Building in an Ashen Land: Historic Resource Study
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Early American Influence (1867-1912)

This time span begins when the U.S. purchased Alaska from Russia and ends when the Novarupta Volcano erupted and forced the inhabitants to relocate away from the Katmai area. For the greater part of this 45 year period, the Savonoski, Katmai and Kukak settlements continued with additional settlements at Douglas (identified on modern maps as Kaguyak), and later at Kaflia. The fur trade continued to be the primary economic activity with the Alaska Commercial Company (ACC) becoming the dominant trader in the region. An ACC store was maintained at Katmai with new stores established at Douglas and for a short time at Kukak. The Katmai store continued a brisk fur trade with the interior Savonoski villages. Fur hunters established seasonal camps from Cape Douglas north to Kamishak Bay. The Russian Orthodox Church influence continued within the settlements through visitations by priests and the establishment of chapels at Savonoski, Katmai, Douglas, and Kukak. As the fur trade began to wane in the 1880s, the Katmai inhabitants became more involved with the rapidly growing commercial fishing industry. At the time of the volcanic eruption, many of the Savonoski residents were living in the Naknek area for the summer fishing, and the Katmai and Douglas villagers were fishing at Kaflia, which was the site of a saltery and store.

Above: The Alaska Commercial Company's Kukak Station ledger dated April 1, 1888. This store operated for two years during the 1880s. UAF, ACC Douglas Station records, Box 4.

Main Settlements

During this period, there was continuous occupation of settlements at Savonoski [48], Katmai, and Douglas, marked "Kaguyak" on modern maps. [49] Kukak was occupied, although it may not have been continuously, until the later 1890s when the population moved to Douglas. The houses continued to be semi-subterranean barabaras, and community houses or kazhims were known to be at Savonoski and Douglas. [50] The largest number of barabaras noted in the literature for Katmai is 20 houses with 218 inhabitants during 1880, and Douglas with ten barabaras and 45 residents in 1901. [51]

The Alaska Native pre-contact barabaras were modified during the Russian period. Early on, the promyshlenniki had adapted the Aleutian Islanders' barabaras by building the sod-covered and arched-roofed structures above ground and by placing a doorway in a wall instead of through the roof. As a result, Natives began changing their house entrances from the top to the wall. By 1870 some of the Aleutian turf-covered dwellings had glass windows, interior plank walls covered with paper, floors covered with dried grass, and small stoves. [52] The Shelikof Strait post-contact houses usually contained two rooms. [53] One such house was noted by the Fifth Earl of Lonsdale during his Arctic journey which took him through Katmai in 1889.

...Mr. Farmin [Fomin] received us most kindly,. He is a Russian Creole, & the maners of a little French man, fussy & quick but very kind. He at once gave me his room in a two roomed turf & log biraba, & so we are dry & comfortable. This is a very small village only about 15 houses & 35 grown up people. [54]

To the north of Katmai, 1953 archeological investigations noted some changes during the historic time at Savonoski. The early, probably prehistoric, dwellings had multiple-roomed patterns. The nearby semi-subterranean structures that contained European artifacts, however, were one-roomed. The framework of the historic houses included walls of split cottonwood and the use of spruce poles for additional support of the sod. Behind the row of houses, there were several wooden storage houses elevated on pilings similar to those found throughout the Bristol Bay region. [55]

A. Plan View

sketch of semi-subterranean house structure

B. Interior View, North Wall

sketch of semi-subterranean house structure

Modern Semi-Subterranean House Structure, Savonoski. Adapted by FMB from W.A. Davis, Archaeological Investigation (1954)

Kazhims existed at Savonoski, Douglas, and probably Katmai. The Douglas community house, investigated in 1953, was built underground except for the roof. Hand hewn lumber was used to build the large oval room with a sloping passageway entrance. Archeologist Wilbur Davis interviewed a former Savonoski resident who reported that "the people danced, held the November festival, and played the stick gambling game, "gathak", in the kazim at Old Savonoski." [56]

Alaska Commercial Company Establishes Trading Stores

Hutchinson, Kohl & Company emerged as the commercial successor to the Russian-American Company and took over the Katmai trading station around 1868. There soon emerged a second firm, the Alaska Commercial Company (ACC), that assumed control over the Alaska operations and assets of Hutchinson, Kohl & Company in 1870. The ACC's Kodiak District took over the former Russian trading posts along the Alaska Peninsula and Cook Inlet regions. [57]

By 1872 the ACC was operating the Katmai post, which continued to be the major coastal post for at least a few years. [58] While barabaras were better suited for the climate, the ACC found ways to maintain a log or wood frame store, as this 1890 description noted:

The village, consisting of sod huts surrounding the "store" and a small log chapel, was built upon a swampy flat along the banks of a salmon stream. The summer visitor is impressed with an idea of what winter must mean in this desolate spot when he notices the heavy chains and ropes which are laid over the roof of the trading store and securely anchored in the ground as protection against the furious gales that sweep down the steep mountain sides but a few miles beyond. [59]

In 1878 the Alaska Commercial Company opened its second post along the Katmai coast at Douglas. At this time, the Native village was already at the site, with a Russian Orthodox chapel built 1875 or 1876, and the Shirpser, Haritonoff and Company had already established a rival fur trading post there as well. [60] Shirpser, Haritonoff and Company sold or reorganized into the Western Fur and Trading Company in 1879. This company continued to operate its Douglas Station for the next four years and also maintained a post at Iliamna. [61] In 1883 the Alaska Commercial Company eliminated its primary competition by purchasing the Western Fur and Trading Company. [62]

While the ACC maintained at post at Katmai, Douglas became the significant sea otter hunting center along the coast. In 1880, Ivan Petroff, observed that "Katmai was once the centre of all the peninsula trade, and the point of transit for supplies to Bristol Bay, and on through Nushegak and Kolmakoosky. Its former glory has departed; it has been superseded by a rival in the north at Cape Douglass, as far as trade and traffic in furs is concerned." There was only one settlement of any significance north of Kukak along the Katmai coast. "A village of 46 persons. two trading stores, a chapel, seven barabaras and it was the terminus of a portage to Bristol Bay." [63]

The Douglas Station's merchandise inventories included: staples of rice, lard, pilot bread, bacon, sugar and tea, and equipment items such as baidarka and dory, seal gut, spades, hammers, fish nets and hooks, rifles, and mouse and fox traps. Clothing and shoes for men, women and children were listed with items such as dress goods, gingham, red flannel, chinchilla caps, and woolen shirts and socks. Housing items included pots and pans, kettles, crockery, lamps, and seal oil. There was also a mix of holy pictures and church candles, children toys, alarms clocks, thermometers, cigarettes, playing cards, and musical instruments such as autophone organs, an accordion as well as guitar strings. [64]

On October 14, 1886 the ACC Douglas Station agent went to Kukak and opened a store there. This was a relatively short trip as Kukak was only six hours by baidarka from Douglas in good weather. [65] The Douglas Station agent was also in charge of the Kukak stock. In October 1887 the agent "went to Kukak took stock and Brought what I could from there as the goods was getting damage from wet weather also made the windows good & fast." [66]

By 1896 the ACC Douglas Station included a house, a store, and a new shed. Some of the building materials used are found in the Douglas Station accounts and include charges for: pine, shingles, house frame, and putting up the frame. A 1890 invoice was for a new house at Douglas that included "200 Afognack boards, nails...white paint, iron hinges, 1 sheet tin, 2 window glasses, 3 chimney clay pipes, shingles, moss, clay and stone and labor. The house interior included wallpaper described as "prints clothed on House walls." [67]

The ACC controlled the Katmai area fur trade through most of the late nineteenth century, maintaining stores at Kukak until 1888, Douglas until 1901, and Katmai until 1903.

Several Chapels are Built

After the American purchase of Alaska, the Katmai region's inhabitants continued to be influenced by the Russian Orthodox Church, which retained its Alaska property and the right to continue its activities according to the Treaty of the sale of Alaska. [68] During this time period, ROC chapels were built north of the Aleutian Range at the Savonoski settlements (two chapels) and along the coast at Katmai, (one rebuilt and one new chapel), Douglas (two chapels), and Kukak (one chapel). [69]

The last church built at Savonoski, 1918. Photo courtesy of University of Alaska Anchorage, Archives and Manuscripts Department, National Geographic Society Katmai Expedition Collection, Box 4, 6389.

Initially, the ROC reduced its number of clergymen and withdrew the Nushagak priest. Within ten years a priest was reassigned to Nushagak. [70] The Savonoski settlements received regular visits from the Nushagak priest and continued to be under the mission's influence until 1912. [71] At Savonoski, located on the east end of the Iliuk Arm portion of Naknek Lake, the first chapel named for Our Lady of Kazan' was built in 1877. Another chapel was built at the second Severnovskoe settlement (Kanigm'iut) in 1902, named for Nikolai the Miracleworker. [72] The Shelikof Strait coastal villages were under the parish of the Church of the Resurrection at Kodiak until 1896 when these settlements were transferred to the Afognak parish. [73]

When possible, annual visits were made by a priest to hold church services, perform baptisms, chrizmations, and marriages in the coastal settlements. The 1898 visiting priest noted the difficulty in communicating with the Alaska Peninsula settlements "since it is necessary to cross the numerous bays along the very stormy Shelikof Strait in baidarkas." [74] The Alaska Commercial Company Douglas Station manager noted the priest's arrivals and departures:

Aug. 15 1885... for 3 days of service; when priest left, Bydarkas left for Katmia & Kogok [Kukak]; Monday August 15 [1887] ...The Priest arrived during day from Wrangell [on the Alaska Peninsula] via Katmia & Kukak with 3 Bydardas to hold church Service with the People here...3 days of services; Friday priest crossed the Straits and The Katmia People left here for home; "August 25th [1888] ... The priest arrived from Katmai to hold church service. [75]

The early chapels were modest buildings:

The outlying chapels in the Kodiak parish were served by lay readers and usually built of logs. "In outward appearance these chapels are not attractive," wrote a government official, "But many of them are quite tastefully decorated in the interior, and in all of them the greatest neatness is preserved. ["76]

Katmai's second Orthodox chapel was built in 1854 (the Russian-American Company built the first chapel in 1843). Renovations occurred in 1884, but the wind seriously damaged the chapel in 1886, which required its rebuilding in 1887 (designated as the third chapel). [77] The 1890 census noted this building as a small log chapel. During his 1895 visit, the Kodiak priest, Tikhon Shalamov, described the chapel as "not new...with a small cupola that is painted with white paint, the roof is shingle, spacious, the interior has wallpaper. It has many icons." [78] Six years later, the visiting Afognak priest, Fr. Vasilii Martysh, noted,

The chapel is rather spacious and is kept clean and in exemplary order, owing to the care of the sexton. Though it was built not very long ago, it is rotted underneath. Under the direction of this sexton the inhabitants have set to building a new chapel. The materials for it have been prepared in part from a steamer broken up near Katmai, part purchased from the company. [79]

At Douglas, the first ROC chapel was built in 1875 or 1876. The ACC Douglas Station manager, Vladimir Stafeev, began building a second chapel in 1890. It appears that some of the lumber from the first chapel was used to complete the second chapel. It was consecrated the following year. During 1893, a porch was added, the iconostasis was rebuilt, the inside was wallpapered, and construction on the bell tower began. [80] In 1901, the visiting priest noted that the Alaska Commercial Company had built the small chapel and provided some bells. [81]

Kukak had at least one ROC chapel that was built sometime after the 1880 census and but prior to January 1890. The first mention of this chapel in the church records is New Year's Eve 1889/New Year's Day 1890 after a windstorm had destroyed it. [82]

Windstorms wreaked havoc on the coastal chapels, but one such storm provided materials for building two new chapels. In June 1898 the Western Star, part of the Moran Fleet that was heading for the Yukon, was beached and wrecked at Katmai Bay. The salvaged wood was used in part to build chapels at Katmai and Douglas. [83] One of the Moran fleet crew's journal entry for July 1898 noted a visit to Katmai village and the dual role of the local ACC manager:

Last night three of us visited the Katmai Indian village, it sits on the river a short distance above the point where the water spreads out over the wide flats of the lagoon, and is similar to many others along the shores of Alaska. Alexander J. Petelin, who was born in this part of the world, his father a Russian, his mother an Aleut, fills the dual capacity here as agent and store-keeper for the Alaska Commercial Company, he also officiates in the Greek church services, in a building occupied as a chapel. He said he had never been ordained as a priest, but had been educated as such. He speaks the Indian language and preaches to them at times in their own tongue. [84]

Above: Katmai's last chapel, built prior to 1912 volcanic eruption. 1915 photo courtesy of University of Alaska Anchorage, Archives and Manuscripts Department, National Geographic Society Katmai Expedition Collection, Box 1, 3635.

Population Ties and Movement

Through most of the early American period, settlements continued at Katmai, Savonoski, and the Douglas and Kukak areas. Katmai maintained the largest population center along the coast. By 1880, Katmai's population was 218. That same census year, Savonoski had the second largest population with 162 people, and the combined Douglas and Kukak population was 83. [85] Katmai continued its trading business with the Savonoski villages and Bristol Bay. [86] The definite preference by the two Savonoski settlements, to continue trading with Katmai instead of taking the easier Naknek River route to Paugvik, lasted at least through the 1880s. Katmai and Savonoski inhabitants also had ties with the Douglas populace. Although it is not clear when the settlement was first inhabited, a ROC priest noted that, "Douglas Village was formed in part by the inhabitants from Katmai and in part from Severnovski." [87] Douglas was also located at the end of an established route to Bristol Bay. The Katmai villagers traveled to Kukak as noted in 1880, when Petroff described the Kukak residents as "sea-otter adjuncts and contingents of the Katmai people." This statement indicated that the Katmai people were occupying the area at least on a seasonal basis. [88]

During the 1880s, some of the Katmai residents were known to have traveled southwest along and across the Alaska Peninsula to hunt and trade. Katmai villagers were noted in the ACC Wide Bay station account books and also traded at the seasonal Sutkhum store. After 1867 people were free to move about and to resettle in old village sites. It is likely that a few Katmai villagers moved down the coast to Wrangell. [89] Both Savonoski and Katmai residents traveled to the Cold [Puale] Bay store, located 35 miles southwest of Katmai, as well as to Kanatak, Becharof Lake, Egegik and to Naknek, at least by the early 1900s. [90] People also moved into Katmai; the 1890 census noted that of Katmai's 132 inhabitants, 51 people were not born there, but had moved from somewhere else. [91]

Seasonal Camps

Several seasonal camps and other habitation sites were used at least intermittently by the Sugpiat/Alutiiq and the Savonoski people during the Russian and Early American time periods. Most sites were located around the Naknek Lake drainage and along the Shelikof Strait side of the peninsula.

Seasonal caribou and or fishing camps were located around the Naknek Lake drainage in the Savonoski River, Lake Grosvenor, Lake Coville, and Brooks River areas. Archaeological investigation showed that at least one house excavated by Brooks River might have been used during the winter. [92] Ukak was another traditional hunting and fishing camp used by the Savonoski people up until 1912. This camp was located up the valley of the Ukak River near the foot of Mount Katmai. [93]

Seasonal camps and other habitation sites were located along the Katmai coast and used, at least on an intermittent basis, during the Russian and American periods. For the most part, the exact location of these sites is not known and little archaeological investigation has been done.

During the end of the early American period, if not earlier, Savonoski people were traveling to the coast via the Hallo Bay or Douglas pass routes. One of their camps was located on the north shore of Hallo Bay. [94]

Single barabaras were noted during the 1901 Afognak priest's visit to Douglas. The ship crossed the strait and anchored at Hallo Bay (eight miles from Douglas), then moved closer to Douglas, which was located in a small bay. "Here near a small river stands the lone barabara of the Aleut Petr Anignan who speaks Russian rather well. Having rested in his barabara and drunk tea, we set off farther in the baidarkasin the evening we safely arrived at Douglas and stopped in the barabara of the Aleut Inokentii." [95]

Although Russian and early American maps identified a settlement with various names (including "Kayayak" and its variants) at Swikshak Lagoon, this was most likely a seasonal camp. [96] According to Katherine Arndt, there was probably a continuous seasonal occupation of one or more sites here during the Russian and early American periods. According to the ACC Douglas station manager Stafeev's log books from 1889-1895, the Douglas people had a summer camp, that included barabaras, called "Pahliak" at the locality of Swikshak. [97]

The vicinity of Dakavak Bay, Amalik Bay, Takli Island, and Cape Atushagvik was probably used throughout this period at least on a seasonal basis. This was the closest point of land from which people would travel in boats across Shelikov Strait to reach Kodiak Island. Structures are probably located in the area, as people often had to wait several days or weeks before weather was calm enough to allow for crossing the Strait. [98]

During 1895, the Kodiak priest on his travel from Katmai north by baidarkas noted two or three barabaras at "Togaly Bay" (possibly Dakavak Bay), where the Katmai people gathered in the summer to dry humpback salmon. Four hours from that location, they "landed on a tide flat to drink tea and have lunch in a little place called Attushalvik [possibly Cape Atushagvik]. This is the narrowest place in Shelikof Strait [30 miles]. From here in baidarkas they usually cross it." [99]

Hunting Parties and the Declining Fur Trade

The Alaska Commercial Company organized hunting parties similar to the Russian-American Company by provisioning the hunters and providing baidaras to transport them and their kayaks to the hunting areas. The height of the fur trade was 1885 and the number of sea otters rapidly declined after this time. [100]

During the late 1880s, the ACC Douglas Station agent, John W. Smith, noted the arrival of men from Katmai and Kukak to form hunting parties. A January 1887 entry by the station manager noted that he was "getting the parties ready to hunt had a good talk with the People about hunting and the AC [Alaska Commercial Company]." Other journal entries noted people arriving from "Kamashak" on foot to trade and several Bristol Bay people, including some with bidarkas on sleds, to hunt from Douglas. Hunters also tried to get to a place name Reglarawak (later spelled Rreglarawak), which the store manager later visited and arrived back to Douglas within two days. [101]

Above: Copy of March 1, 1901 drafted agreement between the Douglas Chief and the Alaska Commercial Company, Douglas Station Manager. If signed, the Douglas Chief agreed to keep his men hunting for furs and to turn all furs gathered by the villagers over to the Douglas Store in return for provisions. Due to the demise of the sea otters, the Douglas store closed that summer. UAF, ACC Douglas Station records, Box 5 folder 66.

Kamishak Bay was an important hunting region. During the 1880s and 1890s, Bristol Bay area Natives migrated each spring to the area to hunt sea otter for the ACC Nushagak agent John W. Clark. Many camps were spread out along the shores from Augustine Island south to Cape Douglas. The hunters took the seal and otter pelts to the ACC Fort Alexander warehouse. [102] From 1883 to 1893, the ACC Iliamna Station supplied a party that hunted sea otters in Kamishak Bay. [103]

Hunters were also known to occupy nearby islands. Afognak sea otter parties hunted on Shaw Island and "Ikuk Islet;" the latter was probably one of the Shakun Islets. [104] The 1890 census noted,

Small camps of otter hunters exist on the low, barren islands near the southern shore [of Kamishak Bay]. Low structures of rocks, canvas, and drift logs are anchored with chains and cables to the rocky surface, to prevent them from being swept away before the constant gales: and here the hunter watches for weeks and months, bereft of all comforts, unable to stand erect within his lowly dwelling, while the force of the wind prevents him from doing so outside, waiting for a day's or even a few hours' lull between storms to visit his nets or to shoot sea otter from his boat. [105]

Schooners traveled around the Cook Inlet and other stations. They arrived at the Douglas station to deliver goods and to pick up the furs. Sometimes they brought in or picked up hunting parties. This might have occurred more often as the hunters had to range farther for the disappearing sea otters.

Most likely the decline of sea otters caused the ACC to close its Kukak store in 1888. By 1890, the Eleventh Census taker note that the Douglas station otter trade had significantly declined:

The only settlements in the vicinity of Cape Douglas consist of a small trading post, with a few native houses, and the village Kukak, with less than 100 inhabitants of the Kadiak Eskimo tribe. Formerly this vicinity was looked upon as one of the most important sea-otter hunting grounds, but of late years the trade in these valuable skins at Douglas station has become insignificant, and the natives are obliged to seek distant hunting grounds with the assistance of the traders. The natural food supply of these people is quite abundant. The sea teems with codfish and halibut, the streams with salmon, and hair seal are plentiful along the shore during the winter. [106]

This same census noted fewer than 200 people living at Katmai, with a continuing orientation to the sea, and habit of purchasing goods at the trading store:

The settlement of Katmai , and its population, consisting of less than 200, depend upon the sea otter alone for existence. The men could have reindeer in plenty by climbing the mountains that rear their snow-covered summits immediately behind them, but they prefer to brave the dangers of the deep and to put up with all the discomfort and inconvenience connected with sea-otter hunting, and in case of success purchase canned meats and fruit from the trading-store. [107]

The poor economic conditions and epidemics led to further depopulation in the Katmai region. An epidemic in the Douglas area occurred in May 1888, when the ACC Douglas Station agent noted that the people were all sick and that one baidarka arrived from Kukak to take medicine back. By June, a total of 18 people had died. [108] The Kodiak priest, in his 1895 visit to the Alaska Peninsula settlements, stopped at Puale Bay (then called Cold Bay) and noted the barabaras used by Katmai inhabitants during the summer sea otter hunts, "Now, none of the inhabitants could be found. Here, as in all the bays of Alaska, there are burial mounds and crosses, under which lie the poor and much-grieved bones of Aleuts." [109] Another priest visit noted accounts of starvation during the winter of 1897-98 at Douglas and other settlements. [110]

In 1890 the Douglas area consisted of "one trading post, a chapel, and a few native houses...the inhabitants who, together with those of Kukak, numbered 85." During 1895, the priest tried to visit Kukak Village but he discovered that the inhabitants had moved to Douglas. Travelers between Douglas and Katmai, however, continued to use Kukak as a rest stop and hunters out of Douglas camped there as well. [111]

By 1890, Katmai included "132 inhabitants making up 37 families and occupying 17 houses.all but one white man were Kodiak Eskimo. ["112] At Savonoski for that year, the population was 94 (47 men; 47 women). The Russian Orthodox Church continued to be an integral part of the Katmai settlements, and the chapels at Savonoski, Katmai, and Douglas were active until 1912. Part of the mission activities included education, which appeared to be going on in the Katmai settlements to varying degrees. In 1900, Savonoski was listed as having a primary school. [113] At Douglas, education took place on a more informal basis with the ACC manager at Douglas, Vladimir Stafeev, noting in 1892 that someone from each household could read and write. [114]

In August 1901, the ACC closed the Douglas store. The priest who visited the settlement a few weeks later believed that the store closure was going to be a hardship for the people. The following year, however, the priest noted that no deaths had occurred among the population of 55 and that the people had returned to their original food. [115]

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, Katmai experienced an influx of winter travelers who were using the Katmai Pass route to get to the Nome gold fields. To accommodate these prospectors, the local trader built a "Bunk House" located away from the village. [116] In 1903 the Katmai store closed. [117] The ACC planned to sell the posts and assessed one building at Douglas at $25.00 in 1906. That same year, the ACC trading store at Katmai was offered to Omar J. Humphrey for $150.00, although the sale did not take place. [118]

Above: Katmai village log and frame buildings, one of these may have been the Alaska Commercial Company trading store. Photographed by the National Geographic Society expedition members in July 1915, after the flood. Photo courtesy of University of Alaska Anchorage, Archives and Manuscripts Department, National Geographic Society Katmai Expedition Collection, Box 1, 3944.

Population Gravitates to Commercial Fishing Industry

By the late 1800s, the economic focus was shifting away from fur hunting and trading activities and towards the rising commercial fishing industry. The trading posts were closing and sea otter hunting was prohibited by law in 1911.

The population at Savonoski in 1900 was 100 and ten years later there were 74 people. [119] At the time of the 1912 volcanic eruption, two families were living at Savonoski, with the rest having moved to the mouth of the Naknek River looking for employment in the fishery. [120] At that time, Savonoski consisted of fifteen sod covered barabaras with several rough hewn log caches, one log chapel that was dedicated to St. Mary, and Mrs. Palakia Melgenak's store. American Pete, the chief of Savonoski village, was using his houses at both Savonoski and at the seasonal camp of Ukak. [121]

Along the coast, the Sugpiat/Alutiiq people gravitated to the growing commercial fishing industry. By 1912, the fishing town of Chignik had replaced Katmai as the primary population center on the Alaska Peninsula pacific coast. [122] The Karluk cannery was sending over steam tenders to gather salmon at Kukak Bay by 1890. [123] For a couple of years, Kaflia had been the site of a saltery and store that was maintained by a man by the name of Foster from Kodiak. [124] Villagers from Katmai and Douglas camped at Kaflia during the summer and fished for their own salmon use, as well as to earn cash working for the saltery. [125] Harry Kaiakokonok, a former resident, remembered the fishing at Kaflia,

That's the fellow [referring to Foster] they work for summertime, salt salmon, the bellies; smoke the backs. All men. Men cutting and salting. Men fishing. The fish in that Kaflia bay, inside, that inner harbor. And they make the hauls, they pull them up to the beach. [126]

In June 1912, there were at least five Natives employed at the Kaflia fishery. Evidently, Harry Kaiakokonok and his family had recently moved to Kaflia and were living in barabaras at the time. [127]

Novarupta Erupts and Forces Katmai Residents to Leave

In early June 1912, Douglas and most Katmai villagers were already gathered at Kaflia for the summer fishing season. Strong earthquakes that began a few days prior to the eruption sent the remaining six Katmai residents fleeing down the coast towards Cape Kubugakli. The earthquakes also caused individuals from Katmai to Cape Douglas to abandon their camps and gather at Kaflia. [128] On June 6, the Novarupta Volcano, [129] located about twenty miles northwest of Katmai, erupted with such force that it is considered one of the largest volcanic explosions ever recorded. Harry Kaiakokonok, a child at the time, remembers parents calling their kids home and that for three days the sky stayed dark and the people hid inside their houses,

It get hot in those barabaras. We pull off all our clothes. We soak them in water and put them over our face. Those peoples who have mosses in their barabara pour water over those mosses and put them over their nose and mouth so they can breathe. After while we open door and try to see out. All black, everywhere. A little bird fly into barabara. He can't see where he go. We children wash his eyes with water and he stay in barabara with us. [130]

The volcanic burst sent ash into the upper atmosphere where it spread out in all directions. The prevailing eastward blowing winds spread the ash over the eastern portion of the Alaska Peninsula, and across the Strait to cover Afognak Island, the northern half of Kodiak Island, and parts of the Kenai Peninsula. [131] Three kayakers paddled from Kaflia Bay to Afognak for help. In response, the United States Revenue Cutter Service's Lieutenant W.K. Thompson piloted the borrowed cannery tug, the Redondo, and sailed to Kaflia Bay to rescue the people. They found Kaflia village buried in volcanic ash to a depth of three feet. [132]

Harry Kaiakokonok remembered the rescue,

After long time, about three days, it start to get light. Everybody go outside. That stuff all over, like deep snow. Couldn't even see the bay. Bay was like land. Hard to breathe. Then we see that boat coming up the bay. Gee! Was funny feeling. Boat was like coming across dry land. All those stuff was floating on bay, about six feet deep. Dead whales and sea lions and salmons were all mixed up in those stuff floating on top of the bay. [133]

The people, maybe about 100, were taken to Afognak. The U.S. Revenue Cutter Service had heard reports that Katmai residents had left the area prior to the eruption. On June 15th, Service personnel sailed the Redondo to Cape Kubugakli, stopping at Katmai, but did not find anybody in the village or in the area. They sailed on, looking for a family that typically lived at Dakavak Bay during the summers. The house was seen, but not the people, who it is believed had not yet arrived for the season. [134]

ash-covered barabaras
Katmai barabaras covered with volcanic ash, 1915. Photo courtesy of University of Alaska Anchorage, Archives and Manuscripts Department, National Geographic Society Katmai Expedition Collection, Box 1, 3946.
fish racks
Fish racks and caches at Old Savonoski in 1918. Photo courtesy of University of Alaska Anchorage, Archives and Manuscripts Department, National Geographic Society Katmai Expedition Collection, Box 4, 3676.

A short time later, the Katmai coastal population left Afognak and eventually established the new community of Perryville, located about 165 miles southwest of Katmai along the Alaska Peninsula coast. Ninety-two of the Katmai refugees took part in establishing their new village. The importance of the Russian Orthodox Church in the people's lives is highlighted by fact that "The local chief reported that the people were dissatisfied because they had no church and no bell." [135]

Most Savonoski residents were in the Naknek area at the time of the eruption except for two families who saw the volcanic explosion and fled shortly after the eruption. "American Pete," Chief of Savonoski, was near Ukak at the time, as he was in the process of gathering equipment from his barabara there, when the first explosion occurred. He was quoted as saying,

The Katmai Mountain blew up with lots of fire, and fire came down trail from Katmai with lots of smoke. We go fast Savonoski. Everybody get in bidarka [skin boat]. Helluva job. We come Naknek one day, dark, no could see. Hot ash fall. Work like hell. [136]

Reportedly, the two families tried to return to live at Savonoski, at the head of Iliuk Arm, almost immediately after the eruption. The dust and residual heat, however, made for impossible living conditions. [137] "American Pete" remembered his village fondly in a 1918 interview,

Too Bad. Never can go back to Savonoski to libe again. Everything ash. Good place too, you bet. Fine trees, lots moose, bear and deer. Lots of fish in front of barabara. No many mosquitoes. Fine church, fine house. [138]

The former Savonoski villagers soon established another village, called New Savonoski, located along the south bank of the Naknek River and about five miles east of Naknek. In 1918, 54 people were living there when the flu epidemic hit. In 1953, 19 permanent residents were living there. By 1961 there were three persons living at the village, and at some later date it was abandoned. [139]

The cataclysmic eruption of Novarupta and subsequent ash fallout, flooding, heat and dust, made it impossible for the Katmai people to return to their homes. The landscape significantly changed as ash and pumice choked rivers and streams and thereby altered channels, bays, and water tables. As a result, the historic properties may have been scoured, buried, saturated by rising water tables, and eroded by tidal action. [140]

New Savonoski settlement
New Savonoski settlement in 1918. Photo courtesy of University of Alaska Anchorage, Archives and Manuscripts Department, National Geographic Society Katmai Expedition Collection, Box 4, 4195.

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Last Updated: 22-Oct-2002