Discovery Channel has millions of people hooked on the documentary-style reality television series “Alaskan Bush People,” since it premiered on 6 May 2014. It featured the Brown family who chose to live off the grid in the Alaskan wilderness, able to hold the interest of the viewing public through the years with their unique personalities and lifestyle. Moreover, their story could rival the most convoluted plot of any soap opera, as they couldn’t seem to escape from tragedy upon tragedy which befell them.

Meet the Brown Family

Billy Brown was raised in an upper-middle-class household, but his life changed when his entire family died in a ‘plane crash in 1969 when he was just 16 years old; he received this tragic news from his grandparents. To make matters worse, he claimed that he was duped into signing emancipation documents after their death, which left him homeless and penniless, and from which he struggled, but managed to make a life for himself.

In 1979, 26-year-old Billy wed 15-year-old Ami – their marriage was perfectly legal in Texas at that time, and it was said that her mother gave her consent with the condition that she continued with her studies. However, as soon as the two were married, Ami reportedly cut ties with the family, and the latter blamed it on Billy’s controlling nature.

The couple lived in Fort Worth, but city life held no appeal for them and they moved to Alaska. They eventually had five boys (Matthew William, Solomon Isaiah Freedom, Joshua Bambam, Noah Darkcloud, and Gabriel Starbuck) and two girls (Amora Jean Snowbird and Merry Christmas Katherine Raindrop), who all grew up in a one-bedroom cabin in the Alaskan bush, with no electricity and running water. They were homeschooled by their parents, with the older ones helping teach the younger ones.

The Brown family lived in a remote area, and up to eight months could pass before they saw another human being. They were taught to survive off the land, as they hunted, fished and forage for food. Once in a while they would go to town to buy supplies from a general store, but overall they weren’t familiar with modern comforts and conveniences.

Billy said he and Ami chose this lifestyle a long time ago, as they loved living in the bush and the freedom it gave them to do whatever they wanted to do. He called his family a wolf pack.

“Alaskan Bush People”

Their life, their story

The show started with Billy driving a rundown SUV, as his family was on their way to a five-acre plot of land he’d bought in the Copper River Valley, after their home in Ketchikan was allegedly burned to the ground by the government, as it was sitting on public land.

Hundreds of miles before they reached their destination, the tire on the trailer with most of their belongings blew up, and it was hours later before they found a spare tire and were back on the road. Upon arriving, they constructed a 60-square-foot, about six square meter trapper shack made from the small trees they cut, and plastic mostly held together by duct tape and insulated with tree moss, that would serve as their temporary shelter while they build their new home.

Billy couldn’t afford the $10,000-cost of lumber that he needed for the new house so he came to an agreement with the owner of a lumber yard to pay half and the rest would come in the form of manual labor from his sons throughout winter. He also gifted the man with caribou meat to show his appreciation for accepting the deal. They had to work fast as they wouldn’t survive the freezing cold in the shack when winter came; they needed a generator to power their floodlight so that they could even work at night, but with no money and nothing of value to barter with, his sons went to a bush junkyard to look for a used generator.

The owner agreed to trade that for a quarter of spruce wood.

The owners of an establishment called Grizzly Pizza had wood to spare, but only agreed to trade that for a DVD collection. Winters were long and cabin fever was an issue, and watching movies could help with that. Uncle Tom’s Tavern had a DVD collection they were willing to give in exchange for 20 pounds of lake trout. Billy and his sons then went fishing at the Silver Lake and caught what they needed, and to feed the family as well. The boys then set out to complete all the barters they’d made, and then went home with the used generator.

They were still far behind on their work when Billy took sick, but were fortunate that the Grizzly Pizza owners gathered a group of people to help them finish the house. Just 48 hours after that, the family heard gunshots, and when some of the boys checked it out, someone shot at them.

It seemed that there were people who didn’t like the filming taking place around the property. Several threats were also made on the family, and the Discovery crew.

They no longer felt safe, so sold the land, their truck, and everything they couldn’t carry, and moved back to southeast Alaska, and went to Juneau. They bought a 42-foot boat, about 14 meters, four-decades-old, so that they could search for an empty island where they could stay. Billy had worked as a commercial fisherman for years, so knew his way around boats. However, just when they thought they’d found what they were looking for, their boat hit something and took on water fast; they were just able to get off the boat before it sank with all their belongings.

All this was shown during the first season of the TV series. However, the tragedy and family drama didn’t stop here.

Alaskan Bush People

Tragic Moments

Father and son sentenced to a month in jail

In 2014, State prosecutors charged Billy, his wife and their sons except for Matt, with ‘60 counts of first-degree unsworn falsification and first- and second-degree theft’, pertaining to the Permanent Fund dividend applications they submitted from 2010 to 2013.

The Alaska Department of Revenue received a tip that prompted them to investigate the Brown family. Reportedly, they lied about their residency or whereabouts so they could receive the yearly oil revenue checks granted by Alaska to permanent residents.

Billy and his son, Bam, entered into a plea agreement in which they pleaded guilty to ‘one misdemeanor count of second-degree unsworn falsification,’ and in return, the charges against the rest of the family would be dropped, although they all still had to pay back the dividends. In 2016, Billy and Bam were sentenced to 30 days in jail and 40 days of community service, and had to return the dividends and pay the fines.

The family patriarch apologized, saying to the judge, ‘I can assure you that you will never see me in any judicial system whatsoever as long as I live.’ They served time wearing ankle monitors, meaning that they applied for and met the qualifications for the electronic monitoring program of the department, so that they could serve their prison sentence at their home.

Billy kept his first family a secret

Unbeknownst to many, Billy was 16 when he first married a woman named Brenda, who was 17; it came out when their marriage certificate was released online. In the book entitled “Lost Years,” Billy wrote about his life before moving to Alaska, and shared that he was made aware that marrying someone was the ‘fastest and surest way to get a minors’ release’, otherwise he would end up as a ward of the state until he turned 18.

The two divorced when he was 21, but during their marriage, Brenda gave birth to two daughters but it was said that only Brandy’s birth record listed Billy as the father.

The eldest, Twila Byars, had a different man listed as the father, although it was her who appeared in the TV series in 2016 as his long-lost daughter. He revealed that it had been 30 years since he’d last seen or spoken to her, although there were reports that they communicated over the years.

On her Facebook page she wrote, ‘Its funny when your rank in the family is after the dog,’ and in June 2020 she posted, ‘Happy Father’s Day to the absentee father.’ In one of her posts, she threw shade at his half-siblings as she talked about having an epiphany of being the normal one in her DNA lineage and that ‘normal, average, and boring never felt so good.’ It seemed that Billy’s relationship with Twila didn’t improve after his reconnection with her.

Ami was diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer

Ami had been in pain for months in 2016 – her back was bothering her, and she had difficulty breathing even after walking just short distances.

‘There were days I was bedridden, but I just thought it was my arthritis,’ she said. Having unexplained pain worried her and the family, so they had her undergo a medical check-up.

When the results came out, they were devastated – Ami was diagnosed in 2017 with Stage III non-small cell lung cancer and was given a three percent survival chance. Billy had to uproot the family and move to California so Ami could undergo intense chemo and radiation therapy at the UCLA Medical Center. It was said that they stayed first at a multi-million dollar mansion in Beverly Hills, then later settled on a 435-acre property, valued at $1.6 million, in the North Cascade Mountains of Washington State. She said that despite the poor prognosis and painful treatment, she never gave up, and in 2018 her family received the best news, as the doctors declared Ami to be cancer-free.

Matt was arrested for DUI and accused of raping two women

Matt had a drinking problem that started as a habit he acquired from hanging out with people he met in Juneau. He was arrested for driving under the influence, or DUI in August 2013; a Walmart employee reported to the police that Matt hit a motorcycle parked at the store when he went there to buy snacks, then left the scene.

When the police caught up with him, he failed the sobriety tests and admitted to drinking two to three shots of vodka at a bar where he hooked up with a girl whom he said was ‘hitting on him real hard.’ The car he drove belonged to the girl, and according to the officer, ‘Brown didn’t know the girl’s name, ‘phone number, or where she was.’ He was handcuffed, taken to the police headquarters for processing, charged and thrown in jail; his father later came to post bail, and in February 2014, Matt was sentenced to three days in jail and 18 months of probation.

The first time he entered rehab for alcohol abuse was in 2016 – he’d kept his drinking problem a secret from his family, and was grateful for their support when he finally told them about it. However, Matt was unable to kick the habit, and was back in rehab in September 2018. He checked out after two months, but continued to receive treatment as an outpatient for four more months. Matt opened up in his July 2020 Instagram post about how his stint at the Betty Ford Center helped him, and that he’d been sober for two years.

News reports came out in 2020 that he allegedly raped two women back in 2018 when he was drunk. Matt was drinking vodka while his family’s 35-year-old personal assistant, Jessica Jurges, was having cognac when Matt convinced her to get into the pool with him and that was when he allegedly raped her. It was his manager, Shelly Dawn, who pulled him off her after what seemed like two hours.

Three days after the incident, 54-year-old Shelly claimed that Matt raped her; according to her, Matt was out of his mind drunk, saying it was her who raped him. The women filed a report to the police, but after an investigation, the district attorney’s office declined to prosecute Matt. Hoever, he’s since been estranged from his family.

A wildfire devastated their ranch

As the wildfire raged across Washington State in August 2020, the North Star Ranch they called home since they moved from Alaska wasn’t spared. A fire broke out near their property and it spread so fast that the family and production crew were forced to evacuate immediately. They couldn’t take the animals with them, so they were let loose. Despite the firefighters’ efforts, more than 5,000 acres were destroyed overnight, and the fire showed no sign of abating, but were given small windows of opportunity to rescue their animals and put them in shelters and other farms.

Alaskan Bush People

After two weeks, the fire was under control. Their family has had their share of loss, and at this point one would think they’d be numbed to it, but Bam said that it always hit them a little bit differently every time. Each member of the family had built their own home on the property, but only Rain’s and Bear’s were spared from the fire; the barn was destroyed, but fortunately the main house was left untouched. Snowbird had to ask, ‘Where do we go from here? Lay it out.’ Her father said, ‘Everything’s alright but not that good…We stay the course. We do what we do. We work together and we just keep going and we fight.’

Billy Brown passed away in 2021

A series of 911 calls were made by the production crew, one of them saying to the operator, ‘I have someone not breathing. I need an ambulance, like as soon as possible,’ and gave Billy Brown’s name and the home address.

It was said that Billy was struggling to remain conscious, and that the paramedics tried to resuscitate him and keep his heart going. The family was then told to say their goodbyes while he was still alive – he died on 7 February 2021.

Family members and three people from the production crew were inside the residence when the deputy arrived. According to his report, ‘I was advised a 68-year-old male was reported to have been in seizure; the male had become unresponsive and had stopped breathing.’ When he asked about Billy’s medical background, it was said that Billy had serious health issues including respiratory and heart problems, and was in and out of the hospital for years.

The children gathered outside in the dark, and howled like a wolf pack saying, ‘More, Da,’ which means ‘I love you more Da.’ For them, Billy was their mentor, best friend, and guardian angel.

On Instagram, Bear, Noah and Rain confirmed the news of his passing, as they posted a photo of their parents with the caption: ‘We are heartbroken to announce that our beloved patriarch Billy Brown passed away last night after suffering from a seizure,’ and adding, ‘He lived his life on his terms…and taught us to live like that as well. We plan to honor his legacy going forward, and to continue with his dream.’ Billy was cremated, and a service was held on the 22nd of February.

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