Tomorrow is Alaska Day. It is so honored because on Oct. 18, 1867, the Russian Empire sold the Al-ak-shak Peninsula to the United States for two cents an acre. What do we know about our 49th state? We know more about the state than we do about its freshman governor, Sarah Palin.
Once upon a time, I spent two or three hours at the Anchorage International airport (Sarah was about 3 years old). I was there too long to write a book about the ice-caked state, but long enough to lay claim to becoming an Alaska runway and waiting room expert.
When Alaska became a state, it claimed the title of the largest state in the union. I, along with many Texans, refused to give up being the largest state in land area. For when the ice melts up there they will be more the size of Rhode Island. With all this talk about climate change that day may not be too far off.
Secretary of State William H. Seward began working on the real estate deal while Abraham Lincoln was in the White House. It was called Steward’s Folly or Seward’s Icebox. Few had the vision of the Secretary. He was often ridiculed before and after the purchase, his critics calling the deal stupid and a waste of money.
Russian Orthodox missionaries arrived in 1794 to carry on work begun earlier by Russian fur traders. (The Russian Orthodox Church had been established in the 8th century.) The Alaskan Territory was an extension of Siberia, far to the east of Moscow. The missionaries sided with the native people in disputes with Russian colonial deputies, never coming to appreciate the Cossacks.
Some five years before the American Civil War broke out, the Russians were in the middle of the Crimean War with England and other European nations. (It was a war about access to world maritime commerce and the Russians lost.)
It was during this war French warships attacked and took the Alaskan town of Petropavlovsk. The Russians began to doubt their ability to secure their Alaskan province. They had not found enough gold to invest in mines and the black gold of oil and natural gas had not been discovered. Alaska had become a liability. And like any good businessman, they began to look for a buyer.
When word got out about the fire sale, the United States rushed in with bids. Final agreement had to wait until after the Civil War. The Russian and the United States Senates ratified it, and the transfer ceremony took place at Sitka on Oct. 18, 1867.
Ninety-two years later the Alaska territory became the 49th state. By the 1990s the state had more visitors (800,000) than locals (550,000). Alaska’s flag has eight stars representing the north star and the big dipper on a navy blue field.
Alaska’s governor the past 23 months is the most well-known personality in America today, thanks to Sen. John McCain. Unless you have been in a dugout canoe on an Amazon tributary, you know Senator McCain picked Gov. Sarah Palin out of the “last frontier” to be his running mate as vice president.
A star is born and actress Tina Fey has more work than usual. Tina has perfected Sarah’s voice and mannerisms in her parody of the governor. From shooting guard on her high school basketball team to runner-up beauty queen to Parent-Teacher Association president to the Mayor of her home town, to governor of the 49th state of the United States, Sarah is a star. Win or lose, this young governor is going to be on the national scene for generations to come. Thereby assuring Tina Fey steady employment.
Though Sarah denies she abused her power as governor, the Republican-led Alaska Legislature declared last Friday that conflict of interest and her other actions were a violation of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act. From Alaska Day to Election Day, search for and separate out the facts from the rumors, lies from the truth, and know spin when you hear it. (Spin is a nice work for lies.)
Britt Towery is a former missionary, freelance writer and published author of “Carey Daniel’s China Jewell, story of the Gal from Buffalo Gap.” His columns are published in the Bulletin on Fridays. He welcomes reader feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org. Other columns are available on his Web site, www.britt-towery.blogspot.com.