Niteh was the Dena'ina name
for an Indian 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. On
U.S. Census records, it was called Matanuska Village.
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 location occasionally, due to changes in the shoreline, etc.,
it was always called Niteh; the name stayed with the villagers,not necessarily
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 store was washed away, as well as many of the homes at
Niteh, drowning many Indians.
After that, 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 area developed
6' to 12' wide cracks in the earth that filled with water.
The most 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 well respected 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
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