As the year draws to a close, it is customary to look back at newsworthy events and record them for posterity.
Because the launch of ECHO News is THE major event for this publication in 2016, the focus of this week’s column will be the path that brought Chugiak-Eagle River to 2017.
The first Alaskans, of course, were the Athabaskan Indians, the Tanaina, who settled Upper Cook Inlet and Knik Arm. How they came here and from what distant points is not clear. Marjorie Cochrane, in her history of Chugiak-Eagle River, “Between Two Rivers,” wrote that they arrived “some time after 1650” from western Alaska to take advantage of the plentiful salmon found in local streams. Her research disclosed that artifacts dating from that period had been found.
Russian explorers and traders sailed to Alaska’s southern shores in 1740, with Grigory Ivanovich Sheilokov establishing a trading post of the Sheilokov-Goloki company on Kodiak Island. The firm traded with the Tanaina people for furs and fish. The Russian Orthodox Christian religion was introduced by priests who joined the Kodiak settlement. From there, missionaries spread to villages along the shores.
Capt. James Cook of the Royal British Navy, while seeking the Northwest Passage, discovered what came to be known as Cook Inlet in 1778. That name was assigned in maps drawn by George Vancouver, a midshipman aboard HMS Resolution.
A footnote in history is that another country with maritime prominence was also involved in exploring Alaska. Citing a Papal Bull dating back to 1393, Spain claimed rights in the area that was to become known as Russian-America. Expeditions by ships of the Spanish Main visited Sitka, Prince William Sound and Unalaska in 1778 and 1779. Towns named Valdez and Cordova commemorate that event.
Those expeditions almost started a war between Britain and Spain until the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819 was signed. Primarily, that treaty ceded Florida to the United States. A relatively minor clause also ceded to the U.S. all of Spain’s claims to lands in northern portions of North America’s west coast. It was that clause that helped sell Congress on the proposal to buy Alaska for $7.2 million from cash-strapped Russia. At two cents an acre, it proved to be a wise investment, with 222 million acres under federal ownership. Included in that 65 percent of Alaska’s total land mass are national parks, wilderness areas, and countless reserves with high-value oil and other mineral lands and forests. More millions of acres of off-shore lands have just been set aside by an executive order of President Barack Obama.
When Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State William Seward convinced Congress to purchase Alaska, exploration was opened to Americans. The Army was its first governing body, with Maj. Gen. Jefferson C. Davis in command from the moment Brig. Gen. Lovell H. Rousseau accepted the transfer from Capt. Aleksei Alekseyevich Peshchurov, representing Russian Emperor Alexander II. The Navy took over from the Army for several years before the Revenue Service was given responsibility for governing the new acquisition. Limited civilian control, although still under the government umbrella, came with passage of the Organic Act of 1884. A second Organic Act was passed in 1912, establishing the Territory of Alaska with an elected legislature. That move came in response to allegations that the Alaska Syndicate, a conglomerate of J. P. Morgan and Simon Guggenheim interests. The group owned shipping, fishing, mining and railroad firms. Their activities led to scandals and charges that the group “owned” the Department of Interior.