Part of a continuing weekly series on local history by local historian David Reamer. Have a question about Anchorage history or an idea for a future article? Go to the form at the bottom of this story.
In 1960, the American town with the highest concentration of automobiles was none other than Alaska’s Basher, an incorporated city in the Chugach foothills, then 7 miles from the Anchorage border. In Basher, there was a car for every person. There was also, on average, a dog and horse for every human resident. The very next year, 1961, a garter snake was discovered within the community, making Basher briefly the only town in the state with wild snakes.
The key to the joke is that Basher at that time had all of nine inhabitants, five of whom were adults. There were only two families who lived in Basher: the Taylors and the Cottises. Maynard Taylor Sr. was the fire chief. Maynard Taylor Jr. was the mayor and tax assessor. Taylor Jr.‘s previous stints as Mayor of Anchorage (1951-1955) prepared him for the burdensome responsibilities. LeVaun Taylor, Maynard Jr.‘s wife, was the city treasurer. Ralph Cottis was the town’s magistrate and clerk. His wife, Marjorie Cottis, was the police chief. Everyone, adult and child, was listed on the board of trustees, their city council equivalent. The Anchorage Daily Times was very much in on the joke as well, listing longtime writer Bob Kederick as their Basher correspondent.
Despite the sense of humor associated with every mention, Basher was very much a legitimate, incorporated town. As the neighborhood was far outside of the city and not a part of a public utility district, the residents were responsible for any infrastructure improvements they might desire. If they wanted a road, they had to build a road. As an unincorporated community, the residents couldn’t write the cost of the road off from their taxes. However, once incorporated, the residents could — and did — count the road construction and maintenance costs as paid with local tax money, which was in turn deducted from their federal taxes. City status also allowed the residents to buy surplus road clearing equipment for the bargain price of $1.98.
Maynard Jr. and Ralph organized this technically legal con. In June 1958, all five adult residents signed a petition for incorporation with the necessary election scheduled for that August. Nonresident area landowners were also eligible to vote, resulting in a landslide 7-0 result in favor of incorporation. The election results were dutifully submitted, and the Town of Basher was incorporated as a third-class city in August 1958. A third-class city has all the powers of first-class cities, except the ability to offer bonds.
Again, the Basher area at this time was deeply rural. A 1955 request for phone service wasn’t fulfilled until 1968. Apart from road access and maintenance, the residents’ primary concern was the hunters who frequently shot at their horses. Said Ralph to the Times, “We all own horses. In the past, we’ve had to drape red blankets over them to protect them from hunters. Those crackpots will shoot at anything that moves.” Though the residents were never so bold, incorporation did allow Magistrate Cottis the right to fine offenders $100 and incarcerate them for 90 days.
As regards the name, there is no historical man or woman named Basher. Instead, the town, road and trailhead honored the legendary poor driving of Stuart Tope (1909-1968). Earlier in the 1950s, Ralph Cottis hired Tope to expand the road. In 1958, Ralph said of Tope, “He bashes everything. When he’s plowing the road, he knocks down trees. If you’re driving up the road, he’s liable to hit you. He’s a born basher.” Marjorie Cottis later recalled, “Stuart was a real peach. One day he almost ran into the doghouse with the blade of his bulldozer. Another time he knocked off the gate post.”
By 1970, the town had shrunk to only two residents, Marjorie Cottis and Taylor Jr. Taylor Sr., Basher’s oldest resident, died in 1964 at the age of 84. In 1973, there was only Marjorie, who owned and operated the Stuckagain Heights Restaurant overlooking the city. Stuckagain Heights was the new name for the community, for the literal frequency of times residents and visitors found themselves trapped in mud.
In 1973, the local boundaries commission ordered the town’s removal from state maps. By that time, the town was no longer a legal operation, with the last election and tax collection more than a decade in the past. “Basher exists only in the back of Maynard Taylor’s mind,” said Marjorie in 1972.
“5 Seek to Create City.” Anchorage Daily Times, June 26, 1958, 11.
“Basher Only Alaska City With Snakes.” Anchorage Daily Times, December 16, 1961, 6.
Kederick, Bob. “City of Basher Claims National Title.” Anchorage Daily Times, January 22, 1959, 8.
Makinson, Larry. “Wipe Basher Off Alaska Maps.” Anchorage Daily Times, December 14, 1972, 8.
“New City Set Up Next to Anchorage.” Anchorage Daily Times, August 8, 1958, 9.
“Yes Vote Expected in Basher City Election.” Anchorage Daily Times, August 21, 1958, 13.
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