The History of Koyukuk

Koyukuk is located on the Yukon River near the mouth of the Koyukuk River, 30 miles west of Galena and 290 air miles west of Fairbanks. It lies adjacent to the Koyukuk National Wildlife Refuge and the Innoko National Wildlife Refuge. It lies at approximately 64 53' N Latitude, 157 42' W Longitude (Sec. 17, T007S, R006E, Kateel River Meridian). The community is located in the Nulato Recording District. The area encompasses 6 sq. miles of land and 0 sq. miles of water.

The Koyukon Athabascans traditionally had spring, summer, fall, and winter camps, and moved as the wild game migrated. There were 12 summer fish camps located on the Yukon River between the Koyukuk River and the Nowitna River. Friendships and trading between the Koyukon and Inupiat Eskimos of the Kobuk area has occurred for generations. A Russian trading post was established at nearby Nulato in 1838. A smallpox epidemic, the first of several major epidemics, struck the Koyukon in 1839. A military telegraph line was constructed along the north side of the Yukon around 1867, and Koyukuk became the site of a telegraph station. A trading post opened around 1880, just before the gold rush of 1884-85. The population of Koyukuk at this time was approximately 150.

Missionary activity was intense along the Yukon, and a Roman Catholic Mission and school opened downriver in Nulato in 1887. A post office operated from 1898 to 1900. Steamboats on the Yukon, which supplied gold prospectors, peaked in 1900 with 46 boats in operation. A measles epidemic and food shortages during 1900 tragically reduced the Native population by one-third. Gold seekers left the Yukon after 1906, but other mining activity, such as the Galena lead mines, began operating in 1919. The first school was constructed in 1939. After the school was built, families began to live at Koyukuk year-round.


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History and map graphic used with permission from the Alaska Department of Community and Economic Development