Although Alaska became part of the United States in 1867, early Alaska history begins in the Paleolithic period. Alaska history books tell us that the earliest Alaskan inhabitants were of Asiatic decent. The population was divided into three categories: honorables, which included the respected whalers and elders; common people; and slaves. The honorables were mummified at death. Occasionally, a slave was killed in honor of the deceased.
Most of the documented Alaska history dates back to the European settlement, when a Danish navigator aboard a Russian ship discovered the territory in 1741.When the crew returned to Russia, they brought with them some of the finest otter furs in the world. When Alaska became a Russian hunting and trading post, Catherine the Great urged the hunters to treat the Native Aleuts with compassion. However, the hunters’ obsessive quest for furs made this impossible. The next years in Alaska State history were characterized by conflicts with the Native American indigenous people.
Meanwhile, King Charles the III of Spain was none too pleased with this Russian expansion. Between the years 1774 and 1791, he sent out a few expeditions to the area. Eventually, Charlie decided that both the Russians and the Natives were formidable enemies. As a result, he abandoned his efforts at trying to claim any of Alaska’s territory for Spain.
During this time frame, the British also tried to claim a piece of the action. When Captain James Cook set sail to explore the Alaskan territory in 1778, his crew was also impressed by the possible uses for the sea otters. When they returned to England to show off their newly-killed fur coats, the British decided to send out more expeditions to Alaska. As a result, the town of Wrangell became subject to British rule.
The next important Alaska State history event occurred on April, 9 1867 when United States Secretary of State William H. Seward engineered the purchase of Alaska from the Russians for 7.2 million dollars. For years, the Alaskan territory would become a major gold rush site.
Then, on July 7th, 1958 President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Alaska Statehood Act. This crucial event in Alaska State history paved the way for Alaska’s admission as the 49th State on January 3rd, 1959. In the years that followed the quest for an Alaskan culture would inspire indigenous groups to play an active role in their state and local government. Native American groups became united in their quest to claim title to the areas that were stolen form them. The government took their time in responding to these claims until oil was discovered at Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic coast. So that they could lessen the difficulty of drilling at a remote location and transporting the oil to the lower 48 states, the government decided to build a pipeline that would carry the oil across Alaska to the port of Valdez. At Valdez, the oil would be loaded onto tanker ships and sent to the lower 48 states.
Although the plan was approved, the permit to construct the pipeline was denied. However, there was a caveat. The pipeline would cross the lands that were involved in the Alaskan culture argument. The Alaskan culture dispute needed to be settled before the pipeline could be built. Since petroleum dollars were now on the line, in 1971, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was signed. The Native Americans relinquished aboriginal claims to their lands in exchange for 44 million acres of land in other parts of Alaska. They were also paid 963 million dollars. As a result, Native American Alaskan culture is alive and well, and can be seen all throughout the state.