Located along Admiralty’s southwestern shore, the Tlingit village of Angoon (pop. 600) is the island’s lone settlement. It sits astride a peninsula guarding the entrance to Kootznahoo Inlet, an incredible wonderland of small islands and saltwater passages. Locals have cable TVs and microwave ovens, but smokehouses sit in front of many homes, and you’ll hear older people speaking Tlingit.
Angoon weather generally lives up to its reputation as Southeast Alaska’s “Banana Belt”; yearly rainfall averages only 38 inches, compared to three times that in Sitka, only 40 miles away. By the way, the word hooch originated from the potent whiskey distilled by the “Hoosenoo” Indians of Admiralty in the 19th century.
Today, Angoon is a dry town with a reputation as a place where traditional ways are encouraged.
The village of Angoon still commemorates an infamous incident that took place more than a century ago. While working for the Northwest Trading Company, a local shaman was killed in a seal-hunting accident. The villagers demanded 200 blankets as compensation and two days off to honor and bury the dead man. To ensure payment, they seized two hostages.
Unaware of Tlingit traditions, the company manager fled to Sitka and persuaded a U.S. Navy boat to “punish them severely.” On October 26, 1882, the town was shelled, destroying most of the houses. All the villagers’ canoes were smashed and sunk, and all their winter supplies burned. Six children died from the smoke and the people nearly starved that winter.
In a U.S. Congressional investigation two years later, the shelling was called “the greatest outrage ever committed in the United States upon any Indian tribe.” Finally, in 1973, the government paid $90,000 in compensation for the shelling, but the Navy has never formally apologized.
Even if you don’t stay overnight in Angoon, get off the ferry and walk across the road and down to the beach. From here you can look up to a small cemetery with old gravestones and fenced-in graves. Another interesting cemetery is near the end of the peninsula 0.5 miles behind the Russian Orthodox church in town. A number of rustic old houses line the shore, one with killer whales painted on the front.
A hundred feet uphill from the post office are five memorial totems topped by representations of different local clans.
Near Angoon Trading you get a great view of the narrow passage leading into Kootznahoo Inlet, where tides create dangerous rapids.
Accommodations and Food
Built in 1937, Favorite Bay Inn B&B (907/788-3123 or 800/423-3123, www.whalerscovelodge.com, $139 s, $209 d) is on the edge of town near the boat harbor. Five guest rooms share three baths; a full breakfast is included.
The owners also run Whaler’s Cove Sportfishing Lodge (June–Sept.) with multiday packages for anglers in search of salmon and halibut. Guests of Favorite Bay Inn can also have other meals at Whaler’s Cove: $15 for lunch or $35 for dinner. Canoe, kayaks, and skiff rentals are available, and the lodge offers natural history tours.
Angoon Trading (907/788-3111, www.angoontrading.com) sells a limited and rather expensive selection of groceries and supplies, along with a selection of Native artworks. Whaler’s Cove Sportfishing Lodge serves meals, but make reservations if you aren’t a guest.
Getting to Angoon
The state ferry LeConte (800/642-0066, www.dot.state.ak.us/amhs) connects Angoon with Juneau twice a week, staying just long enough to unload and load vehicles. The dock (no ferry terminal) is 2.5 miles out of town, so you won’t see Angoon up close unless you disembark, but “taxis” will run visitors into town.
Alaska Seaplane Service (907/789-3331 or 800/478-3360, www.flyalaskaseaplanes.com) has daily floatplane service between Angoon and Juneau, while Harris Aircraft Services (907/966-3050 or 877/966-3050, www.harrisaircraft.com) flies most days between Sitka and Angoon.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition