Christmas Island, Security Bay

Christmas Island, Security Bay

by | Oct 18, 2021

Christmas Island is the largest of several small reefs and islets on the western coastline and near the entrance of Security Bay on Kuiu Island, about 45 miles (72 km) south of Angoon and 18 miles (29 km) southwest of Kake, Alaska. Kuiu Island is in the Alexander Archipelago of Southeast Alaska, entirely within Tongass National Forest, and separated from Kupreanof Island to the east by Keku Strait, and from Baranof Island to the west by Chatham Strait. Kuiu Island is 65 miles (105 km) long, and 6 to 14 miles wide (10-23 km) wide, and is nearly bisected by Port Camden and Bay of Pillars that are separated by a portage of only 1.3 miles (2 km). The island was first charted in 1793-1794 by Joseph Whidbey and James Johnstone during Captain George Vancouver‘s expedition. The name is from the Tlingit language and was published as ‘Kuyu Island’ in 1848 on Russian Hydrographic charts. The island has heavily glaciated mountains incised by narrow deep fjords. The central portion of the island contains the federally designated Kuiu Wilderness and Tebenkof Bay Wilderness protected areas within the Tongass National Forest. These wilderness areas are managed by the U.S. Forest Service as a single area to preserve old-growth temperate rainforests of Sitka spruce and western hemlock that rise from sea level to subalpine meadows more than 2,000 feet (610 m) in elevation. Prior to European colonization, significant populations of Tlingit people lived on the island, particularly in Tebenkof Bay. Security Bay is situated at the northwestern tip of Kuiu Island and was named in 1869 by Commander Richard W. Meade. Christmas Island was named in 1881 by Commander Henry Glass while conducting hydrographic surveys on the USS Wachusett for the U.S. Navy. About 1 mile (1.6 km) due east of Christmas Island on the eastern shore of Security Bay is Retaliation Point. A few hundred yards to the northeast of Retaliation Point is a tidal marsh with a small stream and gravel beach that was the site of Tom’s Ranch, a small Tlingit village that was destroyed, along with two fishing camps at the head of Security Bay, by Commander Richard W. Meade and the USS Saginaw in 1869.

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. The U.S. administration established a governing framework based on common law, while the Tlingit people continued using indigenous law based on ‘peace ceremonies’ which included compensation in either material goods or human lives, the latter being revenge killings. On January 1, 1869, three Tlingit chiefs were invited to visit Fort Sitka to meet with Brevet Major General Jefferson C. Davis. One of the Tlingit chiefs was a Chilkat, and it being New Year’s day, he had been given a bottle of whiskey by General Davis. The drunken chief had passed out and a soldier on guard duty kicked him. The chief was insulted and seized the soldier’s gun, starting the Kake War. Orders were given to prevent the ‘escape’ of all the Tlingit and a demand was made for the surrender of the chief and after tense negotiations, the chief and another Tlingit named Sitka Jack surrendered. General Davis then issued an order countermanding the previous one and released all the Tlingit, however, the U.S. Army post commandant, who was also drunk, either did not promulgate the general’s order or afterward reissued the first order on his own responsibility. Amidst the confusion, a canoe with several Tlingit started to leave the village to gather wood, and the sentry on the wharf killed two of them. The Kake Tlingit in retribution captured and killed two white trappers at Murder Cove on Admiralty Island, but 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 Tom’s Ranch at Retaliation Point in Security Bay were burned. Saginaw also found two deserted food stores and smokehouses which were also destroyed by fire. The loss of winter stores, canoes, and shelter led to several additional Kake Tlingit deaths during the winter. The Kake people did not rebuild the destroyed villages and some dispersed to other permanent settlements while others remained in the vicinity and eventually built the present-day village of Kake.

The northern and northwestern coast of Kuiu Island is a special management unit for seabirds and humpback whales that concentrate in the area to feed on Pacific herring. The intent of the special management unit is to protect humpback whales, seabirds, and waterfowl habitats, as well as community and commercial fishing harvests. Particularly abundant bird species include marbled murrelets, common murres, rhinoceros auklets, and pigeon guillemots. Large rafts of surf scoters are also common in this area. Seabirds and sea ducks concentrate at the heads of bays on Kuiu Island where tidal currents concentrate zooplankton and small forage fish. The portion of the special management unit south of Saginaw Bay is a commercial harvest area for rockfish and Pacific cod. The area between Security Bay and Rowan Bay is a commercial troll fishing area for Chinook and coho salmon. The area between Security Bay and just south of Washington Bay is a purse seine commercial fishing area for salmon. Residents of Kake use portions of this large area for subsistence gathering of invertebrates and finfish. In 1983, the first Alaska marine park opened near Juneau as part of an international system extending from Washington through British Columbia to Alaska. In 1986, Security Bay was established as an Alaska State Marine Park to protect salmon, halibut, crab, marine mammal, and black bear habitat. Security Bay State Marine Park is 1,960 acres (790 ha) of undeveloped marine and tidelands that provide a safe haven anchorage for vessels in the area. Popular activities include camping, fishing, kayaking, boating, and wildlife viewing. The park is a waterfowl and shorebird concentration area and is used by hunters for black bears, deer, and waterfowl, as well as for commercial Dungeness crab harvests. Read more here and here. Explore more of Christmas Island and Security Bay here:

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