Letnikof Cove is a small embayment about 0.5 miles (0.8 km) across on the Chilkat Peninsula, situated on the eastern shore of Chilkat Inlet at the mouth of the Chilkat River, about 70 miles (113 km) north-northwest of Juneau and 5 miles (8 km) south-southeast of Haines, Alaska. The name is from the Russian ‘Bukhta Letnikov’ published on Russian hydrographic charts in 1848. It was initially published as Letnikoff Cove by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in the 1883 Coast Pilot. The name Chilkat is a Tlingit word meaning ‘salmon storehouse’. The Chilkat River starts at the Chilkat Glacier in Alaska, and flows west and south through the Coast Range in British Columbia for 17 miles (27 km), then re-enters Alaska and continues southwest for another 37 miles (60 km) to Chilkat Inlet. It reaches the ocean at the Chilkat Tlingit village of Klukwan and deposits sediment to form a long delta. The Chilkat Peninsula is between Chilkat Inlet to the west and Chilkoot Inlet to the east and extends south-southeast for 11 miles (18 km) from Haines to Seduction Point. It was first charted in 1794 by Lieutenant Joseph Whidbey as part of Captain George Vancouver‘s voyage of discovery. It was named for Chilkat Inlet by C.W. Wright of the U.S. Geological Survey in 1904. The southern part of the peninsula including Letnikof Cove is composed of erosion-resistant igneous intrusive rocks of the Coast Range Arc which was a large volcanic arc system, extending from northern Washington through British Columbia and Southeast Alaska to southwestern Yukon, that formed as a result of subduction of the Kula and pre-existing Farallon Plates. The volcanic arc formed during the Late Cretaceous or about 100 million years ago. Since the end of active volcanism about 50 million years ago, many volcanoes have disappeared and what remains of the Coast Range Arc are basaltic dikes and granitic intrusions, now widely exposed by erosion. The Chilkat Peninsula at Letnikof Cove consists largely of basaltic rocks and greenstone.
The largest salmon rivers in Southeast Alaska are the Unuk, Stikine, Taku, Chilkat, and Alsek. An origin story of the Tlingit people tells of the Raven that stole water from a secret spring and journeyed north to where there was no water. First, the Raven let some water fall from his mouth and made the Nass River. He then spit out more water and made the Stikine River. Next, he spit out the Taku River, then the Chilkat, then the Alsek, and all the other large rivers. The genetic origin of the Tlingit is not certain but it is widely acknowledged that over 300 years ago, a few Tlingit clans from Prince of Wales Island, the Stikine River Valley, the Nass River Valley, and Kupreanof Island came north and established villages at Klukwan, Kalwaltu, Yandestaki, and Chilkoot Lake eventually resulting in the Chilkat and the Chilkoot tribes. The Chilkats lived along the Chilkat River in Klukwan, Kalwaltu, and Yandestaki and held sway over the Chilkat River Valley, and trade trails over the Chilkat Pass into Athabascan country and south along the western shore of Lynn Canal. The Chilkoots had permanent village sites at Chilkoot Lake and Tanani Point. Their territory stretched from Chilkoot Lake and River, along Lutak Inlet, Taiyasanka Harbor, and north to present-day Skagway and along the eastern shore of Lynn Canal to Berners Bay. Their trade routes over the Chilkoot and White Passes were later used by gold prospectors. Most of the Chilkoot Tlingits eventually moved from their villages to settle around the Presbyterian mission at Fort William H. Seward, or present-day Haines. In contrast, many of the Chilkat Tlingits remained in Klukwan, a village that is still active and integral to the Tlingit people today.
In 1880, when it appeared that the salmon of the Columbia River were becoming scarcer, Marshall J. Kinney, one of the largest salmon packers on the Columbia, started exploring Alaska for cannery sites. In 1883, he built a cannery under the name of the Chilkat Packing Company, on the eastern shore of Chilkat Inlet. That same year, another cannery was built by the Northwest Trading Company at Pyramid Harbor on the west side of Chilkat Inlet and operated in 1883 and 1884. It was idle in 1885, and in 1888 was sold to D.L. Beck & Sons of San Francisco. In 1889, a cannery known as the Chilkat Canning Company was built by Hugh Murray and David Morgan at a Chilkat village on the eastern side of the inlet adjacent to Pyramid Island. It was operated from 1889 to 1893, and then sold to the Alaska Packers’ Association and closed. These canneries bought fish from the local Chilkat and Chilkoot Tlingits and also brought in Euro-American fishermen. The Tlingits were outraged when industrial fish traps and gill nets threatened their sovereignty over the fishing grounds. The Chilkat reputedly resorted to sabotage and cut the nets and tried to break apart the fish traps. The Chilkat Packing Company cannery caught fire in 1892 and the U.S. Navy sent warships to protect company fishing interests. The Letnikof Cove Cannery was built in 1917 and is still operated by the Haines Packing Company, the oldest continuously operating business in Haines and one of the oldest canneries in Southeast Alaska. The cannery is one of 12 historical salmon canneries in the Chilkat Valley and is now the last remaining with a dock and warehouse. Haines Packing Company still processes all 5 species of Pacific salmon, as well as crab, halibut, and shrimp. Read more here and here. Explore more of Letnikof Cove and Chilkat Inlet here: