Great photos of King Island, and the not quite abandoned Eskimo village of Ukivok, circa 2006: Charlene's flikr photostream.
Thanks to David Kingma and Father Louis Renner at Gonzaga for the pointer.
For many years non-Native sport fishermen have come to the Yup'ik homeland in Western Alaska for the salmon, trout, and grayling fishing. Sport fishermen may catch (and commonly release) ten or twenty fish a day.
The sport fishermen bring cash and, since they are practicing catch-and-release fishing, the resource - which the Yup'ik use for subsistence - isn't being damaged. Why should the Yup'ik care?
Construction of the trans-Atlantic telegraph cable pushed the limits of 19th Century technology. In the 1860s construction was begun on an alternative telegraph line to Europe - across Alaska, under the Bering Strait, and across Russia.
Capt. Daniel B. Libby was in charge of a telegraph construction team that wintered at Port Clarence on the Seward Peninsula in 1867. Libby was 25 or 26 at the time.
In March 1925 a roughly dressed man visited the Juneau law offices of James Wickersham. The man, Libby's son, needed money to get to Copper River where he understood he could find work as a welder. He had a packet of papers - his Dad's papers from the Port Clarence days: letters, records, pictures, and a five by seven inch brown notebook with a diary for 1867. Was Wickersham interested?
Apparently Wickersham was; the diary was in the Wickersham papers for many years, and is in the Alaska State Historical Library today.
On June 20 1867, Libby had taken a trip to King Island. The telegraph construction team that had spent the winter in Port Clarence was beginning to run low on food. The trip to King Island was evidently part of a larger effort to find food:
In the summer of 1900 King Island was hit hard by disease. R. Newton Hawley, surgeon on the U.S. Revenue Cutter Bear, visited the island in July and again in August and published a short account in 1901 (The World's Work, search for "Arctic Cliff Dwellers").
The Bear off Cape Romantzoff in early June, 1900. About a month before she reached King Island. Source: U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office.
Americans began trading in the Pacific in the 1780s. Trade was interrupted by Jefferson’s embargo and the War of 1812, but subsequently small American ships crisscrossed the ocean with cargoes of furs from the Pacific Northwest, sandalwood from Hawaii, copper from Chile, ginseng from the U.S. Appalachian Mountains, and silk and tea from China (Old China Trade).
Far to the north, beyond the Aleutian Islands and the Bering Sea, Eskimos, Chukchis, and Russians traded across the Bering Strait. Furs from America moved west, in exchange for glass beads and iron. Coastal and island Eskimos were active intermediaries.
Briefly, in 1819 and 1820, Americans from the Pacific tested the waters in the Bering Straits: two American brigs, the General San Martin and the Pedlar, explored regional trading opportunities. King Island flits into sight in journals and reports of these visits.
A few days ago I posted on a visit to King Island by the U.S. Revenue Cutter Corwin in 1881 (A Visit to King Island, July 12, 1881).
The Corwin, under Captain Calvin Hooper, also visited in 1880. Hooper's report was published in 1881: Report of the Cruise of the U.S. Revenue-Steamer Corwin in the Arctic Ocean .
Hooper supplied his own illustrations - here's his picture of King Island from about four miles to the south:
The U.S. bought Alaska in 1867, but it really didn't have much of a presence there, and especially not in more remote areas like the Bering Sea, for many years. The Treasury sent a revenue cutter into the Bering Sea in 1870, and again, nine years later, in 1879.
In 1880, the revenue cutter Thomas A. Corwin entered the Bering Sea under Captain Calvin Hooper. At Hooper's recommendation, regular annual cruises by revenue cutters were began in 1881. Hooper and the Corwin made the 1881 cruise.
In the late 19th Century these patrols were the face of the U.S. government in the Bering Sea. The cutters had a lot of jobs. They tried to interrupt the regional trade in liquor and rifles, investigated vessel disappearances, conducted search and rescue efforts, provided logistical support for the census, moved people around within the region, helped the shipwrecked get home, suppressed fur seal poaching, shipped reindeer from Siberia to the U.S., and carried out geographic and scientific research.
Science was important right from the start In 1881, John Muir was the cruise glaciologist. On a shore stop at the western Alaskan port of St. Michael, the Corwin picked up an employee of the U.S. Signal Service, the naturalist and ethnographer, Edward Nelson. The Coast Guard, a successor agency to the Revenue Service, dates its participation in oceanographic work from this trip. Captain Hooper, made several attempts to gather information about currents from the Bering Strait (Oceanography in the Coast Guard).
The Corwin in 1885.
The Corwin had left San Francisco on May4 and arrived at Unalaska in the Aleutians on May 17. Thereafter she performed various missions in the Bering Sea and Arctic, arriving at St. Michael in Norton Sound on July 4. She departed St. Michael on July 9 and sailed north and then west along the south side of the Seward Peninsula. She arrived at King Island on the morning of July 12.
Robert McGhee (The Last Imaginary Place. A Human History of the Arctic World) doesn't think the original Arctic peoples were modern Western conservationists:
Lots of explorers entered the Arctic and died there because - among other things - they couldn't find anything to eat. Sir John Franklin led two expeditions to disaster; on the first his followers ended up eating each other for lack of anything better.
That wasn't a problem for the locals. Robert McGhee (The Last Imaginary Place. A Human History of the Arctic World) points out that the Arctic had real productivity advantages for a hunting people:
Of course Alaska's King Island had a long history before it entered the written record. During the Ice Age, when the land bridge connected Asia and America, the island's cliffs must have risen dramatically from the surrounding plain. Maybe it had a magical significance for the people who lived near it or passed it. Later the sea rose around it, cutting it off from the mainland. Later still, it became a platform from which people could harvest seals, walrus, polar bear, fish, and birds. The people who lived on it, or who traded or raided with it, certainly had an oral history and tradition.
But the written record begins in July 1732.
This Google map of the Bering Straits shows the key places in the story. On the left is Cape Dezhnev on the Russian mainland. The white line is the current U.S.-Russia boundary. There are two islands in the upper part of the picture astride the international boundary. Big Diomede is on the Russian side, Little Diomede is on the U.S. side. The point of mainland on the U.S. side is the end of the Seward Peninsula, culminating in Cape Prince of Wales. South of this Cape is a small island - King Island. To the southeast of King Island, just off the southern shore of Seward Peninsula is another small island - Sledge Island.
When they were on the island, they lived in the village of Ukivok, which clung - impossibly - to the sheer rocky south side of the island.
But they didn't spend the whole year on the island. In June they migrated to the mainland where they lived in a summer camp at Nome, hunted, fished, gathered, and worked and sold carvings to raise money.
In October, when the weather began to get really cold, of all things, they left the relatively large and modern support network in Nome and migrated back to their barren rock to spend the winter largely isolated from contact with others.
During the winter they lived an unexpectedly comfortable life in homes perched on stilts (to level them out on the steep slope). The Bureau of Indian Affairs supported a small school and coop store, and the Catholic church maintained a priest and church.
They exploited a wide range of resources - fishing for fish and crab through the ice right in front of town, harvesting seals, polar bear, and walrus from the ice around the island, and harvesting small plants, birds, and bird eggs from their rock once the spring and early summer had come.
King Island takes up about two to four square miles of the Bering Sea, just south of the Bering Strait. It's about 30-40 miles from the U.S. coast. In the winter it’s surrounded by the Bering Sea ice pack. Until the late 1950s - 1960s it was home to about 150-200 Inupiat Eskimos in the village of Ugiuvak (or Ukivok, also the Inupiat name for the island). Ugiuvak clung to the side of a cliff, on the south side of the island. I’ve posted on King Island before, here, and here.
The picture below shows Ugiuvak in the late 1930's. The large white building at the lower end is a Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) school, the large white building towards the upper end of town is a Roman Catholic church. Most of the village lies on the ridge under the church and just to the right of the school. If you click on the photo you can get a more detailed view:
The next picture was taken many years before, but it gives a good idea of the way the houses were built. They weren't built on dirt foundations dug into the slope, but were built on platforms perched on long poles.
Paul Tiulana was born in Ugiuvak in 1921. In the late 1970s he told Vivian Senungetuk about life on King Island in the 30s and 40s. Senungetuk transcribed his account, edited it somewhat, and published it as A Place for Winter. Paul Tiulana's Story. Tiulana is leaning heavily on his spear on the right in the cover photo below (taken in the late 1930s):
Hunting was important for King Islanders in the 20s and 30s - it was a source of food, clothing material, everyday items, building materials, and trade goods. Tiulana says that others in the village began to teach him hunting skills when he was about 10, although he must have picked up a lot before that.
Last December I posted a short item on the book and musical, King Island Christmas. King Island Christmas is a children's book about events in the Alaskan Inupiat Eskimo community of King Island in the 1950s. Although the village site on King Island was abandoned many years ago, the King Islanders are still a distinct community in Nome, Alaska.
King Island is a remote island in the northern Bering Sea. There used to be an Inupiat Eskimo village on it, Ukivok. Ukivok was perched precariously on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Ukivok was abandoned almost 40 years ago, but this picture from 1978 (some years after the village was abandoned) suggests what it was like:
Rie Munoz and her husband Juan went to King Island as teachers in 1951, apparently spending nine months. She's posted Juan's photos of life on the Island, here: "King Island".
During the winter the 150-200 residents of King Island were cut off from the rest of the world by sea ice. The year that Rie and her husband were on the island the last ship for the winter arrived, but was unable to drop off supplies and the priest for the Christmas celebration, because of the weather. The islanders carried a light boat made of walrus skin (an oomiak - see Juan's pictures) over the center of the island to the more protected side, in order to bring the priest and supplies in. Rie and Juneau author Jean Rogers later wrote and illustrated the story for a childrens' book: King Island Christmas. Subsequently the book was used as the basis for a musical play. The story behind the play may be found here: "How King Island Came to Be".
On Sunday the Juneau Empire carried an Associated Press story by Rachel D'Oro on an Oregon State University project to do archeological work on the island, and to collect oral history from people who used to live there: "Research team to study one of Alaska's ghost villages". How did people live on this island? Why did they leave? D'Oro says,
"The island was named in 1778 by British explorer Capt. James Cook for James King, a member of his party. But it's unclear how long Inupiats lived there.
A century ago, about 200 people dwelled in walrus-skin homes tacked to the face of the cliffs. They hunted walrus, seal and seabirds and collected berries and plants. Every summer, they traveled by kayak and skin boat to the mainland 40 miles to the east, camping near Nome, where they sold ivory carvings.
Starting in the 1950s, fewer people returned to King Island. The 1960 U.S. Census counted only 49 residents. The 1970 census found none. King Island is among 16 federally recognized Native villages that were deserted or used as seasonal camps.
Today, many former King Island residents and their descendants live in Nome.
Kingston said several factors contributed to the demise of King Island. Pregnant women were choosing to stay in Nome, where there were doctors. Many of the men were drafted into the military during World War II. In the late 1940s and 1950s, tuberculosis killed some people and hospitalized others. And ultimately, as with other Alaska villages vacated in modern times, paying jobs were available in more accessible towns."
A nice story with details of life on the island that I haven't copied over here.
There are more King Island posts here: King Island.