Kenai Fjords
A Stern and Rock-Bound Coast: Historic Resource Study
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Chapter 2:

A People Few in Number

Alexander Walker, a British soldier and fur trader, provides one of the earliest descriptive accounts of the Chugach.

The Inhabitants of Prince William Sound are a pensive phlegmatic People, without the least disposition for enquiry. Their countenances express none of their passions, but are full of a kind of unmeaning good natured Stare. Their complexion is Olive. In their Features they much resemble the Inhabitants of Nootka, having broad round faces, high Plump Cheeks, small flattish Noses, large Nostrils, small black Eyes. The Eyes of many of them are sore and watery, which probably arises from the smoke of their Houses and the glare of Snow. Their hair is black, and is generally worn short. Some of them shave or cut their beard, and others allow them to grow long. [20]

Walker's observations, made while on a voyage with James Strange to Prince William Sound in August 1786, supported the claim that the Chugach were few in number.

This part of the World is either very thinly inhabited, or at the Season, in which we visited it, the greater part of the People had retired to some other place.... For even allowing that a great proportion of the Inhabitants had gone into the interior parts of the Country for the sake of Game, still if Prince William Sound were the residence of many people during the winter, it is likely, that in traversing so many places we would have fallen in with more of their Houses. We did not [altogether] see above one hundred People.... If detected they surrendered their plunder very quietly, but showed no marks of being conscious that their conduct had been improper. We several times discovered them attempting the Ironwork of the Vessels.... [21]

The population size of the Chugach at the time of Russian contact is unknown, though Oswalt estimated that by 1800 there might have been only 600 inhabitants on the southern Kenai Peninsula. [22] The number of inhabitants along the coast fluctuated depending on who conducted a census at the time. Russian ethnographic studies, a by-product of the numerous censuses taken in the 1800s by the Russian-American Company and the Russian Orthodox Church, tended to count the Kenai inhabitants as one and the same with the Chugach. Perhaps this tendency represented an association with Chugach Bay or the many variations in name given for the people who traveled along the coast of the Gulf of Alaska. The practice may also have been the result of the relatively low number of inhabitants on the Kenai Peninsula coast in addition to the Russian practice of consolidating peoples and forming large hunting crews from many coastal areas. It may also have been simply a matter of convenience. When Ludwig von Hagemeister, the Russian Navy captain, ordered a census in the early half of the nineteenth century there were 477 Native Chugach and Oughalentse in the Prince William Sound region as compared to 1,471 people along Cook Inlet. [23] Teben'kov reported in the Notes to his 1852 atlas that "The Native population of Kenai Bay amounts to 1,000 souls of both sexes, they consist of a separate tribe, belonging to the Chugaches or to the Kad'iaks." [24] This surprisingly high number of inhabitants for the years following the smallpox epidemic is counterbal-anced by Wrangell's earlier estimate in the 1830s that the Chugachiks, "as they called themselves," consisted of approximately 100 families. [25]

Late nineteenth century studies conducted under the auspices of the U.S. Department of the Interior also categorized the people of the Prince William Sound area as Chugach. In 1875, Dall enumerated the Chugach and observed that their living conditions were in a state of decline. He noted, "Being in localities where there is less fishing practicable, these tribes live principally by hunting and trapping. These are amiable and harmless, but in a savage condition." [26]

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Last Updated: 26-Oct-2002