The Exham Years
The Church, Art and Life in Old Crow, 1965-1969
In 1847, the Hudson’s Bay Company built a large fur trading post they called Fort Yukon at the confluence of the Porcupine and Yukon Rivers. This was a very successful venture as the location was already a well-established trading area for the Gwich’in people. At that time, the land technically belonged to Russia though boundaries were very unclear. In 1867, the United States purchased the Alaska Territory from Russia and set about laying claim to their new acquisition. It was determined that Fort Yukon was well within the new Alaskan territory and the HBC was evicted from Fort Yukon. The company moved up the Porcupine River where they built a new post called Rampart House or Howling Dog.
This post flooded in 1871 and the Hudson’s Bay Company abandoned it, rebuilding 12 miles (19 km) further upstream at the Trout Salmon River. This post was also called Rampart House (it later became Old Rampart House) and operated for over 20 years.
In 1889, an initial survey was conducted to establish the141st meridian as the Canada/US border. Known as the Turner Survey, this exercise indicated the Rampart House post was still within American Territory. The HBC moved for the final time to Shanahan Creek (Shanàghan K’òhnjik in Gwich’in) right on the boundary, and rebuilt yet again in 1890. This time, they only stayed three years but the settlement went on for another 25 years.
Archdeacon Robert McDonald moved his mission to Rampart House in 1890. He held services in one of the buildings used by the Turner survey. In 1918, trader Dan Cadzow paid for the construction of a log church and St. Luke’s Church was built.
Rampart House was the base for the International Boundary Survey of 1911-12 with an American team surveying to the north and a Canadian team to the south. There was a suspected outbreak of smallpox in 1911 and the stricken were isolated on an island opposite Rampart House. The dwellings and all belongings of all the Gwich’in people moved to the island were burned. This is when Deacon Amos Njootli first came to Rampart House. He set up a church in a tent on the island to minister to the sick. Dr. Ellen Bruce was born on this island.
After the epidemic, people began moving to Old Crow where another trading post had been set up. By 1929, when trader Dan Cadzow died, there were only a few families left at Rampart House. With falling fur prices after World War II, the Vuntut Gwitchin moved to Fort Yukon and Old Crow to be closer to schools and health services. Rampart House was virtually abandoned save for some seasonal residents.
Group pose by St. Luke’s Church, Rampart House during the
wedding of Ben Kassi. Deacon Amos Njootli and Archdeacon Canham are two of the clergy. YA, University of Alaska Archives, #3057.
St. Luke’s Church in 2007 undergoing preservation.
Midnight Arts photo.
Rampart House today from the hillside behind the site.
Midnight Arts photo.