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Alaska History

Alaska Facts

Alaska's History

Alaska's history goes back a long way. Here's a short version. Details are available about the passage of human and animal (including dinosaur) life.

The first humans in Alaska are thought to have arrived about 20,000 years ago, crossing the Bering Land Bridge from what is now Siberia. The first humans to stay in Alaska are thought to have arrived more than 10,000 years ago and are the ancestors of today's Alaska Natives.

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The first Europeans to see Alaska were those on Vitus Bering's 1741 Russian exploration. More Russians soon arrived, moving across the Aleutian Islands, Kodiak Island and then to the Inside Passage, where they set up a government at Sitka. Along the way, they forced Aleuts into slave labor harvesting sea otters for their pelts. Other explorers included the English and Spanish.

The United States and Russia signed a treaty on March 30, 1867, to transfer Alaska to the United States. The deal was completed the following Oct. 18, when the Americans raised the Stars and Stripes over Sitka.

Gold rushes attracted prospectors and businesses. There were big rushes to Juneau; the Klondike, a part of Canada reached through Skagway; Fairbanks; and Nome, where the gleaming metal is still found on the public beach.

Sitka was the first capital of the Territory of Alaska. The governor's office was moved to Juneau in 1900, and a territorial legislature first took office in 1913. That was also the year Mount McKinley, the continent's highest peak, was climbed for the first time.

Anchorage, at first a tent camp built for workers along the new Alaska Railroad, was founded around then and incorporated in 1920. Now it's Alaska's largest city.

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The Japanese occupied Attu and Kiska Islands and bombed Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands in 1942, but U.S. forces repelled the invaders. The Alaska Highway was built in 1942 as part of the war effort.

The strongest recorded earthquake occurred on March 27, 1964 -- on Good Friday. The quake and resulting tsunami killed 131 people. The Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred on March 24, 1989, another Good Friday. On Jan. 3, 1959, Alaska became the 49th state. (The 48th state was Arizona, which joined on Feb. 14, 1912. Hawaii became the 50th state on Aug. 21, 1959.)

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