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Transcript: 1863 massacre of Russians on the Copper River.

Резня русских промышленников на Медной реке в 1863 г.
Ключевых слов: Аляска, Атна, Русская Америка (1741 — 1867 гг.), К. А. Самойловый, Руф Серебрянников, Овмаринов
Published 7-6-2020 | Last updated 6-26-2020

A little-known historical event was described in the December 4th, 1902, edition of The Alaska Prospector (Valdez). The purpose of this is to provide a transcript paired with English and Russian keywords to improve its searchability. The ‘three massacres’ mentioned in the second paragraph likely include the Samoyloviy (К. А. Самойловый) expedition ca. 1795-1797 and the Ruf Serebrennikov (Руф Серебрянников) expedition in 1848. A 1798 expedition led by Galactionov (Галактионов) was also attacked, but Galactionov survived.

Massacre of Russians.

Story of the Old Russian at Tatetlik. Only Survivor of Twenty-Four.

There is now living in the small Indian village of Tatetlik, in Prince William Sound, an old Russian, by the name of Nicolai Offmarinoff, who has lived there so long that he is generally looked upon as a native.

We were fortunate enough, a short time ago, to secure a story of a massacre of Russians, which occurred on Copper river about 40 years ago. This old Russian and two others, were the only ones who escaped. The story was told by him through an interpreter, and is of particular interest from the fact that while there is history of three such massacres on Copper river, the time and circumstances are so different from those old by the old man that there is little doubt but that the event described by him is now made public for the first time.

In 1863 a small party of Russians were sent out by the fur company, then operating in this section, to explore the interior country adjacent to the Copper river. There were 24 men in the party and they reached the mouth of the river early in the spring while it was still frozen. They had an outfit of food and clothing sufficient to last for over a year, but had no dogs or animals of any kind for hauling their sleds.

They sledded up the broad open delta of the river against frightful storms and with great hardships until they passed the glaciers and the rapids, when the river began to show signs of breaking up and he [sic] men realized that if they succeeded in reaching the canyon with sleds it would be necessary to greatly increase their rate of travelling.

A short distance above the rapids they struck the first village of Copper river Indians. It was only a small tribe, and the Russians impressed every able-bodied men in the camp into service as draught animals. Soon after leaving this village the sleds had to be abandoned, and the natives were forced to take enormous loads on their backs. In this manner the outfit was moved to Taral, where more natives were forced into the service, and as the party moved along up the river, recruits were picked up at each village.

They treated the natives as slaves, often beating them and subjecting them to all manner of indignities. Even though the Indians greatly outnumbered the Russians, they could make no resistance, for they had been forced to leave their only weapons, bows and arrows, behind them, and were in great dread of the guns carried by the Russians.

They bore every indignity heaped upon them, apparently with resignation, but the were really looking for an opportunity to retaliate on the Russians. This opportunity finally presented itself.

After one particularly hard days travel the party went into camp at a point between the mouths of the Klutena and Tazlina rivers. The Russians were very tired and the men they placed on guard fell asleep. During the night the Indians arose and attacked the Russians with clubs and axes. They killed 21 before the Russians realized what was happening. The remaining three escaped and started down the river.

They lived on such roots and berries as they could find along the way. At one of the villages they succeeded in stealing a crude boat, in which they made good progress, till they were passing by Child's glacier, when a large piece of ice fell, and the swell caused by it threw them high upon the rocky bank and broke their boat. Here they got their first food in the form of salmon, which were strewn along the shore, having been thrown up as their boat was, by the wash from the falling ice.

They struggled on afoot till they found some driftwood, out of which they made a raft to cross the river. They finally reached Eyak, where the coast natives fed and clothed them. Eventually the men married into the native tribes and never left Alaska. Since then two of them have died and the only survivor of the party that started up the Copper river 39 years ago is the old man at Tatetlik, who is now 78 years old.


[1] “Massacre of Russians.” The Alaska Prospector, December 4, 1902. Accessed June 23, 2020.