Jane Kilcher has been in the limelight since appearing in “Alaska: The Last Frontier,” which premiered on 29 December 2011 on the Discovery Channel; her husband, Atz Lee Kilcher, is a direct descendant of Alaskan pioneers. For a decade now, the Emmy-nominated reality series has been giving millions of viewers an insight into what it meant to follow a subsistence lifestyle in Alaska. Sharing their lives wasn’t easy, as it opened her family to criticism, and she took to social media to express her feelings about that.
- 1 Early life and family
- 2 “Alaska: The Last Frontier”
- 3 What happened to Jane?
Early life and family
Jane was born Christina Jane Ferman on 14 September 1974, in Alaska, USA, to parents Bob and Sarah Ferman. She and her two siblings, Jessica and Bobby, grew up in Anchorage until she turned 12, and then they moved to Homer where she met Atz Kilcher, as her family lived 11 miles from the Kilcher homestead.
She married Dicran Kassouni from Seldovia, Alaska and they have a daughter named Piper Isolde Kassouni, born in 2003. Atz tied the knot with Nantia Krisintu and has a son named Etienne with her, born in 2001. Both their marriages failed, and they later developed a romantic relationship, and were married in 2006 at the Head of the Bay.
“Alaska: The Last Frontier”
How did the show come about?
Alaska as the last frontier remains mysterious as ever with parts still left unexplored, as inaccessible by road. People still find it interesting to see how life was like in a place with harsh terrain and an unforgiving climate, despite the number of reality shows that featured the 49th state. As such, Discovery Channel was always on the lookout for good material about Alaska, and the Kilcher family was recommended to them.
The network sent a message to Eiven Kilcher about doing a show that featured their family’s self-sufficient lifestyle in their homestead – “Alaska: The Last Frontier” subsequently featured the families of Atz and Otto Kilcher.
About the Kilcher family
Fearing that Hitler was out to conquer the world as the Nazis were rising in power, Yule Kitcher, who’s in his 20’s, decided to leave his native country, Switzerland. He believed he’d found a utopia in Alaska when he visited the territory in 1936, and wanted to settle there. In 1940, he became a resident of Alaska where he envisioned a simple way of life in which one could live off the land, and would little cash. Soon after that, his friend Ruth left Europe onboard one of the last ships, bound for Alaska, and the two were married almost as soon as she arrived in 1941.
The couple settled in what was once a fox farm, overlooking Kachemak Bay.
Their 160-acre plot of land was about 12 miles away from the town of Homer, and they had to wait for low tide before they could get there with their horse-drawn carriage. They built a one-room cabin, and then expanded it through the years. Homesteading became their way of life, as they raised six daughters – Wurtilla, Fay, Catkin, Stellavera, Mossy, and Sunrise – and two sons, Atz and Otto.
The public school was too far from their place, so the children were homeschooled until they were in their teens. They learned to grow food on the farm, gather edible plants or fruits, and raise or hunt animals; making meals from scratch was a given. They were taught not just to survive but also to thrive in the land despite the isolation and subzero temperatures. With all the things needed doing in a day, their parents still found time to read them bedtime stories.
— Alaska: TLF (@AlaskaTLF) January 11, 2021
Yule produced what was said to be the first documentary of life in a homestead entitled “A Pioneer Family in Alaska,” which he later showcased in Europe. As Ruth taught her kids how to sing, they would perform at events where Yule did a presentation. In 1955, he had been among the delegates to the constitutional convention to make Alaska the 49th state of the US. A new constitution was ratified the following year, Alaska was proclaimed a state in 1959, and Yule served as a senator from 1963 to 1967. The couple divorced in 1969 and Ruth married a man named Charles Marriott in 1971.
As the homestead grew to around 600 acres of land, Yule set it up under the conservation easement in the 1990’s, that would protect the property from being subdivided amongst family members when he was gone.
His children and their families could live on the land, but the Kilcher Family Trust ensured that it would remain intact for future generations. Yule died in 1998 at the age of 85, Ruth having passed away in the previous year.
The core of homesteaders
Atz is the older son, and he assumed the responsibility of being the protector of the homestead, the people, and their livestock from wild animals such as bears and wolves. Atz Lee is his son, who described himself as the black sheep of the family, saying ‘Sometimes I keep my eyes up to the stars too often that I don’t realize I’m about to go in a ditch.’ There was a time when he left the homestead in search of a ‘better life’, and to pursue his passion for music, traveling across the country with his guitar, but nothing came of it. Realizing that the wilderness was where he belonged, he returned home, built his own cabin, and settled for a life there.
He hunted wildlife for meat, while his wife, Jane is skilled at fishing, having been a commercial fisherwoman for 11 years before leaving it behind to live at the homestead.
Otto, the sixth child, didn’t hunt as he has cattle to provide meat for the family, and use to barter with neighbors. He’s also a skilled mechanic, who kept tractors on the farm up and running. His son, Eiven, chose the subsistence lifestyle, as he wanted to know where his food was coming from. He’s a jack-of-all-trades, as he built, hunted, farmed, and did anything and everything to provide his family with what they needed. He married Eve whom he had known since they were young kids. She said that it sometimes felt like she was living like a hippie and a redneck. She has a green thumb, and spent much of her time growing vegetables.
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Homesteading is characterized by subsistence farming, home preservation of food through canning or smoking, and according to a Kilcher, it’s all about making something out of nothing, and finding what was needed to do that. Many people thought that their way of life was much simpler than those who lived in the city, as it had none of the chaos and concerns of city life. However, living in a remote area in Alaska is not just about foregoing the modern conveniences and comforts such as indoor plumbing, but is first of all a matter of survival.
For Jane and the rest of the Kilchers, once they realized that winter is coming they would become apprehensive, as they knew that surviving winter is not that easy or simple. The elders would often remind them – ‘If you don’t respect Mother Nature, you’re gonna die.’
In their part of the world, winter lasts for eight months, and sometimes arrives without any warning, so procrastination is something that shouldn’t become a habit of. With only a few months to prepare, Jane and her family had to winterize their home, including ensuring that they had enough fuel to keep their home warm, and enough food to last the long winter. They used a wood-burning stove to heat their place, so they needed to have an ample supply of wood. She would sometimes accompany her husband when searching for dead trees that they could cut.
At times, Atz Lee would put off things he needed to do, thinking he still had time before winter set in. Once he went hunting for a black bear at the last minute, but failed. Jane, on the other hand, went fishing that summer so that they would have enough seafood. It was a good thing that Otto decided to slaughter his milk cow at that time; it was Eiven who pulled the trigger, as Otto was getting more sentimental with age, finding it harder to kill a cow, particularly one that had been in his family for 16 years, but helped drain its blood, skin it, and cut the meat.
As he ended having 400 pounds of meat – almost 200kgs – he shared it with his neighbors, and with Atz Lee and Jane.
Although Atz Lee is a skilled hunter, Jane couldn’t help but worry whenever her husband hunted alone, as she knew how dangerous it was most especially if he injured himself out there as it might be some time before he was found, and take a while before a doctor could come. She knew this was something that she had to accept, as it was their way of life including Atz Lee passing down to their young son, Etienne, what he learned from his father and grandfather about safely firing a gun, as well as tracking and hunting animals for food.
It was also part of Atz Lee’s duty to help his father protect Otto’s cattle while they were grazing at the Head of the Bay, most especially when there were bear sightings, or even when a bear attacked the herd. Scaring a brown bear away would be enough, as they weren’t allowed to hunt one, but if it attacked them or their livestock, then they could kill it.
Jane usually stayed home to take care of their kids or help around the homestead. It’s interesting to note that not everything they eat or use was what they grew or made at the homestead, as they also bought supplies when needed, at the store in Homer. The couple played music for entertainment when they were home. She played the cello, guitar, and piano while Atz played the guitar, harmonica, and upright bass. Both of them could sing as well. Their children could play the guitar and piano.
What happened to Jane?
Illegal bear hunting in 2014
Atz Lee and Jane Kilcher along with Wilma TV, an arm of Discovery Studios that produced “Alaska: The Last Frontier,” were charged in September 2014 with a misdemeanor for using a helicopter in hunting a black bear for the show; it was aired in January 2015. It’s illegal under Alaskan law to use a helicopter in the pursuit or retrieval of game, including transporting hunters or hunting gear.
Someone from the production crew reported the incident to the Alaska State Troopers, and charges were filed in July 2015.
According to the producers, they thought it would not be an issue since they used a floatplane to hunt for the show. The Kilcher couple was said to be under pressure to catch a bear, and even if Atz Lee informed the producers that it was illegal, he was told that ‘he should just go and it will work out.’ As they agreed to testify against Wilma TV, the charges against them were dismissed in 2016, while Wilma TV was fined $17,500.
Jane’s husband fell off a cliff in 2015
What Jane feared the most happened in 2015, as Atz Lee fell off a cliff while he was hiking in Otter Cove Resort in Kachemak Bay, and had to be medevacked from the scene to the hospital. She took to Facebook to share what happened and revealed the injuries he sustained, writing ‘His injuries included a broken arm, a broken shoulder, broken ankle, a broken hip, crushed ribs and two punctured lungs,’ adding, ‘It will be a challenging and long road to recovery for Atz Lee, and the family appreciates everyone’s good thoughts at this challenging time.’
Atz Lee shared his progress via Instagram, and posted ‘Thankful to be alive and at home with my wonderful family. My broken bones are healing nicely considering how many I broke. Lungs are holding up, and every day I feel a little stronger.’ Work at the homestead was never-ending and Jane had to work doubly hard without her husband to help. It took a long time before Atz Lee fully recovered and returned to work.
In 2017, Jane’s husband sued the resort as he claimed they were responsible for his fall. He sought damages amounting to $100,000. He said that they ‘failed to adequately warn of and/or provide measures to prevent guests…from falling over the precipice at the resort.’ However, the Otter Cove management argued that if Atz was injured on the property, it was ‘due to his own neglect, and not the responsibility of the resort.’
Jane’s children absent from the series
Viewers were wondering what happened to Piper and Etienne, as they were noticeably absent from the show.
She and Atz Lee decided not to have their children appear in the series as they wanted to keep the two from the ‘awful internet trollers.’ Jane added that they would appear in an episode or two after she made sure that they could handle all the craziness of being in the public eye. However, she would post photos of her kid on her Facebook page. In May 2021, she posted, ‘Graduated and off to College with an academic scholarship. We are so proud of our daughter!’ When the couple was filming or on a trip somewhere, the kids would be with their grandparents if they didn’t accompany them. As Etienne turned 18 in 2019, he decided to be part of the show.
When Covid-19 struck and became a pandemic, travel restrictions and social distancing were imposed. As a result, the production people were evacuated, but the family continued to self-film so that the network would have something to air.
Jane’s a registered nurse who worked in remote villages in Alaska, and felt very privileged in helping people get vaccinated, as per her Facebook post in March 2021.
Dealing with trolls and bashers
As the show became popular, so did the cast including Jane, and she wasn’t spared from the negativity online, with some people calling her materialistic and shallow. Jane is a size eight, but some still called her fat! As she didn’t like public displays of affection, she was perceived to be cold and not in love with her husband, which is untrue. There were those who believed that the show was scripted, but she said that they didn’t claim to live completely off the grid, but as close to that as possible.
Jane said, ‘I hate your hateful comments that are unwarranted, as everyone in our family is beautiful and tries hard.’ Despite the criticisms they received, she’s still proud to be a Kilcher. It’s also obvious from her posts on social media that she has a great relationship with her husband and kids, and that she was having fun filming for the show.