With a two-hour layover in Sitka, I decided to venture into the former capital of the Alaskan Territory. The Russians were the first Europeans to invade Alaska sometime during the 18th century. The Russians enslaved the native people of the Northeset, the Aleuts to brave a battle against the Tlingits of Sitka and the surrounding areas south.
Choosing Sitka and the protected waters of the Sitka Sound and adjacent Baronoff Island, as the ideal location for a fort that would allow them to press their sea otter hunting operations and stake claims easterly to the west coast of North America. The Tlingit people considered this an invasion and in 1802 they attacked the Russians killing nearly everyone. One of the sole Survivors, Baranoff attacked the Tlingits for revenge in 1804 with cannons and the enslaved Aleuts and eventually forced the Tligits to withdraw. But unfortunately the Russians never achived their desired plans. And in 1867, Russia’s Czar Alexander figured he couldn’t hang onto the unprofitable colony of Alaska and saw a political advantage in doing his American allies the favor of selling it to them. Ironically, the Americans thought they were doing Russia a favor by buying it. But after then Secretary of State William Seward negotiated a $7 million deal, amounting to less than 20 cents per acre, Congress balked calling Alaska worthless wasteland. A year later and perhaps concerned of offending the czar, Congress agreed to the price. But the newspapers and most American’s never let Seward here the end of it and for years called Alaska “Seward’s Folly”. When gold was discovered in Alaska years later, only then did Seward’s name come clean.
Today, Sitka is perhaps the only city in Alaska that retains more than just a building or outpost reminding us of the Russian influence on Alaska. I found hints of the melding of Tliglit and Russian culture as I briefly hobbled through this small but scenic town.