Highlights from Land of the Ocean Mists by Francis Caldwell

(Google Books)
I recently finished the book Land of the Ocean Mists: The Wild Ocean Coast West of Glacier Bay, written by longtime Alaska fisherman Francis Caldwell. Caldwell covers all the information and stories most people would ever want to know about the coast between the Alsek River and Cape Spencer in Southeast Alaska, known as the Fairweather Country. Here's a roughly chronological list of some of the most interesting things I learned, all paraphrased or summarized from the book:

First, no person lives in the Fairweather Country today. In the past, however, there were Tlingit villages at Dry Bay, Lituya Bay, Cape Fairweather, on a stream coming out of Grand Plateau Glacier, and at a site on Palma Bay now covered by La Perouse Glacier.

The Alsek River was a major indigenous trade route from the coast to the interior, and it's the longest river between the Taku and the Copper.

According to a report by Kyrill Khlebenikov, Tlingit killed 193 Russian-American Company hunters between 1796 and 1805 on the gulf coast between Cape Spencer and Prince William Sound, and 845 drowned. After Tlingit destroyed Slavorossiya (the Russian fort at Yakutat) in 1805, there was little Russian traffic along this coast and most ships sailed directly between Sitka and Kodiak across the Gulf of Alaska. (See related posts here and here.)

American whalers took their first right whale in the Gulf of Alaska in 1835. They took their first bowhead whale on the Siberian coast in 1843, which attracted more ships there, but whalers still came to the Gulf up to the 1890s.

The United States Coast Survey first came to Alaska in August of 1867, before Russia officially handed over the territory in October.

Immediately after the Alaska Purchase, Americans based in Sitka brought or built several small vessels in order to trade with the surrounding Tlingit for furs. The manifest for the schooner Sweepstakes for its voyage of June 1868 shows that it carried flour, bread, clothing, cloth, vinegar, beans, bacon, tea, jewelry, rice, coffee, gunpowder, tobacco pipes, blankets, soap, fish hooks, salt, tobacco, and dried fruit and molasses, which were the main ingredients of "hoochinoo" (Tlingit-brewed alcohol).

In May of 1874 the Yukon charted the Fairweather Coast. The crew spent four days in Lituya Bay, and reportedly “had much difficulty in preventing the persistent attempts of the natives to board the vessel, but fortunately they were kept off without bloodshed." They also said the Tlingit "distill their own rum, and are well supplied with the best kinds of firearms.”

American sealing expeditions began visiting Alaska around 1880. Pelagic (oceanic) sealing developed on the coast of British Columbia in the 1870s, where Captain William Spring found that a system of taking several Native canoe crews along with a schooner was highly effective. Like whalers, sealers were equipped to stay at sea for long periods, but they recruited skilled Tlingit such as those of the Sheetʼká Ḵwáan who had experience hunting fur seals on the ocean.

Around 1885, the ten-ton schooner Charlie was purchased by a Sheetʼká Ḵwáan man named Johnson. However, U.S. customs officers took the vessel away from Johnson on the grounds that he was not a citizen and could not own a boat of registered tonnage. The Tlingit never took the matter to court.

the Fairweather Country, via Google Earth
The first Americans to travel down the Alsek River were gold miners who went overland from Lynn Canal to Yakutat in 1888 in response to the gold discoveries reported there.

Even though the oceanic fur trade to China ended by the 1840s or 1850s, Tlingit were still hunting sea otters for their pelts into the 1890s and beyond.

The first salmon cannery built anywhere near the Fairweather Country was built by the Western Fisheries Company in the spring of 1900.

Toby Kando was a boy on the sealing ship Vera who was lost at sea in one of the small boats in the spring of 1905. He washed ashore, and for twelve days he wandered the beach, eating whatever he could. A sea otter hunting party headed by Chief George found him, brought him back to health, and then took him as a slave until June, when a party from the USGS found the Native encampment and took Toby back to Juneau with them.

The first fisheries cold storage plant in Alaska was built in Ketchikan in 1910, but others followed in Sitka and Juneau in 1913, and a floating cold storage plant went to Icy Strait.