Only seven cabin permits remain. It’s a sobering statement in the intro to the Discovery Channel’s docu-series, “The Last Alaskans”, which aired from 2015-2018 and highlighted the lives of several families living a subsistence lifestyle in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. These folks – Heimo Korth, Paul Jagow, Bob Harte and others, settled into this twenty million acre patch of wilderness about four decades ago in search of freedom, peace and quiet, and a good population of furbearers to support a small income.
Bob Harte was one of the most captivating characters in the show. 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. We shared in Bob’s final years, but what about the beginning?
Bob Harte grew up in suburban New Jersey in the 1950’s, developing a love for nature at a young age, as he ran small trap lines close to home. Shortly after graduating high school, Bob hitchhiked to Alaska, fulfilling a lifelong dream to live in the wilderness. A couple of winters in, he found himself in his own paradise, running trap lines established by the late prospector Ed Owens, without a neighbor for miles. Lots of miles.
Fast forward 40 years, and Bob was living out his last days at the cabin he’d built as a young man all those years ago. A lot had happened in the interim, including spending years with a wonderful wife and kids out there, countless good times, adventures and brushes with danger. Watching the show, one could tell Bob had a deep sadness as he remembered those early years as “the best years of my life”. What happened during those years? And how did things change?
Thanks to Bob’s ex-wife, Nancy Becker, we now have the chance to experience her and Bob’s years together on the trap line and get an inside view of what life was like back then. While they were out in the wilderness, Nancy regularly wrote letters to her family back home describing their daily lives. She and Bob had always intended to write a book on their adventures, but never could find the time. Nancy’s parents saved the letters she wrote, and decades later, she patched them together to help tell the story of her and Bob, and their years on the trap line.
“Trapline Chatter: Life and Love with ‘Last Alaskan’ Bob Harte” is Nancy Becker’s 2020 book about her and Bob’s history, their life together, and how things ended. It’s a fascinating story with an incredible setting, and detailed insight into that old trapper who seemed to love his wilderness lifestyle more than life itself.