As an outdoorsperson and fur trapper who dreams of living in the Alaska wilderness, “The Last Alaskans” quickly became my favorite show. Heck, I hardly watch TV at all, but eagerly purchased every episode and watched intently….over and over again. The show documents the lives of a handful of families who have chosen to live a unique lifestyle, isolated from civilization, roads, electricity, and all of the modern conveniences. Instead, they spend winters within and around the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northern interior Alaska. They chop wood for heat, hunt and fish for food, trap furbearers for a meager income, and live life free of all of the modern distractions and obligations of the rest of society. Most people romanticize about living this way, but aren’t willing to make the sacrifices to do so – it’s easier to watch others do it from the comfort of our own homes. That said, even those who want to live in extremely remote Alaska may not be able to. The area within ANWR where much of the show is filmed, for instance, no longer allows human occupation. These few families are grandfathered in.
The Last Alaskans ran for four seasons, between 2015 and 2018. It was wildly popular as a ‘different’ reality show. Its down to earth and reflective style, lack of any scripting, and focus on real people, real experiences and absolutely stunning scenery are what made the show so special. But even TV shows are subject to reality, and it cost a lot to film all that stuff in such a remote and difficult to access place. So despite its widespread popularity, The Last Alaskans was cancelled after its fourth season.
The show covered some really fascinating characters. Here’s some of what I know about them and what they’re doing now.
Heimo and Edna Korth are the real deal. They’ve been living the remote lifestyle, more than 200 miles from the nearest town, for more than 40 years. Far north of the Arctic Circle, they raised a family in this remote wilderness on and around the Coleen River, living almost solely off the land and the cash generated from winter fur trapping efforts. Heimo was born and raised in Wisconsin and moved to Alaska as a young man trying to get away from the city and live in the woods. For several years he lived alone out in the bush, not seeing another human being for many months at a time. His wife Edna is an Eskimo from the village of Savoonga on St. Lawrence island. Heimo met her while living with the villagers and learning their subsistence lifestyle.
For many years the Korth family would come out of the bush and spend a few months in the village of Fort Yukon on the Yukon River, working for wages and gathering supplies to return to their remote home where they spent the majority of the year. The Korths raised three daughters. A fourth, Coleen, tragically drowned in the river when she was two years old. Their other daughters are adults now, and live in town. While Heimo and Edna still return to the trapline each fall, they spend more time in Fairbanks these days to stay close to their grandkids.
“The Final Frontiersman” is a book written about Heimo Korth’s lifestyle and is believed to have been the inspiration for “The Last Alaskans”.
A young Heimo Korth and family were featured in National Geographic’s “Braving Alaska“, a video that aired on PBS in 1992. The program featured other bush residents as well, including Susan Hayden, who was raised in the remote country around Arctic Village. Susan later made appearances on “The Last Alaskans” while visiting her family’s old cabin.
Vice Magazine put together a 2009 documentary about Heimo which can be found on Youtube.
Bob Harte grew up in New Jersey with a passion for the outdoors. As soon as he could, he left the east and made his way to Alaska. After bouncing from place to place, Bob eventually found his home in a cabin on the Coleen River, the Korths’ nearest neighbor at about 50 miles away. Bob spent winters in his remote cabin for decades. Like Heimo, he got in just before the area became a Refuge, and thus had a permit to remain. Bob met Nancy, a school teacher working in Stevens Village, while spending time in Fort Yukon one year. They married and spent several winters on the trapline together. They raised a son and a daughter together, but struggled to make things work and balance the economic realities of life with the romance of living in the bush. Bob and Nancy divorced, and she and the kids stayed in town while Bob stayed on the Coleen.
Bob Harte was one of the most captivating characters in The Last Alaskans. His passion for the area he trapped, hunted, fished and survived on the Colleen River, in an area devoid of other humans, just about exploded through the TV screen. Bob’s emotions resonated with close to two million viewers as he lived out his last years in the wilderness. He was alone and dying in the place that he loved, nothing but beauty all around him, contrasted with the sadness and loneliness that comes with the knowledge that this was the end.
Bob passed away during the show, but not before he shared his home and stories with viewers, riding up and down the river looking for game, tending traps on snow machine, sitting in front of a fire and talking about the good old days. After Bob’s death, his ex-wife Nancy Becker wrote a book about their story, titled “Trapline Chatter: Life and Love with Last Alaskan Bob Harte“.
Tyler and Ashley Selden are unique to their generation, in that they are the only young family I know of that’s living the remote wilderness lifestyle. They along with their two young children and team of sled dogs trap along the border of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge. Tyler was raised on a farm in Nebraska, where his family still resides, and met Ashley in Minnesota. They moved to Alaska with a dream after Tyler read “The Final Frontiersman” and wanted to live a life like Heimo Korth’s. The Seldens spend their summers in a small cabin outside of Fairbanks, grow a big garden and work for wages to gather up an outfit for the fall. They fly or boat up to their trapline in the fall and spend the majority of the year out in the bush.
Ray Lewis and his family were featured in the first two seasons of The Last Alaskans. Ray is another person from the Lower 48 who moved to Alaska to get away from it all. A quiet, loner type, Ray is connected to the wilderness in a unique way. The family would spend summers in Fairbanks and winters in the woods. Ray, his wife Cindy and their three daughters trapped out of a cabin in the Yukon Flats for some time. They also have a cabin on the Nowitna River, and later in the show spent more time on a house boat Ray built and trapped in that area instead. The Lewis women have a rare genetic eye condition called BPEI, which raised a lot of questions among viewers of the show. As the show went on they spent more time on the boat and away from the focal area of the show, and eventually were no longer a part of the show.
Charlie Jagow is a young man who grew up on his father’s remote trapline on the Porcupine River within ANWR. Paul Jagow moved to the area from New York as a young man, and lived alone in this wilderness area for several years before meeting his wife Dawn. They raised two children out here, Charlie and his sister Joanna. The rest of the family lives in Fairbanks these days, but Charlie has chosen to come back to this place and build a new cabin on his family trapping grounds. In his last days before he passed, Bob Harte offered his trapping territory to Charlie as well, opening up an opportunity for the ambitious young man to expand his trapping area.
Here are some answers to a few questions about the show and its characters.
Will there be a Season 5 of The Last Alaskans?
Reality shows can come back, but most of the time when they’re cancelled, that’s it. As much as I and hundreds of thousands of others would like, there probably is never going to be a season 5 of The Last Alaskans. But who knows, another show featuring the lives of these special families may emerge.
How did Bob Harte Die?
Bob Harte died after a long battle with cancer.
What Happened to Heimo and Edna Korth?
Nothing happened to Heimo and Edna. They still go out to the trapline. They spend a little more time in town these days, but the couple and their family is still doing fine.
What Happened to Tyler and Ashley Selden?
Tyler and Ashley are doing great, raising their two kids on their remote bush trapline. They are out of contact with the outside world for the majority of the year, but when they return to town they post on their website: www.alaskaseldens.com.
Where Does Heimo Korth live in the Summer?
Heimo spends time in Fairbanks during the summer, with occasional visits to Fort Yukon. He still spends a great deal of his time out on the Coleen.
What is Charlie from The Last Alaskans doing now?
Charlie operates Double Shovel Outfitters, guiding hunters, anglers and other recreationalists in ANWR part of the year and continues to live and trap out of his cabin during the winter months.
Is The Last Alaskans Real?
I personally know two people who were on the show, and have indirect connections with all of the rest. This show, without a doubt, was absolutely the real deal. There was no scripting, no drama. The show depicted real life events from real people while they lived the same lifestyle they were living before cameras came to the bush. Of all the reality shows I’ve seen (Yukon Men was pretty good too), The Last Alaskans is as real as it gets.