No one knows exactly when people first found the land that would be
Some anthropologists believe that people migrated from Asia to North
America as long as 40,000 years ago. Others argue it was as recent as 15,000
Whenever, the consensus is that they came from Asia by way of a northern
land bridge that once connected Siberia and Alaska.
That land bridge, now recalled as Beringia, was the first gateway to
Alaska. But these first visitors were hardly tourists intent on exploring new
worlds. Rather they were simply pursuing their subsistence way of life as they
followed great herds of grazing mammals across the grassy tundra and gentle
steppes of Beringia.
They came sporadically through many millennia.. in waves of different
ethnic backgrounds/generations of people and animals..hunters and hunted. As
the Ice Age drew to an end and the seas claimed the land, these people moved to
higher and drier places--the land that, as the continents drifted apart, would
Some groups settled in the Arctic. Others traversed the mountain passes
to other parts of Alaska. While still others migrated through Alaska,
continuing on to distant lands--perhaps as far as South America!
Those who made Alaska their permanent home make up the state’s four
major anthropological group: Eskimos, Aleuts, Athabascans, and Northwest Coast
While all four groups shared certain basic similarities--all hunted,
fished and gathered food--they developed distinctive cultures and sets of
The Eskimos:Flexible Residents of the Arctic
The Eskimos were primarily a coastal people, setting along the shores of
the Arctic and Bering seas.
For millennia they lived a simple, subsistence life--much as they still
do today--by harvesting the fish and mammals of the seas, the fruits and game
of the land. Somehow they learned how to thrive despite the demanding
conditions of the Arcitc.
Their sense of direction was keen, almost uncanny. Traveling in a
straight line, sometimes through snowstorms and whiteouts, they found their way
around the mostly featureless terrain by noting wind direction, the position of
the stars, the shape and size of a snowdrift.
And they were resourceful. In a land where the summer sun stays at
eye-level for weeks on end, never setting below the horizon, the Eskimos
fashioned the first sun-visor--which also doubled as a snowmask to protect
their eyes from the wind-driven snow!
The Athabascans: Nomads of the Interior
Like the Eskimos, the Athabascans were skillful hunters, but they
depended more on large land mammals for their subsistence--tracking moose and
When it came to fishing, the Athabascans were absolutely ingenious,
snaring fish with hooks, lures, traps and nets that are the fascination of
modern day anglers who visit their camps.
Generally nomadic, they lived in small, simply organized bands of a few
families, and whenever possible pitched their camps in the sheltered white
spruce forests of the Interior. Some adventurous tribes, however, wandered all
the way to the Southwest United States to become kin to the Navajos and
Aleuts: Born of the Sea
For the Aleuts, life centered around the sea as they distributed
themselves among the 70-some islands in the Aleutian chain across the North
Life here was somewhat more benign that in the Arctic, though wind
storms were sometimes strong enough to blow rocks around!
Since their food supply was rich, varied and readily available, the
Aleuts had time to develop a complex culture. Evidence indicates that they
practiced surgery and that their elaborate burial rituals included embalming.
Instruments. utensils, even their boats (baidars) were made with amazing beauty
and exact symmetry. And everything was fashioned for a specific purpose--the
Aleuts used 30 different kinds of harpoon heads for different species of game!
Skilled navigators and sailors, the Aleuts had the dubious distinction
of being the first to encounter the white man...Russian fur traders who took
them as slaves to harvest the fur seals in the Pribilofs.
Coast Indians: High Society of Alaska’s Southeast
The milder, more temperate climate and an unlimited supply of salmon and
other seafood’s enabled the Northwest Coast Indians to evolve a way of life
quite different from the Eskimos, Aleuts and Athabascans.
They settled in year-round permanent villages, took slaves, gave lavish
potlatches, and lived their lives according to the strict rules, rituals, and
regulations of their respective clans. Their artwork was nothing less than
masterful...beautiful blankets, finely woven cedarbark and spruceroot baskets
magnificent totem creations.
From the Russian Empire to the United States of America
Treaty of Cession 15 Stat. 539
Treaty concerning the Cession of the Russian Possessions in North
America by his Majesty the Emperor of all the Russias to the United States of
America; Concluded March 30, 1867; Ratified by the United States May 28, 1867;
Exchanged June 20, 1867; Proclaimed by the United States June 20, 1867. BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF
AMERICA A PROCLAMATION Whereas, a treaty between the United States of America
and his Majesty the Emperor of all the Russias was concluded and signed by
their respective plenipotentiaries at the city of Washington, on the thirtieth
day of March, last, which treaty, being in the English and French languages,
is, word for word, as follows: The
United States of America and his Majesty the Emperor of all the Russias, being
desirous of strengthening, if possible, the good understanding which exists
between them, have, for that purpose, appointed as their Plenipotentiaries: the
President of the United States, William H. Seward, Secretary of State; and His
Majesty the Emperor of all the Russias, the Privy Councillor Edward de Stoeckl
his Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the United States. And the said Plenipotentiaries, having
exchanged their full powers, which were found to be in due form, have agreed
upon and signed the following articles:
ARTICLE I His Majesty the Emperor of all the Russias agrees to cede to
the United States, by this convention, immediately upon the exchange of the
ratifications thereof, all the territory and dominion now possessed by his said
Majesty on the continent of America and in the adjacent islands, the same being
contained within the geographical limits herein set forth, to wit: The eastern
limit is the line of demarcation between the Russian and the British
possessions in North America, as established by the convention between Russia
and Great Britain, of February 28 - 16, 1825, and described in Articles III and
IV of said convention, in the following terms:
III. "Commencing from the southernmost point of the island called
Prince of Wales Island, which point lies in the parallel of 54 degrees 40
minutes north latitude, and between the 131st and the 133d degree of west
longitude (meridian of Greenwich,) the said line shall ascend to the north
along the channel called Portland channel, as far as the point of the continent
where it strikes the 56th degree of north latitude; from this last-mentioned
point, the line of demarcation shall follow the summit of the mountains
situated parallel to the coast as far as the point of intersection of the 141st
degree of west longitude (of the same meridian;) and finally, from the said
point of intersection, the said meridian line of the 141st degree, in its
prolongation as far as the Frozen ocean.
IV. "With reference to the line of demarcation laid down in the
preceding article, it is understood
- "1st. That the island called
Prince of Wales Island shall belong wholly to Russia," (now, by this
cession, to the United States.)
"2nd. That whenever the summit of the mountains which extend in a
direction parallel to the coast from the 56th degree of north latitude to the
point of intersection of the 141st degree of west longitude shall prove to be
at the distance of more than ten marine leagues from the ocean, the limit
between the British possessions and the line of coast which is to belong to
Russia as above mentioned (that is to say, the limit to the possessions ceded
by this convention) shall be formed by a line parallel to the winding of the
coast, and which shall never exceed the distance of ten marine leagues therefrom." The western limit within which the
territories and dominion conveyed, are contained, passes through a point in
Behring's straits on the parallel of sixty-five degrees thirty minutes north
latitude, at its intersection by the meridian which passes midway between the
islands of Krusenstern, or Inaglook, and the island of Ratmanoff, or
Noonarbook, and proceeds due north, without limitation, into the same Frozen
ocean. The same western limit, beginning at the same initial point, proceeds
thence in a course nearly southwest through Behring's straits and Behring's
sea, so as to pass midway between the northwest point of the island of St.
Lawrence and the southeast point of Cape Choukotski, to the meridian of one
hundred and seventy-two west longitude; thence, from the intersection of that
meridian, in a southwesterly direction, so as to pass midway between the island
of Attou and the Copper island of the Kormandorski couplet or group in the
North Pacific ocean, to the meridian of one hundred and ninety-three degrees
west longitude, so as to include in the territory conveyed the whole of the
Aleutian islands east of that meridian.
ARTICLE II In the cession of territory and dominion made by the
preceding article are included the right of property in all public lots and
squares, vacant lands, and all public buildings, fortifications, barracks, and
other edifices which are not private individual property. It is, however,
understood and agreed, that the churches which have been built in the ceded
territory by the Russian government, shall remain the property of such members
of the Greek Oriental Church resident in the territory, as may choose to
worship therein. Any government archives, papers and documents relative to the
territory and dominion aforesaid, which may be now existing there, will be left
in the possession of the agent of the United States; but an authenticated copy
of such of them as may be required, will be, at all times, given by the United
States to the Russian government, or to such Russian officers or subjects as
they may apply for. ARTICLE III The
inhabitants of the ceded territory, according to their choice, reserving their
natural allegiance, may return to Russia within three years; but if they should
prefer to remain in the ceded territory, they, with the exception of
uncivilized native tribes, shall be admitted to the enjoyment of all the
rights, advantages, and immunities of citizens of the United States, and shall
be maintained and protected in the free enjoyment of their liberty, property,
and religion. The uncivilized tribes will be subject to such laws and
regulations as the United States may, from time to time, adopt in regard to
aboriginal tribes of that country.
ARTICLE IV His Majesty the Emperor of all the Russias shall appoint,
with convenient despatch, an agent or agents for the purpose of formally
delivering to a similar agent or agents appointed on behalf of the United
States, the territory, dominion, property, dependencies and appurtenances which
are ceded as above, and for doing any other act which may be necessary in
regard thereto. But the cession, with the right of immediate possession, is
nevertheless to be deemed complete and absolute on the exchange of
ratifications, without waiting for such formal delivery. ARTICLE V Immediately after the exchange of
the ratifications of this convention, any fortifications or military posts
which may be in the ceded territory shall be delivered to the agent of the
United States, and any Russian troops which may be in the territory shall be
withdrawn as soon as may be reasonably and conveniently practicable. ARTICLE VI In consideration of the cession
aforesaid, the United States agree to pay at the treasury in Washington, within
ten months after the exchange of the ratifications of this convention, to the
diplomatic representative or other agent of his Majesty the Emperor of all the
Russias, duly authorized to receive the same, seven million two hundred
thousand dollars in gold. The cession of territory and dominion herein made is
hereby declared to be free and unencumbered by any reservations, privileges,
franchises, grants, or possessions, by any associated companies, whether
corporate or incorporate, Russian or any other, or by any parties, except
merely private individual property holders; and the cession hereby made,
conveys all the rights, franchises, and privileges now belonging to Russia in
the said territory or dominion, and appurtenances thereto. ARTICLE VII When this convention shall have
been duly ratified by the President of the United States, by and with the
advice and consent of the Senate, on the one part, and on the other by his
Majesty the Emperor of all the Russias, the ratifications shall be exchanged at
Washington within three months from the date hereof, or sooner if possible. In faith whereof, the respective
plenipotentiaries have signed this convention, and thereto affixed the seals of
their arms. Done at Washington, the
thirtieth day of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and
sixty-seven. [SEAL] WILLIAM H. SEWARD
[SEAL] EDOUARD DE STOECKL And
whereas the said Treaty has been duly ratified on both parts, and the
respective ratifications of the same were exchanged at Washington on this
twentieth day of June, by William H. Seward, Secretary of State of the United
States, and the Privy Counsellor Edward de Stoeckl, the Envoy Extraordinary of
His Majesty the Emperor of all the Russias, on the part of their respective
governments, Now, therefore, be it
known that I, Andrew Johnson, President of the United States of America, have
caused the said Treaty to be made public, to the end that the same and every
clause and article thereof may be observed and fulfilled with good faith by the
United States and the citizens thereof.
In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of
the United States to be affixed. Done
at the city of Washington, this twentieth day of June in the year of our Lord
one thousand eight hundred and sixty-seven, and of the Independence of the
United States the ninety-first. [SEAL]
ANDREW JOHNSON By the President:
WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State
The most important dates in the history of Alaska
- in 1959, Alaska became the 49th State.
- in 1971, the temperature at Prospect Creek,
Alaska, dropped to 80 degrees below zero, the lowest temperature ever recorded
in the United States.
- in 1988, PL 100-241, the Alaska Native Claim
Settlement Act Amendments, were signed by President Regan. The amendments gave
more flexibilty to the corporations managing Settlement lands.
- in 1973, the Yukon Native Brotherhood presented
a Statement of Claim to the federal government, stating their position on land
claims, self-goverment and other issues which had been published in January in
"Together Today For Our Children Tomorrow".
- in 1944, the final weld on the Canol pipeline
laid on by Bob Shivel, 20 months after the project began.
- in 1951, after 3 years of rumours, the federal
government approved moving the capital of the Yukon from Dawson City to
Whitehorse. A new Federal Building was constructed in 1952, and the Territorial
Council chambers were moved the following year, with the first meeting held in
Whitehorse in April.
- in 1924, Carl Ben Eielson made Alaska's first
Air Mail flight.
March (day unknown)
- in 1812, the Russian American Company
establishes a post at Fort Ross, California to grow crops for their Alaska
- in 1914, a bill authorizing the construction of
the government-financed Alaska Railroad was signed by President Wilson.
Construction started in 1915, and some sections were opened as they were
completed, but the entire line, running from Seward to Fairbanks, was not
completed until July 15, 1923.
- in 1989, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez went
aground on Bligh Reef, pouring almost 11 million gallons of oil into Prince
- in 1964, an earthquake with a magnitude of 8.4
on the Richter Scale hits the Anchorage area, killing 115 people and destroying
hundreds of homes.
- in 1975, the first section of pipe for the
Trans-Alaska Pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez was laid. By August, 21,600
people were working on the project. The first oil was put through the 800-mile
line on June 20, 1977.
- in 1867, the United States purchased Alaska for
- in 1951, the Alaska Highway was turned over to
Canada, in a ceremony at Whitehorse.
- in 1898, a series of 5 avalanches in the
Chilkoot Pass between 2:00 AM and noon killed over 70 people.
- in 1919, the Yukon finally allowed women to vote
in Territorial elections. Manitoba had been the first province to enfranchise
women, in 1916, and federal enfranchisement was passed in May 1918.
May (day unknown)
- in 1904, the first commercial wireless communication
facility in the U.S. opened, between Nome and St. Michael.
- in 1906, the Alaska Delegate Act was passed by
Congress, giving the territory's 40,000 people the right to elect a non-voting
delegate to Congress.
- in 1778, Captain James Cook entered Prince
- in 1778, Captain James Cook entered Cook Inlet.
- in 1894, a resolution of the Privy Council
authorizes the North-West Mounted Police into the Yukon "in the interests
of peace and good government, in the interests also of the public
revenue." By June 26, Inspector Charles Constantine and Staff-Sergeant
Charles Brown were at Juneau, heading for the goldfields of the British Yukon.
- in 1900, Congress authorized a massive telegraph
construction project in Alaska.
- in 1898, the ice broke on Lake Bennett; within
the next few weeks, 7,080 boats carrying 28,000 people passed the NWMP post at
- in 1993, the Umbrella Final Agreement is signed
by representatives of the Council for Yukon Indians and the Yukon and federal
governemnts, establishing the basic format for all 14 Yukon First Nations land
- in 1942, a large carrier-based Japanese force
attacked Dutch Harbour.
- in 1942, the Japanese landed almost 2,500 troops
on the Aleutian islands of Attu and Kiska. It took a huge Allied force until
August 15, 1943 to regain control - the final invasion force numbered 34,426
- in 1898, the Yukon Territory is created.
- in 197, the first oil was pumped throught the
800-mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez.
July (day unknown)
- in 1786, while charting Lituya Bay, 2 small
boats are swamped by rip tides, and 21 French sailors drown.
- in 1968, the oil riches of Alaska's North Slope,
first reported almost 100 years ago, were confirmed by a drilling program at
Prudhoe Bay. The following year, a total of $990,220,590 was bid in a one-day
lease sale of those properties.
- in 1882, George Krause becomes the first white
man allowed to cross the Chilkat Pass to the interior.
- in 1913, the first airplane in Alaska made a
demonstration flight at Fairbanks, piloted by James V. Lilly.
- in 1799, the Russian American Company is formed
by Royal Charter; they were given a 20-year monopoly on trading on the coast
from 55 degrees north.
- in 1919, Louis Beauvette staked the first silver
claim at Keno Hill, in the central Yukon; by 1930 this district was producing
14% of all the silver mined in Canada.
- in 1897, the Excelsior reaches San Francisco
with the first large shipment of Klondike gold.
- in 1923, the Alaska Railroad was completed,
following 8 years of construction.
- in 1741, Vitus Bering, on St. Elias Day, sights
the Alaskan mainland. In honour of the saint, the most prominent peak was
named; this was the first point on the northwest coast named by Europeans.
- in 1897, the Portland reached Seattle with a
large shipment of Klondike, turning the excitement caused by the Excelsior's
arrival at San Francisco into an all-out gold rush.
- in 1902, Felice Pedroni ("Felix
Pedro") discovered gold in the Tanana Hills, causing a stampede which
resulted in the founding of Fairbanks.
- in 1867, Alaska's first post office is
authorized, to be opened at Sitka.
- in 1868, the Customs Act is amended to include
- in 1900, the White Pass & Yukon Route
railroad was completed, with the Golden Spike driven at Carcross, Yukon.
August (day not known)
- in 1876, twelve whaling ships are trapped by ice
near Point Barrow; 50 men die attempting to reach safety.
- in 1896, a party consisting of George Carmack,
his wife Kate, Skookum Jim, Tagish Charlie and Patsy Henderson stake placer
gold claims on Rabbit Creek, and rename the creek Bonanza Creek.
- in 1732, a Russian expedition under surveyor
Mikhail Gvozdev sights the Alaska mainland at Cape Prince of Wales.
- in 1852, Fort Selkirk is destroyed by a group of
Tlingits who objected to the Hudson's Bay Company trying to break the Tlingit
monopoly on trade with the interior tribes.
- in 1912, the Alaska Territorial Act was passed
- in 1778, Captain James Cook turned back south,
having reached Lat. 71 North, Long. 197 West.
September (day not known)
- in 1848, the Hudson's Bay Company builds Fort
Selkirk, at the confluence of the Pelly and Yukon Rivers.
- in 1871, of the 41 whaling ships hunting in the
Bering Sea, 32 are trapped by early ice; all of the 1,200 people on the ships
escaped, but 31 of the ships were destroyed the following spring.
- in 1898 gold was discovered near the future site
of Nome, triggering a stampede.
- in 1942, the Alaska Highway opened at Contact
Creek, 305 miles north of Fort Nelson, B.C.
- in 1745, a Russian fur hunter, Mikhail
Nevodchikov, reaches Attu in his search for sea otters.
- in 1895, the North-west Territories was divided
into the Districts of Franklin, Mackenzie, Ungava and Yukon.
- in 1869, the prediction of a total solar eclipse
by American scientist George Davidson so impressed Kohklux, chief of the
Chilkat Indian village of Klukwan, he drew him an incredibly detailed map of a
vast part of the interior of the Yukon and Alaska.
- in 1867, official ceremonies at Sitka
transferred Alaska from Russia to the United States.
- in 1918, the coastal steamer Princess Sophia
sunk near Juneau, killing 463 people, about 10% of the Yukon's white
- in 1967, Jean Gordon, the Yukon's first female
member of the Territorial Council, takes her seat.
- in 1741, Vitus Bering died after his ship was
wrecked on an island off the Alaskan coast.
- in 1971, the Alaska Native Claim Settlement Act
(ANCSA) was signed into law by the President. Among the major provisions were
the transfer of title to 40 million acres of land to native corporations, and a
cash payment of $962.5 million.
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