Crow Village History

note: this history was updated recently to improve the historical accuracy. There are still some inaccuracies the CVHI editorial staff hopes to correct at a later date.

Crow Village is actually called Tulukaghogamiut, which is roughly translated as "Raven Village People" widely believed to be named that after the boisterous raven bird population native to the nearby bluff. Alternately, it has also been referred to as Tulukagnag, Toolooka-anahamute, Tuluka and Tulukaguagamute by the various Russian and American explorers. The loose english translation of Crow Village is the most common moniker these days, and is certainly easier on the tongue.

There are indications the Kuskokwim Eskimos (Kuskowagamiut) began migrating inland from the Bering Sea around 500 years ago so it is conceivable that Crow Village was inhabited by the 1600s, but there are no historical records of the Kuskokwim (literally "cough river") valley dating that far back. We know that Crow Village was inhabited when the first Russian explorers came down the Kuskokwim River in the early 1800s. At the time there was an illegal tobacco trade originating from the French trappers through the Northwest Territories to the Fort Yukon area. From there, the tobacco went down the Yukon out to the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. This tobacco was loaded into canoes and made its way across the Bering Sea. The Russian Army was in the midst of a war with China and needed to find out where this tobacco was originating from in order to tax it ( to make money for the war) and they sent a Lt. Zagoskin to find out where the tobacco was coming from. Hence he traveled to the Kuskokwim River via the Bristol Bay. He portaged across several rivers and ended up entering the Kuskokwim river thru the headwaters of the Hoholitna. This was the first explorer to record his encounter of Crow Village in 1843. Zagoskin reported 5 dwellings and 90 residents in Crow Village. This Village moved up and down the bank depending upon the river's course and appeared in the first US census after the US became a territory in 1876 showing a population of 59.

The Russians had a strong influence in the surrounding region in the 1800s. The Russian-American company set up a fur trading post called Kolmakov's Townlet near the present day town of Sleetmute in 1832. The next year they established a second trading post called Lukin's Odinocha (Lukin's one-man post). The natives called this outpost Kwigiumpainukamiut. It was only inhabited for a short period of time. A third post called Kolmakosky's Redoubt located near the Kolmakov confluence and across the river from Lukin's was established in 1841. That year, the Russian Orthodox faith was introduced at the redoubt and Russian priests began to baptize the native population. The increased exploration activity of this period also introduced new diseases to the native population. A smallpox epidemic in 1838 reportedly killed great numbers of the native population in the Kuskokwim basin. Influenza and measles were introduced by the American explorers in the 1900s and in a very short timeframe, villages were deserted, people were demoralized, and continuity with the past was disrupted. The Russian-American company began withdrawing from the Kuskokwim basin in the late 1860s in anticipation of the sale of Alaska to the US. Americans started taking over the trading posts. The Alaska Commercial Company (these days known as the "AC") took over Kolmakovsky about 1870 and the Western Fur Trading Company took over Lukin's in 1878. Both were abandoned by 1900.

Bernhard Bendel is one of the Russian fur traders who mentions a visit to Crow Village in his writings from an 1870 expedition. He describes a large pole with a carved bird standing in the center of the village. He also speaks of meeting the legendary man named Ocksugluck (porcupine killer). Ocksugluck was reknown for being the greatest hunter and strongest man in the area. His hunting prowness was due partly to the structure of his bow - a bow that only he was strong enough to draw. Bendel described the sound of Ocksugluck's arrows piercing the air being that of a keen whistle while others could only produce a dull hissing noise. Ocksugluck proved to be a valuable escort for Bendel since his reputation and influence could be leveraged to negotiate trades with the eskimos.

The 1898 Klondike Gold rush brought rapid culture changes to the Kuskokwim region as well as the interior of Alaska. A stampede brought gold seekers into the Aniak region but little gold was found. The Iditarod trail was surveyed by the Alaska Road Commission in 1908 and provided increased access to the upper Kuskokwim during the winter. Gold was found near Ophir. Ophir is north of McGrath on the Yukon river but the diggings were more accessible from the Kuskokwim drainage. Gold was also found at Crooked Creek. In 1906 a Brit named George Hoffman set up a trading post for the miners near the Holukuk confluence. Later this village would take on the name of Napaimute. The gold strikes turned out to be somewhat of a disappointment and most miners were gone by 1912. The miners left behind a legacy, however, the fish wheel which led to greater fishing efficiency. New mining technology and some entrepreneurship of a Canadian junior mining company would lead to a new influx of miners in the 21st century. Napaimute is now also showing signs of a resurgence similar to Crow Village.

Aniak is the closest village to Crow Village located approximately 7 miles upstream. The native village of Aniak had been abandoned by 1900, however the village was homesteaded in 1914 by Tom L. Johnson and has a current population of about 600. Initialy it served as a supply depot for area miners. The armed services put an airstrip in during the summer of 1939. The airstrip would facilitate the construction and use of the Aniak as one the famed White Alice Relay sites in 1946. The White Alice Relay stations were instrumental in providing comunications capability across the Alaska territory for both the military and civilian needs until the mid 80s, when they became casualties of advancing technology. The Aniak station was shut down in 1987, however, Aniak' status of the area's transportaion hub remains intact.

Around 1910, Crow Village was moved downstream about 1/2 mile due to a change in the river sediment pattern. This settlement was referred to as New Crow Village. One of the youngsters involved in that move was Crow Village Sam (Phillips). In the 1950s, Crow Village Sam

Crow Village Sam (circa 1970)
(grandfather to David Phillips), was regarded as the leader of the native people in the region. In 1954 Crow Village Sam thought it best to vacate New Crow Village because of ongoing issues with epidemics. He moved the inhabitants upriver 18 miles to Chuathbaluk - formerly Little Russian Mission that had been abandoned since 1929.

In 1967, archaeologist Wendell H. Oswalt conducted a dig on 5 dwellings in Crow Village and interviewed area natives including Crow Village Sam shortly before he died to gain insight on the cultural history of the area. His findings can be found in the book entitled "THE ETHNOARCHEOLOGY OF CROW VILLAGE, ALASKA". This project pioneered the use of archaeology as a means to augment oral and written sources in constructing a historical ethnography of a Native people

In 1971, the Native Claims Settlement Act was written into law as a good will gesture to facilitate discussions for approval of the Trans Alaska Pipeline. As a result of that act, ownership of the land encompassing Crow Village was given to Crow Village Sam. Legend has it that since Crow Village Sam was one of the few natives that was fluent in english at the time, he was one of a small pool of individuals in the area capable of filing the required paperwork to take advantage of this act. The land was in turn inherited by his son, and then his grandson - David Phillips. In the late 80's, David was working at the aptly named Crow Village Sam Elementary School in Chuathbaluk where he met and helped the new teacher from the "Outside" Lisa Feyereisen. They would marry in 1992 and spend some time in Fairbanks and Juneau while David finished his degree and 3 children were born. However the urge to re-settle Crow Village could not be denied.

Construction of the buildings would initially begin during the summer months during the early 90s while school was out and the salmon were running. First came a platform for a canvas tent, which was later, converted into the "little" house. The steam house was built from lumber found floating down the Kuskokwim during one springs flood season. The smoke house was needed to cure the fish. Plans were hatched to build the "big" house.

About 1994 work on the big house would begin in earnest. Most of the logs used for the house would come from David's father's house in Chuathbaluk, so that had to be disassembled. Lisa summoned a few relatives and friends to assist in transportation of the logs from Chuathbaluk to Crow Village. This was accomplished by building a giant raft from the logs and floating it downstream to the site. That sounds easier then it is, but a similar operation was used to bring new supplemental logs from the sawmill in Chuathbaluk. In the summer of 2000, David's schooling was done, so the family would move to Crow Village full time. Another assembly of friends and family was brought in to jumpstart completion of the big house. Completion and customization of the permanent dwellings is still an ongoing activity.

circa 1955