July 01, 2013

Looking at Lukin

Looking at Lukin
A view of Mikhailovsky Redoubt on Norton Sound, later anglicized to St. Michael. Engraving from a sketch by William Dall.

In February of 1868, a party of three Russian dogsled drivers arrived at Nulato, a fur trading station on the lower Yukon River. William Dall, an American scientist working there, records that the party consisted of one Russian laborer and two Kreoli, or Creoles, the colony-born descendants of Slavic fathers and Native mothers. They bore gifts of oil, molasses, and a keg of salted geese, but Dall quickly sensed these men had not come merely to deliver presents.

“I asked if any news had arrived from Sitka,” says Dall in his memoir of his time in Russian America, “and received only an evasive reply.”

At this time, the land today known as Alaska had been a Russian possession for more than a hundred years. But rumors had been circulating that Tsar Alexander II had decided to sell his North American possessions, along with the business interests of the Russian America Company (RAC), to the United States. The Russian fort managers regarded this as baseless gossip and dismissed it with a wave of the corporate hand.

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