Chapter 5: "A Warning from Uk'eledi,"
from "Legacy of the Chief"
Chapter 6: "Nicolai's Anger"
Chapter 6: "Nicolai's Anger"
After Nicolai left Lt. Henry Allen and his
expedition at Tsetsaan’ Na’ where they would continue on toward the
headwaters of the Tanana Valley, the tyone began the long trip down the
Copper River alone with his brother Eskilida in sight of Hwniindi
K’elt’aeni--”the one who controls the weather from upriver” and Hwdaandi
K’elt’aeni -- “the one who controls the weather from down-river.”
From Tsetsaan’ Na’ the Hwniindi K’elt’aeni is stunning. The mountain can
be seen from Mendaesde and even well beyond into the distant east. In
between this and the lower Hwdaandi K’elt’aeni first appears Uk’eledi.
As one eventually approaches our lower Ahtna home of Taral, it is
Uk’eledi (Mt Wrangell) which dominates.
Two times in Nicolai’s lifetime, the chief watched as Uk’eledi erupted,
sending out enormous ash plumes. Now known as Mount Wrangell, it was
first said to erupt to warn of the coming of the Russians--long before
they actually entered the interior. As Eskilida and Nicolai paddled
down-river approaching the village of Klaa te’kaa , the great rounded
mountain, capped heavily with ice, burst forth, spewing ash high into
the heavens. Soon ash began raining back upon the earth, layering the
entire valley in a choking cloud of fine whites and grays.
“This is a sign from the Great Creator,” he said to Eskilida.
“But we have been told since we were children that the smoke means the
sleep-doctors are fighting among themselves. Is that not what you
remember from the old tales, Nicolai?”
“Does that look like our own ancestors are fighting, Soon-ga? This is
not our ancestors we are witnessing. It’s different this time. The Great
Creator is revealing himself.
“It’s the warning we have long expected. The Creator is showing his
anger. He is angry with us and he’s giving us a warning. The white man
has come to stay. Now we know it is to be. We must prepare ourselves.”
Eskilida looked into the sky toward Uk’eledi with the same expression of
anxiety which was mirrored in the face of his younger brother Nicolai.
He did not envy Nicolai. Eskilida could see that this was only the
beginning. Nicolai was the one who was ordained to lead his people
through this ordeal. This too had been predicted.
One great chief, who would be a very young man, would be there at the
time of the Great Change to guide his people. He would not survive it.
They returned to Taral in silence. Both men had much to consider. It was
disturbing. Nicolai did not feel ready for the challenge which lay
The next few years were quiet ones. Life went on as usual and the memory
of Lieutenant Henry Allen and his party began to fade. The tyone alone
remembered only too clearly what had happened. He was plagued with
nightmares over the Great Change. Just as the chiefs before him had
waited for the vengeful return of the Russians, the tyone awaited the
return of the Americans with their lust for the mountain of copper.
Fifteen years later Uk’eledi erupted one final time. This occurred the
summer following the winter when Nicolai revealed the location of the
Nicolai Prospect to Edward Gates. Nicolai was in the sezel of his thlen
nee cheelth, his summer home in Taral.
Nicolai had already passed on the role of chief to his son Goodlataw.
The new chief left the sezel for more water. He felt a strong need to
leave the sezel,
and offered to bring in more water. Although Goodlataw was the new
chief, the others in the sezel were all his elders. He returned in only
moments without the water, quite shaken, summoning Nicolai and the
others outside to view the tall dark column of ashes coming out of
Uk’eledi. Nicolai emerged from his steam bath, accompanied by Eskilida
and Skilly. All of them stood ked’eh-had-eh and dripping from the
effects of the hot steam. The four men looked up into the blackening
skies in wide-eyed wonderment. This time the eruption had a much darker
character. It was June of 1900. In another month, two men named Jack
Smith and Clarence Warner would discover the fabulously rich Bonanza
Nicolai, Eskilida, Skilly, and Goodlataw stood naked and alone. The new
chief had only left the sezel long enough to grab more water from
outside the entryway when he realized that the sky was darkening.
“Engii! This is the end!”
“It is not engii, and it is not the end, See-ah. It is a c’enaa--a
warning from the Great Creator.
“We stand before Him as we were born--ked’eh-had-eh--naked, but also
humbled. It is only fitting that we view him in his anger in this way.
Only if we are truly humble can we hope to escape his wrath.
“The Creator has long remained silent, but no more. This is His c’enaa.
He is warning us that we must remain as we are--humble but prepared to
protect the land of the Uk’eledi and our own people from the c’uniis of
the white man. What lies ahead can no longer be predicted. All we know
is that we are here now. What happens tomorrow now that the white man
has arrived with his white devil spirits--the c’uniis-- is not for us to
know. What I can tell you all is that we must hold onto each other as
the Saghani utsuuy. As the people of the Raven Clan we are also the
Children of the Earth. It will be left to us alone to protect this land
from the Yaabel which has followed the white man with his c’uniis into
our ‘Atna’tuuTs’itu’. ”
The four men watched grimly as the heavy clouds began to descend upon
the valley. The grayish fine ashes were thick, making it difficult to
“We can do no more. Let us return to the sezel and contemplate the Great
Change in silence.”
The four men disappeared into the sezel behind the large log structure
which was the summer family home of Nicolai. Outside the ashes began to
rain down, but within the heavily-steamed sezel the four men--three from
the older generation and one of the new Ahtna leaders breathed uneasily as
each quietly contemplated their very uncertain futures.