The Great Land
Updated On: 10/31/2012 11:21:38 AM
"Alaska" came from an Aleut word for "great land," though some believe the Aleut word meant "mainland," to those residing on the Alaska Peninsula. Scientist and surveyor William Healey Dall wrote in 1870: "This name, now applied to the whole of our new territory, is a corruption, very far removed from the original word . . . called by the natives Al-ak-shak or Al-ay-ek-sa. From Alayeksa the name became Alaksa, Alashka, Aliaska, and finally Alaska. We have, then Alaska for the territory, Aliaska for the peninsula." Alaska today refers to the entire state as well as the Peninsula. "Alyeska" is still around, though, as the name of a ski resort in Girdwood, as well as the name of the Anchorage consortium overseeing the trans-Alaska pipeline company. read more...
Purchase: William Henry Seward was secretary of state under President Abraham Lincoln when he began negotiating a deal for the United States to buy Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million--or 2 cents an acre. Seward, born May 16, 1801, served as New York state senator from 1831 to 1834, then as the state's governor from 1839 to 1843. Lincoln appointed him secretary of state in 1861. During Lincoln's presidency, he began negotiating the purchase of Alaska, then Russian America. Zachary Kent, in "William Seward: the Mastermind of the Alaska Purchase," reports how Seward invited senators to dinner parties at his home. According to Kent, "While the senators enjoyed fine food and wine, Seward described how beautiful Russian America was reported to be."
The purchase agreement was signed by Seward on March, 30, 1867, and approved by the U.S. Senate May 27, 1867. President Andrew Johnson signed the final treaty the following day and the transfer was made Oct. 18, 1867, in Sitka. In 1917, the third Alaska Territorial Legislature created Seward's Day to mark the signing of the treaty. That same year, lawmakers also designated Oct. 18 "Alaska Day."
Many Americans of the period called the purchase "Seward's folly" or "Seward's icebox," thinking Alaska a snowy, icy wasteland. Of course, that was before Alaska was discovered by gold seekers, oil companies and tourists. Many streets throughout Alaska have been named after William Seward. A city on the Kenai Peninsula bears his name, and Alaska has a glacier, a passage, a peninsula, a creek, a highway and mountains named for him as well. And what about William Seward himself? The night John Wilkes Booth fatally shot Lincoln, a Confederate veteran named Lewis Payne entered Seward’s bedroom and attacked him with a large knife. Fortunately, the blows were blunted by a neck brace Seward was wearing (according to The Lost Museum, a Web site sponsored by the City University of New York and George Mason University). Seward continued to serve as secretary of the state under President Johnson, and it was during Johnson's administration that Seward completed the negotiations with Russia.
The largest national park in the United States is Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve—four times the size of Yellowstone. Also, the country’s two largest national forests are the state’s Tongass National Forest at 17 million acres, followed by the Chugach National Forest, which includes part of the Anchorage Bowl.
Equally stunning are Alaska’s powerful, sometimes fearsome, natural phenomena—volcanoes. Alaska possesses more than 10 percent of the world’s identified volcanoes, and three-fourths of North America’s volcanic peaks. The greatest concentration of volcanic activity is in the Aleutian chain. Earthquakes also unleash most of their tremendous energy in the Aleutian arc. The strongest quake to hit Alaska was on Mar. 27, 1964. It measured 9.2 on the Richter scale and released twice the energy of the San Francisco quake of 1906. A more benevolent phenomenon, best observed during winter darkness, is the “northern lights” or aurora borealis, when eerie but spectacularly beautiful sheets of color streak across the sky.
Alaska’s abundant wildlife is also easily observed. On the ground you can see everything from polar and grizzly bears to moose, caribou, Dall sheep, mountain goats, buffalo and musk oxen. Smaller animals such as wolves, coyotes, red fox, lynx, mink, martens and beavers are also seen. Birds are plentiful throughout the state, and Alaska has the world’s largest population of bald eagles. There are also the ever-present ravens of Native Alaskan lore, along with sea birds such as colorful puffins and cormorants. Sea life includes whales, porpoises, dolphins, sea otters, sea lions, seals and walrus.
Anglers will find all types of fish, whether fishing in lakes, streams or the ocean. From remote Bush villages to gold rush camps-turned-cities, to modern metropolitan areas, Alaska shows diversity in its cultures and civilizations. With a population of about 670,000, the largest state is also the most sparsely populated. Regional variations in the state are also dramatic. Each region has its own climate, geography, history and industries.
The 49th State – Admitted to the union Jan. 3, 1959
Landmass – 586,412 square miles
Coastline – About 33,000 miles
Rivers – More than 3,000
Lakes – More than 3 million
Highest Point – Mt. McKinley at 20,320 feet
State Capital – Juneau
State Flower – Forget-me-not
State Tree – Sitka spruce
State Bird – Willow ptarmigan
State Fish – king salmon
State Sport – dog mushing
State Fossil – Wooly Mammoth
Statehood: Alaska (October 18, 1867) was first a district, becoming an organized territory on August 24, 1912. Alaska became the 49th state on January 3, 1959.
Capital: The state capital is Juneau, located in the southeast region of Alaska. In 2002 it had a population of 30,684.
Motto: "North to the Future" (1967) Our motto was chosen in 1967 during the Alaska Purchase Centennial and was created by Juneau newsman Richard Peter. The motto is meant to represent Alaska as a land of promise.
Nickname: "The Last Frontier"
Seal: The state seal includes images of the aurora, icebergs, mining, farming, fisheries, fur seals and a railroad. The state seal was originally designed and adopted in 1910 while Alaska was still a territory, not a state. The rays above the mountains represent the Northern Lights. The smelter symbolizes mining. The train stands for Alaska’s railroads, and ships denote transportation by sea. The trees symbolize Alaska’s wealth of forests, and the farmer, his horse, and the three shocks of wheat represent Alaskan agriculture. The fish and the seals signify the importance of fishing and wildlife to Alaska’s economy. If you click on the link at the beginning of this paragraph, you can see a picture of it.
Song: "Alaska's Flag" became the state song in 1955. Follow the link for the words.
Holidays: (official state ones)
Seward's Day: Usually the last Sunday in March. Seward's Day commemorates the signing of the treaty by which the United States bought Alaska from Russia, signed on March 30, 1867. The Monday following is a state holiday for government workers.
Alaska Day: October 18. Alaska Day is the anniversary of the formal transfer of the territory and the raising of the U.S. Flag at Sitka on October 18, 1867.