Makushin Bay: Its Resources and People

Makushin Bay in the 19th Century

In this section, visitors to Makushin Bay in the 19th Century describe it. Each visitor came from another part of the country or world, and brought his own experiences, perspectives, and, perhaps, prejudices with him.

Russian Orthodox priest Father Ivan Veniaminov (later glorified as St. Innocent) was stationed in Unalaska in the 1830s, during the time that Russia claimed Alaska and named it "Russian America."  The Russians forced the Unangax people to hunt for them.

Father Veniaminov explained in 1834,

Makushin settlement lies on the north approach to Makushin Bay, on a sandy, hillocky spit.  The structures here are a yurt, a barabara [ula], a shed, and a steam-bath belonging to the [Russian-American] Company, which has its baidarshchik [leader of a group of hunters] here, and six yurts and the same number of barabaras belonging to the Aleuts [Unangas].  Besides the baidarshchik, 35 souls, 15 male and 20 of the female sex, reside here. . . .

In ancient times there were five [subordinate] settlements near this village, but except for Starichkovskoe, which existed up to 1805, [all were abandoned at an unspecified time] . . . 

Father Veniaminov worked with Unangax people to learn and produce a writing system for the Unangax language. One of the first books published, used by the people of Makushin Village, was the catechism.

Father Veniaminov went on to say,

The main resource of this village is seasonal fish, which are put up in great quantities [not only for local consumption] but also for the main settlement [Unalaska].  In addition, there are cod and an abundance of [edible] roots.  [Each year] 80 to 150 foxes of different varieties are taken around the village.

From Veniaminov, Ivan, Notes on the Islands of the Unalashka District.  Kingston, Ontario: The Limestone Press.  1984, pp. 93-94.

Ivan Petroff, a census taker, visited Unalaska Island in 1878 and wrote what he saw in Makushin.  His private diary says this about the settlement:

August 10 – Woke up very stiff and sore and made arrangements to return to the head of the bay in bidarkas [kayaks].  Makushin is a very poor village of 50 inhabitants with a chapel, but no store.  Not a fish was to be had in the place and I was told that a new volcano had broken out on Umnak Island and the fall of hot ashes and lava into the sea had driven all the fish from the vicinity. 

Quotation from Hinckley, Theodore C. and Caryl, say in "Ivan Petroff's Journey of a Trip to Alaska in 1878." Journal of the West, Vol. V, No. 1, January 1966, pp. 26-27.

Petroff further reported,

The people of Makushin are mere auxiliaries of the inhabitants of Oonalashka [Unalaska] Village, and furnish a contingent every year for the regular sea-otter hunting party that leaves Iliuliuk (Iluula) for Sannakh (Sanaga).  They have an opportunity better than that enjoyed by any other settlement in their country to capture the young fur-seals in their passage through the straits of Umnak in the fall, securing between 1000 and 1300 of these animals every year.  Their fishing grounds were so disturbed in 1878 by the volcanic eruption on Umnak Island that they were compelled to move their old village to the present site, and here they will undoubtedly remain.

Today . . . they trap foxes on the flanks of this great mountain which rears its fuming head high above them 5000 or 6000 feet, and they secure a small, but to them very precious, supply of driftwood from the sea.

From Petroff, Ivan. Population and Resources of Alaska.  Washington: US Government Printing Office, 1880, pp. 19-20.

Courtesy of New Bedford Whaling Museum">Unalaska


In 1891, Z.L. Tanner, charged with describing the fishing situation in Alaska, reported,

The village of Makushin is composed of a small frame church painted white, a frame store belonging to the Alaska Commercial Company, and a dozen barabaras, or native earth huts, which were nearly buried beneath rank grass.

From Tanner, Z.L., Report Upon the Investigation of the US Fish Commission Steamer Albatross from July 1, 1889 to June 30, 1891.  Washington: US Government Printing Office, 1891, p. 244.

The image on the right is of the town of Unalaska, north of Makushin Bay but on the same island.