Return to Home 
Research Center Directory 



Fort Wrangel
(Also see the page for Wrangell)

FACTOID:  Before 1902, when the Post Office officially shortened and respelled "Wrangell," it was called Fort Wrangel, with only one "l".

NOTE:  The emboldened words are links to additional information.


Fort Wrangel began as a Russian stockade called Redoubt St. Dionysius in 1834. Its location on the mouth of the Stikine River made it an important supply point for fur traders.  The Russians named the island for Baron Ferdinand Von Wrangel, first governor/general of Russian America from 1830 to 1835.  Before 1902, when the Post Office officially shortened and respelled "Wrangell," it was called Fort Wrangel, with only one "l". 

A large Stikine Indian village known as Kotzlitzna was located 13 miles from the fort. The British of Hudson Bay Company leased the fort in 1840 and renamed the stockade Fort Stikine. The Tlingits claimed their own ancient trade rights to the Stikine River, and protested when the Hudson Bay Company began to use their trade routes. But two epidemics of smallpox, in 1836 and 1840, reduced the Tlingit population by half. The fort was abandoned in 1849 when furs were depleted, but it remained under British rule until Alaska's purchase by the U.S. in 1867.  Upon acquisition of the new territory Company B of the 21st Regiment of Infantry garrisoned Fort Wrangel when that post was re-occupied.

In 1868 a new fort was built in Wrangell at a cost of $26,000. The Americans named the fort after Baron von Wrangel of the Russian-American Company. The fort, located where the present day post office is, was composed of a stockade with narrow gun holes and several block houses. Inside the walls were barracks, officers' quarters, and supply sheds made of logs. In November 1868 a small medical facility at Fort Wrangel was burned to the ground with all its supplies; it was not rebuilt.

South of the fort was the Tlingit village of about 35 houses and 500 inhabitants.  When the United States took possession of Alaska in 1867 and established a military post at the old Russian Fort Wrangel, the soldiers were surprised to find Indians who would not work on Sunday but gathered for their own Christian worship.  (The Russian or Orthodox Greek Church had begun their work in Alaska in 1794, establishing a mission for one, at Fort Wrangel.

A list of the inhabitants of Fort Wrangel for the year 1876 can be found here.  (I wonder if these were the soldiers of the 21st).

In consequence of the sudden outbreak of the Nez Percés Indians in Idaho in June, 1877, the regiment was promptly ordered into the field.  The soldiers were withdrawn from Alaska and for seven years thereafter there was no stable government, no strength of authority whatever, in Alaska.

In 1890 the land survey for Fort Wrangel was reported thusly:  Fort Wrangel, a tract of land, containing about four acres, upon which are the buildings now occupied by the civil government, and embraced in the following description: Beginning on the south side of Main street, at the northwest corner of the warehouse occupied by Sylvester and Reid; thence in a northwesterly direction by lands occupied by Rufus Sylvester, two hundred and ten feet to a post in picket fence; thence in a northeasterly direction along said picket fence, old Stockade Block House and lands occupied by Rufus Sylvester, two hundred and fourteen feet to a post; thence in a northwesterly direction at a right angle with aforesaid line by lands of the United States, two hundred and forty feet to a post; thence in a southwesterly direction and parallel with the northwest wall of the old Fort and forty feet distant from said wall by lands of the United States, five hundred and fifty feet to low tide water-mark; thence along low tide water-mark in a southeasterly/direction by the sea, four hundred and fifty feet, to the south side of Main street; thence along south side of Main street to place of beginning.

Army posts in the nineteenth century had civilian sutlers or traders who, under an umbrella of regulations, operated stores for the benefit of soldiers and families alike.  They sold the extras that government issues did not supply - canned delicacies, tobacco, beer, civilian clothing, and the like.  William King Lear arrived in Alaska from Washington in April, 1868.  He was at Fort Wrangel and established as the post sutler the same year. The Fort Wrangel post office was established in 1869 and Lear served as the Postmaster for a number of years.  He was well-known in Fort Wrangel and owned a great deal of property at one time—including the Fort Wrangel facility.  He was living with his son-in-law, William C. Fletcher,  and daughter at Fort Wrangel at the time of the 1900 census.  Lear left Wrangell for Seattle, Washington about 1902, living there until his death.  He was born in Florida in March, 1832.

William Fleming was born 6 February 1851 in the town of Emmet, Dodge County, Wisconsin, and was educated in the Northwestern University at Watertown. For many years he was a successful teacher in the public schools. In 1878 he was elected to the lower house of the legislature, and re-elected in 1879. While residing in Dodge County, he served as assessor, town clerk, and was chairman of the town board. He was deputy clerk of the court from 1882 to 1884, and was elected county clerk in 1884 and served two years.  In 1887 he went to Alaska as deputy collector of customs, under A. K. Delaney. He was stationed at Fort Wrangel, having full charge of the port, Collector Delaney residing at Sitka, the capital.  Mr. Fleming remained in Alaska during the latter part of President Cleveland's first administration; and, upon his return home he entered upon the practice of law

Colonel Rodolph D. Crittenden arrived in Alaska from Washington, D.C. July 1878, and was living in Fort Wrangel by 1900.  He served as the Deputy Collector of Customs at Fort Wrangel for a time. A lawyer, Crittenden was sought out for legal advice by the citizens of Fort Wrangel.  He died at Wrangell about 1902 and is buried in the Indian Cemetery there.  He was born July, 1827 in South Carolina.

Bruno Grief owned the Fort Wrangel Brewery, a prominent fixture on the town’s main street. Grief was born 1849 in Saxony, Germany and immigrated to the U.S. in 1891.*  He sold the brewery in Fort Wrangel and re-located to Ketchikan. By January 1920, 71-year old Grief was living in Tacoma, Pierce County, Washington.  He died there in 1924 but is buried at Wrangell. The brewery appears in many old photographs of Fort Wrangel.  Grief Street, which runs up the hill beside the Catholic Church was named for him.

John E. Worden arrived in Alaska in July, 1898 from Portland, Oregon and moved to Fort Wrangel the same year.  With him were his wife, Nina (born Michigan, November 1871 ) and daughter, Lydia (born Oregon, November 1895).  John was born July, 1861 in New York.  In Oregon he'd been a butcher, but in Alaska he was a plainsman.

Judge Fred Page-Tustin came from Roseburg, Douglas County,  Oregon in 1898 when he was appointed U.S. Commissioner at Fort Wrangle, and ex-officio recorder for the Wrangel recording district.  In 1901 Tustin transferred to Ketchikan, taking the recording office and records with him.  Tustin was raised and educated in England. He lived in Pendleton, Umatilla County, during the 1800's.

Phillip McKay, a Tsimshian Christian whose Indian name was Clah, was the first teacher at Fort Wrangel. He started a school for 30 children in one of the fort buildings which had been used as a dance hall.  McKay arrived in Fort Wrangel in 1876 with his brother and a few friends in search of work cutting fire wood. He is credited with being the first missionary for the Presbyterian Church at Fort Wrangel.  By 1877 Clah had already started the school and had already begun preaching the Christian Gospel to the native people in the area.  Clah became ill with tuberculosis that winter and died.

Mrs. Amanda McFarland arrived at Fort Wrangel in 1877.  She founded a home and school for girls in an attempt to protect those who had run away from home, were without family or who would be otherwise sold for the price of several blankets or other valuable gifts offered for them. Amanda taught them to sew, cook and take care of a household as well as provided them with an education.  The girls home began in a former hospital building within the fort complex. By 1880, a new building was constructed on the site just south of the present First Presbyterian Church. Following a fire in 1882, rather than rebuild the school in Fort Wrangel, the all-girls combined with a boys' industrial school in Sitka. The school closed in 1899.

The Reverend Samuel Hall Young arrived at Fort Wrangel in 1878 to begin establishing a church for the Presbyterians. The church was dedicated August 1879 and began to grow. Fannie Young, the reverend's wife, founded the "Tlingit Training Academy" in 1883 to complement the work that Mrs. McFarland had been doing for the girls. The new school was to teach the young boys a trade. The school depended upon donations and did receive some government funding, but never in sufficient quantities to make it successful. It was eventually closed in 1888, just prior to the Young's departure from Fort Wrangell after 10 years of service in Alaska.   Reverend Young died in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1927.

The Presbyterian Church was virtually the only source of education at Fort Wrangel until 1884, when the government established schools in Alaska for the Natives, under the "Organic Act." In 1885, the responsibility for education in Alaska was assigned to the Bureau of Education--under the Department of Interior.  The government school at Fort Wrangel was the first school established in the territory under the act.  Miss Lyda L. McAvoy, a cousin of the Reverend Young, arrived in 1885 to assume her duties as the first teacher of the school. (She married William Green Thomas, U.S. Commissioner.)

The government-supported school wasn't the only school for children at Fort Wrangel. Miss Adah Sparhawk ran her own private school for 20 students during mid-1898 and when she left, a Miss Day opened up her own private school.  The citizens of Fort Wrangel started a second school in 1899, through local funding and no support from the government. The government school was run by Miss Nellie Green, who was in charge of 114 pupils, both native and white. 

And lastly for this page, I present a letter for your perusal, just because...

A Request for a "Right to Hold a Claim," 1902

Karta Bay, Alaska, July 17, 1902.

Dear Sir: I am a native born of Fort Wrangell and would like to know if there is any chance of getting papers for holding mineral lands in Alaska. I was educated in the East, in Philadelphia, and at Carlisle Indian School. I was almost brought up as a white person, and I have lived up to it ever since I left school.

If you want to find out about my reputation you can find it out from my brother-in-law, John Kelly, who has lived in Killisnoo and Sitka for a good many years. Also, you can inquire of any merchant in Wrangell.

I like to prospect, but as a native have no right to hold a claim, and I never know what to do with the prospects that I have found, and there are only a few white men that can be trusted, to my knowledge, in a case of this kind.

I am 26 years of age, and I think I could do well if I could succeed in getting my citizen papers or rights for holding mineral lands in Alaska. I want you to advise me what to do to get it, or if you can do anything for me let me know it soon and oblige.

My address will be Loring, Alaska.

Yours, very truly,
Thomas Jackson.

Governor Brady, Sitka, Alaska.

Source: "Report of the Governor of Alaska" in Annual Reports of the Department of Interior, Government Printing Office, Washington, D. C., 1902.


* Bruno Grief arrived in New York on 15 Jun 1891 from Hamburg on the Furst Bismark.  He was 42.