Kake, Kupreanof Island

Kake, Kupreanof Island

by | Sep 14, 2021

Kake is a Tlingit village on the northeastern shore of Keku Strait, on the northwest shore of Kupreanof Island in the Alexander Archipelago of Southeast Alaska, about 95 miles (153 km) south-southeast of Juneau and 39 miles (63 km) west-northwest of Peterburg, Alaska. The village name comes from the Tlingit word Ḵéix̱ (Northern Tlingit) or Ḵéex̱ (Southern Tlingit), which is derived from ḵée ‘dawn, daylight’ and x̱ʼé ‘mouth’. The derived name means ‘mouth of dawn’ or ‘opening of daylight’. The region of Kake and Kupreanof Island has been inhabited by the Tlingit people for thousands of years. Their territory extended from Dixon Entrance to Controller Bay, a distance of about 600 miles (966 km). Early traditions practiced by the Kake Tlingit connect them to the coast and mouth of the Skeena River in British Columbia. In the early 18th century the Tlingit were driven out of the southern portion of Prince of Wales Island by the Haida people from Masset in Haida Gwaii. The Tlingit inhabited most of Southeast Alaska when the Russian explorer Aleksei Chirikov arrived in the vicinity of Lisianski Strait in 1741. After making landfall near Baker Island, he sailed north along the outer coast and finally sent a longboat out to find an anchorage. When it did not return after a week he sent out his second longboat which also failed to return. Now without any small boats, Chirikov had no way of searching for the lost longboats and their crew or landing on the coast to explore and replenish the supply of fresh water. After waiting as long as possible, he abandoned the longboats to their fate and on 27 July sailed west. In the early 19th century, Kake was visited by European and American maritime fur traders seeking sea otter skins, such as the ships Atahualpa, Lydia, Otter, and many others. The Tlingit gained a reputation among these explorers for being strong and powerful.

Following the Alaska Purchase in 1867, the U.S. Army came to Sitka to serve as the civil administration entity for the Department of Alaska under the command of Brevet Major General Jefferson C. Davis. The U.S. authorities used common law, while the Tlingit people used indigenous law. Americans generally characterized the Tlingit legal framework as based on ‘revenge’, when it was more complex and involved ‘peace ceremonies’ which included compensation in either goods or human lives. On January 1, 1869, three Tlingit chiefs were invited to visit Fort Sitka. One of the chiefs was involved in an altercation with soldiers that resulted in gunfire and the killing of several Tlingit who was attempting to leave Sitka by canoe. The Kake in retribution captured two white trappers and were killed at Murder Cove on Admiralty Island and two mixed-race Tlingit-Russian guides were purposefully set free. On February 11, 1869, USS Saginaw, a U.S. Navy side-wheel sloop-of-war, was sent to the Kake tribal lands to capture the Tlingit responsible for the killing and to burn the villages. The villages of Fossil Bluffs, Hamilton Bay (present-day Kake), and Retaliation Point in Security Bay were burned. Saginaw also found two deserted forts with stores and smokehouses which were also destroyed by fire. The loss of winter stores, canoes, and shelter led to several Kake deaths during the winter. The Kake did not rebuild the destroyed villages and some dispersed to other villages, while others remained in the vicinity of Kake, eventually rebuilding the present-day village of Kake. An unexploded Parrott shell, a relict from the naval bombardment, was discovered embedded in a tree stump in the 1940s. It was kept as a family heirloom for many years before being defused in 2011 and placed on display in the Sealaska Heritage Institute.

The Kake Cannery is a historic fish processing facility built in 1912 by the Sanborn Cutting Company. Its main structures included the main salmon cannery and three warehouses. Warehouse No. 1 housed the company offices and storage facilities and housed a retail operation. Warehouse No. 2 housed facilities for storing and repairing nets, as well as storing canned fish. The complex includes a variety of living quarters. There are two bunkhouses, one which was specifically designated for Japanese and Filipino workers, and another for whites. A third bunkhouse, for Chinese workers, has not survived. Six single-family dwellings also survive, one set aside for the supervisor, and another for the cook. All of these buildings are mounted on wooden pilings and are connected by boardwalks. It was operated for several decades by Sunny Point Packing and the Alaska Pacific Salmon Packing Corporation, growing under the latter in the 1930s to become one of the largest fish packers in the region. In 1940, the cannery was purchased by P.E. Harris & Company. The salmon fishery, however, was in decline, and the cannery closed in 1946. It was sold in 1949 and operated as the Keku Cannery but its packing operation was limited by the reduced fishery and the eventual banning of the use of fish traps by the State of Alaska after 1959. It was permanently closed in 1977. Read more here and here. Explore more of Kake and Kupreanof Island here:

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