Story last updated at 1:53 p.m. Thursday, July 18, 2002

Head of bay visit sparks memories
by Carey James
Staff Writer

photo: news
  Photo by Carey James, Homer News
The Fox River is seen through the remains of a shed on land formerly homesteaded by the "Barefooters" at the head of Kachemak Bay. Kachemak Heritage Land Trust led its annual visit to the site last weekend.  
There isn't much left at the "Barefooters" property these days. A couple gray, ghost-like structures fight to retain their integrity despite the forces of time, gravity and vandalism. Others are completely caved in.

But while the buildings are falling down, the peace and beauty of the place, tinged with a bit of mystery, remained for the dozen or so visitors who traced the steps of the unusual group of homesteaders last weekend as part of the Kachemak Heritage Land Trust's annual picnic on the land.

The Wisdom, Knowledge, Faith and Love Fountain of the World followers, as they were known, arrived at the pristine piece of land nestled between the bluff and Fox River six miles from Voznesenka in 1957. Their Homer nickname, "the Barefooters," came from their unusual habit of wearing no shoes, even in the winter. Adding to their mystique were the long monk-like robes they wore.

But for former members R.B. and Helen Jackson, who still call Homer home, the Fountain of the World experience had a lot less to do with the mystical "golden gems" members were asked to follow and a lot more to do with the hard work of subsistence survival in a remote locale.

"We heard all kinds of rumors," said R.B. Jackson with a laugh. "'Love Cult' ... Who had time for that?"

The W.K.F.L. Fountain of the World was founded in the 40s by Krishna Venta, referred to in W.K.F.L. literature as "the Only Begotten Son of God." Venta and his followers settled in the Santa Susana Mountains near Los Angeles, where both R.B. and Helen first became involved with the group. Followers were asked to grow out their hair and beards, wear a long robe and walk barefoot. After a three-month trial period, they were also asked to sign over all their possessions to the organization.

The Jacksons said while the group was dedicated to spiritual enrichment, people of all religions were welcomed. In addition, followers were intent on serving others by responding to disasters such as floods, earthquakes and fires.

photo: news
This group of W.K.F.L. followers, above, arrived on Kachemak bay in the summer of 1958. Among them was R.B. Jackson, who still resides in Homer with his wife Helen. R.B. is fourth from the left in the top row.  
Helen said, these days, towns have a variety of humanitarian agencies to help others in crisis, such as women's shelters, alcohol and drug abuse centers, food pantries and hospice organizations. But at that time, few such agencies existed.

"We were a shelter for abused women and children, a place people could go if they needed something. Doctors donated their services. It was a combination" of social services, she said. "We did it all."

According to W.K.F.L. literature, the group aided in the evacuation of bodies from a burning plane in the Santa Susana Mountains in 1949 and served during several disasters that struck its area.

At the time R.B. and Helen became involved with the group, Krishna Venta was looking for ways to expand the group into other areas and countries, and planned to form branches called "Founts," where "members will be dedicated to the communal way of life, brotherly love, humanitarian service work and the living of the laws of Good Brotherhood."

The first "Fount" was in Alaska, where "480 acres of potential farming land are presenting a challenge to the group who are working their way by the sweat of their brows as they race against nature and time to raise their crops and build their buildings. One day, the W.K.F.L. Fount in Alaska will be a showplace of the Northwest," the literature said.

Up in Alaska, a handful of followers lived in two Army surplus tents through the first winter, the Jacksons said, and built the first homes the next year. A schoolhouse, cook shack, living quarters and storage buildings emerged and became home to some 40 people.

Far from being a disorganized group of dreamers, the Jacksons remember an organized and productive group that grew truckloads of huge potatoes, bigger than a man's fist. The children were taught by a state-funded teacher, and a machine shop in town, where the W.K.F.L. park is now located, provided income for the needs the group could not grow from the earth.

The group also rented a home across the street from where Alice's Champagne Palace is now, and used it to store supplies. Around 20 men from the group helped fight wildland fires on the Kenai Peninsula, continuing their emphasis on public service.

photo: news
The main W.K.F.L. buiding looms behind the cook shack. The main building burned in 1960, but the cook shack still stands.  
While the land of Fox River Valley was rich, and the climate reasonable by Alaska standards, the homesteaders faced a challenge because of their location.

R.B., who for a while was the man in charge of transporting all the goods from town to the head of the bay, said hauling materials, even on good days, was a challenge. On bad days, the army surplus vehicles used to transport everything from lumber to canned food to the homestead would get mired in mud up to their axles. Other times, the lower elevation's warmer climes would turn the terrain into a sheet of ice, R.B. said, so frivolous trips to town were infrequent.

But the Homer fount's location was only one of several challenges the W.K.F.L. followers in Alaska would face.

According to a 1982 Homer News article, on Dec. 10, 1958, two disillusioned followers purchased 20 sticks of high-powered dynamite and drove to the group's California headquarters, demanding to see Venta. In the explosion that followed, the group's leader and nine others, including the two former followers and several children, were killed.

After Venta's death, the Alaska fount tried hard to hold together, the Jacksons said, but without strong leadership, the organization began to deteriorate.

Even without Venta's death, many followers lasted only a few months at the head of the bay. R.B. said many could not handle the endless workload, or didn't see the connection between working and eating.

In one instance, he said, several young members decided to sit up and play cards late into the night.

"I went to bed, and when I got up, they were still playing," R.B. said. "I go, 'Hey, lets go (to work),' and they said they were tired. I said, 'I didn't make you play cards all winter. Now, if you want to eat this winter, you are going to have to work,' so they worked. That night, they didn't play cards."

In the fall of 1960, the main house burned to the ground in a stove-pipe fire. Even then, the Jacksons said, the group continued its bid for survival in the Fox River Valley. Two Army Quonset huts were quickly erected, providing shelter.

By '61, however, the Jacksons, as well as most others in the group, had left the property. Some members stayed in Alaska, and the late Brother Asaiah Bates, another "Barefooter," stayed in the Homer area as well.

photo: news
  Photo by Carey James, Homer News
Helen and R.B. Jackson today.  
W.K.F.L. asked the Jacksons, who married during the group's holy days in March of 1960, to homestead on the land. But the Jacksons decided that, without any mode of emergency communication, and with an infant, it was too much of a risk.

"We had already experienced the result of not having communication," Helen said. "I had been sledding and broke my collar bone, and I had to take care of myself. With a tiny baby, we said, 'This isn't going to work.'"

Despite the fact that the two left with no material goods to show for their years of service with W.K.F.L., they said they harbor few regrets. The group had been there for them when they were in need, and brought them to Alaska, a place they have rarely left since moving here.

"I don't think I would be who I am today" without W.K.F.L., R.B. said.

Today, the property where the main home and other "Barefooter" buildings stood is included in 160 acres of the Kachemak Heritage Land Trust's Krishna Venta Conservation Area. As such, it is open to the public as a spot to stop, camp or enjoy the scenery of the Fox River Valley. For more information, call the land trust at 235-5263.