Posts Tagged ‘Sitka’

Indigenous Peoples and Languages of Alaska by Alaska Native Languages Center

By Rebecca Poulson

I’d like to acknowledge the Tlingit people, the owners and stewards of this land from time immemorial. Also, all of this is a work in progress and I would be grateful for any comments or corrections.

First, who was Alexandre Andreevich Baranov and what was his role in Alaska’s history?

Documents from his time were written from a certain perspective, and Baranov’s own writings were meant to put himself in a good light to his superiors. His 28-year career in Alaska was filled with complicated conflicts and what led up to them, and the motivations of the various parties, are impossible to fully know. That said, thanks to the quantity and variety of recorded observations, and scholarship based on them, we do have a good general idea of the man and his life in Alaska.

Alexander Baranov came out to Alaska in 1790 at age 44 to work as a manager for the Golikov-Shelikov fur trading company. This was in the second phase of Russian colonization. The first phase, from the 1740s into the 1780s was unregulated and violent, primarily of the Aleutian Islands and mainly for sea otter, by multiple independent fur companies. Unangan people fought back but Russians were all armed men, while the Unangan were defending elders and children and had no where to go. This had a devastating impact on the Native people of the Aleutians.

By the time Baranov came out, it was the next phase of colonization. Only a few companies were left and they relied on the forced labor of Unangan, Chugiak and Sugpiak men, who hunted sea mammals from baidarkas or kayaks. The Russians compelled others to provide food and gear for the Russian enterprise.

The Golikov-Shelikov company’s leader, Grigorii Shelikov, who hired Baranov, had a vision of permanent colonization of North America as a New Russia. Shelikov and his company brutally conquered Kodiak Island, with the idea of using the Native inhabitants as his forced labor work force. In 1799, this company was the basis of the Russian American Company, with a monopoly on trade and authorization to colonize North America on behalf of the Russian government.

In the 1790s Baranov’s projects were to consolidate control of Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet, build some ships, and send out fleets of Native hunters for sea otter. This period was full of conflict, which included struggles with a competing company and with Native people on the mainland, but also within the company – between and among leadership and employees, both Native and Russian, with clergy and with Russian naval officers sent out to assist the enterprise. Shipwrecks were constant, which caused deaths directly and through starvation and scurvy when supplies did not arrive.

In 1796 Baranov negotiated with the Yakutat leaders to build a fur hunting base and an agricultural colony at Yakutat. His goal was to claim the North American coast down to Nootka on Vancouver Island. Behind this effort to claim territory was the goal of sustaining profit – they were running out of sea otter in western Alaska. In the later 1790s he sent fleets of hunters into southeastern Alaska, returning with thousands of pelts.

It is important to remember that North America was entirely owned and defended by Indigenous civilizations; southeast Alaska was Tlingit America. Also, the international maritime fur trade had started in the 1780s and by this time, the 1790s, was at its peak, and Sitka was a popular port, where maritime traders, mainly from the United State and England, participated in the preexisting Northwest Coast Indigenous trade which moved goods throughout Northwest America.

In 1799 Baranov negotiated with Kiks.adi leader Shk’awulyeil for a site for a fur hunting base at Gajaa Heen, north of Sitka. In 1802 a multi-clan Tlingit alliance destroyed this fort, and killed most of the hunters, over an accumulation of insults and crimes. It took until 1804, two years later, for Baranov and other employees on a few small ships, and some 800 Native hunters, in baidarkas, to meet up in Sitka Sound with the Russian frigate Neva.

The Kiks.adi, the primary clan of Sitka, meanwhile moved from their main fort at Noow Tlein (now also called Castle Hill) and built a fort called Shiskinoow at the mouth of Kaasdaa Heen or Indian River. This fort was nearly impenetrable, but, in a firefight between a canoe and a boat from the Neva. the Kiks.adi lost a canoe of gunpowder, and its crew of young leaders, There was a standoff with neither side able to inflict damage on the other, then finally the Kiks.adi evacuated Shiskinoow in what is called the Kiksadi Survival March and built a fort at Point Craven. The following year, 1805, Tlingit leaders made peace with the Russians, which included allowing the Russians to stay at Noow Tlein.

From 1804 until 1867 the Russians maintained a colony at Sitka, which grew to around 900 residents. From 1808 Sitka was the Russian American Company’s headquarters. Alexander Baranov was chief manager of the company until he was relieved from duty in 1818. He died at sea on his way back to Russia.

The Tlingit clans were always in control of all of their lands. Clans built immediately adjacent to the Russian town in 1829 into one consolidated settlement, but they had never left the area. Russians had no choice but to maintain good relations with Tlingit leaders. In 1855 a dispute led to an attack on the fort in which several Russians were killed, but the Russians instead of retaliating, blamed their manager and worked to make peace.

The Russian settlement at Sitka worked for both Tlingit and Russians. Even though their profits came mostly from southwestern Alaska, and they did not control southeastern Alaska, what mattered to the Russian American Company was to establish a claim to the coast in regards to other European nations and the United States. Tlingit clans benefited by having another market for furs, in addition to Americans and English. (Regional clans soon forced Russians to stop doing their own hunting.) Clan leaders also gained by supplying food and other products and sometimes working for the Russians. Very few Tlingit people converted to Russian Orthodoxy. There were some marriages between Russian men and Tlingit women.

Most of the people living in the Russian settlement were of mixed Russian and Unangan or Sugpiaq heritage. The Russian American Company was about resource extraction, not settlement, due to government policy as well as the Company’s need for profits. There were fewer than 1000 ethnic Russians in Alaska, total, over the entire period of Russians in Alaska.

From the historical documents, which include his own letters, it seems Baranov completely identified with his employer’s goals of profit and empire, and was absolutely focused in their pursuit, not sparing himself or anyone else. He does not seem to have been the kind of leader who took care of his people, judging by the various rebellions including murder plots, including one in Sitka in 1809. Instead, he led with force and charisma. Chaotic and potentially deadly confrontations in 1815 (when he was 68 years old) between Baranov, an American and a British trading ship and a Russian navy commander, that culminated in Baranov giving orders to fire at a departing Russian ship, hint that even later in life he was less diplomatic than most people.

His achievement was to hold Alaska against other European nations, and to bring in profit to the company. This came at a high cost in lives, and the colonies turned out to be expensive to maintain and impossible to defend, and were transferred to the United States in 1867. While he was certainly an unusual person, the myth had to be created.

The myth started early on, with Baranov himself, in letters to or that he knew would be read by his superiors, defending himself against accusations of cruelty to the Native people of the Aleutians and Kodiak, and blaming others for the many conflicts and adverse events. One example was when 115 hunters, on their way back to Kodiak from Sitka in 1799, died after eating paralytic shellfish poisoning-tainted mussels at Poison Cove in Peril Strait. He claimed in a letter that they had had plenty of provisions with them (for a journey of hundreds of miles, this is hard to believe) and so had no need to be eating mussels, making it seem like it was their own fault.i

His first biographer, Kiril Khlebnikov, was a long-time employee of the company who met Baranov at the end of his career and did his part to establish the myth of Baranov as a noble character who overcame great odds, including opposition by lesser individuals, giving a positive spin on actual events and laying the blame for everything on someone other than Baranov. One example is Baranov’s disastrous assault on the Tlingit fort in 1804, against the advice of the experienced Captain Lisianski of the Neva; in Khlebnikov’s account the failure of the assault was the fault of everyone but Baranov.ii

In Baranov’s era, the company’s profits, its very existence, relied on forced labor by Alaska Native men, who were Unangan, Chugiak and Sugpiak, from the Aleutians, the coastal mainland and Kodiak Island, hunting sea mammals from slender skin boats. Scores of hunters died on the expeditions, which extended into southern southeast Alaska, and the operation resulted in extreme hardship and starvation for those left at home. Those who couldn’t hunt also had to work for the benefit of the company, by getting food and making gear. The Russian Orthodox spiritual mission that first arrived at Kodiak in 1794 took the part of these Native workers, in a prolonged conflict between the church workers, certain employees, and a naval officer, against Baranov and his top assistants. In 1800-1801, some of the Kodiak villages refused to go on that season’s hunt. Baranov and his second in command put it down ruthlessly, beating and threatening to kill those who refused.

Foreign expeditions and traders, as well as some Russian observers, consistently described the exploitative treatment of Native people by the Russians in the Aleutians and Kodiak, that went to the point of starvation. That the company relied on forced labor, that this took an enormous toll on the Native population of Kodiak and other places, and that Baranov was ruthless in crushing rebellion are an inconvenient, and yet fundamental, aspect of his career that his biographers smooth over, justify, or ignore (and still do, in at least two biographies published this century).

According to Khlebnikov, Baranov “took wise and decisive action to put down the mutiny,” which would have spread and led to the loss of “everything they had achieved.”iii

This aspect of the myth was elaborated in H. H. Bancroft’s History of Alaska, published in 1886. At every point, Baranov is depicted as being in the right, bold and wise. The accusations of mistreatment of Native people and Russian workers are dismissed as “unfounded,”iv or “exaggerated.”v The authors assert that “As for the natives his influence over them was unbounded, chiefly through the respect with which his indomitable courage and constant presence of mind impressed them.”

Most of the section of Bancroft’s book on the Russian period was written by Ivan Petroff, a remarkable translator and writer, but also, as revealed in a 1968 article by Russian America scholar Richard Pierce, a serial fabricator. Pierce says that Petroff generally stayed close to the Russian sources, but did include a completely fabricated journal of a Russian Orthodox missionary, Father Juvenal. Most of the account of Baranov’s activities follows Khlebnikov and the official History of the Russian American Company by P. A. Tiknmenev. But the most vivid scenes are new. Father Juvenal’s fabricated journal describes Baranov joining in singing hymns “in the same hoarse voice with which he was shouting obscene songs the night before, when I saw him in the midst of a drunken carousal with a woman seated in his lap.” The section on Baranov ends with a passage from Washington Irving’s book Astoria, a quote supposed to come from the American trader who was involved in (and partly instigated) the chaotic events at Sitka in 1815, taking Baranov’s drinking and his irascibility to a heroic scale: “if you do not drink raw rum, and boiling punch as strong as sulfur, he will insult you as soon as he gets drunk, which will be very shortly after sitting down to table.”vi

Bancroft’s book was the main reference for Alaska’s Russian history for the next 90 years, until Limestone Press and others started publishing translations of original documents from the Russian era. Bancroft’s history was copied and freely embellished by writers throughout that period, further establishing the myth of Alexander Baranov.

C. L. Andrews published his book Sitka in 1922 and slightly revised it in 1944. It is aimed at the visitor to Sitka. While his portrayal of Baranov is clearly based on Bancroft’s, he adds incidents and detail that do not seem to have any basis in anything but his own imagination, or perhaps was lore handed down among the Russian descendants at Sitka.

The material he adds is about the relationship of Tlingit people to Baranov. Andrews exaggerates the hostility of these “strange, warlike, shrewd people”vii and portrays Baranov and other Russians as staying at Sitka only with their superior ability: “the Tlingits who howled at Sitka’s gates were utterly without conscience. Some of them came nearly every day to search for some unguarded and accessible means of attack, but Baranov was never off his guard.”viii “The Tlingits who slunk down through the tall spruce timber that surrounded the stockade hated him, but they feared and respected him. They felt he had superhuman power. They never caught him napping. They had destroyed Old Sitka, and butchered the people; they came to his portcullised gate and asked to come in. Baranov looked at them with level eyes.” He showed them his defenses, and “Not one of them dared to plot an attack while Baranov ruled at Sitka.”ix

This portrayal is an important change from previous accounts: In reality, Russians never had enough military force to not have to work to maintain diplomatic and trade relations with Tlingit leaders. If Tlingit leaders had wanted them out, they probably could have, but there was no reason to. Tlingit leaders did force out three, different Hudson’s Bay Company posts on the mainland that infringed on interior trade. The character of the relationship between the Russian American Company and Tlingit clans is clear in their letters to and from Sitka, published as A Construction History of Sitka, Alaska as Documented in the Records of the Russian American Company.x This is an important part of the myth: that Baranov was so superior to the Native people that he could hold them off with a much smaller force in spite of the Native people being extremely dangerous and unremittingly hostile, a worthy adversary.

Andrews enlarges the difference between the Russians and the Tlingit people. In the Russian documents of the period, Indigenous people are portrayed in their relationship to the goals of the company, as workers or as “hostile” and obstacles to expansion. But, in order to achieve their goals, Baranov and others on the ground had to have some understanding of their adversaries’ motivations and goals.

In Andrews’ portrayal, however, Tlingit people are reduced to a cartoon. Sometimes the “savagery in their blood would boil,”xi although the “Aleut” Native people were “gentle and indolent,”xii another stereotype.

While not directly to do with Baranov, Andrews paints a picture of the success of Russian occupation at Sitka that survives to this day. Russian captain Fyodor Litke described Russian Sitka in the late 1820s in detail, describing the hospitality of the governor, the gardens, food, and workshops. But Litke also told about the precarious nature of supply for the colony, and the shortage of manpower.xiii Andrews leaves that part out, giving the impression that Russian Sitka was better off than it was. He elaborates on the grand social life in the “castle,” and quotes a ghost story from travel writer Eliza Scidmore.xiv

Scidmore, in her Alaska, its Southern Coast and the Sitkan Archipelago of 1885, also used Litke, and also exaggerated his portrayal. From Litke’s telling that Sitka foundry cast some bells for California, she writes that “the bells of half the California mission churches were cast at the Sitka foundry.” She also tells of the courtly life in the “castle.” Litke wrote how firearms were a popular item of trade by the Russians to the Tlingit at this time. That certainly does not fit the myth, and so also gets left out of Andrews’ and Scidmore’s narrative.

Travel writers and tourism promoters brought the myth to a polish, none more than Barrett Willoughby in her Sitka, Portal to Romance published in 1930. “Here from his stockaded log castle on the Keekor, Alexandr Baranov, dare-devil little Iron Governor of the fur colonies, once ruled the North Pacific, and spun a web of power and commerce that reached to every corner of the world.” “Death lurked every moment outside the stockade where hordes of murderous Thlingets prowled, watching for any slackening of vigilance on the part of the Russian sentinels; but within that new world castle flowed wine of regal vintage, silks and velvets billowed in the candlelight, jeweled swords and gold-laced uniforms glittered, while the merry company, scorning danger, danced their minuets to the tinkling music of the clavichord!xv

We can’t talk about the myth of Baranov without mentioning Hector Chevigny, and his Lord of Alaska, published in 1942. It is fantasy, elaborating the myth of Baranov as a Western action hero, fighting his inferiors, bad priests, resentful officers, as well as the Natives, his faults the heroic ones of drinking hard and of having a common law wife. Chevigny freely invents incidents, dialogue and descriptions, the most outrageous of which are too offensive to repeat.

The myth of Baranov is that he was a hero, conquering and bringing “civilization” to dangerous Native people in spite of the obstacles of the many inferior people he had to deal with, from debauched promyshlenniki (the Russian equivalent of Voyageurs) to “meddling priests.” The essential elements include the savagery and hostility of the Tlingit people; Baranov’s ability to subdue them with superior courage and intelligence; and the glory and romance of the “castle” and the industry and sophistication of Russian Sitka.

How does this myth survive today? I see it continuing in two main strands: one is the notion of essential difference between European and Indigenous people. This stereotype, that Native people are mysterious and savage, not thinking or analytical, survives as the stereotype they are in harmony with nature, their culture timeless and natural, so that Native people are vulnerable to harm simply by “contact” with “modern” “Western” culture – a “clash of cultures” rather than what it was, a clash of economics and power. Also, the notion that Tlingit culture thrived because of abundant natural resources, just depending on nature to provide, rather than a recognition that Tlingit success is due to technology and organization, just like Russians or any other successful civilization.

The second strand, related to the supposed superiority of the European, is in the notion that Baranov and the Russians conquered the Tlingit against the odds, and that they held all of what is now Alaska.

Documents from before and after 1867 show that the Russian hold on southeast Alaska was weak. By contrast, the occupation of the United States in 1867 was much stronger.

Americans in 1867 believed that Native Americans were fundamentally different and weaker, “savage,” the racial bias behind Manifest Destiny, the Indian Wars and the forced removal of nearly every single Native American onto reservations. In the later 19th century they saw the condition of Native people, after they had been removed from their lands, and after suffering high mortality in relation to this, as due not to their treatment but due to something inherent to being Native. (This aspect of the myth, that the negative consequences of colonization (social disruption, stress, high death rates, lack of wealth) are due to the Natives themselves and their fragile culture, that it was inevitable they would die out from “contact” unless missionaries intervened to save them from their own culture, is the foundation of US government and missionary beliefs about Native people in the 19th and 20th centuries.)

In 1867 the Americans denied Alaska Native people citizenship, and pushed them out of the economy, and demonstrated their power by destroying the Kake̱ villages in 1869. Then when the economy picked up in the 1870s, canneries and mines seized resources with impunity. The Transfer of Alaska to the United States was a catastrophe for Alaska Native people. (That’s not to villainize or valorize anyone, but to state what happened.)

The irony is that with growing awareness of the impact of racial bias of the American era, the myth of Baranov is strengthened and even added on to: the strength of the United States government is mapped back in time onto the person of Baranov, who becomes a one-man colonialist oppressor of the Tlingit. The Russians were oppressors of Native people in western Alaska, with overwhelming force over many decades of the 1700s, but that is not as glamorous as supposedly conquering the “warlike” Tlingit, with a tiny force, in a single battle. The stereotype is that the mechanism for Baranov’s supposed victory is the inherent difference between Europeans and Indigenous people.

This narrative, or myth, is everywhere in Sitka, in signs at our parks, in our museums, on websites, and emerged, of course, in the 2020 debate over removal of the statue of Alexander Baranov in the center of town.

One sign in Sitka tells how “Local Tlingit fished, hunted, gathered food, and traded salmon, seal oil, and herring eggs with other Native Americans. But this peaceful place was once at the heart of a fierce conflict.” It goes on to say that Europeans and Russians came after sea otter and that the Russian American Company established outposts. This gives the impression that Tlingit culture was what was in conflict with the European trade in sea otter, rather than being a conflict over power and resources. It does not mention the substantial trade Tlingit leaders conducted, before Russians ever arrived, with Europeans and American traders, on Tlingit terms.

On a park website, the story of Tlingit people begins with how they relied on the ocean for their food, and ends with “In 1821, the Russians invited the Tlingit back to Sitka. They intended to profit from the Tlingits’ hunting expertise and, more importantly, to put an end to the occasional Tlingit raiding. For the duration of Russian occupation, the Kiks.ádi lived in the village, an area just outside the stockaded town. They supplied the colonists with furs and food while the Russians introduced them to their culture through education and religion. But cannons were always trained on the village, and the Russian stockade was closely guarded. The 1804 Battle of Sitka was the end of open Tlingit resistance, but the Russians were safe only so long as they were vigilant.” This could have come directly from C. L. Andrews.

This distorts the actual relationship between two groups equally engaged in trade, in an ever evolving push and pull over power and economic benefit. It reinforces the stereotype of Tlingit people as unchanging and natural, and the power and benevolence of the Russians. Again, very few Tlingit people converted to Orthodox Christianity in the Russian period, and, the only school for Tlingit people was in the very last days of the Russian outpost, and was located outside the stockade.

On another sign, at a different park, the cause of the Battle of 1802 is laid to “clashing cultures:” “the RAC and the Tlingit held contrasting beliefs about land and resource ownership. As RAC employees settled here, tensions escalated between these disparate cultures, setting the stage for conflict.”

(To be fair, the signs date from around 2013.)xvi

In 2020 Sitkans debated the removal of a statue of Baranov in front of Sitka’s Centennial Hall. The statue was a gift to the town by a local family. Just before its dedication in 1989, someone sawed the nose off (it was later repaired). The statue displaced the Tlingit canoe that was originally in front of the building in 1967. Many in Sitka saw the statue as inappropriate, in such a prominent place, because it does not reflect Sitka’s history or identity, and offensive in ignoring Sitka’s long Tlingit history. (The statue was moved into the museum, with the blessing of the family of the donor.)

The myth of Baranov came up in statements by people wanting to keep the statue, who claimed that Baranov brought civilization to the Native people. But some supporters of the removal also relied on the myth, stating that Baranof stayed through force, against the will of Tlingit leaders and oppressing local people. Baranof thus goes from being an epic hero to becoming an epic villain, when what we need is to put this fellow back into the context of history, and to bring Tlingit history to the fore.

It is hard to get away from a narrative we grew up with and accepted as fact. We need a new narrative, based on historical scholarship, that includes Tlingit history. (A part of the myth, that survives today, is that Native people have no history. Bancroft wrote, “what a land is this of which to write a history? Bleak, swampy, fog-begirt, and almost untenanted except by savages – can a country without a people furnish material for a history?”xvii) We can all question language, concepts and assumptions. We need a new, more complete narrative, that does not glorify the mythical, conquering European.


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), 138


Kyrill Khlebnikov, ed. Richard A. Pierce, Baranov, chief manager of the Russian colonies in America (Kingston, Ontario: Limestone Press, 1973), 48


Khlebnikov 34


Hubert Howe Bancroft, Alfred Bates, Ivan Petroff and William Nemos, History of Alaska 1730-1886, volume XXXIII of The Works of Hubert How Bancroft. (San Francisco: A. I. Bancroft & Company, Publishers, 1886) , 361


Bancroft 449


Bancroft 517


C. L. Andrews, Sitka, The Chief Factory of the Russian American Company (Caldwell, Idaho: The Caxton Printers, Ltd, 1945), 62


Andrews 43-44


Andrews 44

xKatherine 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)


Andrews 64


Andrews 67


Frederic Litke, A Voyage Around the World, 1826-1829: Volume I, To Russian America and Siberia, trans. from French edition by Renee Marshall, with a parallel account by E. H. Baron von Kittlitz, trans. from the German and with an introduction by Joan Moessner, ed. Richard Pierce, Alaska History Series no. 29 (Kingston, Ontario: Limestone Press, 1987), 43-69


Andrews 74-78


Barrett Willoughby, Sitka, Portal to Romance (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1930), 10

xviNPS interpretation being out of date: a 2011 study “Imperiled Promise” by the Organization of American Historians found that historians are mainly employed in cultural resource management, and are not included in the process of developing exhibits. Museum and Visitor Center Exhibit Planning, Design, and Fabrication Process flow chart at https://www.nps.gov/subjects/hfc/upload/EX-PD-Prod-Charts-R.pdf


Bancroft vii

In addition to translations of accounts from the time, I’m relying on 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), and Andrei Val’terovich Grinëv, Russian Colonization of Alaska: Preconditions, Discovery, and Initial Development, 1741-1799 trans. Richard L. Bland (Lincoln, Nebraska and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2018) and volume two, Russian Colonization of Alaska: Baranov’s Era, 1799-1818, trans. Richard L. Bland (Lincoln, Nebraska and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2020).

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In the summer of 2022 I was Scenic Designer for the Sitka Fine Arts Camp 3-week Musical Theater Camp production of Mamma Mia. The small scale of the program meant that I was also Scenic Charge, Master Carpenter, and, along with the other six technical theater adults, an instructor for the seven Fine Arts Camp Technical Theater-track students.

Mamma Mia set designed (and built, and decorated) by Rebecca Poulson

This year that expanded staff meant I did not have to put in so many hours working alone! and, the students had the benefit of a one-to-one ratio of instructors to students. That was really fun, seeing the students just eat it up, the excitement of getting to do real things, in a beautifully-equipped theater.

For me, also, it was glorious to have a lighting designer as artistic and skilled as Terry Eikleberry. Elle Campbell, the Technical Director, is an incredible teacher, creating a space where students are valued and can grow as they get real skills. The Videographer and Audio Tech, Andrew Rutledge and Joe Burke, are also skilled and willing carpenters and a joy to work with. Sharon Morgan, our Costume Designer (and, being a tiny program, also the creator of the costumes) is absolutely phenomenal. She not only nailed each character and the era (1990s, y’all) but created beautiful compositions of color and form. The technical crew is rounded out with Lauren Petrocelli, our Sound Designer.

On stage, the incredibly talented Josh Euten, who also is a mean set dresser, was Stage Manager, Zeke Blackwell Director, Chris Coffey was Music Director, and Erin Coffey the Choreographer for a cast of 23 young performers. The technical theater students, Amelia DeSentis is a natural at carpentry and a joy to work with, Campbell Pillifant operated the light board, Hal Sufrin helped with sound, Kade Kompkoff, Lee Orozco, Téa Neilson and Aren Bucheit did it all but specialized in scenic painting, with a shout out to Téa for finishing the courtyard “rocks” and washing a lot of brushes! I really enjoyed working with these young people, seeing them grow, and enjoyed their spark and willingness to interact. For decorating the stage deck, I gave them paint and tools and techniques and had them try it out, they chose the treatment they wanted, and they did it, going up to the balcony as they worked to see what they liked. I helped with the “Beach” because it was a trickier technique, but that was it. They and a community volunteer painted the dock, beautifully, again all I did was show them some techniques and give them the paints.

More crew: Susan Reed and Misaki Saito rehearsal pianists, Shannon Haugland Audio Assistant, Haley Aronow was Props Master (and Master of Bougainvillea!), Rhiannon Guevin Vocal Coach, Jordan Phillips Acting Coach, Diane Cervelli Assistant Choreographer, and volunteers Reese Gasque, Noatak Post, Julien Riviere, Linda Mae Kristofik and Christina Van Den Hoogen helped out the scenic crew (and that was fun too, seeing these folks stretch), and Isla Morgan, Carole Knuth and Lisa Moore were Costume Assistants. In the Pit Band in addition to Susan and Mikaski, Alicia Jeffrey and a young man from Anchorage were on keyboards, Chris Coffey played drums, Abe Landa and Austin Patterson were on Guitar, Julien Riviere played Bass and Ethan Zawodny did the Percussion.

Earlier this year I volunteered to design and build sets for the Sitka Community Theater production of Clue and the Young Performers Theater (an after school theater program run by the Sitka Fine Arts Camp) production of Matilda the Musical. It is really fun to design sets and utter bliss to work with and collaborate with other people, tho tbh next year we need more volunteers in the program! In this post-pandemic year we are still figuring out how to get the word out!

Those doors got a work out! So many rooms! It was very fun, the actors really did it up. I designed and built and decorated the set (all those doors . . . ) with assistance from the students in the after-school Young Performers Theater technical theater class and community volunteers, Shannon Haugland produced, Sotera Perez directed, Elle Campbell did lights and was Technical Director, and the YPT tech students did tech! We also had a gajillion really cool props by Jack Peterson.

Matilda the Musical was the play done by the high school students in the Young Performers Theater program in April 2022, directed by Zeke Blackwell. I volunteered to design and build and decorate the set, with assistance from parents, Technical Director Elle Campbell, and the technical theater students in the after school Young Performers Theater program! Elle Campbell did the lights, we had a pit orchestra which sounded amazing, with Music Director Hannah Cummiskey conducting, and Choreography was by Melissa Hantke. Since it was such a small workforce (and cast), I combined the students’ desks with the alphabet cubes they use for one of the songs, the set consists of just three platforms and four mobile flats, three of which reverse to show a corridor of “Chokeys.” I didn’t get a picture of one of the flats, that had Matilda’s bedroom on one side and Miss Honey’s shed interior on the other.

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Available for sale, and in select stores! starting mid June 2022. $16 each, discounts start at two at: The Outer Coast.com

Produced by Rebecca Poulson in Sitka Alaska

Printed in Juneau, Alaska U.S.A.

Printed on heavy, vellum surface Natural color paper

Three original wood engraving prints, a scratchboard drawing, rubber cuts of ravens, and seven original watercolors by Rebecca Poulson

Poetry and Quotes by Alaskan poets John Straley, Caroline Goodwin, Robert Davis Hoffman, and Rhonda Bowen, and a quote from John Muir, on the theme of humans

Gardening Reminders for Southeastern Alaska

Calendar for all of 2024 on last page

Wilderness Anniversaries

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Here is a list of boats built in Sitka.

These come from several sources: the main one is the annual Merchant Vessels list, published by the government of every registered vessel in the United States. Vessels over 5 net tons (capacity) have to be registered, that’s something like 30 feet for a motorized vessel. That list has the use, the size, the material, the power, the owner, how many crew, and the place and year it was built.

Individual records, which used to be in Juneau, have more information like the name of the builder. I found cards for many boats there.

Other boats that were too small to require documentation were called Number Boats, because they had their commercial fishing number on them instead of a name. That would be the original old time trollers. A lot of the old wooden trollers now were built as seiners or long liners.

Another source was newspapers, but Sitka didn’t have a newspaper for all the years when boat building was happening, especially the late teens.

A main source was interviews I did with fishermen and boatbuilders and their relatives, in 1988 and the early 1990s. Herman Kitka had an incredible memory. Of everyone I talked to, his information was corroborated completely by other sources.

I would love more information, more boats, details and corrections. More information about the builders are in Boatbuilding Part 2 and Boatbuilding in Sitka Part 3 on this blog.

Boat name              year         register    builder

                                doc.         length

Lulu                                         1916?              John Bahrt for John Sarvela?

St Louis                                                           Hope, Scotty Jennings?

Storm King                                                     Simpson and Willard for Willard

Kingfisher                                                       Hope

Bumble Bee                            1922                Bob and Percy Hirst

Bubbles                                   1920s?             John Bahrt

Anita                                       1928                T. F. Demidoff for self and son-in-law

William                                    1909    34        Peter Simpson for Rudolph Walton

Dreadnaught                           1915    34.5     Simpson for Geo. T. Myers Co., for James Kuenz

Necker Bay                             1915    35.5     John Young Sr. and Frank Kitka sank 1964

Nicholai                                   1915    32       

Active                                     1917    44        Andrew Hope, George Howard for themselves and               sons

Albatross                                 1917    39        Simpson for John Cameron sank Necker Bay 1930               or 31

Alms                                        1917    36.2    

Billy G.                                   1917    36.2     owned Bill Grant

Baranoff                                  1918    37.5     Simpson for Ralph Young, Sr.

Dora B.H.                               1918    33.8    

Elsie                                        1918    34.4

Esther                                      1918    38

John D.                                    1918    35

Moonlight                               1918    41        Simpson for Deep Sea, Edward Grant bought   boat              still fishing

Olympic                                  1918    37.6     Frank Kitka for self

Zingo                                       1918    35.1     Frank Kitka for John Joseph, Deep Sea                                  Salmon Co. burned 1954

Busy Bee                                 1919    35.5     Frank Kitka for George T. Myers (cannery) 

Dermott I                                1919    29.6     William Grossman for self

Eagle                                       1919    34        Simpson for Frank Joseph, Pyramid Packing                         abandoned 1965

Katharine                                1919    39.6     Simpson for Deep Sea Salmon Co., Dick Harris

Louise                                     1919    37

Mary Ward                             1919    37        Simpson for Deep Sea Salmon Co, George Ward

U and I                                    1919    36.2     George Howard for George Davis rebuilt 1947 still fishing?

Margaret P.                             1919    36.2    

Hudson                                   1929    40

Smiles                                      1929    32        Simpson for Ralph Young, Sr.

Atlas                                        1922    39.7     Frank Kitka for self, only big boat

Carrie                                      1922    31.9     Kris Norholm for George Rice (plumber)

Mary J                                     1922    36       

Lituya                                      1922    30

Lornty                                     1923    33.3

Progress                                   1923    43.2     Hope, Howards for themselves still around?

Janice                                      1924    32.3

Laeso                                       1924    30        owned George Banvard (store owner)

Comet                                     1926    37        Peter Kitka rebuilt (original from Puget Sound)                    abandoned 1957

Optimist                                  1926    37.1                

Biorka                                     1927    42        Hope built for Rudolph Walton, Pyramid Packing   

Persevearance                          1927    39        Johnnie? Lawson, owned Thomas Sanders, burned 1944

Valo                                        1927    33.9     burned 1949

Starlight                                  1927    39.2     Hope for Peter John, Pyramid Packing  wrecked 1955

OK                                          1929     40       Johnnie Lawson for David Davis        sank 1966

Pyramid                                   1929    38        Hope for Pyramid Packing

Trosky                                     1929    34        Hope

Chatham                                  1929    38        Hope?

Neptune                                  1930    36        Hope and William Pavloff

Buddy                                     1931    28        Hope – his troller

Two Brothers                          1934    35        Simpson for grandsons

New England                          1935    38.3     George Howard Jr. for George Ward    burned 1963

Sophia                                     1936    36        Adolph Thomsen for self

SJS                                          1937    42.8     Peter Simpson and Rudy James later called Miss                  Linda

Admiralty                                1938    44.1     Hope for George James

Eros                                         1938    38.6     Adolph Thomsen for self

Fin Fin                                     1938    30.8

Betty K.                                  1940    34.2     George Howard started

Roamer                                    1940    33.9     Louis Johanson at Goddard

GGK                                       1941    33.      

Sisu                                         1941    32.4

Laverne                                   1942    31.4     Hope?

Neva                                        1942    40.6     Hope with Herman Kitka, for Todd, later his boat

Princeton-Hall                         1942    61.7     Hope, Kitka, Howards, SJ students

Tamara San                             1942    49.8     Hope for Hans Peterson

Hope                                       1944    41.5     Hope for Henry Yrjana

Martha K

(North Cape)                           1944    43.3     Kitka

Sally                                        1944    38

SJS II                                      1944    49.4     Hope for Presbyterian Board of Home Missions

Allanah                                    1945    51.1     Hope, Richard Peters, Al Rotluff for Fred Brandes

Denny Jo                                 1945    50        George Howard started, finished Stanley Sutton for John Townsend

June K                                     1945    43.4     George Howard for Charles Bennett, Hood Bay

Minnie R                                 1945    34        A.F.Rowley and sons

Polaris                                     1945    37       

Her-Highnes                            1946    32        Earl MacDonald, at his home

Junior                                      1946    38.1     Sitka Marine Railway for Emil Taug

Laverne II                               1946    39        Richard Peters

Martha K

(Empress)                                1946    45.7     Hope for New England Fish Co.

Mom                                        1946    37

Myrth                                      1946    37        Sitka Marine Railway for Rudy and Myrth Sarvela

Pop Rowe                               1946     31.1    (Pop Rowe sold salvaged sawmill to SJ and ran it a  year)   

Shirley M                                1946    37        Sitka Marine Railway

Skeeter                                    1946    37        Dave Hallock on Baranof Street

WRJ                                        1946    37        Sitka Marine Railway for Wally and Earl Johnson

Alrita                                       1947    38.7     Sitka Marine Railway for Albert Wallace

Jenny                                       1947    33.4     George Howard and Andrew Hope

Patricia Mae                            1947    45.1     Hope for John Young

Pt. Cravens                              1947    38.1     Sitka Marine Railway for Jimmy Walton

Sharon-Ann                             1947    35.9     Rowley?

Sonja                                       1947    45.1

Gota                                        1950    36.6     Hope, George Howard, Richard Peters for Pete                     Anselm, then Oscar Isaacson

Satchem                                  1952    30.9     Hope, Herman Kitka for Cap Anderson

Chuck A Nan                          1955    35.8     Sitka Marine Railway (Al Rottleff and Herman                    Kitka) for Earl MacDonald (originally the                             Stephanie)

Vali                                         1961    31.2     Hope, Herb Hope, David Howard for Roger Lang                (Hope=s son-in-law)

C-Rae                                      1962    45?      Paul Morgan

Wendy                                    1965    33.9     Howard Brothers

Peril Strait                               1967    32        Harry Jimmy for self

Chancy                                    197?    45        Gary Erb

Annette                                                           Harry Jimmy

Amanda Rose                                                  Gary Erb and Jack Rheinwaller

Andrew Hope (center) poses at the bandsaw, probably in the shop of Scotty Jennings just north of the ANB Founders Hall in Sitka. Jennings’ shop was a former hand-pack cannery. Image from a glass slide in the collection of the Sitka Historical Society.

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Here is a panorama taken by Asa Dow from the summit of L’úx or Mt. Edgecumbe. Are the labels correct? Let me know!

Also, Harbor Mountain is properly Taxgu, and Mount Verstovia is really Kanéisdi Shaa. Sugarloaf (not labeled here, left of center of second picture) is actually Tawool Shaa, and Gavan Hill (also not labeled, it is to the left of Kaasdaa Heen, or Indian River ) is properly Tsísk’u Goojí. Do you have more?

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For Sitka Fine Arts Camp Musical Theater Camp 2021, I got to design and build a set! Went for texture in the organic sculpted scenery, and atmospherics with recycled fishing nets (from Nets And More of Louisiana). Rapunzel’s tower, stage left, accessed from the front by the witch.

Costumes Sharon Morgan, Lighting Elle Campbell, Directed Zeke Blackwell, Musical Direction Chris Coffey, Choreography Erin Coffey, Stage Manager (and so much more!) Josh Euten, Pianists Susan Reed and Chris Staknys, Vocal Coach Rhiannon Guevin, Assistant TD Emily Harris, Sound Drew Sherman with Bryan Lovett, Props Abby Taper, Deck Boss Sotera Perez, Mic’ing Shannon Haugland, Costume Assistant Sonia Lewis, Makeup Micah Wayman, Sound Assistant Hal Sufrin, Lighting Assistant Campbell Pillifant, with Téa Neilson (these last four were our Technical Theater students and did all kinds of things), Poster Artwork by Nate Olson. It would not have been possible without help building the set by Emily Harris and volunteers Noatak Post and Julien Riviere.

We had a full-on, pure and exquisite performance by a professional pit orchestra: Susan Reed, Chris Staknys, Dorothy Orbison, Colin Roshak, JJ Sechan, Amy Sanchez, Taylor Young, Brian Neal, Roger Schmidt, Franz Felkl, Noatak Post, Kelly Dylla, Julien Riviere, Annika Krafcik, Drew Dembowski and Paul Cox.

Actors: Zia Allen, Paige Antrobus, Anja Brooks-Schmidt, Mina Brooks-Schmidt, Bronwyn Embree, Claire Evans, Aitana Gluth, Noah Gosnell, Miko Hare, Winston Katoanga, Spencer LeFebvre, Felix Lewis, Sagan McLaughlin, Kadence Patton, Virginia Pearson, Helena Provencio, Chase Randall, Caleb Rapanut, Max Reynolds, Kate Springsteen, Zoe Springsteen, Emerson Tuggey, Kevin Viña, and Alona Whisenhunt.

All of the young people – the actors, and four back stage – are in high school or just started college. Best of luck to all of you. Wonderful work here.

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Now available for sale, and in select stores! $16 and discounts start at two at: The Outer Coast.com

Produced by Rebecca Poulson in Sitka Alaska

Printed in Juneau, Alaska U.S.A.

Printed on heavy, vellum surface Natural color paper

Four original wood engraving prints, a drawing,* a print, and six original watercolors by Rebecca Poulson

Poetry and Quotes by Alaskan poets Ishmael Angaluuk Hope, John Straley, Caroline Goodwin, and Pete Weiland, Oregon poet John Daniel, and Ed Ricketts, John Donne, Walt Whitman, Kobayashi Issa, John Muir, and John Keats, on the theme of sweet old world

Gardening Reminders for Southeastern Alaska

Calendar for all of 2023 on last page

Wilderness Anniversaries

*Scratch board drawing is from the upcoming novel for middle grades Whispering Alaska by Brendan Jones, from Delacorte Press (Penguin Random House) in October, 2021

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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.


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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The 2021 Outer Coast Calendar is now available from my website, www.theoutercoast.com, at stores in Sitka, and at bookstores in Alaska and a few select places in the North West.

The Outer Coast calendar, Sitka note cards, and original art are also great gifts, and I can mail directly, with a note, and even with gift wrap if you desire.

Here is a coupon code for 10% off your order: COAST

I am also at the Alaska Public Market On Line! This is a great way to support artisans and craftspeople in these crazy times!

I also have original wood engraving prints which I can mat and frame, a gift wrap option, and notecards, sold as singles and as sets. And, you can now also buy an 8 x 10 reproduction of any of the watercolor pictures, just contact me through the website or comment on this blog.

Calendars are printed in color on heavy, vellum-surface Natural colored paper by Alaska Litho in Juneau, Alaska U.S.A.

This calendar features my original art (and this year, one by my brother James), poetry by Alaskans and other greats, gardening reminders for southeastern Alaska, and wilderness anniversaries. It opens out to 11 x 17 inches (8 1/2 by 11 closed), has a handy hole for hanging, and, has complete year of 2022 on the last page. The price is $15 but there are discounts starting at two.

This year’s calendar is built around the theme of falling forward into life.

Poetry includes lines from Issa, Whitman, Emerson and Shakespeare.

This calendar also features work by Alaska writer John Straley, novelist and poet, and beautiful, new work by Caroline Goodwin.

A Slide Show of Some of the Prints and Cards Available at The Outer Coast:

  • Watercolor note card Iris Meadows by Rebecca Poulson
  • framed wood engraving Wild Celery House by Rebecca Poulson
  • color wood engraving cards by Rebecca Poulson
  • notecard Woodstove by Cora Dow
  • Matted wood engraving Sunday Afternoon by Rebecca Poulson
  • Watercolor note card Lingonberry by Rebecca Poulson
  • wood engraving notecards set by Rebecca Poulson
  • Cora Dow note card Christmas Puppy
  • watercolor note card Rocks by Rebecca Poulson
  • framed wood engraving Waterfall by Rebecca Poulson
  • Note card Jam by Cora Dow
  • Matted wood engraving print First Out by Rebecca Poulson
  • note card Murre Skull by Cora Dow
  • Cora Dow note card Octopus
  • Cora Dow notecard Whale

Below are the images from the 2021 calendar:

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The 2020 Outer Coast Calendar is available from www.theoutercoast.com, or buy in stores in Sitka, or bookstores in Alaska and a few select places in the North West – including Powells Books in Portland and Elliott Bay Books in Seattle.

I’ll also be at the Alaska Juneau Public Market on Thanksgiving weekend 2019 and at the Sitka Artisans Market December 6-8. I’ll also have original wood engraving prints and notecards, which are also available on the website.

Calendars are printed in color on heavy, vellum-surface Natural colored paper by Alaska Litho in Juneau, Alaska U.S.A.

This calendar features my original art, poetry by Alaskans and other greats, gardening reminders for southeastern Alaska, and wilderness anniversaries. It opens out to 11 x 17 inches (8 1/2 by 11 closed), has a handy hole for hanging, and, has complete year of 2021 on the last page. The price is $15 but there are discounts starting at two.

This year’s calendar is built around the theme of Friends.

Poetry includes lines from Walt Whitman and William Shakespeare.

This calendar also features work by Alaska writer John Straley, novelist and poet, and some beautiful, inspiring work by Caroline Goodwin.

Below are the images from the 2020 calendar:

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