Fairbanks in the summer with a cart and horse, selling fresh vegetables and berries to restaurants and to housewives at their homes.

 

But the market was small and Badger added chickens to his farm, the first man to make a profit selling eggs here. At that time a farmer would lose money if he kept his chickens alive through the winter, keeping them on commercial feed imported from the states.

 

"I was the only man who made any money on them/ My chickens at wheat or they didn't eat anything. They soon learned."

 

Cut Wood

But farming in Alaska wasn't the kind of enterprise that brought in money the year around. Badger, and the many men he hired during the years, cut wood on his property and upstream on Piledriver Slough, which then was a deep river with a strong current, not the shallow, clear water stream it became after the dike was built across the waterway at Moose Creek.

 

Badger built himself a scow on which he could load 20 cords of wood and this could bring the fuel downstream to Fairbanks. Going back to the farm was a different matter on the vessel, aptly named the "Gallopin' Cow." The "Cow" had plenty of power for full steam ahead but she was not designed to back up.

 

"You took your chance on going forward all the time," Harry chuckles. "She was something to navigate, if that's what you'd call it."

 

Winter Meat

In those early days, when there was just three persons living between Badger's farm and Fairbanks - the area now filled with homes and with a military establishment called Ladd Air Force Base - a man could always get his winter meat by hunting just a short distance from home. Harry, or one of his neighbors, would shoot a moose. The meat would be divided equally among everyone in the vicinity. Grouse lived and bred in the bushes and woods along the fields. Salmon ran up the sough in the fall.

 

Then in 1939 a covey of "big brass, a whole bunch of generals," including Jimmy Doolittle, came to call on Badger. They were looking for a place to locate an Air Force installation and after showing them around Badger sold them 150 acres of his property, the original site of Ladd Field.

 

"The market for vegetables was good from then on," Harry says, remarking about the change the military made on Fairbanks and its outskirts. "I could sell all I could raise."

 

Now the area is "all settled up with many families, all nice people." Harry himself has retired, making occasional visits to town and meeting his friends as he walks down the street with the use of a cane. He hasn't farmed in the last 10 years.

 

"I'm past the active age," he says. "I'm running out of tomorrows."

 

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