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Aztec Ruins

Capulin Mountain

Casa Grande

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Craters of the Moon

Devils Tower


El Morro

Fossil Cycad

George Washington Birthplace

Glacier Bay

Gran Quivira



Lewis and Clark Cavern

Montezuma Castle

Muir Woods

Natural Bridges


Petrified Forest


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Rainbow Bridge

Scotts Bluff

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Yucca House

Glimpses of Our
National Monuments


Site of old Indian stockade at Sitka.
Photo by E. W. Merrill

Sitka National Monument is an area of great natural beauty in southeastern Alaska, about 57 acres in extent, located on Sitka Bay. although reserved as a public park by President Harrison in 1890, it was not until March 23, 1910, that it was established a national monument by presidential proclamation.

This monument includes the site of the ancient village of a warlike tribe, the Kik-Siti Indians, who in 1802 fortified themselves here at the old village after their massacre of the Russians and defended themselves until the decisive "Battle of Alaska" in 1804, when the Russians established their supremacy over the Indian tribes in southeastern Alaska. Had the Russians not been successful in their attempt to subdue these Indians undoubtedly Alaska would have been settled by the English soon afterwards, and been retained by them, instead of coming into the possession of the United States through purchase from Russia. The graves of a Russian midshipman and six sailors killed in this battle are within the monument boundaries.

The principal objects of interest in the Sitka National Monument are the 16 totem poles, relics of the aboriginal life of the region. Silently they stand, sentrylike, each telling its own story. To understand them, however, one must be familiar with the history of the family each totem represents. Under the primitive social system of the native Alaskan Indians the family was an important unit, and each family had its emblem—a bear or frog, or other animal— which was carved on the family totem pole. These poles had a very important function, having carved on them, in addition to the family emblem, figures to immortalize any historic events in the family life as well as the noble deeds of its members. It was a custom of these Indians that the members of any family were bound to provide shelter for any traveling member of the same family, and the totem pole before the door of a cabin told the traveler whether or not he would find a welcome there.

The totem poles in the Sitka National Monument were collected at different points on Prince of Wales Island, from two different tribes—the Thlingits and Hydahs. Each totem of the Thlingits was hollowed out in back to receive the charred bones of the friends and ancestors of the man who raised it, as these Indians were in the habit of burning their dead. The bones were first wrapped in a new blanket and then incased in the poles.

The Hydahs did not burn their dead but buried them, usually in the butt of a great cedar tree raised on end. Sometimes, however, the burials were made at the base of a totem pole, and when some of the poles now in the monument were removed from their original locations the remains of several persons were discovered.

Several of these totem poles are unequaled as relics of the work of the savage genealogists of the Alaskan tribes. They are of red cedar, gayly painted. The Interior Department is making every effort to preserve the poles, having the carvings restored by Indian workmen where vandalism has occurred, and repainting them as nearly as possible in their original colors.

Another interesting feature of the monument is the witch tree, an object of awe and veneration to present-day Indians. It was here that the Indians of other days held their weird trials for witchcraft, and on this tree the victims were hanged.

The monument contains some beautiful forests, and upon entering it the road plunges at once into the shadows of the trees.

Sitka National Monument is reached by road from the town of Sitka, a mile away, which is the port of call for steamships from Seattle.

Peter Trierschield, located in the town of Sitka, is custodian of the monument.


Last Modified: Thurs, Oct 19 2000 10:00:00 pm PDT

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