STORIES OF COURAGE & BRAVERY IN ALASKA'S RUGGED COPPER RIVER VALLEY

The Ahtna Probably Played A Role In Russia Abandoning Alaska

How A Small Band Of Ahtna Villagers Beat Back The Russians In Interior Alaska & May Have Helped Pave The Way  


Celebrating 150 Years
Of American Rule

Far from the coast, in Ahtna Country, along the traditional border with the Tanana people, are some very old villages: Slana, Mentasta and Batzelnetus.

This is the historic heart of local Native legend. It’s the place where small cadres of Ahtna warriors played a very important role in America’s history. This is where Native villagers  beat back Russian soldiers who were trying to make inroads into their homeland. 

The Russians saw Alaska’s sea otters and coastal wildlife as raw material. Russians sailed on over, declared their ownership of Alaska lands, and began a wholesale slaughter of animals. They shipped their furs back to Moscow to be made into big fur hats. 

The Russians were brutal in every way. And the Ahtna, though separated from the coast by huge mountain ranges had heard the bad news about these invaders.

When various small groups of Russian soldiers forced their way into the Copper Valley, on exploratory expeditions, it never turned out well for the Russians. 

One Russian troop marched up the Copper Valley in the 1700’s. Vicious as ever, the Russians took to tying up and whipping the chiefs in every successive little Ahtna village, and stealing local women. Then they got to “Roasted Salmon Place” -- Batzelnetus. And that is where a small band of Ahtna killed them.

By 1848, the Russians had begun fretting about their deadly enemies, the British, who were headed across Canada on their own northern fur-gathering mission. The Russians tried again. They sent another small group of soldiers up into Ahtna Country. 

Once again, Russian soldiers slogged their way north across the wilderness. And they came to Slana, a little settlement very near Batzelnetus. 

Standing up to Russian soldiers; this was the danger that had been bred in the Ahtna people of this region for decades. In the night, as the Russians rushed out of their tents in their nightclothes, the Ahtna attacked. And hacked the Russian soldiers to death. 

Russians were getting the message. If they couldn’t make their way past a dedicated little band of Ahtna warriors, then they probably would have a hard time in the interior. Russia decided to cut their losses in Alaska. Only eleven years later, in 1859, Russia offered to sell Alaska to the United States. But this idea was put on the back burner when the Civil War erupted. After the war ended, William Seward, Secretary of State, bought Alaska for America. This was exactly 150 years ago, in 1867.

It took another 20 years for Americans to successfully breach the Copper Valley. 

The Ahtna people changed the course of American history, by fighting off the Russians with their own Homeland Security forces.  Without Ahtna valor, Russia might have not given up and gone back home. And Alaska would still be “Russian America.”


 Coming Soon: Bearfoot’s book of true Alaska stories 
Copyright, 2017. Northcountry Communications, Inc. 

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Write us at ncountry@gci.net! Bearfoot Travel Magazines/Copper River Country Journal, Gakona, Alaska

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