Alaska Reindeer Farm
Experience close-up and personal interactions with reindeer, moose, bison, yaks, elk, and alpacas. On your tour you can enter a pen with the friendliest reindeer, getting the opportunity to feed and pet them. This locally owned family farm is home to over 100 reindeer. This is an incredibly rare and fun Alaskan experience.
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.