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NITEH VILLAGE
(ALSO KNOWN AS MATANUSKA VILLAGE)  
AND DENA'INA CHIEF BASDUT (SIMEON EZI)


by Coleen Mielke 2013


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Niteh was the Dena'ina name for an Native village in the Matanuska Valley. You can find it spelled several ways (in various records) everything from Niteh, to Nitakh, to Nitak, to Nikta, and if that isn't confusing enough, the Ahtna name for Niteh is Nuu Tah.

By todays landmarks, Niteh was located on a delta between the Matanuska River and the Knik River and about a mile above the old railroad bridge over the Matanuska River (probably on the south bank). Even though Niteh changed locations over the years (due to changes in the shoreline, etc.) it was always called Niteh; the name stayed with the people, not an exact geographical location.

According to James Kari and James Fall, the original Niteh location (in some records it is referred to as Old Niteh) had a small Russian American trading post. During the Lake George (Knik Lake) flood of 1898, the trading post was washed away, as well as many of the homes at Niteh, drowning many villagers.

After the flood of 1898, the Ezi's moved their home more towards the Knik River. This new location is referred to in some records as New Niteh or Matanuska Village. Alberta Ezi Stephan wrote that after the 1964 earthquake, this new location developed 6' to 12' wide cracks in the earth that filled with water.


The most historically prominent Niteh family was the Ezi family. The 1900 U.S. Census for "Matanuska River" lists Bashtoot age 30 and wife Noatha age 22 and 1 daughter named Dellia.  Basdut (the correct spelling) was a Dena'ina Chief of Upper Cook Inlet, who was, by all accounts, a man of his word and highly respected.

Shem Pete tells a story about Basdut and his wife Noatha in a book called Shem Pete's Alaska by James Kari and James Fall (2003). Pete says that Noatha (Nicholi) was the daughter of a powerful medicine man at Tyone Lake. She walked from Tyone Lake all the way to Niteh, where she fell in love and married Basdut. Their first children were twins: a boy named Bill and a girl named Mary.  
Basdut and Noatha's granddaughter, Alberta Ezi Stephan (who spent considerable time with Noatha), gives a slightly different account of the story. Alberta said that Noatha's father and step-mother (from the Copper Center area) had a fish camp at Point Woronzof, where, in about 1896, 18 year old Noatha worked all summer, with them putting up dried fish. While there, she met Basdut who was operating a small steamboat that transferred freight  from the large steamboats docked at Ship Creek, to the smaller settlements.

At the end of that summer, Noatha and her parents packed the fish back to Copper Center. That winter, young Noatha decided she wanted to marry Basdut. After talking to her father about it, she packed some supplies on her back and walked, by herself, down the Athabascan migration trail that went from the Copper Center area to Cook Inlet. She married Basdut and they built a home at Niteh.

Basdut and Noatha's names were changed to Simeon and Olga Esia, and later Ezi. Their children were Bill, Pete, Jack, Annie and (?), (they also raised many orphaned Native children). After Simeon and Olga were married, Simeon ended his steam boat business and supported his family by trapping, fishing and hunting (goat and sheep) in the Jim Creek and Friday Creek area. They also had a cabin about 150' to 250' up from the base of Pioneer Peak Mt., next to a pond.


When Chief Ezi died in 1935, the Anchorage Times ran the following article:
 
Chief Ezi of the Once Powerful Eklutna's Is Given Colorful Adieu Anchorage Times  2/24/1935

Covered in a beautiful fringed and highly colored blanket and with another warm blanket beside him, and wearing a strikingly designed, new, pair of mukluks, and attired in a new suit of clothes and other garnishments, Chief Ezi, for many years the respected idol of the once powerful tribe of Eklutna's, was laid to rest in the Anchorage Cemetery.  Mourned by scores of his people who were present and also honored by a number of white friends, the old  Chieftain was lowered into the grave as men, women and children of his tribe chanted in Russian and as the burial ritual was recited in Russian by Mrs. Billy Austin.  The old Chief rests beneath a “TOP” house, largest of the kind seen in this region, made by his own sons and placed above the grave yesterday immediately after the service and burial.  The house stands 5 feet above the grave, is 6½'long and 3½' wide.  Over the house rises a large wooden cross, cut out of a log in one solid piece.  The services continued for 2 hours and were characterized with numerous songs, chants and readings, all in Russian, according to the ritual of the Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in who’s faith they had been reared and trained from childhood.



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