Peninsula Reflections

Posted: Monday, June 30, 2008

Ninilchik, Kasilof and Kenai have related roots, each was founded by Russian fur traders, with Kasilof first, in 1786. On the peninsula, only Nanwalek was settled earlier but by no more than a year. Nanwalek was an outpost of the Russian-American Company (RAC) while Kasilof was a Lebedev-Lastochkin Company (LLC) post. These companies competed lawlessly their motto was "God is in Heaven and the Czar is far away."

Alexander Baranof was appointed head of the RAC and reached Kodiak in 1791. That same year Greg Konavalof established a LLC fort at Kenai and usurped authority over the post at Kasilof, which was apparently abandoned. But Baranof invited Konavolof to Seward to discuss official government instructions. There, the LLC leader, whom history paints as a villain, was captured, put in chains and deported to Russia. (We might wonder, since the RAC wrote most of the history.) Konavolof was acquitted and released. In 1799 the RAC was given authority over all the Russian outposts east of the Aleutians.

Ninilchik began in 1841 as a site to settle RAC retirees. Some of these were reluctant to return to Russia because of taxes, native wives and children, or debt. The RAC built a three-family dwelling at Ninilchik in 1841-42 and sent the Chernyshev and Munin families there. The intent that they should sustain themselves by hunting, farming and fishing. Chernyshev got sick and removed to Sitka, however, so the Munin's moved to Kenai. In 1847 Greg and Mavra Kvasnikov, with their eight children and four other families re-established Ninilchik. The first recorded death there occurred in 1849 when 18-year-old Matfei Kvasnikov died. For the next 15 years depletion from death and departure at Ninilchik ran well ahead of growth from birth and arrival. An enduring family came in 1851. This was Leontii Ostrogin, his wife Anna, and her five Oskolkov children from an earlier marriage. In 1856 the manager of the Kenai post, Ioann Komkov, relocated with his family of five to Ninilchik. As fate would have it, the entire Komkov family was dead or gone by 1863.

The U.S. bought Alaska in 1867 and built a fort at Kenai two years later. The army stayed for a year and a half then abandoned Kenai, but new adventurers had seen the area. In 1874 a Kenai resident reported catching a 95 pound king salmon. Kasilof had a saltry by 1879 and the first peninsula cannery, Alaska Packing, in 1882. This should not be confused with the Alaska Packers Association

Alaska Packers Association formed in 1892 by merging 30 Alaska canneries into nine active plants, including one at Kasilof. There seems to have been an outfit called California Packing Company at Kenai, in 1883, and Northern Packing Company set up there, in 1888. J.P. Morgan and the Guggenheim Brothers took over APA by 1893 and began buying other plants. Between 1893 and 1899, APA put up 80 percent of the salmon packed in Alaska. Ninilchik's first cannery may have been Berman Packing Company, in 1949.

This article was written by Brent Johnson with the Kasilof Historical Society.

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