Angoon, Kootznahoo Inlet

Angoon, Kootznahoo Inlet

by | Sep 9, 2021

Angoon is a historical Tlingit village located on an isthmus at the mouth of Kootznahoo Inlet on the eastern shore of Chatham Strait and the west coast of Admiralty Island, about 77 miles (124 km) northwest of Petersburg and 60 miles (97 km) southwest of Juneau, Alaska. The name is from the Tlingit, Aangóon, meaning “isthmus town”. Kootznahoo Inlet is an intricate group of narrow passages, lagoons, and bays supporting an abundance of salmon and herring. Admiralty Island is in the Alexander Archipelago of Southeast Alaska. The island is 90 miles (145 km) long and 35 miles (56 km) wide, and was named by Captain George Vancouver in honor of the British Admiralty. The Tlingit name for the island is Xootsnoowú, which is commonly interpreted to mean Bear Fort, and the people call themselves Bear Fort People. Most of the island is now part of the Kootznoowoo Wilderness within Admiralty Island National Monument, a federally protected wilderness area administered by the Tongass National Forest. The Kootznoowoo Wilderness includes some of the last stands of old-growth temperate rainforest that provides some of the best habitat available for brown bears, bald eagles, and Sitka black-tailed deer. Admiralty Island has a brown bear population of 1,600, the highest density of brown bears in North America.

Admiralty Island has been continuously inhabited for approximately 10,000 years. Archeological sites and artifacts have been found in the areas of Angoon, Chaik Bay, Tyee, and Whitewater Bay. Historically, there were many more villages on Admiralty Island, Chichagof Island, and Baranof Island but these were consolidated before or shortly after European contact. Angoon is one of the older and more isolated Tlingit villages. The Tlingit of Angoon are members of seven clans, two of the Raven and five of the Eagle, and all are descendants of ancestors that migrated down the Stikine River. The Angoon people settled on Kootznahoo Inlet and built a village for fishing, hunting and trapping, and held possessory rights over the shores of the inlet and the interior watersheds of Admiralty Island that drain into the inlet. In 1794, Captain George Vancouver explored the region, and Lieutenant Joseph Whidbey circumnavigating the island to make the first accurate charts. They were soon followed by fur traders, Yankee whalers, and after the Alaska Purchase in 1867, by prospectors and fish processors. In 1878, the North West Trading Company established a trading post and whaling station on Killisnoo Island, about 2 miles (3.2 km) south of Angoon. Whaling provided employment that attracted many Tlingits from Angoon and neighboring villages.

On October 22, 1882, a dispute was prompted by the accidental death aboard a whaling boat of Tith Klane, a tribal shaman. Upon Klane’s death, Angoon Tlingits stopped work to mourn and prepare for his burial ceremony. As was customary, the boat in which he died was brought ashore and 200 blankets were requested from the whaling station as compensation for the shaman’s death. On October 23, John M. Vanderbilt, manager of the whaling station, reached Sitka with his family on the company steamer Favorite and requested protection from the USS Adams. He claimed the whaleboat was seized by the Tlingits and they had taken two men hostage. In case their demand was not met by the company, the Tlingits threatened to burn the company’s Killisnoo store and buildings, destroy the boats, and put to death the white prisoners. Acting upon this information, Captain Edgar C. Merriman of the USS Adams, placed 60 U.S. Marines with rifles, a howitzer, and a Gatling gun on board the Favorite under the command of Lieutenant Bartlett of the U.S. Navy. They were joined by the USRC Thomas Corwin commanded by Michael A. Healy, and proceeded to the scene of the disturbance. They reached Killisnoo on October 25 and the next day anchored in Kootznahoo Inlet at Angoon. According to Healy on the Corwin, the hostages were immediately released and some of the Tlingits were imprisoned. In addition, as a punishment and as a guarantee for future good behavior, Captain Merriman then notified the villagers that they must pay 400 blankets as a penalty for their unlawful conduct and gave them until the next day to comply. The next morning they had raised a little over 100 blankets and at noon only 120, so Merriman burned 40 canoes and a summer encampment and at the same time raised his demand to 800 blankets. The Tlingits could not pay such a large sum, so at 2 pm the ships steamed out of the lagoon, hove to in Chatham Strait and proceeded to bombard the town. After firing 30 or 40 shells into the village the marines were landed and set fire to the houses, destroying all but five houses including a large number of storehouses filled with smoked salmon and other winter supplies. A letter written in 1882 by Frank H. Clark, the assistant paymaster on the USS Adams, was discovered about 1990 and partly confirms and partly refutes the official Navy account of this incident. Read more here and here. Explore more of Angoon and Kootznahoo Inlet here:

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