ABOUT REINDEER FARM

LEARN ABOUT THE FOUNDERS AND THE HISTORY OF REINDEER

MEET THE FOUNDERS

TOM AND GENE WILLIAMS

Tom and Gene Williams are the founders and owners of the Reindeer Farm. Tom grew up on this very farm in the 1950s as a teenager. It was a dairy farm at that time, and Tom has many memories kept in the Colony barn. Thankfully, the house is still standing today.

Tom had a dream of owning a moose farm. He and his father were avid moose hunters with a great appreciation for these majestic creatures. In Alaska, it is impossible to own a moose or have a moose farm, but reindeer, however, are domesticated animals. A new vision was created!

In 1987, Tom went to Northern Canada to purchase a herd of reindeer. They were brought here to the farm and taught how to eat grains and local hay. The first herd consisted of 20 reindeer. Since 1987, the herd has been as high as 300 but currently sits at around 100.

Tom and Gene have since passed, but the legacy of the farm lives on through their daughters. Their oldest daughter, Denise Williams Hardy, and her family have been running the farm since 2011.

Today the farm has 100 reindeer, 2 Rocky Mountain elk, Dolly the Bison, Appa the Yak, and Rocky the Moose.

We do trail rides on horseback up the Butte, off-the-farm shows with the reindeer, movies, commercials, home visits, the Running of the Reindeer at Fur Rondy, and more!

REINDEER HISTORY

LEARN THE ORIGINS OF OUR FURRY FRIENDS

Reindeer and caribou are the same species. They look very much alike and will inter-breed when put together. The caribou is the wild cousin of the reindeer, and they are indigenous to North America.

“Caribou” is a Canadian-Indian word that means “pawer of the ground.” The caribou was a source of food for the gold miners, and Natives traded caribou meat to the whalers. Because of this and other natural forces, the caribou herds declined drastically and were not migrating through the villages in Western Alaska. The Natives relied on the caribou as a source of food and clothing.

Reindeer have been domesticated for thousands of years in Siberia and Lapland. Sheldon Jackson, a Presbyterian minister, came to Alaska in the 1890s, where he helped set up mission schools for the Natives. There were no roads and travel was done on “Cutter” ships.

Wanting to help set up a steady food supply for the Natives, Sheldon Jackson went to Siberia in 1891 on the Bear Cutter to purchase reindeer. He purchased 16 reindeer, wanting to see if they could be transported alive. A reindeer experimental station was set up at Port Clarence Bay, and in the summer of 1892, the Bear transported 171 reindeer from Siberia.

In the fall of 1897, it was reported that gold miners at Circle City on the Yukon River did not have enough food to last until spring when the river could be safely navigated. Sheldon Jackson petitioned Congress to provide funds to go to Norway to purchase reindeer.

In 1898, 113 Lapps, men, women, and children, 538 head of reindeer, 418 sleds, 411 sets of harness, and a large quantity of reindeer moss for the deer to eat were taken by steamship from Norway to New York, by train to Port Townsend, Washington, and by ship to Haines, Alaska. At this time, word arrived that the emergency was over, so most of them continued on to Unalakleet, a small village on the Norton Sound.

They stayed there and continued their nomadic lifestyle, following the reindeer as they grazed and migrated. The Lapps were hired by the U.S. government to teach the Natives how to herd reindeer. By 1902, there were around 200,000 reindeer.

In 1929, the Canadian government purchased 3,000 reindeer. They were herded across Alaska toward Canada, where they encountered gale force winds, wolf attacks, blizzards, and very cold temperatures. At one point, about half the herd turned and headed home. Several men and dogs followed for about 100 miles before they caught up and turned them around! This “drive” took 5 years!  They had to wait a year for the MacKenzie River to freeze so they could cross. When they arrived, they had only 10% of the ear-tagged reindeer they had started with. They did have 3,000 reindeer. The remaining 90% had been born along the trail.