Graves At O'Brien Creek Were Desecrated As Early As 1910

COUNTRY JOURNAL BACKSTORY  Knowledge Of Graves Goes Back Over 100 Years...   The Native Village of Chitina and the State of Alaska are worki...


Knowledge Of Graves Goes Back Over 100 Years...  The Native Village of Chitina and the State of Alaska are working together, launching a search for forgotten historic Ahtna gravesites near popular O'Brien Creek. The village made a press release in spring of 2024:



Desecrated Graves At O'Brien Creek Were First Challenged In 1910 By Taral Chief Goodlataw 


The disruption of Native American graves at O'Brien Creek in Chitina was first extensively chronicled over a century ago. In 1910, Chief Goodlataw of Taral took up a lawsuit against the federal government after finding his dead grandfather's bones pulled out of his grave by Copper River & Northwestern Railway workers at O'Brien Creek, and scattered on the ground. 

Chief Goodlataw died in the 1918 flu epidemic. 

On March 5th, 1992, over 30 years ago, the desecration of Ahtna graves at the creek was described in detail in the printed Copper River Country Journal.  It was 80 years after the Goodlataw lawsuit. 

The Road To Cordova
The story in the Journal was published during a time when Alaska DOT was being sued by the federal government over an ambitious state plan to rebuild the Copper River Highway. The state wanted to bring back a viable automobile road along the old railroad tracks linking Chitina to Cordova, starting at O'Brien Creek.  

The feds did not approve. They said the state violated the Clean Water Act, and the state needed permits to keep working on the highway. The federal government threatened to fine the state $25,000 a day. 

The road, contended the feds, followed the copper mine's railway track, was historic, and had trestles and shacks. The highway had at least 273 wooden trestles, so just restoring the trestles would have been a challenge in modern times. A number of nonprofits also sued the state in 1992. 

Country Journal story. 

Anti-Road Sentiment
The Country Journal had been following the controversy. Although some Copper Valley people approved, the Cordova Road idea was unliked by many Cordovans. Some Cordovans wanted a road, but many vocal Cordovans opposed being linked once more to Chitina and the rest of Alaska. 

The following bumper sticker, photographed in the early 1990s, shows the depth of Cordova anti-road sentiment: 

"No Road" bumper sticker on a truck in the early 1990s.
(Photo by Copper River Country Journal) 

History Lesson In Valdez
That spring of 1992, a Prince William Sound Community college scholar named Ann Will, who taught Alaska history at the college in Valdez, gave the Copper River Country Journal documentation of an earlier lawsuit – this one by Chief Goodlataw, against the railroad. 

Chief Goodlataw's lawsuit was filed around 12 years after the Gold Rush in  the Copper Valley, and gave insight into a rapid change in balance of power that had occurred in only a decade.

Ann Will gave the Journal copies of two 1910 documents she had found regarding the chief's lawsuit. 

Chief Goodlataw asked for $10,000 in damages – which would be $323,211.58 today, according the "Inflation Calculator" on the web. 

The chief did not receive a penny of recompense. A “school official," writing to two “honorable” men in Cordova, recommended “that no further action” be taken with the Native people “as they will thus put a prize on each ancient custom and be harder to deal with from time to time.” 


Country Journal's 1992 Story 
About Graves At O'Brien Creek 


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