Sketch of Fort Reliance in 1884. American trader Jack McQuesten built the first trading post in our traditional territory in 1874. This became a trading and gathering place for three groups of Hän-speaking people, Tanana people to the southwest and Northern Tutchone from farther upriver.
University of Alaska Fairbanks, Dr. Willis Everette coll., acc. no. 76-91.
Engraving of the steamer Yukon, ca. 1883. American traders transported their goods from the mouth of the Yukon River on a series of small steamers.
Frederick Schwatka, Along Alaska’s Great River (J.W. Henry, 1894), p. 276.
Our people have long known the importance of responding and adapting to changing circumstances. Years of poor game or harsh winters required different survival strategies such as breaking into smaller groups, travelling to different areas and seeking other food sources. During times of plenty, particularly the annual salmon runs, we gathered at fish camps along the Yukon River to trade, visit, exchange information and stories, and even intermarry.
We made alliances with other peoples. We had long been part of an extensive trade network extending hundreds of miles. We exchanged ochre, birchbark, hides and salmon for desirable goods such as obsidian, dentalium shells and native copper. When our trading partners began bringing European goods such as kettles, tea, iron knives, and beads, we spent more time trapping for the rich furs they requested in exchange.
When the Hudson’s Bay Company and American traders reached our territory, they met shrewd entrepreneurs, experienced in driving a good bargain. Our people assisted the newcomers by supplying them with fish and game, selling them fur and hide clothing suitable for the harsh winters, and helping to raise their log buildings.