Master of Alaska Jun28


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Master of Alaska

2017 marks the sesquicentennial year of Alaska’s purchase: The huge strategic benefits and Return On Investment to U.S. has proved that Seward’s folly was anything but follyTo celebrate the event, recommends Master of Alaska, by Roger Seiler.

Author Roger Seiler is based in South Nyack, New York was raised in Alaska. As the former board president of the Nyack Library (Carnegie funded in 1879), Seiler is a devoted reader and supporter of libraries. His second book, Master of Alaska, a Historical Novel (North Face Publishing – a division of Motivational Press), is a fascinating read, earning a four- star review from Kirkus Reviews.

An excerpt from:
Master of Alaska

INTRO: After being rescued from their shipwreck on Unalaska Island by the Aleuts, Aleksandr Baranov and his Russian crew of 53 men had faced a food supply problem. Baranov solved the problem by learning the Aleut’s methods of seal hunting and then killed enough seals to provide food through the arriving winter.

As he and his men prepared to leave for Kodiak up the Alaska Peninsula in large Aleut rowboats,Toyon Putuguq invited Baranov into his big barabara next to a ceremonial fire, along with Kuponek and some other Aleut men. The room was quiet as the men entered and took their places around the central fireplace. Baranov saw this was going to be an important ceremony and payed close attention.

After another long and silent moment, Toyon Putuguq spoke to Baranov in the Aleut language, which Baranov by then knew well: “Baranov has learned Native ways. Baranov is the only Russian who learned to hunt well with Native ways and speak our language well. And Baranov worked for the village, not just himself. “Now Baranov is part Aleut,” he continued. “So now, as toyon, I give Baranov an Aleut name:  Nanuq, blessed by the sacred fire spirit. Nanuq is the polar bear, the great white hunter.

“With your Native name, I give this skin of Nanuq. I got it from an Eskimo up north. It has great powers.”

Baranov Meets Anooka

INTRO: After Aleksandr Baranov had reached the Russian settlement at Three Saints Bay on Kodiak Island, he took command of the colony. The Aleut village chief, named Grigor by the Russians, had learned to speak Russian and invited Baranov into his longhouse to confer. As they sat in front of the central fire, Baranov took from his pocket a bright copper plate engraved with Tsarina Catherine’s coat of arms and gave it to Chief Grigor as a gift.

Chief Grigor’s eyes widened in amazement as he examined the copper plate closely. “This is important,” he said.

It was exactly the reaction Baranov wanted. He continued, “I look for a long future of friendship between us. We can help each other in many ways. I must explore Montague Island, over here, and need some of your men as guides.”

“Great Nanuq, do you have a woman?”

Baranov was taken aback. “I have a wife in Russia.”

“In Russia? What good is that? Take my daughter for wife. Then I be your father, and we work together as one. This way we make powerful alliance.”

Before Baranov could react, Chief Grigor turned and called out to his daughter in his Native tongue, “Anooka, come here!”

From a dim recess of the lodge, a slender seventeen-year-old in deerskins approached with unusual youthful dignity. She had glistening long, black hair flowing over her shoulders, and set in an oval face were the high cheek bones common to many Natives. Her big, warm, brown eyes looked out from under lovely arched eyebrows. Clear, tan skin, a straight, pretty nose, and a mouth with soft lips completed her. To Baranov, Anooka was strikingly beautiful. Though reserved, the self-confidence of her rank allowed her to glance at the strange Russian in front of her, and then she faced her father.

In the Kenaitze dialect of the Alutiiq language, the chief told her, “Turn around and face the great Russian Nanuq.” She did so. With no hint of shyness, she looked Baranov right in his eyes. Her intelligent dark eyes held his stare as an equal for a long moment, until she yielded a slight smile, revealing perfect white teeth, and looked down.

Nanuq quickly collected himself and, wanting to get back to the negotiations for guides, replied, “Chief Grigor, your offer is most generous. But as I said, I already have a wife in Russia.”

Grigor insisted, “But not here. How long has it been, great Nanuq, since you’ve had a wife at your side?”

Baranov stared at him in silence. He didn’t want to offend the man, but the proposal was absurd.

The chief tried once more. Certainly an alliance with this Russian Nanuq would greatly benefit his own stature in the eyes of his people—and especially their southern enemies, the hated Tlingit.

“I see. Well, you need a wife here! And we need a strong alliance.”

“A Russian can only have one wife.”

“Poor man! Poor man!” said Grigor in mild disappointment. He knew that making such alliances, especially with one as strong as Nanuq, could take time and much negotiation. But just how strong was Nanuq, anyway? Maybe he should be tested. There was more than one way to impress the Tlingit with Kenaitze power. Grigor motioned to Anooka to return to her work.

“Well, then, the least I can do for you is give you the guides you need.”

Anooka sat on a blanket in the back of the longhouse, where she had been making a bear claw necklace for her father. Why did Father want to give her to this man? Though short, he looked strong and intelligent, but strange. Could she ever want him? She knew what she wanted would count for nothing. Her father would decide, and she had to trust him to choose well for her. She would ask one thing: that her father wait until he really knew a man before he made his choice. As his daughter, she deserved at least that, and the chief had only just met this Nanuq.

Baranov looked into the shadows for Anooka, straining for another glimpse of her youthful beauty. Grigor noticed.

Two Questions: Should this historical novel become a movie?   If yes, should the lead character, Aleksander Baranov, be played by Daniel Craig or Jeremy Renner?

In 1790, George Washington was president of the U.S. and Catherine the Great was Tsarina of Russia. In the fall of that year, a charismatic Russian merchant was sent on a sailing ship from the Siberian port of Okhotsk to be chief manager and later governor of Russian America – Alaska. His name was Aleksandr Andreievich Baranov, age 43, short, wiry, energetic and intelligent. He knew Alaska was a tough place, but he had always been up to any challenge.

Baranov had to leave his family behind as he embarked on this five-year mission, mostly to run the Russians’ Alaskan fur trading business at a profit. But until 1818, everyone sent to replace him died on the way, so Baranov was stuck in Alaska for 28 years. Over that time a huge earthquake and tsunami destroyed his main settlement. While rebuilding the colony, he overcame erupting volcanoes, giant bears, massacres from hostile Natives, and British schemes to take over Alaska.

During his rule of Alaska, Baranov became known around the world (thanks partly to the bragging of Russian sailors) as the world’s greatest problem solver. His problems began early, on his initial voyage to the Russians’ main outpost on Alaska’s Kodiak Island. On the way, his ship was wrecked in the foggy Aleutian Islands near present-day Dutch Harbor. Being shipwrecked there in mid-October with winter on its way, became Baranov’s problem number one. Solution: He befriended a team of Aleut seal hunters that discovered him and the 53 other Russians with him. The Aleuts took them in open sealskin rowboats to their village.

Problem: many of the village’s men secretly wanted to kill all the Russians because the village didn’t have enough food stored to feed both the Natives and the Russians through the winter. Solution: Baranov quickly recognized the Natives’ concern and got one of them to teach him the Native way of hunting seals so he could feed his men. He was so good at it, and at learning other Native ways and their language, that the Natives accepted the Russians for the winter of 1790-91. When spring came in 1791, as the Russians were about to leave in borrowed Native boats for Kodiak (600 miles away), the Aleut chief bestowed upon Baranov a great honor. He declared Baranov to be half Aleut and gave him the Native name of “Nanuq” – the polar bear and great white hunter. His role as Nanuq among the Natives would become a powerful asset.

About this same time, more than a thousand miles away in the coastal islands of southeastern Alaska near the Island of Sitka, a muscular Tlingit Indian youth was being trained to become an ultimate warrior and to challenge the Russian occupation of Alaska with deadly force. His name was Katlian, a name that would become famous in Alaskan history as Baranov’s greatest antagonist.

Two years after Baranov’s arrival, food supplies for his people were almost gone because no supply ships had arrived due to vicious North Pacific storms. He went to a local Native chief and asked if he could borrow food until supplies arrived. The chief said that the only way he would give the Russians food would be if Baranov would marry his daughter. Baranov said, “I can’t because I have a wife in Russia.” The chief replied, “So, you need a wife here in Alaska, and then we’ll have a great alliance – you and my tribe.” Baranov demured. He’d have to think this over for a few days.

His men were beginning to starve. There was no choice. He married Anooka in a Native ceremony and got food for his men. She was an exotically beautiful 19-year-old.  But to his surprise she also had a bright mind and strong ethical convictions. And she had an engaging gift of empathy that would later help Baranov make peace with hostile Native tribes in southeast Alaska – a peace that was necessary to the success of Russian colonization. He was 45 then and used to facing challenges with intelligence and tough resolve. Baranov renamed his native bride Anna, perhaps as a mark of his ownership. But within a few weeks, it was she who would define their relationship.

Because Anna had been to the foot of Mt. Denali with her father, Baranov chose her to guide a small Russian expedition to Denali to bury copper plates there proclaiming the Russian ownership of that part of Alaska. He saw this as a necessity, because the British to the south were pushing to snatch Alaska away from the Russians. Baranov’s expedition would prove the extent of the Russian presence with this “marking.” Up Kenai Bay (now Cook Inlet), Anna led the group in two large rowboats up the meandering Susitna River. After the group was several miles up river, they went on land to follow a Native trail.

An excerpt from:
Master of Alaska

Anna, pointed and said, “Denali that way.”

Baranov studied where she was pointing and said, “I don’t see a trail.”

She looked at him indulgently and replied, “Big trail. I lead blind men.”

He shrugged and chuckled. She led the way, and he soon learned from her how to recognize the trail. The sky was overcast, so only the low foothills of Denali could be seen as they approached the base of the great mountain…

After a harrowing encounter with a grizzly that killed a Russian, the expedition arrived in the fog at the foothills of Denali, where they made camp on the crest of one of the hills…

A strong gust blew the remaining fog away, and the huge majestic grandeur of snow-covered Denali suddenly appeared with glacial fingers in its lap. 20,320 feet high at its summit, it was the highest peak in North America and a magnificent sight…

A Russian artist quickly set up his easel to paint Denali and document not only Russia’s reach, but the most awesome sight he had ever seen. The day was spent by others burying copper plates in locations carefully plotted on a map. Let mad King George try to deal with that!…

After supper, Baranov laid out blankets for a bed and climbed in. He looked at Anna, sitting across the campfire. Denali was lit behind her by a sunset glow. She poked the fire with a stick, well satisfied with her achievement in guiding the expedition. He stared at her for a moment, then said, “You’re amazing.”

She looked up and, though not sure, sensed a compliment and smiled a bit shyly.

“And you’re mine. Come here, Anna.”

Her smile disappeared, and she looked back at the fire.

“I not belong to you. We part of each other.”

He pondered that a moment, nodded as she looked up, and held up the corner of his blanket. She crawled over and slid in. As he put his arm around her, he asked, “And what part of you am I?”

She looked up at him, amused by the question, hesitated a moment, then said, “You are toyon of my heart.”

“I am the chief of your heart?”

With a big smile, she answered, “Yes.”

He kissed her and said, “And you are toyon of my heart, too.”


On a sea otter hunt led by Baranov, a sudden storm wrecked 30 kayaks and 60 men drowned. He led survivors to a cove and watched the awesome power of nature. Leaning into the gale, he yelled, “Alaska, hear this, you savage beast! I will not be defeated! Not now, not ever. Never! Never! Never!”


In 1802, Tlingit Indians led by Chief Katlian, armed by the British, massacred the Russians at Sitka while Baranov was in Kodiak. He must retake Sitka, or the British would seize Alaska. Leaving for Sitka, he kissed Anooka and their children. Toyon means Chief, and her parting words would influence Baranov: “Toyon of my heart,” she said, “my love is with you, and God’s love, too. But remember, God loves the Tlingit also.”  It was an idea that had never occurred to him.

The Battle of Sitka lasted five days until the Tlingit ran out of gunpowder, retreated and abandoned Sitka Island. A Russian captain told Baranov, “They are weak now. We can pursue, kill them all, and avenge the massacre.”

“No,” said Baranov. “There’s no profit in vengeance. No future in it either. The truth is, in this tough land, I admire them. And we can’t survive here, long-term, without peace with the Tlingit.”

Baranov could have captured Katlian and hung him for the Sitka Massacre. Instead, after Baranov built a strong fort at Sitka, he allowed the Tlingit people back on the island and met with Katlian to negotiate a peace. They agreed there had been enough bloodshed, and that the Russians and Tlingit people had more to gain from peace than by pursuing war.  Baranov sealed the peace by presenting Katlian with an Allies of Russia Silver Medal. Thus, Baranov prevented a British takeover of Alaska so that years later the Russians could sell their colony to the United States, which  eventually became our 49th state.

So what do you say…which actor do YOU think should play Baranov – Daniel Craig or Jeremy Renner?          

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