Remote Alaska Town Strangest Named Place In The State

Why Deadhorse, Alaska Was Dubbed As Strangest Named Place In The 49th State

By: Courtney Dowd-Stanley 

When locals think about Deadhorse, Alaska - we don't even stop for a minute to think about how strange the name actually sounds when saying it out loud - we think flat, cold, dark, and where many of the people we know go to work. Deadhorse, also known as Prudhoe Bay, is a place where thousands of our husbands, wives, and family members go in the northern interior region of the state to generally work a rotational two-week-on, two-week-off schedule. Many jobs come with sacrifice, but in Alaska perhaps none greater than spending half of your life away from home. Of course military families collectively go through some of the most jarring sacrifices, but for Alaska families who only get 1/2 the year with their loved one at home, the "weirdest named town in Alaska" of Deadhorse holds quite the impact in their lives. 

Flickr - puffin11k

Located in Alaska's North Slope Borough near the Arctic Ocean, Deadhorse serves primarily as a support and facilities hub for the Prudhoe Bay Oilfield, the largest oilfield in North America. There are between 25-50 permanent year-round residents in Deadhorse, while there are roughly 3,000 temporary residents residing in Deadhorse at any given time working in the surrounding oilfields. About 495 miles north of Fairbanks, Deadhorse is accessible only via the treacherous James Dalton Highway or by flying into the Deadhorse Airport. Those who opt to drive, will have the pleasure of taking in ample sights of the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline along the way, one of the world's largest pipeline systems which transports oil from the region down to Valdez, located on the south-central coast. Maritime barges are also a common method of transportation to Deadhorse, as facilities in the area are build entirely on man-made gravel pads. 

Flickr - Arthur T. LaBar

It was 1970 when Deadhorse first showed up on the U.S. Census as an unincorporated village. 10 years later by 1980, it was listed as a census-designated place. On June 3, 1982, Prudhoe Bay officially became a place with it's first ever post office and zip code. However, USPS contract holder (Elaine Childs) was a bit floored to see the directory come out listing the area as Deadhorse, Alaska 99734. By the year 2000, Deadhorse merged into the Prudhoe Bay census designated place (CDP). Once a name is out there, it's quite the challenge to change it. At one time, the Prudhoe Bay Community Coucil voted to change it's name to Deadhorse Community Council. Those in favor of the change referenced the uniqueness of the name as a strong determining factor, while opponents to doing so said that the name wasn't inclusive enough in representing the surrounding Prudhoe Bay and Kuparuk oilfields. 

Flickr - Jimmy Emerson, DVM

So to rewind a little, where in the world did the name Deadhorse come from? Not only is the name wildly strange, it's also not exactly an attractive destination to let roll off the tongue. Why, Alaska, why? Many reports say that Deadhorse got it's name because of a company called "Deadhorse Haulers" which was hired on a seasonal summer contract to haul away all the dead feral horses in the Fairbanks/North Slope area. While other reports say that the investor of Dead Horse Haulers was said to have been disgruntled about an ill-fortuned gravel company, remarking "I hate to put money into feeding a dead horse." Later, a company named Burgess Construction was hired to build the first ever airstrip in Prudhoe Bay, then subsequently hired Deadhorse Haulers to contract the gravel work. It's said that the name just sort of "stuck" as pilots soon requesting landing clearance on the runway would radio into "Deadhorse Tower." 

Flickr - Mike Juvrud

Other theories about how Deadhorse got it's name include a miner that rode his horse all the way north to the area and just decided to never leave. They say that the lack of other horses to mate with, and also the mosquitoes, drove the horse insane. Thus, the possible theme behind the named Crazy Horse Hotel located in the region. Later, the horse was said to have caught the eye of a solo caribou roaming the region, which sparked the named Happy Horse Hotel. By winter, the poor horse could not survive in the harsh winter climate with sub-zero temps, and died. 

Flickr - Elizabeth Haslam

Another wild story in circulation about how the area got it's name is that a cheechako wandered into the Beaufort Sea and found a caribou skull, mistaking it for a horse skull, and took it as a sign that the area should be officially named Deadhorse. 

Flickr - Terry Feuerborn

While this barren land might not seem like it has much to offer other than the obvious oilfield industry, you might be surprised to learn that Deadhorse is actually a tourism destination for many. Because of it's proximity above the Arctic Circle, visitors flock to Deadhorse to experience the midnight sun during the summer months and polar night during the winter. It's about a two-day journey in total with an overnight stay at Coldfoot Camp

Flickr - Kevan Dee

Located in the beautiful Brooks Range, you are at the cusp of accessing both Gates of the Arctic National Park and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Wildlife viewing enthusiasts enjoy feasting these eyes on majestic caribou herds, over 200 bird and waterfowl species, grizzly bears, polar bears, musk ox, arctic hares, arctic foxes, and much more. However if you do plan on vacationing here, it's important to note that Deadhorse is "dry" in terms of alcohol, so you won't find any thirsty Thursday celebrations in this region. On top of an already humorous town name, Deadhorse has a slogan, "All that far and still no bar." 

Flickr - Terry Feuerborn

Do you have any more fun facts or theories about how Deadhorse, Alaska got it's name? Looking for more where that came from? Check out these 15 incredible lakes that will demand your attention this summer. If you love wildlife, you'll enjoy the admirable Alaska animal sanctuary that's providing a safe haven for bears in Sitka, Alaska. Also, we're sure you'll agree with these 15 reasons why anyone who visits Alaska this summer won't want to leave.

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Written by Courtney Dowd-Stanley 

1 comment

wonderful story. My nephew is one of the two-week on, two-week off employees. Great guy! I grew up way out near primitive areas in Idaho and can relate to the remoteness of Deadhorse and I think the name gives it a lot of character and kind of tells you a little of what it’s like and how far from nowhere it is. Thanks for sharing its story.

AJ Barnett April 17, 2021

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