Black, White, and Read All Over: News Wire Access in Alaska


WAMCATS telegraph tower at Fort Gibbon, Alaska.

One quirk of the Alaska Digital Newspaper Project is the prevalence of news coverage from all over the world. One would think that the remoteness of Alaska would make it difficult to receive news coverage from all over the state, much less the rest of the Lower 48. Instead, world news dominates the headlines of Alaska papers such as The Nome Nugget and The Cordova Daily Times with very little local news coverage; the Alaska Daily Empire is a member of the AP wire service.

This begs the question: How did Alaskans get wire news service?

The sheer remoteness of Alaska, especially during its days as a US territory, fueled demand for national news and world events. People from connected villages depended on dogsleds to deliver news and letters. The Klondike Gold Rush expedited this need for news with miners anxious to read about events in the Lower 48. In 1900, $450,000 Congress approved funding for the U.S. Army Signal Corps to construct cable and telegraph connections between outposts in Washington state and Alaska, called the Washington Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System: “WAMCATS” for short.



These signal outposts were vital in transmitting radio and wire service- not only from the Lower 48, but throughout the state as well. In 1902, The Alaskan from Skagway and The Record-Miner from Juneau became the first Alaska newspapers to use WAMCATS to receive news bulletins that were then printed in papers. Newsrooms first used a “telegraph typewriter” or “teletypewriter” in 1914 by Melville E. Stone, general manager of Associated Press. The introduction of a teleprinter, which transmitted directly to printers over telegraph wires (60 words per minute), further hastened the spread of information.

wamcats 2

Image credit: The Cordova daily times. (Cordova, Alaska), 26 Jan. 1922. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

On May 15, 1936 WAMCATS was renamed the U.S. Army Alaska Communications System, which remained under the control of the Army Signal Corps until 1962, when it was taken over by the U.S. Air Force.

The WAMCATS Army-built telegraph was the first major contribution to Alaskan infrastructure funded by the U.S. federal government. We owe the wide-ranging news items featured in Alaska’s historical newspapers to this massive effort- completed in a mere 5 years, no less. Today it’s easy to take worldwide connectivity through the Internet for granted. But this development through radio and newspapers meant giving Alaskans the ability to read about events outside the territory- and to feel more connected to the rest of the world.

wamcats 1

Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 19 Nov. 1917. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

wamcats float

Parade float commemorating 50 years of WAMCATS. Image credit: From the John Sigler Photograph Collection as part of Alaska and Polar Regions Collections, Elmer E. Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska Fairbanks.


Lights, Camera, Action! Moviemaking in Alaska Historical Newspapers

New Features In Motion Pictures Presented Yesterday

Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 02 July 1917. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Greetings, all!

With the plummeting temperatures and snow showers here in southeast Alaska, it’s that time of year to stay indoors, get warm, and watch movies.

Millions of people around the world have only seen Alaska through movies. In its earliest days, silent films such as the groundbreaking 1922 documentary Nanook of the North and Charlie Chaplin’s landmark 1925 comedy The Gold Rush (of which the Alaska State Library Historical Collections has a 16 millimeter copy) were the only glimpses of Alaska. Fewer people know that filmmakers have worked on location in Alaska for nearly a century. This week we’ll be looking at the Alaska film industry from its earliest days.

Given the remote nature of Alaska, and the influx of miners arriving during the birth of motion pictures, historic newspapers contain a valuable chronicle of the extent to which the motion picture industry ventured up north to film on location, and to distribute their films. Two films in particular receive special attention: The Girl Alaska and The Cheechakos.

seward gateway 11-22-17

Image credit: November 22, 1917 issue of the Seward Gateway

Billed at the time as “The First and Only Photoplay Ever Made on Alaskan Soil”, The Girl Alaska filmed on location for the first time to add a degree of authenticity to the picture- including an Alaskan cast (minus principal actors). The film premiered in Juneau at the Palace Theatre and screened for two days before the cast and crew returned to the Lower 48. Based on the following news items, The Girl Alaska resonated with audiences eager to see familiar locations on screen:


Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 07 Nov. 1919. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

Palace Theatre; John T. Spickett, Manager; Juneau, Alaska; OPEN LETTER TO THE PEOPLE OF GASTINEAU CHANNEL: Mr. and Mrs. John T. Spickett request your presence at the opening performance of their "GIRL ALASKA" Sunday evening. This feature is distinctly Alaskan, having been filmed on Alaskan soil, and through our efforts and acquaintance with those who make the films, was secured for the first release in Alaska, to be shown at the Palace Theatre. Hoping to see you present, we remain, Yours very truly, Mr. and Mrs. John T. Spickett

Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 08 Nov. 1919. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

"The Girl Alaska is Sunday Night Feature at the Palace. Among the August releases by World-Pictures is "The Girl Alaska", the first and only photoplay every made on Alaskan soil. Nothing quite the same as this, from several standpoints, has ever before been seen on the moving picture screen. This will be seen Sunday and Monday nights at the Palace. The girl's father has gone to the Yukon in the big gold rush and had never returned. The people with whom he had left his daughter have brought her up to be their servant. Early one morning, after having slept in a barrel all night, she picks up a dirty newspaper and in it reads of the wonderful opportunities awaiting ambitious young men in the Alaskan gold country. She appropriates a suit of boy's clothing and, shoving all her gorgeous blonde curls up under her cap, she saunters down to the dock where a passenger vessel is about to leave for the north country. When discovered she, always in her boy's clothes, is set to work cleaning up the decks. To her rescue comes a young chap who is also on his way to Alaska to seek his fortune among the snowy fastness of the land. In the north country, they buy their camping paraphernalia and engage a native guide to take them out to the gold region. One day, as they are passing down stream, along the foot of a monstrous glacier part of the face of the mountain of snow and ice crumbles, with a frightful roar, down upon them. The girl, her pal, and guide are overwhelmed by the sliding mass, and their boat is crushed as though is were made of paper. The guide is killed. After they have buried him, the two pals again travel toward the gold country, this time on foot, for they no longer have a boat. Day after day they climb mountains, descend into valleys, skirt around rivers, until at length the young chap is taken ill with fever and is unable to move forward. The girl is wild with anxiety and at a loss as to what to do. At last she falls on her knees and prays, and then as though in response to her prayer she sees a thin, just visible stream of white smoke coming up from amidst the tall trees in the valley at her feet. It is the cabin of an old miner and adventurer who has spent many years in this wild, alluring north country. He shelters the two pals and finally, after a terrific struggle of weeks and weeks, the old man and the girl manage to restore the young fellow to health. It is then arranged for the two of them to remain with the old man and work his claim. The last act of the old man's life is to leave his entire claim to the girl and her pal. The young man is dumbfounded to learn his pal is a girl, but she is such a charming and beautiful child that he cannot resist falling in love with her and then marrying her. The old man's claim is soon found to contain an immensely valuable gold mine, and soon everything ends happily for the young fellow and "The Girl Alaska."

Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 08 Nov. 1919. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Palace: Last time tonight: "The Girl Alaska" The unique picture of the gold country: Ask those of the packed house who attended last night. We told you we had 640 seats, which were nearly filled two times. Don't miss this opportunity to see an All-Alaskan picture.

The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 10 Nov. 1919. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

While The Girl Alaska marketed itself heavily as an Alaska-filmed production, the first movie entirely filmed in Alaska used the working title The Great White Silence, which was later released as The Cheechakos (sometimes spelled The Cheechahcos) in 1923.  The digital archives at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks contain a collection of production stills that document filming locations and cast members. Additionally, Alaska newspapers chronicle the making of the film:

great white silence

Image credit: The Cordova daily times. (Cordova, Alaska), 12 Feb. 1923. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

great white silence a

The Cordova daily times. (Cordova, Alaska), 07 March 1923. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Word spread quickly about the production cast and crew arriving in Anchorage. The film needed extras, and the Anchorage Daily Times published a call idea of appearing in a major motion picture thrilled a great many Anchorage residents, and a call for extras appeared in the Anchorage Daily Times:

Free Excursion, Thursday, 8:00 AM Stage Set for Typical Alaskan Picture Featuring Golden Days; All Aboard for Mile 52, the scene of the million-dollar picture which is destined to make Alaska famous. Watch The Times for definite date. Weather alone prevented the excursion last Sunday when everybody was primed to go. Weather reports today advise small flurries of snow and a falling barometer. The thirty members of the troupe, together with a small army of attendants are on the ground taking pictures between squalls. Advices from Mile 52 report some splendid pictures have been taken, but the big thing comes of when the 250 Anchorage people arrive on the scene to take part in the mad gold rush of '98. Captain A.E. Lathrop, in charge of local affairs, invites the public to take part in the scene that so aptly shows Alaska during the olden, golden days. This is a free-for-all, and everybody is welcome. Hot coffee will be served on the trail, but guests are asked to take their own lunches. This scene will appear prominently in the production of the "Great White Silence" being filmed by the Alaska Moving Pictures corporation, owned and managed by Alaskans. Captain Lathrop also asks the guests to dress in the manner of the typical stampeder. Wear old clothes, mackinaws, boots or mukluks or rubber pacs, flannel shirts of brilliant colors, fur caps and other clothing featuring the mad rush of the gold stampedes. These articles of clothing are not absolutely essential, but the idea is to wear old clothes and not white collars. It is up to Anchorage to assist in this pictures and at least 250 men and some women are needed to furnish the local color. Take a day off and make the trip and at least see how moving pictures are made. Women, of course, Captain Lathrop says, are more than welcome. But they too are asked to dress accordingly. According to present plans the free excursion train will leave Anchorage depot at 8 o'clock Thursday morning and return the same day. Definite announcements will be reported in Wednesday's Times. In the meantime, make preparations to participate in the moving picture; take a day's vacation and at the same time assist the management in producing a typical Alaska Picture.

Image credit: April 17, 1923 issue of the Anchorage Daily Times. Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

Despite efforts on behalf of director Austin Lathrop, who even built a studio in downtown Anchorage, The Alaska Moving Pictures Corp only ended up producing The Cheechakos. The cost of shooting on location was simply too great, even though the film opened to positive reviews and widespread distribution. Fortunately for future audiences, the National Film Preservation Foundation selected The Cheechakos for preservation in 2000, according to John Combs, Alaska Railroad enthusiast.

alaska motion pictures corp

Cast and crew of The Cheechakos on location outside the entrance to Denali Park c. 1923. Courtesy of the Alaska and Polar Regions Collections, Elmer E. Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Many Hollywood productions used Alaska as a backdrop for stories of adventure, romance, and survival. Movies, then and now, provide visibility for Alaska and give filmgoers an opportunity to see the Great Land.

Special thanks to Damon Stuebner, Chris Beheim, University of Alaska, Anchorage Special Collections and Archives, and University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Archives.

Black Friday and Holiday Shopping: a Post-Thanksgiving Tradition

Typical Scenes as Shoppers Make Their Final Christmas Purchases. "At least one bundle is mandatory"; "Summoned by S.O.S."; "Now don't forget Santy"; Money is plentiful in the United States this year, and the stores are doing a big Christmas business. The millions in gold that have poured into this country for the purchase of war supplies have given a firm tone to all lines of trade, and all classes are preparing for a merry Christmas. Some idea of the extent of the shopping may be gained from the accompanying pictures, showing the great throng of shoppers in the centres where holiday gifts are on sale. The man or woman who does not lug a bundle or two around these days is the exception.

Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 23 Dec. 1918. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Greetings, all!

Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, many folks are hitting the shopping malls across the country to get a head start on their holiday shopping. Leafing through historic Alaska newspapers, one can find plenty of news items involving holiday shopping, too. Although Black Friday as the “busiest shopping day of the year” and unofficial start of the holiday season did not come into being until about the 1980s, shoppers anticipated a month-long window of time to buy gifts.

Read on to see how newspapers in Cordova, Juneau, and Skagway dealt with the topic of holiday shopping- and making sure its readers were able to find everything in time!


Time to do Shopping. But three weeks remain until Christmas, and the offerings of Cordova's enterprising merchants through the columns of the Daily Times should be taken advantage of by doing your shopping early, while you have the choice of articles for gifts. Under the caption of "Why Not Now," the Saturday Evening Post points out the advantage of early shopping in the following excerpt from one of its editorials on that subject: "Christmas shopping several weeks before Christmas is a pleasant adventure; a week before it is a hard trial; a day before it is a calamity. Usually it is mere laziness that puts it off. "In ten years there has been a marked change in Christmas shopping habits in cities, brought about by constant appeals to the public. Yet hundreds of thousands of employees in city shops still look forward to Christmas week pretty much as the boys in the trenches look forward to the order to charge. Among salespeople, deliverymen and bookkeepers the holiday onslaught still leaves a cyclonic trail of wrecked nerves. Like every other bad habit, once it is broken the victim wonders why he suffered from it so long. Do your Christmas shopping now and you will never again wait until near Christmas."

Image credit: The Cordova daily times. (Cordova, Alaska), 09 Dec. 1916. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Wednesday, December 15, 1920: Christmas Shopping: Cordova stores are well stocked with pretty things for the Christmas trade and from now on the salespeople will have their energies taxed to serve the public. Don't wait until the day before the holiday to do your Christmas shopping and force the stores to remain open nights. Remember that after clerks have stood upon their feet throughout the day they are entitled to rest, and there is no greater health destroyer than overtaxing strength. Try this Christmas to co-operate in making it as light upon those who serve us as possible. It is a better Christmas spirit than to organize a rush at the eleventh hour and its consequent baleful effects.

Image credit: Image credit: The Cordova daily times. (Cordova, Alaska), 15 Dec. 1920. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Only 28 More Shopping Days to Christmas: Juneau Residents Should Be Getting Lists Ready, Start Shopping Early. Have you begun your Christmas shopping yet? No, well there are only 28 more shopping days, do you realize that? Have you even made up your shopping list yet, put down the items you are going to get for Billie, Maggie, or Tom, Dick and Harry, mother, father, sister, or brother? The time is rolling quickly towards the big day, rolling quicker than most people imagine and when one realizes that there are only 28 more shopping days it almost takes ones breath away. The local merchants are already receiving their last Christmas shipments and soon shelves and cases will be filled with articles for gifts. Show windows will soon be decorated and the Christmas trade will be on with a rush. Local merchants, as soon as they get all of their goods unpacked, expect a good holiday trade and hope shoppers will "shop early" to relieve the inevitable grand rush of the few days before Christmas.

Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 20 Nov. 1920. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Christmas Shopping: The thought of Christmas shopping is the thing that is under everybody's bonnet just now- or it ought to be. The stores are looking their best just now, the stocks of Christmas goods are yet comparatively complete and it is a delight to just look in upon the glint and shimmer of the show cases and the laden shelves and counters. All merchants alike declare the trade is well under way and bids fair to equal that of any holiday season in the history of Skagway.

Image credit: The daily Alaskan. (Skagway, Alaska), 17 Dec. 1908. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Juneau Trade at Christmas Time is Good: Merchants Report Shopping Has Started Indicating People Are Prosperous. Christmas trading is starting in Juneau and all merchants report that the indications are that the holiday business will equal that of previous years and possibly exceed the business of the past two years. Merchants who do not engage at special holiday business also report excellent financial conditions in Juneau and that trading in general is splendid. W.S. Pullen, manager of the Alaska Electric Light & Power Co., stated today that the business of that house has been good during the fall and was fine at the present time with indications that the Christmas trade will be excellent. There are many new novelties in household goods of an electrical nature being displayed this year. A. J. Ficken, manager of the Frye-Bruhn Market, who recently returned from a business trip to Seattle, stated today that he was surprised at the business being done in Juneau on Thanksgiving day. "Our business has been good this year," said Mr. Ficken today, "and a trip around the Capital City will show the why for. Few men are on the streets in the day time showing that all who care to work are employed. The women folks have been busy with their Christmas sewing at home and have used the telephone for their orders. Now that the greater part of the home work is over, the women folks will start on their store shopping and the holiday season will be a busy one, I am sure. I was glad to get back to Juneau, after visiting several cities in the Pacific Northwest, for conditions here are so much better than outside, that the comparison is all in favor of Gastineau Channel." Simpson & Wright, of the Nugget Shop, report that the holiday business has started off briskly in the jewelry line. M. Michael and George E. Coury, of the Boston Store, are both well satisfied with the first spurt in the holiday trading. Christmas goods in the drug stores are moving rapidly and with shipments expected on the next steamers from the South, these will be unpacked and the goods will be displayed.

Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 04 Dec. 1920. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Those who have not already begun to do their Christmas shopping should not put off the task another day. Merchants are displaying their Christmas goods, and those who shop now will be able to get first chance at them, at a time when they will have the time to think clearly and without the confusion and compulsion for hasty decisions that always result when you have to catch a boat with your mail. Salesmen have time now to help make your decisions. They will not have that time if you wait for the rush. Commence your shopping now.

Image credit: The Cordova daily times. (Cordova, Alaska), 13 Dec. 1919. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>


However you choose to spend your Black Friday, please do so safely!

Public Library Week: Newspapers on Microfilm at Your Local Library


Greetings, all!

This week marks Public Library Appreciation Week, and a great opportunity to shed light on opportunities to access newspapers through your local library.

The State Library of Alaska may be a government library, but we share in the mission of public libraries everywhere to make newspapers available to the public.

While many public libraries offer local and national newspapers to browse free of charge, some centralized public libraries hold microfilm copies of archived papers. Microfilm reels can even be accessed remotely: many libraries are able to ship reels of microfilm to a patron’s local library (provided it has a microfilm reader available).

Public libraries are, for many patrons, their first exposure to the greater library world, and an invaluable resource for much more than just books. Check out which newspaper titles are available through your local public library today!



Alaska Day

The Two Best Investments Ever Made by the United States--Alaska's Purchase and Government Built Railroad; 1867-1915; The Alaska Citizen; Fairbanks, Alaska, Monday Morning, October 18, 1915

How does one acknowledge Alaska Day, a federal holiday to commemorate the transfer of Alaska from Russia to the United States?

The holiday traditionally celebrated the westward expansion of the United States as an extension of Manifest Destiny. For many, it is a day fraught with the unexplored legacy of colonialism, of sacred land loss, and of the intentional erasure of Alaska natives from the history of their land.

Historic Alaska newspapers celebrated the holiday as a reminder of the United States as a world power, particularly in the context of events during the First World War. Articles from this time period emphasized the patriotic obligation Alaska residents in schools owe the then-territory:

Observance of Alaska Day by Schools Urged: Broad Significance Attached to Observance of Anniversary of Transfer. Alaska Day, which is October 18, should have a broad and deep significance to every Alaskan, declares the Alaska School Bulletin for October. "The observance of the day should inspire its every man and woman, every boy and girl, a love and loyalty to this great Northland and to the nation of which we are a part," it declares. The Bulletin is issued monthly from the office of the Territorial Commissioner of Education and goes to every school in Alaska. Commenting on Alaska Day, it says: Alaska Day, October 18th., marks the fifty-fourth anniversary of the transfer of what is now the Territory of Alaska from Russia to the United States. This vast Empire containing approximately 600,000 square miles of territory was purchased for $7,200,000, representing less than two cents per acre. The total mineral production of Alaska from the date of purchase to the year 1920 was more than sixty times the purchase price. The fisheries during the last decade alone have yielded more than forty times the amount of the purchase price. There is every reason to believe that neither of those great industries has reached the peak of production. The coal and oil fields are practically unexplored. Those who know state that the coal fields of the Matanuska and Nenana River valleys are more than equal in extant to the original coal fields of West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Timber for use in the paper and pulp industry is being utilized for the first time in the history of the Territory. Billions of cords of such wood are situated at points which are readily accessible to present or possible mill sites. William H. Seward certainly caused Uncle Sam to sow seed which was destined to bring forth many an hundred fold when he urged and consummated the purchase of Alaska.

From the October 12, 1921 issue of the Alaska daily empire.

“The observance of the day should inspire in every man and woman, every boy and girl, a love and loyalty to this great Northland and to the nation of which we are a part”

Patriotic sentiment aside, these articles also point to the economic output of the Alaskan territory, to imply that the raw materials of timber, gold, and seafood help boost the United State’s gross domestic product. The sheer bounty of resources “discovered” and turned a profit by white settlers to the territory.

In a statement from the above article that would prove fortuitous:

“The coal and oil fields are practically unexplored. Those who know state that the coal fields of the Matanuska and Nenana River valleys are more than equal in extant to the original coal fields of West Virginia and Pennsylvania.”

(Crude oil reserves from Prudhoe Bay that would not be tapped until 1968, and the profits from oil drilling would remain front and center of the Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD) in 1980).

Alaska Day is to be Celebrated on Thursday, the 18th: The Seward public school will celebrate Alaska Day, October 18, which is next Thursday. Miss Wallace, principal, announced today that she had received telegraphic instructions from Commissioner of Education L. D. Henderson, who requested that all school superintendents, principals and teachers pay special attention this year to Alaska Day. Commissioner of Education Henderson suggested that the teachers secure speakers to outline, the full meaning, in the light of history, of the transferring of Alaska from Russia to the United States, what it means to the residents of the Territory to be a part of the United States, what America's mission is in the world and what part each of us must take in a super-union democracy. On next Thursday afternoon at 2:30 o'clock the pupils of the high and grammar school will assemble in the high school rooms. Judge W. H. Whittlesey will make the address of the afternoon and patriotic songs will be given by the students. The actual transfer of Alaska from Russia to the United States took place at Sitka on October 18, 1867. At that time the flag of the Czar of Russia was lowered and the American flag was raised. The United States was represented by General Rousseau of the regular army at the ceremony.

From the October 13, 1917 issue of the Seward gateway.

Other articles used the abundance of territorial profit as a bargaining chip to help fund mail services among other amenities:

This is the Birthday of Territory of Alaska: Alaska, As Possession of the United States, is 48 Years Old Today-- Fairbanks Has More Than Paid For It and Its Entire Case and Yet Cannot Get a Mail Service

From the October 18, 1915 issue of the Alaska citizen.

Newspapers used the holiday to instill patriotism in its citizens (Alaska Natives would not be recognized as United States citizens until 1924) by celebrating Alaska’s economic contributions and its territorial shortcomings. Virtually none of the Alaska Day coverage in historic newspapers dealt with Alaska Natives, and deliberately so, based on their second-class status. While the annual Alaska Day Festival in Sitka celebrates October 18th in a traditional manner, with parades, costumes, dances, and pageantry, many groups are confronting this legacy in light of the holiday that, ostensibly, signifies stolen land transfer.

While the people of Alaska have a day off in honor of Alaska Day, it is important to reflect on the history of the holiday, of the generational pain and trauma caused by forceful removal from sacred land, and of the resiliency of Alaska Native tribes throughout the state.

Missionary Schools in Alaska and the Legacy of Child Separation

Large group of Alaska Native children with blankets outside a missionary school.

Photo: Russian School, Sitka Alaska, c. 1889. ASL identifier: ASL-P91-49

In light of recent events at the U.S.-Mexico border regarding separating infants and children from parents, the legacy of missionaries separating Indigenous children from their families is more relevant than ever.

Viewing children from Native tribes as an affront to “Christian values” and as needing to be saved, missionaries throughout Alaska tore families apart and punished them for speaking their language and practicing their beliefs. This shameful legacy continued well into the middle of the 20th Century.

Newspapers from this era, primarily written by and for white men and women, discuss the legacy of missionary schools from the perspective of the “white savior complex”, in that the destruction of Native cultures was necessary for colonialism, under the guise of “saving” tribe members by exposing them to “civilization”. Historical newspapers are primary sources that directly reflect attitudes such as these,  as spelled out in an excerpt from an op-ed from the May 30, 1900 issue of the Douglas Island News regarding Indigenous dances:

Indian War Dance. The habits and customs of a strange people have a peculiar fascination for one who is interested in the study of humanity. As we look at the careless, dirty habits of dress always noticeable in the Alaska Indians; their stoical expression and slanting foreheads, we are forced to believe that as a race they can only belong to the lower orders of humanity, and we expect their actions and expressions to bear us out in this belief. In this we are not deceived, for in most cases they are ignorant and superstitious; clinging to the habits of their forefathers despite the teachings of the schools and missionaries. The beautiful evolutions of the white man's dances, executed as they are designed to be, in perfect time with perfect music, are perhaps the highest point to which this form of amusement has attained. The other extreme is reached when we see the untutored savage, jumping, twisting, whirling, and even groveling in the dirt, to the accompaniment of pounding sticks and discordant voices.

Douglas Island news. (Douglas City, Alaska), 30 May 1900. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

An attitude such as this one, prevalent among white individuals, removed the humanity of Alaska Native people.

Missionaries, from both the Lower 48 and from the Russian Orthodox Church within the state, thus saw fit to establish schools that stemmed from the toxic ideology to “kill the Indian, save the child”. Similar to the current border policy, there was never any intention to reunite children with their parents. Each child in these photographs were separated from family members and their way of life:

A black and white photograph of about 40 Alaska Native children with two white missionary instructors outside a school.

June 15, 1895 [Juneau, Alaska], ASL identifier: ASL-P297-364

Six Alaska Native boys standing in front of the camera in dark clothing and somber expressions.

Alaska Native boys, c. 1925 or 1926, ASL identifier: UAF-2002-158-75

Newspapers provided largely indifferent coverage of these schools, and journalists wrote exclusively from the perspective of the missionaries and teachers.

Miss Rose Sibley, who is on her way to Carcross as a missionary school teacher in the Indian school there, arrived in Skagway on the Princess May this morning and left for her destination on the train today at 1 o'clock p.m.

The daily Alaskan. (Skagway, Alaska), 23 Sept. 1914. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Rev. Forbes is Enroute North on Inspection. To investigate the need for more Presbyterian missions in Alaska, to inspect existing missions and Sunday Schools and to make any changes necessary in the missionary administration policy of the North, Rev. W. B. Forbes, educational and missionary superintendent for the Presbyterian Sunday School Board, is now enroute north from Seattle with Mrs. Forbes. Dr. Forbes is in charge of the district comprising the Northwest and Alaska. Rev. and Mrs. Forbes left yesterday on the steamer Mariposa. They will go direct to Anchorage and after investigating conditions in that vicinity will return to Juneau and Skagway. Rev. Forbes plans to visit every Presbyterian Sunday School and mission in Alaska. He will place a general Sunday School missionary in charge of the Alaska work. "The development of Alaska," Mr. Forbes said in the Seattle Times of May 19th, "has been rapid in recent years and a corresponding growth in the missionary and Sunday School policies is necessary. I expect to start a forward movement in the North which will keep the church one of the best developed institutions in the North. Success in the present venture will mean similar tours of other United States Pacific Ocean possessions for the purpose of inaugurating similar development campaigns." Rev. Mr. Forbes expects to be more than two months in his Alaska survey. He will be present at a number of Sunday School and temperance conventions in the north, at some of which he will deliver short addresses.

The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 26 May 1916. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Miss Emma J. Naftal, missionary teacher in the native school at Carcross, left on the Princess Sophia for Toronto on a nine months' furlough.

The daily Alaskan. (Skagway, Alaska), 05 Oct. 1917. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Once children aged out of missionary schools, authorities sent children to boarding schools for Native adolescents in Oregon and Oklahoma. In the landmark 1976 ruling Tobeluk v. Lind, 27 students brought forth a lawsuit in 1974 against the State of Alaska over the unjust, separate and unequal boarding schools for Native students and argued on behalf of the construction of a high school in the same town or village with an elementary school. Dubbed the “Molly Hootch Case” for the first student plaintiff named in the suit, this case arrived at a time when the federal government issued reparations for the historic treatment of Native Americans, such as the Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act in 1971. Tobeluk v. Lund gave local native tribes agency in reclaiming the education of their children. (The lawsuit can be obtained here in full.)

In recent years, the Presbyterian Church has issued an apology for its treatment of Native peoples, yet historical trauma remains to this day.

An apology to Alaska Natives by Presbyterians. Whereas, some Presbyterian missionaries, with best intentions in bringing the Gospel to Alaska, were among those who misunderstood the nature and purpose of Native culture, art and artifacts (for example, mistakenly teaching that totem poles were idols), and Whereas, this misconception still exists among some Christians in Southeast Alaska, and Native culture is still held in suspicion by some Native and immigrant Christians as a result of these teachings, and Whereas, both the early destruction of Native art, and the continuing denigration and pillage of Native gravesites did not, and do not, promote the Kingdom of God, but rather represent a kind of violence against some of God's children and a loss for us all, Therefore be it resolved that the Presbytery of Alaska...believes that the Lord our God is One, has created all peoples, and declared that creation is good...we disavow those teachings which led people to believe that abandoning Native culture was a prerequisite for being Christian. We deeply regret the church's part in the destruction of Native artifacts and the church's part in the loss of Native languages.

Photo taken at the Alaska State Museum.

How will history judge us for the treatment of thousands of children stranded at the border, torn from their families?

Greetings from the Alaska Anthropological Association Conference!

AAA PosterLast week, National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP) director Anastasia Tarmann and project coordinator Janey Thompson attended the 45th Annual Meeting of the Alaska Anthropological Association in Anchorage to spread the word about historic Alaska newspapers and progress on the project.

In addition to a poster, we prepared brochures that provided a brief overview of the project, a Chronicling America demonstration on a laptop computer, and unique microfilm bookmarks.

While talking to scholars at the table, many shared their experiences using Chronicling America to assist in their research, one of whom used the site to study changes in brand logos in advertisements over time. Additionally, a few attendees shared titles that we should consider adding to the project and offered to serve on the title selection committee.

In addition to “tabling”, we each had the opportunity to attend lectures given by conference attendees. These presentations of their papers related to the archaeology and anthropology of Alaska, with topics ranging from language revitalization, to museum exhibit design, to the excavation of hearth sites, to the affects of global warming on historic anthropological landmarks.

The Alaska Anthropological Association annual meeting gave us an opportunity to see what researchers and scholars throughout Alaska are studying, and how best our newspaper resources can assist them. Many thanks to all those who made the annual meeting possible!

AAA Conference