Brothers Pat and Doug Carney meet for coffee most mornings at the Mocha Moose cafe in downtown Wasilla. They show up early, meeting the day along with any other family members who stroll in.

Raised in Southern Ohio, eldest brother Pat travelled on the brand new Alcan Highway in 1949, setting off on the adventure which would define his adult life. Having previously accepted a job with the U.S. Boundary Commission, he arrived while Alaska was still a territory. He staked a homestead claim on his 21st birthday, ultimately amassing over a thousand acres of real estate in the foothills of the Talkeetna Mountains.header

He would become a husband, father of nine children, a successful dairy farmer, and a reluctant statesman. Now 88 years old, Pat’s magnetic nature still cuts a bright figure, with sparkling blue eyes and tousled white hair, his long limbs dressed in layers of flannel clothing. His easy authority makes sense, as the eldest of 11 children. He agreed to our interview on the spot, and greeted brother Doug with the instruction that the paper wanted a chat.

Political topics tend to rule these morning gatherings, with everyone from Sarah Palin to Vic Kohring to Donald Trump taking their turn at being assessed. They’re genteel yet blunt, finding resigned exasperation at the times their advice was ignored only to be vindicated decades later. For example, Pat Carney’s dogged insistence in the early 1970s that the Parks Highway ought to run either south or north of town, rather than force heavy traffic through the middle of Wasilla. This tendency to take vocal stances would become an avocation when he served as District 26’s Representative to the Alaska House from 1979-1994.

“I got involved in politics a little bit and realized we had some real bums in office,” he said.  “I had no interest in politics in my head, y’know, but my friends said, ‘you could beat him’, so I filed for office.”

Pat describes the political environment at that time as penetrated by corruption. “If you’re in politics and somebody comes to you with a crooked deal — if you’re a smart politician, you don’t give ‘em a yes or no answer,” he said. “However, I took great delight in answering them, ‘are you out of of your mind, you crooked sonuvabitch?’ So I made some serious mistakes.”

As for the building blocks of what they estimate to be a hundred family members currently living in the Mat-Su Valley, he recalls sitting at the Carter family home on Lake Lucile in the early 1950s, vaguely recognizing three men walking downhill near the post office. All carried duffel bags. They were indeed his cousins, who had departed Ohio in search of their storied Alaskan relative. Their journey was interrupted by two flat tires and a hole in their car’s gas tank, causing them to park it and hitchhike the rest of the way through Canada.

“I had a 10×12 cabin, and here are three grown guys. What a mess!” Pat said. “They ate everything in the cabin.”

The cousins found work, from local taverns to Independence Mine to the upstart Experimental Farm, doing whatever it took to establish roots.

Tracing the Little Su River out of town, Schrock Road soon received another crew of Carneys, as his parents and younger siblings came North to homestead as well. Read the rest here.

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Photographs by Chelsa Paulk