Kasilof residents are shown celebrating the Fourth of July in this 1947 photo.
Photo provided by Ann Letzring
Independence is important in Alaska and Kasilof, in particular, has made a heyday of past Fourth of July celebrations. Kasilof was first settled by Russians in 1786, just three years after the Treaty of Paris ended the Revolutionary War.
Russian fur traders were probably attracted to the area by Natives living near the Kasilof River, and by the river itself.
After Alaska was purchased by the United States in 1867, economics shifted from fur to include fish and gold. As early as 1870 Kasilof fish began attracting newcomers. That year a Capt. Slocum sailed the Washington to Kasilof to gather and salt salmon. The salmon harvest was a success but the Washington was wrecked after being blown onto the beach. Slocum and his crew loaded their catch on another vessel and disappeared from our view. In 1882 the first salmon cannery in Cook Inlet was built in Kasilof and others followed.
Canneries, fox farms, and hunting opportunities attracted Scandinavians and other people to Kasilof. They were the folks who made Fourth of July celebrations a gala affair.
Even after Alaska Packers closed in 1923, the community continued to gather on its grounds for a huge holiday bash. Visitors came from as far away as Ninilchik and Kenai. They gathered by boat and by wagon; the McLane and Pollard families being among those who came by horse-drawn buckboard.
According to George Jackinsky, tides regulated the boat traffic. As soon as Kasilof’s famous mud flats were covered, boats full of partiers began arriving. They stayed until just before the tide again uncovered the mud.
Food, games, dressing up, and intense visiting made up the menu for the day. The isolation that was part of everyday life probably made these gatherings extra-special.
Heinie Burger, who ran supply ships, brought kegs of hot dogs from Anchorage to the picnic. Pioneer Pete Jensen fixed coffee in a large quantity, using a used Blazo can. In those days Blazo fuel came in five-gallon square tins. Both the tins and the wooden crates they came in found their way to ubiquitous uses. Women, of course, cooked up a feast. Though the celebrations preceded statehood, people often dressed in United States colors and wore stars and stripes to the party. The games included pillow fights on top of logs, tug-of-wars and races. Net racks were used as hurdles.
One tragedy attended a Fourth of July party. Pioneer Gust Ness was refueling his skiff after the party when he fell overboard and drowned. Through it all, participants had to remain mindful of their salmon traps and nets. Fishing was open six days a week in those days. One year a run hit right on the holiday.
Kasilof is still patriotic, but the time of one party for all has gone.
This column was provided by Ann Letzring and Brent Johnson with the Kasilof Historical Society. Catherine Cassidy, Sharon Crosky, George and Jeanne Jackinsky, Joan Lahndt, George Pollard and Trudy Webb contributed to this story.
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