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Alaska's State Flag

Alaska History

This is intentionally brief. There is a lot to know about Alaska history and this overview is in response to frequently asked questions so it will not be all inclusive of every event in Alaska's colorful past. IF you have questions, or even corrections or refinements, let us know using the mail link at the bottom of the page. The links on this page lead to sites with more detail.

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The State of Alaska


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Discovery III

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the 49th State

PREAMBLE: For starters, the Russians did NOT discover Alaska. Neither did the British. Neither did the Spanish. veronika and st. basilsIn fact, Europeans did not discover Alaska. The people who truly discovered Alaska, we know today as Eskimos, Athabascans, Aleuts -- aboriginal people who got here the hard way, walking over the Bering Sea Land Bridge which is thought to have connected Siberia (The Chukchi Peninsula) over what is now the Bering Sea, to the Seward Peninsula in Northwest Alaska. It may seem like semantics, but remember, IF who got here first did not matter we would not have the Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act of 1971 passed by the U.S. Congress to resolve aboriginal land claims.

(Side bar: Our guide in Moscow was Veronika, right, seen in front of St. Basil's Cathedral, built on Red Square between 1555 and 1561. Our Russia trip is covered in "By the 'Way" (RVlog5) - click the motorhome - wherein we detail many of our RV adventures.)

With that clarification behind us, we can look at how Alaska was opened up by early Western explorers, keeping in mind that more than 10,000 years earlier, adventuresome peoples made their way here.

History, however brief, is a little dry for some, understandably. As a subject, history is usually dry because it is presented without context. IF you have made, or are making, a trip to Alaska then you will find this more enlightening that the casual visitor to Here we have tried to highlight early events which many people today will recognize as key to what has happened in Alaska in the last few decades.

For Instance, coal exports from Alaska started in the 1800s; oil seeps were discovered in Cook Inlet in the 1800s. Much of Alaska has a Russian heritage from explorations made by the Russians in the mid-1700s.

Alaska is a young state, but an ancient land. Statehood was granted in 1959. By then Alaska had been a U.S. Territory for 92 years.

Meaningful contact between Europeans (Westerners) and Alaska's Native cultures started with the subjugation of Aleut people on Kodiak Island by the Russian fur trader Shelikof in the 1780s and a couple decades later in Southeast Alaska where Baranof and the Tlingit people fought a bloody battle near what is now Sitka. The reality is that Alaska's Native cultures were stone and bone cultures as recently as 150 years ago.

The Napoleonic Wars in Europe had an impact on Alaska. It is said Russia sold its rights to Alaska to the United States pay its war debts dating to Napoleon's invasion of Russia. It is also said that the Czar was willing to accept far less that the $7.2 million paid for the territory. In any event, the Monroe Doctrine virtually guaranteed that one way or another Alaska would wind up in U.S. hands.

Other events which affected Alaska, contributing to its history of a boom and bust economy were: the Gold Rush (starting with Juneau in the 1880s, The Klondike in 1896, Nome in 1900, and Interior Alaska 1893 and 1903); World War II including construction of the Alcan Highway; Cold War expansion of military bases; statehood and the discovery and recovery of oil in Cook Inlet and later on the North Slope of Alaska. Almost concurrent with North Slope development came the passage of the Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act of 1971, and a decade later the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act" (ANILCA) of 1980, enhancing the public perception of Alaska as an exotic destination and leading to a boom in tourism.

While not often discussed or understood publicly, ANILCA was historic. It was seen by many Alaskans as a Federal land grab bordering on a violation of state's rights. The Wilderness Society raises points about what it calls the failures of ANILCA. The Act, while it annoyed and even enraged many Alaskans and gave the perception of locking up much of the land in Alaska from public use, arguably provided a boost for ecotourism throughout the state.

As of old, gold, oil, and coal are still important to the economy, so is the military. The Gold Rush is a part of our cultural history and economy through modern day mining as well as tourism; the Native Land Claims Act did much for Alaska Natives both culturally and economically.

(If you have constructive corrections or significant additions, feel free to email us!)

Discovery I & II!

Sternwheel Riverboat Discoverys I & II

In the early 1900s there were hundreds of sternwheelers on the rivers of Alaska. Today there are just three authentic Alaskan sternwheelers left, all bear the "Discovery" name. They are operated by the Binkley family in Fairbanks. The family has been "steamboatin'" in Alaska for four generations (five generations if you count the latest member of the family, a boy, born Feb. 14, 2006). It started with freight hauling on the Yukon River in Canada during the Gold Rush of 1898. Since the 1950s they have specialized in sharing Alaska's history and cultures with visitors from all over the world.

With that rambling summary, the link that follows is a BRIEF HISTORY OF ALASKA (Don't fall asleep! You won't be tested!) from the first sighting by Russian Explorers in 1741 to PRESENT -- or as close as it gets! There are many timelines on the world-wide web. One that seems to crop up regularly is repeated at the Kodiak Island Website. It makes sense not to duplicate what others have done but this link is a good place to start.

For those who interested in a detailed history, and this is DETAILED, you can look at an Alaska History Curriculum which features similar links for almost every state.

Need More Information? You can Google from here!



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