... an Idaho mother becomes an isolated sheep rancher in Alaska
Copies of "COUNTRY" magazine arrive at my home in Melrose every two months. They are filled with country values and articles on wholesome perspectives of folks spending their lives as farmers of one kind and another.
Publishers of Country magazine, Reiman Publications, scour the American and Canadian areas of the hemisphere for things they think would be of interest and would profit the readership.
One such effort sent a reporter to Unalaska Island in the Aleutians. Unalaska is one of the first of those Islands. It is quite large; about 100 miles from one end to the other. Unalaska village is in the somewhat sheltered north of the Island and not far from Dutch Harbor. One would expect the same climate would extend over the entire Island but, as it turns out, the southern half of the Island enjoys a maritime climate while the northern areas get a lot more snow and severe weather.
The reporter was seeking the glass floats used for many years by Japanese fishermen which occasionally are lost and can be found along beaches in the Aleutians. Those floats are rare but still can be found and are prized. Today, plastic floats are more commonly used by the Japanese and they have little, if any, value.
While seeking glass floats, the reporter met and stayed with Milt and Cora Holmes who operated a sheep ranch of 200 square miles. The isolation of the place piqued her curiosity and the first result was a series of letters from Cora to Country Magazine describing life on a remote sheep ranch.
The letters drew a lot of interest and readers wrote to Cora to ask about her life so far away from the rest of the world. Cora, a registered nurse, had lived in the State of Idaho. She had two young sons when she read an ad from her future husband and sheep rancher, Milt, asking for a housekeeper. He was honest about the isolation and so Cora responded and eventually took the two boys with her to the Chernofsky Ranch. They married a year later.
The contrast between Idaho and the conveniences there and Chernofsky was extreme. At Chernofsky food was ordered from Seattle once every two years and delivered by boat; often fishing boats that stopped at the ranch to buy mutton or beef. Mail came four times a year; also by random fishing vessels.
The boys accomplished their schooling via correspondence courses and mother's discipline! Income came largely from tons of wool, beef, and occasional fox hides the boys trapped. Also, Milt used a large warehouse left behind by the Army during World War II to store crab traps for wandering fishermen.
With large distances and virtually no roads, transport was accomplished via horseback. Milt had caught wild horses and broken them for use with the saddle. Eventually a small tracked vehicle called "The Ferret" was purchased and that was a very big help in towing logs off the beaches and trailoring cargoes of wool or butchered animals. As the boys grew, they became increasingly knowledgeable and useful around the ranch, helping Milt herd sheep or cattle with the horses. Keeping them from injury was a constant concern. There were storms. earthquakes. steep cliffs, aggressive animals and, of course, the energy of youth.
Another rule at the Chernofsky ranch was that, in case of an earthquake, get away from the beaches as fast as possible as tidal waves were not uncommon and could cast huge logs and sea detritus a quarter mile inland!
Heat was supplied from a resource left by the U.S. Army. It was a large coal dump. The Holmes made trips across the bay with sacks to fill with coal for the stove and to heat the house. There were always such chores to do and the climate was not always obliging. Winter did not bring a lot of snow and when snow arrived, usually it was followed by rain which melted most of it. Still, the chores had to be done. Rain slickers were an everyday item as were good boots. Much of their protective clothing was purchased by mail from L.L. Bean in Freeport, Maine.
Over the years, Milt Holmes had a total of four complete hip replacements! Needless to say, that experience slowed him down and long hours in the saddle were not comfortable at all. Still, he was resourceful and could repair most anything. A new roof was acquired from shakes cut from a flawless cedar log that floated up one year. Milt cut and cut until he had enough shakes for a good roof, a gift from the sea!
One year, a lump grew on Cora's right hand. Because they were so busy and in spite of the fact that she was a nurse, the lump went neglected for five months. At the hospital the look on the doctor's face told Cora, "I am dead!" Surgery was scheduled and they had to remove all of Cora's right hand. After a lot of chemotherapy and radiation, Cora was fitted with a prosthesis to use as a new hand. She persevered at the ranch with a loving husband and with lots of encouragement. She wrote the book "Goodbye Idaho--Hello Alaska". This was published by the Reiman Publications L. P. of 5400 S. 60th Street, Greendale, Wisconsin, 53129, publishers of Country Magazine. The book is International Standard Book number: 0-89821-128-X. Library of Congress catalog card number: 94-67825. For super reading experience the book can be ordered at: Country books, P.O. Box 990, Greendale, Wi 53129. For credit card orders call toll free: 1-800-558-1013.
Cora's two boys grew to manhood on the Ranch. The oldest, Chuck, took to the sea as a fisherman. Randall got married to a visiting minister's daughter and works in Unalaska as a longshoreman. Both return to the ranch often with gifts, and supplies which they know from experience are needed. Cora has worked wonders with her word processor and, if you wish to write to her, just send it to Cora Holmes, Chernofsky Ranch, Unalaska Island, Alaska. Don't forget, it will take months for her to receive your letter but she will reply.
It is my hope you will read Cora's book. There is a second book she wrote in answer to all the fan letters she received. It has loads of photographs and serves to get the reader up to date on her life. That book is called, "Dear Cora" and is available if you call the phone number above. It is a real treat for me to tell you of Cora Holmes and the unique life she has enjoyed as a sheep rancher with a wonderful husband.
Thanks for lis'nin.
July 2, 1999