Sealaska Heritage Institute was the recipient of a one-year National Park Service (NPS) Battlefield Preservation Grant to document 1869 Bombardment through oral history work with elders in partnership with the Wrangell Cooperative Association (WCA). This is the first ever Battlefield Preservation Grant awarded to an organization in Alaska to study a U.S. military conflict with a Native American tribe.
The 150-year-old conflict between the U.S. Army and Tlingits of Wrangell was a National news story at the time, but it was not a story that was retold to generations of Wrangellites. According to a report compiled by Vincent Colyer, Secretary to President Ulysses S. Grant, on Christmas night in 1869, just over a year after Alaska became a U.S. Territory, a member of the Stikine tribe bit off the finger of white woman, a stunt that eventually led to the deaths of two Stikine men, a white male killed in retaliation named John Smith, and the military threatening to completely destroy Fort Wrangel until Smith’s murderer was finally hung.
The final report generated through the grant will be given to the WCA and community of Wrangell to allow them to determine what could be done to preserve, market, develop or memorialize the conflict for the community’s advantage. Some Battlefield Grant recipients in years past have gone on to build memorials, or be recognized as a National Historic Site, like Chief Shakes Tribal House.
Zachary Jones, Sealaska Heritage Institute Archivist & Collection Manager and PhD student in Ethnohistory at University of Alaska Fairbanks focusing on Tlingit and Russian relations, will serve as the primary investigator on the Bombardment and believes “past writings do not do the situation justice. Reports out there now largely represent only one side of the story. They didn’t go far enough. One needs to understand Tlingit law, the cultural context and aspects of Federal Indian policy to address the whole situation. I look forward to working with and serving the WCA and community of Wrangell in bringing this complex issue forward.”
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