SITKA (Alaska Historic Information)
Seet-kab, as it was originally called by the natives, is the most interesting, historic, and beautiful of all the places in Alaska.
Sitka was a thriving town, the seat of Alaskan government, building ships, making plows, picks, spades, etc., for sale in Mexico and California when Chicago was but an Indian village and the country between it and the Pacific was the undisputed lands of the Indians.
Some of (he old buildings, now a hundred years old, still stand; the old trading post store house, a blockhouse, another large building at one-time headquarters for the Russian Alaska Fur Company, and now a hotel at which Lady Franklin stopped while searching for her husband; a half-made burr for grinding wheat imported from Siberia, and parts of a mill, are among the important Russian relics. The first location of a fortified trading post by the Russians (1799) was on a flat purchased of the Indians about eight miles north of the present Sitka, and called Archangel Gabriel, which was robbed and burned and the occupants murdered or taken prisoners by the natives in 1 802. 1 he facts regarding that massacre as told by an eye-witness equal in barbarism the most horrible Indian massacres of the East. The unfortunate victims were tortured to death; not even the cattle escaped. The valuable furs were removed to their own canoes and the buildings burned. In 1804 Baranoff returned to rebuild it with 120 Russians, on the Ekaterina and Alexandra, to which 800 Aleuts in 300 bidarkas were joined, all being assisted by the sloop Neva. The Indians, with the assistance of some Russian deserters, were fortified at Indian River, to which siege was laid, and the location of the present Sitka taken after a stubborn resistance, and named New Archangel.
The Indians never again secured control, although in 1878, after the soldiers had been removed from Sitka, they demanded the lives of six men in return for six of their number who were lost at sea while working for a white employer, and being refused they conspired to retake the town, and after completing all preparations returned in force by the way of the Hot Springs, about twenty miles southward, where they killed a man by the name of Brown, and arriving before Sitka demanded five more. Before this massacre could be carried out, and by urgent request. Great Britain sent the Osprey from Esquimault, to which friendly act the Sitka of today owes its existence, and for which, with hundreds of other neglects, our own government ought to be ashamed.
Nothing remains to be seen at the old site of Sitka, except a hunter's cabin, and grass as high as a man's head. Nothing remains at the old Redoubt, as much farther south of Sitka, except mere traces of the old fortifications and ship ways. Nothing remains of the Indian River fortifications, except a mark to identify them. The ways of the Sitka shipyard are lost in the sand; the old flour mill was replaced by a sawmill, which has recently been modernized, although the same old flume furnishes water for it; the once beautiful cemetery, forested with Greek crosses, is now overgrown with brush and weeds; but one of the circle of blockhouses remains; Kath-le-an and Anna-Hootz have surrendered, and their followers are members of the Russian or Protestant Churches; Baranoff Castle of history, 70x140 feet of logs, the center of gay and official life, as well as drunken orgies, from 1813 to 1894, when it was burned, has been replaced by a spacious residence, now occupied by Prof. C. C. Georgeson, head of the Agricultural Department of Alaska.
So the Sitka of old. like its founders, will soon be only seen in pictures, read in books, or heard in tales of tradition.
A federal barracks, coaling station, cable, wireless, agricultural experimental station, marshal's office, customs house, magnetic station, electric lights, modern residences, churches and schools are indications of a new era. But the old and new are so blended as to produce a reverential respect not elsewhere felt in Alaska.
On one side of the town is the Indian River Park, where a large number of totems, presented by the natives to Governor Brady, are now preserved.
High above the little "Naples" is a circle of ever snow-crowned peaks; back on the sidehill a thousand Russian graves, over which Greek crosses hold their arms; in front is an island-dotted harbor, which Schwatka has said could only be mapped with a pepper box, and for beauty has no peer in the world; off toward sea is Mt. Edgcomb, an active volcano until a little over fifty years ago, of which the natives have many legends. Surely, Sitka is entitled to all the beautiful names bestowed upon it.
The industrial school for natives started by Brady is now the foremost native school in Alaska, with a yearly attendance of about 200, its full capacity.
Bishop Roe, head of the Episcopal Church in Alaska, lives here in a beautiful home (he is perhaps the best posted man regarding the natives in Alaska). The Sheldon Jackson Museum contains a collection worth a hundred times more than the Government so begrudgingly paid for the expense of collecting it.
On one side of the town is a well kept street, on both sides of which are modern houses, in which may be found the usual furnishings of a white man's home. These are schooled natives, and it is known as the "cottagers."
On the other side of the town is the native village, with square, unpainted. unfurnished (except possibly a stove and table) frame houses in rows parallel with high tide, all facing the water; this is known as the "Ranche."
Indian tragedies; tales of love of native or Creole by officer, soldier or trapper; of murder, suicide and assassination, and of Russian tyranny and native conspiracies, are now just old enough to invite the imagination of the novelist.
The bird and sea life is more active than at any other point found by us in Alaska, and more convenient to study, for the scientist.
The balmy atmosphere from the sea, the quiet of the village and the beauty of snowy mountains, green forests and blue waters, dotted with rock-made islands, ought to be inspiring enough for artist and poet.
The hot springs to the southward, now in charge of Dr. Goddard from Tacoma, and which I found to be 145 degrees F., were known to the Indians to cure rheumatism, and to the Russians to cure gout.
So that everything, in profusion, is piled up here waiting for people of art, culture, leisure and science.
Historians have written much of Baranoff, and the missionaries. Dr. Sheldon Jackson, Rev. John G. Brady, Rev. W. W. Kirby, James McNair Wright and others, have informed us quite fully concerning the natives, and to these I must refer the reader for want of space.
To the sportsman, 1 vouch that deer may be seen and killed within a mile or two of Sitka: we found them tame enough for photographing. At the Squashinski River, with the assistance of the Sitka Fishing Club, in two hours we caught with trout rods 153 trout, weighing 247 pounds.
Sitka is so different from all other Alaska towns; every one has time; every one is sociable, and talent is plentiful; it is the most ideal place on the coast for a month's summer recreation.
Mr. de Groff, who has done so much for Alaska, together with the Indian discoverer, owns about the only mine of importance in this district; it is about thirty miles north on Chicagof Island.
The silver-mounted, gold-haloed picture of Madonna and costly robes, in the Russian Church; the museum, school, park, and curio stores, are of first interest to the tourist.
Life in Sitka is idleness in winter; only the small weekly boat calls at the dock. Only the precipitation, in the form of a misty rain, must keep busy, as it has a perpetual contract to deliver eight feet of water per annum.
Down at the "Ranche" may be found venison, salmon, seal, Indians, and dogs, all smoked by the same fire.
A deer may be purchased on the street for two or three dollars, and fish for a few cents. I caught crabs enough for a party of seventeen in sight of Sitka as fast as I could lift them into the boat.
Without moving from my tracks, I noted two kinds of Huckleberries; blue and red Raspberries, Salmon berries. Crab apples. Alder, Elder. Hemlock, Alaska Spruce, Timothy, Red-top, Gooseberries, a wild Black Currant, and other plants strange to me. Back of the town is a tract of spongy, water-soaked tundra (which increases as we go northward), from which I plucked twelve varieties of moss. On the rocks of Japonski in the harbor I gathered nineteen kinds of sea moss, and numerous species of shellfish.
Five thousand big, black, noisy ravens constitute the board of health and garbage collectors of the town, and they do the work thoroughly.
I lived a week among them, and learned eleven different calls. I saw them turn complete summersaults in the air, fly with their bellies upward, walk into the kitchen doors for garbage, play with the dogs, and do wiser stunts than I have ever seen other birds do. I am not surprised that the Indians selected it as an ancestor, and crown their totems with it. Eagles are also very numerous and wise, but silent and sullen.
The natives of Sitka, consisting ol two tribes, are said to come from near Nome, which may be the reason for the lack of totems in their village, and their inability to understand other native tongues. Their boats, shacks, customs and features are quite similar to the other tribes along the coast, and they possess a strong Mongolian likeness. The Russian church claims a native and creole membership of 700. I believe the natives alone of Sitka equal that numbei. As a whole, they are more civilized than any other village in Alaska south ol Cooks Inlet.
As we sailed northward to Icy Straits we came to a considerable native town, Hoonah, where the baskets are good, and cheaper. We soon entered Cross Sound, where the first white man, Mr. Chirkoff, discovered Alaska (July 17, 1741). He sent his first mate with ten men ashore for water. 1 hey did not return. The next day he sent the second mate and ten more men ashore for fresh water, and they never returned. The next day the Indians appeared hostile, and he went to sea. The conduct of the natives near by shown to Whidby a few years later would make it appear that the Indians fearlessly murdered the sailors.