Juneau Nature

Natural & cultural history of Juneau & Southeast Alaska

Juneau Nature - Natural & cultural history of Juneau & Southeast Alaska

Enter the Europeans

First contacts, 1741-1794

The earliest known encounter between European and Tlingit people was probably in 1741, when Chirikov sent a party ashore–some say at Xaayta.aan, inside the yellow-cedar village (Surge Bay) on outer Yakobi Island. They never returned, and much has been written and speculated about that event.

Closer to home, the first encounter was almost surely in 1794, when Joseph Whidbey led 3 small rowing craft through Áak’w Tá, little-lake bay (Auke Bay). This too was a tragic first meeting, in which one or more Tlingit warriors were apparently killed by musket fire.

The Whidbey surveys were well documented in several journals kept by the crew. The 2 most valuable records are George Vancouver’s, edited and published by W.K. Lamb in 1984, and those of Archibald Menzies, surgeon/botanist of the voyage, edited by Wally Olson in 1993. But nobody has tried to compare the various reports, enter them into GIS, and determine exactly what happened in the area now called the City and Borough of Juneau. Figuring this out requires familiarity with local topography, and an understanding of how waterways and habitats differed at the peak of the Little Ice Age. In 2010 I (RC) began to piece this story together, and I hope soon to link here to a narrated slide show detailing the events.

Richard Meade, 1868-69

Just following the purchase of Alaska from Russia, Naval Commander R.W. Meade led a voyage of intimidation through the waters of Southeast Alaska. As insensitive as he was to the residents of the archipelago, Meade’s little-studied  journals and maps are rich with insight into Southeast village locations at a time before gold, timber and fisheries changed everything. Because understanding Tlingit geography is the real reason to read Meade’s often chilling logs, his journal is placed here, in the page on Tlingit geography and history.

A small mine at Echo Cove

Most of us in Juneau are familiar with the wonderful photographs of Winter and Pond. But did you know that Percy Pond was a gold miner? And do you know who Davies Creek (in the Cowee-Davies watershed) was named for?

Percy and Hattie Pond at their tidewater camp near today's boat launch in Echo Cove. To have a photographer of Percy's stature documenting daily activities of a small gold-mining venture, has resulted in a rich historical resource--worth far more to us today than whatever gold he encountered above Echo Cove.

Percy and Hattie Pond at their tidewater camp near today’s boat launch in Echo Cove. To have a photographer of Percy’s stature documenting daily activities of a small gold-mining venture, has resulted in a rich historical resource–worth far more to us today than whatever gold he encountered above Echo Cove.

From a European perspective, it was gold that put Juneau on the map. Even folks like Percy Pond, of the famous Winter & Pond photography enterprise, couldn’t resist dabbling in the search for precious metal. That’s lucky for us, because he thoroughly documented the whole adventure.

The Alaska State Library has an original collection of Pond photos from the Echo Cove area, circa 1899, mounted in a notebook with Percy’s typed captions. Rarely do Winter & Pond photos include much background information, so these are a great way to get a sense not only of the geography and technology of mining, but of who Percy was as a person.

For one thing, he was a salesman. By the 1930s, when he had decided to unload the mining claim on some other hopeful investory, his challenge was to pitch the high probability of success, while simultaneously explaining why he and Davies weren’t already millionaires. Here’s his caption to the above photo:

“Another early view of tidewater camp at Echo Cove in winter, Mr. and Mrs. Pond in the foreground.  Note, sacked high-grade ore in front of the cabin awaiting shipment to Juneau. [reasons for lack of success so far. . .] insufficient funds. . . difficulty of travel, high wages. . .decline of population following WW activities. . . geographical seclusion of Alaska.”

I couldn’t resist compiling 20 or so of Percy’s photos, maps and captions, adding a bit of supporting history and geology, and assembling it as a pdf. Enjoy!

Pond & Davies at Echo Cove. 8.5 megs. pdf-logo

Juneau’s dairy history

As Kathy Hocker and I built up Discovery’s library of historical photographs, during our Repeat Photography Project in 2004-2005, we noticed that many images from the Mendenhall Wetlands showed dairy operations. This led to more focused study of that period in Juneau’s history. As people start to think about sustainable, localized food production what lessons (or cautionary tales?) might the old dairy farmers have to teach us?

In 2012, I gave a talk for the Juneau-Douglas City Museum on dairy history. Below are vimeo links to that talk, divided into 2 parts: a 10-minute introduction, and a 25-minute chronicle, from Juneau’s earliest to last days of home-grown milk production.

Juneau dairies part 1.

Juneau dairies part 2.