Murder at Knik 1885
His Background – The Murder
Itself – The Aftermath
A True and Documented Account
written by Coleen Mielke
with a special thank you for help
and encouragement to:
Andrei Znamenski and James Kari
You are welcome to link back to this article,
however, do not repost
or republish it without the written permission
of the author, Coleen Mielke.
This is the
story of C. G. “George” Holt, an Ohio born Quaker 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; this is Holt's story.
In 1875, George Holt was the first white man
to safely cross the Chilkoot Pass. 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 guide 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 detail.”
From Sitka, Holt sailed to Kodiak aboard the
schooner Nellie Edes. He tried his hand at prospecting for a while
in the Cook Inlet and Susitna River areas with minimal luck. In
the spring of 1882, he did the “unthinkable” 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 people 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 Ahtna, however
his "success" came at a very high price.
Holt's summer with the Ahtna people resulted in a mutual distrust and
hate that would play a big part in his murder in 1885. Holt was a stern man
with little respect and NO tact when it came to dealing with the Copper River
villagers. He used every opportunity to impugn their character and he often
called them "treacherous and thievish". This so angered the Ahtna that they
were still raging (about Holt) to Lieutenant Henry T. Allen when he explored
the Copper River area three years later, in 1885.
By 1885, Holt was an agent for the Alaska Commercial
Company (ACC) in Nuchek; later that same year he was transferred
to the Knik ACC where he worked with a Dena’ina (interpreter
and assistant manager) named Afanasii. 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’ka; 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 thievery by telling the villagers that Chechenov
had put a curse on them. Language barriers prevented Chechenov from
defending himself and the frightened villagers threatened to kill him.
The Chief of Knik stopped the plan and Chechenov left Knik for 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 Malakhov. 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 which,
once again, gave Afanasii full access to store merchandise.
A year later, in 1885, George Holt was transferred from the ACC
store at Nuchek to the ACC store at Knik to replace Agent Malakhov; the
company retained Afanasii as Holt's interpreter. It didn't take long
for Afanasii to recognize Holt's bad temper and true disdain for his Copper
River customers. All Afanasii had to do was find the right opportunity
to promote a physical confrontation (between Holt and one of his Copper
River customers) that would result in a fourth ACC agent's demise.
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 12/19/1885, the Indian returned to the store and killed George Holt.
of the murder quickly reached the ACC headquarters at Tyonek. The
agent there, a Russian named Vladimir Vasilii Stafeev (who worked
for the RAC and ACC for 20+ years) 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 Znamenski 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 for 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
everything was OK.
One week after the murder, Afanasii's brother (unnamed) went
to Tyonek to tell Vladimir Stafeev his account of the murder. 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 told the other that he forgot 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 snow. 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 he wanted.
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 became suspicious that this testimony was a fabricated version
of the murder in an effort to conceal Afanasii's involvement. Stafeev's
suspicions were deepened because everyone knew that Afanasii had long standing
plans to run the Knik ACC store himself in order to steal goods whenever
he wanted to.
When Stafeev made it known that he was going to go to Knik to
investigate the murder in person, Afanasii's brother told him that the
murderer might still be there and that Stafeev could get killed as well.
When Stafeev could not be dissuaded from going to Knik, the brother asked
exactly what route he would be using, which deepened Stafeev's suspicions.
Stafeev was concerned about further violence with the Copper
River traders back 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 this would allow time to defuse the situation and
also give him time to get to Knik himself.
was not the only one who was suspicious of Afanasii's involvement in the murder;
Tyonek Chief Nikolai believed the murder would not have taken place
without Afanasii's goading. They also received reports
that Afanasii's family was suddenly sporting 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 (that Holt had purchased before his murder) to Stafeev
at Tyonek. When the paperwork was checked, Stafeev noticed that Holt
had purchased 78 sable pelts, however, there were only 58 pelts delivered
to Tyonek. Stafeev is certain that Afanasii had 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
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 him.
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
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 quiet about the murder.
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 Holt.
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 saying that he 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 Marchenkov.
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 man. The article described Nicolai as "a tall strapping
man, who would make a match for any good size white man”.
In exchange for the right to resume trade at
Knik, Nicolai remained peaceful for the next year.
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” 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
An example of the new civility was 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 Holt's murderer, Nicolai, that came to
McFord's defense this time and sent word that he would kill anyone that
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 them. The Governors only response was that he “did not have time” to
deal with the case.
Nine months after
Holt’s murder, a new ACC agent named J. B. Ballow was stationed
at Knik. 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
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
months. Ballow assumed they must have been trading with the “Three
Brothers” 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 Knik. 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
In the fall of 1890, George Shell, the new ACC agent for Knik
arrived on the schooner Kodiak. Also on that schooner were two 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 have his first trouble with
the man who killed George Holt. Shell wrote in his journal that he "may
have to kill the Indian in self defense".
In January of 1891, word arrived that the Copper River people were
on their way to Knik to kill everyone. 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 approach.
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. George Shell, the Knik ACC
agent closed the trading post and left for the safety of Kenai.
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 terrorizing Knik.
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 Kari who was kind enough to share Shem 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
might be a little 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, which was (Nicolai).
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
They were all complaining about the price of goods at
the store. The storekeeper ) grabbed (Nicolaifrom 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
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, came 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 him
to "have a good steam bath". Chashga 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 before entering
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.
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 Knik.
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 death), 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 following year.
taken by Sashinka & Diana Keplinger, Kodiak, Alaska
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, who 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. So...were there FOUR
men named Afanassi in the area, or was 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 a man so poor that he lived on what other
people threw away and the villagers hated him.
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 that spot.
above legend is accurate, does that mean the following newspaper obituary
CHIEF AFFANACY DIES AT KENAI
the hiyu big chief of the Aleuts of the Cook Inlet region, has been
gathered to his fathers. His end, unlike his career, was peaceful.
Time was when
Chief Affanacy was a power, a veritable absolute monarch among his
people. All paid tribute to him and he thus he 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.
had his headquarters at Old Knik** (see
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 greatness.
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
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.
NOTE: Adding yet another variable,
Shem Pete, a Dena'ina Elder, said that Afanasii was the Russian
name of Knik Chief Dusgeda Tukda who died on the Little Susitna River,
but this seems to conflict with the 1910 obituary.
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 this report.
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