Fossil Bluffs, Kuiu Island

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Fossil Bluffs, Kuiu Island

by | Dec 6, 2019

Fossil Bluffs is on the northeast shore of Halleck Harbor on Kuiu Island, about 42 miles (68 km) southeast of Sitka and 17 miles (27 km) southwest of Kake, Alaska. The local name was recorded in 1948 by the U.S. Geological Survey. Halleck Harbor is an embayment about 2 miles (3.2 km) across in Saginaw Bay, on the northern coast of Kuiu Island. The harbor was named in 1869 by Commander R.W. Meade of the U.S. Navy for Major General Henry Wager Halleck who was then in command at Fort Sitka. Meade also named Saginaw Bay for his ship the USS Saginaw.

The USS Saginaw was a sidewheel sloop-of-war launched at Mare Island in 1859. In April 1868, Saginaw got underway for the Alaska Territory and spent most of the next year exploring and charting the Alaskan coast. Following the Alaska Purchase in 1867, the U.S. Army came to Alaska to serve as the civil law enforcement entity for the Department of Alaska. Trouble ensued when the U.S. authorities used common law to mete out justice, while the Tlingit people used traditional indigenous law. Americans generally characterized the Tlingit legal framework as based on “revenge”, but it was more complex and involved “peace ceremonies” which included compensation in either goods or human lives. These cultural differences led to a dark period in Southeast Alaska that came to be collectively known as the Kake War.

Prior to the conflict, two white trappers were killed by the Kake in retribution for the death of two Kake departing Sitka village by canoe. Sitka was the site of a standoff between the Army and Tlingit due to the army demanding the surrender of Chief Colchika who was involved in an earlier altercation at Fort Sitka. The USS Saginaw was sent to subdue the Kake by destroying three villages at Fossil Bluffs, Hamilton Bay, and Security Bay. Although the Kake evacuated the villages in advance of the attacks, soldiers burned winter food stores that, according to tribal oral accounts, led to the starvation and suffering of many people. The Kake Tlingit did not rebuild the destroyed villages, instead, the people dispersed to other communities including the present-day community of Kake. Read more here and here. Explore more of Fossil Bluffs here:

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