Kenai Fjords
A Stern and Rock-Bound Coast: Historic Resource Study
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Chapter 3:

Russian Interests Change along the Outer Kenai Coast

In the early 1800s the Russians moved shipbuilding operations to Southeast Alaska, and Sitka became the Russian seat of governmental and economic activity. In 1818, Ludwig von Hagemeister replaced Baranov as chief manager of Russian affairs in the territory. The new manager brought new direction to the company and change to the outer Kenai coast.

One of Hagemeister's first acts was to consolidate the western forts. He sought to keep only those forts that had high economic potential and return. He did so because sea otter fur, the staple of Russian-American commerce, had virtually died out in the coastal waters of the Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound. Even by the early 1800s, Davydov had already noted a dependence on bear and black otter pelts at forts St. Nicholas and Alexandrovsk. After 1817 the Russian population had decreased on Kodiak Island, and Baranov ordered the move of property from economically stagnant Fort Aleksandrovskii on the end of Kenai Peninsula to a new location at Iliamna (now called Old Iliamna). [72] The new fort, which assumed the same name, was eventually built at Nushagak.

The decision to reevaluate and consolidate Russian forts coincided with international events that put the Russian government on the defensive against foreign interests in the colonies. [73] Vasilii Golovnin, convinced that American interests sought to overpower the Russian colonies and challenge the renewal of the Russian-American Company contract in 1819, advised the government to isolate and close the territory to all outside trade. [74] As a result, in the 1820s and 1830s the Russian-American Company diversified its economy to include agriculture, timber, and fish; it also moved to seek out markets in need of these commodities. The Russian government redirected expansion within the territory to the north, a move that realigned the coastal forts. In a parallel attempt to develop and populate portions of the territory that were deemed more profitable, former Russian-American Company employees received encouragement to initiate agricultural settlements. [75] This naturally attracted people to the more temperate regions and away from forts developed solely for hunting, shipbuilding, and fur trading. Some villages on the Cook Inlet side of the Kenai Peninsula, including Seldovia, were established as a result of this initiative.

The Russian reorganization overlapped with an overt move to reduce the number of Native villages. Arvid A. Etholen, governor of Russian America between 1840 and 1845, effected minor reforms in the behavior of Russian employees towards Alaska Natives. Looking to improve services to villages and in order to improve the condition of village life, Etholen directed the merging of villages on Kodiak Island from seventy-five to a mere seven. [76] Although the direct impacts of this decision cannot be assessed on the outer Kenai coast, the implications of this radical reduction were sure have affected neighboring areas.

In 1819, Hagemeister ordered the removal of the artel at Resurrection Bay and a consolation of materials and employees. His instructions also specified the need to move the entire settlement surrounding the fort, including the Native crew and their families.

Transfer the Russians and Kaiurs [Native workers] to Iliamna. As there remain but a few aboriginal inhabitants, try to persuade them to move to another more populous place, and it would be best if they were agreeable to moving to Iliamna. [77]

However, many sources indicated that although the Russians had every intention of moving the entire fort, it may have remained partially intact with only parts of it salvaged for iron and other scarce materials. In 1818, Golovnin described the site as a small fort in which "the Company maintains task forces of promyshlenniks or artels for trading with the natives who trade various furs for needed European goods." [78] Lieutenant Captain Pavel Golovin reported that by 1819 Fort Voskresenskii, along with neighboring Forts Alexandrovsk and Gerogevski, were odinochka or "single man" isolated camps or outposts. [79] In 1821, K. T. Khlebnikov described the fort as nothing more than a small building with one resident Russian and some horned cattle. [80] Sarychev's 1826 Atlas identified the fort as a single man outpost. [81] However, Tikhmenev reported that between the 1840s and the 1860s Fort Voskresenskii was "abolished." These varied accounts make it difficult to determine an exact date when the fort closed. There may have been an initial move in the 1820s with a smaller station left in place until the mid-nineteenth century as Tikhmenev implied.

Despite the relocation of Fort Voskresenskii, a Russian presence continued on the outer coast. Mikhail Teben'kov, chief manager of the Russian American Company between 1845 and 1850, conducted a major survey of the Alaska coast, the results of which were published in the 1852 Atlas of the Northwest Coasts of America. He assigned the Russian skipper Illarion Arkhimandritov the task of surveying the outer Kenai coast. He referred to several earlier surveys of the coast implying Russian interest and familiarity with this area, though many were lost or unavailable at the time that Teben'kov compiled the Atlas. Those who had surveyed Resurrection Bay probably included Captain James Shields (1793-94) and Danilo Kalinin (1806), the latter an employee of the Russian-American Company. [82] In 1804 a Russian navigator named Bubnov conducted a thorough summary of the coast. [83] However, all these surveys, like the English and Spanish maps of the region, were conducted exclusively from the sea with no detailed land descriptions. [84]

Teben'kov Chart #5 showing Outer Kenai Coast, 1849. Library of Congress.

In 1849, Arkhimandritov mapped the outer Kenai coast, Kodiak, Cook Inlet, and Prince William Sound. His skillful calculations formed the basis for most of the information on Teben'kov's maps of the region. [85] Davidson later relied heavily on Arkhimandritov's work on the seaward side of the peninsula. Vancouver had made no record the Kenai Coast. [86] Teben'kov deduced from Arkhimandritov's findings that the coast had few redeeming features.

It can be seen from his description that it is all uninhabited space, consisting of bays and straits, hardly convenient because at the very shore the depth is 30 to 50 sazhens [210 to 350 feet]. [87] The shore is mountainous, steep and rocky, covered with forests; the gorges and eroded mountains in many places are occupied by glaciers, crossing even into Kenai Bay. The well-known Voskresenskii Bay ... is equally inconvenient. It is has the same severity of climate, wildness of nature and inaccessible bottom. [88]

Aleksandr Kashevarov, described by Teben'kov as a hired skipper, was an experienced navigator in Russian America in the 1830s. He may have accompanied Arkhimandritov or worked independently on yet another coastal survey.

One of Teben'kov's motivations in mapping the coast was the anticipation of the increased presence of Russian whaling fleets in the region. He maintained that whaling ship captains needed precise charts and current surveys to locate safe harbors, both for protection and as layover stations during storms and periods of foggy weather.

Russian whaling operations in the Gulf of Alaska developed in response to an inundation of American whaling ships in the late 1840s. Encouraged by the discovery of coast-right whales and by the high price of sperm and whale oil, American ships dominated the market and pushed the whaling grounds all the way to the Sea of Okhotsk and the coast of Kamchatka. [89] Obviously intimidated and unable to stop the number of foreign ships, the Russian government formed its own fleet. In 1849 the Russian-American Company obtained permission to enter the fishery and instituted its own subsidiary, the Russo-Finland Whaling Company. [90] No match for the American fleet, the Russian company operated only from 1851 to 1854.

Equally interested in the territory's gold deposits, Teben'kov hired Petr Doroshin in 1847 to conduct a five-year survey of mineral resources in the southcentral region. Doroshin was a geologist, a graduate of the Imperial Mining School in St. Petersburg, and a member of the Russian Corps of Mining Engineers. Forced to abandon an investigation of Sitka, Doroshin traveled up the coast to Nuchek and then into Cook Inlet, stopping temporarily to explore gold traces. [91] Returning to the region in 1848 to follow up on his initial finds, Doroshin and his crew stopped at Nuchek and Resurrection Bay in between trips to the interior of the peninsula. [92] He recounted that:

... I left Sitka on the first of May and returned on the 4th of October. During this period the laborers under my command were at work only forty nine days, the remainder of the time being spent in excursions to Nuchek ... and Voskressensky Bay.... [93]

Noting the terrain between Resurrection Bay and the end of the Kenai Peninsula, Doroshin knew that the rugged glaciated coast he had observed and described in Prince William Sound continued. Yet, from his writings it seemed his ship kept a safe distance from the coast. "Between Resurrection Bay and the Peregrehni [Wosnesenski] Islands," he noted, "there are many glaciers but from the sea I could see only three of them." [94]

Working within strict time and weather constraints, Doroshin was unable to locate enough gold to satisfy Russian officials. Directed to turn his attention to coal, Doroshin provided the first reports on deposits at Port Graham as well as Kachemak Bay in the early 1850s. [95] His survey included the eastern end of the peninsula, but stopped before reaching the southeastern coastline. In 1853 he returned to Russia; in 1866, he published notes on his Alaska experience and gold discoveries in a series of articles for the Russian Mining Journal.

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Last Updated: 26-Oct-2002