Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Name ‘redoubt’ has long history, different meanings in Kenai area

The Redoubt Reporter is a great name for the Kenai Peninsula’s newest newspaper. The term “redoubt” has a long history here in Cook Inlet.

The word derives from the Latin “reductus” meaning “secret place.” In French it became “redoubte,” or a temporary fort. Both the Russian and English versions (redoubt and redutskaya) mean a fort with a palisade or walled enclosure. Today the term applies to Mount Redoubt, but originally was used as the name of the third Russian fort to be built on the Kenai Peninsula, called Nikolaevsk Redoubt or Redoubt St. Nicholas.

Russians of the Lebedev Company started the post in 1791, hauling their ship, St. George the Victorious, up the small creek the Dena’ina called Shqit Tsatnu (Sloping Flat Cliff River), below what is today called Old Town. There, Grigor Konovalov and Amos Balushin and about 60 Russians built three walls and a roof using their ship as the fourth wall.

A year or so later the permanent Redoubt St. Nicholas was built at the top of the bluff in the vicinity of the present Russian Orthodox Church.

The redoubt was about 120 yards in its longest dimension and consisted of a large barracks, a foreman’s house and numerous smaller buildings, including a blacksmith shop and gunpowder storage. In addition, there were small dwellings where Dena’ina women taken as concubines of the Russians lived.

The post was surrounded by a double row of 12-foot-high spruce poles sharpened at the top. At either end of the parallelogram-shaped palisade was a blockhouse — each with a small cannon and number of loopholes for musket fire.

The Dena’ina called Redoubt St. Nicholas “uch’daltin,” derived from a traditional Dena’ina word for a spiritually induced protective shield the Dena’ina created around themselves in warfare. The Dena’ina uch’daltin was apparently more powerful than the muskets and cannons of the Russians, since they defeated their Russian occupiers at Redoubt St. Nicholas in a 1797 battle, and the Lebedev contingent left Alaska.

The fort site was taken over by agents of the Russian America Company, who operated a small trading post until the American purchase in 1867. During the whole of Russian America there were seldom more than about 10 Russians at Kenai, while the Dena’ina village of Shk’ituk’t in the vicinity of the senior citizen housing along the bluff behind the present Arby’s was populated by about a hundred Dena’ina. During that time, the Dena’ina population of the Kenai and Kasilof areas was several thousand.

When Battery F of the Second Artillary of the U.S. Army arrived in 1869, they found the Russian buildings mostly dilapidated. Some were used by the post, along with a number of newly built structures scattered between the bluff and the present Kenai Spur Highway.

The American fort, called Fort Kenay, itself was abandoned only two years later and Battery F was sent to the American West to fight in the Indian Wars.

Apparently the term “redoubt” was first applied to the volcano across the inlet in the mid-19th century. Captain James Cook had sighted the mountain (or possibly he was seeing Iliamna, it’s hard to tell) in his 1778 exploration of Cook Inlet but did not name it. His third in command, John Gore, named it Mount Vulcan in his journal because it was steaming at the time, but the name did not stick. Mikhail Tebenkov’s 1852 map calls the volcano Sopka Redutskaya, sopka meaning mount or mound and redutskaya a Russian version of redoubt named, of course, for Redoubt St. Nicholas. Before that the Russian mapmaker Constantine Grewink had called the mountain Gora Vysokaya, which means, “high mountain.”

My personal favorite name for the mountain is the Dena’ina name Bentuggezh K’enulgheli, which means, “One that has a notched forehead.” Redoubt has a volcanic blowout on its southeast side dating to sometime in the prehistoric era when magma migrating to the surface was blocked from going up the vent. Pressure built up and an eruption blew out the side, creating a “notched forehead.”

So this newspaper could be called the Notched Forehead Reporter. Or, if you wanted a complete Dena’ina name, “reporter” could be iqech’ dghini\u — literally “it is said.” So, the masthead would read Bentuggezh K’enulgheli Iqech’ Dghini\u. On second thought, maybe that would take too much explanation — Redoubt Reporter is just fine. But we should remember words and names carry on a long and important tradition at this place and are part of our heritage — as is the news.

Dr. Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College.

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