Cuyahoga River

Cuyahoga River
Cuyahoga River in the Valley

Thursday, March 5, 2009


When people ask me about our trip to Alaska this summer, I tell them the land is big, beautiful, and wild, and the people are resilient. With 600,000 people in a territory 2.3 times the size of Texas, Alaska is mostly wilderness. The Alaska Highway traverses through Anchorage and Fairbanks and up to Prudhoe Bay, but 40% of Alaskans have no access to roadways and must use dog sleds, bush planes and boats to travel; no roads go in or out of Juneau or many of the other towns in Alaska. Native American and Russian cultures permeate a place slow to change in a place where permafrost lies below the surface, glacier-spread mountains cover vast expanses of the land, and fish remains a major food source in a place almost surrounded by water.

In 1796, the swampy floodplain at the mouth of the Cuyahoga was the frontier. By the time of the 1832 cholera epidemic, only 600 people lived in Cleveland—it was a frontier because it was remote, much as Alaska is today. General Moses Cleaveland oversaw the settlement on part of the Western Reserve tract of the Northwest Territory granted to the State of Connecticut, which was populated by Native Americans. The first settler in Cleveland was Lorenzo Carter, who built a log cabin on the banks of the Cuyahoga River; we saw log cabins all along the Chena River and in downtown Fairbanks. Native American populations and culture were obliterated by epidemic diseases, violence, displacement and intermarriage, and the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783 without informing the Native Americans. Native Alaskans experienced the same catastrophic hardships as the native population living near Cleveland did.

Thus I reported to the readers of Cool Cleveland in the fall of 2008:

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