Introduction to the Alaska Billy Blog


The Alaska Billy Blog uses family history to consider how the landscapes of our past shape our future lives. Born in 1881, only 5 years after Custer’s Last Stand at the Little Big Horn, my grandfather and namesake, William Otis Hanson (Billy Hanson), grew up in a sod house on the Nebraska prairie. At the age of 15, Billy left home to become a cowboy in Wyoming.

I’m Bill Hanson (writing under my full name, William Arthur Hanson). The Alaska Billy Blog unites my desires to produce immediately readable work, interact with other writers and interested readers, and conduct research for my novels in an entertaining way.

Billy Hanson's travelling trunk
Billy Hanson’s travelling trunk. Tin over wood with reinforcing wooden slats across the sides and the rounded top.

I’ll combine relics from Billy’s steamer trunk with memories of my grandpa’s ranch (called “The Billy” by neighbors) to link the society and history of life in the rural West from 1881 to 1964 to life in the present day.




Billy Hanson's traveling trunk
Billy Hanson’s traveling trunk. Wood covered with metal. A junk and treasure trove from the early 20th century until 1964. Wyoming.

I plan to explore topics useful in writing my novel Spinning Heart, including themes, history, and changes in American society at the dawn of the 20th century: exploration of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, migration and settlement of new territory, and the changing roles and perspectives of women. At the same time, I’ll include thoughts about contemporary life, writing, and the relationship between landscapes in different parts of the world.



In the future, this first blog post will also available in the menu under the About Alaska Billy Blog tab .

William Otis Hanson – Billy Hanson

WA Hanson's grandpa, Billy brings Wyoming landscapes to an Alaskan's heart.
Grandpa Billy Hanson (left), Tom (right). Six gun and lariat. Chaps. Alaskan writer William Arthur Hanson uses The Alaskan Billy Blog to bring life in early 20th century Wyoming into his Alaskan landscape novels.

The Alaska Billy Blog originates in my grandfather, Billy Hanson, but if these writings ended in a simple family history, they would serve little purpose. A family tree standing by itself without the context of the culture in which our predecessors lived is a barren landscape.

Rather than a family chronicle, I want to learn about the origins of my own heroes and dreams. True, I’ll learn about my family, and hopefully come to understand my fascination with the stories of fathers and sons. My name, William Arthur Hanson, is a combination of Billy’s first and last names, with the middle Arthur from my maternal grandfather (whose middle name in turn, was Wilhelm). And yet, Billy was not a blood relative of mine. He was my father’s stepfather, so we’re talking about nurture here, not nature.

Grandpa Billy Hanson with Bill Hanson. City kid home on the range. WY 1953
Grandpa Billy Hanson with Bill Hanson (Age 4,1957) with cattle on the OH Bar Ranch, Wyoming. The city kid, home on the range.

Despite our separate genes, I share a number of characteristics with Billy: my fascination with rocks and fossils, and my love of open spaces and wild places. Perhaps there are other shared interests as well. My father, Milt Hanson, found his first love of music listening to Billy’s records on the Victrola. Dad moved on to classical music in his own time, but I think that the universal presence of music in my life (encouraged by both my mother and my father) from birth until now can be traced back through the generations.

The Billy

Ranch House with neighbors' brands. Billy's OH Bar brand in low center.
O-H Bar Ranch House with neighbors’ brands. Billy’s OH Bar and WOH brands in center of lower frame, along with Betty Hanson’s Square and Compass brand. Painting by Dorothy Morse

There’s another Billy that looms out of my sense of myself. That would be ‘The Billy’, my grandfather’s ranch in the dry lands of eastern Wyoming. This is the first place that I can point to as a Place of My Own, a landscape that I had all to myself, a personal world in which to act out my dreams, explore and discover, to return to every year to explore again, recognize changes, and become part of.


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William Arthur Hanson (Bill Hanson) is an Alaskan writer who searches for the roots of life in landscapes and the inhabitants they shape. He draws on 30 years as a biologist, forester, and ecologist. He has worked from the rainforests of Southeast Alaska to the subarctic taiga of the Interior. His writing mixes his deep knowledge of Alaska with people and places from his worldwide travels to Vietnam, Russia, Mexico, Ecuador, Europe, Malaysia, and much of the United States.

4 thoughts on “Introduction to the Alaska Billy Blog”

  1. Our families yield many unique and illuminating stories. At this moment I have a cousin in the State Senate, a sister ordained by the Episcopal Church and a second-cousin in prison. There are a hundred more relations with tales just as interesting and I assume this is the case with all families. It is wonderful to have a family member with the writing chops to tell the family stories

    1. Yes. I agree. At the same time, I think that most of these life stories are lost to future generations. I’m very lucky to have known all of my grandparents, some better than others. I love to listen to people’s life stories. To the degree that we can dig into our past (and want to), there are many surprises. And beyond the personal, individual events and stories, there is the opportunity to touch the actual cultures of those earlier times. There is also a bit of danger for me, since I’m easily pulled into these histories and mysteries. I’m will have to maintain my focus on the themes and topics most important to my novel writing. Of course, the characters in the novel become a living network of family, friends, antagonists, enemies. Once the story is fully set in motion, I find that they live their lives in often surprising ways despite my best efforts to keep them on track toward a conclusion to the story. Hmm, a family with a senator, a woman ordained as an Episcopal minister, a cousin in jail, and of course YOU: there’s real potential for a novel here!

  2. Bill
    Nice job!! I’m anxious to hear more about your family history. We both are very lucky people who have had a lot of great adventures and have great families. I have 9 more weeks my friend (April Fools Day) and I join the ranks of the retired. Time for new adventures! Sue and I plan to drive to Alaska next time and ferry back down to the lower 48, either this summer or most likely next summer and will definitely stop by. Say hi to your family and keep those stories coming!!

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