Lesson #60: The Battle of Sitka

Autobiographical note: I applied for a job in Alaska this week. I know literally nothing about Alaska after: it’s the 49th state, there’s a large native population, there’s lots of tasty, tasty fish*, the Midnight Sun game is played there**, whatever I have seen on Deadliest Catch*** and that it used to belong to Russia. Oh, and that I have a friend from there who spends half her year traveling and the other half fishing Prince William Sound. Because she’s a badass who hunts moose and can stand hip-deep in dead halibut, grinning — in Gucci sunglasses (seriously, that pictures exists).

Anyway…because I have time coming out my ears of late, I thought I’d do a little reading on some Alaskan history.

The October 1804 Battle of Sitka was the last major armed conflict between Europeans (the Russians, which seems like it would be fairly intuitive) and the native tribes of Alaska. It was the military response to a raid on a Russian trading post run by the Russian-American Company**** two years prior and though the Tlingit people won the first day, it was only three more days before the Russians’ superior firepower — you know, what with the sloops of war and all — drove back the natives. At the end of the second day, the Tlingit, facing a shortage of gunpowder planned to withdraw to the north and establish a camp there, figuring the Russians wouldn’t engage them. On fourth day, the Russians demanded a surrender of the fort, which the Tlingit had planned to give up anyway. So the Russians stopped shooting and the Tlingit had vanished into the woods and the Russians heard drums and wailing (a praise of those who had defended the homeland, it turns out) and assumed it was a surrender cry and that was the end of that.***** And then, the next morning, when the Russians showed up from their warships to take the fort, there was no one there because the Tlingit had indeed gone ahead and moved north.******

*If I were to get that job and move up there, I can almost guarantee the amount of fish in my diet would increase about a thousand fold.

**The Midnight Sun game is on my bucket list.

***I have been obsessed with that show since it was just a one-off three-part mini-series. I like the boats. I also really like crab.

****My understanding is that the Russian-American Company was essentially the Alaskan equivalent of the Hudson’s Bay Company. (Though I suppose that means absolutely nothing if you have no idea what the Hudson’s Bay Company was…but I’m going to assume that you either know what it is or are going to look up either or both the Russian-American Company or the Hudson’s Bay Company.)

*****I actually find this a kind of hilarious cultural misunderstanding.

******For more on the Battle of Sitka, see here. I couldn’t find anything past Wiki, but the article is well footnoted with credible sources, so I’ll give it a pass.

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