The History of Tyonek

Tyonek lies on a bluff on the northwest shore of Cook Inlet, 43 miles southwest of Anchorage. It is the only community in the Kenai Peninsula Borough that is not located directly on the Peninsula. It lies at approximately 61 04' N Latitude, 151 08' W Longitude (Sec. 01, T011N, R011W, Seward Meridian). The community is located in the Anchorage Recording District. The area encompasses 22 sq. miles of land and 3 sq. miles of water.

It is a Dena'ina (Tanaina) Athabascan Indian village. Various settlements in this area include Old Tyonek Creek, Robert Creek, Timber Camp, Beluga and Moquawkie Indian Reservation. Captain Cook's journal provides a description of the Upper Cook Inlet Athabascans in 1778, who possessed iron knives and glass beads. He concluded that the Natives were trading indirectly with the Russians. Between 1836 and 1840, half of the region's Indians died from a smallpox epidemic. The Alaska Commercial Company had a major outpost in Tyonek by 1875. In 1880, "Tyonok" station and village, believed to be two separate communities, had a total of 117 residents, including 109 Athabascans, 6 "creoles" and 2 whites.

After gold was discovered at Resurrection Creek in the 1880s, Tyonek became a major disembarkment point for goods and people. A saltery was established in 1896 at the mouth of the Chuitna River north of Tyonek. In 1915, the Tyonek Reservation (also known as Moquawkie Indian Reservation) was established. The devastating influenza epidemic of 1918-19 left few survivors among the Athabascans. The village was moved to its present location atop a bluff when the old site near Tyonek Timber flooded in the early 1930s.

The population declined when Anchorage was founded. In 1965, the federal court ruled that the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) had no right to lease Tyonek Indian land for oil development without permission of the Indians themselves. The tribe sold rights to drill for oil and gas beneath the reservation to a group of oil companies for $12.9 million. The reservation status was revoked with the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971. Beluga, a site near Tyonek, is owned by Chugach Electric Association and provides some electricity for Anchorage.


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