AHS Blog | 49 History
By Anjuli Grantham
A puffin skin parka. An Alutiiq whaling lance. A can of salmon from Klawock. A mountain howitzer and artillery shell. These are not the kind of artifacts that immediately bring to mind the Treaty of Cession, like William Seward’s cape or Emanuel Leutze’s iconic painting, Purchase of Alaska, might, for example. Nonetheless, as I started researching and producing Alaska Out of the Vault, a podcast that examines Alaska in the decades around the Treaty of Cession, I was more interested in discussing what was occurring in Alaska— not in Washington, DC— and what themes and transitions were afoot rather than the big, iconic moments on which we tend to focus our attention (ahem, Alaska Day).
While there are countless compelling objects and stories that relate truths about Alaska in the 1800s, I selected these objects based on the broad, and hopefully unexpected, stories that they communicate.
The mountain howitzer became a medium for the story of the US Army in Alaska in 1868-1870 and the transitions that occurred both at Fort Kenay (sic), the Dena’ina village of Shk’ituk’t, and within the lives of Vladimir and Evgenia Stafeef (alternate spellings abound), an Estonian employed by the Russian-American Company and his Dena’ina wife.
When the US purchased Alaska, the nation was amidst Reconstruction. It was determined that Alaska would be managed as a military district until Congress created legislation for local civil government (which took another seventeen years, by the way). Alaska became part of the Military Division of the Pacific, and Army units were sent to Kenai, Kodiak, the Pribilofs, Wrangell, Sitka and Tongass to open posts. But Battery F didn’t make it to the old Russian trading post called Nicholas Redoubt when or how they intended. While sailing near Port Graham the Torrent hit a reef, sending the ship down and the crew, soldiers, and their families to the beach. They salvaged three of the four mountain howitzers with which they traveled before being rescued and spending the winter in Kodiak.
The next year, 1869, they made it to the trading post, which was about a mile from the Dena’ina village of Shk’ituk’t, according to anthropologist Dr. Alan Boraas. For this episode, I spoke with Dr. Boraas about Dena’ina interactions with Russian fur traders and the US Army troops. Moreover, several primary sources from Fort Kenay are shared, including one that details when the American yard was adopted as the standard unit for trade, and an evocative letter from Vladimir Stafeef, in which he recounts his indecision about paths forward in the new American Alaska. Finally, retired state archaeologist Dave McMahan recounts the 2008 recovery of materials from the Torrent shipwreck, including the mountain howitzer on exhibit at the Alaska State Museum.
The Alutiiq whaling lance with Cyrillic letters is a lens to consider a relatively unknown Alaska Native whaling tradition and to explore how Alutiiq, Yankee, and Russian whalers interacted with one another and the so-called Kodiak Grounds, which corresponds to the Gulf of Alaska, in the 19th century.
In an interview with archaeologist Patrick Saltonstall, we discuss the archaeology and history of the Alutiiq whaling tradition. In the late prehistoric period through the late 19th century, Alutiiq whalers were shamans. They used talisman, magical practices, and mummy fat mixed with monkshood and then smeared on slate lances to execute the hunt. Examples of these lances are exhibited at the Alaska State Museum, Baranov Museum, and Alutiiq Museum. With historian Ryan Jones, we learn how whales were central to the economy of Russian America and Russian-American Company control of Alutiiq labor. Whalers had to give ½ of every whale to the company, which then distributed the materials and meat to outposts and hunting camps. Jones describes how the incursion of Yankee whalers impacted Native whaling and belatedly inspired the Russian Empire to finance its own commercial whaling venture. The Russian-Finnish Whaling Company was mostly a failure, and the tense relations among American whalers, Russian officials, and Native villages did not presage the diplomacy of the Treaty of Cession. Regardless, Americans came to use Alaska’s natural resources on a large scale for perhaps the first time, as whale oil lit cities and lubricated gears in New England.
A puffin skin parka with elaborately embroidered hems and cuffs elucidates the work of Alutiiq and Unangan women in Russian America. This parka, also exhibited at the Alaska State Museum, was collected by the surgeon of the USS Resaca, a Navy ship sent to Alaskan waters while the crew convalesced from an outbreak of yellow fever. Coincidentally, the vessel arrived in Sitka in time for the transfer ceremony, where it stayed until January of 1868. In this episode, I not only examine possible ways that an Alutiiq or Unangan garment made its way to Sitka, but what the puffin parka says about the internal economy of Russian America.
Russians were dependent on the labor and goods of the Alutiiq and Unangan to produce sea otter pelts for international markets and to feed, clothe, and pay those incorporated within the Russian American colonies. The work of women was central to this. Elderly, infirm, and adolescent men were sent to puffin rookeries to snare a company-established quota of birds. Women then prepared and sewed the skins into parkas, which were used as a form of currency by the Russian-American Company.
For this episode, I spoke with Alaska State Museum conservator Ellen Carrlee about the difficulties in attributing the origin of this parka, historian Katherine Arndt about the use of Alutiiq and Unangan labor in Russian America, and Alutiiq skin sewer Susie Malutin about the Alutiiq skin sewing tradition. The show ends in Sitka, with a triumphant news report about the US purchase, although it is quite clear that these American newcomers had little idea about the complex and tragic economic system that they were eager to supplant.
Finally, through a can of Klawack (sic) Brand salmon, we learn of the dramatic transitions within Southeast Alaska spurred by the industrialization of Alaska’s salmon industry, and how Senator Charles Sumner’s vision for Alaska’s maritime resources came true. In 1878, the North Pacific Trading and Packing Co processed the first can of salmon in Alaska in Klawock, on Prince of Wales Island. Previously, the site of the cannery was known as Hamilton’s Fishery, named after Scottish proprietor George Hamilton, who had come to Southeast Alaska in the years immediately following the US purchase and married a Haida woman.
In this episode, we hear from Fred Hamilton, the 96 year old grandson of the founder of Alaska’s first cannery. We learn about the sophisticated methods that Tlingit people employed to harvest salmon and manage salmon rivers from anthropologists Dr. Steve Langdon. Dr. Langdon’s research shows that Tlingit management of the Klawock fishery persisted for a time following its commercialization. From Dr. Dennis Demmert, we learn how life changed for the Tlingit of Prince of Wales Island when the cash economy began to pervade the area. We also hear the words of Senator Charles Sumner, who advocated for the Alaska Purchase and pointed to Alaska’s marine resources as a great boon for the nation.
Over these four episodes, then, we learn of how Alaska Natives were impacted by the Russian-American Company, how the transition to American military rule played out on the ground, and how American businesses and capitalism transformed lives and cultures. Please listen, and if you like what you hear, please share with your friends and colleagues. You can listen to the podcast at my website, www.anjuligrantham.com/alaskaoutofthevault, or find Alaska Out of the Vault wherever you listen to podcasts.
I would like to thank the Alaska Historical Commission, Alaska Office of History and Archaeology, Kodiak Public Broadcasting and the Division of Libraries, Archives and Museums for their support of this podcast, in addition to the many whom I interviewed and helped with my research.
By Nicolette Dent, Community Assistance Fellow, National Park Service, Alaska Region, Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program
On June 3 and 4, 1942, Dutch Harbor was attacked by Japanese bombers. This changed the course of the Aleutian Campaign of World War II and the lives of nearly 900 Unangax^ people who were suddenly uprooted and taken to internment camps in Southeast Alaska. Many villagers were unable to resettle in their homes after being released from these camps. These events forever changed the lives of those who experienced World War II in the Aleutians.
To honor this little-known but significant history, Unalaska will host a three-day commemoration in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Bombing of Dutch Harbor/Unalaska and the Aleut Evacuation. The program kicks off with welcome messages from the Ounalashka Corporation, National Park Service, Qawalangin Tribe, Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, and City of Unalaska Mayor Frank Kelty. Public events throughout the weekend include presentations about World War II and the evacuation, and a chance to meet veterans, elders, and relatives of evacuees, some of whom have traveled great distances to honor this history. The commemoration will close with a memorial ceremony to honor the armed forces who died in the bombing and those Unangax^ who died while interned. Governor Bill Walker, Senator Lisa Murkowski, and military representatives from the U.S. and Canada will join in to share their own words of peace and healing at the ceremony.
For more information about events, see the group Facebook page at: facebook.com/75DutchHarbor
The National Park Service has a website with the public schedule as well: https://www.nps.gov/aleu/planyourvisit/75th-anniversary-dutch-harbor.htm
Recent Alaska Dispatch News article and video: https://www.adn.com/alaska-news/2017/05/27/pilots-to-fly-historic-military-planes-to-dutch-harbor-for-75th-anniversary-of-bombing/
By Sara Piasecki and Angela Demma
This weekend, Anchorage’s iconic 4th Avenue Theatre turns 70. The aging lady is in peril, say the Friends of the 4th Avenue Theatre, since the current owners applied for and received a permit to demolish the structure. Last month, the state historical commission declared the site culturally and historically significant, and will be considering whether to ask the state to designate the theater as a state historic site or monument. The Friends have organized a slew of weekend events to celebrate the theater’s storied past:
Festivities for the 70th Anniversary of the 4th Avenue Theatre will begin at 1:00 pm on Saturday, May 27th in front of the Theatre. Saturday’s program will include storytellers; appearances by Ron Holmstrom as Cap Lathrop; performances by the Anchorage Jazz Ensemble, The Blue Notes, and Blackwater Railroad Company; and screening of “The Sword in the Stone”—which was playing during the Good Friday earthquake and “The World in His Arms” which had its premiere here in Anchorage in 1952. FREE event. Food trucks will also be present.
Sunday’s program will begin at 2 pm at the Anchorage Museum. “Cap Lathrop” will introduce the 1924 silent film “Chechahcos” in the auditorium. The screening will be followed by a short presentation by Chris Beheim about the making of the film.
Monday’s program will begin at 7pm at the Anchorage Museum. The Design Forum will host a panel of architects to discuss the future possibilities for the Theatre.
For more information, see the Alaska Association for Historic Preservation 4the Avenue Theatre Update web site at http://www.aahp-online.net/4th-avenue-theatre-update.html
By Bruce Parham
The Cook Inlet Historical Society is pleased to announce the launch of its new, upgraded website, Legends & Legacies, Anchorage, 1910-1940, and it is now available for use by students, teachers, researchers, and the public at http://www.alaskahistory.org. Featured are 175 individual and family biographical sketches of early residents of Anchorage and accompanying photographs (984 images). There is a list of additional resources (i.e., libraries, archives, museums, and Native cultural centers) and online research tools for Alaska history to direct users to local, state, and regional primary and secondary sources. The website also includes a timeline of Anchorage history.
This single use interface substantially upgrades and replaces the former Legends & Legacies, Anchorage, 1910-1935, website. Coverage was expanded to include noteworthy individuals who lived in Anchorage prior to America’s entry into World War II. The user interface has been redesigned to improve usability on a variety of platforms (e.g., computers, cell phones, tablets, and other devices) and the site’s search capabilities.
Each of the 175 biographical sketches ranges from one to six pages in length, excluding endnotes and photographs. These biographies are representative of individuals from Anchorage’s founding families and others, with special emphasis on Dena’ina Indians, women, and the small number of members of ethnic groups who lived in Anchorage for an extended period during Alaska’s formative years. There is a wide range of individuals who built Anchorage during this period, ranging from early settlers such as Jack and Nellie Brown; bankers Warren Cuddy and Harry Hamill; formerly well-known, but now obscure figures such as druggist Z.J. Loussac, educator Orah Dee Clark, business tycoon and self-made millionaire Austin E. “Cap” Lathrop; many of the City of Anchorage’s early mayors such as James J. Delaney and Oscar Gill; pioneer aviator Russel Hyde Merrill; former Anchorage fire chief Tom Bevers; and Anchorage post-war real estate developer, hotelman, and politician Walter J. “Wally” Hickel. The site includes photographs from the Atwood Resource Center at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, Alaska Collection at Z.J. Loussac Library; Archives and Special Collections at the University of Alaska Anchorage Consortium Library; Wells Fargo Heritage Library and Museum, Anchorage; Alaska & Polar Regions Collections & Archives, Elmer E. Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska Fairbanks; and the National Archives at Seattle, Seattle, WA.
The Legends & Legacies project is part of the mission of the Cook Inlet Historical Society to foster discussion, research, and publication of the history and ethnology of the Anchorage and Cook Inlet region of Alaska. What began as John Bagoy’s book, Legends & Legacies, Anchorage, 1910-1935 (Anchorage: Publications Consultants, 2001), has been developed into a popular Anchorage Museum atrium panel exhibit and, now, to the availability of an expanded number of new biographies through this website. The redesign of the website and the posting of 175 biographies will allow the project to remain timely, with the potential for additional entries to be added or existing ones to be modified in the future. For further information, please contact the Cook Inlet Historical Society, c/o Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, 125 C Street, Anchorage, AK http://www.cookinlethistory.org/contact-us.html).
Initiated by the Cook Inlet Historical Society (CIHS), the Legends and Legacies, Anchorage, 1910-1940 website was a designated Anchorage Centennial Celebration, 2014-2015, legacy project of the Municipality of Anchorage. With the support of the Atwood Foundation, Rasmuson Foundation, Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, and the John Bagoy Memorial Cemetery Fund of the Cook Inlet Historical Society, this site was developed to provide access to selected individual and family biographical sketches of early Anchorage individuals and families and to promote Anchorage’s cultural heritage.
Leopold David and his family are featured on the Legends & Legacies, Anchorage, 1910-1940, website. Born in Germany in 1881, David immigrated with his parents and four siblings to the United States in 1884, and settled in Brooklyn, New York. In 1899, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served during the Philippine Insurrection (1899-1902). In 1902, he re-enlisted and was assigned to Fort Egbert, Alaska, in Eagle, as a pharmacist’s assistant. After his discharge in 1905, he moved to Seward to became manager of the Seward Drug Company; he married Anna Karasek four years later. He served as U.S. Commissioner at Susitna Station (1909), Knik (ca. 1910-1915), and Anchorage (1915-1921), while continuing his pharmacy business and studying law. He worked as a lawyer in Anchorage. In 1920, David was elected to Anchorage’s first official city council, and served two terms as the first mayor (1920-1923).
David is little noticed today, except, incidentally, for the Leopold David House that was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Leopold David’s residence, a one and one-half story house located on the corner of 2nd Avenue and “F” Street in downtown Anchorage, was built for David and his family around 1917. As noted in the National Register Site Nomination form (1985), his home is “an outstanding example of the bungalow style of architecture in early Anchorage” and it is considered the finest of a handful of those still left in existence. Historian Stephen Haycox (“ ‘Judge’ Leopold David: First Mayor of Anchorage,” A Warm Past: Travels in Alaska History (1988), 109, said: “Too little honored today, for example, is Anchorage’s first mayor, ‘Judge’ Leopold David. Though two streets in the Bootlegger’s Cove downtown area commemorate his service, they are tiny, and their locations are unknown to all but the most historical-minded, and the contribution of Judge David seems otherwise lost to the community’s public memory.”
The U.S. Entered the “Great War” 100 Years Ago: Denali and Other National Parks Recognize Connections to World War I
By Erik Johnson, Denali National Park Historian
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.
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