Cooper Landing

Posted: Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Skyview High School Russian language teacher Gregory Weissenberg is giving a presentation titled "What's in a Name," for the historical society program Saturday afternoon. The program is a result of Weissenberg's research of Alaskan place names of Russian origin and usage of Russian in Alaska vernacular.

Located in the Cooper Landing area are Upper and Lower Russian lakes, Russian River and Russian Gap. While these aren't Russian names per se, they indicate a past Russian presence. Doroshin Bay on Skilak Lake is named for Peter Doroshin who prospected for gold for the Russian-America Company around here in the mid-1800s. I have a translation of Doroshin's writings. I believe this is available in the University of Alaska Anchorage library.

"In the final notes in Doroshin's Report to the Russian-America Company on his efforts to find gold in paying quantities in Russian-America possessions he wrote, 'That upon my return to Europe at the end of 1854 or a the beginning of 1855, I submitted a report to the chairman of the board of directors. ... The report covered my activities in the American possessions of Russia. In this report which no doubt could still be found I said: In 1850 I was sent to Kenai Sound to prospect for gold, a few colors of which were found by me even during my first summer in colonies in 1848. ... I left Port Arkangelsky the 19th of April, and returned there the 22nd of September, but in such a seemingly long time my men were actively prospecting for only 49 days. The rest of the time was lost in stopping at Nuchek, at Kochek Island, and at Resurrection Bay; also in a difficult climb along the Ka-Ktnu River, and in slow transportation of provisions and instruments by the workman themselves.

"In the year 1851 I left Novo Arkhangelsky the 26th day of April. I returned there the 18th of October, dropping in on the return voyage at Nuchek and also at Pavlovski Harbor. This summer we had 6 work days, the rest of the time, as before, was spent in carrying provisions and instruments on the backs of the workmen.

"During this time and with the described means, I excavated the valley of the Tusli-tnu River which flows into Ka-studilliabnu Lake, from which the river Ka-Ktnu flows into the Kenai Sound, the walley of the Taslikh-Ktnu River and the connecting hollows, and the valley of the Chunu-Ktnu River, with its seven hollows. ..." The Ka-Ktnu River is now the Kenai River. Other places names Doroshin used, after Dena'ina place names, were for Quartz Creek, Cooper Creek, and Russian River. Kenai Sound was an early name for Cook Inlet.

From what I understand, no matter what Doroshin found in the way of gold, it wasn't enough to interest the Russian-America Company in continuing the search or in mining gold.

The company withdrew Doroshin and his men from gold prospecting and sent them to work at find a paying coal mine along the shores of Kachemak Bay with the hope of opening a coal trade with California. This effort was finally abandoned, too.

It sounds like Doroshin was a little bitter about his failure to get the company interested in Alaskan gold.

He wrote, according to this translation, "Naturally no one is going to remember a man who has first discovered gold in a land where they haven't found Chadaki pits nor a deaf grouse with a nugget in its stomach; a land where the Natives haven't even a name for this precious metal. However, I may resign myself to the situation half jokingly, by remembering that the wonderful gold and silver products of the Aztecs brought by Cortez into Spain also were immediately forgotten upon the arrival of piles of gold and silver bars sent by Pizarro from Peru."

I'm going to ask Gregory Weissenberg about the references to a Chadaki pit and the deaf grouse.

The Cooper Landing Gun Club meets at 7:30 p.m. at the community hall Monday.

Mona Painter can be reached by phone at 595-1248 or by email at

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