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The Pennock Island Graves
By June Allen


May 15, 2005

On the topic of Pennock Island graveyards, Don Hoff is quite right. There was a large native graveyard on the south end of the island, a smaller mixed native/white graveyard on the north end, and, there are unmarked native graves on every shoreline point around the perimeter of the island -- at least on the town-side of the island. Those cemeteries were largely abandoned after Ketchikan's Bayview cemetery just south of town opened in 1911. There is still an occasional but rare native burial in the native/white graveyard of the north end cemetery.

The native burials in that north end cemetery - if it had a formal name I've never run across it - were largely from the Kyan family. Of the 20 gravesites with still-legible markers, the earliest was for Maggie Kyan on Jan. 15, 1895. The latest was for John Kyan, who died at age 44 on Sept. 12, 1919. There are also three teenage Johnsons buried there, and a James Shacklan, 86, who died in 1917, and someone named Ansold Brown who died in May of 1904. The most recent burial, as far as I know, was one of the young Makua men who died of drowning just a few years ago.

There are for sure others buried in those north end plots as well, some of them of whites, although their markers, if any, are long gone. Included among old death records in the archives at the Ketchikan museum, the entries that mention burial at Pennock's north end, are the names of white settlers or passers-through who died with little or no personal ID -- information that was necessary for shipping the bodies south for burial by family, the earliest practice. Most of those early white fatalities died by drowning or via accidents aboard ships, at regional mines or, quite often, from alcoholism. And then there was the occasional Chinese body -- possibly cannery workers -- that floated ashore with no possibility of ID. They may have been buried on the north end of Pennock before Bayview came into use.

Alaska natives in Southeastern routinely buried their dead on nearby islands. There may have been cultural reasons that I'm not familiar with. But common sense says it's a good way to prevent the spread of disease -- and surely some of the natives died of communicable disease in the series of epidemics that caused the deaths of natives and whites alike in those early years of settlement across Alaska.

The cemetery on the south end of the island, the one that is the major concern of Don Hoff, was for Saxman -- just across the Narrows. Saxman and Ketchikan share almost identical settlement dates, although one was not connected to the other. Saxman was settled, I've read, largely by native settlers from Tongass Island and nearby island native villages to the south.

The banks of Ketchikan Creek until about the late 1880s was a summer fish camp for one and/or another Tlingit tribe or clan. Permanent settlement on the creek by natives didn't occur until after the arrival of Ketchikan's earliest settlers, who opened a tradng post at the location that was probably right at the dock where giant cruise ships now tie up. According to one native source, the natives who lived on the north side of the creek were of the Tamgass tribe, those who abandoned site that would soon after become the Tsimshian village of Metlakatla. The south side of Ketchikan creek was settled early on by the people of the Tlingit tribe called (phonetically) the La Chi Lu. [This particular information came from a 1965 interview with Tsimshian Simon Dalton, who, as an eight-year-old child, visited the new Tongass Narrows town with his father about 1888 or so.]

Getting all that out of the way, the natives on the north side of the creek moved bag and baggage to Saxman when the new City of Ketchikan moved its population of prostitutes to their banks of Ketchikan Creek in 1903 - out of sight out of mind. The natives who remained on their own south banks of the creek appear to have included the Kyans. I've run into the Kyan name in various accounts clear up until the mid-1900s. I have no idea if this is entirely accurate, but I would gladly welcome any information from anyone who knows otherwise.

Back to Pennock's south end graveyard. It was, indeed, a beautiful site of elaborate grave markers, grave houses and monuments. However, after Bayview Cemetery was opened in 1911 on Ketchikan's own island, it made burials much easier and less costly. And at the same time the native populations were gradually being worked into a white pattern, native schools were open for their children and life appeared to heading in the direction of assimilation. The old native graveyard art gradually disappeared - collected perhaps for its beauty rather than its cultural value at that time.

So that's the story of those graveyards. I don't know a single thing about engineering so I can't say that the new bridge approaches will not be a problem when building its foundation. But I most certainly can say that with today's awareness of such culturally valuable sites as those graveyards, and the new respect for native cultures, there's little danger to the site.

I also know that there are those who adamantly oppose the new bridge. I'm not one of them. It's the only direction Ketchikan can grow because of various political land restrictions both north, south and inland from the townsite. And grow our town's going to. The loss of the mill was a serious blow. But Ketchikan has always bounced back and it will again. It will grow in the only direction it can grow -- across the channel to Gravina.

June Allen
Palmer, AK - USA



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