Murder at Knik 1885
His Background – The Murder
Itself – The Aftermath
A True and Documented Account
written by Coleen Mielke 2014
with a special thank you
for their help and encouragement to:
Andrei Znamenski and James Kari
You are welcome to link back to this article,
however, do not re-post
or republish it without the written
permission of the author, Coleen
is the story of C. G. “George” Holt, an Ohio born Quaker1
who came to Alaska in the 1870’s to seek adventure and fortune.
During his (roughly) thirteen years in Alaska, Holt excelled
at adventure, but never quite found his fortune and eventually was
murdered at Knik Station by an Ahtna Indian customer in 18852;
this is Holt's story.
Newspapers from 1875 claim that George Holt was the first white man
to safely cross the Chilkoot Pass3. It was big
news at the time, because this route, which dramatically shortened
the travel distance into the gold rich Yukon region, was heavily
guarded by the fierce Chilkat Indians. How Holt managed to avoid
being killed is not known for certain, but a Sitka newspaper article,
dated 1897, suggests that Holt was accompanied by an Indian guide4
named Chilkoot Jack and two of his Indian slaves. Exactly what year
they crossed the Pass is also up for debate; I have found various
accounts that say Holt crossed as early as 1872 and other accounts
that say it was as late as 1878, but that debate is for another time.
After Holt’s historic ascent, he spent
the winter, in Sitka, sharing the details of his adventure
with Lieutenant W. R. Quinan of the Fourth U. S. Artillery.
Quinan published Holt’s story in 1897 and described him as a
"...raw-boned, ,hard featured red-headed, horny handed son of toil
and adventure, but plain and modest withal and every word he
had to say bore the impress of truth, so that no one questioned his
story in the smallest detail5.”
From Sitka, Holt sailed to Kodiak aboard
the schooner Nellie Edes6. Next, he tried his hand
at prospecting in the Cook Inlet and Susitna River areas with
minimal luck. In the spring of 1882, Holt tempted the fates and followed
a band of Ahtna Indians during their seasonal migration to the
confluence of the Copper and Chitina Rivers and into the village
of Taral. Few white men had ever ventured into this part of the
country (and lived to tell about it) because the Ahtna Indians were
fiercely territorial. Once again (just like his “lucky” trek over
the Chilkoot Pass) Holt beat the odds and managed to survive an entire
summer with the Ahtna7, but the end result was a mutual distrust
and hatred that would play a big part in Holt's murder in 1885.
Holt was a stern man with little respect and NO tact when it came
to dealing with the Copper River Ahtna. He used every opportunity to impugn
their character by calling them "treacherous and thievish". This so angered
the Ahtna that they were still raging (about Holt) to Lieutenant Henry
T. Allen when Allen explored the Copper River area three years later8.
By 1885, Holt was an agent for the
Alaska Commercial Company (ACC) in Nuchek9; later
that same year he was transferred to the Knik ACC where he
worked with a Dena’ina (interpreter and assistant manager) named
Afanasii10. Afanasii is an important character
in the story of George Holt’s murder, so here is a little background
information on him:
Afanasii, (masculine Russian name meaning "immortal"), also went by
the nickname Afon’ka11; he was an opportunist in every sense
of the word. In 1883, he was working as an interpreter for the Knik ACC
store when an agent, named G. Chechenov, caught him stealing. Afanasii
diverted attention from his thievery12 by telling the villagers
that Chechenov13 had put a curse on them. Language barriers
prevented Chechenov from defending himself and the worried villagers
threatened to kill him. The Chief of Knik stopped the plan and Chechenov
fled Knik and went to Tyonek. With Chechenov gone, Afanasii was free to
help himself to store goods until the ACC sent another agent.
Afanasii's plan worked so well, that he tried
it again, a year later, when the ACC sent another agent to Knik,
a Russian named Malakhov14. When the new agent
caught Afanasii stealing from the store, Afanasii
once again diverted attention from his crime by telling the villagers
that Malakhov was a dishonest man; an incendiary character flaw
that the villagers could not tolerate. Once again, language barriers
and the lack of law enforcement forced the ACC agent to flee for his
life. Once again Afanasii had full access to store merchandise.
A year later, in 1885, George Holt was sent from the ACC store at Nuchek
to replace Agent Malakhov at the ACC store in Knik. Unfortunately for Holt,
the company retained Afanasii as Holt's interpreter. All Afanasii had to
do, to get rid of the new agent, was to promote a confrontation between hot
tempered Holt and one of his Copper River customers.
That opportunity presented itself just a few months
later, when two Copper River Indians arrived at Knik to trade.
Holt argued with one of them and kicked him out of the store.
Afanasii wasted no time in convincing the banished customer that the
only way to reclaim his honor was to kill Holt. Four days after the original
confrontation, on 12/19/188515, the Indian returned to the
store and did just that.
Word of the murder quickly
reached the ACC headquarters at Tyonek. The agent there, a Russian
named Vladimir Vasilii Stafeev16 (who had worked for
the RAC and ACC since 186417) appointed himself to investigate
the murder. His journals include investigation notes and testimony
from five eye witnesses as well as two confessions from the shooter
himself. Stafeev's journals, written in Russian, were translated for me
by Andrea Znamenski18 in 2008 and are used extensively
in this treatise.
Upon hearing of the murder, Stafeev instantly suspected
Afanasii since he was familiar with Afanasii's double dealings. He
tried to get someone from Tyonek to travel to Knik to get more information
but everyone was afraid to go. A day later, the zakaschik (assistant
to the Chief) of Tyonek said he had talked to someone from Knik (probably
Afanasii) and was assured that everything was settled.
One week after the murder, Afanasii's brother (unnamed)
went to Tyonek to tell Vladimir Stafeev his account of the crime.
He said that 2 Copper River Indians came to Knik; one of them argued
with Holt about some tobacco and Holt pushed him, hurting the mans
leg as he fell against a barrel in the store. The Indian wanted to shoot
Holt immediately, but people in the store stopped him. After 4 days,
the men were preparing to leave Knik when one man told the other that
he had forgotten to say good-bye to someone and went back to the store.
Holt came out of the store to urinate and the Indian shot him. Upon hearing
the shot, Afanasii's brother rushed out of the store and saw the murderer
standing over Holt who was lying in a pool of bloody snow19.
Afanasii's brother ran after the man and begged him not to harm anyone
else in the village to which the murderer assured him that he was only after
Holt. Later, the murderer broke into the store, at mid-day and took what
The day after this testimony was given in Tyonek, Stafeev
had more questions for the witness and asked him to repeat the
story. The second time the story was told, there were far too many
inconsistencies and Stafeev was suspicious that the mans testimony
was an effort to conceal Afanasii's involvement20. Stafeev's
suspicions were deepened because it was common knowledge that Afanasii
had long standing plans to run the Knik ACC store himself (so he could
steal goods whenever he wanted to).
When Stafeev told the people of Tyonek that he was going
to go to Knik to investigate the murder in person, Afanasii's brother
tried to frighten him off by saying the murderer might still be there
and that Stafeev might get killed as well. When the warning did not
dissuade Stafeev from going to Knik, the brother asked him exactly what
route he would be using, which deepened Stafeev's suspicions21.
Stafeev was concerned about further violence with the
Copper River traders at Knik, so he sent Afanasii's brother to tell
any returning customers that no one was mad at them and it was Holt's
own fault that he was killed. He also sent word that Afanasii should
greet the Copper River traders and give them food treats when they came
into the store. Stafeev figured that time would defuse the situation
and also give him time to travel to Knik himself.
Stafeev was not the only one
who was suspicious of Afanasii's involvement in the murder;
Tyonek Chief Nikolai22 believed the murder would not have
taken place without Afanasii's goading. They also received reports
of Afanasii's family wearing new clothing when they went to
church; Stafeev suspected the clothes were stolen from the store after
Two weeks after the murder, Afanasii's wife went to
Tyonek to talk to Stafeev. She told him that the man that killed
Holt was acting crazy and that Afanasii had to give him $124 dollars
worth of store goods so that he wouldn't go to Tyonek and kill Stafeev.
Stafeev saw this as another of Afanasii's attempts to confuse the investigation.
Three weeks after the murder, a group of men from Knik
brought some pelts and furs to Stafeev in Tyonek. They told him that
George Holt had purchased them before he died. When Stafeev checked the
paperwork, he noticed that the sale was for 78 sable pelts, however, the
men only delivered 58 pelts. Stafeev seemed certain that Afanasii has helped
himself to the other 20 pelts.
Stafeev eventually made it to Knik to listen to witnesses;
he talked to a woman who carried water for George Holt every day.
She said that she saw Holt lying in bloody snow in front of the store
and turned him over to check his heart; he was dead. She went to get
Afanasii, who had stayed in his house until noon and they carried Holt's
body back into the store23.
Another witness (unnamed person) describes the
Ahtna customer shaking the lock on the trading post door, as if
to signal Holt to come outside; the man then hid out of sight.
When Holt came out to check the lock, the Indian shot him24.
Another witness (unnamed person) said the Ahtna
customer hung around the store pretending to look for something.
Holt watched him for a while then turned to go back into the
store and the Indian shot him25.
Another witness was a boy (unnamed) who said that after
Holt was killed, Afanasii began to cry. The surprised murderer asked
Afanasii why he was crying since Afanasii had hired him to kill Holt.
Afanasii then gave the murderer $124 worth of store goods to keep him
quiet about the murder26.
Stafeev’s journals even recorded a
confession from the murderer himself. One of the confessions
was made to a Knik medicine man, named Konstantin, in the summer of
1886; Konstantin's niece was the guilty mans wife. The shooter
said that after Holt threw him out of the store, Afanasii repeatedly put him to shame
and kept asking “why did you let Holt get away with that?” The taunting
so enraged the Indian that he shot George Holt27.
It was the collective opinion
of the people of Knik, that if Holt's murderer was arrested, that
Afanasii should also be arrested since all of the evidence pointed
to him. They told Stafeev that Afanasii's brother lied about the murderer
when he said that the murderer was going to Tyonek to kill Stafeev. The truth
was, that the murderer wanted to go to Tyonek to tell Stafeev that Afanasii
had hired him to kill Holt and that he wanted to go to Kenai so he could
confess to his godfather, Father Nikita Marchenkov28.
Stafeev’s journal does not mention
the name of the man who killed Holt; however, in 1917, a Ketchikan
newspaper gives the murderers name as Nicolai, the son of a powerful Copper
River medicine man31. The article described Nicolai
as "a tall strapping man, who would make a match for any good
size white man”32.
In exchange for the right to resume
trade at Knik, Nicolai remained peaceful for the next year.
The Copper River Indians sent
word that they were grateful that Stafeev was not angry with them
because they valued being able to purchase tea, gun powder and tobacco
at Knik. As a show of good faith, the Ahtna were willing to pay “redemption
money”29 for the murder and as a gesture of penance, Afanasii returned his trading post keys.
In yet another token of peace, the murderer went back to his camp and told
everyone they should not argue with the ACC store managers, using
his own experience as an example of what could happen to them
if they did30.
example of the new civility came when a new Knik ACC agent named McFord
bought a black fox pelt from two Ahtna trappers in the fall of
1886; he paid them $13. A few months later, the same men returned
with a second pelt and McFord paid them $15 for it. The trappers accused
him of cheating them (on the FIRST pelt) and demanded he pay them
the extra two dollars; when McFord refused, the trappers threatened
to kill him (Stafeev suspects that Afanasii had a hand in this tension).
However, it was Nicolai (the man who killed Holt), that came to McFord's
defense this time and sent word that he would kill anyone that harmed
When Holt's murderer was not arrested,
three ACC store agents (Alec
Ryan, George Shell and J. B. Ballow) wrote to Alaska Governor
Swineford, offering to apprehend the murderer and turn him over if
the Governor would send an authority to receive the prisoner at Knik,
but the Governor never replied. A scathing news article (Sitka 1886)
titled “Our Crippled Judiciary”, condemned the authorities in Sitka
for ignoring the Knik murder and reported that the Copper River Indians
were bragging about the government being afraid of them43.
The Governors only response was that he “did not have time” to deal
with the case44.
months after Holt’s murder, a new ACC agent named J. B. Ballow
was stationed at Knik35. By December of 1886, the Ahtna’s,
emboldened by the lack of government action for Holt's death, were issuing
death threats to the people of Knik in earnest. Many were afraid to live
anywhere near Knik and temporarily moved to the safety of Susitna
Station or Tyonek.
In 1887, a New York Times article reported
that Governor Swineford accused the U.S. Government of protecting
the ACC by allowing them a monopoly on the fur trade in Alaska.
He said the "ACC, by the power of its great wealth, had driven
away all competition and reduced the Native populations to a condition
of helpless dependence, if not absolute slavery, wherever the
ACC was not supervised by government agents". He felt that an absence
of healthy competition had allowed the ACC to force the Natives
to accept “such beggarly prices for their peltry, that it manages invariably
to keep them in its debt and at its mercy. In order to more effectually
monopolize the trade, the ACC has marked and mutilated the coin
of the United States and refuses to receive any other from the Natives
in payment of goods sold to them.”
I believe this New York Times
article exposes Governor Swineford’s true reason for not responding
to George Holt’s murder; he was angry with the ACC and had
no intention of coming to their aid.
In spite of constant
threats, the Copper River traders avoided Knik for the next
three months39. Ballow assumed they must have been trading
with the “Three Brothers”40 or at Cape Martin, but
in the spring of 1887, the Copper River people, accompanied by
their Chief, returned to Knik to trade. They told Ballow that they
had stayed away because the people of Nuchek told them Ballow had
killed many men and would kill them too if they returned to Knik41.
The agent assured them that he had no intentions of killing anyone and
trade resumed. In 1887, the Knik Indians even built a church with hopes
of converting the Copper River Ahtna while they were in Knik38.
In the fall of 1890, George Shell, the new ACC agent
for Knik arrived on the schooner Kodiak. Also on that schooner were
two white men, Al Creason and C. Wise, who were scheduled to spend
the winter at Knik with Shell. It only took two weeks for Shell to encounter
his first conflict. with the man who killed George Holt. Shell wrote in
his journal that he "may have to kill the Indian in self defense"43.
In January of 1891, word arrived that the Copper River people
were on their way to Knik to kill everyone45. In self defense, villagers built
a 25’ watchtower on top of the trading post and manned it
24 hours a day, hoping to have the advantage over any attackers,
should they approach45.
Word reached Knik, again in February, that Nicolai and his followers were gathered six miles
away at "Upper Kennick" and planning an attack. Alec Ryan,
who had a store at Knik, closed his shop and left for Tyonek48.
George Shell, the Knik ACC agent closed the trading post and
left for the safety of Kenai49. Keep in mind that ACC agents
were totally without backup or legal recourse at that time. The closest
authorities were almost 600 miles away (in Sitka) and a Revenue Cutter
had not been seen in Cook Inlet in four years. With that in mind, it
is no wonder that the remaining white men at Knik (Alec Ryan, Charles
Miller and Al Creason), took it upon themselves to act as judge, jury
and executioners on April 22, 1891 when they hung Benast'a Gga's son,
Nicolai, for killing George Holt and his constant threats to the people
An Ahtna man named
Chashga was in Knik the day of the execution (Chashga would later
become the father of Nickafor Alexan of Tyonek).
Chashga told the story of Nicolai's execution to Dena’ina
Elder Shem Pete. In 1985, Shem Pete repeated the story to
Dena'ina historian James Kari51 who was kind enough to
share Pete's unpublished version with me in 2010.
Shem Pete could not remember the Ahtna name
of the man who killed George Holt, but he did remember that
the shooters fathers name was Benast’a Gga. So, in Shem
Pete’s retelling of Chashga’s account of the murder, he calls
the shooter: “Son of Benast’a Gga” or “Little Benast’a Gga”
which can get confusing.
Below you will find my abridged version of Shem Pete's story about
the capture and execution of George Holt's murderer. I have not
changed his story except that I have used the murderers Orthodox name
[Nicolai] in an effort to make the story easier to follow.
My Abridged Version of Shem Pete’s
the Capture and Execution of George Holt’s Murderer
as Told by Shem Pete to James Kari 1985
River Indians came down to Knik to trade, among them was Benast'a
Gga's son [Nicolai].
They were all complaining about the price of
goods at the store. The storekeeper grabbed [Nicolai] from the
back, kicked him in the behind and threw him out of the store;
the Indians gathered their goods and left Knik.
At their camp on the Chickaloon River, [Nicolai]
told his father that he was going back to Knik. His father, Benast'a
Gga, a big medicine man, assumed that his son was going back to
Knik to see a woman, so he said OK.
[Nicolai] left Chickaloon and went directly to his friends
house at Eklutna. He showed his friend a muzzle loader hand gun
and told him he was going to kill the storekeeper at Knik with
it. After a short conversation, his friend decided there was nothing
he could to to deter [Nicolai], so he let him go.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR OF THIS WEB
Shem Pete's story does not include the actual murder...
from Nicolai heading to Knik to kill George Holt
in 1885...to his execution in 1891.
Pete's story jumps ahead
here to 1891:
The next day, [Nicolai] went to Knik to visit a "woman
that he loved". This woman had children, but no one in Knik would
marry her because of her relationship with [Nicolai].
While he was there, three white men, wearing ankle
length navy blue coats, with revolvers hidden inside, went inside
the woman's house and found [Nicolai] sitting, barefoot, at a table,
drinking tea. The white men overpowered him and drug him out of the
house and down a trail that led toward the Inlet. Along the way, they
passed [Nicolai's] best friend, Chashga, who was taking a steam bath;
the white men told Chashga to "have a good steam bath". He knew what they
said because he was an interpreter and understood Russian and English.
When the white men got
to their house, they took [Nicolai] inside and someone threw them
a rope from upstairs. They tied it around [Nicolai's] neck and legs
so he couldn't move around, then they tied the rope to a flag pole outside.
[Nicolai] was heard saying "Bashidil, take me up to heaven and help
me" just before they "hoisted him up and choked his throat".
Chashga had one short leg
and had to walk with a stick, so by the time he got dressed and
reached his best friend (who was also his Uncle), it was too late;
[Nicolai] was dead and the three white men had gone back inside their
house. Chashga followed them in with intentions of shooting them,
but once he got inside, he realized there were more people upstairs
that he was not prepared to kill, so he decided against it.
The people of Knik were afraid that the Copper
River clan would come back and burn down Knik when they heard
about the hanging, so the three white men sent a man named Paul
(the younger brother of Knik's Chief Nikolai) to talk to Benast'a Gga
who was camped at Chickaloon. They armed Paul with two hand guns, hidden
in his clothes, and gave him a new rifle before sending him off on
foot to deliver the message.
Just outside of Benast'a
Gga's Chickaloon camp, Paul hid the new rifle under some spruce
boughs and entered the camp. Once inside, he nervously broke small branches
as he spoke to [Nicolai's] father; he knew Benast'a Gga was a tough man.
Paul told him that the white men had warned [Nicolai] not to come back
to Knik many times; they gave him good advise but [Nicolai] kept returning,
so they hung him.
Upon hearing this, the entire camp
started to “cry and holler” in grief. Paul knew his life was
in danger, but he respectfully waited until “the sun was
setting in the down river direction” before leaving camp. As he walked
away, he told [Nicolai's] younger sister "I'm going to go back now";
"yes," she said, "take care of yourself"; she thought the Copper River
people might kill him.
Paul wore a red wool coat and when he lifted the tail of
the coat, his gun handles stuck out of his pockets. He began to run,
stopping only to retrieve his rifle from the spruce boughs outside
of Benast'a Gga's camp. He ran as if he was flying and imagined hot
pain in his back until he ran beyond the distance that Copper River
bullets could travel.
Paul's older sister watched and waited for him to come back
at the place they called "point extends" (Jim Kari says this is the
overflow marsh at Knik); she was worried about him. She thought the
Copper River people might have killed him and thrown him in the water,
but he ran "like a champion". It was a long distance from Chickaloon
to Knik, so he didn't get back to Knik until early in the morning.
Fear of retribution, for hanging Benast'a Gga's son, consumed
Knik for the next month. The white men in the village armed
the remaining Dena’ina with rifles. They also drilled holes in
the walls of their buildings and hung muskrat skins over the holes,
so they could watch for any approaching attackers if Benast'a Gga's
people declared war on Knik52.
When the Copper River people eventually came back
to trade, the white men watched them carefully and they were allowed
to go back and forth to the store in pairs only.
Shem Pete's Story
I've never found record of any retribution by Benast'a Gga's
people for the death of [Nicolai].
According to the ACC
records, George Holt’s body was exhumed from Knik in 1890
and was re-buried in the Old American Cemetery on Mill Bay Road
in Kodiak. A large headstone is engraved (with the wrong date of death55),
it says “C. G. Holt Killed by Indians December 24, 1884 Age 48”.
Holt's estate was valued at $1,829,
in cash, when probate papers were filed in Sitka, by Major
M. P. Berry, on July 24, 1892. With no heirs, the value of Holt’s
estate was quickly consumed, by a variety of lawyers, over the
Photo taken by Sashinka
& Diana Keplinger, Kodiak,
WHO WAS AFANASII?
I know of
at least two different Afanasii's living in the immediate Knik area
the year after Holt's murder. The first one was mentioned in the ACC
journal of J.B. Ballow who took over Holt's job, nine months after the
murder. Ballow said a man named Afanasii worked at a small trading post
owned by _____ Bowen (6 miles from Knik); Ballow called him "Bowen's Afanasii".
Ballow also mentions a man named Afanasii, that was his interpreter at
the ACC store, Ballow called him "Interpreter Afanasii".
The Man Who Instigated Holt's Murder
things further, I found two MORE Afanasii's of the right age and close
proximity to Knik; one living at Hope on the 1900 US Census (age 50),
with a wife named Mary (age 30), son William (age 18), adopted son Stephan
(age 28) and an adopted son Pedro (age 19). Another Afanasii was mentioned
in the Herning diaries as owning a sloop at Knik in 1904. I'm not sure
if there were FOUR men named Afanassi in the area, or if the man in Hope
and the man with the sloop, the SAME men as mentioned in Ballow's 1886 journal.
The Shem Pete book says that Afanasii was the Russian name
for Dusgeda Tukda who became a qeshqa ("rich man" or Chief) of Knik
village. Qeshqa's were responsible for the social and economic well
being of the village. Besides settling disputes and allocating hunting
and fishing destinations, the qeshqa was expected to maintain a reputation
as a wealthy, influential leader who was generous with his good fortune.
If a qeshqa was miserly, or if he did not work for the betterment of the
village, the village medicine man "broke him with bad luck" and all of
the qeshqa's power would be lost.
THAT is exactly what happened to Afanasii, the man who instigated
the murder of George Holt. Afanasii became a middle man between the
commercial fur traders and the Native people who harvested the furs.
He paid his people only a small fraction of what the white men paid for
furs, keeping the rest of the money himself, making him a very wealthy
man. His wealth was said to be so great that he had eight caches full of
possessions, yet he shared very little with his people, which angered the
Dena'ina greatly, causing the village medicine man to wish Afanasii much
bad luck. Over time, Afanasii lost most of his wealth, his power and the
respect of his people. Stories about his final years, described him as a
man so poor that he lived on what other people threw away and the villagers
In the end, Shem Pete said that Afanasii (Dusgeda Tukda)
was captured about 2 miles from the mouth of the Little Susitna River.
They forced him into a small bath house, which was on the east bank of
the river, and nailed the door and widow shut; he was left there to die.
In the spring, his body was removed from the bath house and buried at
the above legend is accurate, how does that coincide with the following
CHIEF AFFANACY DIES AT KENAI
Seward Weekly Gateway
Affanacy, the hiyu big Chief of the Aleuts of the Cook Inlet region,
has been gathered to his fathers. His end, unlike his career,
was when Chief Affanacy was a power, a veritable absolute monarch
among his people. All paid tribute to him and he thus amassed
considerable wealth. He was a natural leader, firm and unyielding.
His personality was strong and magnetic and when in his presence
the other natives recognized in him one who must be obeyed.
once had his headquarters at Old Knik** (see
below). Years ago, when the region
was chiefly inhabited by natives, an agent of the ACC at that
place was murdered. The crime was laid at the door of the native
chief; not the actual commission, but the instigation. The law's
delay and the lack of testimony permitted this foul crime to go unpunished.
But the finger of suspicion pointed incessantly at Affanacy.
began to invade the land in a mad gold rush. With their advent,
the chief's power began gradually to wane. When he died a few
days ago, at Kenai, he was living in poverty, shorn of his power
and but a relic of former greatness54.
End of Obituary
In conclusion...is Afanasii/Dusgeda Tukda the man who died
on the Little Susitna River or is he the man who died in Kenai?
There is much more research to be
done, many records to glean and many historical puzzle pieces yet
to fit together.
NOTE: Some maps (circa 1900) commonly
(but incorrectly) referred to the present day Eklutna area as Old
Knik. Chief Afanasii's headquarters was always near Knik Station
on the west side of Knik Arm. It is well established that George Holt's
murder took place at present day Knik (not the Eklutna side).
NOTE: Since most records spelled the original
Dena'ina names phonetically, you will find Afanasii spelled a variety
of ways: Affanassia, Afinassi, Affanassa, Affinassi, Affinassia, etc.
The correct Russian spelling is Afanasii.
1. One of the men that hung Nicolai was Alec Ryan, who later
became an ACC agent at Kenai. Records show that Ryan was a tyrant
when it came to dealing with the Native population of Kenai. A petition,
written by 23 Kenai Indians (with the help of their priest), was submitted
to District Judge Warren Truitt in 1895. The Natives asked Judge Truitt
to remove Ryan from Kenai because he tormented them, beat them, threatened
them with guns, made alcohol in his store, drank constantly and broke
into their houses and drug them out in the middle of the night. They
wrote, "neither cries of women or weeping children stopped this scoundrel."
Further evidence that Alec Ryan was out of control came from a
report, written in 1895, by Father Vladimir Donskoi to the Alaska Ecclesiastical
Consistory in Kodiak. He said the 1895 population of Kenai was
1,022 and yet the government did not have a single official or representative
in Kenai. In addition, he said the Kodiak Justice of the Peace paid
no attention to complaints about the men named Ryan, Parmer (Palmer)
and Krisson (Creason) who were causing disorder at the Kenai church.
2. As for actual names of the three white men than
hung Nicolai for the murder of George Holt: Alec Ryan, Charles Miller
and Al Creason; I found their names on two different documents.
The names Alec Ryan and Al Creason were found in part two of the previously
mentioned 1895 petition. In part the petition read: "...five years
ago, he (Alec Ryan) together with Knik storekeeper Krisson, illegally
hanged an Orthodox Copper River Indian at Knik".
The third man, Charles Miller, was mentioned in a certificate
issued by Justice of the Peace James Wilson of Kenai, which said: "I,
Justice of the Peace, appointed by American government for the enforcement
of law and order, here, issue this paper to the Russian Orthodox Church
to certify that Mr. A. K. Ryan and Mr. Charles Miller, acted in compliance
with the rules of the American government when they hanged a
Copper River savage in Knik Village on April 22, 1891."
3. Vladimir Vasilii Stafeev, the man who investigated
the George Holt murder, had been an agent for the Russian Commercial
Company, a small trading post inside of the Russian fort at St. Nicholas
Redoubt (Kenai), since 1864. A year after Alaska was purchased,
in 1867, the Russian Commercial Company became the ACC and Stafeev continued
working for them as a trading post agent; he eventually transferred
to Tyonek. His personal journals (translated) were used extensively in
Sources - Endnotes
1 The Alaskan, "Alaska History", October 2, 1897
2 Alaska Commercial Company, Knik Station Log Book, 1883-1903.
Knik Box 24, folder 305. Alaska
Polar Regions Collections, Elmer Rasmuson Library, University of
Alaska, Fairbanks. Hereafter
referred to as ACC Knik Log Books. Note: ACC log book is labeled
"1 year anniversary of Holt
3 Overland Monthly and Out West W.R. Quinan "The
Discovery of the Yukon Gold Fields", October
1897, pages 340-342.
4 The Alaskan, "Alaska History", October 2, 1897.
6 The Alaskan, "From Kodiak's Special Correspondent, July 17,
1886, page 1.
7 Henry T. Allen, Report of an Expedition to the Copper, Tanana
and Koyukuk Rivers in the Territory
of Alaska in the year 1885", Washington: GPO, 1887) page 23.
10Stafeev Papers, translated by Andrei Znamenski 2007, hereafter
called Stafeev Papers.
11Andrei Znamenski correspondence to Coleen Mielke, September
12Stafeev Papers, December 31, 1885.
13Stafeev Papers, January 4, 1886.
15Alaska Commercial Company, Knik Station Log Book, 1883-1903.
Knik Box 24, folder 305, December
16Stafeev Papers, December 29, 1885.
17Andrei Znamenski, "Through Orthodox Eyes, Russian
Missionary Narratives of Travels to the
Dena'ina and Ahtna", 1850's-1930's", page 112.
18Unpublished Shem Pete interview done by James Kari June 16,
19Stafeev Papers, December 26, 1885.
20Stafeev Papers, January 5, 1886.
21Stafeev Papers, December 29, 1885.
22Stafeev Papers, January 4, 1886.
23Stafeev Papers, undated entry.
24Stafeev Papers, undated entry.
25Stafeev Papers,undated entry.
26Stafeev Papers, January 13, 1886.
27Stafeev Papers, July 12, 1886.
28Staffeev Papers, January 13, 1886.
29Stafeev Papers, January 25, 1886.
31Fairbanks Daily News Miner, January 23, 1917, page 2.
32ACC Knik Log Books, March 19, 1887.
33Andrei Znamenski, "Through Orthodox Eyes", page 12.
34Stafeev Papers, February 6, 1887.
35The Alaskan, "The Knik Murder", November 6, 1886, page 4.
36Andrei Znamenski, "Through Orthodox Eyes", page 12.
37ACC Knik Log Books, December 5, 1886.
38ACC Knik Log Books, February 9, 1887.
39ACC Knik Log Books, February 17, 1887.
40ACC Knik Log Books, February 13, 1887.
41ACC Knik Log Books, March 17,1887.
42ACC Knik Log Books, 12/21/1890.
44The Alaskan, "Our Crippled Judiciary", November 6, 1886, page
45ACC Knik Log Books, February 27, 1891.
46Fairbanks Daily News Miner, January 23, 1917, page 2.
47ACC Knik Log Books, March 13, 1891.
48ACC Knik Log Books, March 24, 1891.
49ACC Knik Log Books, April 7, 1891.
50The Alaskan, "From Kodiaks Special Correspondent", July 17,
1886, page 1.
51Unpublished Shem Pete interview done by James Kari, June 16,
53"Shem Pete's Alaska", by James Kari and James Fall,
54Seward Weekly Gateway, July 24, 1909.
55ACC Knik Log Books, December 7, 1886.
56Alaska State Library Archives, Probate Files, Sitka, File
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