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Posts Tagged ‘1867’

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.

Following are links to original materials and primary documents related to the Transfer of Alaska from Russia to the United States at Sitka, Alaska, October 18, 1867.

Sitka’s Lost Decade, 1867-1877 by Rebecca Poulson, at Sitkaartblog.wordpress.com.

Sitka’s First Decade Under the American Flag, 1867-1877, by Rebecca Poulson

Photo Pairs Archival photographs by Eadweard Muybridge and Re-takes by James Poulson

Traditional Tlingit Country map by Tlingit Readers, Inc.

1867 Transfer Map of Sitka from Alaska State Archives

Official Transfer Report and Sitka Transfer Map Inventory, 1337 House Executive Documents 125 January 1868

Superimposed Transfer Map over a Google Earth photo of Sitka

1870 Report by Jeff Davis from House Executive Documents 3rd Session 41st Congress, 1870-71, Volume 2 Number 1

“Lo, The Poor Indian” by Horace Greeley, from An Overland Journey, New York to San Francisco, the Summer of 1859

The Canoe Rocks: We Do Not Know What Will Become of Us” The Complete Transcript of a Meeting Between Governor John Green Brady of Alaska and a Group of Tlingit Chiefs Juneau, December 14 1898” Article by Ted Hinckley, from the Western Historical Quarterly,  July 1970

Images of file in Alaska State Archives  “The Complete Transcript of a Meeting Between Governor John Green Brady of Alaska and a Group of Tlingit Chiefs Juneau, December 14 1898”

Full text of “The Meeting Between Governor John Green Brady of Alaska and a Group of Tlingit Chiefs Juneau, December 14 1898

The following materials are also on the Alaska Historical Society site: https://alaskahistoricalsociety.org/about-ahs/special-projects/150treaty/150th-resource-library/

Treaty of Cession

Kostrometinoff account recollection of the Transfer ceremony in a letter to Father A. P. Kashevaroff

Transcript of Kostrometinoff letter

Official Transfer Report and Sitka Transfer Map Inventory 1337 House Executive Documents 125 January 1868

Alta California newspaper story about the transfer by Del Norte, J. H. Goodale, November 19th 1867

Transcription of Alta California Nov 19 1867 article

Memoirs of a Finnish Workman by T. Ahllund, from Suomen Kuvalehti (The Finnish Pictoriall) 1873, translated by Panu Hallamaa in the Alaska Historical Society Journal, Fall 2006

Delavan Bloodgood “Eight Months at Sitka” from Overland Monthly 2 February 1869 175-186

Seward’s Speech at Sitka in 1869 August 12, 1869

Andrew Alexander Blair Account of Transfer

Transcription of Andrew Alexander Blair Account

There are also other resources on the AHS site, like articles and the podcast.

Books:

R. N. DeArmond, editor, Lady Franklin Visits Sitka, Alaska 1870, the Journal of Sophia Cracroft, Sir John Franklin’s Niece (Anchorage: Alaska Historical Society, 1981) which has a key to the Transfer map (the complete key or inventory is part of the official report, above), as well as her niece’s observations, and an 1870 census by the Army

Robert N. DeArmond and Richard A. Pierce, The USS Saginaw in Alaska Waters, 1867-68 (Kingston, Ontario and Fairbanks, Alaska: Limestone Press, 1997- especially the parts about the shelling of Kake. This book has the chilling account by a young midshipman of the destruction.

An Army Doctor’s Wife on the Frontier: The Letters of Emily McCorkle FitzGerald from Alaska and the Far West, 1874-78 (University of Nebraska Press 1986), Includes her account of the Nez Perce War, which is where many of the Army personnel went after Sitka, to Fort Lapwai.

Kahtahah, by Frances Lackey Paul (Alaska Northwest Books, 1976) which is out of print but not hard to get. It is by Frances Lackey Paul, but the book is the stories of Tillie Paul Tamaree (her mother in law). Tillie Paul was a remarkable woman with a remarkable life story, and it’s all here. Her adopted father was an important clan leader, and she grew up traditionally, but then lived with missionaries and became one herself. Her son was William Paul, a Tlingit lawyer who fought for land claims.

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by Rebecca Poulson

9 brighter

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

Some primary documents on this era can be found Here

by Rebecca Poulson  I wish to acknowledge the Tlingit people as the original owners of this land and whose history must be foregrounded. I take all responsibility for any errors, and will be grateful for any corrections or comments.

I’m an artist, here in Sitka, and as I talked to people, and read about history, I had questions about the decade following the transfer of Russia’s claims in North America to the United States, which took place in Sitka, on October 18th, 1867. Sitka was the primary settlement in Alaska. How was it that in Russian days, prior to the transfer, the Indigenous Tlingit people controlled southeastern Alaska, but by the end of the 1870s, just a decade into American rule, they were largely marginalized. What happened? This post is based on research in 2017 – there is a list of sources at the end, and I plan to add citations to the text later this year. Research, primarily a trip to the National Archives in Washington D.C. and to the Alaska State Library and Archives in Juneau, was supported by a grant from the Treaty of Cession Sesquicentennial grants by the Alaska Historical Commission. All errors and omissions are mine. Please share any comments, corrections and other issues; this is a work in progress.

I thought it would be a straightforward project to compile the many documents available from the time, and to simply bring all these resources into one narrative.

It turned out to be far from simple. The first problem was that the regional context of the time – what was happening in the region, in Washington and Oregon and British Columbia, is itself a vast topic, that had not been included in other narratives of Alaska’s history. This had to be researched, understood, and integrated.

The other vast topic was what was happening with Northwest coast Indigenous Peoples in the period around 1867. This is nearly overwhelming for a few reasons: first, is that things were changing so rapidly, in fundamental ways, to Indigenous societies, from things like epidemics, changing markets, and the flood of American and British immigrants, accompanied by the military, forcing Indigenous people from their land.

The biggest factor though is the Euro-centric bias, that is glaringly obvious in documents from the time, but persists into the present. The problem is that it is so pervasive and common, it is hard to see. Even as I’ve learned about Indigenous Peoples history over the past few years, I have a long way to go, we all do, before we can appreciate Indigenous history as primary, with the influx of Europeans simply one chapter – and not the starting point or central focus. It is very difficult to completely get out of the Eurocentric viewpoint (that history started with the arrival of Europeans, and, that Indigenous Peoples were passive and marginal participants, whose societies were simple and static, who were reacting to and not initiating change). The other aspect of this is that the Native history is ignored, because of the stereotype that there is none.

Here is a link to a video of an earlier version of this presentation given at the Sharing Our Knowledge: A Conference of Tlingit Clans and Elders conference in Sitka in October 2017.

One economy

The first surprise to me when I started reading first-hand accounts of the era was that there was no separation between the Tlingit and the American communities or economies. I was expecting a separation, with an indigenous economy, based on what we now call subsistence, consisting of harvesting foods and making traditional crafts, and a separate, American economy, based on products brought in from outside, especially alcohol. This is the prevalent narrative, which is really a stereotype with no basis in fact – that the Indigenous economies were damaged by the American economic system. There was only one economy, with Tlingit people and Europeans and Americans all active participants.

For example, when the steamer John L. Stephens came in to port for the Transfer, Tlingit people came out to sell them fresh food. Everyone participated in the trade for furs, alcohol, and other items. The Americans, like the Russians, guarded the stockade separating the two communities, and enforced a curfew (which was resented) but during the day Native people and the non-Native people went freely back and forth, and Native people worked and traded and sat and observed. Socially as well, people on both sides of the barrier were related to and shared European and Indigenous heritage.

Right after the Transfer there was a flurry of economic activity as the Russian American Company assets were sold off and had to be loaded onto ships, and there was work available, as well as a market in furs, artwork, handicraft, and food for the Army and others who had just come to Sitka. One sign of the optimism was a city government, formed by some of the Americans, in December 1867.

The Army troops brought drunken crime and mayhem to Sitka, by officers and enlisted men alike. (The Russian American Company had strictly controlled alcohol available to their employees and in trade.) In May 1869, enlisted men even robbed the cathedral. Crime ebbed and flowed through the decade, but in the six months between October 1868 to March 1869, a year after the transfer, 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.

8 brighterThis 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. They assumed that they would be needed to control the influx of Americans into the new possession. So few Americans came, however, that the Army closed all but Sitka in 1870. Sitka’s 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 in the way it had elsewhere in the American West. 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. About 250 of these people had been born in Alaska, 21 of them in Russia. Most of these people were people the Russian authorities called “creole,” people of mixed Russian and Native, mostly Alutiiq and Unangan heritage (the Indigenous people of Kodiak Island and the Aleutians). They were usually called Russians after the Transfer.

14 brighterThe Double Decker, held in trust by Sitka’s Collector of Customs for the destitute Russians who lived there. It was between Lincoln 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 worst for these Russians, who before the transfer had depended on the Russian American Company for employment and for support when they retired. For a time, the Army gave 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. (This may not have been unusual on the American frontier at the time, when unmarried women had few choices to sustain themselves and their children.)

Why did Alaska not get the rush of American immigration and investment like in other parts of the West? One reason was that so much land was already available to Euro-Americans, due to the ongoing large-scale, often genocidal, ethnic cleansing in the contiguous United States, as the military and settlers killed and forced Indigenous people off their land and onto reservations. The other reason was the economy: a national recession. The main industry of the region, for Native and non-Native people, was the fur trade, which was not doing well, in part due to over hunting, but also due to the post-Civil War Long Depression of the 1870s, which extended to Europe as well.

7 brighterView 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 between Indigenous people and the Americans

Trade had been the economic engine of the Northwest since time immemorial. This trade became international in scope, and focused on furs, since the mid-1780s. The international trade socketed into existing practice and followed Indigenous trade protocol. Native people were traders, as well as producers. The trade was highly profitable for Indigenous and foreign traders. The trade stretched far into the interior, so producers and traders down the line also profited. The clans who owned rights to trade at the major routes – the Stikine River and at Chilkat – became even more wealthy with the expansion into the global market. The incredibly lucrative sea otter fur trade only lasted a few decades, however, so by the 1810s was shifting to other, less profitable goods.

Epidemics

A major impact of internationalization was epidemics. Smallpox swept the coast (and all of North America) around 1775, again in 1802, again in 1836-37, and again in 1862, each time killing a large proportion of the population affected, even entire villages. While Indigenous people by this time were no more naturally susceptible to smallpox than Europeans, Europeans often had access to inoculation. (Although, over the course of North American colonization by Europeans and Euro-Americans, Native people did become more susceptible to disease because of stress and starvation from disruption of food supplies and society by colonists. Also, when Europeans first entered North America after 1492, unknown diseases killed some 90% of the Indigenous population. This initial depopulation, and the disruption it led to, was probably the major factor in the defeat of Indigenous Peoples across the Americas. In turn, mass death causes trauma and social disruption, which also makes people more vulnerable to illness. In turn, illness feeds racist stereotypes by those in power, in a cycle of trauma that extends to the present day.) 

The lucrative sea otter trade, which brought maritime traders, Russians with forced-labor Indigenous hunters from the Gulf of Alaska, and great wealth to the region, reached its zenith on this coast in the 1790s, and was pretty much over by 1820. The Russians in Alaska were organized as the Russian American Company, a private fur trading company chartered by the Russian government to colonize and to govern the colonies in North America.

Russians established a fort at Sitka, which they called New Archangel, in 1804, but never controlled more than the immediate town site of Sitka and a small outpost at Redoubt. Both the Russians and Tlingit people depended on the fur trade, in two ways. Both groups participated in the regional trade of furs for manufactured goods. In addition, Tlingit people profited in selling tons of food like halibut and venison, artwork, and other products, as well as labor, to the Russian settlement, that was here because of the fur trade. Tlingit men worked for the Russians in various capacities, and many Russians had relationship with or married Tlingit women, so there were many people with heritage or relatives in both communities. While never comfortable or easy, Russians and Tlingit people had complex and interdependent relationships, both social and economic.

An illustration of the complex relationship and inter-dependency, that goes against the assumptions most of us have, was when in 1831 the Company extended the fence around New Archangel. One reason, according to the governor at the time, was that the Tlingit were selling rum to the Russian workers, who would trade the shirts off their backs to get it.

In this complex relationship, the Russians did not have the upper hand, as is often assumed, and had to carefully negotiate and pay attention to diplomatic relations. When a Russian governor allowed relations to deteriorate in the early 1850s, he was censured and removed. But his neglect of diplomacy led to an attack on the fort in 1855, in which five or six Russians were killed and dozens wounded. Russians could not enact retribution, as British or American authorities did without fail, when such attacks were made on their facilities. The Russian authorities respected the Indigenous justice system – which is based on reciprocity and compensation, rather than punishment – and regularly paid Native clans for injury done by Russians, even when accidental.

The Hudson’s Bay Company began aggressively expanding into the coastal region from the 1830s, and leased trading rights and for a time, a fort from the Russians at Wrangell. At Wrangell, Tlingit traders objected to the Hudson’s Bay Company practices, in trying to control trade and drive down prices, and in neglecting trading protocol; the Russians had to intervene diplomatically between the HBC and the Tlingit, but even then, the trading post was short-lived.

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 trading prerogatives 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, halting the HBC’s attempted expansion into their lands.

Sitka from Coast PilotSitka 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, the population, society and economy of the Northwest Coast was changing rapidly. More and more British and Americans came into the Northwest, seeking gold and other economic opportunities. Tlingit people traveled to Puget Sound, which had become the economic center of the region, to trade, and to work for, and interact in every way with the new settlers, as well as with other Indigenous people from other tribes. In the mid-1850s, thousands of “Northern Indians” – 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 or so 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 the military and settlers forced Native people onto reservations, and worse, including bounties and massacres. With the relatively weak Russian claims, Alaska was a 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 the clan leader, and returned to southeastern Alaska.

By the 1860s the Russian American Company, in spite of their efforts, still dependent on the fur trade, was not making money. Some shareholders were concerned that American gold-seekers would swarm into Alaska as they had into the American West. The Russians would not have been able to defend against such an influx, nor could they defend their claims in case of military attack by the British. These were both factors in their decision to cede their claims in 1867.

What changed, for Tlingit people with the Transfer?

On one side of the stockade, a few years after the transfer, the remaining Russians, formerly dependent on the Russian American Company, were starving. On the other side, Tlingit weren’t starving, but were losing ground economically. This refutes the myth that subsistence, living off the land, is enough. In this period there was nothing keeping people from fishing and hunting as they wished, and yet they were reported and described themselves as poor by the end of the decade.

One reason they lost ground was that 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 of Southeast Alaska in the 1870s centered on Port Simpson, in Canada, and at various times Customs Collectors considered imposing duties on goods coming in to Alaska by canoe, but they did not enforce it, maybe because of the relatively small quantity and the hassle.

Gold prospectors, backed by the military, broke the important Tlingit control of trade routes, first on the Stikine, then on the Chilkat routes.

12 brighterThe 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 U.S. 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.

Of course, Indigenous law was always in effect, and was even recognized to some extent by American authorities.

The Army’s obsession was in keeping alcohol from Native people. This was related to the racist belief that Native people were more susceptible than non-Natives to alcohol, and that drunkenness brought out their inherent savagery. This is based on the myth that Native people are somehow weaker than non-Natives. Demand for alcohol, and drunkenness, seems to have occurred in both communities, although it seems to have been proportionately worse with the non-Native soldiers and prospectors. In the recession economy, alcohol was the main item of trade.

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 asked their superiors 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. (The legal history is outside of my scope here, but the Portland judge also took every opportunity to deprive Native people of their rights, even when they were set out in American law.)

Tlingit response to American rule

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. In turn, General Davis told them they had no choice.

FID6 brighterSitka 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. This can ultimately be a life for a life, for serious incidents; a member of the offending clan sacrifices himself. As in any other type of law, it is not always followed, and if payment is not made voluntarily it could be taken by force. Throughout the Northwest Coast this was the custom, for Native and non-Native parties alike: payment was 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, who later had the name Shaadaxicht (Anglicized as Shotridge) 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.

Americans did not always treat Native people 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 by the Tlingit clans, and the Army was never afraid of the Tlingit. The brutal retaliation was to put down “insolence,” – again and again in the Army documents you see references to a “saucy” or “insolent” Tlingit leader – to demonstrate the overwhelming dominance of the United States. The Army knew about Tlingit law, and probably, like the merchant Frank Loutham, recognized that it was a valid system of justice. The Army’s refusal to operate in the system, and to instead insist on American style justice – the punishment of individuals – might have been driven by a power struggle, the desire of the Americans to subjugate Native people.

6 brighterSitka 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, and disturbing, 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, is enough to break it and send the “poor Indian” into confusion and anomie. This stereotype lays the blame for Native poverty on Natives themselves and their inadequate culture.Unfortunately, this stereotype continues today.

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 diseases, caused by the economic situation and stress that resulted from being pushed to the margins of the economy.

I believe that the Transfer brought an acceleration of what was already under way in the Pacific Northwest before 1867: the inexorable and violent dispossession by American and British civil and military authorities of Native people of their lands, which in many placed also led to decimating food resources, and everywhere included refusing to recognize Indigenous law, or property rights, or status as citizens.

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 people immediately began to take apart the stockade, to salvage the contents and occupy government buildings, to assert their right to go where they wanted, and even demanded and received 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, but an American ship was close behind. 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. Alaska Native people were not citizens.

Sitka by DeGroffSitka 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 people to participate, and, backed by the government, they took Native land and resources.

Tlingit people in this period suffered devastating losses to disease, in common with other marginalized groups in America (such as immigrants crowded in tenements in New York City), even as most Americans were seeing dramatically increased lifespans.

Missionaries

The first Protestant missionaries in southeast Alaska were Indigenous Tsimshian people, who were at Wrangell to work during the Cassiar gold rush in 1873. Presbyterian missionary Sheldon Jackson seized this opportunity to send his own missionaries and teachers to Wrangell, then to Sitka in 1878.

From the earliest days of American occupation, Tlingit leaders consistently protested injustice, and from the mid-1870s, were also asking 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, founded in 1861, was the most famous, and there were also other Anglican and Methodist missions on Tsimshian lands. The major mission sites had sawmills, and there was even a cannery at the Christian village of 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, popular, 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, especially for their children, was probably part of the promise of Protestant Christianity. Reading and writing in English was also an economic asset at the time.

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 SchoolStudents 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 people were weak, and that in particular their inadequate culture was an obstacle to progress. 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 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 part of the United States. Because of Sheldon Jackson’s influence, Christian mission schools were privileged, 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 was due to many factors, but possibly one was that this church allowed more Native control than the Presbyterians did.

Sitka by MerrillE. W. Merrill photograph of Sitka Channel and the Village in the 1900s. The boat at center, the William, may be the boat of that name built at the Cottages by Peter Simpson for Tlingit artist and merchant Rudolph Walton. 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 people identified as Native.

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 we still see the impact of defining an entire group of people as primitive and uncivilized, 150 years ago, and the way that stereotype has persisted into our own times.

Sources:

Transfer accounts:

House of Representatives, Executive Document, Number 125, Fortieth Congress, second session, 1-8 (General Rousseau’s Report);

Acquisition of Alaska” Daily Alta California Vol XIX Number 6457, November 19 1867 accessed at the California Digital Newspaper Collection, https://cdnc.ucr.edu;

Delavan Bloodgood, “Eight Months at Sitka,” The Overland Monthly February 1869, 175-186;

Captain George F. Emmons, The Journal of the USS Ossipee, Transcription by John M. Baldry, Elizabeth Richardson and Damon Stuebner, accessed at http://alaskahistoricalsociety.org/wpcontent/uploads/2016/12/Ossipee-Journal-Transfer.pdf

Before 1867 and regional context:

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)

Nora Marks Dauenhauer, 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)

Kenneth 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 Contintental Empire, 1801-1867 (New York and London: Oxford University Press, 2014)

Golovin, 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)

Robert 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)

Clarence R. Bolt, Thomas Crosby and the Tsimshian: Small Shoes for Feet Too Large (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1992)

Susan Neylan, The Heavens are Changing: Nineteenth-Century Protestant Missions and Tsimshian Christianity (Montreal, Kingston, London and Ithaca, New York: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2003)

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

The American Army occupation:

Letters and documents from National Archives, Department of War, Record Group 393: Records of United States Army Continental Commands, Records of the Department of Alaska 1867-1870 and Records of the Post of Sitka, 1867-1877

Reports by General Davis in Congressional Reports of the Secretary of War, including 1446, H.R. Doc 13, 41st Congress 2nd Session, 1870, 59-62

Frank 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)

Vincent Colyer, Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Made to the Secretary of the Interior, for the Year 1869, 586-587

Stanley Ray Remsberg, United States Administration of Alaska: The Army Phase, 1867-1877; A Study in Federal Governmance of an Overseas Possession University of Wisconsin, Madison PhD Dissertation, 1975.

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

Robert N. DeArmond and Richard A. Pierce, The USS Saginaw in Alaska Waters, 1867-68 (Kingston, Ontario and Fairbanks, Alaska: Limestone Press, 1997)

Zachary R. Jones, “The 1869 Bombardment of Kaachx an.áak’w 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

Bobby Dave Lain, North of Fifty-Three: Army, Treasury Department, and Navy Administration of Alaska, 1867-1884 University of Texas at Austin, PhD Dissertation 1974

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

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

Sidney Harring,“The Incorporation of Alaska Natives Under American Law: The United States and Tlingit Sovereignty, 1867-1900” (1989). CUNY Academic Works.http://academicworks.cuny.edu/cl_pubs/326

Aftermath:

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

Aurel 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

Ted C. Hinckley, Alaskan John G. Brady, Missionary, Businessman, Judge, and Governor, 1878-1918 (Miami, Ohio: Miami University, 1982) 25-73

In re Petition of Can-Ah-Couqua, 29 F 687 (1887) The Federal Reporter: Cases Argued and Determined in the Circuit and District Courts of the United States, Volumes 29-30, accessed at books.google.com

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