Bob Harte was one of the most compelling characters a glimpse of whose life we saw in the Discovery Channel documentary series “The Last Alaskans”. Living alone in a remote cabin deep in the Alaskan wilderness, Bob displayed incredible survival skills and resilience, overcoming every challenge that the wild environment threw at him. Even though he had cheated death many times, a long battle with cancer had the better of him. Bob passed away during the show, but not before sharing his life story with viewers, and leaving a tremendous impression on anyone who watched the series.
The life of Bob Harte
Bob Harte was born in New Jersey, USA, on 23 January 1951, and was raised by his grandfather, alongside his three brothers. Growing up, Bob developed a love for nature and the outdoor life, as he spent a lot of time fishing and hunting with his grandfather. After reading about Alaska, he became fascinated by the northern-most US state, which inspired him to drop out of college when he was 21 years old, and start a new life there.
He first landed in Southeast Alaska, and stayed in the area of Wrangell for a few years, trapping. He then moved north to Fort Yukon, before finally settling in an abandoned trapline in the Brooks Range. He lived in the area for more than 40 years, separated from the modern world, supporting himself mostly through trapping. Bob’s love for Alaska only grew stronger in the following decades, while he built a reputation as one of the best trappers in the state. His extraordinary skill landed him an invite to a Russian – American trapper exchange program, which was started in an effort to help build cultural ties between the two nations.
During the time he spent living in Alaska, Bob survived many traumatic events, including gunshot wounds, wildlife attacks and fires, but which only made him stronger.
Bob was married to Nancy Becker, a former school teacher from Stevens Village, with whom he had raised four children. Sadly, living in the wilderness proved to be a difficult challenge for a family of six, so the couple eventually divorced, and the kids moved to the town with Nancy, while Bob stayed on the Coleen.
Bob’s solitary lifestyle in the Alaskan wilderness and unique life story later attracted the attention of Discovery Channel, who in 2015 cast him in their documentary TV series “The Last Alaskans”.
Cause of death
During the third season of “The Last Alaskans”, Bob was noticeably absent, due to his declining health, which was later attributed to late-stage cancer. After a long and painful battle with the illness, Bob quietly passed away on 22 July 2017, at the age of 66 – more specific details about his illness and death remain unknown. His obituary read: ‘On Friday, July 21, 2017, Bob attended his own celebration of life. He sat around the fire, drank a few beers and told stories with longtime friends. This was his last night on Earth. Who would have thought that this would be his final exit? His family and friends always joked that Bob had nine lives. If you stopped to count, it was probably closer to 20. After wrecking his motorcycle, crashing his plane, accidentally shooting himself, falling off his cabin wall, swamping his boat in the ocean, crashing another plane, getting run over on his motorcycle, having brain surgery, crashing another plane (I could go on), God chose a peaceful passage for him. It is ironically fitting.’
Bob Harte's death arrives on The Last Alaskans. How the show handles it—and his legacy. https://t.co/Ti7U9O9DFV
— Andy Dehnart (@realityblurred) December 14, 2018
Bob’s legacy on “The Last Alaskans”
Bob Harte undeniably left a huge mark on the show during the two seasons he was starring in it. In one of his last episodes, he was preparing to leave his cabin in the Brooks Range and move to a trailer in Fairbanks, where he spent his last days. ‘It’s hard to leave again. This home is reminding me of the woods home. It’s quiet, peaceful, it’s a part of the woods in the middle of Fairbanks, and it’s precious. Especially to me.’, Bob said.
Filming of the final season of “The Last Alaskans” took place from August 2017 through March 2018, but a crew went out earlier to film the last segment with Bob. He was heavily involved in the process, and was very open and honest about what he was going through. ‘For us it’s not really about the details of his medical condition, but it’s about how he’s feeling and what this means to him as he looks back on his life, and the legacy that he leaves behind. He’s incredibly proud. He’s a kid from New Jersey who could have had a very small, common life, but he took on this challenge voluntarily– went up to Alaska to try to be a trapper and then figured out how to do it.’, said Michael Gara, a Discovery Channel producer who was in charge of the series at the time.
Discovery Channel aired a tribute episode to Bob on 16 December 2018. In April 2020, Bob’s ex-wife Nancy published a book about him, entitled “Trapline Chatter: Life and Love with ‘Last Alaskan’ Bob Harte”.
Charlie Jagow – Following in Bob’s footsteps
After Bob’s passing, “The Last Alaskans” focused more on highlighting the young generation living in the Alaskan wilderness. Fairbanks native Charlie Jagow took a leading role in the show’s narrative, with many fans comparing him to Bob. Charlie, who was only 22 at the time, displayed impressive hunting and survival skills for his age, and recently obtained a pilot’s license.
Unlike Bob, Charlie was born and raised in Alaska, alongside his sister Joanna. Their father, Paul Jagow, moved to the area from New York City, and lived alone before meeting his future wife Dawn. While the rest of the family now resides in Fairbanks, Charlie has built his own cabin on their old trapping grounds. A few days before his passing, Bob offered his trapping territory to Charlie, which he promptly accepted, living out Bob’s legacy.
Why was “The Last Alaskans” cancelled?
To the surprise of a lot of the show’s fans, Discovery Channel officially cancelled “The Last Alaskans” in 2020, roughly a year after season four finished airing. Cast member Ashley Selden was the first to break the news to the public, writing in her personal blog that the channel has decided to ‘shelve’ the series. In her post, Ashley voiced her disappointment, saying: ‘Many have wondered why it was cancelled, and if there is any hope of its eventual return. Discovery Channel didn’t have the common courtesy to inform us that they were shelving the series, let allow explain their reasons for doing so. Hell, they never even bothered with an explanation for their many disgruntled customers, though the strong negative reaction to its cancelling must have been impossible for even them to ignore.’
As for the reason behind series’ discontinuation, she said that she could only speculate as to what drove that decision, while acknowledging that it’s possible that the show may have simply been too expensive to produce, considering that the number of viewers perhaps wasn’t enough to justify the cost.
@Discovery @AnimalPlanet @Disney I can't believe you cancelled The Last Alaskans, which was the last show about real America, remember America anyone?? w/ so much garbage on the air, Y is it so hard to have something real? I think I need to start my own network. HELP!! #maga2020
— Walker1 (@Caleesy) August 6, 2019
However, “The Last Alaskans” can hardly be labeled as an unpopular franchise. At its height, it was drawing close to two million viewers each episode, and built a very dedicated fanbase. Following the news of cancellation breaking out, a lot of fans voiced their disappointment on social media, while someone even started an online petition, urging Discovery channel or some other outlet to renew the series. The petition drew more than 20,000 signatures, but has apparently failed to grab the attention of TV executives. However, it wouldn’t be surprising if eventually the show returned to TV screens, in a similar manner to series such as “Duck Dynasty” and “Fear Factor”.
Where is “The Last Alaskans” cast today?
Over the course of four seasons of “The Last Alaskans”, we followed the lives of a few families and individuals who have chosen to live their life off the grid in rural Alaska, isolated from civilization, modern conveniences, and often the internet. The show was primarily set within and around the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in the northern part of Alaska, which makes the show even more fascinating, as ANWR no longer allows humans to settle in there, while the people we saw on the show were actually grandfathered in, so are allowed to remain.
Most viewers and TV critics praise “The Last Alaskans” for its unique approach. Unlike other survival reality/documentary series, such as “Alaskan Bush People”, the series was paced much more slowly, trying to capture the reality of living in the wilderness, instead of focusing on fabricated drama. “The Last Alaskans” wasn’t scripted, and allowed for people featured in the show to tell their own stories.
Fans of the show surely remember Heimo and Edna Korth – the couple have been living the remote lifestyle, far north of the Arctic Circle, for more than 40 years now. They settled near the Coleen River before the area became a Refuge, living almost solely off the money they made from fur trapping. While Edna is a native of the nearby Savoonga Inuit village, Heimo was born and raised in Wisconsin. Similarly to Bob, he moved to Alaska as a young man, initially living alone and without any human contact for months on end.
Heimo and Edna had four daughters together, but the youngest one, Coleen, tragically drowned in the river at only two years of age. The other three have since grown up and live in Fairbanks with their families. Their parents have also moved to town from ANWR, to be closed to their children and grandchildren.
Prior to appearing on the show, Heimo was the subject of the 2005 book “The Final Frontiersman: Heimo Korth and His Family, Alone in Alaska’s Artic Wilderness”, written by James Campbell; it’s believed that this book inspired the inception of “The Last Alaskans”. Heimo and his family were also featured in two documentary films, “Braving Alaska”, produced by National Geographic in 1992, and Vice’s 2009 film “Surviving Alone in Alaska”, which is now available for free on their YouTube channel.
Another extraordinary couple featured in the show were Tyler and Ashley Selden – the youngest family on “The Last Alaskans”. Tyler, who grew up in rural Nebraska, met his future wife Ashely during a trip in Minnesota. Inspired by the book “The Last Frontiersman”, the two made a decision to move to Alaska, settling along the border of ANWR and Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge. The couple now spend most of their year out in the bush, while they work for wages in Fairbanks during the summer months. For the most part of the year, they are out of contact with the outside world, but when they are in town they post new updates to their blog alaskaseldens.com. They have two daughters together.
The first two seasons of “The Last Alaskans” also featured Ray Lewis and his family; Ray is another example of someone who moved to Alaska from continental US as a young person. Ray, his wife Cindy, and their three daughters spend most of their year trapping out of a cabin in the Yukon Flats. Ray also owns another cabin located on the Nowitna River, where he goes trapping when a season is slow in Yukon Flats. Ray and his daughters suffer from a rare genetic condition affecting the eyelids, called Blepharophimosis, ptosis, and epicanthus inversus syndrome (BPES), which causes narrow but widely set eyes with droopy eyelids, and may affect the individual’s vision. Fortunately, the condition is not life-threatening, and can be treated through surgery. As the series progressed, the Lewis family spend more time away, on their boat, and were no longer a part of the series as of season three.
All four seasons of “The Last Alaskans” are available for streaming on Prime Video, Discovery+ and Discovery GO, and all four have also been released as DVD and Blu-Ray box sets.