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In 1728 Vitus Bering, at the bidding of Tzar Peter, sailed through the Bering Strait. For the next 20 years the Russians explored the coasts and waterways. Naturalists, such as George Wilhelm Stellar, discovered many new species of animals. Merchants made use of the vast resources, in particular the North Pacific Fur Seal. Other explorers followed including Spain’s Juan Perez and Alejandro Malaspina and England’s George Vancouver and James Cook.
Gold was first discovered in 1861, near the Stikine River, only six years before Alaska was purchased by the United States on March 30, 1867. “Seward’s Folley” transferred control of Alaska from the Russians to the U.S. for just 2 cents an acre. While it was an issue of great contention at the time, today it is seen as one of the greatest bargains in the history of our country. Soon after, gold was discovered in Sitka and Juneau and the first gold-seekers began crossing Chilkoot Pass on route to the Yukon River. It wasn’t until 1959 that Alaska became the 49th state in the Union.
Of course, prior to European exploration, Alaska had been home to Alaskan Natives for 10,000 years. Today, Alaska Natives make up approximately 16% of the states population of 635,000. They are commonly divided into five general groups: The northwest coastal Indians ( the Tlingit, Haida and Tshimshian), the Inipiaqs (or Inuit), the Yupiks, the Aleuts and the Athabascans. Even as modern technologies play a greater and greater roll in the lifestyles of Alaska’s natives, there is a strong drive to preserve much of their traditional lifestyles. Subsistence hunting and gathering contributes to a healthy and traditional diet. Elders pass on the language, history, legends and art forms to the next generation.
Alaska is one-fifth the size of the 48 contiguous states (or two and a half times the size of Texas): 586,412 square miles. It contains more protected land than any other state, in fact, only one-fifth of the state is accessible by roadway.
Check out Bell’s Travel Guide page here for Alaska maps, highways and the Inside Passage.