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Battle of Sitka last time Tlingit battle gear used

Mike Dunham

Aside from a few inter-tribal skirmishes, the Second Battle of Sitka in 1804 is likely the last time Tlingit battle gear was used in combat.

Warfare changed rapidly after contact between Alaska Natives and Europeans. Armor could sometimes deflect a musket ball, but the better weapons shattered it. Heavier layers improved a warrior's odds but slowed him down.

By the time of the Battle of Sitka, the Tlingits were using guns to repel the Russians. Firepower determined the outcome. The Russians had cannons and the besieged Indians' dwindling supply of gunpowder was a key factor when Tlingit leader Katlian -- who owned several guns himself -- decided to organize an evacuation of the Kiks.adi defenders to a safe location.

Russian leader Alexander Baranof also wore armor, a vest of chain mail right out of the Middle Ages. He may have been the last person on Earth to wear such antique protection into battle.

Commerce soon prevailed over fighting. Baranof and Katlian reached an arrangement that made both rich; they are said to have become reliable business associates and parted as friends.

Much of the old Tlingit armor, of no further use to its owners insofar as fighting was concerned, was brought out for special occasions well into the 20th century.

According to the detailed history "Russians in Tlingit America: The Battles of Sitka 1802 and 1804," edited by Nora and Richard Dauenhauer and Lydia Black, most such pieces were lost to decay or taken far away by museums and private collectors.

Leaving Sitka in 1818, Baranof gave his mail vest to Naawushkeitl, a Sitka chief, as a gesture of good will and respect. It is now at the Smithsonian Institution.

The raven helmet worn by Katlian is kept at the Sheldon Jackson Museum in Sitka and is considered one of the most important cultural possessions of the Kiks.adi clan.

"It's called 'Katlian's helmet' but it's really the property of all the


By MIKE DUNHAM
mdunham@adn.com
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