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 began to piece this story together, and I hope soon to link here to a narrated slide show detailing the events.

By the way, let’s be done with a common malapropism. Even many historians commit this error when citing what Vancouver “saw” in northern inside waters that his intrepid 1794 crew rowed through while he lay ill at anchor on the outer coast. Bad enough that George named all of our grandest landscape features for patrons and relatives back in England without suggesting that he actually saw Lynn Canal or Berners Bay. (Sorry; pet peeve.)

As Vancouver passed through the Pacific Northwest (places he actually did see), he ‘developed’ the landscape in mind’s eye—stripping off conifers and clothing hills in scenes of pastoral British productivity. He’d have been pleased to know that 135 years later, the gentlemen below (and a few wives and secretaries), would be hard at work on that dream. Heintzleman, second from left, would shepard the archipelago into the 20th Century, taming the rainforest, bumping Tleixsatanjín, hand at rest, and installing his name on the ridge dividing Áak’w from T’aakú biogeographic provinces.

Forest Service officers conference in Juneau, 1929. For background on most of these IWGs (important white guys), check out Rakestraw’s History of the United States Forest Service in Alaska (1981). It’s a 14MB download. When you’re done with that, however, best move on to a 21st-Century reality check and read Jim MacKovjak’s Tongass Timber (2010).

In this section

Mass wasting finale

In class—our penultimate Wednesday—we reviewed Bay&Valley day, and then transitioned to the concluding Saturday field trip focusing on ‘serious-stuff-coming-downhill.’ For…

2022 | Richard Carstensen | Landforms class archives

T’aaḵú X̱’aka.aan: mouth of the great Taku

Perfect location (except in an ice storm) In 2012, L’eeneidí historian Liana Wallace sent me a high-res scan of Waggoner…

2022 | Richard Carstensen | 22 pages

Natural & cultural history of Asx̱’ée

Exhuming an early slideshow Back in 2011, preparing for a Charter School/Goldbelt Heritage overnight expedition to Methodist Camp,’out-the-road,’ I created…

2010: uploaded 2022 | Richard Carstensen | 16 minute slideshow

Bishop et al 1981 Salmon Creek road

Environmental and cultural assessment for the proposed Salmon Creek road-pipeline development Before I began working with Dan Bishop in 1985,…

1981 | Bishop, Mills, Jacoby and Moore | 95 pages

Rockslide snagswamp

Unraveling the origins of a fascinating pond Til’héeni, dog salmon stream (Salmon Creek) is a new addition to featured Áak’w…

2019 | Richard Carstensen | 4-minute slideshow

Albatross retraced

If Harriman had been serious About 120 years ago the steamer Albatross conducted watershed surveys, interviews and salmon distribution studies…

2019; updated 2023 | Richard Carstensen | 60 pages

Fish Creek walkthrough

Focus group tour On Thursday, August 26th, about 30 masked aficionados of dynamic Fish Creek delta assembled on invitation from…

2021 | Richard Carstensen, Bob Armstrong | RC-59 pages: BA vid-links

First encounters

Áak’w & T’aaḵú country in 1794 Back in 2010, when first collaborating with Goldbelt Heritage, I began to mine the archives…

2011 updated 2021 | Richard Carstensen | 36-minute slideshow

Pocket wildlands: forests and ponds of Áak’w Táak

Fifty friends on backloop moraines On a sunny July 17th, 2021, Discovery Southeast and the Southeast Alaska Land Trust hosted…

2021 | Richard Carstensen | 8 minute slideshow

Auke Bay School-UAS historical series

History from the air Georeferencing old and recent vertical air photos in ArcMap makes it easy to export exactly scaled-&-aligned…

2021 | Richard Carstensen | 9 pages

Besse-Cowee journal, 2011

Discovery & FSL explore Héen Latinee For experienced backcountry navigators, Bessie Creek trail offers a ‘backdoor’ into the Cowee-Davies watershed,…

2011 | Richard Carstensen | 13 pages

Sayéik historical series

History from the air Georeferencing old and recent vertical air photos in ArcMap makes it easy to export exactly scaled-&-aligned…

2021 | Richard Carstensen | 8 pages

Digital Fish Creek

Hydrology in the point cloud. Maybe it’s all those years stippling scenes and species portraits, point by point with double-ought…

2020 | Richard Carstensen | 2-minute slideshow

History and future of the Refuge

Rebound, succession, fish&wildlife, and aviation on our frontyard wetlands In 2011, Jeff Sauer at Juneau Audubon asked for a presentation…

2011 | Richard Carstensen | 36-minute slideshow

Historic photo missions

Navy aerials, 1929 and 1948 Most of Lingít Aaní is covered by early black-&-white vertical (nadir) air photography that can…

2020 | Richard Carstensen |

Fish Creek studies

Discovery-SAWC collaboration Beginning in early 2020, Discovery Southeast is assisting the Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition with investigations at Fish Creek…

2020 | Richard Carstensen |

Blackwell City Walk: info packet

Another great idea from Mike Cathy Connor and I (Richard Carstensen) have inherited a tradition spearheaded by our friend Mike…

2019 | Mike Blackwell, Richard Carstensen & Cathy Connor | 27 pages

Kaxdigoowu Héen (Montana Creek): presentation for SEAL Trust

Slideshow in two parts Kaxdigoowu Héen, going back clearwater has been one of my favorite places since I first explored…

2019 | Richard Carstensen & John Hudson | slide show in 2 parts: 38 & 22 minutes

Staff hike in Dzantik’i Héeni basin

On a sleety December 11th, 2018, Discovery Southeast staff (and Clay Good, board) hiked together in the lower valley of…

2018 | Richard Carstensen | 7 minutes

People on the land

The central chapter in my 2013 publication Natural history of Juneau trails, pages 29-36, is a summary of deep and…

2013 | Richard Carstensen | 7 pages (full publication, 72 pages)