It was a dark night in the summer of 1793. A dense fog was rolling up from the sea. The Aleuts are restless and uneasy. Lying in a makeshift redoubt, Alexander Baronov, a few Russians, and Aleut hunters try to sleep next to the fire. Suddenly, there is a frantic scream, "Kolosh!". The Aleuts flee to the woods or cower in the redoubt. The Russians grab their muskets and peer into the gloom. From out of the darkness comes a hail of arrows followed by frightening assailants.
"The Kolushans (Tlingits) wore their armor which consisted of wooden rods bound together with leather thongs. Their faces were protected with masks which represented the heads of bears, dogfish, and other animals and gave a frightening appearance. On their heads they wore large wooden hats which fastened to the rest of their armor with thongs. Their WEAPONS consisted of lances, bows and the two pointed daggers. The Russians aimed directly at their heads, but the bullets did not penetrate the thick head covering. The more intense the fire of the Russians became, the more vigorous was the storming of new hordes of attackers."
So wrote Chliebnikov of their first encounter with the Tlingits. Similar episodes could be expected during any hunting foray. Only once was there a large scale Native uprising. This resulted in the destruction of the first settlement at Sitka. The Russians also only mounted on major offensive, that to retake Sitka in 1804.
During the last half of the 18th Century, Russian fur trapper/traders steadily made their way eastward along The Aleutian Island chain. These Promyschlenniki were brave, adventurous, and brutal men that would stop at nothing to get furs. Using such methods as coercion, kidnapping and murder, the Russians soon dominated the islands and held the Aleuts in virtual slavery.
Through mismanagement, disease, natural disaster, and conflict the Aleut population was reduced by as much as 90%.
In 1784, Promyschlenniki of the Shelikhov/Golikov Company, fought their way on to Kodiak Island at Three Saints Harbor. There they established the first permanent Russian colony in America. This site put them in the middle of the riches hunting areas. It also put them in close proximity of the Tlingits.
From Queen Charlotte Island to Yakutat Bay, the Tlingit (pronounced Klingit), ruled the islands and broken coastline of Alaska. Living in a land of natural abundance, the Tlingits developed a complex culture rich in art and ceremony. Because material needs were plentiful, the natives of the Pacific Northwest had time for other pursuits. These included raiding and warring with their neighbors.
From the first contact, Russian Tlingit relations were strained. During the second Bering Expedition ( in 1741, prior to the Russian advance through the Aleutians) Captain Chirikov lost two boats and 16 men to the Tlingits. The almost 50 years between settlement didn't help smooth things over between them.
The Tlingits live along the Alaskan coast from Queen Charlotte Island to Yakutat Bay (or from approximately 55° degrees north latitude to 60° north latitude). Though it occupies the same parallels as British Colombia, the weather along the coast is very mild. Tempered by the Japanese Current, the average winter temperature is 32.7° and in the summer it is 59.7°.
The weather is extreme however, in the area of precipitation. On average it rains 166 days and snows 34 days each year. In the north of the region, rainfall amounts average 65 inches a year. In the south, yearly average rainfall reaches 122 inches.
The mild temperatures and abundant rainfall promote an abundance of vegetation. The whole of the region is covered by coniferous forest, except in marshy areas where alder, poplar and willow take over. Under the canopy, a tangle of smaller deciduous trees and bushes, along with the moss covered remains of fallen trees make passage nearly impossible for those unaccustomed to the area.
Backed by the Coastal Range of mountains, this region is made up of many islands and fjords. The straits, passages, and bys of the region suffer from treacherous rip tides, cross currents and under tows. The area is free from sea ice, thought ice from glaciers will be encountered in some of the bays (Glacier Bay is the most notable example).
When referring to the combatants in the game, they can be divided into two major groups, indigenous people and visitors. Aleuts and Pacific Northwest Coastal Indians make up the native population. Russians, Englishmen, Americans and a few French and Spanish, make up the latter group. A brief description of each is given below.
The Aleuts are expert sea mammal hunters. In their bidark (one or two man kayaks), they would make long voyages in search of game. He wore a knee to ankle length Kamlieka made of seal gut. When secured around the opening of the bidarka, it made both man and boat virtually waterproof. On land, he wore a similar garment made of bird skins with the feathers on the inside or outside. Also included in the outfit was a visor. A small one was used by young men. The more experienced the hunter became, the larger his visor became. Some hunters painted their faces blue. Items such as glass beads, hair embroidery, sea lion whiskers and sea shells were used as decoration.
For weapons, the Aleut hunter carried a three to four foot long dart used with a throwing board. A bow and arrow was also used. This was fired with the bow horizontal instead of vertical so that is could be used from the bidarka. A spear and knife would also be carried.
By the time the Russians reached the Tlingits, the Aleuts were a broken people. The population was depleted and their society disrupted. Used as forced laborers, they had little will to fight. That mixed with a great fear of the Tlingits made the Aleuts more of a hindrance in combat. Usually they would flee to their boats or the woods.
The west coast of North America from Puget Sound to the Kenai Peninsular is occupied by similar Indian tribes. From south to north, they are: Salish, Nootka, Kwakiutl, Bella Coola, Tsimshian, Haida, Tlingit, and Chugach. Of this group, the Tlingits gave the Russians (and other traders), the most problems.
The information below is based on sources concerned with the Tlingits, but will apply generally to the other tribes.
Tlingit society is divided into two factions called Moieties. One is named "The Raven" and the other "The Eagle". Each Moiety is then divided into clans. The clans associated with "The Raven" are: Frog, Goose, Owl, Raven, Salmon and Sea Lion. those of "The Eagle" Moiety are: Auk, Bear, Eagle, Shark, Whale and Wolf. Within a particular village, clans of each Moiety may be represented. Every clan within a village will have its own house.
Originally, the Tlingit wore an animal skin, toga fashion, fastened under the right arm. As trade with Europeans increased, the English woolen blanket ( usually in blue or white) replaced the fur. When it could be obtained, articles of European clothing would be worn. Body paint was also used, with black, red and yellow being the most common colors.
In time of war the Tlingits would don their unique suits of armor. The body armor was made of wooden rods bound together with leather straps. The helmet, also made of wood, covered the entire head. It was ventilated and had eye holds. The crown of the helmet was made in the form of the warriors clan animal or some other fearsome monster. This armor was in many cases, proof against the Russian muskets. Some armor was also made of leather, and there is one example of a suit made of leather with Chinese coins sewn to it.
For Weapons: The Tlingit used a variety of single and double bladed daggers. These were originally made of copper, but iron replaced the native metal when available. They also used spears and bows (also fired horizontally). As muskets became available (mainly from American and English traders), the traditional weapons and armor were set aside in favor of the gun.
The usual tactic employed by the Tlingit was an early morning surprise attack. They would advance to their intended target at night then move in during the predawn hours, when darkness and the morning fog would cover their movement. The object of a Tlingit raid was to capture people for slaves. However, when an attack was made on a Russian camp or settlement, the ideas was to destroy the foreigner and keep others away.
Russians: Hunting parties were led by Russians. Most were from the lowest social classes of Russian society. Criminals, dead beats and exiles were shanghaied into the service of fur trading companies. Most were a crude and brutal lot of ruffians. They would only have a rudimentary knowledge of military tactics. Because the men they were leading probably had even less knowledge of military matters, individual skill in combat was necessary.
The Russian dress consisted of the traditional Kurtka, Sharovary or loose trousers, boots and a fur or stocking cap. In cold weather a "shuba" or fur coat would be worn. Flintlock rifles, muskets and pistols would be carried by the Russians. they would also have a hunting knife and perhaps a spear nearby. Large hunting parties may also have a small cannon (1 or 2 pdr).
Creoles: These were men of mixed parentage, with Russian fathers and native mothers. The Creoles lived in a no-mans land, neither Russian or native. The reliability of the Creoles in combat was quite variable. Creoles wore Russian dress. Though some might carry guns, most were armed with native hunting weapons; bows and spears.
European Sailors: Ships from America, Britain, and occasionally France and Spain made trading missions to the northwest Pacific coast. The officers were of the merchant class. This usually meant that they would do anything to make a profit. The sailors were made up of similar low class individuals as the Russians.
These men would dress as typical Napoleonic sailors with wide legged pants and a shirt. The officers might wear a military style uniform or other fashionable attire. They would use flintlock muskets and pistols and maybe a blunderbuss. A knife or cutlass would round out personal armament. When ashore, a small cannon might be brought along.