Before the start of World War II, 23-year-old Yule Kilcher left his native Switzerland and came to America to find a more peaceful place to live as dangerous tensions grew in Europe. Yule's travels took him to Alaska, and here he found his vision of an unspoiled wilderness where he could live off the land and raise a family.
Listening to Yule's glowing impressions of the Last Frontier, a like-minded and adventurous friend, Ruth Weber, boarded one of the last civilian ships leaving Europe in 1941 bound for Alaska. Holding a bouquet of wildflowers, Ruth married Yule right off the boat.
After farming for a few years in the Matanuska Valley, the pioneering couple explored farther south and settled on the rolling benchland overlooking Kachemak Bay. Their homestead began with the purchase of 160 acres once used for a fox farm and covered in timber. It had a tiny one-room cabin and unparallelled views across a coal-strewn beach at the ever-changing face of Kachemak Bay. Across the bay, the glacier-carved Kenai Mountains reminded them of foothills in the Alps.
Life was filled with challenges, especially in the early years when the only way to reach their farm was by horse and wagon along a 12-mile stretch of beach from the little frontier town of Homer. After the first three kids were born, Yule built a larger, three-room log cabin to hold the growing family. Eventually, eight children joined the workforce helping Yule and Ruth carve out a homestead in the wilderness.
Steadfast in their dreams of living self sufficiently off the land, Yule, Ruth, and their children toiled to clear thick stands of spruce to make meadows for growing hayfields, fruit trees, berry bushes, and vegetables. With hand tools and horses, they built barns, fences, a sauna, and other outbuildings. They planted gardens and raised cows for beef and milk and poultry for eggs and meat. Food supplies from farming were supplemented with hunting for game such as moose, bear, and waterfowl, fishing from the bay, and gathering wild berries and other plants.
Land was added to the original farm by homesteading and by buying affordable parcels of adjoining land, and eventually the Kilcher homestead encompassed 600 acres.
Self sufficiency can go pretty far, but money is still required for some supplies and other needs. Yule had to leave the homestead from time to time to make a "grubstake" as a fisherman or carpenter. Always interested in politics, Yule became a delegate to the first Alaskan Constitutional Convention in 1955 to help pave the way for Alaskan statehood, and on April 24, 1956, the new constitution was ratified by voters of the Alaska Territory. On January 3, 1959, President Eisenhower signed a proclamation creating the state of Alaska.
When Yule was away, Ruth had to manage the homestead on her own with help from the kids. She homeschooled them before a primitive road was built accessing the homestead, and she also taught them important survival skills, including canning, smoking, and other ways of preserving food. Ruth was skilled with gun and knife and capable of doing what was needed to put food on the table, but she also had a great love for the arts, particularly music and poetry. She had a lovely voice and often sang folk songs from the old country with her children. The Kilchers became known for their beautiful singing and harmonizing, and that talent continues to be passed on to new generations.
The legacy that Ruth and Yule left behind lives on in both the breathtaking beauty of the Kilcher Homestead--now protected from development and subdivision--and in the eight strong and capable children they raised--now with many children and grandchildren of their own. Generations of Kilchers now carry on Ruth's and Yule's tradition of living a self sufficient lifestyle, and like them, they live grounded in a deep respect for nature and a profound appreciation for the blessings they've inherited.