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Archive for the ‘Sheldon Jackson School and College History’ Category

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Lincoln Street in 1868 by Eadweard Muybridge, from the Online Archives of California from the Bancroft Library, University of California Berkeley.

On October 18th, 1867, Russia’s claims in North America were transferred to the United States. I wanted to know about the decade of 1867-1877, the decade following the Transfer, which took place in Sitka. Sitka was the primary settlement in Alaska. How was it that in the Russian days, Tlingit people controlled southeastern Alaska, but by the end of the 1870s, they were impoverished and marginalized. What happened?

Highly integrated into the economy

Army records and first-hand accounts show that Tlingit people were highly integrated into Sitka’s economy. For example, when the steamer John L. Stephens came in to port for the Transfer, Tlingit people came out to sell them fresh food. Tlingit people sold food, cut firewood, and did other work for the Americans. There was a curfew, but during the day they were free to come through the stockade and work, buy or sell things, or to sit and observe.

Right after the Transfer there was a flurry of activity as the Russian American Company assets were sold off. One sign of the optimism was a city government, formed in December 1867.

The Army troops brought drunken crime and mayhem to Sitka, by officers and enlisted men alike. In May 1869, enlisted men even robbed the cathedral. Crime ebbed and flowed through the decade, but between October 1868 to March 1869, there was an average of 26 military offenders a day in the guard house.

The Russian America Company paid the fare for anyone who wanted to leave, and more than 500 Russians did.

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This is approximately where the Pioneer Home is, now. The blockhouse on the left edge is in about the same location as the replica today. Taken in 1868 by Eadweard Muybridge, from the Online Archives of California from the Bancroft Library, University of California Berkeley.

In 1868 the Army had established a total of five posts in Alaska, but in 1870 closed them all but Sitka. The city government faltered and finally failed due to lack of funds. Sitka’s population fell.

The Army was supposed to be temporary, as it had been elsewhere in the west. California, Oregon, Nevada and Nebraska were already states in 1867. But in Alaska, the immigration didn’t come, and by early 1869, the US government was virtually the only economic activity in Sitka. The once-a-month steamer was subsidized by a Post Office contract.

In the 1870 census, three years after the Transfer, the population still included about 1200 Tlingit people, but on the other side of the stockade, other than the Army, there were only 390 persons, down from the 900 or so at the time of the Transfer. 250 of these had been born in Alaska, 21 in Russia. Most of these people were “creole,” people of mixed Russian and Native heritage, mostly Alutiiq and Unangan. They were usually called Russians after the Transfer.

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The Double Decker, held in trust by Sitka’s Collector of Customs for the destitute Russians who lived there. It was between Lindoln Street and what is now Seward Street, about where Service Transfer building is (across from the White Elephant shop). View is looking south, toward the church. Taken in 1868 by Eadweard Muybridge, from the Online Archives of California from the Bancroft Library, University of California Berkeley.

Poverty in Sitka was so bad that the Army was giving rations to nearly half of the Russians in Sitka, to prevent starvation. A sign of the desperation is the shocking total of 37 of the Russian women listed as prostitutes in the 1870 census.

Why did Alaska not get the rush of immigration and investment like in other parts of the West? One reason was that it was not needed, because so much land was already available. The other reason was the economy: the main industry was the fur trade, which was not doing well, in part due to over hunting, but also due to the post-Civil War recession, the Long Depression of the 1870s, which extended to Europe as well.

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View of part of Sitka’s Village, from Japonski Island in 1868 by Eadweard Muybridge, from the Online Archives of California from the Bancroft Library, University of California Berkeley.

The fur trade and military, political and social relationships

The fur trade had been the dominant industry of the North West coast well before the Transfer, since the mid-1780s. Native people were producers, but the big profits were as middlemen, controlling access by other Natives to trade goods.

Epidemics

A major impact of international trade was epidemics. Smallpox swept the coast around 1775, 1802, 1836-37, and 1862, each time killing a large proportion of the population affected, even entire villages. It would be hard to overestimate the impact of epidemics; depopulation was probably the major factor in the defeat of indigenous people across the Americas.

The lucrative sea otter trade was pretty much over by 1820. The Russians established New Archangel in 1804, but due to chronic shortages of personnel and resources, never really controlled more than the immediate site of Sitka. The Russians purchased furs from the Tlingit, and also tons of food like halibut and venison. They employed Tlingit people and many Russians had relationships with or married Tlingit women.

An illustration of this complex relationship was when in 1831 the Company extended the fence around New Archangel, and one benefit, according to the governor at the time, was to keep the Tlingit from selling rum to the Russians.

When a Russian governor allowed relations to deteriorate in the early 1850s, he was censured and removed. But his neglect of diplomacy led to a Tlingit attack on the fort in 1855, in which five or six Russians were killed and dozens wounded. The Russian authorities had to pay attention to diplomacy, and regularly paid Natives for injury done by Russians, even when accidental.

The Hudson’s Bay Company began expanding into the coastal region from the 1830s, and leased trading rights and for a time, a fort from the Russians at Wrangell, where the Russians had to intervene diplomatically between the HBC and the Tlingit.

The Tlingit clans who controlled trade routes to the interior, at the Stikine River (Wrangell) and the Chilkat (Haines area), were wealthy and powerful players in the regional fur economy. Clans defended their rights by forcing the Hudson’s Bay Company to abandon trading posts up the Stikine River in 1838, at Taku in 1842, and above Chilkat on the Yukon in 1852.

Sitka from Coast Pilot

Sitka showing the Village and the stockade. This was in the first Coast Pilot, published in 1869, from a drawing made in 1867 aboard the USS Lincoln. Images courtesy of the NOAA Central Library and John Cloud.

In the 1850s and 60s, more and more British and Americans were coming into the Northwest. Tlingit people traveled to Puget sound to trade, and to work for, and interact with the white settlers, as well as with other tribes. In the mid-1850s, thousands of “Northern Indians” including Heiltsuk, Haida, Tsimshian, and Tlingit people gathered each year at Fort Victoria. While in the 1840s Tlingit sold sea otter pelts to the Russians, after 1851, they took furs the thousand miles to Victoria to trade.

In British America the British Navy enforced “gunboat diplomacy” on coastal tribes, and in the United States, it was equally violent, as Native people were forced onto reservations. Russian America was a de facto haven of Native control.

In 1856, Tlingit people from Kake on the beach at Port Gamble, in Washington, were ordered to leave, did not, and the USS Mississippi fired on them, killing 27, including an important clan leader. The survivors asked for compensation from authorities but did not get any. The following year, relatives made the voyage back to Puget Sound, and killed the Collector of Customs at Whidbey Island, as someone with comparable status to their clan leader, and returned to Russian America.

By the 1860s the Russian American Company, in spite of their efforts, still dependent on the fur trade, was losing money, and were concerned that Americans would swarm into Alaska as they had into the American West, both factors in their decision to cede their claims in 1867.

What changed, for Tlingit with the Transfer?

On one side of the stockade, the Russians, formerly dependent on the Russian American Company, were starving. On the other side, Tlingit weren’t starving, but were losing ground economically. This seems to refute the myth that subsistence, living off the land, was enough. In this period there was nothing keeping them from fishing and hunting, and yet they were complaining of poverty by the end of the decade. American traders aggressively displaced Tlingit from what trade there was. In an 1870 report to Congress, Frank Mahoney, a Sitka businessman, wrote that on Kuiu and Kupreanof, the Natives “catch some furs, . . . , besides trading with some of their neighbors. Their trade has fallen off considerably since the occupation of the Territory by the Americans. They formerly were in the habit of getting their trading goods from small crafts from Victoria, but at present the Indians north, south, east, for two hundred miles, either come to Sitka or get their wants supplied by the small crafts that load or are owned by Sitka merchants.”

Indigenous trade in the 1870s centered on Port Simpson, and at various times Customs Collectors considered imposing duties on goods coming in by canoe, but they did not enforce it, maybe because of the relatively small quantity and the hassle.

It was gold prospectors, backed by the military, who broke the Tlingit trade monopolies, first on the Stikine, then on the Chilkat routes.

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The Customs House and Barracks. The Barracks are about where the current City offices (old Post Office) is now. This is looking toward the wharf, the current Petro Marine fuel dock. Taken in 1868 by Eadweard Muybridge, from the Online Archives of California from the Bancroft Library, University of California Berkeley.

What changed, politically, for Tlngit people?

The only law in the Army period was the 1868 Treasury Act, which established the Customs Service in Alaska. The Army had the responsibility of government, but no legal authority. There were so few immigrants, that Congress ignored Alaska. Civil government would have been expensive; as it was, the costs of supporting the Army and the Customs Service, and the monthly steamer, cost more the government got back from customs. And, America was in a depression.

The Army’s biggest concern was always keeping alcohol from Native people. (This would be a paper in itself.) When there was a ban on alcohol importation, there was a rise in distilling, by Natives and non-Natives, with molasses imported by the barrel. (You might know that the word “hootch” comes from the product made in Xootsnoow, or Angoon.) Again and again, Army commanders ask for some definition of their role.

When the Army commander in 1874 sent alcohol sellers to Portland for trial, the judge decided he did not have authority to jail civilians, and threw out the case, which led to one of the traders suing the Army commander for unlawful arrest.

Tlingit made threats, but no organized resistance

Right after the Transfer, Kiksadi Clan leader, Mikael Kooxx’aan, initially refused to take down the Russian flag in front of his house. American accounts tell how the Tlingit, perhaps Kooxx’aan, complained that even though they had allowed the Russians to stay in their territory, they did not intend them to give it to anyone who came along. Tlingit leaders from other kwaans, when they met with General Davis to invite trade, told General Jeff Davis the same thing, that they did not recognize American claims.

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Sitka from Aleutski Island in 1868 by Eadweard Muybridge, from the Online Archives of California from the Bancroft Library, University of California Berkeley.

Kake War

Tlingit law requires compensation for an injury or death, even if it is accidental. Traditionally, this was a life for a life, of equal status, but throughout the North West Coast, this was commonly negotiated in material compensation.

In early 1869, an Army sentry killed men leaving Sitka by canoe. This was following an incident when General Davis entertained clan leaders at New Year’s 1869. Chilkat Kaagwaantaan clan leader Koh Klux, or Colcheka in Jeff Davis’s rendering, was insulted by a guard when he went through the stockade gate, he grabbed the soldier’s rifle and walked off with it. There was a violent confrontation when soldiers were sent in to apprehend him, and two Tlingit men were killed and a soldier badly wounded. Koh Klux gave himself up, and General Davis had him put in jail. There was an order following this incident that people couldn’t leave Sitka, but this apparently was not in effect when a sentry killed some men who were leaving.

Relatives of the men, from Kake, went to General Davis about compensation, but he repeatedly refused to work with them. These relatives then killed two Euro-Americans, who were camping at what is now called Murder Cove on Admiralty Island.

This led to the so-called “Kake War” in 1869, the first of three incidents in which the U.S. military attacked Alaska Native villages, when the USS Saginaw shelled three villages and burned all the houses but one to the ground, a total of 28 clan houses, many of them 30 or 40 feet square. They also destroyed canoes.

The Kake incident was repeated at Wrangell, later in 1869, after soldiers killed two Tlingit men, after one of them assaulted a woman at the fort. When the victims’ father retaliated by killing a white merchant, the Army shelled the village of Kaachx an.áak’w, then when he gave himself up, summarily tried and hanged him.

The Americans did not always treat the Natives unfairly. One of the deaths at Sitka in 1869, of a Chilkat man, was compensated by a merchant, Frank Louthan, who paid in blankets. He not only wanted to prevent violence, but the Chilkat refused to come to Sitka and trade until it was resolved. General Davis himself, later in 1869, when an Army policeman shot and killed a Tlingit youth, paid the family, to prevent a white person being killed. The Army punished petty criminals regardless of race, putting them in jail.

There was never any organized resistance, and the Army was never afraid of the Tlingit. The brutal retaliation was to put down “insolence,” – again and again you see references to a “saucy” or “insolent” Tlingit leader – to demonstrate the overwhelming dominance of the United States.

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Sitka from Noow Tlein/Castle Hill in 1868 by Eadweard Muybridge, from the Online Archives of California from the Bancroft Library, University of California Berkeley.

Indian Wars and Racial Stereotype

The most striking thing in reading documents from this period is the virulent stereotype of Natives, as “savages.” This was the era of Manifest Destiny, the height of the Indian Wars, and the height of racist justification for taking Native lands:

Natives are passive and lazy. They are shrewd, greedy, treacherous, brutal, and untrustworthy. And yet every American observer records experiences and interactions that contradict every aspect of this portrayal. The heart of the stereotype is that Native culture is so “primitive” that mere “contact” with the “civilized” culture, especially alcohol, breaks it. This stereotype lays the blame for Native poverty on Natives themselves and their inadequate culture.

I believe there were three main factors, in the Tlingit loss of power over this decade: the declining fur trade, and being pushed from their central role in it. The second factor is deliberate subjugation by the US military and officials, driven by racial stereotype. The third was the high mortality from introduced diseases, exacerbated by poverty.

I believe that the Transfer brought an acceleration, of what was already under way in the Pacific Northwest before 1867.

Indian Village 1878

After 1877: Army pulls out, Navy comes in

The Army pulled out of Alaska in June, 1877. The US government was cutting back on the size of the military, and they needed all available men for the Nez Perce War. Sitka Tlingit immediately began to take apart the stockade, to salvage the contents and occupy government buildings, to assert their right to be on the other side whenever they wanted, and even demanded and got compensation from a merchant for a death.

Alaska was left to the Treasury Department, which in Sitka consisted of a Collector of Customs. There were only three Revenue Cutters on the entire West Coast, and one of those had to patrol the fur seal grounds. Alcohol imports were banned, but there was no law to control molasses or to allow destruction of stills, even if there had been a police force to do it. From August to November 1878, Portland merchants shipped 4,889 gallons of molasses to Sitka.

In 1879, the non-Native Sitkans, claiming they were afraid of a Tlingit attack, sent to Victoria for a British warship for protection. The alleged threats were by Kiksadi leader Katlian, demanding compensation (and wages owed) for the deaths of five Kiksadi men working on a whaler. The HMS Osprey responded, and the government stationed a U.S. Navy ship at Sitka.

In 1879, the commander of the USS Jamestown found 360 U.S. citizens living at Sitka, of whom 34 had been born in the United States.

Sitka by DeGroff

Sitka by Edward DeGroff, looking toward the wharf. “Baranof’s Castle” is on the left.

Increasing Economic Activity

But by the end of the 1870s, the national economic depression was over. The first canneries were built at Old Sitka and at Klawock, in 1878.

More visitors started to come in the late 1870s, and the Pacific Steamship Line had the first tourist cruise to Glacier Bay in 1882.

A large gold strike in 1880 at what is now Juneau put Alaska on the map.

These new industries, however, had limited opportunities for Tlingit to participate, and, backed by the government, they took Native land and resources.

Tlingit still suffered devastating losses to disease, in common with other impoverished groups in America, even as other Americans were seeing dramatically increased lifespans.

Missionaries

The first Protestant missionaries in southeast Alaska were Tsimshian Natives, at Wrangell during the Cassiar gold rush in 1873. Presbyterian Sheldon Jackson took this opportunity to send missionaries and teachers to Wrangell, then to Sitka in 1878.

From the earliest days of American occupation, Tlingit leaders asked authorities for schools. In 1879 naturalist John Muir and Presbyterian missionary S. Hall Young reported that every village they visited, with “but one or two exceptions” was interested in missions and schools, having heard of the work of William Duncan, at Metlakatla, in Canada.

The Tsimshian Christian community of Metlakatla was the most famous, and there were also Methodist missions. The major mission sites had sawmills, and there was even a cannery at Metlakatla, and an enormous church and new frame-style houses.

The invitation to missionaries by the Tlingit could have been in part to get sawmills and new, prestigious, frame-style houses, and to regain economic ground.

Anthropologist Aurel Krause visited the Tlingit at Chilkat in 1882, and reported that “after they had gone to church for half a year and sent their children to school, went to the missionary and complained that they had not been rewarded for their virtue and had not received boards to build their houses as the Tsimshian had.”

This is not to say that the Tsimshian or Tlingit were not sincere, but economic opportunity was probably part of the attraction of Protestant Christianity.

Some of the earliest students at Sitka included young men of standing in Tlingit society. The Sitka mission saw rapid success because of the early support of certain Tlingit leaders, and the dedication and drive of the first students.

Boys 1883 Sitka School

Students in the Presbyterian school at Sitka. Rudolph Walton, Kawootk’, may be the young man in the front, second from left. Photo from the Presbyterian Historical Society, Sheldon Jackson Collection, on the Internet Archives (www.archive.org).

The Choice

The missions promised empowerment, but operated on the same stereotype the military had, that Tlingit culture was a problem. They believed they were helping Native people by getting rid of Native culture and language. Native people who joined the Presbyterians made a deliberate choice. But in spite of their sacrifice, Native Presbyterians were still subject to racial bias, poverty, and high rates of early death.

The Shelling of Angoon

In 1882, the Revenue Cutter Corwin destroyed most of the village of Angoon, over a protest by Angoon Tlingit demanding compensation from a whaling company for an accidental death. In contrast to the shelling of Kake in 1869, which received little attention, the destruction of Angoon was condemned in Congress and in American newspapers (although Angoon residents did not receive an apology until a century later).

This incident, and Sheldon Jackson’s influence, led to the 1884 Organic Act, Alaska’s first government, 17 years after Alaska became American. Sheldon Jackson’s influence privileged Christian missions, and the U.S. government even provided monetary support for mission schools until 1894. They excluded the Russian Orthodox Church, which Protestants considered decadent and superstitious. Nevertheless, by the late 1880s, the Russian Orthodox church at Sitka grew rapidly with Native converts. This could be because this church allowed more Native control than the Presbyterians did, and, who knows, possibly because of the limits of what the Protestants could deliver as far as economic mobility.

Sitka by Merrill

E. W. Merrill photograph of Sitka Channel and the Village in the 1900s. E. W. Merrill collection, Sitka National Historical Park.

The dynamics of the decade of 1867-1877 led to the Alaska we know today. High rates of death, subjugation by the government, and economic marginalization – all driven by the stereotype of the weakness of Native culture – put enormous, sometimes insurmountable, obstacles in the path of Native peoples’ success.

Alaska Natives were not citizens until 1924. Schools were not integrated in Sitka until 1949, and aboriginal rights to land and resources was not addressed until 1971. Native languages, technology and history are still not seen as valuable in most public schools.

It’s clear, looking at the history, that problems the Native population has now are not because of anything about them other than what happened to this population, when they were defined a certain way, as primitive and uncivilized.

And yet the stereotype persists today, that there is something about Natives themselves that keeps them from succeeding. Seeing this stereotype in its full-blown form in the 19th century, you can’t help seeing it throughout our culture now. By learning about our history we will bring this stereotype, the false linkage between Native culture and social dysfunction, into the light of day, and abolish it for good.

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Sea otter, 1806

Sea otter, an image published (in black and white) in The World: or, the Present State of the Universe, being A General and Complete collection of Modern Voyages and Travels. Selected, arranged, and digested, from the narratives of the latest and most authentic travellers and navigators. By Cavenshish Pelham, Esq. This book was published in London in 1806. This colored image is from Ancestry Images.com.

I put together the following for a Sitka Maritime Heritage Society boat cruise, as background for a presentation by Jerry Deppa about how sea otters came to be reintroduced to Sitka Sound.

First, picture the northwest of North America 300 years ago: populated by many distinct indigenous nations, with thousands of years of complex histories, wars, trade, and customs. North American indigenous societies, and technology, were far from static, and far from passive, far from the stereotype of simple, timeless people living on natural bounty. In fact, Native people actively managed important resources, and social systems and language are as complex and “advanced” as those of Europe.

Sea otter were valued by North Americans for their rich fur, and were eaten.i Sea otter are a kind of weasel, but spend their lives at sea. Unlike other marine mammals, sea otter do not have a layer of fat under their skin, but are insulated from the cold ocean water with dense, soft fur, with 6,000 hairs per square inch. This makes it the most luxurious fur in the world.

A robust trade network on the NW Coast flourished in localized specialty products such as hooligan oil, baskets, red cedar canoes, and seal oil.ii Regional trade came together at a huge annual market at The Dalles on the Columbia River.iii

This was also the European Age of Exploration, and, of global trade: In 1778 Captain Cook, on his last voyage, spent time working on his ships in Nootka Sound. While there, they traded for some sea otter garments. In 1779, they made a huge profit on them in trade at Canton, China.iv

Cook’s journals were published in the mid 1780s, and the rush was on.v

Soon American ships dominated, nearly all out of Boston.vi Trade moved from Nootka Sound (on Vancouver Island) as sea otter were hunted out, and, as traders tried to get closer to the sources of the skins (to bypass Native middlemen): Sitka was the hot spot in the 1790s.vii While sometimes trade was accompanied by violence, it was mostly civil as shrewd Yankees met their match in shrewd and experienced indigenous traders. Elaborate trading protocol developed.viii

British traders were handicapped by Hudson’s Bay Company monopoly on NW Coast, and East India Company monopoly in China, which meant they had to pay to play. And wars raged on the European Continent during the peak years of the trade, which further handicapped European traders.ix

Americans alone sold an average of 14,000 sea otter pelts/year at Canton 1805-1812. The peak years for profits were 1790-1810.x

Over the next several years, increasing competition and fewer furs made the trade less profitable. The trade moved to land furs and other products, and ventures like supplying the Russians at Sitka. In the late 1830s the Hudson’s Bay Company, trading out of forts on land, completely took over the fur trade on the Northwest Coast, as well as supplying the Russians.xi

Impact on United States: After the Revolutionary War, the sea otter skin trade was a fortunate replacement for lost British markets. Sea otter furs were the only thing Americans had in any quantity that the Chinese wanted.xii They traded for porcelain, silks, tea, and profited in each of the three transactions: trading furs for guns and other goods with the Natives; trading Chinese luxury goods for sea otter furs; and then their biggest mark up was selling Chinese goods on the domestic market.xiii Profits from the North West Trade produced some of the capital for American industrialization.xiv

Every one of these hundreds of thousands of furs was purchased from Northwest Coast Natives – which brought great wealth into the Northwest Coast indigenous economy. There was an explosion of art. The Native middlemen profited the most, as guns, ammunition, beads, fabric, iron etc. were traded far into the interior for more furs, which in turn were traded for further profit with Americans and Europeans.xv

But – international trade also brought devastating smallpox epidemics: in the early 1770s an epidemic was brought by a Spanish explorer; further outbreaks in 1795 and 1811, and a devastating epidemic in1836-37, plus other diseases such as syphilis and tuberculosis, killed more than half the people originally here.xvi It is hard to overestimate the impact the decimation of the Native population must have had. What could it have been like, to see a third, or a half, of your community sicken and die over a short period of time? It must have been traumatic, to lose children, parents, grandparents.

What was the impact on the North West Coast Natives? Wealth while it lasted, but, then the sea otter were gone; after that the trade was in land furs, which were not as profitable; by the 1830s changing fashions and social disruption in Europe meant there was a smaller market and lower prices; due to hunting pressure, there were fewer fur-bearing mammals of any sort, and the Hudson’s Bay Company was relentless in eliminating the middle man, meaning less of the profit for indigenous entrepreneurs.

The Russians:

The Siberian fur trade of 1600s and 1700s brought Russian fur traders sweeping across Siberia, hunting and trapping animals but mainly demanding “tribute” or taxes to the Czar in the form of furs.

In 1742 the survivors of Vitus Bering’s last voyage returned to Siberia with sea otter furs. Like Cook’s men 30 years later, they discovered how valuable sea otter furs were in the Chinese market. Between 1743 and 1800 there were a hundred expeditions for furs to Alaska and the North Pacific islands. Over time, companies had to be bigger and take longer to go farther, as sea otter were exterminated closer to the Siberian mainland.xvii

Native people were much better at hunting than the Russians – so, the Russians forced Natives to hunt for them.

There were deadly confrontations,xviii and Russians forced Native labor not just for hunting, but providing food and equipment for the hunting expeditions and sustaining the Russians themselves. Devastating disease epidemics; taking people away from providing for their own needs; and violence caused the population of the Aleutians – people who had developed rich and unique technology and culture over thousands of years – to drop to only 20% of what it had been.

Merchant Grigorii Shelikov built the first permanent Russian fort, on Kodiak, in 1784. There were only a few companies left by that point. These companies consolidated in 1799 as the Russian American Company, with a charter by the Czar to govern Alaska.xix

So, by the 1790s, the Russians were also moving into southeastern Alaska, as they ran out of sea otters farther west. They brought fleets of hundreds of Native hunters in baidarkas (kayaks).xx

Alexander Baranov – who had been Shelikov’s manager, then became the first Governor of the Russian American colonies – wrote that Southeastern Alaskan sea otters belonged to Russia, and that the Americans and British, trading with the Tlingit, had no rights to them.xxi

In 1794 the Russian ship Phoenix (built at Seward) with 170 baidarkas took 2000 otter just at Yakutat.xxii The first hunting expedition to the Sitka area was in 1796.xxiii

Over the years 1797-1821 Russians took average of 3000 sea otter a year;xxiv in those first years, most of those were from southeastern Alaska.

Alexander Baranov established a fort at Old Sitka, about seven miles north of present-day Sitka, in 1799.xxv It seems remarkable that they could establish a base for hunting sea otter, which would have diverted the profits from those skins from the Tlingit, to the Russians.

In 1799, 115 Native hunters working for the Russians died from paralytic shellfish poisoning from mussels at what is now called Poison Cove. In spite of this tragedy, they took 1800 furs that season.xxvi

In 1800 they took 2000 sea otter, and in1801 4000 sea otter, just in the Sitka area. Sitka’a harbor also had various British and American ships trading from the Tlingit at this time.xxvii

The Russian-allied hunters taking thousands of sea otters from the Tlingit waters, in addition to insults and abuses, led a multi-clan alliance of Tlingit to destroy the fort in 1802.xxviii They salvaged the stored sea otter pelts, and went to Captain Barber on the ship Unicorn, according to him to demand surrender of the survivors he had on board. Barber instead forced the Tlingit to turn over the pelts and the captives they held, which he then took to Kodiak and gave back to Baranov in exchange for 10,000 rubles (in furs) for his trouble.xxix

Sitka, or New Archangel, was established on the site of Noow Tlein, now downtown Sitka, by the Russians in 1804, following the Battle of Sitka at Kaasdaa Héen, or Indian River. This battle might have gone the other way, but, the Russians had the naval ship Neva, and the defending Kiksadi lost canoe of gunpowder and several young leaders in an accidental explosion. Baranov had also retaliated against other clans who had participated in the 1802 sacking of the Old Sitka fort, which may have discouraged potential reinforcements.xxx

The Kiksadi clan and their relations made a strategic retreat, but, this was the end of Russian hunting in southeastern Alaska, although Baranov reported 500 furs from 1804-early 1805.

At the newly-established fort of New Archangel, the Russians and the 700 Native people working for them suffered scurvy, and near starvation the first winter; in 1805 the Russians bought the American ship Juno, which they sent to California the winter of 1805-06 for supplies from the Spanish.

Fast forward: sea otter were largely hunted out by 1820, and by the early 1830s Russians saw they were driving sea otter and fur seal (they had discovered the Pribilof Islands,where the animals breed) to extinction, so began conservation in areas they controlled, in western Alaska. Through moratoriums on certain areas, they built sea otter back up.xxxii

In southeastern Alaska, the Russians purchased sea otter furs from the Tlingit. The average number of sea otter pelts sold by the Russian American Company 1842-1860 – hunted by Company employees in Western Alaska, and purchased from Tlingit in southeastern Alaska – was 1,347/year.xxxiii

Of that total, the Tlingit sold an average of 150 sea otter a year to Russians, but after 1851, Tlingit took them all to the newly-established port of Victoria to trade, because they got better goods than the Russians had.xxxiv

The Russian American Company was dependent on fur trade, which, after the 1810s, was mainly land furs. After the sea otter hunted down, the fur trade was not that great. The Russian American Company tried to diversify, but couldn’t. Expenses grew as the Company supported retirees and widows, and it was always expensive to supply the colonies. Sad state of the fur trade part of why they sold out.xxxv

In 1867 Russians sold their claims to the Americans. Fur hunting and trading was wide open. Fur seals were very nearly wiped out in the international frenzy for profit.

Summary:

From 1780s through the 1870s the fur trade was pretty much the only economic activity in Southeastern Alaska. After the 1830s, the fur trade was not that great, with declining takes, changing fashions,xxxvi then the American and European recession of the 1870s.

This is what the incoming Americans saw – the impact of repeated, severe disease epidemics over the previous century and a half, and poverty due to the poor state of the fur trade over the decades before and immediately after the Transfer. The Tlingit economy was probably made worse by the pullout of the Russians, who seem to have bought more food and other items from the Tlingit than the Americans did.

The impoverished state of the Tlingit in 1867 fed into stereotypes and prejudice against Natives, and justification for denying citizenship, and for excluding Natives from civil and economic opportunities.

 

In addition to the sources in the end notes, other useful books include Ilya Vinkovetsky, Russian America: An Overseas Colony of a Continental Empire, 1804-1867, Oxford University Press, 2011,

and Kenneth N. Owens with Alexander Yu. Petrov, Empire Maker: Aleksandr Baranov and Russian Colonial Expansion into Alaska and Northern California, University of Washington, 2016.

iJames Gibson, Otter Skins, Boston Ships, and China Goods: The Maritime Trade of the Northwest Coast, 1785-1841 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1992) 7-8

iiGibson, 8-11

iiiGibson, 10

ivGibson, 22

vGibson, 23

viGibson, 38

viiGibson, 135

viiiGibson, 110-126

ixGibson, 24

xGibson, 315

xiGibson, 79-80

xiiGibson, 36-38

xiiiGibson, 58

xivGibson, 292

xvGibson, 270

xviGibson, 272-277

xviiGibson, 12-13

xviii Petr Aleksandrovich Tikhmenev, A History of the Russian American Company, trans. and ed. Richard A. Pierce and Alton S. Donnelly (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1978), 10

xixTikhmenev, 14

xxGibson, 13

xxi Dauenhauer, Nora Marks, Richard Dauenhauer, and Lydia T. Black, editors. Anóoshi Lingít Aaní Ká / Russians in Tlingit America: The Battles of Sitka, 1802 and 1804. Seattle and London: University of Alaska Press and Juneau, Alaska: Sealaska Heritage Institute, 2008, 140

xxiiTikhmenev, 35

xxiiiTikhmenev, 45

xxivTikhmenev, 153

xxvTikhmenev, 61

xxviIbid.

xxviiGibson, 14

xxviiiTikhmenev, 65

xxixIbid.

xxxDauenhauer, 219-325 (Baranov burning villages, 249)

xxxiiTikhmenev, 206-206, 235

xxxiiiGolovin, Captain-Lieutenant Pavel Nikolaevich, The End of Russian America: Captain P. N. Golovin’s Last Report, 1862. Basil Dmytrishyn and E. A. P. Crownhart-Vaughan, translators and introduction (Portland, Oregon: Oregon Historical Society, 1979), 164

xxxivGolovin, 154

xxxvTikhmenev, 215

xxxviGibson, xi

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By Rebecca Poulson

Presented at the Alaska Historical Society Annual Meeting, Cordova, Alaska 2015

I have been working on the history of the Sheldon Jackson School and College, which began as a Presbyterian mission in Sitka in 1878.

I wanted to understand what was behind its rapid establishment and early growth, and why some of the early students had important positions in Tlingit clans.

I had assumptions about why the mission might have been attractive: because of industry taking Native land and resources, and because of alcohol.

But, as I reread sources, it didn’t fit. Industrial takings of land for fishing and mining did not get under way until the later 1880s, after the school was well established, and alcohol abuse, I learned, is a symptom, not a cause of loss.

What was the mechanism of the weakening of Tlingit control of southeastern Alaska? And, what was it about missions that made them attractive at this time? Obviously I can’t answer these questions, but I want to map out the context in a little finer grain. I am relying on the work of many others, and am grateful to them.

The first major impact of European colonization on the North West Coast was through the maritime fur trade, starting in 1785. Hundreds of thousands of sea otter pelts were sold in Canton between 1785 and 1820, nearly all of these purchased directly from North West Coast Natives. Guns, wealth, and epidemics led rapid, often violent, change, but did not affect Native control of the region.1

Meanwhile, beginning in the mid-1700s, Russians came from Siberia and worked their way along the Aleutian Chain and into the Gulf of Alaska, coercing Native labor to hunt sea otter for their furs, with a devastating impact on Native people and sea mammals alike.

But by the time the Russians had wiped out the otters in the Aleutians and central Gulf of Alaska, and came to southeastern Alaska (they established their first fort in Sitka Sound in 1799, it was destroyed in 1802), Sitka Sound was already a regular port of call for American and British ships trading for sea otter pelts with the indigenous Tlingit.

Russians managed to establish a fort at Sitka in 1804, but, by then catches were already going down, and the sea otter were soon depleted. This plus resistance from the Tlingit, but mostly the lack of resources and manpower, meant that Russians never controlled southeastern Alaska, in spite of their occupation of Sitka from 1804 until 1867.2

The Russian settlement depended on southeast Alaska Natives for food, and bought tons of halibut, potatoes, berries and game. But more than that, they had to respect Tlingit law: a wrong by one clan to another had to be compensated. Classically, this was a life for a life, of equivalent importance. In dealings between North West Coast Natives and Europeans, this was modified to material compensation.3

When a Russian governor allowed relations to deteriorate in the mid 1850s, he was removed. But his neglect led to a Tlingit attack on the fort in 1855, when five or six Russians were killed and dozens wounded.4 Russian authorities regularly paid Natives for injury done by Russians.5 Overall, the Russians depended on diplomacy, not force, to stay in southeastern Alaska. In 1847 Russian American Company officials even mediated a dispute between the Hudson’s Bay Company fort at Wrangell and local Tlingit.6

And, in spite of their efforts, the Russian Orthodox missionaries could not interest many Tlingit people in conversion.7

Contrast this with the situation in 1879. Tlingit leaders were asking for Christian missions, in spite of not being treated with anything like regard for their rank.

In 1879 the naturalist John Muir and Presbyterian missionary S. Hall Young traveled in northern southeastern Alaska, to missionize and to explore glaciers.

With “but one or two exceptions” Muir reports that people at villages, including Kake and Hoonah, were interested in missions and schools, having heard of the work of William Duncan, at Metlakatla, in British Columbia.8

Muir and Young were transported by Tlingit men, converts to Christianity, including T’aawyaat, a leader of the Naanyaa.aayi clan of the Stikeen (Wrangell) area.

It is obvious from Young’s writings, in which he calls them their “Indian guides,” and describes T’aawyaat as “noble but simple,” that he does not consider him as an equal, much less with respect. 9

Muir and Young were treated like honored guests, and each visit ended with a request for missions and schools.

First of all, what had happened to undermine Tlingit control of southeastern Alaska?

One factor was probably direct military force. Alaska was a military Department, then a District, until 1884 – full 17 years of military rule.

This military was hardened by the recent Civil War, but more than that by the Indian Wars in the lower 48, then at their height. In the fall of 1868, an Army sentry killed men leaving Sitka by canoe. Mistakes by the military – never punished – led to the deaths.

Relatives of the men, from Kake, went to see General Davis about compensation, but were denied. These relatives then killed two Euro-Americans, at what is now called Murder Cove on Admiralty Island.

This resulted in the so-called “Kake War” in 1869, when the USS Saginaw shelled the three villages and burned all the houses but one to the ground, a total of 28 clan houses, many of them 30 or 40 feet square, and destroyed canoes, as well.10

Back in 1857, Tlingit from Kake had killed a white settler on Whidbey Island, after an incident in Washington Territory in which a Kake clan leader had been killed, and American authorities had refused compensation.11

So this prior act was in the background of the military’s brutal response. They often did not hold their own people to account for instigating violence. They sought to punish Native individuals, then, if they could not, to punish the entire group, to teach them “that we do not fear them.” This was the unfortunate pattern of the Indian Wars in the lower 48 states, and of the British Navy, as well. In short, the American military, unlike the Russians, did not rely on diplomacy, did not respect Tlingit law, but relied on force.12

The Kake incident was repeated at Wrangell, later in 1869, when soldiers killed two Tlingit men. When the victims’ father retaliated by killing a white merchant, the Army shelled the village of Ḵaachx̱ an.áakʼw, then when he gave himself up, summarily “tried” and hanged him.13

Awareness of impact of colonization in B.C. and Washington State

People from southeastern Alaska regularly traveled to Victoria and Puget Sound and would have been abundantly aware of the onslaught of settlement and gold miners, backed up by military force, in British Columbia and in Washington Territory.

In the maritime fur trade days, maritime merchants left traditional networks intact. But with the trade turning to land furs, the Hudson’s Bay Company worked relentlessly to displace Native middlemen, building forts from the early 1830s, to deal directly with fur suppliers.

Then in southern coastal British Columbia, from the early 1850s the government worked to settle colonists and develop industry, with military backing, that included destruction of villages and canoes.14

In Washington Territory in the mid-1850s, all Natives were forced onto reservations.15 While the Euro-American population was not large, they were aggressive in seizing land for settlement, mining and potential commercial development. The mid 1850s through the 1860s saw multiple violent interactions between Natives and the military, both British and American, in coastal British Columbia and North West Washington. In 1856 the USS Massachusetts fired on a camp of Natives at Port Gamble, killing dozens, including people from southeastern Alaska.16

In a way, southeastern Alaska under the Russians looks almost like a haven of indigenous control, in the 1850s and 1860s.

Economic displacement

A third factor – in addition to direct military action, and knowing what was coming – may have been displacement from trade.

During the maritime fur trade years and under the Russians, Tlingit were not only providers and consumers of goods, but were middlemen in trade with other Natives. Key were the trade routes to the interior at the Stikine River and the Chilkat and Chilkoot, which were tightly held monopolies.

But also, throughout southeastern Alaska, the clans who controlled trade with the Russians at Sitka (and Russian trading vessels) and the British at Fort Simpson and Fort Victoria, could profit by controlling trade to other Natives.

With American entrepreneurs coming in, they may have lost that niche: American traders were everywhere, buying and selling direct to the consumer.

It could be that it was not alcohol itself, so much as the fact that the market was “flooded,” so to speak, by white traders, that had such an impact on Tlingit economy.

This had probably already started before the transfer. Tlingit control of the Stikine River, which they had defended in 1838 by burning down a Hudson’s Bay Company fort inland17, was weakened by an 1862 gold strike in the interior, then destroyed in the 1872 Cassiar gold rush.

British and American smugglers evaded the Russians to trade in southeast. But the Transfer opened the floodgates for American traders.

In an 1870 report to Congress, Frank Mahoney, a Sitka businessman, writes that on Kuiu and Kupreanof, the Natives “catch some furs, . . . , besides trading with some of their neighbors. Their trade has fallen off considerably since the occupation of the Territory by the Americans. They formerly were in the habit of getting their trading goods from small crafts from Victoria, but at present the Indians north, south, east, for two hundred miles, either come to Sitka or get their wants supplied by the small crafts that load or are owned by Sitka merchants.”18

In fact, American commercial interests were behind the acquisition of Alaska in the first place. Unlike the Oregon Territory, it was not desirable for settlement, farming and industry. Instead it was seen, and could be argued still is seen, as a place to be exploited for its resources, and – perhaps – as a market. American merchants knew of its whaling, maritime furs, and fishing potential, and probably its potential as a market, because they were already exploiting these fields when it was still Russian.

Why missions?

And finally, Tlingit people had strong trading and cultural ties with the Tsimshian people, and were well acquainted with the Tsimshian experience with missionaries.

Anglican missionary William Duncan came to Fort Simpson, now Lax-Kw’alaams, on the Skeena River, just south of the border with the United States, in 1856. At that time, the Hudson’s Bay Company fort was flanked by a Tsimshian village and trading site.

Duncan gained a following that included clan leaders. Why were these people interested in what he offered? Canadian scholar Susan Neylan has researched how converts in the early days were able to keep their traditional status, and that literacy was seen as a valuable asset for leaders.19

Native interaction with missionaries changed over time, and the things that drove the first generation of converts were different for later people. The rapidly changing dynamics is what I would like to emphasize.

Then, Duncan and converts built a town at Metlakatla, previously a summer village and trading site, near Prince Rupert.

I think that the key features of his work were that at this new village, within a few years, thanks to mission funds, they had a sawmill and new frame houses; and, in the year after their moving, in 1862, a smallpox epidemic struck the coast. While hundreds died back at Fort Simpson (and thousands, up and down the coast), through inoculation and the isolation of infected individuals, only a few lives were lost at Metlakatla.20

In 1874 Methodist missionary Thomas Crosby arrived at Port Simpson. Like Duncan, he fought (unsuccessfully) against the taking of Native land; but more than that, established churches and schools in the villages, at the request of the residents. His mission at Port Simpson was itself at the urging of Tsimshian people who had converted to Methodism at Victoria a few years before. 21

These mission efforts included sawmills and eventually a cannery at Metlakatla. In this way, Duncan’s and Crosby’s missions promised to bring Tsimshian people some measure of economic empowerment, that they had enjoyed prior to British colonization. So the desire for missions by the Tlingit, since it was based on the model of William Duncan, could have been driven in part by an effort to get sawmills and other commercial operations of their own, and new, prestigious, frame-style houses.

Anthropologist Aurel Krause visited the Tlingit at Chilkat in 1882, and reported that “after they had gone to church for half a year and sent their children to school, went to the missionary and complained that they had not been rewarded for their virtue and had not received boards to build their houses as the Tsimshian had.” 22

Origin of the Sitka Mission

Among the earliest missionaries in Alaska were a group of Methodist Tsimshian Natives at Wrangell, during the Cassiar gold rush in the mid-1870s. A letter written by a soldier in 1877, pleading for missionaries, to continue the work, came into Presbyterian missionary Sheldon Jackson’s hands.

Sheldon Jackson parleyed that letter, by getting it published in the Chicago Tribune, and in his newspaper the Rocky Mountain Presbyterian – later called the Home Missions Monthly – into funds for his project.

He brought missionary Amanda McFarland to Wrangell, where she started a girls’ home. Then in 1878 he sent young missionary John Brady and teacher Fannie Kellogg to Sitka, where they started a day school, although Brady left that same year, and Kellogg went to Wrangell to marry S. Hall Young.

By this time, 1879, Tlingit people seem to have been desirous of missions, and especially schools, illustrated not only by the experience of Muir and Young and Mrs. McFarland, but by the success of the Sitka school, restarted in 1880, and the enthusiasm of the earliest group of students – who included young men of standing in Tlingit society.23

In 1879, Sheldon Jackson was passenger in a trading canoe to Port Simpson, where he wanted to visit the missions. This canoe came from Chilkat, and the clan leader it belonged to asked Jackson to send his people a missionary and schools. The man’s son, who would become Kawootk’, or Rudolph Walton, became one of the first students at the Sitka School. His family made the move to Sitka, and the entire family was baptized in the church.24

In 1879 Presbyterian missionary Alonzo Austin came to Sitka, and his daughter restarted the day school for Natives in 1880. She said later that she found such enthusiasm for English, that she started the school day with it, so students would come on time.

Soon some of the boys asked for permission to live at the school. They suffered hardships when their school building – the old Russian hospital – burnt down in January 1882 and they had to live in a drafty shed.

Then, after the Presbyterians acquired the current land for the mission, these young men, and Austin and others built their own large school building, dismantling an abandoned cannery, boating it 7 miles and hauling it up the beach.

Walton was to become a leader in the Kiks.adi clan, and another early student, Kaads’aatí, William Wells, was L’ooknax adi Clan heir. (A similar image, published in the memoir of a missionary school superintendent, is captioned – “As I might have lived – a chief among my people.”)25

All in all, Sheldon Jackson found a much more conducive environment for missions than he had found in the southwest United States. Native leaders were coming to him asking for missions and schools; important clans were sending their young leaders.

Success begets success; the early success of the school at Sitka begat more funds, and probably helped Sheldon Jackson in his quest for political influence in Washington, D. C.

Aftermath

While part of the attractiveness of the missions for Tlingit people could have been the possibility of economic empowerment, that was not part of the Presbyterian agenda. In fact, the Presbyterian mission at this time was explicitly the destruction of Native power, the clan system, society and culture. They wanted sober, Christian workers, but they saw them as occupying the lower levels in the economy.

Now this is pure speculation, but I wonder if the Cottages settlement, the model community on mission property founded in 1888, may have been instigated by Natives, hoping for industry they would control, on the model of Metlakatla. If so, they were disappointed.

Even by the mid 1880s, there seems to have been some disillusionment, leading to a lawsuit in 1885. Many families pulled their children from the school. By the late 1880s, the Russian Orthodox Church grew exponentially with Native converts, likely because this church allowed Native control.26

In southeastern Alaska, just as in Washington and in Canada, Native people faced gross discrimination and dispossession. They were discriminated against in law – in disputes with non-Natives, they were rarely backed up by authorities. They were not citizens, and could not get property for industry. They were paid less than non-Native workers. In this climate, any opportunity for gaining a foothold in the economy would have been attractive.

Peter Simpson, an early student from Metlakatla, had a boatbuilding shop at the Cottages. The boat in the center, the William, may be the boat of that name he built for Rudolph Walton.

Eventually, and indirectly, association with Sheldon Jackson school may have helped graduates to occupy an important place in the economy, through their domination of commercial salmon seining – running, owning and building boats, what Mark Jacobs, Jr. called the “historic ANB fleet.” But that’s another story.

1James Gibson, “The Maritime Trade of the North Pacific Coast” in William C. Sturtevant, ed. Handbook of North American Indians (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1988) vol. 4, History of Indian-White Relations, ed. Wilcomb E. Washburn, 375-390

2Kenneth N. Owens with Alexander Yu. Petrich, Empire Maker: Aleksandr Baranov and Russian Colonial Expansion into Alaska and Northern California (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 2015),Andrei Val’terovich Grinev, The Tlingit Indians in Russian America, 1741-1867 trans. Richard L. Bland and Keterina G. Solovjova (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2005),Katherine L. Arndt and Richard A. Pierce, A Construction History of Sitka, Alaska, as Documented in the Records of the Russian-American Company, 2nd Edition (Sitka, Alaska: Sitka National Historical Park, National Park Service under Cooperative Agreement with the Department of Anthropology, University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2003)Ilya Vinkovestsky, Russian America: An Overseas Colony of a Continental Empire, 1801-1867 (New York and London: Oxford University Press, 2014)

3George Thornton Emmons, The Tlingit Indians, edited with additions by Frederica de Laguna, Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History 70 (Vancouver and Toronto: Douglas and McIntyre, 1991) 46-53

4Arendt and Pierce, 192-194

5Arendt and Pierce, 137 (one example, taking Tlingit testimony, and compensating for the life of a slave in 1847)

6Grinev, 198

7Sergei Kan, Memory Eternal: Tlingit Culture and Russian Orthodox Christianity through Two Centuries (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1999), 25-89

8John Muir, Travels in Alaska (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1988), 105

9Samuel Hall Young, Alaska Days with John Muir (New York, Chicago, London and Edinburgh: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1915; reprint, Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith Books, 1990), 129 and throughout

10Zachary R. Jones, “’Search For and Destroy’: The US Army’s Relations with Alaska’s Tlingit Indians and the Kake War of 1869,” Ethnohistory 60, no. 1 (Winter 2013), 1-26Robert N. DeArmond and Richard A. Pierce, The USS Saginaw in Alaska Waters, 1867-68 (Kingston, Ontario and Fairbanks, Alaska: Limestone Press, 1997), 63-97

11DeArmond and Pierce, 91

12Robert M. Utley and Wilcomb E. Washburn, Indian Wars (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1977)Barry M. Gough, Gunboat Frontier: British Maritime Authority and Northwest Coast Indians, 1846-1890 (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1984)

13Zachary R. Jones, “The 1869 Bombardment of Ḵaachx̱ an.áakʼw from Fort Wrangell: The U.S. Army Response to Tlingit Law, Wrangell, Alaska” Sealaska Heritage Institute and National Park Service American Battlefield Protection Program, in collaboration with Wrangell Cooperative Association, City and Borough of Wrangell, 2015

14Gough, entire book

15Utley and Washburn, 179-183

16Gough, 51-147

17 Grinev, 196

18Frank Mahoney, “Letter from Frank Mahoney on the Indians and their trade in Eastern Alaska” Appendix F in Vincent Colyer, Bombardment of Wrangel, Alaska, Report of the Secretary of War, Secretary of the Interior, and Letter to the President (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1870), 20

19Susan Neylan, “Longhouses, Schoolroom, and Workers’ Cottages: Nineteenth Century Protestant Missions to the Tsimshian and the Transformation of Class Through Religion” Journal of the CHA 2000 New Series 11, 51-86

20Peter Murray, The Devil and Mr. Duncan (Victoria, British Columbia: Sono Nis Press, 1985)

21Clarence R. Bolt, “Crosby, Thomas,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 7, 2015, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/crosby_thomas_14E.html.

22Aurel Krause, The Tlingit Indians, Results of a Trip to the Northwest Coast of America and the Bering Straits trans. Erna Gunther (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1956), 230

23Ted C. Hinckley, Alaskan John G. Brady, Missionary, Businessman, Judge, and Governor, 1878-1918 (Miami, Ohio: Miami University, 1982) 25-73Don Craig Mitchell, Sold American, The Story of Alaska Natives and Their Land, 1867-1959 (Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press, 2003), 65-110A. E. Austin, “History of the Mission” The North Star 5 no. 12 December 1892 1-4

24Joyce Walton Shales, “Rudolph Walton: One Tlingit Man’s Journey Through Stormy Seas, Sitka, Alaska, 1867-1951” (Ph. D. diss., The University of British Columbia, 1998)

25Kan, 216

26Kan, 245-277

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Presented by Rebecca Poulson at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the Alaska Historical Society

Introduction: This is a fascinating group of people, whose choices and circumstances are at the heart of Alaskan history. My research only scratches the surface.

I’d like to thank everyone who has shared their stories and who has worked to document this history. See the bottom for written sources, but I’d also like to specially thank Mrs. Carol Feller Brady, the late Ellen Hope Hays, and Mr. Gil Truitt for sharing their memories, knowledge, and insights into this community and Harold Jacobs for sharing his knowledge of Tlingit genealogy and tradition. Without their generosity this history would be a closed book.

5

The school plat; the Cottages are at the bottom. Sheldon Jackson Collection, Alaska State Library Historical Collections

The Cottages was a model community for Christian Natives, former students of Sitka’s Presbyterian mission school. It was located on mission property at the edge of the Sitka National Historical Park, on Kelly and Metlakatla Streets. The first three homes were built in 1888. By 1889 there were 6, in 1900 9, 1910 15, 1920 18, 1930 17.

7

Photo Shop Studio photo of Sitka in 1928, showing the Cottages at far right, and the Indian Village on the left, separated by the town of Sitka

It was a tiny community of no more than 18 homes, and fewer than 70 residents; more of a neighborhood than a community. There were strong ties to the Village, where nearly all the rest of Sitka’s Native residents lived until well into the 20th century.

8

9

Sitka from the Western Harbor, from the 1869 Coast Pilot of Alaska, First Part.

Why was the Cottages founded? This requires looking back at the circumstances of the founding of the mission itself, in 1878.

In the mid 1780s to the 1810s, the maritime fur trade in sea otter pelts brought great wealth to the region without taking away indigenous control. By the mid-19th century, however, settlers, traders and miners, backed by military force, were aggressively displacing Native people in British Columbia and Washington Territory.

In Southeastern Alaska, the Russians did not have the ability to be aggressive toward the Tlingit. Instead they relied on diplomacy and engaged in mutually beneficial trade. Tlingit clans were major players in regional commerce.

After the 1867 Treaty of Cession, southeastern Alaska became the American frontier. Americans had the military might the Russians did not have. American traders displaced Natives from trade. I believe that it was this rapid destruction of the indigenous economy, under threat of force, that made missions attractive in the late 1870s, when they were not earlier.

Americans brought the belief that Natives are inherently inferior and must be subjugated for the good of society. Results of the treatment of Native people based on this narrative are then taken as evidence of their natural inferiority. This discriminatory cycle was probably behind why Native people wanted missions and schools, and ultimately, why, in spite of the sacrifices this group made, the settlers at the Cottages suffered much the same fate as other Native people.

10

The Sitka school began in earnest in 1880, and very soon had boarding students – a small group of young men and boys who asked to be allowed to live at the school. The mission laid claim to the present campus in 1882, and students and staff soon built a large dormitory and school building.

The school was this successful right from the start, in large part because of the desire of certain Tlingit leaders to send their children. Missionary Sheldon Jackson, who founded Alaska’s Presbyterian missions, was a prodigious fund raiser. He fictionalized how depraved Natives were before Christianity, but that would not have been effective without the clear evidence of success in the mission students, in the growing facilities, and especially in the Cottages.

11

Cottages families in front of Cottages Hall, around 1904. Collection Sitka National Historical Park.

cottages-ids

This is my effort at matching the names to the persons in the photo – no guarantees!

Starting left to right, front row – Eaton Hunter, Ralph Young, Don Cameron, John Cameron, Frank Price, Ben Peck, Tillie Howard, George Howard, unknown, Esther Cook, mary Cook, Tillie Wells, Bella Simpson, George Bartlett, Ruth Bartlett, David Howard (Middle?) Louis Simpson (boy?), Mrs. George Bartlett, Mrs. Albert James, Jean Wanamaker, Louisa Peck, Mrs. Maud Wells, Mary Simpson, John Newell, Lila Newell, John James

Mrs. Ralph Young (in white blouse?), Mrs. Elsie Newell, Mrs. John James, Mrs. John Willard (holding grand child), Mrs. Don Cameron, Mrs. Thomas Cooke, Mrs. George Howard, Mrs. Ray James (holding Ray Jr.), Albert James,

(Next row?) Edward Grant, Thomas Cooke, John E. Gamble,

Very top row? George Howard, Peter Simpson, John Willard, Willie Wells, Ray James Sr., Andrew J. Wanamaker, Cyrus E. Peck Sr. Identifications from publication The Voice of Brotherhood.

13

The Cottages Band, 1904. Alaska State Library Historical Collections, Sheldon Jackson College Collection.

14

Cottage Women’s Missionary Society. Photo Sitka Historical Society 91.26, folder 660.

Cottage Women’s Missionary Society Back Row – left to right: Mrs. John James Mrs. Cook Miss Gibson Mrs. Wanamaker Mrs. Young

Next row: Mrs. Newell Mrs. Dundas Mrs. Ray James Gibson Young (boy)

Next row: Mrs. Albert James & Baby Dorothy Mrs. Geo. Howard Mrs. Willard Mrs. MacKay Mrs. C. Bailey

Bottom row: Jenny Sing Mrs. Simpson Mrs. Sam Johnson & baby Ruth Bartlett Mrs. Bartlett & baby (two of the children are not identified)

Identifications from a Sheldon Jackson College pamphlet, collection Sitka National Historical Park

Contrasts and Conflicts

The Cottages presents a problem for us today. Cottage leaders stated that the old ways will bring Native people down. They were proud to be living in American-style homes and wearing American clothes, proud to be speaking English. We see the deliberate abandonment of language, in particular, as a great loss. I think the important thing is not to project our 21st century ideas onto them.

Even as Cottages leaders stated that they needed to put the old ways behind them, the reality was that life at the Cottages was permeated with Native identity. If we just go by the photographs, and the way it was framed at the time, we would think that these people’s identity began fresh with their adoption of an English name.

12

Cottages families, in front of Cottages Hall, late 1906/early 1907. Sitka National Historical Park SITK 808.

But, a Cottage person’s identity would have been based on his or her Native name, family, lineage, relationships and in clan and house history going back thousands of years; identity changed with conversion, but was not replaced.

And, place. These people were still in the place their ancestors had enriched with complex significance. Only a few hundred yards away was the site of the 1804 Battle of Sitka, the major conflict between the Russians and the Kiksadi clan, that resulted in the cession of what is now Sitka to the Russians. Newcomers would not feel the resonance of that event, of what led up to it and the consequences, instead seeing a pretty view or a resource to be exploited.

So while these people look like they have completely assimilated, they knew who they were.

Who were these founders of the Cottages?

15

Cottages families in 1912. Merrill Collection, Sitka National Historical Park.

Some of the Cottages residents in 1912: Bottom row: Dorothy James Truitt, Jennie Simpson Sing, Ray James, Jr.
Middle row: Tillie Howard Hope (the mother of Ellen Hope Hays), Mr. and Mrs. Sloan, Carol Feller Brady’s mother Elizabeth Kadashan James, Carol’s father Ray James with Carol’s sister Flora, and David Howard (Tillie’s brother).
Back row: Ray James’s sister Olinda Bailey, Peter Simpson, Jr., Mary Simpson, Peter Simpson with Baby, Jennie Willard, John Willard, and Ray James’s brother, Albert James.

 

The community included important tradition bearers. Marriages were proper marriages between opposite clans. Perhaps partly due to culture and partly due to economic need, many traditional food gathering traditions were also followed.

Many of the families were closely related. Matriarchs of three families were sisters, whose parents, Kok Gla or John and Lucy or Mary Sloan, while not English speakers or graduates of the school, also lived at the Cottages.

These women are Kiks.adi, Point House. The eldest was Amelia, who later married Don Cameron, who came from Chilkat. Mary Sloan married Tsimshian Peter Simpson, and Lottie was the first wife of George Howard, Tlingit from Kake.

A fourth sister married a businessman born in England, Bernard Hirst. They lived in downtown Sitka, and their sons attended the “white” school.

In 2004, Ellen Hope Hays, who grew up at the Cottages, a Kiksadi Point House woman, whose grandmother was one of the Sloan sisters, showed me this photograph, saying, this is a photograph of descendents of those who fought the 1804 Battle of Sitka. The photograph was taken in 1912, one hundred years after the Battle, and one hundred years before she showed it to me – and her own mother is in the picture, as a girl. The leader of the Tlingit defense in 1804 was a Kiksadi Point House man, Shk’aawulyéil. Her grandmother’s great- grandmother was his sister.1 Another granddaughter recently told me that this photograph was taken at the fort site.

There is therefore a wide gap between how the Cottage members saw themselves, in the context of history, place, and lineage, and how the community looks to us now.

A granddaughter says that Amelia Cameron and her parents did not go to the school or speak English, but lived there because of clan ownership. Her husband, Don Cameron, was Kaagwaantaan. He was a translator for ethnologist John Swanton, and himself provided traditional narratives.

 

The Cottages community included William Wells or Kaads’aati, of the Luknax.adi, and Rudolph Walton Kawootk’, a Kiksadi man. Both were among the “original students” at the school. Both were in line to become leaders, and they and their families made the decision in 1880 to send them to the school. Both became devout Presbyterians.

Elizabeth James was sent to Sitka from Wrangell, by her father, Kaagwaaantaan leader Kadashan, an early convert to Protestant Christianity, and he and his mother were also tradition bearers, contributing material to Swanton. Elizabeth married a son of Amelia Cameron, one of the Sloan sisters.

Perhaps the best known of the Cottage community is Peter Simpson, a leader in civil rights and land claims. He was a member of the Christian community at Metlakatla, British Columbia led by missionary William Duncan, and part of the exodus in 1887 to New Metlakatla in the United States.

Models

The missionary activity by William Duncan was well known to Presbyterian missionaries, and to Tlingit people, who have strong trade and even family ties to the coastal Tsimshian. Founded in 1862, the Christian Native community of Metlakatla had their own frame houses, large church, and a sawmill, and other industries.

It seems likely that the Cottages was modeled at least in part on Metlakatla. We can’t know how much of the idea for the community came from the missionaries, and how much may have been the idea of certain Tlingit people.

In 1887, William Duncan led 800 Christian Tsimshean people from Metlakatla, in British Columbia, to New Metlakatla, in southeastern Alaska. The following spring, in 1888, Presbyterian missionary Sheldon Jackson brought Peter Simpson and 31 other boys from Metlakatla to his Sitka training school.1 (7)

19

Hamilton and Simpson Sawmill, Port Gravina, Alaska. Taken by B. A. Haldane of Metlakatla, Alaska, 1895. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) 297380.

Then, in the fall of 1892, when he was about 21, Peter Simpson and some other Metlakatlan graduates of the Sitka school returned south and started Hamilton, Simpson and Company, a sawmill, at Port Gravina – a town they founded – across Tongass Narrows from Ketchikan. The all-Native company eventually had a fishing operation, ran a tug, owned a large store, a carpenter shop, and rental cottages. Gravina burned down in 1904 and was not rebuilt.

Of course most enterprises in southeastern Alaska failed sooner than later, but Natives had more obstacles to success. Simpson’s granddaughter Isabella Brady told how as Natives, they could not get title to the land to rebuild, and says that this is the source of his lifelong fight for land claims.2

Could it be that the Cottages settlers hoped to have a place to do business? Commerce at the Cottages was limited to a boatbuilding operation and sales of handicrafts to tourists, but, by the teens, people associated with the school and the Cottages dominated Sitka’s boatbuilding and commercial salmon seining, which was a big deal at that time.

The boatbuilding operation began in 1906 under Peter Simpson. Men who worked with Simpson, nearly all related by marriage, went on to build most of the hundreds of boats built in Sitka in the 20th century.

20

Peter Simpson’s shop at the foot of Metlakatla Street. Photo Sitka Historical Society.

21

The boat at center is named “William,” perhaps the boat built for Rudolph Walton. Merrill photo Sitka National Historical Park.

 

Simpson’s shop was on the point of land below Metlakatla Street. In the fall of 1908 he had five men working there, and enlarged his shop. In 1909 they launched a 34-foot boat for Rudolph Walton, the William, and had built “many” others.3 (15) In 1910, when he was nearly 40, Simpson employed his brother-in-law George Howard, who was about his age, and John James at his shop.4 (16)

23

Sealing boats gathered for blessing by the Orthodox priest. The store may be Rudolph Walton’s store. Herring Rock is at right. Merrill Photo, collection Sitka National Historical Park.

George Howard left the Cottages, and built a home and boatshop on the northern edge of the Village in the teens. He built sealing boats and fishing boats. Peter Simpson was often “high boat” in the fur seal hunt in the 1920s.

Hope working

Andrew Hope at the bandsaw, fisherman Andrew Soinio in foreground. This may be Scotty Jennings’ boat shop, in the 1920s. Photo from a glass slide in the collection of the Sitka Historical Society.

Andrew Hope, who was a graduate of the Sitka school, married the daughter of Lottie Sloan and George Howard. His eldest son grew up as the adopted son of the Cameron family at the Cottages.

25

Early day salmon seiners, from The Silver Years of the Alaska Canned Salmon Industry: An Album of Historical Photos by Laurence Freeburn.

Dozens of boats were built by this handful of men and their associates. I’ve counted over 50 documented vessels (over about 32 feet) built in Sitka in the 22 years between 1909 and 1931, and at least 31 were built by Alaska Native builders. There were many smaller boats as well. The largest output was in the teens, when engine-powered seiners came to Alaska.

Most of these early seiners were financed by the canneries, for top producers, and nearly all of these men were also affiliated with the Cottages.

These men did not learn to build boats at the school. I believe they learned by working with Scandinavian and other immigrants of the time, and Tlingit craftsmen applied their woodworking and boat design knowledge to the new technology. Other Native builders built boats in villages and towns all over southeast. There were a few non-Native boatbuilders as well.

Rudolph Walton or Kawootk’ was one of the original students at the school. His name was given him by his sponsors at the school, a Philadelphia family who named him after a prominent Presbyterian of that city. Walton was proud of the association.

Walton was a carver and jeweler, and sold his work at the Cottages, but then built a store and home in the Village in 1905.

In 1906 he was at the center of a school integration case, when his step-children were barred from attending the “white” school. The testimony in this case, expecially the way Natives are treated, reveals the gross racial bias that was not usually on display. He was involved in clan affairs, for which he was condemned by the missionaries; while his attempt to get his kids a good education resulted in condemnation by other whites.

This epitomizes the bind that Cottage people were in: they made the sacrifice of their traditions and language, and apparently of clan leadership, in order to secure a future for their children, but in spite of their proper clothes, education and manners, they were still treated with gross bias – possibly, as for Walton in the Davis Case, even more so, because they dared to challenge the status quo.

Most of the founders of the Alaska Native Brotherhood had been educated at the Presbyterian mission school and were affiliated with the Cottages.

We are fortunate to have people with us today who grew up in the Cottages, and who tell their story, or even write about what it was for children in the 1930s, the last days as a community.

They describe the joys of growing up with the Sitka National Historic Park for a backyard; of playing with cousins, and feasting on traditional foods, when families went fall fishing, or to canneries in the summer. And the grandparents, aunts and uncles and great-aunts and uncles, as well as parents who practiced and taught traditional food gathering. How musical many of the residents were, and the excellence of the Sheldon Jackson School choir and basketball programs, and how warm and welcoming the school staff was to these young kids. And the spontaneous picnics, and church-centered celebrations of Thanksgiving and Christmas, and being a part of the Sheldon Jackson School community.

But the striking thing in these narratives is that most are stories of survival. What unfortunately shaped this community, was premature death and the unfortunate consequence of repeated, severe trauma: alcohol abuse. This, I believe, was a direct result of forces that were against Native people from the very start.

By the 1880s, most Americans saw enormously improved living standards and life expectancy. But this improvement was not enjoyed by Alaska Natives. Even in the 1930s, homes in the Cottages did not have running water. Economic and social marginalization stemming from racial discrimination probably had something to do with it, but whatever the cause, Alaska Natives saw a horrific rate of premature death. At least two men’s deaths were related to overwork.

Ellen Hope Hays, who was a child of the Cottages, said that it was disease that had the biggest impact on Native people, more than racism or alcohol.

I went to the Division of Vital Statistics in Juneau and copied out the deaths in Sitka in the 1930s. When I ordered the list by age at death, I was shocked. At least eighty percent of the family names of those who died at age 30 or younger are those of Native families.

Peter Simpson outlived all 15 of his children – only two lived to adulthood, and both lost children of their own, and died leaving others. Carole Feller Brady’s entire family died – parents, three sisters, and two brothers – by the time she was still only a teen. Many of the families were closely related, and the small size of the community, made these intense losses devastating.

In 1937, four young men from the Cottages – two graduates, a current student, and the young husband of a graduate – drowned. In 1936 and 37, 5 other Cottages residents also died prematurely. This is from a community of only 17 homes.

Nine of the seventeen people in this photograph died prematurely.

By the 1930s, Sheldon Jackson School staff were concerned about the situation, in which alcohol abuse was a problem in many homes. Cottages founders tried to revive the Cottages Society, but the devastation wrought by so much trauma was out of anyone’s control.

Carol Feller Brady, whose two idolized older brothers were among the drowning victims, and whose father died of tb the year before, tells how school superintendent Les Yaw told her sister not to be too hard on their mother, who was drinking: “her heart is buried six feet underground.”

Everyone we’ve interviewed had stories of tremendous loss, of siblings, parents.

But all those people also have beautiful stories of family, food, and traditions. Their stories help us to understand how they survived circumstances that overwhelmed others, whether by force of will, by not looking back, or by cultivating forgiveness. “Life was hard,” is as close to a complaint as we’ve heard.

We can also learn from the story of the Cottages how racism shaped the experiences of Native people, and how those same stereotypes and assumptions persist today, ironically stemming from the consequences of generations of deliberate categorization of Natives as inferior.

Selected sources:

Joyce Walton Shales, “Rudolph Walton: One Tlingit Man’s Journey Through Stormy Seas, Sitka, Alaska, 1867-1951” (Ph. D. diss., The University of British Columbia, 1998)

Sergei Kan, Memory Eternal: Tlingit Culture and Russian Orthodox Christianity through Two Centuries (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1999)

Twelfth Census of the United States, Census of Alaska, Southern District, Sitka, Alaska 1900, accessed at family search.org.

Thirteenth Census of the United States, Population – Alaska, 1st District, Sitka, Alaska 1910, accessed at findmypast.com.

Ted C. Hinckley, Alaskan John G. Brady, Missionary, Businessman, Judge, and Governor, 1878-1918 (Miami, Ohio: Miami University, 1982)

Don Craig Mitchell, Sold American, The Story of Alaska Natives and Their Land, 1867-1959 (Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press, 2003), 65-110

A. E. Austin, “History of the Mission” The North Star 5 no. 12 December 1892 1-4

Zachary R. Jones, “’Search For and Destroy’: The US Army’s Relations with Alaska’s Tlingit Indians and the Kake War of 1869,” Ethnohistory 60, no. 1 (Winter 2013), 1-26

Susan Neylan, “Longhouses, Schoolroom, and Workers’ Cottages: Nineteenth Century Protestant Missions to the Tsimshian and the Transformation of Class Through Religion” Journal of the CHA 2000 New Series 11, 51-86

Peter Murray, The Devil and Mr. Duncan (Victoria, British Columbia: Sono Nis Press, 1985)

1.This and most of the other Tlingit geneology from Harold Jacobs, personal communication.
2.Murray, p. 207 (boys to S.J.); William Gilbert Beattie, Marsden of Alaska (New York: Vantage Press, 1955), p. 19 (boys to S.J., incl Simpson); North Star, September 1888 (Simpson in school here).
2 Isabella Brady (grand daughter of Peter Simpson), personal communication
3 North Star, March 1909, p. 2 (boat for Walton, many boats past few years), Chronology p. 38 (Walton’s boat the William)
4 1910 Census (Simpson, Howard, James building).

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Here is part three of three parts of my boatbuilding in Sitka. Most of the research was done in 1989 and 1993, when I interviewed boatbuilders and their sons and daughters. Please contact me if you would like to use any part, if you have corrections, questions, or additional information.

Boatbuilder Peter Simpson, far right, and the Sheldon Jackson School superintendent Les Yaw to his right, with the crew building the seiner SJS. From left: Joe Ozawa, John James, David Howard, Peter Sing, Yaw and Simpson. Photo from the Sheldon Jackson collection at the Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

Boatbuilder Peter Simpson, far right, and the Sheldon Jackson School superintendent Les Yaw to his right, with the crew building the seiner SJS 1936-37. From left: Joe Ozawa, John James, David Howard, Peter Sing, Yaw and Simpson. Photo from the Sheldon Jackson collection at the Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

Peter Simpson and Sheldon Jackson School: The 1930s and 1940s

Peter Simpson built two seiners in the 1930s, when he was past 60. In 1934, he built the TWO BROTHERS, named for his grandsons, Henry and Sam Sing. The TWO BROTHERS still fishes out of Sitka. Herman Kitka rebuilt the TWO BROTHERS from the waterline up and opened up the bow somewhat. The boat now also has a larger wheelhouse than when she was first built, when the galley was below decks.i

Peter Simpson’s son, boatbuilder Louis Simpson, died in March of 1936 of pneumonia, at age 40.ii

In 1937 Simpson built the SJS for the Sheldon Jackson School. Les Yaw was superintendent of the school at the time. In his book Sixty Years in Sitka he writes that Simpson first came to him with a sketch of the boat on brown paper. Simpson may not ever have used plans, instead building with half models and sketches.iii

Simpson used yellow cedar for the ribs of the SJS. Simpson and Sheldon Jackson School students got the yellow cedar themselves, and milled it at the school sawmill. Yaw says Simpson preferred oak, but used yellow cedar because they had no money for oak, which has to be purchased from outside Alaska. The planking above the waterline, the deck beams and much of the superstructure were also yellow cedar. He used Sitka spruce for the planking below the waterline, because he said it was tougher.iv

Simpson had to lower the shop floor two feet to build the SJS,v so his earlier boats must have been smaller, or launched before the superstructure was put on, or, built in some other place. A photo of the building of the SJS shows Joe Ozowa, David Howard, John James, and Simpson’s son-in-law Peter Sing working on the boat.vi

The Sheldon Jackson School sawmill had only just been put together from an old mill that school staff and students salvaged from an abandoned mine on Indian River. The school annual says that this sawmill was the only one in town. Simpson helped get it running and ran it for the school. He also encouraged Les Yaw to salvage a donkey from the site of John Brady’s sawmill at the present Thomsen Harbor. The donkey was a portable engine and winch for pulling logs out of the woods or up to a sawmill. Simpson may have used this same engine when working for Brady just after the turn of the century. The salvaged sawmill burned down in 1940 but was rebuilt with different machinery in 1941 and operated into the 1960s, run at various times by Simpson or by Andrew Hope.vii (37) It probably provided wood for many of the Sitka boats built after that time. The donkey winch is still sitting next to the Sheldon Jackson College library.

The SJS

The SJS was renamed the MISS LINDA, and may still be fishing. The SJS had a few features that put her at the cutting edge of modern boat construction: she is supposed to have been the first boat built locally with the galley (cooking area) on deck, that is, in the wheelhouse, rather than below decks. The older seiners only had a small wheelhouse, with a place to steer the boat, and maybe a bunk, on deck. A large wheelhouse was a later addition to many of the old boats. In addition, the SJS is also supposed to be the first boat built locally with a high-speed diesel, instead of gasoline, engine. This was an innovation of the school engineer, Charles Stuart.viii (38)

Charles Stuart had been an engineer in the British merchant marine, and was the engineer at Sheldon Jackson for over two decades, from 1924 to 1945. He had been involved in the sawmill rehabilitation, and with his students was also involved with the metal and machine work on the PRINCETON HALL.ix (39)

Peter Simpson taught boat building and sawmill engineering at Sheldon Jackson from 1938 until 1945. He and his students built four skiffs and six round-bottomed boats in 1938 39, and built six skiffs and round bottom boats for the local military in 1942. For those boats he used red cedar and yellow cedar.x (40) His granddaughter, Isabella Brady, says he also built a new round-bottomed boat each spring for her grandmother (who died in 1936), which they would use a year, then sell.xi (41)

Older Sitkans remember his boats as well crafted, and a pleasure to row. His round bottom boats were Aon the Davis model.”xii (42) The Davis family of Metlakatla made rowboats in the 1920s and 30s which they would sell all around southeastern Alaska, for handtrolling and general purposes. Their early boats were double-enders, built for rowing, but the majority of their production had squared off sterns, for mounting an outboard motor.xiii

Simpson was a craftsman, who would not let his students use a dull tool. His grand nephew, George Howard Sr. says Simpson would tell him “Do it once and do it right.”xiv (42a) Everyone I have talked to remembers him as a pleasant man.

Peter Simpson was a founder, and more than once Grand Camp President, of the ANB. He is remembered as a calming influence, a persuasive, quiet man who was more important behind the scenes than in the spotlight. Land issues were very important to him. One reason the Gravina sawmill, of which he was a founder and shareholder, was not rebuilt after it burned was that the owners could not get title to the land because they were not considered citizens of the United States.

Peter Simpson was also an active member of the Presbyterian Church, and, in his earlier years, was active in various Cottages groups, including the Cottages band, in which he played trombone. Peter Simpson died in 1947.xv (44)

Andrew Hope Shop in the 1940s

At the beginning of World War II the Navy requisitioned the PRINCETON HALL then the school’s workboat, the seiner SJS, which had been built by Peter Simpson and Rudy James and crew in 1938. Sheldon Jackson School was left without a boat, so in the winter of 1942 43 Andrew Hope built the SJS II. He carved a half model for his boat. He used yellow cedar planking above, and spruce below the waterline. This was the same planking arrangement used by Simpson on the SJS, and later by Richard Peters, who worked with Hope, on the LAVERNE II in 1946. Hope used Douglas fir for the deck.xvi (17)

Boatbuilding Woods

Most of the trees in the thick forests around Sitka are western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) and Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis). Hemlock wood is relatively hard and brittle, and doesn’t stand up to rot, so it is rarely if ever used in boat building. Sitka spruce, while also not particularly rot resistant, is light and tough. The largest cut was in World War I, when it was used for light aircraft frames.

Sitka spruce is still renowned by boatbuilders world-wide for spars (masts and booms). Locally, it has been used for planking, especially on small boats, like the sealers, but also on the larger fishing boats, because it is light, tough, and available in the woods around Sitka. Herman Kitka,a fisherman and shipwright who has worked with Andrew Hope, says it outlasts yellow cedar under the waterline.xvii (18) Peter Simpson used it under the water line, with yellow cedar above, on the SJS. Andrew Hope did the same thing on the SJS II and on the LAVERNE II.xviii (19a)

In addition, Sitka spruce can grow to several feet in diameter, and the large logs yield wide clear lumber, which is what is needed for planking stock.

Yellow cedar (Chameacyparus nootkatensis) is much less common in the forests. It often grows very slowly. The wood is yellow, and strongly fragrant when freshly cut; it is pleasant to work, and very resistant to rot. It also has a reputation for checking (splitting) and for not taking paint, but different builders and boat owners have different opinions on this. Yellow cedar is closely related to Port Orford cedar, which is a highly regarded boatbuilding wood. Yellow cedar has been used to build complete boats, including the planking, frames, and deckbeams,xix (20) but it has been used mainly for deckbeams, ribs, and planking above the waterline.

Local woods, Sitka spruce and yellow cedar, are economical to use if the boat owner or builder cuts them himself, but there has not always been a sawmill in Sitka. Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) is the usual wood for boat repair and building. It does not grow as far north as Alaska, but since the 19th century has been commonly available here because of the large timber industry in Washington and Oregon. Douglas fir is rot resistant and strong.xx (21)

White oak is actually several species of oak (genus Quercus) which share rot-resisting qualities. This also has to be imported to Alaska, but is desirable for the bent ribs of the boats. It bends extremely well, and is much harder and more durable than any local wood for ribs, which have to hold all the fastenings of the planking. Yellow cedar has sometimes been used for ribs, maybe again because of cost, but some builders may have preferred it.

Hope shop in the 1940s, cont.

The Hope shop was very productive. In addition to the boats listed earlier built in the 1920s and 1930s, Andrew Hope was recorded as the builder of the NEVA and the TAMARA SAN, both documented in 1942. Mark Jacobs Jr. says Hope built a troller LAVERNE, possibly the one built in Sitka in 1942. He is also on record as the builder of the HOPE, MARTHA K (now the NORTH CAPE) and SJS II in 1944; the ALLANAH in 1945; the EMPRESS (renamed the MARTHA K) in 1946; PATRICIA MAE in 1947; the GOTA in 1950; and his last boat, the gillnetter VALI for his daughter and son in law in 1961.xxi(22)

Andrew Hope was prominent in the ANB, and was Grand Camp President, and for decades was head of the Tlinget and Haida Tribes, which was formed to fight for land claims. After 1944 he was elected to seven terms in the territorial then the state legislature, and was on the Sitka Common Council for nine terms from the 1920s through the 1950s.xxii (23)

Hope has a reputation for strong, well built hulls. He preferred building to repair, but his main occupation was as a fisherman: he seined the Sheldon Jackson School boat SJS II,xxiii (23) and when the school got out of fishing seined his own boat, the NEVA. He would also pick up students for Sheldon Jackson School on the last trip of the season.

Mo Johnson worked on building the PRINCETON HALL as a Sheldon Jackson student, and also fished with Hope. He says he was great to work for, and had a good eye. He says the joints in a timbered stern fit with no gaps, and Hope would sight down the length of each plank to check for fairness.xxiv (23a)

Most of Andrew Hope’s boats were built by eye, from half models. The models were made to a scale of one half inch to the foot. The red cedar model of half a boat sliced down the centerline was cut transversely, and the sections enlarged and set up square and plumb. Herman Kitka, another boatbuilder, built with Hope and says that there was seldom any need to fair in the molds once set up.xxv (23b)

Andrew Hope, with Herman Kitka, built the NEVA for Todd cannery. They got some spruce logs, and some yellow cedar from Crawfish Inlet, which they cut at the Sheldon Jackson sawmill. The boat was built to Hope’s design but had some design flaws, not corrected. Kitka says Hope said, let it go, we’ll never see it again, but years later Hope bought the boat, and put on a larger wheelhouse.

Hope built the TAMARA SAN for Hans Peterson, with no cannery financing. The HOPE, a troller, was built for Henry Yrjana.

The MARTHA K, later renamed the NORTH CAPE, was built by Herman Kitka for himself. He bought lumber from Hope, which was mostly fir, except for yellow cedar for the beams.

The ALLANAH was documented in 1945, built for Fred Brandes. Richard Peters, Al Rottluff, and Fred Brandes helped build the boat with Hope. The builders had $12,000 to work with, which was almost enough, as Al Rottluff recalled.

The EMPRESS, now named the MARTHA K, was built in 1946 for the New England Fish Company. The boat was built all of fir, and was designed by Hope.

The Pyramid Packing Company financed the hard-chine Edwin Monk (a Seattle marine architect) design PATRICIA MAE, later renamed the NEKA QUEEN, for John Young.xxvi Hope built the SATCHEM, documented in 1952 for “Cap” Anderson from Chichagof for shrimping. He used all Douglas fir for this boat, which is still in Sitka.

Also working with Andrew Hope were Lawrence Widmark Sr. and Richard Peters, a dockworker, who ran a pile driver. Peters built his LAVERNE II with Hope, documented in 1946. The LAVERNE II is a small hard chine seiner, now used as a troller. Her current owner says that when the breaktimber, which is the large beam at the step in the deck, was replaced, they found the two sides of the hull identical, a mark of careful workmanship.xxvii (25) Mark Jacobs Jr. says that the original LAVERNE, a small trunk cabin troller, was also built by Hope. This might have been the LAVERNE built in Sitka and documented in 1942, owned by Elis Peterson in 1948.xxviii

Herman Kitka

Herman Kitka went to the Sheldon Jackson School, then went to the Wrangell Institute in 1935, where he learned boatbuilding from plans from a Norwegian named Gus Anderson. The program consisted of one year of academic work and a year of part-time apprenticeship.

Herman Kitka has always been a fisherman, but when his small gas troller blew up and he found himself “on the beach” with nothing to do, he built himself the MARTHA K in 1939. He worked on building several boats with Hope, including the PRINCETON HALL, the NEVA, his own MARTHA K (later sold and renamed the NORTH CAPE), the SJS II, and the EMPRESS. He later bought the EMPRESS and renamed her the MARTHA K, the boat he has now. Kitka has also done some major rebuilding projects on the MARTHA K. Herman Kitka is mainly a fisherman, with his own boat since 1937. When the Sitka Marine Railway started at Jamestown Bay in 1946 he also worked there sometimes.

Andrew Hope never liked to do repair, and there were not any facilities in town for hauling boats out of the water, so when the Sitka Marine Railway opened in 1946 boats went there for repair.xxix (24)

The canneries in Southeastern Alaska went into a decline after the war, and most closed by the 1970s. They stopped financing new boats and sold off their fleets. The canneries, and the seasonal migration to the canneries and fishing grounds, were once a way of life for many in Sitka. There is only one remote cannery now operating in southeastern Alaska.

The number of seiners around Sitka also declined    from twenty or thirty boats to only a few that still seine out of Sitka. One reason for this might have been the canneries= system of managing the boat’s finances, if not actually owning the boat, so the fisherman only had to fish and did not have to deal with the business aspects of fishing. This left fishermen unprepared to run their own operation when they had to.xxx (26)

The Howard Brothers Shop in the 1940s

The PRINCETON HALL

In 1941 Andrew Hope is recorded as the builder of probably the best known of the boats built at Sitka: the Presbyterian mission boat PRINCETON HALL. The 65 foot PRINCETON HALL was built to replace the Presbyterian Board of Home Mission’s boat PRINCETON, wrecked in 1939. These boats were used for transporting mission and Sheldon Jackson School staff and students around southeastern Alaska.

The PRINCETON HALL was designed by Seattle marine architect Harold Lee, and was to have been built in Seattle. Bids came in too high, and the Sitka builders took on the project. xxxi (1)

Andrew Hope had his own shop then, but he may have had a boat in it at the time, and it was smaller than the Howard shop. (The NEVA and TAMARA SAN were also documented in 1942.) The PRINCETON HALL was built in the shop of his brothers in law, George and David Howard, at the north end of Katlian Street.xxxii (2)

The Howard brothers’ shop had been built in 1940, the year before the PRINCETON HALL was built, replacing the smaller one their father, the first George Howard, had built around 1913. The new shop was then extended 25 feet for building the PRINCETON HALL. The extension was later taken off. This shop stood just east of the Seafood Producers Co op, until it was torn down in June of 1990.xxxiii (3)

The Howard brothers, especially George, and Sheldon Jackson School staff and vocational students worked on the boat. The students at Sheldon Jackson worked half days on the boat, and half a day and evenings on their schoolwork. Machine shop and metal working students under Charles Stuart installed the engine and fabricated the bronze railing, bow iron, and rudder.xxxiv (4)

The keel was fir, the ribs oak, and the deck teak. Teak is often used on yachts, and not on workboats. These were all usual materials for boatbuilding in the Northwest, and all brought up to Sitka from south. But the deckbeams were yellow cedar, either for economy, or because the builders preferred it.xxxv(5)

The boat was launched on December 4, 1941, just days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. She was soon requisitioned by the Navy for use as a patrol boat. The Navy mounted a gun on the foredeck and painted the boat gray. The Presbyterian Board of Home Missions got her back after the war, and sold her in 1961.xxxvi (5a) The PRINCETON HALL is still in use, after complete renovation, as a charter boat out of Juneau.xxxvii (6) Her current owner, Kathy Ruddy, has compiled a history of the boat’s Sheldon Jackson days.

Still other boats came out of the Howard brothers’ shop on Katlian Street in the 1940s and 1950s. The senior George Howard had died sometime in the 1920s or 1930s. His sons George and David, though they were mainly fishermen like their father, also built boats.

The NEW ENGLAND was built in the old shop, documented in 1935. The NEW ENGLAND may have been the second George Howard’s first boat. It took a while to finish, and George Howard Sr. (the third George Howard) remembers playing on the unfinished boat as a small child. This boat was built for George Ward, to replace his seiner MARY WARD, built for him in 1919 by Peter Simpson.xxxviii (6a)

In 1940 the Howards tore down the old shop and built a much bigger shop in the same place. The BETTY K, documented in 1940, may have been the first boat built in the new shop. Herman Kitka says this boat had planks half way up when Ted Kirkman purchased it, and that Kitka finished it. George Howard began the DENNY JO, documented in 1945, but in his later years he was increasingly disabled by tuberculosis; he suffered a hemorrhage when lifting something for the DENNY JO, and the boat was finished by Stanley Sutton. The JUNE K, built for Charles Bennett, was documented the same year.xxxix (7)

The JUNE K was built from a half model carved by Stanley Sutton, and then modified by George Howard, according to his son, George Howard Sr. The half model was then cut across its length into sections, from which the full sized molds were made. The molds are made in pairs, so that the half model provides the outline of both sides of the boat. The molds are set up at the proper intervals along the keel, and the boat is then built around these molds. The second George Howard also used plans for some of his boats.xl (8)

For the JUNE K, Howard used Douglas fir and white oak, and fastened the boat with galvanized boat nails. The JUNE K might still be on the beach at Angoon.xli (9)George Howard Sr., who was a child when the shop was built, does not remember ever seeing any machinery which might have been in the old shop.xlii (11)

The GOTA, which is still fishing out of Sitka, was built in the Howard shop, but after George Howard was too sick to work on it. The boat’s builder’s certificate names Andrew Hope. Richard Peters, who worked with Hope, also worked on the GOTA, along with the boat’s owner. This one changed hands before she was finished: George Howard Sr. says she was begun by Pete Anselm, and sold to Oscar Isaacson while still only ribbands and keel. Her current owner says she had a lot of yellow cedar timbers, with many spruce planks, on oak ribs.xliii (12)

When it was in full operation, the Howard brothers’ shop had grids on both sides, for boats needing repair. To haul a boat up into the shop itself, they used the city truck, which had a winch, and ingenuity. They put timbers across the doorway to keep the truck from being pulled into the shop. The boat cradle and slipway were made stoutly of wood; the cradle would be weighted with rocks at low tide, and the boat floated onto it at high tide. The boat was attached to the cradle with temporary shores and cross ties. Then the rocks were knocked off with poles, and the boat in the cradle was hauled up the greased slipway.xliv (13)

The 1940 shop had a bandsaw, a tablesaw, and a planer, which were all bought new when the shop was built. They ran off of belts from a five horsepower electric motor in the loft. The Howards also had a wood fired boiler for steaming planks and ribs, which was young George Howard Sr.’s job to tend.xlv (10)

The second George Howard’s sons say he did mostly repair, and was mainly a fisherman, and did not do boatwork every winter. His sons worked with him sometimes in the shop and also fished with him. His brother David Howard, and George Benson, who also built double-ended boats, also worked with him at times.xlvi (14)

The JENNY was documented in 1947. George Howard signed the builder’s certificate, but the boat was completed by Oscar Isaacson, a Seattle shipwright, or by Andrew Hope. Around 1950 the JENNY was found on the rocks by Sinitsin Island, deck awash, and no sign of her owner, Nestor Laakso, except for a slipper on the foredeck. The boat was towed into town and bought and restored by George Sarvela.xlvii In the summer of 1984, owner Victor Lane was killed by his deckhand, Michael Blackhurst near Kruzof Islandxlviii (14a). This troller has left her sad past behind and is still fishing, documented out of Elfin Cove.xlix(15)

George Howard died in 1956, from complications of tuberculosis.l (16)

The Sitka Marine Railway

The Sitka Marine Railway opened in November of 1945 at Jamestown Bay, at what is now Allen Marine. Wally Sims and Robert Wheeler and crew built several good-sized boats there before first Sims left, then Wheeler divorced his wife and left in 1949. Sims may have been mainly in the financial side of the business, and he was not a builder. Wheeler’s wife’s father Earl MacDonald, who had helped them set up, ran the yard after Wheeler left. This man, Earl MacDonald, had taught boatbuilding during the war, and one man at the Jamestown Bay yard had been a student of his. Wheeler had also once been an employee of MacDonald.li (1) MacDonald’s brother had been a partner in a Puget Sound yard called Prothero MacDonald.

An impressive total of four boats were documented in the year 1946. The MYRTH was the first boat built there, documented in 1946 for Rudy Sarvela. Some of the wood was spruce from a mill at Hidden Falls, but most of the wood was Douglas fir. The boatyard sometimes used yellow cedar, but mainly used fir.lii (2)

The yard mainly did repair, and became the primary repair yard in Sitka; Hope preferred building to repair, and did not have a way to haul boats out of the water. The Howard shop could pull boats out of the water, by using a borrowed truck with a winch, pulling the boat up a wooden ways.

Six or eight men worked at the yard the winter of 1946 47, but later fewer worked there. HER HIGHNES, JUNIOR, and WRJ were also documented in 1946, and the PT CRAVENS and ALRITA in 1947. Some of these were built on the same transom-stern, round-bottom design, drawn by Edwin Monk, a Seattle marine architect, in two sizes: the MYRTH and WRJ have the same register length of 37 feet, and the JUNIOR and PT CRAVEN are about a foot longer. The ALRITA is a little larger, and the hard-chine HER HIGHNES smaller. (Hard-chine means that the hull, rather than being round, has a v-bottom and a hard angle where the bottom meets the sides.) The HER HIGHNES was built by MacDonald at his home. The STEPHANIE, now the CHUCK A NAN, was built at Jamestown Bay in 1955, and is also a hard-chine design.liii(3)

Al Rottluff, a fisherman who worked for the yard in winters, says that the Sitka Marine Railway could not compete with the Puget Sound builders    wages were higher, and materials more expensive here. They also had to wait on all services that had to be done in Seattle. He says Sims and Wheeler had to put things into hock to pay the workers while waiting for the yard to get paid, especially on insurance work. The yard did mostly repair work, he says, and also built seine skiffs.liv (4)

Among other jobs, the yard rebuilt the NORTH CAPE, and the TWO BROTHERS was torn down for repair at the time Wheeler left.lv (4a)

The original buildings were salvaged from military buildings at Old Sitka. They had two railways for hauling boats up, one covered. MacDonald sold the yard in 1955 to machinist Ray Woodruff, who sold the yard to someone else, who sold it to Bob Allen in 1967.lvi (5) Allen put in the fill    the tide used to come right up to Sawmill Creek Road    but one of the old buildings is still standing, with fill coming right up to its pilings. Part of one of the railways is also still visible.

Bob Modrell and Boatbuilding at Mt. Edgecumbe School

After the war, part of the military base at Japonski Island was turned over to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which opened a boarding school for Native youth. Bob Modrell, a boatbuilder originally from Seattle, Washington, taught boatbuilding there from 1948 to 1955.lvii (6)

In 1937, Modrell had been in the first boatbuilding class at Edison Vocational School (later called Gompers, now part of Central Seattle Community College). The Seattle marine architect Edwin Monk was involved with the school, and the first edition of his book Boatbuilding has photos of a young Bob Modrell and his classmates, who included William Garden, who was to become another well known Northwest marine architect.lviii (7) After finishing his schooling, he worked at different yards; work was hard to come by because of the Depression. During the war he worked for the Navy shipyard.

Modrell’s Mt. Edgecumbe students, who included some war veterans in early classes, built a 32 foot troller to a William Garden design, on spec, which was converted to a pleasure boat. They also repaired and built a deckhouse for the shore boat ARROWHEAD. Modrell also built his lovely sailboat PUFFIN, designed for him by William Garden.lix (8)

Modrell taught boatbuilding in Hangar Two. The enormous clear spans available in the hangars were also used for carpentry classes, which built houses they moved to sites around Japonski Island. The hangars are still there – one is the B. J. McGillis fieldhouse, and the other is the Sitka campus of the University of Alaska Southeast. Though a large part of the building is now classrooms, part of the original hangar space remains.

Bob Modrell said that while some of the vets were interested in boatbuilding as a career, none of the high school students were; they were mainly interested in being able to repair their own boats. After the boatbuilding program was cut in 1955, Modrell went over to the Public Health Service, which administered the government installations on Japonski Island. He maintained the shore boat fleet, which ran passengers between Sitka and Mt. Edgecumbe until the O’Connell Bridge was built in 1972.

Bob Modrell painted, maintained and repaired the shore boats at the covered boat ways, which is still there, at the foot of the O’Connell Bridge. He had his shop in one side of the building, and the other side was storage. A large winch pulled the boat, in a cradle, up a railway track. When the boathouse did not have a shore boat in it, federal employees used it to haul out their own boats, through the Service Activities for Federal Employees (SAFE). For a time, after the

During World War II the military also had a second boat house, which they also used for maintaining their fleet of patrol boats and shore boats. The second one was a floating boathouse, located inside the 600 foot long pier, which extended toward the present bridge. Boats could be hauled out of the water with slings and hand cranks. There was a small shop in one end. Bob Modrell used it for painting, and never used the hoists.

Modrell also built harbor floats, and worked on the piers and floats of SAFE Harbor, on the Island side of the channel. He also ran the PHS tug, which they ran back and forth to Sitka with a scow.

After the O’Connell Bridge was built in 1972, Modrell went over to the carpentry shop, although he maintained the boathouse ways, the only covered ways in Sitka after the Sitka Marine Railway burnt, until he retired in 1981.

The World War II boathouse is now part of the Japonski Island National Monument. The boathouse is part of the University of Alaska Sitka campus.

Most of the shore boats had been built during the war, at the Bremerton Navy yard: the TEDDY in 1941, the ARROWHEAD in 1942, and the DONNA in 1943. The others were the DIANE, which had no document, and the DOROTHY, built for government contractors, in Seattle.lx (8a) They were all sold after the bridge was built.

Other boatbuilding

In 1946 Dave Halleck and “Pinky” Bergdahl built the SKEETER near the SeaMart Downtown store. Bergdahl had been in the military in Sitka in World War II. Halleck, his father-in-law, had been working for Pyramid cannery, and was also a carpenter and fisherman. They logged the yellow cedar for the boat, cut at Sheldon Jackson sawmill and at Baranof Warm Springs, and launched the boat in a cradle over the beach wall at the Crescent. They only fished a few years, then sold the boat, which is still fishing around Sitka.lxi (8b)

The SHARON ANN, documented in 1947, was built by some people named Rowley on the turnaround side of the Siginaka Way spit (near Thomsen Harbor), and used for carrying freight. A member of the same family may have built the MINNIE R, a halibut boat documented in 1945.lxii (8c)

Also in the 1940s, a man was building skiffs at Herring Cove.lxiii (8d)

Since the 1950s a few more fishermen have built their own boats. Paul Morgan designed and built the C RAE in 1962, across from where SeaMart is now. Morgan had done carpentry, and worked a winter at the Jamestown Bay yard. He used spruce planking because he got a good deal on some from the Columbia sawmill, but most of the boat is Douglas fir. He hauled the completed hull out Halibut Point Road after a snowfall, and launched her at Old Sitka.lxiv (9) The boat unfortunately burned in 1993, but not before providing years of service and enjoyment to the Morgans.

Harry Jimmy built the 33 foot 8 inch ANNETTE in 1955 on Back Street and in 1967 the PERIL STRAIT to a William Garden design, using mostly local materials.lxv (10) Gary Erb built the CHANCY, which he built using mostly lumber he had cut and milled himself, to his own design.lxvi (11)

Boat building and boat repair is still a living part of Sitka’s economy, and dozens of shops and individual tradesmen repair everything from electronics to planking.

Wooden boatbuilding has become unusual today in Sitka. Few wooden boats have been built anywhere in the Northwest since the 1950s. While the seine and troll fisheries were expanding in the first part of the century, there was a big demand for boats. Fewer small fishing boats are built now, and the ones that are are now built mostly of fiberglass, aluminum, and steel, which can be made into hulls more quickly. Labor is relatively more expensive now, and good boatbuilding wood is harder to come by.

Even though wood is not a common boatbuilding material any more, businesses in Sitka continue to build boats, now in other materials, when the need arises   for example rugged welded aluminum skiffs, custom built by various welding shops; fast custom fiberglass boats by Gerald Gangle; and large aluminum passenger boats, the largest 100 feet long, built by Allen Marine, many of which they still run in their own business, and recently have built some for New York City ferries.

Although the boats are not usually built of wood any more, the basic reasons for building are probably what they have always been. When the boats they could buy are too expensive or unsuitable, or when they just feel like a challenge to their skills and ingenuity, Sitkans still build boats, carrying on an old tradition as valid now as ever.

i Coast Guard Vessel Documentation (Two Brothers), Herman Kitka, Sr., interview by author, tape recording, Sitka, Alaska October and December 1988 and March 3 1992 (rebuild), Carlos Schwantes, phone interview, 16 November 1988 (galley below).

ii City of Sitka Death Records, #1167

iii W. Leslie Yaw Sixty Years in Sitka: With Sheldon Jackson School and College (Sitka, Alaska: Sheldon Jackson College Press, 1985), p. 70 (sketch).

iv Yaw, pp. 60-83 (SJS and sawmill).

v Verstovian, January 1937, p. 2 (lower shop floor).

vi Yaw p. 70 (workers on SJS).

vii Yaw pp. 60-83 (SJS & sawmill); 1936-37 Sheldon Jackson Annual, Sheldon Jackson Archives #814 (mill only one in town); Hinckley, pp. 329-30 (1902 log haul); Verstovian, Sept 1940, p. 1 (Hope runs mill); Yaw, pp. 175-195(Simpson taught sawmill).

viii Yaw pp. 60, 64, 65, 74. 75 (school boats)

ix Yaw, p. 24 (Merchant Marine) Yaw pp. 60, 64, 65, 74. 75 (school boats); Yaw, pp. 175-195 (staff).

x Sheldon Jackson School Verstovian, December 1942, p. 2 (10 boats for Navy); Yaw, pp. 175-195 (staff).

xi Isabella Brady interview (boats for Grandma); Verstovian, March 1936, p. 1 (Mrs. S. dies).

xii B. Sarvela interview (modeled on Davis, y c, easy to row); Bahrt interview (?).

xiii Loken, pp. 11-14 (hand trollers).

xiv G. Howard interview (do it once).

xv Brady interview; Paul interview; Sentinel, 31 December 1947, p. 1 (activities); Verstovian, Thlinget various issues (activities).

xvi Yaw, pp. 91-99 (SJS II); Simon Anderson, phone interview by author, 14 or 15 November 1988 (planking Laverne); Coast Guard Vessel Documentation (Peters).

xvii A. S. Harris, Sitka Spruce. USDA Forest Service American Woods circular series number FS-265 (Washington, D.C.: US Department of Agriculture, 1971) p. 5 (cut in WWI).

xviii Kitka interview (spruce on big boats) Yaw p 99 (materials on SJS II), Simon Anderson interview (Laverne II materials).

xix A. S. Harris, Alaska-cedar. USDA Forest Service American Woods circular series number FS-224. (Washington, D.C.: US Department of Agriculture, 1971) (yellow cedar booklet)

xx U. S. Navy Bureau of Ships, Wood: A Manual For Its Use As a Shipbuilding Material, First Collected Edition (Kingston, Massachusetts: Tea Party Books, 1983) (Douglas Fir).

xxi Coast Guard Vessel Documentation (Hope’s boat); Mark Jacobs Jr., note on draft 1992 (Laverne); Seesz interview (Satchem built by Hope).

xxii Hays interview; Sentinel. 15 April 1968; Andy Hope III, Founders of the Alaska Native Brotherhood ( ) (ANB, legisl, etc.); Verstovian, October 1941; Yaw, p. 77-78 (Hope Fished SJS); Verstovian, October 1949, p. 4 (Reelected to Common Council); Chronology p 217 (Hope’s terms in Legislature and Common Council)

xxiii

xxiv Johnson interview (Hope’s careful workmanship)

xxv Kitka 1992 interview (work methods of Hope).

xxvi Kitka interview 1992, Coast Guard Documentation Office, and Kitka 1992 (Martha K to North Cape, Empress to Martha K, Patricia Mae to Neka Queen); Kitka 1993 (Neva, Tamara San, Hope); Al Rottluf interview by author, tape recording, Sitka, Alaska November 21 1988 (Allanah, Satchem); Chronology p. 150 (Patricia Mae on Monk Design); Don Seesz phone interview by author (Satchem).

xxvii Coast Guard Vessel Documentation, Anderson interview (Peters), Kitka 1992.

xxviii Jacobs, note on 1992 draft, Coast Guard Documentation Office.

xxix Kitka interviews (his career)

xxx Johnson interview (decline of canneries, seiners).

xxxi Yaw, pp. 79-83 (P-H)

xxxii G. Howard interview, Jacobs interview (Hope had shop then); Coast Guard Vessel Documentation (two doc 1942).

xxxiii G. Howard interview (shop extended).

xxxiv Yaw, pp. 79-83 (P-H); Jacobs interview (kids worked)

xxxv Yaw, pp. 79-83 (who built); Ruddy interview (materials).

xxxvi Yaw, p. 90 (requisition Jan 4, 1942); Coast Guard Documentation Office (Princeton Hall sold 1961)

xxxvii Ruddy interview (restoration).

xxxviii Mark Jacobs, Jr. note on draft, 1993 (Mary Ward).

xxxix G. Howard interview, Coast Guard Vessel Documentation (boats built in shop).

xl G. Howard interview (June K).

xli ibid.

xlii ibid.

xliii G. Howard interview, Ernie Matteson, phone interview, 23 November 1988, Coast Guard Vessel Documentation (Gota).

xliv G.Howard interview.

xlv ibid.

xlvi G. Howard interview.

xlvii Kermit Olsen, interview by author, Sitka Alaska 1994 (Jenny).

xlviii Sitka Sentinel Nov. 19, 1984; Nov. 28, 1984; July 1 1985; July 2, 1985; July 16, July 26, etc. (Blackhurst)

xlix Coast Guard Vessel Documentation (Howard built); Jacobs interview (Hope built).

l Howard interview; Sentinel. 17 January 1956, p. 2 (obit, no mention of boatbuilding).

li Al Rottluff, interview 21 November 1988 (father); Rudy Sarvela, interview, December 1988 (uncle); Robert Modrell, interview 24 October 1988 (uncle); Chronology p. 98 (opened Nov. 23, 1945).

lii R. Sarvela interview, Coast Guard Vessel Documentation (Myrth).

liii Paul Morgan and Al Rottluff, interview December 1988; Rottluff interview; Kitka interview (yard).

liv Rottluff interview

lv

lvi Bob Allen, phone interview by author, November or December 1988; Rottluff interview; Morgan and Rottluff interview (yard after) Chronology p. 120 (sold to Woodruff 1955).

lvii Robert Modrell, interview by author, tape recording, Sitka, Alaska October 24, 1988 (Island)

lviii Modrell interview; Edwin Monk, Modern Boat Building (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1939).

lix Modrell interview (activities on Island).

lx Modrell interview

lxi Pauline Bergdahl phone interview by author

lxii Olson interview, Coast Guard Documentation, Chronology p. 98 (Minnie R)

lxiii Olson interview

lxiv Morgan and Rottluff interview (C-Rae); Sentinel, 20 March 1962, p. 1 (C-Rae).

lxv Coast Guard Vessel Documentation, Harry Jimmy, interview by author, tape recording, November 16 1988 (Peril Strait).

lxvi Gary Erb, interview on tape, Cas/Spe/44-19, Kettleson Memorial Library(Chancy); Matteson interview (Amanda Rose).

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This is part 2 of three parts of my history of boatbuilding in Sitka. Most of the research was done in 1989 and 1993, when I interviewed boatbuilders and their sons and daughters. Enjoy, and please  contact me with requests for use, with corrections and any other information or questions.

Andrew Hope at the bandsaw, fisherman Andrew Soinio in foreground. This may be Scotty Jennings' boat shop, in the 1920s. Photo from a glass slide in the collection of the Sitka Historical Society.

Andrew Hope at the bandsaw, fisherman Andrew Soinio in foreground. This may be Scotty Jennings’ boat shop, in the 1920s. Photo from a glass slide in the collection of the Sitka Historical Society.

Introduction

Sitka has always been a maritime community, dependent on the ocean for transportation and livelihood. For hundreds of years, Tlingit people of Sitka built and used canoes, carved and steamed from single trees. When the Russians and later Americans moved in to Sitka, they introduced European-style planked wooden boats and ships. This history is about these boats. Hundreds have been built here, a large number of them by Tlingit and other Alaska Native builders.

Boats were built in Sitka because people needed them, and could not afford to buy them, and was not an industry producing boats for selling outside the immediate area. In the 200 years since the first permanent Russian settlement here in 1799, Sitka has been a Tlingit stronghold, Russian fort, Russian American colonial capital, American frontier town, fishing village, site of a WW II military installation, pulp mill town and now the small city we know today. Boat and shipbuilding in Sitka, and the builders and their backgrounds and activities, reflect Sitka’s varied history and economy and our location on the eastern edge of the North Pacific.

The Russians of the Russian American Company built ships and boats for their own colonial operations, for hunting, supplying outposts, exploration, and taking furs and correspondence back to Siberia. They built the first ship in Sitka in1805. In the beginning at least, these ships were not very good, and reflected the difficulty of maintaining a colony which was halfway around the world from support, and in a climate and geography alien to them. Shipbuilding was an important part of their endeavor to become a self-sufficient colony. They built at least 27 ships, most of them about the size of large fishing boats today. A few of the ships were fairly large, and included the first steamer built on the west coast of North America.

After the purchase of the territory of Alaska by the United States in 1867, some American entrepreneurs built sailing ships and boats for fishing, mining, or trading enterprises, but this boatbuilding activity was sporadic, reflecting the varied and unstable economy of that time, mainly trade and prospecting.

But once fisheries became a mainstay of Sitka’s economy after the turn of the century, hundreds of boats were built, not only fishing boats but pleasure boats and others. Through the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s there were at least eight boat shops in Sitka at various times. All of the builders did other things as well, like fishing, carpentry, or mining. The owner of the boat was often involved with the construction, and some fishermen built their own boats by themselves.

When the fishing tapered off, boatbuilding declined too. In the peak years of Sitka boatbuilding, there was demand for boats, materials were available, and time was cheap, which is not the case today. The decline of wooden boatbuilding in Sitka followed the pattern in the United States generally. Both labor and high-quality old-growth wood have become relatively expensive. Wooden boats are being replaced by fiberglass, aluminum and steel ones.

The following narrative includes most of the boats built here which were large enough to be officially documented, which is five net tons, or about 32 feet in length for a power boat.

Information comes from the federal lists of documented vessels; Sitka newspapers; and many interviews, most carried out in 1988. Thank you to all the people I interviewed and talked with and to those who helped me in the libraries and museums. There will certainly be mistakes, and I would appreciate corrections and additions.

PART II: AFTER 1900

Sitka’s first cannery started up in 1878,i (16a) and fishing gradually became an important industry here. But it was not until decades later, after the turn of the century, that fishing boats of any size were built here. Records are still available of decked boats over five net tons, which is about 32 feet. Very few boats were recorded as built in Sitka before 1915, but between 1915 and 1930, at least 43 were built here, almost all fishing boats.ii (1) (There seems to often be a delay between the boat’s completion and its documentation.) A total of 20 of these larger boats were documented in the three years between 1917 and 1919.. It was around this time that gasoline engines revolutionized the process of seining (pulling a net round a school of fish). Gas trollers (hook and line fishing boats) were also built locally. Many boats too small to require documentation, including small trollers, sealers and rowboats, were built as well.

Much of the fishing boatbuilding in Sitka up through the 1950s had its roots in the Cottages settlement, a group of houses adjacent to Sheldon Jackson School (now college). Here, in 1907, a Tsimpshian graduate of the school named Peter Simpson started a commercial boat shop. Later, his brother-in-law George Howard, who had been working with him, built his own shop in the Sitka Village, on Katlian Street, which was later used by his sons. Then, in the 1920s and 30s, Simpson’s nephew by marriage, Andrew Hope, started building boats, and eventually had his own shop. Among them, these men and those who worked with them built the majority of the boats built here.

Another builder, Frank Kitka, built several seiners, his last one documented in 1920. He built at least six large boats, first at the Brady sawmill then at a shop on Charcoal Island. He built his last boat on Katlian Street.

In addition, John Bahrt was building smaller boats on Seward Street. Kristian Norholm, a Norwegian immigrant, built his own shop in 1924. Arthur `Scotty’ Jennings had a shop on Katlian Street in the 1930s; he was an immigrant from the north of England. Still others built rowboats, and some fishermen built their own boats.

The Cottages

The Presbyterian mission school, which is now Sheldon Jackson College, began as a day school for Native children in 1878. It soon became a boarding school, where the children learned reading and the Bible, and received training in sawmill engineering, metal work, furniture making, carpentry, and other skills which they used in work on the school. The Presbyterians acquired a portable sawmill in 1882 and staff and students built several buildings by the end of the decade.

In 1886 they had built a boat shop, on the bottom floor of the carpenter shop, where the Sage building is now. This shop was probably for building and repairing the school’s own boats.iii (1)

None of the school’s early carpentry instructors seems to have been a boatbuilder. Students did, however, build a 14-foot rowboat for the Alaska Pavilion at the St. Louis World’s Fair, in 1904.iv (2) In 1910 some instructors built a launch, but it was out of the water again in less than a year, where it stayed for another year.v (3) By 1912 boatbuilding did become a regular part of the school’s program and continued to be so most years until the school became a junior college in 1944. The boat shop had electricity, and a bandsaw, lathe and circular saw by 1915, which they used to repair the school’s boats and to build rowboats.vi (4)

By 1906 or 1907 some graduates of the school had set up a commercial boatbuilding shop at the Cottages settlement, adjacent to the school, but the path from the school to the new shop was not direct.

Peter Simpson – grandfather of Sitka boatbuilding

Peter Simpson came to the Sitka Training School in 1888 when he was about 17 years old and stayed here a couple of years before returning south to Gravina (near Ketchikan) to be the engineer at a sawmill he co-founded. Years later, some time between 1895 and 1899, he came back to Sitka, and was a steam engineer here. When he finally started building boats at Sitka he was in his mid-thirties, about 17 years after he had graduated, and after a career as steam engineer in the intervening years. It is hard to tell at what point or from whom he might have learned boatbuilding. At the time boats were being built all over southeastern Alaska, probably often by people with no formal training at all, and Simpson may himself have been self-taught.

Peter Simpson came to the United States with missionary William Duncan. In 1887 Duncan, who had gone to Canada from his native England as an Anglican missionary, fell out with church and government authorities, and led over 800 Tsimpsean Natives from their village of Metlakatla, British Columbia, to New Metlakatla, at the site of an abandoned Tlingit village near Ketchikan in southeastern Alaska. Peter Simpson was about 16 years old at the time of the exodus. Besides an elementary education from Duncan, Metlakatlans had plenty of opportunities for practicing practical skills. At both towns the people built all their houses and other buildings. At old Metlakatla they built and ran a water powered sawmill and a cannery, and by 1890 New Metlakatla also had a sawmill and cannery.vii (5)

Peter Simpson’s contemporary Edward Marsden, also a teenager at the time, built his mother’s house in the new village, and ran the mission steamer during the move.viii (6) Simpson’s practical education probably began fairly early.

In addition, traditional craftsmen, Tsimpshean and Tlingit, had a strong tradition of working in wood and canoe building, and knew the properties of the different local woods. Although boatbuilders working with planked boats used different techniques, they used the knowledge of wood and woodworking tools of traditional craftsmen.

The spring after the move to Alaska, in 1888, Presbyterian missionary Sheldon Jackson brought Peter Simpson and 31 other boys from Metlakatla to his Sitka training school.ix (7) Peter Simpson was about 17, and he stayed here a couple of years.

Peter Simpson was still at the school in 1890, and was in Sitka in 1891, when he married Mary Sloan, a Sitka Tlinget woman of the Kiksadi clan.x (8)

Then, in the fall of 1892, when he was about 21, he and some other Metlakatlan graduates of the Sitka school returned south and started Hamilton, Simpson and Company, a sawmill, at Port Gravina, across Tongass Narrows from Ketchikan. The all-Native company eventually had a fishing operation, ran a tug, owned a large store, a carpenter shop, and rental cottages. They milled wood for building Ketchikan, but had some problems getting paid; in 1900 Peter Simpson filed a lien against a sawmill in Ketchikan, which got lumber from Gravina and never paid. But the operation lasted until everything burned down in 1904. They could not get title to their business site, because as Natives they were not considered citizens of the United States.

Peter Simpson was the engineer at Gravina and later was their steamboat engineer, and he was the vice president of the company. In a letter to the head of the Sitka school published in the North Star, the Sitka school’s newspaper, he credited the school with all the training for running the mill. “To say that Sitka Industrial Training School train me to do this.” Later in the same letter he writes, “we put all the machinery all in order and runs just as easy as the tide comes up.”xi (9)

He was still working at Gravina in 1895, but by 1899, although he was still an investor in the Gravina mill, he was living in Sitka.xii (10) He was in Sitka with his family in 1897, but that may have been only a visit. His granddaughter Isabella Brady says she has heard he ran a ferry between Douglas and Juneau, sometime between his time at Gravina and his return to Sitka.xiii (11)

In 1900 Simpson was the foreman of a sawmill in Sitka, either at the school, at the mill of John Brady (a supporter of the school) or at the other sawmill in town, owned by W. P. Mills.xiv (12) Even after he started building boats, Simpson seems to have been primarily an engineer. In 1910 and 1912 he spent the summer as foreman of the W. P. Mills sawmill, and spent the winter of 1911-1912 running the school’s steam heating plant and electric plant. In 1909 he remodeled the Native Public School.xv (13)

But by 1907 or so he was also building boats at the Cottages. In the fall of 1908 he had five men working there, and enlarged his shop to 22 by 60 feet. The school paper says that they had orders enough ahead to keep them busy until spring.xvi (14) In 1909 they launched a 34-foot boat for Rudolph Walton, another graduate of the school, a jeweler and later fisherman, and the school paper said they had been building many boats in the past few years.xvii (15) In 1910, when he was nearly 40, Simpson employed his brother-in-law George Howard, who was about the same age, and John James at his shop.xviii (16)

George Howard had married Lottie Sloan, the sister of Peter Simpson’s wife Mary Sloan, in about 1890. (George Howard later married again, around 1907.) George Howard was Tlingit, from Klawock, and also a graduate of the Sitka school. He was living at the Cottages in 1900, but at that time he had been foreman of the school shoe shop. By 1910 he was a boatbuilder, working with Peter Simpson.xix (17)

The Cottages settlement was adjacent to the school, on Kelly and Metlakatla Streets, just west of the Sitka National Historical Park. More cottages were on the present Visitor Center parking lot. It was on mission property, where married former students of the school built their own single family houses, as an alternative to returning to their home villages and living in traditional clan houses. Simpson’s shop was, eventually, on the point of land where the Merrill monument is now.

In the 1910 census, there was a fourth boatbuilder, John Bahrt, son of ship carpenter H. L. Bahrt. He was 28 in 1910. In the previous census, in 1900, he had been a laborer. His father still called himself a ship carpenter on the census, but he was involved in mining and other ventures.xx (18) Between the 1900 census and the 1910 census, Peter Simpson, George Howard, John James, and John Bahrt had all switched to boatbuilding from other jobs. This was probably in response to the need for fishing boats.

The Fisheries

Seining

The sudden increase in boatbuilding — from no boatbuilders at all in 1900, to four in 1910 — was probably due to an increase in demand for fishing boats.

By 1889 there were already 13 canneries in southeastern Alaska, including one at Sitka, at Redoubt.xxi (19) But the early seining (catching fish with a net, towed around a school of fish) was done with large rowboats, which apparently were supplied by the canneries, and the fish were carried on steamers to the cannery.

After the turn of the century, however, gas engines were rapidly adopted in the salmon seine fishery.xxii Many of the gas seiners used out of Sitka were built here.

The earliest seine boats were large flat-bottomed open boats, propelled by oars, and nets were pulled by hand. Engines were introduced on seiners on Puget Sound soon after the turn of the century. According to Herman Kitka, in 1914 Tom Sanders Jr. fished a motorized seiner, the COMET, that had been brought up from Puget Sound, for Deep Sea Salmon Company. He outfished everybody, and soon all the seiners had engines.

Herman Kitka says that the earliest motorized seiners had loose decks of 2 x 12’s which were picked up to empty the hold. This was not the case for more than a couple of years, because of the problem with rain water and snow in the boat in the winter.xxiii (1a)

Many of the seiners built in Sitka over the years were financed by the canneries. Sometimes they were built for the cannery, and sometimes they were built for an individual fisherman, who would help build the boat. The canneries had boats built for good producers, obligating the fisherman to fish for that cannery to repay the debt. Some fishermen would eventually buy their boats, but others fished on cannery boats indefinitely.

Trolling

Trolling peaked in the 1920s or 1930s. Trolling is catching fish with a hook and line, pulled slowly through the water. The early gas powered trollers were much smaller than the boats today, maybe from 20 to 25 feet long. Until the Second World War there were also the hand trollers, who fished by hand from rowboats. Some hand trollers used rowboats, and others used the carved canoes. A typical hand troller rowboat, at least in the 20s and ’30s, was around fourteen or sixteen feet long.

Sealing

Sealing boats, another special kind of boat, eventually evolved into a specific type, built at Sitka.The fur seals pass offshore of Sitka every spring on their way to their breeding grounds on the Pribilof Islands. At a few places in southeastern Alaska and in British Columbia, Native hunters would head out in boats or canoes and hunt them. Up until the turn of the century American and Canadian sealing ships would also take boats and hunters, skilled Native hunters if they could get them, and take the seals on the ocean on the seals’ migration route. Between the almost unregulated slaughter at sea and the official slaughter by the Alaskan Commercial Company on the Pribilof Island breeding grounds fur seals were very nearly wiped out. The sealing fleet shrank with the numbers of fur seals, and 1897 was the last year by law any American ships participated. High seas sealing by all nationalities was outlawed in an international treaty in 1911.xxiv (20)

Natives were always allowed to go out from shore, however, even when sealing from ships was banned. In an 1894 law, the Natives were restricted to open rowing or sailing boats, with five or fewer aboard.xxv (21)

In 1902 sealers were going out from camps at Biorka Island in all kinds of boats, including canoes.xxvi (22) But at some point a type of boat called a sealer came into common use. The Davis family, boatbuilders in Metlakatla, claim to have built the first sealer in 1905.xxvii (25) The sealing boats were around 20 to 25 feet long, graceful rowing boats built for speed. Bob DeArmond, who grew up in Sitka in the 1920s, remembers them having five rowing stations, with a steering oar in the stern, and a harpooner in the bow. He says they were similar to the whaling boats used by the Navy as launches, but much more lightly built, and thus faster.xxviii (24) The boats were sometimes built of spruce for lightness. Sealing boats were built and used for sealing at least into the 1920s. There was a Fourth of July sealing boat race into the 1930s, and the boats were well taken care of. In 1934, the champion was the SKOOKUM, over the “8”.xxix (25)

Other purposes

Boats were built for other purposes too, like pleasure, or for carrying freight, prospecting and mining. Motor boats smaller than about 32 feet are not documented, but there were probably many smaller boats, from skiffs on up, built for trolling, general duty and subsistence food gathering. Besides planked rowboats and launches, carved canoes were also being produced; in the 1900 census, three men listed their occupation as canoe builder. Their ages were from 35 to 56.

John Sarvela

Machine and metal work for Sitka boats was done at Sarvela’s machine shop, where the city grid is now, on Katlian Street. John Sarvela came to Sitka by way of northern California from Finland. He worked first at the Ready Bullion mine at Douglas. There was a strike by all the miners in 1908, and he took the opportunity to move to Chichigoff. While waiting for his family to join him there, he built a small boat, called the BEAVER, named after its engine. In 1916 or so he had the LULU built at Sitka by one of the Sitka builders, from a model he had carved. In 1918 the family moved to Sitka, and he started the machine shop, later taken over by his son Bill Sarvela.xxx (25a)

Frank Kitka

Herman Kitka says that his father, Frank Kitka, built the NECKERBAY, documented 1915, for John Young; OLYMPIC, 1918, for himself; ZINGO, 1918, for John Joseph, financed by the Deep Sea Salmon Company; BUSY BEE, 1919, for George T. Myers; and the ATLAS, his last boat, for himself in 1920, documented 1922. He also built the PTARMIGAN and the DIXIE, which may have been too small to document. He first built in a shop at the old Brady sawmill, near the present Thomsen Harbor. When that building collapsed, he built boats in a shop on Charcoal Island, which had machinery powered by a gas engine. That shop was on the beach below the site of the kindergarten, and burned down before the military took over the island.

This same shop was used by Hoonah boatbuilder Johnny Lawson, to build the PERSEVEARANCE, documented in 1927, and the O.K., documented in 1929.xxxi (1c)

Kitka built his last boat, the ATLAS, in 1920, on Katlian Street. Both the ATLAS and the earlier boat OLYMPIC were built for himself, because his main occupation was as a fisherman.xxxii (1b)

The ATLAS was out of the water at Allen Marine Ways for several years until the fall of 1993.

George Howard and Sons

George Howard might have had his own shop at the Cottages by 1912, but in 1912 or 1914 he built his own shop and house on Katlian Street, on the town side of what is now the Seafood Producers Cooperative plant.xxxiii (2) The earlier shop was much smaller than the one which replaced it in 1940, and was only big enough to build the hull of the boat and not the superstructure.xxxiv (2a) The house and shop were torn down in the summer of 1990.

George Howard probably built the ACTIVE, documented in 1917, for himself and his sons, and he built the U & I, documented 1919. The year of documentation is not necessarily the year the boat was launched, and is often a little later. The U & I was completely rebuilt in 1947 by troller Oscar Johnson, near Lindenburgh Head, and is still fishing.xxxv (3)

In the 1920 census, taken in January of 1920, George Howard and his son George Howard Jr. were on Katlian Street and listed their occupations as boatbuilders.xxxvi (3a) George Howard and his sons, David and George Jr., advertised in most issues of the Sitka Tribune, from 1922 through 1924. In their ads they used a photo of a seine type boat. Some ads read, “GEORGE HOWARD BoatbuildING PLANT Now Ready to Take Orders for Boats from 14 ft. up to 40 ft. Lumber on Hand.” The newspaper, in June of 1922, reported that they were turning out sealing boats, and that they had laid a keel for a 48-foot boat.xxxvii (4)

In March of 1923 they were building two boats, one for James Ryan, launched that month, and one for someone from Kake.xxxviii (5)

Every summer the Howards closed up shop and went fishing. George Howard built the large seiner PROGRESS, documented in 1923, for himself, his sons, and son-in-law Andrew Hope.xxxix (6)

The Cottages Through the 1920s

Herman Kitka says that Peter Simpson built the DREADNAUGHT, 1915, for Myers Cannery, for Jimmy Keunz; the ALBATROSS, 1917, for John Cameron, another resident of the Cottages; the BARANOFF, 1918, for Ralph Young, of the Cottages; the EAGLE, 1919 for Pyramid Packing Company; the MARY WARD, 1919, for Deep Sea Packing Company for George Ward; and the KATHARINE, 1919, for Deep Sea.xl (7)

Simpson is said to have built the MOONLIGHT, 1918, although the documentation lists her owner, Edward Grant, as the builder. Grant fished the boat into the 1940s, when he was killed aboard the boat when his neck scarf caught in the exposed engine. It was beached on Graveyard Island at Hoonah, until bought by a troller, Pete Moe.xli (19)

The MOONLIGHT is still fishing; the boat was completely rebuilt in 1979. By that time she was in rough shape from lack of maintenance from a series of owners. Her present owner says that before the rebuild the boat was unusually lightly built, with widely spaced frames, and no floors, the pieces which join the pairs of ribs.xlii (20) This might indicate the speed with which these boats were built, although it may be a characteristic only of this particular boat.

Peter Simpson built the troller SMILES, documented in 1920.xliii (8) According to the 1920 census, Cottages residents Raymond James and Simpson’s son Louis Simpson were building boats with Simpson.xliv (8a) He also advertised in 1925: “NOTICE Order your trolling boats from the Simpson Shop, Peter Simpson.”xlv (9) But in 1922, 1923, and 1924, he is only mentioned as a sealer (one of the most successful), and fisherman in the newspaper, and he also advertised his boat, the ALCO, for hire.xlvi (10) He could have been building trollers, which at that time were too small to require federal documentation.

Boatbuilder Louis Simpson, Peter Simpson’s son, died at the age of 40 in 1936 in a flu epidemic of pneumonia.xlvii (10c)

In 1922, John Willard advertised “boat work a specialty” at the Cottages, perhaps at Simpson’s shop.xlviii (10a)

Early day wood for boatbuilding

Herman Kitka says that even in the early days, most builders used Douglas fir, shipped on the steamers from Seattle air-dried, and not too many builders cut their own wood.xlix (10aa) This was apparently most often the case with the cannery financed boats.

For political and economic reasons the sawmill industry has never thrived here. For a long time after the purchase of Alaska cutting wood commercially on government land was not legal, and then when it was legal, the law was hazy and export from the state was still illegal.l (10b) In some years there was no operating sawmill in Sitka. By contrast, the logging industry in Washington and Oregon was large, competitive, and organized. Even today Douglas fir, from Washington and Oregon, is readily available, while lumber from local trees is very difficult to obtain.

Andrew Hope in the 1920s and 1930s

Andrew Hope, a well-known Sitka builder, was very active by the end of the 1920s. Andrew Hope was born in Sitka in 1896. His father was English, and his mother was Tlinget, from the Kogwanton clan. At Sitka his father was a store clerk for the Sitka Trading Company and was also involved in mining, and eventually left for the Yukon gold rush. Andrew went to the Sheldon Jackson school, and also attended the Cushman school, in Tacoma.li (21)

In 1912, he married Tillie Howard, when both were about 16. Tillie was the daughter of boatbuilder George Howard, and niece of Peter Simpson, and so young Andrew probably started his boatbuilding career working with these men.

Apparently Hope did not have his own shop until about 1940, when he built his shop on the town side of what is now Murray Pacific.lii (22) The shop still stands, although part of it was taken off to widen the street a few years ago, and it is now the shop of Harry Jimmy. Before he had his own shop, he may have built in the Howard family boatshop or Peter Simpson’s.

In the 1920s and 1930s, documents name him as builder of the BIORKA and STARLIGHT, documented in 1927; the PYRAMID, 1929; the NEPTUNE, 1930; BUDDY, 1931; and the ADMIRALTY, 1938.liii (23)

He probably had a hand in building others for which there are no records.

The NEPTUNE was built for and to some extent by “Cap” Pavloff, behind where the Wells Fargo bank is now. Pavlof used the boat for fishing and for running to his homeplace of Kodiak or beyond. Pavlof had been a captain of trading vessels in Alaska.liv (24) The NEPTUNE was documented in 1930, and is another survivor of that era, still fishing out of Sitka.

Andrew Hope built many of his boats from half models, hand carved scale models (½ inch to a foot) of half a boat, cut lengthways.lv (24a) Molds for the full sized boats were then scaled up from the model, and very seldom did the full size molds have to be faired in at all.lvi (25)

Hope built the ADMIRALTY for George James of Angoon. This boat was a copy of another Angoon boat, the seiner U & I, maybe the boat George Howard built in 1919, although there were two boats with that name.lvii (25aa)

John Bahrt.

Builder John Bahrt was also working in the 1920s, according to his nephew and namesake, who remembered helping his uncle build at least one small boat, for John Peterson. He said his uncle used copper fastenings, and preferred Douglas fir.lviii (11)

The shop was at the family home, where the Seward Square Mall is now, so boats had to be launched on rollers to put in by the old sawmill. lix(12) That waterfront has all been filled in now, and is the parking lot and tourist dock at Crescent Harbor.

John Bahrt was later the first gardener at the new Pioneer Home. He died in 1962, at the age of 82. lx (12a)

Kristian Norholm

By the early 1920s, Sitka’s builders were joined by Kristian Norholm, a Norwegian immigrant. In 1922 he was planning to put up a boatbuilding operation at Sawmill Cove. He had somewhere launched the ROSARIO, which might have been a repair job to a Norwegian-owned Seattle boat of that name, and repaired another boat. In the spring of 1923 he had built a covered ways at “Norholm Cove,” probably where older Sitkans remember his shop being, near the Forest Service building and the old airplane turnaround. He also had an engine for hauling boats up. At the time there was only a trail to his shop, and he landed materials by boat.lxi (13)

The shop was not very big. The ways were wooden. Most local boats then were not very big — 30 feet was a large boat.

Norholm did repair to the larger boats, like the halibut boats up from Puget Sound, which were almost all Norwegian-owned. He built some boats as well: he built the 32-foot CARRIE for George Rice, a local plumber, in 1922.lxii (14) Bill Sarvela helped him once when he was a teenager, in the mid-20s, on a repair to the MORNING STAR, owned by Sergius Williams. Norholm also used clenched nails, iron nails driven through the plank and frame and bent over on the inside. Bill Sarvela helped by bending them over inside, while Norholm drove them from outside the boat.lxiii (15)

At Aleutkina Bay Norholm had a cabin with a log floor adzed smooth, and a mine he worked on, drilling and blasting a tunnel. He also fished, on halibut boats and at least once herring seining. He was also something of a character.

Norholm had come to Sitka around 1915, probably to do something other than build boats. He died of exposure after being hurt in a fight at his mining claim in 1933, when he was about 48.lxiv (15a)

Other Boatbuilders

Johnny Lawsson, a fisherman and builder originally from Hoonah, built the PERSEVEARANCE in Sitka, documented 1927, and the O.K., 1929, in the Charcoal Island shop used by George Howard. The shop burned down shortly before the military took over Charcoal Island before World War II.lxv (15b)

The Tribune also mentions T. F. Demidoff repairing Booth Fisheries’ boat ELSIE, and building a 20-foot yellow cedar boat, that took him two years to finish.lxvi (16) He is also reported in 1928 building a 32-foot troller at the sawmill, with plans to install a 12-15 horsepower Sterling gas engine.lxvii

Another boatbuilder in the 1920s or 1930s was Gustav Karvonen, who built small rowboats, and a 34-foot troller for a Juneau man.lxviii (17) He also repaired the LULU for the Sarvelas. Bill Sarvela remembers him as a “meticulous, little bit of a fellow” who would sand the inside of his boats so that the slime would not stick.lxix (17b)He built skiffs on Aleutski Island, or possibly the same shop Frank Kitka and Johnny Lawsson used, on Charcoal Island. He had an engine to run a bandsaw.

His skiffs were superior to the Davis model, according to Bill Sarvela. The Davis model rowboat was a type of boat, first double-ended and later with a square stern for an outboard engine, built by the Davis family in Metlakatla and distributed all around southeastern Alaska. They were relatively narrow. Bill Sarvela says the fishermen preferred Karvonen’s, because they were more beamy (wider) and easy to row.

Karvonen got oak for ribs from barrels. The planking was spruce or yellow cedar. They had a transom (square) stern, and were wide all the way up to the transom.

He built a few on Aleutski, then a few more on Middle Island, after he moved there to a former fox farm. Eventually he had to come in to live at the Pioneers Home, but died soon after.lxx (16a)

Scotty Jennings

In the 1930s Hope worked with Arthur “Scotty” Jennings, an Englishman from Newcastle (a city near the Scottish border). Scotty’s shop was on pilings just beyond the ANB hall.lxxi (26) The spot is now filled, and is a parking lot beside ANB Harbor.

Jennings served in the English army in the First World War, when he would already have been in his late thirties. He may have originally come to Sitka to fox farm. He was a small, quick man, a “feisty little Englishman,” also somewhat deaf and “cantankerous” in his later years.lxxii (27)

He had a large shop, a former handpack cannery. Bill Sarvela remembers him as excitable, and says he would curse people always stealing his hammers, which he found again when he cleaned up the piles of shavings in his shop.

Jennings built prams, flat-bottomed boats with flat ends, about eight feet long, used as tenders on the fishing boats. Jennings could build the prams quite quickly. He and Andrew Hope once built a dory for Bob DeArmond, which DeArmond rowed to Tacoma, where he went to high school. Apparently they did not usually build dories, because they had to find a model, a dory from a halibut boat.lxxiii (27a)

He did boat repair, although he didn’t build large boats. He also worked for Sitka Light and Power Company on their generator on Sawmill Creek Road, and did dock work.lxxiv (27b)

He advertised in the newspaper in 1934 and 1935: “Boatbuilder and General Boat Repairs. Sitka Alaska.” The newspaper also reported his renovation of the Midget Bar, and his putting in a files system at the commissioner’s office. He died in June of 1949, at 68, at Juneau. He had gone there to go to the hospital, because Sitka did not have a hospital then. He was buried there, not having any relatives here. The shop eventually collapsed, and was torn down.lxxv (29)

Adolph Thomsen

Adolph Thomsen, for whom Thomsen Harbor is named, was a Sitka businessman and fisherman who built two boats for himself in the 1930s: the SOPHIA and the EROS. Both boats were around 40 feet long. Before settling in Sitka he had been a deep water sailor, originally from Denmark. At Sitka he and his family fox-farmed on Biorka Island. His wife Sophia raised chickens, goats, sheep, cows, and horses, and carded, spun and knitted wool into clothes for the family. She also caulked the SOPHIA, which did not leak a drop, according to their daughter, Anna Baggen.lxxvi (30)

In 1923 he owned three fishing boats, the MAINE, the GEDNEY, and the HECLA.lxxvii (31) He still had the HECLA in 1935 when he launched the SOPHIA. The Arrrowhead reported, when the boat was built, that it was intended for halibut fishing.lxxviii (32) The SOPHIA is probably still in use, registered out of Wrangell in 1989.

Thomsen built the EROS in 1937, after the family moved to town, near the present Baranof School playground. She had to be launched on rollers down Baranof Street.lxxix (33)

Endnotes.

i. R. N. DeArmond, A Sitka Chronology (Sitka, Alaska: Sitka Historical Society, 1993)

ii Merchant Vessels 1921, 1928, 1941.

iii Ted C. Hinckley, Alaskan John G. Brady: Missionary, Businessman, Judge, and Governor, 1878-1918 (Miami, Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1982), p. 123 (1882 sawmill); North Star, April 1889, p. 68 (six cottages); North Star, March 1888, p. 14 (carpentry shop, others); North Star, 25 December, 1886, p. 3 (boat shop in carp. shop). The North Star was the Sheldon Jackson School newspaper.

iv. Hinckley, p. 338 (rowboat 1904 expo)

v. Thlinget, March 1910, p. 4; idem, February 1912, p. 2 (instructors launch). The Thlinget was the successor to the North Star, the newspaper of the Sheldon Jackson School.

vi. Sheldon Jackson Annuals, No. 814 in Sheldon Jackson College Archives, Sitka, Alaska (1915 annual: boys keep small fleet in repair, build rowboats, hope to build launch; have bandsaw, lathes, circ. saw in shop, elec. lights — also in program 1912, 1924, 1930, 31, 32, 33; 38-39 boys built 4 skiffs, 6 round bottom boats).

vii. Peter Murray, The Devil and Mr. Duncan (Victoria, British Columbia: Sono Nis Press, 1985), p. 42 (industries by 1890)

viii. Murray, p. 17 (Marsden ran steamer)

ix. Murray, p. 207 (boys to S.J.); William Gilbert Beattie, Marsden of Alaska (New York: Vantage Press, 1955), p. 19 (boys to S.J., incl Simpson); North Star, September 1888 (Simpson in school here).

x. Sitka Sentinel (Sitka), 31 December 1947 (married in 1891, Sept. 17); Isabella Brady, interview by author, tape recording, Sitka Alaska 18 November, 1988 (Mrs. Simpson was Kiksadi); North Star, May 1890, p. 118 (Simpson still here).

xi. North Star, November 1892, p. 238 (Gravina letter); Patricia Roppel, “Gravina,” Alaska Journal, vol. 2 no. 3 (1972): 13-15; Alaskan, 21 January, 1893, p. 3 (started); idem, 11 March 1893, p. 3 (report); idem, 1 April 1893, p. 3 (in operation).

xii. North Star, April 1895 (still down there); Alaskan 13 May 1899, p. 3 (Simpson back in Sitka).

xiii. Alaskan late fall 1897 (arrives with family on steamer); Isabella Brady interview (ran ferry).

xiv. 1900 U. S. Census (was sawmill engineer)

xv. Thlinget, September 1909, p. 2 (rem. pub. school); Thlinget, August 1911, p. 1 (steam heating plant); Thlinget, May 1911, p. 3 (to install water wheel); Thlinget, April 1910, p. 3 (Mills’ sawmill); Thlinget, February 1912, p. 2 (sawmill up); Thlinget, May 1912, p. 4 (lights all winter, next summer at Mills’ sawmill).

xvi. North Star, October 1908, p. 3 (starting 1906 or 1907, orders to spring).

xvii. North Star, March 1909, p. 2 (boat for Walton, many boats past few years), Chronology p. 38 (Walton’s boat the William)

xviii 1910 Census (Simpson, Howard, James building).

xix 1900 Census, 1910 Census (Howard marriage, jobs).

xx. 1900 Census, 1910 Census (John and H. L. Bahrt), Alaskan, passim (activities of H. L. Bahrt).

xxi. Alaskan, 13 April 1889, p. 1 (number of canneries 1889).

xxii. Homer E. Gregory and Kathleen Barnes, North Pacific Fisheries, with Special Reference to Alaska Salmon (San Francisco: American Council Institute of Pacific Relations, 1939), p 24 (gas engines spread)

xxiii Herman Kitka, interviews by the author, tape recordings, Sitka, Alaska, October and December 1988 and March 3 1992 (early seiners, financing, the first seiner) The Comet was later rebuilt by Frank Kitka’s brother Peter Kitka in 1926 – Kitka interview 3/92

xxiv. Gerald O. Williams, The Bering Sea Fur Seal Dispute: A Monograph on the Maritime History of Alaska (Juneau, Alaska: Alaska Maritime Publications, 1984) (sealing late 19th century).

xxv. Alaskan, 28 April 1884, p. 1 (sealing law).

xxvi. Alaskan, 17 May 1902, p. 3 (all types of boats)

xxvii. Marty Loken, Davis Boats, Traditional Small Boats of the Northwest Volume Two (Seattle: Center for Wooden Boats, 1981), p. 11 (first sealing boat).

xxviii. R. N. DeArmond, pers. com. winter 1991 (what sealing boats were like).

xxix. Sitka Arrowhead, 14 July 1934, pp. 1, 6 (Skookum beats 8).

xxx Rudy Sarvela, interview by author, tape recording, Sitka Alaska December 1 1988 (History of John Sarvela).

xxxi Herman Kitka Sr., interviews October, December 1988 and March 1992

xxxii Herman Kitka, interviews October, December 1988 (Atlas) and March 1992.

xxxiii George Howard Sr., interview by author, tape recording, Sitka, Alaska, November, 1988; George Howard Sr. and Louie Howard, interview by author, tape recording, Sitka, Alaska, December 1988; and George Howard Sr., interview by author, tape recording, Sitka, Alaska, July 1990 (shop, house built 1912); City Deeds #542 Book 2, granted 2 May 1914 (to

build); Thlinget, March 1912, p. 2 (many new boats from H and S shops, latest 35-footer with red & y c tender); Thlinget, May 1912, p. 4 (H busy all the time).

xxxiv Kitka interview (first Howard shop small)

xxxv Howard interviews (grandfather owned Active at one point); United States Coast Guard, Marine Safety Office, Vessel Documentation, Vessel Files and Abstracts of Titles, Juneau, Alaska (U & I built Howard).

xxxvi 1920 Census (Howards boat builders).

xxxvii Tribune, 1922-1924, passim (ads); Tribune 9 June 1922, p. ?

xxxviii Tribune, 2 March 1923, p. 1; Tribune 16 March 1923, p. 3 (boats for Kake,

James Ryan).

xxxix Tribune, 23 June, 1922 (going fishing); 24 September 1923 (back from

fishing); Coast Guard Vessel Documentation (Progress).

xl. Tribune 23 June 1922 (Willard), Kitka 1992 (boats built by Simpson).

xli. Pat Wood, phone interview by author, 16 November 1988; Merchant Vessels 1921,

1928, 1941, 1948

xlii. ibid.

xliii. Mark Jacobs Jr., interviews by author, tape recordings, Sitka Alaska, November, December 1988 (Smiles built by

Simpson).

xliv. 1920 Census (Simpson, others boatbuilders, Cottages).

xlv. Tribune, 29 February 1925, p. 4, and passim (Simpson ad).

xlvi. Tribune 27 October 1922 (fishing Alco); 16 March 1922, p. 4 (Alco for hire). Tribune, 26 May 1922 (sealing); Tribune, 9 June 1922 (high boat seals).

xlvii City of Sitka Death Certificates (Louis Simpson).

xlix Kitka interview 3/92 (early builders used fir).

l Hinckley, pp 126-28, 133, 144-46 (legality of wood cutting in late 1880s, 1890 Brady shut down) p 145 (1891 Lands Act still not clear on timber use).

li Kathy Ruddy, phone interview by author 9 December 1988; Ellen Hope Hays, interview by author, Sitka, Alaska, 27 October 1988, Sitka Sentinel 15 April 1968, p. 1 (birth date, father English, mother Kogwanton, schools), Alaskan, passim (Percy Hope mining).

lii Hays interview; Sentinel, 15 April 1968, p. 1 (marriage to Tillie); Kitka interview; Hays interview (shop in 1940’s); Howard interview; Jacobs interview (had shop at time of P-H).

liii.Coast Guard Vessels Documentation (boats built by Hope)

liv Sentinel 5 Dec 1947 (obit); John Bahrt, interviews by author, tape recording, Sitka, Alaska, November and December 1988 (to go to Kodiak); Greg Cushing, phone interview by author 16 November 1988 (built at NBA); Coast Guard Vessels Documentation (built by Hope).

lv

lvi Herman Kitka, Sr. interview by author, tape recording, Sitka Alaska March 3, 1992 (Andrew Hope’s building methods).

lvii Mo Johnson interview by author, tape recording, Sitka, Alaska January 17 1988 (Admiralty copy of U&I)

lviii. Bahrt interview (methods of Bahrt)

lix. Ibid.

lx. Bahrt interview (gardener at Pioneer Home), Chronology p 137 (died Oct. 9 1963).

lxi. Tribune. May 1922 (shop to build at sawmill cove); Tribune. 6 April

1923, p 1 (Norholm Cove); Bahrt interview (trail to shop, halibut boats).

lxii. Tribune, 9 June 1922, p. 1 (Carrie); Merchant Vessels 1928

lxiii Bill Sarvela, interview by author, Sitka, Alaska 17 November 1988 (copper fast., helped).

lxiv Sitka Court System, Death Certificate (when he came, how he died).

lxv Kitka 3-92 (Lawsson built Persevearance).

lxvi Tribune, 23 February 1923 (Elsie repaired by Demidoff); Tribune. 24 August 1923 (20′ boat)

lxvii Chronology p. 57 (Demidoff troller)

lxviii B. Sarvela, 1992 note on draft (34′ troller) and Bahrt (Karvonen built boats).

68 R. Sarvela (repaired Lulu).

lxix B. Sarvela interview

lxx Sarvela interview, Bahrt interview (Gus Karvonen) (died – ?)

lxxi Hays interview, Kitka interview (worked with Scotty); Sentinel 29 June

1949, p. 1; Sentinel 1 July 1949, p.1 (obit).

lxxii. Kitka interview (came to fox farm); Tribune, 17 November 1922 (A. Jennings leases for fox farm); Sentinel, 29 June 1949, p. 1; Sentinel 1 July 1949, p. I (obit).

lxxiii Bob DeArmond, personal communication (model for dory).

lxxiv Arrowhead 8 September 1934, 3 November 1934 (carpentry); B. Sarvela interview; Kitka interview (did repair, no large boats).

lxxv. Sitka Arrowhead 5 May 1934 through 1935 (ad); Sentinel 29 June 1949, p 1; 1 July 1949, p. 1 (obit).

lxxvi Anna Baggen, phone interview by author, November or December 1988 (fox farm, activity of Sophia).

lxxvii Sitka Tribune, 20 April 1923, p. 1 (owned three boats).

lxxviii Arrowhead 11 May 1935 (launch), Coast Guard Vessel Documentation (in use).

lxxix. Baggen interview (Eros) Chronology p. 75 (Eros launched 1937).

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E. W. Merrill's photograph of the 1899 "Potlatch," entered as evidence in Davis v. Sitka School Board.

E. W. Merrill’s photograph of the 1899 “Potlatch,” entered as evidence in Davis v. Sitka School Board.

In May, 1906, eighteen residents of Sitka, Alaska testified in a federal school integration case called Davis et al. v. Sitka School Board.

In 1905, Congress had passed the Nelson Act, authorizing funds for public schools in Alaska for white children and children of “mixed blood who lead a civilized life.” Before the Nelson Act, federal funds went to educate Alaskan children “without regard to race,” though in segregated schools. Alaska at the time was not even a Territory, but a federally-managed District.

Cassia Patton, a 45-year-old teacher, was the secretary to her brother-in-law, Alaska Governor John G. Brady. She instigated the confrontation by encouraging certain Native families living in the Village – the Native part of town – to send their children to the “white” school, after the Native school closed at the beginning of 1906.

When some of those children actually attended the public school that January, it struck a nerve. School board members W. P. Mills and Mrs. Stowell told the teacher to turn those children away. Mrs. Stowell sent letters to the parents telling them to stop sending their children to school.

Rudolph Walton was Tlingit, the tribe whose ancestral lands include Sitka. He was the step-father of two of the children, Dora and Tillie Davis, and requested a writ of mandamus from the court in Juneau to compel the school board to admit the children. He was represented by the third member of the school board, William Kelly, who had quit the school board in disgust. Kelly also happened to be a member of the Alaska bar.

The testimony was sent to Juneau, and the case filed later that month. Federal District Judge Royal Arch Gunnison, a young appointee of President Roosevelt, did not decide the case until almost two years later, in January, 1908. This was probably because the Native school had reopened, but also because the testimony was overwhelmingly against allowing the school to be integrated. His smug racism is expressed everywhere in his decision:

The Indian in his native state has everywhere been found to be savage, an uncivilized being, when measured by the white man’s standard. The government has always regarded him as of a benighted race, in a state of pupilage, a ward of the nation, needing care, control, protection, and education.“ Education, of course, in separate schools.

Judge Gunnison decided that any association with other Natives, with any Native custom or food, or residence in the Native part of town, means that a child “of mixed blood” is not “leading a civilized life,” and thus not entitled to education in the public school. Separating Native people from whites by law means they can never be “civilized,” which seems, unfortunately, to be the point of the entire exercise.

So far it looks pretty typical for this era, when eugenics and other ideas of racial ranking were widespread. But in Sitka, nearly the entire town was “mixed race.” The fault lines and the effort it took in order to define certain people as “Natives,” in order to deny them rights, reveal the motivations behind racism in this turn-of-the-century Alaska town.

Race

Defendants in the case were school board members W. P. Mills, who was Sitka’s leading merchant and businesman, and Mrs. Stowell, wife of the chief clerk of the Sitka Surveyor office. They both come across as unpleasant people. It was probably not a coincidence that Mills’ mother and wife were both members of the Daughters of the American Revolution, as was Mrs. Stowell’s daughter (Mrs. Stowell herself had been born in Scotland). H. A. Robinson, publisher of the Sitka Cablegram newspaper, who was also a former employee of Mills, represents the defense on the second day.

William A. Kelly, representing plaintiff Rudolph Walton, was the superintendent of the Presbyterian Sitka Industrial and Training School, a boarding school for Natives. Other supporters were Governor John Brady’s wife Elizabeth, as well as her sister, Cassia Patton. All these people on the plaintiff side were linked through their association with the Presbyterian mission school, which John Brady had helped start in 1878, before leaving mission work and becoming a merchant (and eventually Governor). Rudolph Walton and his first wife, Daisy, had been educated at the mission school. Walton was one of the first students, and helped construct the first buildings, as a teen, in 1882.

In the testimony, the defendants are not on trial – the children’s parents are. The “white” fathers are attacked for their association with Natives, but also for the kind of work they did, its frequency, and the appearance of their homes, even though their work and habits were far from unusual.

One of the fathers “was usually called a ‘Squaw Man,’ he is married to a Native,” demands W. P. Mills, of one witness, who answers, “Yes sir.” Bernard Hirst, a storekeeper, handled remittances from another of the children’s fathers, and is questioned about the man’s “indulging in strong drink” in the past, as well as the amount of support he pays for his child.

The third of the “white” fathers is said by a witness to be living a civilized life, but his wife and children were not. “His wife is a halfbreed Indian squaw and he cannot make her anything else.”

(Another unsettling thing in reading this testimony is that everyone, whether or not they are sympathetic to school integration, uses terms like “halfbreed” or “mixed breed” in referring to their fellow Sitkans.)

And here is the twist: all three of these witnesses were themselves “of mixed blood” or married to women who were. Even more striking, it turns out that all but one of the 29 children enrolled at the public “white” school are “of mixed blood.” They include Native orphans living at the Russian orphanage, and the child of a Chinese father and Native mother. Most of these children, though, are part Native because a parent is “Russian.” All the children at the “white” school are just as Native as the children the school board wishes to exclude.

The “Russians” were the descendants of Russian fathers and Alaska Native women, and were called “Creoles” by the Russian authorities. In the American era, they called themselves Russians, but had to defend their status between the incoming “whites,” and the “Indians,” or “natives.” In the 1900 Census, their race is even listed as Russian, a category distinct from White or Indian.

Everyone acknowledges that Russians and their children are “of mixed blood,” but at one point Robinson, for the defense, asks Kelly, representing the plaintiffs, “Do you consider Russians white people.” Kelly replied: “I consider Russians white.”

In Sitka in 1906, race can’t be defined simply by one’s ethnic heritage, which makes this case interesting. How to define “Natives” in such a way that they can be excluded from the “white” school, where the “white” students are as “Native” as the “Natives?” Which begs the question: why bother? Why was this so important?

In 1906 Sitka’s population of about 1200 included around 800 residents classed as “Indian,” most of them living in the Village or “ranche” part of town, to the northwest of the old Russian stockade line. Other Native people, graduates of the Presbyterian mission school, lived at the Cottages, a model Native community on the mission grounds, east of town. Nearly half of the 400 or so remaining residents were Russian. Other residents were from Europe, and several were from China. U.S.-born European-Americans were a small minority, with a handful of those – primarily white federal employees – comprising Sitka’s elite.

H. A. Robinson, representing the defense on the second day, was married to a Russian woman, and his children were among those “of mixed blood” attending the public school.

Another example of the complexity of race is the family of English-born storekeeper Bernard Hirst, a witness in the case. He had married a Tlingit woman, whose sisters lived at the Cottages, the Presbyterian Native community. His family lived downtown, and his sons attended the public or white schools, while their first cousins went to Native schools.

Adding to the complexity is that the Russians in white Sitka and the Natives or “Indians” living in the Village worshiped together, and married one another, in the Russian Orthodox Church; many of the “Indians” were as European as the Russians. It was not easy to make distinctions, especially without offending church officials.

In 1906, Americans like Mills and Judge Gunnison certainly believed in the superiority of the white race, but racial purity was less than useful in defining who was or was not Native in Sitka in 1906. So, the testimony revolves around proving the “civilization” of the families.

Civilization

W. P. Mills tries to define eating Native foods as a sign of a lack of civilization. He demands of Cassia Patton, in regard to the deceased father of the Davis girls, “did he eat seal oil?”

She says she doesn’t know but that “I suppose he ate fish eggs, I have done that myself, in fact I think a great many people would be benefited by eating them.” I must admit, I love Cassia Patton.

Her sister, Mrs. Brady, also has a sympathetic attitude toward the plaintiffs. She says that she finds Mrs. Walton (the former Mrs. Davis) “to be of very nice appearance and manner and very much of a lady.” Mrs. Brady offers many “signs of civilization” by Walton and his family.

The father of Rudolph Walton’s step-children, Fred Davis, who was also Tlingit, was dead, but that does not prevent both prosecution and defense from making him a central figure in the testimony. William Kelly, representing the plaintiff side, tries to establish the “civilization” of the parents by showing that they are educated, and live in their own separate homes, and not in clan houses, with their clan relatives. He elicits from one witness that the Davis family had a carpet on the floor and nice things, and that Fred and Mary Davis had been educated. But other witnesses testify that Davis took part in traditional Tlingit “potlatches” in 1899 and in 1904.

The Tlingit potlatch, or koo.eek, is at the center of Tlingit culture and society. Clans invite their opposite clans (all Tlingit clans are one of two moieties), honor and feast them and distribute property, as a way of establishing and reinforcing social and political relationships, as well as ancient traditions of reciporcity. Highly symbolic objects, regalia, dance, and elevated speech are key. American and British authorities understood the importance of the potlatch and worked tirelessly to eradicate the practice.

Photographer E. W. Merrill was called as a witness, because his photograph, of Fred Davis taking part in an 1899 potlatch, is an exhibit for the defense.

Merrill is known today for his great skill and artistry, and for his respectful and realistic portraits of Native people and art. We would expect him to be sympathetic to the Native culture. We would be wrong.

Perhaps Merrill had some personal reason to keep Village children from school, or maybe he had some reason to fear for his own social status, due to his “association” with the Natives; but, he is probably just displaying the prejudices shared by most people at the time.

Merrill distances himself from the Village, saying that he goes there “because my business leads me there.” He says that Fred Davis took part in the 1899 as well as the 1904 potlatch.

When Kelly questions him as to the nature of the dances, and whether they involved “immorality,” Merrill responds that “I should judge there must have been from the arrests made at the time.”

Then, Kelly asks him if he’s familiar with the “masquerades” or holiday balls by the “Russians and whites,” and Merrill says he has never attended one, and knows nothing of them. This is hard to believe, judging from the later testimony by the marshal, that makes it sound like they were hard to miss. He refuses to acknowledge that dressing up in a “masquerade” might be just as much a sign of uncivilization as dressing up for a Native dance.

Rudolph Walton, the stepfather of the Davis girls, had attended the Sitka mission school, and was a jeweler and carver and businessman, built and owned his own business and home, and was an elder in the Presbyterian church.

Merrill is asked, “do you consider him a peaceful and industrious man.” Merrill’s response: “As far as Indians are concerned yes.”

Don’t you consider that Walton’s being educated at the Training School would entitle him to be classed with civilized people.”

Merrill responds, “It depends upon one’s view regarding a civilized person.”

Economics

Sitka in 1906 had lost the seat of government to Juneau, where the gold mines were booming. Commercial fishing had not yet become an economic force. Most of the buildings along the dirt main street, including the federal offices where the testimony was taken, were old Russian log buildings a half century or more old, picturesque but decaying. Mills and the other white merchants, such as witness Bernard Hirst and U. S. Commissioner Edward deGroff, made their living supplying the small local mines and other local ventures, by buying furs, and by dealing in Native handicrafts for the steamship tourist trade.

Walton’s small store would have been a direct competitor of Mills, if he purchased furs, and Walton was a seal hunter himself. Walton also produced and sold artwork directly to the tourists, which might have had something to do with W. P. Mills’ hostility in the case. It could be that Walton’s actual “civilization” – which surpassed that of a majority of “white” Sitkans – may have been a reason Mills and the others felt the need to put him down, by refusing to let his children attend school with theirs.

William Kelly, representing Walton, questions him about his education, business and taxes, and how his step children attended the public school before he was notified they would not be allowed to attend any more.

Then Mills takes his turn at Walton, and demands, “somebody suggested that you take them to the white school,” to which Walton replies “No sir, I thought of it myself, I try to do something without advising me.”

Mills asks Walton whether the children’s mother speaks English. He says she does, but Mills repeatedly contradicts him, insisting that she does not, even after Walton says that of course she would not speak to Mills.

Mills questions Walton about the amount of business he does at his store, then mocks him for having an expensive cash register when he has no clerk.

Mills: “How much did you pay for your cash register.”

Walton: “$385.00 laid down here. I have fine things. I don’t see what that has to do with the school.” Which provokes laughter in the room.

Mills: “Perhaps not, I do; you will let me judge.”

When Walton is called again, H. A. Robinson, representing the defense, insinuates that Walton could not have written his complaint that went to Juneau. “Who dictated the letter, who told you what to say.”

Walton: “Nobody told me what to say, I know, I have words.”

Sitka’s Commissioner, merchant Edward deGroff, who is the referee for the testimony, never raises any objection to this treatment of Walton, and we’ll never know whether it is because he is sympathetic to the defense, or because he does not know better.

Traditions

Rudolph Walton, whose Tlingit name was Kawootk’, Fred Davis, and Fred Bean (likely Augustus Bean), who was called as a witness, were all important in Sitka Tlingit society, as well as members of the Presbyterian church. It could be that their stature in Tlingit society was another thorn in Mills’ side, because he was dependent on Native handicraft and furs for his business.

Rudolph Walton was one of the first students at the mission school, one of several boys from prominent lineages. It could be that at the time a mission education looked like an advantage to a young leader; Tlingit people were soon to learn that affiliating with the Presbyterians came at the cost of giving up Native culture and tradition and status. Walton built a home at the Cottages, the model Native community on the mission grounds. His English name was given by the family who sponsored him at the school, after a prominent Presbyterian educator in Philadelphia. This epitomizes the dramatic drop in status, from a master of property and leader-in-training, to a person with so little status he is renamed by his missionary sponsors. And these are the “pro-Native” people.

But not long before this 1906 trial, Walton left his home at the Cottages and built his store and home to the edge of the Village. His wife had died, and he married his second wife, the former Mrs. Davis, in 1905 in a traditional way that the Presbyterians did not approve. Like his first wife, she was of the Kaagwaantaan clan, of an appropriate lineage for a person of Walton’s lineage, and 14 years younger than he was.

Rudolph Walton probably had to give up some of the perogatives of his birth, when he joined the Presbyterian church, but he was still an important member of his Kik.sadi clan. In 1901, Walton had taken part in a traditional Tlingit peace ceremony, to resolve a serious dispute between two clans, one of them his own. This act helped quell conflict, which you would think the Presbyterians would appreciate, but instead he was nearly kicked out of the church for it.

The 1904 “Last Potlatch” had been sanctioned by Governor Brady, as the “last” potlatch, because he recognized that Tlingit clans in Sitka had incurred obligations they had to to discharge. Instead, the “last” potlatch was a reminder of the strength the Tlingit clan system retained, even after decades of repression. It would have been obvious to the entire town, white and Native alike, in the richly dressed guests in their large canoes, the elaborate welcoming ceremony, the strong and finely crafted symbolic regalia and precious objects, the large commissioned carvings, the days of feasting and dancing and oratory, that this was something more impressive and bigger than any ceremony the white town could put on. Merrill’s photos of the event preserve the visual display of wealth. The merchants would have been well aware of the expenditures for food and drink and gifts for the guests. I’m guessing that this display of power and wealth contributed to the urge to restrain Native people into a lower social category. It was probably frightening, as well as fascinating, to many whites.

Walton had not publicly participated, but did create two carvings, commissioned by one of the hosts.

Walton says that the poles are for ornament; that yes he has a totem pole of his own – for sale in his store. Kelly breaks in to ask whether he had an order for a totem from a man in San Francisco, in an attempt to frame Walton’s participation as purely commercial. But it’s likely they all knew it was more than that, and that Walton, Davis, and witness Fred Bean were key participants in Tlingit society.

Witness Fred Bean says that he was allowed to remain a member of the Presbyterian church in spite of taking part in the 1904 potlatch, though the church “did not like it.”

At this time, the Russian Orthodox church and the Presbyterian were in competition with each other for Native members. Both were also engaged in the struggle against traditional spirituality and the clan system, which created a dilemma for both churches, in that being too strict about traditions put them at a disadvantage. Thus the Presbyterians allowed participation in both church, and in tradition, but “did not like it.” This balance was the source of conflict and dispute within both churches.

Old Quarrels

The most striking thing, to me, is how long-standing grudges by merchant W. P. Mills against Governor Brady and the mission crowd, and “old quarrels” regarding the school played such a large part in this case. Petty disagreements play more of a part than the fact that they are deciding the future lives of innocent children.

Presbyterian missionary Sheldon Jackson had originally sent John Brady to Sitka in 1878, and raised funds for the mission school. The site for the school, a large, prime piece of property with waterfront and river access, was claimed by John Brady and donated for the school, in spite of there not being a strictly legal way to do this. Sheldon Jackson helped steer Alaska’s Organic Act through Congress in 1884, which included a provision giving “established missions” up to 640 acres, which legitimized the claim. That land grab was extremely unpopular in Sitka; one of the Russian families had loaned money for a brewery to be built there, with the property as collateral. Sheldon Jackson was appointed Alaska’s General Agent for Education, a post he held from 1885 to 1908, and continued to lobby from his office in Washington, D. C.

Probably helped by Sheldon Jackson’s influence, Brady was appointed Governor in 1897, and reappointed twice more, but he was not popular in Alaska. Most of the white population believed that Natives and their interests were a hindrance to exploitation of Alaska’s resources. He was not popular with many Native people, either, because of the Presbyterian attitude toward Native culture and society, and because he had “homesteaded” a second large tract, of Tlingit land behind the Village. Then, just a few weeks before this testimony was taken, barely into his third term as Governor, he was forced to resign because of his naive promotion of a development scam.

His quarrel with W. P. Mills, who came to Sitka in 1887, was partly political, because of his advocacy of Native education, but also as a competitor as a merchant and sawmill owner, and the two had a legal dispute in 1901 over water rights. W. P. Mills was a much better businessman, but couldn’t do anything about the missionaries’ political influence. Maybe this was his opportunity to settle an old grudge, at a moment when his opponent was down. It could be, too, that Mills, who did not get the chance to finish college, had a chip on his shoulder when it came to the more-educated mission crowd and the various government employees, who comprised the rest of Sitka’s elite.

Brady’s sister-in-law Cassia Patton, who had encouraged the Native children to attend the public school, first came to Sitka in 1889. She taught school, then owned the Alaskan newspaper (funded by Brady), and worked as Governor Brady’s secretary.

Kelly had also been a Sitkan for decades – he had first arrived in 1885, when he ran the mission school as a federal employee.

In 1906 Sitka’s economy was contracting, with government offices, steamship stops, population and business migrating to Juneau. And yet, Mills funded his former employee H. A. Robinson in starting an anti-Brady (anti-mission) newspaper, the Sitka Cablegram, in early 1905: each side in the conflict had their own newspaper.

Most of the defense and plaintiffs, including Mills, Mrs. Stowell, the Bradys, Kelly, and the Native men Walton and Davis were members of the Presbyterian church. In 1906 there were two Presbyterian churches: the white church was next to the parade grounds (now the Sitka Pioneer Home) and the Native church was at the mission.

W. P. Mills and Governor Brady both had school-age children, who for some reason are not on the list of students attending the public school.

Most of the petty quarrels behind the school board decision come out when Kelly questions the school teacher and Mrs. Stowell, the school board member who had sent notice to the parents that they could not send their children to school any more. She claims she does not know Rudolph Walton and that she does not know that he was educated at the mission school, and refuses to state her objection to the Davis children going to school.

Kelly, who had been a member of the school board before resigning over this case, asks: “Was there any enmity back of ruling these children out of school.”

Mrs. Stowell: “I beg pardon.”

Kelly: “I asked whether there was any enmity in deciding that these children could not attend the public school.
Mrs. Stowell: “No sir.”

She then says that she does not know whether there are any “half or mixed breeds” attending the school.

Kelly: Did you not tell us on the School Board that some of the halfbreeds were attending from (the Russian Orphanage).

Mrs. Stowell: “I think not, I don’t know that they are.”

Kelly: “You consider Rudolph Walton and William Allard civilized men.”

Mrs. Stowell: “I don’t know enough about that.”

Kelly: “You don’t, you don’t know much about that.”

Mrs. Stowell: “No.”

Kelly asks, ”Do you know these Walton children.”

Mrs. Stowell: “No.”

Kelly: “Then you were hardly acting as a school director in these matters.”

Mrs. Stowell: “I was acting entirely on my own judgment.”

Kelly: “Then you do not know why you ruled these children out.”

Mrs. Stowell: “I refuse to answer.”

Kelly: “Was the bans put upon children of any other families besides those in the native village.”

Mrs. Stowell: “Not that I know of.”

Kelly: “Some little trouble about Mr. George’s family.”

Mrs. Stowell: “Not that I know of.”

Kelly: “Some little trouble about the Governor’s family.”

Mrs. Stowell: “I don’t know.”

Kelly: “Oh! You don’t.”
Mrs. Stowell: “No.”

Again you would think that Commissioner deGroff would have intervened, to remind Mrs. Stowell that she should answer truthfully, but again, he does not.

Kelly then asks how children were promoted; it seems that Kelly had wanted students to take a test to move up in school, but he was outvoted by the other two on the school board, who let the teacher decide who should advance. We are left to wonder whether someone – perhaps W. P. Mills, or his former employee, H. A. Robinson – might have preferred to have his chidren promoted at the teacher’s judgment, rather than on the basis of an exam.

Kelly: “Do you consider any of the natives civilized.”

Mrs. Stowell: “I decline to answer.”

Kelly: “We will excuse the witness as being utterly useless for our purpose. We rest our side of the case.”

Miss McCaleb, the school’s teacher, affirms that the Davis girls were well-behaved and nicely dressed, and that Peter Allard and Lizzie Allard were “fairly good scholars.” She also affirms that the School Board told her that no children from the Village were allowed to attend the school, but says, “Not that I know of” as to whether there was any “feeling or enmity back of the native children coming.”

Kelly: “Was there not some feeling about Miss Patton. You went to Mrs. Stowell and talked this matter over with her.”

Miss McCaleb: “No sir.”

Kelly: “You felt some little resentment in this matter, you thought Miss Patton was sending these children. You need not answer this question if you do not wish to.”

No answer.

In spite of this court case, all of the non-Native principals socialized and did business together. A photograph from around this time shows Mrs. W. P. Mills, the wife of the defendant, seated next to Cassia Patton, at a picnic. Next to Mrs. Mills is R. W. DeArmond, the father of Alaska historian Robert DeArmond, who had come to Sitka to work for the Department of Agriculture in 1903. At the time of this testimony, he shared a house with Merrill, and was elected to the School Board himself in 1907. His position on the case can be inferred from Bob DeArmond’s column on Rudolph Walton:

Walton attempted to enter his two step-children as well as several others he claimed to have adopted, in the white school where the teachers refused to accept them.

(The) three-member school board . . . split on the question. The loser was William A. Kelly, superintendent of the Sitka Industrial Training School, and he resigned from the school board. Walton’s effort was supported by the Presbyterian Church, . . . Kelly, a member of the bar, took the matter to court and lost. That ended Walton’s effort but did not erase a great deal of bitterness.” The implication I get here is that the bitterness was caused by Walton’s effort, not by the injustice of barring his children from going to school.

The majority of Sitkans believe it is wrong for Native children to go to school with “white” children.

There was no practical reason to exclude Village children from the school. Only four of the six children had even attended the public school before being told not to come any more. The teacher and others testify that the three girls who did are well-behaved. In 1906, there does not seem to be any threat of hordes of Native children overwhelming the schools, as most parents do not seem to have been eager for their children to go to school. The grandmother of one of the girls was opposed to her attending. And it turns out that these children were even included in the enumeration made to get the school, and, the school board had received funding for them, so it was not a money issue.

The arbitrary definition of “civilization,” which came down to living in the Village and “consorting” with other Natives, creates, rather than follows, any real differences amongst Sitkans.

Judge Gunnison wrote:“Civilization, though of course the term must be considered relative, includes, I apprehend, more than a prosperous business, a trade, a house, white man’s clothes and membership in a church. The burden of establishing that the plaintiffs live the civilized life is upon them, and I fail to find in the testimony evidence of a condition that inclines me to the opinion that the Davis children have that requisite.”

Thus Judge Gunnison weasels out of even bothering to define “civilization.” The only hard criteria they can come up with are living among and “consorting with” other Natives, which, of course, is a result of, and reinforced by, the racial bias on display in this testimony. By preventing Native children from “consorting with” white children at school, they are making it even less possible for them to meet their arbitrary criteria.

Bob DeArmond tells in his column on Rudolph Walton that he operated his store in two locations downtown, and owned property and put up buildings, on Lincoln Street, before building his shop in the Village. Was there pressure from Mills or others to give those up? From the effort Mills and others make to exclude Walton’s children from school, it seems very likely he would have exerted his influence to exclude him from Sitka’s main street commercial life, as well.

At the start of the testimony, W. P. Mills asks Walton: “You did not care whether they went to white school or not.”

Walton replies: “As long as they have good schooling, that is all I want.”

The following year federal funding was restored, and Sitka’s Native school reopened. The two schools were not integrated until 1949.

Dora and Tillie Walton went to Sheldon Jackson School, and were members of the first high school class, graduating in 1921. Tillie died in 1922.

Cassia Patton had been Governor Brady’s secretary, and went back to teaching after his resignation. In 1912 she and missionary Douglas Craig McTavish married in Calgary, Alberta, when she was 51 and he was 50, and went on to found the first school in Fort McMurray, Alberta. They successfully used the Canadian legal system to conduct a tax sale of property owned by speculators, who would not pay their taxes to support the school. In 2011 the Ecole McTavish opened in Fort McMurray, named in their honor. (The school fortunately survived the wildfires in the spring of 2016).

Like today, on the surface Sitka appeared integrated and race relations seem to be good, but in pursuing this cause, W. P. Mills exposed strong anti-Native feeling. What is surprising is not the vehement racism of Mills, but that this seems to be the view of most of the people of the town.

From this testimony, we begin to understand that society was permeated with the conviction that Native culture was not only inferior, but had to be suppressed, ranging from the explicit statements of Mills and Judge Gunnison, to the more passive acceptance by Merrill and so many others in this record, that Native children and “whites” must be separated.

From the time of U.S. Occupation of Alaska in 1867, Americans systematically excluded Native people from economic, political, or social integration. This case is an example of defining Native people just to deny them rights enjoyed by others.

There was also a horrific death rate among Native people in this period: Rudolph Walton lost his first wife, and eleven of his children as infants or young children, and thiswas not at all unusual for Native families at the time. The European-American death rate had been this high, but had come down dramatically since the 1870s. The trauma of losing so many family members, on top of being treated as naturally inferior despite one’s personal qualities and achievements, has had an impact on Native society to this day.

We are not so distant from those Sitkans from a century ago, which after all is only a few generations – these are our great-grandparents. Could the way we define Natives today be a continuation of these arbitrary criteria – and how much of what we accept as intrincally “Native” has actually been created by that artificial definition, and over a century of discrimination based on it?

Can we learn from this case and the way we see race was defined explicitly to create differences, and to justify discrimination? What would happen – if we don’t assume that Native culture is inferior to European-American culture? What if we consider the possibility that Native culture and language are compatible with, and even beneficial to, public education?

Selected sources:

Davis et al. v. Sitka School Board, 3 Alaska 481 (District Court, District of Alaska, First Division, 1908). Case file photographed by author at Alaska State Archives, Juneau Alaska, October 28, 2015.

Twelfth Census of the United States, Census of Alaska, Southern District, Sitka, Alaska 1900, accessed at family search.org.

Thirteenth Census of the United States, Population – Alaska, 1st District, Sitka, Alaska 1910, accessed at findmypast.com.

Bob DeArmond, “From Sitka’s Past” series of newspaper columns in the Daily Stka Sentinel, 1985-1992, and “Around and About Alaska,” 1992-2002.

Ted C. Hinckley, Alaskan John G. Brady, Missionary, Businessman, Judge, and Governor, 1878-1918 (Miami, Ohio: Miami University, 1982)

Virtual Museums Canada, Community Memories, Heritage Park, Fort McMurray, Alberta: Fort McMurray’s School Stories, “Cassia McTavish (nee Patton) – McMurray’s First Teacher” http://www.virtualmuseum.ca/sgc-cms/histoires_de_chez_nous-community_memories/pm_v2.php?id=story_line&lg=English&fl=0&ex=773&sl=7836&pos=1 Accessed July 1, 2016.

Joyce Walton Shales, “Rudolph Walton: One Tlingit Man’s Journey Through Stormy Seas, Sitka, Alaska, 1867-1951” (Ph. D. diss., The University of British Columbia, 1998)

Sergei Kan, Memory Eternal: Tlingit Culture and Russian Orthodox Christianity through Two Centuries (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1999)

Willis Osbakken, interview, Raven Radio, Sitka Alaska, November 2012, available at http://www.kcaw.org/2013/06/17/historic-sitka-in-stories/

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