AHS Blog

150th Anniversary of the Alaska Treaty of Cession Statewide Calendar of Events

Date Posted: September 30, 2016       Categories: News

alaska-150th-logoThe 150th anniversary of the Alaska Treaty of Cession is 2017. On March 30, 1867, U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward and Russian Envoy Edouard de Stoeckl signed the treaty in Washington, D.C. Less than seven months later, on October 18, the ceremonial transfer took place at Sitka and the U.S. replaced the Russian administrators.

To commemorate the significant event, the Alaska Historical Society is coordinating a Statewide Calendar of Events, promoting discussions by posting a series of articles and images and documents on our website.

The public is invited to submit material to our Statewide Calender of Events by using our on-line Event Submission Form. Please direct questions and concerns to Anna Lee at members@alaskahistoricalsociety.org.


Reminder: May 1 Deadline for Paper Proposals

Date Posted: April 25, 2017       Categories: News

May 1 is the Deadline for Submission of Proposals for Papers, Panels, and Poster Sessions for the Alaska Historical Society Annual Conference, September 27-30, 2017 in Anchorage, Alaska.

The conference theme “Exploring the Legacy of the Alaska Purchase” invites reflections on how that moment charted a new destiny for Alaska. In particular the theme opens the door for indigenous perspectives on the meaning of this pivotal event. Please join us as we examine how Alaska’s history unfolded, is unfolding and may yet unfold since that day in 1867 when Czar Alexander II abandoned North America. Presentations on Alaska history topics are welcome.

Our featured speaker will be Professor Willie Hensley, author of Fifty Miles from Tomorrow and an Alaskan who shaped the state we live in today.



The U.S. Entered the “Great War” 100 Years Ago: Denali and Other National Parks Recognize Connections to World War I

Date Posted: April 24, 2017       Categories: 49 History

By Erik Johnson, Denali National Park Historian

Boston National Historical Park Twitter feed from April 11, 2017


This month marks the 100th anniversary of the United States entering World War I, and National Park Service units throughout the country are observing the occasion by remembering their connections to the Great War.

Although it is one of the most remote parks in the country, Denali National Park and Preserve also has connections to the War. Denali, then known as Mount McKinley National Park, was established on February 26, 1917, about five weeks prior to America’s entry into the War. Nearly all the news headlines around that time were related to the War in Europe, which had been raging since 1914 (see Feb. 26, 1917 headlines from the Anchorage Daily Times and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner below).







One area of Denali that was affected by the War was the Kantishna Hills. The region has a rich mining history, and the Kantishna Mining District, which in 1917 was located just outside the northwest boundary of the park, contained substantial antimony deposits. Antimony was used in the manufacture of ammunition and when wars occurred, the price of the mineral increased due to a rise in demand. Kantishna miners knew that high demand for antimony provided them an opportunity to make a profit.

Two Kantishna miners, Billy Taylor (far right) and Tom Lloyd (bottom center), opened antimony mines during the War. Several years earlier, in 1910, they gained fame for being a part of the first climbing party to summit the north peak of Denali, the “Sourdough Expedition.” (Photo credit: Denali NP&P Museum Collection: DENA 1963)


It was not just the presence of antimony that tied the Denali region to the War. Kantishna miners were also willing to help their country. The September 28, 1917 edition of the Fairbanks Daily News acknowledged the Kantishna men who registered for the War effort.

Denali National Park is one of many national park units with World War I connections. Although the War was largely focused around Europe, it is important to remember that areas across the world, including remote areas of Interior Alaska, felt the War’s impact.

For more information about how national parks were connected to the Great War, visit:  https://www.nps.gov/subjects/worldWari/index.htm

Why Russia Gave Up Alaska, and How it Affected Native Alaskans

Date Posted: April 5, 2017       Categories: News

Willie Iggiagruk Hensley, Inupiaq scholar and the keynote speaker for the Alaska Historical Society Annual Meeting in Anchorage, Alaska on September 27-30, 2017 has just written an article titled “Why Russia Gave Up Alaska, America’s Gateway to the Arctic.” It originally appeared on the website The Conversation on March 29, 2017 and was re-posted at Smithsonian online.

Willie Hensley offers an overview of the historical legacy of the Alaska purchase from Russia and provides a unique perspective on what becoming part of the United States has meant to Native Alaskans.

Seward’s Day

Date Posted: March 30, 2017       Categories: 49 History

Today is Seward’s Day! While the official state holiday was observed on Monday, today – March 30 – marks the true anniversary of the United States’ purchase of Alaska from Russia. This year, we celebrate for the 150th time, and kick off a year-long commemoration of the sesquicentennial of the Treaty of Cession. Many events are being planned, in Sitka and around the state. Check out the latest news from the Sesquicentennial Steering Committee on their web site at https://alaska150.com/. The state Office of History and Archaeology has also assembled information on events and activities happening statewide at http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/oha/designations/150Anniversary.

For those in Anchorage today, you can see the original check, the signed treaty, and Emanuel Leutze’s famous painting of the signing, all on display at the Anchorage Museum as part of its Polar Bear Garden exhibition.

So get out there and party like it’s 1867!

Denali National Park Turns 100: Descendants of Sheldon and Karstens Meet for the First Time

Date Posted: March 15, 2017       Categories: 49 History       Tags: Denali National Park; conservation

By Erik Johnson, Denali National Park Historian

Charlie Sheldon and Don Striker donation ceremony

Charlie Sheldon and Denali National Park and Preserve Superintendent Don Striker sign paperwork acknowledging the donation of Charles Sheldon’s rifle to the park (photo credit Erik Johnson)

This year, Denali National Park and Preserve is celebrating its 100th anniversary and hosting events throughout the year. During the final week of February, the Park held its annual Winter Fest which coincided with the Park’s centennial on February 26th—the day President Woodrow Wilson signed the Park’s enabling legislation in 1917.

As a part of the celebration, Charles Sheldon’s hunting rifle was donated to the Park, in person, by his grandson, Charlie Sheldon. The donated rifle was the only one Charles Sheldon used during his time in Alaska in the early 20th century. Representatives of the Governor’s office, Senator Lisa Murkowski’s office, and members of the Boone & Crockett Club were present for the ceremony.

Another highlight of the centennial celebration was an open house at the recently rehabilitated Old Superintendent’s Office at the Park’s Headquarters.  The building was originally constructed in 1926 under the guidance of first Park Superintendent Harry Karstens. Karstens’s great grandson, Ken Karstens, attended the open house and brought mementos of early park history.

Brief History

Charlie Sheldon and Ken Karstens

Descendants of Charles Sheldon and Harry Karstens meet at the Old Superintendent’s Office as a part of Denali’s Winter Fest celebration (Charlie Sheldon left, Ken Karstens right; photo credit Erik Johnson)

Charles Sheldon spent time studying Dall sheep in the region north of Denali between 1906 and 1908. During this time he was guided by an experienced mail freighter and prospector named Harry Karstens, and the two developed a strong bond. Sheldon wrote about the idea for “Denali National Park” in his 1908 journal and later proposed the idea to the Boone & Crockett Club (an elite hunting and conservation group started by Theodore Roosevelt and others in the late 19th century, of which Sheldon was a member).

When the Alaska Railroad began laying track in 1915, Sheldon and other conservationists became alarmed about the threat to wildlife north of the Alaska Range, and were spurred into action. The legislation creating a national park was introduced in 1916 and passed Congress in February of 1917. Once the Park finally received an appropriation in 1921, Karstens was hired as first Superintendent, based on Sheldon’s recommendation.

The names Sheldon and Karstens have been inextricably linked to the Park’s establishment. The recent centennial celebration was an extraordinary occasion because it brought together the descendants of two of the most historically significant individuals in the Park’s history for the first time.