REVIEW - COBB

Cobb, Norma and Charles W. Sasser. Arctic Homestead St. Martin’s Press. $24.95.

In 1973 the Cobbs and their five young children came to Alaska from Colorado as homesteaders. The only land available was over a hundred miles from Fairbanks in the Manley Hot Springs area. A few other couples had the same idea.

Norma would seem to be the perfect wife for the homesteader of oh, 1873. Submissive but proud of her patriarchal husband and fond of talking to God about her problems. Oh, Les has a bad temper and likes to fight, but then the baddies deserved it. Yes, he decided the hippies in the valley had been the ones to rob their cabin so dynamited it. That got rid of those worthless young men. Hunting out of season? Well, as she writes: “Fact was, the Alaskan bush remained virtually without law. A lawless land, a true frontier.”

Everyone had to carry a gun, although a .357 Magnum left on the pickup floor with the safety off nearly killed one of the children. Bears, you know. Black bears. As Norma wrote: “It was said only daring men and women came to challenge it [Alaska], and that those who refused to obey its harsh rules fled if they could retreat before it killed them.” Got to get those aggressive bears. Had to talk to God about that. “More people in Alaska were slain by black bears than by all other wilderness-type causes put together.”

The people the Cobbs met weren’t much better than the bears. Dangerous drunks, gunslingers who bragged of disposing of “government busybodies,” and the couples who’d come to homestead moved away, if they didn’t take up wife-swapping. Then Norma went off to cook at a pipeline camp and returned to find she was the cornerstone of the family. (Les hadn’t fixed the roof of the cabin, destroyed by snow the previous winter when the family was in Fairbanks. Actually, the family seemed to spend most winters in Fairbanks, although Norma speaks of how she longed for the homestead.)

They finally did spend part of a winter on their place. Lester, the old sourdough, working on the pipeline, borrowed a snow machine to get home for Christmas. It blew a piston and he had to walk. No food, water, or map. Norma did a lot of praying over that, this time with reason.

I expect you’ve been waiting for this. Wolves. Too many wolves. Got to kill those wolves because they eat all the moose and caribou and scare off the bears.

The reader will be glad to hear the family survived. Lester made enough money bootlegging to help build another cabin, although it was too close to the creek when Break-up came. Norma happily tells us she “...shook her head uncomprehendingly as I watched society in the Lower Forty-eight degenerate into a bunch of whining, sniveling crybabies.” She can’t stand “disadvantaged” people.

Resourceful Cobbs, once they’d rid themselves of a college graduate who, wouldn’t you know, bad-mouthed them around the valley for illegal building, built the fishing and hunting lodge there today. Yep, strong, self-reliant, rugged individualists, who only incidentally made most of their money from the Pipeline. They have it all and have retired to town.

Somehow this reviewer has a problem with people who talk to God a lot. They seem so certain they have a direct line. We can only hope God has time for others and

we just wish God would remind these folks they got the land for free and are supposed to be its stewards. D. L.

 

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