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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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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