Gregory Shelikov established the first Russian settlement in Alaska on this date in 1784, on Kodiak Island in Three Saints Bay. Everybody moved up-island to present-day Kodiak in 1792. Eighty years later, Alaska became a U.S. possession and sixty years after that – in 1941 – the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge was established.
It was about a million and a half acres initially, but it gained and lost acreage over the years – mostly gained – until it was about 1.8 million acres. Then, after the Exxon Valdez spill, part of the fines collected from Exxon were used to enlarge the refuge and now it’s roughly 1.9 million acres, about 10 square miles.
Nearly 2 million acres sounds like a lot, but Kodiak Island itself is pretty big – 100 miles long, 60 miles across at its widest, 10 miles where it narrows. So the refuge doesn’t take up much room. But it encompasses the spawning grounds of all species of Pacific Ocean salmon and the nesting grounds of 250 species of birds and it provides a safe place for the Kodiak brown bear.
We can thank William Seward for all this. Seward was marked for assassination along with Lincoln and was stabbed by Lewis Powell on the night Booth shot Lincoln. But Seward survived to continue as Secretary of State under Andrew Johnson, whom he convinced to buy Alaska from Russia. ‘Seward’s Folly’ cost the government $7.2 million – about two cents an acre.
Asked once what he considered his greatest achievement, Seward said “The purchase of Alaska – but it will take the people of the United States a century before they realize it.”