By Donna Schlachter
In keeping with celebrating my second Switchboard Sisterhood book, Morgana, I thought I’d share
some history of Alaska this month.
While the area was likely settled thousands of years ago by emigrants from Asia and Eastern Europe
who perhaps crossed a land passage, few details are available about these early settlers. They eventually
established themselves and spread out over the area, becoming unique in their language and culture.
In 1728. Vitus Bering from Denmark traveled into the area and discovered the strait now named
after him. He returned in 1741 and explored the North American coastline.
In 1776, the year the United States became a nation, Captain James Cook landed in Alaska and
contacted the natives. Imagine their surprise as perhaps they’d thought they were the only people in the
world. And imagine Captain Cook’s thoughts at the notion of a people living in what might have
appeared to be an inhospitable place at the end of the world.
A few years later, in 1784, Russian explorers landed on Kodiak Island and built the first known
permanent settlement. Explorers from Spain and Britain soon followed, probably lured by the reports of
easy otter hunting for furs, eager to claim the land for their countries. However, the Russians
persevered and remained, spreading up and down the Pacific coast, building more settlements, and
spreading their influence.
The area remained largely unnoticed for the next eighty years, until the United States purchased
the land formerly claimed by Russia for $7.2 million dollars, or roughly two cents an acre in 1867.
Supported by US Secretary of State Seward, the land was nicknamed “Seward’s Folly” because most
people saw no value in it. However, the rich timber resources, fishing, hunting, and then gold proved
In 1896, large deposits of gold were found in Klondike Territory, which brought an estimated
100,000 people into the area over the next three years. Over a million pounds of gold have been mined
from that area.
As the population grew, the United States realized the strategic importance of the land, and in
1912, it became a territory, finally gaining statehood in 1959.
My story, Morgana, is set in Anchorage in 1925. The telephone has been there for about six years,
and communication with the outside world—or at least some of it—is now available. Imagine the thrill
of sitting in an office in downtown Anchorage, and being able to connect to a business in San Francisco,
Denver, Detroit, Chicago, or New York within minutes.
Learn more at https://www.donnaschlachter.com/the-purpose-full-writer-coaching-programs
Check out her coaching group on FB: https://www.facebook.com/groups/604220861766651
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