On the 100th anniversary of Alaska becoming an American territory (it was proclaimed a state in January 1959), LIFE.com presents pictures — many of which did not run in the magazine — made by photographer Ralph Crane for a major cover story in 1965.
As LIFE put it in the introduction to the piece:
Alaska, the 49th state, is also the largest, most forbidding and least understood. Its 250,000 people [Note: now three times that number] are suspended, a bit uneasily, between memories of a pioneer, hardscrabble past and dreams of a glittering, prosperous future. The photographs [here] explore this hostile and demanding land which seems to conspire against man even as it engenders and commands his fierce loyalty.
Though some of the pioneers [who built Alaska] were simply moving out of range of the sheriff, and others would be misfits anywhere, most of them were the kind of men whose hearts beat faster out of doors, who drew strength from the struggle with nature … folks who just wanted to get away from the confines of the onrushing civilization.
See the photos here