Some regular readers may remember that I was out in the village of Newtok in February. I truly enjoyed my time there, and have great memories of the area, but especially the people.
Newtok is currently in the middle of a move. The village is under siege from the very water that gives it life. Due to the warming of the Arctic, ground is giving way, and Newtok is getting it from every direction. On one hand, the river is laying claim to huge chunks of land, taking homes with the shoreline. On the other hand, the ground is giving way to the melting permafrost, and water is filling in the gaps. In February, approximately one third of the population had moved across the river to the new location of Mertarvik, but it is going to be a long and complicated process.
Newtok made the news again this past week, when word made it around Alaska, that the generator that powers the village broke down, leaving the residents without power for an entire month. A month. In an age when most of us think about power very briefly, when we flip a switch or pay the electric bill, it’s good to remember that not everyone lives in such a situation.
Looking at the village from the air in the summer, it’s an entirely different world than when I was there in February. The contrast is stunning, so I thought I’d share a few more “winter” pictures of my time in Newtok.
Company B of the Ninth Minnesota, under the command of Captain Richard Strout, left Minneapolis on 26 August 1862. Their mission was to head to Glencoe, Minn to “protect settlers from Dakota attacks”. Of the 75 men in Company B, one third were new recruits, and the rest were “citizen soldiers” out of Minneapolis. They were not hardened veterans.
War had been ignited just nine days before, when five settlers were killed by four young Dakota warriors. Tensions had been brewing for decades, and the killing in Acton Township blew up a powder keg. Captain Strout and Company B headed out into this maelstrom.
While I was out looking for Ness Church with a C-to-C sponsor earlier this summer, we stopped by the marker near where Company B met the Dakotas.
The Company found Glencoe uninhabited, so they returned to Forest City. On 1 September, they spent the night in Acton Township, camping next to the Robinson Farm, where the war began. The Forest City Home Guard, while on patrol, encountered 150 Dakota warriors. Three scouts were sent out to warn Captain Strout of the threat.
The scouts found Company B, and told Strout of the Dakota party. Sentries were placed about the camp, and the men prepared for what seemed like an inevitable fight. At this point, the Company realized that a huge blunder had been made at Fort Snelling. Most of the ammunition they brought was .62 caliber, yet they all had .59 caliber muskets. The men set out with 20 rounds of the proper ammunition each.
Company B, led by the three (now exhausted scouts), made a run for Forest City. Within two miles of their start, the Company met up with a party of Dakotas, and shots were fired. Two soldiers were killed, and many more were wounded. It became apparent almost immediately, that the Dakota had Company B surrounded. Accounts have Dakota numbers at anywhere from 150 to 300. Strout divided his men into four equal groups, and faced them in four directions. Their wagons were placed in the middle. A.H. Rose, a citizen soldier, later stated, “I had never fired a gun before the battle, but they showed me how to load, and I pointed my gun at the Indians, shut my eyes and pulled the trigger.”
Strout ordered his front group to fix bayonets, and charge the Dakota warriors. The rest of the Company followed. Strout knew that they would never make Forest City, so they tried to get to Hutchinson. It was now a running battle.
As the wagons rolled, the men would fire, run, stop, reload, and repeat. Wounded men were placed into the wagons, and supplies were thrown out. The men of Company B were shocked to see the Dakota warriors stop and pick up the discarded supplies. The battle went on for eight miles, over a period of two hours. The Dakota pressed the Company, but made no real attempt to overtake it. Eventually, the Dakota stopped pursuing the Company, and Strout and his men made it to Hutchinson. The Company B losses were 3 dead, and 18-24 wounded. Dakota losses are unknown.
The next day, the Dakotas attacked the town of Hutchinson, but the small stockade provided adequate security for those who sought it. A few settlers who did not seek the safety of the stockade, were killed. The town was plundered and several buildings were burned.
The men of Company B stayed that winter in Hutchinson. Three more died during that time of wounds sustained in the Battle of Acton. The remaining soldiers were mustered into the regular army and sent to fight the Civil War in the fall of 1863.
Killed during the Battle of Acton: Alvah Getchell, George Gideon, Edwin Stone.
Died from wounds sustained in battle: Frank Beadle, Abner Bennett, N.E. Weeks.
It’s the first day of autumn in the Northern Hemisphere, although to be perfectly honest, we are well underway up here in Interior Alaska. The colors have definitely peaked already, and over half of the leaves are now on the ground.
I had an unscheduled day off on Monday. A job cancelled on Friday, and there wasn’t enough time, or ambition, to schedule something else in its place. It’s unusual for me to get a nice day on an unscheduled day off, and Monday was an absolutely beautiful fall day up here.
So I spent the afternoon hiking the seemingly, endless system of trails that start at my deck. I saw only one other person and her dog at the start of the hike, and after that it was only the grouse, red squirrels, a couple of moose and myself.
The woods were mostly silent, with only the occasional scolding from a squirrel, or the pre-flush clucking of a grouse. Even the trail, loaded with a carpet of leaves, allowed me to pass with barely a sound: Only a faint rustling was left in my wake.
This summer, Fairbanks has seen its 7th wettest since 1925. With 12.6″ of rain recorded as of last Friday, climatologists tell us that we are on a new trend. The typical summer rainfall is now 30% higher than in the 1920’s-1930’s. Juneau also saw its 6th wettest summer in 96 years. That’s saying something about our very wet capital city.
Fairbanks also had 19 days with thunder, which tied a record. We were 3.6 degrees warmer than average, which puts 2020 in the Top Ten, since recording began. Much of the change came in the rise of nightly low temperatures, due to the rain and cloud cover.
Officially, Fairbanks had a growing season of 130 days in 2020. That ties us for the 7th longest. Since 1950, the growing season in Fairbanks has increased by 16 days.
Wildfires burned a total of 181,000 acres in Alaska for the season so far. That is the lowest total since 2002. For one season, at least, wildfire crews did not have to worry about hotshotting into the Alaskan Bush. They have more than enough on their plate, as it is, in 2020.
When we were camping at Blueberry Lake earlier this summer, we spent a rare sunny day hiking up to Worthington Glacier.
Worthington Glacier is located in Thompson Pass at Milepost 29 of the Richardson Highway. It’s a typical small valley glacier, approximately 4 miles long, and sits at an elevation of 3800 feet.
In normal years, the glacier is one of the most visited recreation areas on the Richardson, but this year we were the only ones hiking out at the glacier, while a few people hung out at the viewing area.
Worthington Glacier is retreating, although not quite as fast as other glaciers in Alaska. Thompson Pass is the snowiest area in the state of Alaska. On average, the pass gets 500 inches of snow every winter. It holds the state records of 974″ of snow in a year (81 feet!), and the most snow in a single day at 62 inches.
Still, Worthington is in retreat. In the late 1990’s, the glacier extended to the pond in the picture above. In the last 20 years, Worthington has retreated a quarter of a mile, in spite of the tremendous snowfall in the area.
On August 17, 1862, four young Dakota warriors killed five settlers near Acton, Minnesota. The killings would ignite the war between the Dakotas’ and the United States military, but tensions had been brewing long before that August day in 1862. The bodies of those five settlers would be brought, to what is now Litchfield, and buried at Ness Church.
I visited the church and the surrounding cemetery with one of C-to-C’s sponsors, when I was back in Minnesota this past spring.
In the back corner of the cemetery, close to the rows of corn, stands a monument. Buried underneath, in one grave, are the first five victims of the U.S. -Dakota War: Robinson Jones, Viranus Webster, Howard Baker, Ann (Baker) Jones, and Clara Wilson.
The Ness Monument was erected on 13 September 1878, by the State of Minnesota. It is the third oldest monument in the state.
In 1970, the church & cemetery were listed officially, as a Minnesota Historical Site.
The church was founded by Ole Halverson Ness and his wife Margit, who arrived in the area in 1856. Ole Ness was a member of the Acton burial party.
Also buried in the cemetery is Andreas Olson, another victim of the U.S. -Dakota War. Olson was killed on 22 September 1862.
The current church was built by settlers in 1874, a dozen years after the start of the U.S. – Dakota War. The church is said to be haunted by both Sioux Indians and the five settlers, in particular the young girl, Annie. The church historical society denies any haunting, although that has not stopped self-proclaimed ghost hunters from breaking into the church.
I witnessed no paranormal activity when I was there, but I did find the cemetery to be a very solemn place.
Camera for B&W photos: Kodak 66; Film: Kodak 120, Tri-X400
Denali National Park saw snow on Friday morning. I was just recently out to the Eielson Visitor Center with visiting family members, so the pictures definitely grabbed my attention.
Fairbanks did not see snow, only 6/10 of an inch of rain.
On Saturday morning, Anchorage dropped below 40F for the first time this season. (The season started August 1) It was the first time since 1961 that Anchorage dropped below 40F before Fairbanks did. By Sunday morning, the natural order had returned to normal, when Fairbanks officially dropped to 34F and Anchorage stayed at 40F.
I have seen snow fall in every month of the year in Alaska. Both July & August snowfalls took place when I was hiking in Denali.
The average date for the first snowfall in Fairbanks is September 30. We have seen snow in late August, and the latest first snowfall is Halloween. The average first snowfall of an inch or more is October 6.
I am not remotely ready for winter, mentally or physically. Alaska remains indifferent to my level of preparation.
Today, the Richardson Highway runs through Keystone Canyon, en route to Valdez. Back in the early territorial days of Alaska, people traveled this route on the Valdez Trail from coastal Valdez to Interior Alaska.
In 1905, nine separate entities were competing to build a railroad through Keystone to the copper mines of Kennecott. This tunnel, which is accessed off of the Richardson, is all that is left of the proposed railroad.
A gunfight erupted between opposing factions, work ceased in 1906, and the hand cut tunnel was never finished.
When we were recently camping down by Valdez, we stopped by to explore the old tunnel. Graffiti covers many of the rocks, but it’s hard not to be impressed by the effort it would have taken to cut through this rock wall in 1905-06 with hand tools.
There is both a silent film, and a novel titled “The Iron Trail”, based on this era of Alaska’s history.