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The Army Takes The Sitka Census

By Robert N. De Armond

By the autumn of 1870, three years after the American occupation of Alaska, Sitka had fallen from her place as the trade center of the North Pacific and become a drab military outpost and a village of a few hundred people, many of them living on half-rations issued by the Army.

Industries were almost entirely lacking at Sitka in 1870.  The Russian-American Ice Company had transferred its activities to Kodiak a year or two previously, and the fur trade, mainstay of the town in earlier years, had ceased almost completely.

The American-Russian Commercial Company had a saltery at the Redoubt, some dozen miles from Sitka, and put up about 2,000 barrels of red salmon each year, employing Indians and Aleuts as fishermen and laborers.  A small sawmill in the town, left by the Russians, operated only now and again, as the market for lumber was scanty.

Virtually the entire cash income of the town came from the military, which included an Army garrison, the naval vessel Cyane, and a revenue cutter.  The payroll of these three services at Sitka, plus that of the customs officers, amounted to $9,388 a month.  To this could be added $665 a month paid to the priests ad other employees of the Greek Church by the Russian government.  The Army also bought a few supplies in the town, including 200 cords of wood at $3 a cord in the autumn of 1870, but the entire inflow of cash was but little more than $10,000 a month.

The Army garrison comprised field and staff, three officers and two enlisted men; Battery 1, Second Artillery, two officers and 46 enlisted men; Company E, 23rd Infantry, two officers and 55 enlisted men; a chaplain, two assistants and surgeons, and 12 enlisted men in various departments.

The garrison occupied a three-story log building which had been the barracks of the Russians and was later to be used as a federal courthouse and jail.  The establishment had 16 mules, four wagons, three carts, three rowboats, two barges, and the schooner Margaret, of about 20 tons.  One battery, consisting of four light 12-pounder field pieces and one battery of four 10-pounder Parrott guns, constituted the armament.

Aside from the Cyane, which was stationed in the harbor most of the time, and occasional calls by a revenue cutter or by the Army transport Newberry, the only communication with the outside world was by the mail steamer which came once a month from Portland, Ore.

Sitka was hemmed in on one side by a log stockade, built by the Russians, which separated the "ranche" or Indian village from the town.  The stockade started at tidewater near the present Sitka Cold Storage and zigzagged over the hill to the creek near the outlet of Swan Lake.  A log blockhouse stood at the creek and there were two more along the stockade.

There were about 125 buildings in the town, many of them of hewn logs and most of them built by the Russians.  Each building was assigned a number by the Army when it arrived in 1867.

Very few Russians remained at Sitka in 1870.  A total of 537 had sailed away to Russia during the year following the transfer, only a handful electing to remain in Alaska.  There were at Sitka, however, about 300 Aleuts and half-breeds, most of them from Kodiak and other islands to the westward.  Formerly employed by the Russian-American Company, they were left without means of support when the country was sold.  A few eked out a livelihood in one way and another, but a total of 136 were being fed by the Army that autumn.

Beside the Indians in the ranche and the Aleuts, who lived in the town there were more than a hundred adventurers from all ports of the world, attracted by the new frontier.  Most of them did not remain long in Sitka. 

In October, 1879, Maj. John C. Tidball, Second Artillery, commanding the garrison at Sitka, received orders to take a census of the town, the first census under American rule.  The work of taking the census was assigned to Lieut. D. A. Lyle, Second Artillery.  He was assisted by Acting Assistant Surgeon J. Williams, Emanuel Shirpser, merchant, as Russian interpreter, and William Philipson, clerk, as Indian interpreter.

In the ranche the inhabitants were counted by not enumerated, and the count showed 365 men, 296 women, and 260 children.  In addition, 330 men, women, and boys were reported away hunting and fishing, so that the total Indian population was placed at 1,251.

Lieutenant Lyle went about his task of enumerating the villagers in a forthright manner and made a comprehensive report.  Information contained in his census includes the name, sex, age, birth place, occupation, place of residence, capability of self support and assistance required, if any, for each of the 390 persons in the town.  In addition, he included a column of "remarks" which are mostly to the point and often enlightening.

Of the 390 persons, there were 222 males and 168 females ad of the total, 135 were under 21 years of age.  Birthplaces were listed as follows:

Sitka 181
Alaska, other than Sitka 62
United States 32
Russia 21
Germany 20
California 12
Ireland 11
Siberia 6
Finland 5
England 3
Canada 3

Austria, Jamaica, and Scotland contributed two each; Denmark, Holland, Martinique, Panama, Poland, Slavonia, and Turkey, one each.  There was also a scattering of "Unknowns."

The Germans, several of them ex-soldiers, ran heavily to saloon-keepers and butchers, and came originally from Prussia, Bavaria, Wirtemburg, Hanover, Saxony, and Baden.

Among the states represented were New York, Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, Mississippi, New Mexico, Nevada, Idaho, Washington Territory, and the District of Columbia.

California is listed separately above, as most of those born there had Russian names and were old enough to have been born at Fort Ross, the Russian colony, before it was abandoned in 1841.

The following are the occupations listed for the Sitkans of 1870, with the number of each:

Child 93
Prostitute 36
Housewife 27
Unclassified 24
Laborer 19
Laundress 17
Clerk 14
Carpenter 13
Saloon Keeper 12
Merchant 11
Servant 10
Sailor 7
Cook 6
Tailor 6
Laundress & Seamstress 6
Priest 5
Sawyer 5
Machinist 4
Baker 4
Widow 4
Shoemaker 3
Sailmaker 3
Ship Carpenter 3

Two each ship caulker, brewer, butcher, nurse, blacksmith, knitter, tinsmith, seamstress, deacon, engineer, tar-manufacturer, and customs officer.

One each pilot, clerk, and porter, turner, fiddler, janitor, "lazy," upholsterer, interpreter, tanner, bar-tender, lock maker, upholsterer and painter, coppersmith, fireman, snuff-maker, "thief and rascal," herder, toy-manufacturer, midwife, teacher, grocer, baker and restaurant, barber, grass widow, cook and steward, steward, druggist and postmaster, "dealer in trash and Indian curiosities," and trader.

There was no doctor, no dentists, and except for the Greek Orthodox priests, no clergy.  The Army surgeons and chaplain appear to have tended the needs of the town as well as the military post.

The number of laundresses is astounding, as Lieutenant Lyle describe nearly half of the people on his list, including some of the laundresses, as dirty, very dirty, or filthy.

A good many of the buildings in the town seem to have been vacant, and others were greatly overcrowded.  Number 62, a two-story log building near the present Service Garage, was called the "double-decker: and housed no fewer than 112 persons, according to the lieutenant's list.  A much smaller building near the site now occupied by the Pioneers' Home was called "The Beehive," and 19 people lived there.

Of one of the residents of "The Beehive," the lieutenant wrote, "Kept by the barber, or rather she keeps him.  She says he don't pay her a cent for value received, and gets drunk on her daughter's wages."

At No. 33, which had been the Lutheran Church in Russian days, lived a widow, a "grass widow," and two children who were apparently not related to either.  Of the "grass widow" the lieutenant remarked, "Her husband is a sailor and is at sea; very neat and well dressed."

Thomas M. Groves, from Jamaica, and his wife, Martha, from Washington, D. C. were a "colored couple; freshly married," and lived at No. 41, in the centre of town.  They were employed by the Cyane, he as cook and steward, she as laundress.

Some of the Aleuts had their homes across the creek in the region for many years known as "Russian town."  A good many of the single white men, including clerks in various stores and the collector of customs and his deputy, lived at the Clubhouse, a two-story log building  on the site of the present Coliseum Theater. 

One of the merchants at Sitka in 1870 was John H. Kinkead, whose wife and brother were there also.  John Kinkead had come west from his native Pennsylvania in 1849, lived in Utah, Nevada, and California, and was with the expedition which sailed for Sitka on the steamer John L. Stephens a few weeks after the purchase.

Kinkead's store and residence were at No. 25, the long, low log building on Lincoln Street where the Sitka Hotel now stands.  This building was long known as "The Old Trading Post: and was not torn down until about 1916.

John Kinkead left Sitka in 1871 and went back to Nevada, where he was elected governor of the state in 1878.  He returned to Sitka in 1884 as the first governor of Alaska.

Also in "The Old Trading Post: was the establishment of Ames T. Whitford whose occupation is given in the census list as "dealer in trash and Indian curiosities."  He continued in business at Sitka for many years and purchased the old revenue cutter Reliance, renamed her the Leo and used her as a freighting and trading vessel along the coast.

John A. Fuller, born in England, was druggist and postmaster.  He and his wife, Catherine, born in New York, had their residence and place of business at No. 27.  This was the site and probably the building occupied in later years by a store owned successively by Vanderbilt, deGroff, McGrath and Ganty.

Up the street at No. 31, near where Ferdinand Roll's store now stands, G. K.. Brady had his grocery store and residence.  Brady had come to Sitka in 1869 as a captain, 23rd Infantry, commanding the Sitka garrison.  His wife and three children were with him.

At No. 54, on the Sitka Bazaar corner, was the butcher shop of Isaac Bergman.  He and his wife were from Bavaria, and Marcus Rodolphe and his wife, who lived with them, were from Wirtemburg.  The Rudolph's had a 15-month-old daughter, Josephine, born at Sitka.

On the other corner of Lincoln and American Streets, at No. 32, John Ulrich, also from Wirtemburg, had has bakery.  Peter Kashavaroff, 23 years of age and born at Sitka, lived with Ulrich and clerked in the bakery.

Where the Sitka Mercantile Company now stands, at No. 36, was the store owned by Samuel Goldstein, who came from Prussia.  Theodore Holten and his wife Kate, both born in Russia, kept a store at the corner where Peschouroff Street joins Lincoln.

A short distance up Peschourog Street, Abraham Cohen had his brewery, and the Sitka Brewery, owned by Fritz Goese.  Cohen was from Prussia and Goese from Bavaria.  The former remained in Sitka for many years and when a newspaper was started there, in 1885, he advertised "Pure Beer -- Made and on Sale Expressly and Exclusively for Medicinal, Mechanical and Scientific Purposes."

Patrick Burns, a sawyer, and his wife Eliza, both from Ireland, lived at No. 53, not far from the Cathedral.  There were three Burns children, one born at Washington, D.C., one in Nevada, and the youngest, Charles, 16 months old, at Sitka.

There was a school at Sitka in 1870, maintained by the Army post and contributions of the residents, and it was open to the children of both troops and civilians.  The schoolhouse was a long building later known as the "Governor's house," which stood where the Alaska Native Service school now stands.

The teacher was Catherine Murphy, 31, who was born in Ireland and lived with her four children at house No. 51, which was later for many years the residence of the Kostrometinoffs.  Two of the Murphy children were born in Maine, one in New Mexico, and the youngest, Henry, in Sitka.  Henry was two years old in 1870 and after his name on the census list is the notation, "First American child born in Sitka."

The next census at Sitka was taken a little more than 10 years later, on February 1, 1881.  By that year the Army had gone and the affairs of the country were under naval jurisdiction.  The census was taken under the direction of Commander Henry Glass, commanding the U.S. sloop-of-war, Jamestown.

The Navy's census list is not quite as informative as the Army's.  Citizenship is given rather than birthplace, the place of business or residence in the town is not listed, and the only comment concerns the ability of the individual to read, write and speak English.

The census of 1881 lists 140 male adults and 89 male children, 96 female adults and 69 female children, a total of 394 persons in the town aside from the military.  In the ranche there were 428 males and 412 females, a total of 840.  No mention is made of those who were absent and perhaps, in February, very few were.  The total population of Sitka was, 1,234.

Only a few of the people at Sitka in 1870 who were born outside of Alaska and Russia remained until 1881.  There is a good deal of variation in the spelling of names in the two lists, so that identification cannot always be positive, but of the 100 "outsiders" listed in the first census, only nine are certainly in the second, with five more possibly remaining.

Among those who stayed were Samuel Goldstein and Laran Caplan, the merchants; Abraham Cohen, the brewer; and A. Cazian, the trader.  Ames Whitford was also present in 1881, and was then listed as a merchant.

The nationalities enumerated in 1881 were: Alaska, 235; American, 126; Russian, 15; British, 8; Chinese, 3; French, 2; German, 1; unknown, 4.

There was some change in occupations during the 10 years.  No miners were listed in 1870; there were 35 in 1881.  Saloon keepers decreased from 12 to four, no prostitutes are listed in 1881, and the 17 laundresses were replaced by 22 "washerwomen."

There was a civilian doctor, Upton H. Dulaney, at Sitka in 1881, although he also worked as assistant collector of customs.  There were also two missionaries, the Rev. George W. Lyons and the Rev. John Green Brady, who later became the fifth governor of Alaska.

Sam Goldstein, listed as single in 1870, had a wife and two children, Abraham and Josephine, by 1881.  A Cohen had also acquired a wife, and three daughters, Henrietta, Augusta, and Estelle, in the interval.

Many of the names in the census list of 1881 are familiar to present residents of Sitka.  Allard, Alberstone, Bahrt, Bolshanin, Chrenoff, de Groff, Herman, Kaznakoff, Larinoff, Vanderbilt, Joe Juneau and Richard Harris, the discoverers of the gold on Gastineau Channel, lived at Sitka in 1881.

Russian names still predominated in 1881, but Sitka had by then taken on the aspects of an American village.


Source: De Armond, Robert N., "The Army Takes The Sitka Census."  Alaska Life: The Territorial Magazine.  Juneau, Alaska: Alaska Life Publishing Co., December, 1945.




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