Story last updated at 5/9/2012 - 1:16 pm
In past columns, we learned about Charles Vincent Baronovich, pioneer at Kasaan Bay and how he married the daughter of Chief Skowl, started a trading post and smuggled liquor and other items from Canada.
After Charles V. Baronovich passed away in 1879, his sons and widow leased out the saltery. Thus, steamers continued to stop at Karta Bay to pick up barrels of salt salmon. In 1883, Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore, a journalist for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, in the ship Idaho, described such a stop. She found: "... one little gap in the shores at last gave us a sight of the trader's store, the long row of lichen- and moss-covered sheds of the fisheries with the usual cluster of bark houses and tents above a shelving beach strewn with narrow black canoes. A group of Indians gathered on shore, their gay blankets, dresses and cotton kerchiefs, rubber boots and aprons, flannel shirts and big hats were heroic adjuncts to the picturesque and out-of-the way scene."
Scidmore went on: "The widow Baronovich still lives here, unwilling to leave this peaceful sunny nook in the mountains, but the fishery is now leased by a ship captain, who has taken away the fine old flavor of piracy and smuggling and substituting a regime of system, enterprise, and eternal cleanliness."
Little did Scidmore suspect that this ship captain, the one that extended such courtesies to the journalist onboard the Idaho, had come to the conclusion if Baronovich could get away with smuggling in this remote place, he, James Carroll, could do the same.
The procedure was to smuggle opium from British Columbia to the saltery in Karta Bay, where it was packed in barrels and stored beside identical barrels of salt fish in the packinghouse. On the first chance, it was taken aboard the steamer, making its way to Port Townsend and the Puget Sound for distribution - which was highly illegal.
Through an informant, the collector of customs for the District of Puget Sound got wind of this and in 1886 the U.S. Revenue Cutter Oliver Wolcott seized the Idaho, the same ship Scidmore had been in. Found aboard was opium valued at $48,000. Since the steamer's master had leased the Karta Bay saltery, a party from the Wolcott was sent North to search the premises. This time the searchers had more success than the commander and his men had with Baronovich. Eleven barrels of opium were found.
The saltery, after this brief return to notoriety, settled down to a peaceful existence. The widow Baronovich was reported to have married one of her own tribe, and by 1889 had rented the saltery to the Cutting Packing Company that operated a cannery at Loring near Ketchikan. For this she received $300 a year and her relatives were paid $2 a day to keep a barricade across the Karta River so no fish could go up. The fish would school in salt water at the base of the wooden rack, making them easy to catch. The lease was relinquished in 1893 when Cutting Packing Company joined the Alaska Packers Association.
The Baronovich sons began to run the saltery themselves. They packed salmon bellies, a barreled delicacy. This saved only the fattest and most tender portions of the rich salmon. The remainder of the fish was thrown away with the theory that "this could hardly be called waste, as the belly is the best part and the fish swarm in millions." The federal government in 1906 outlawed this custom.
By 1900 the Great Northern Fish Company, capitalized by Puget Sound and Columbia River financiers, rented the saltery to salt chums or dog salmon for a Japanese market. This company folded after a year, and there is no indication that the saltery operated again.
After the turn of the century the last of Baronovich's enterprises was abandoned. As a result of a smallpox epidemic, the federal government moved the tribe from their homes in Old Kasaan (Scowl Bay on east Prince of Wales Island) where Baronovich had spent most of his winters. In effect, the government condemned the old way of living, urging the families to build clean, new homes like the white man's at a new location.
This new village was about a half mile north of a copper claim Baronovich had made soon after he arrived at Kasaan Bay. This was located on the Kasaan Peninsula. Here the Kasaan Bay Mining Company constructed a large salmon cannery, bunkhouses, and sawmill in 1900. An attempt to put the old mining prospect into production was made, but was unsuccessful. Through the urging of this company, the Natives - including Baronovich's descendants - agreed to make New Kasaan their permanent village.
As Baronovich's Fisheries fell into oblivion, so did the memory of that old gent who started it all. His exploits, adventures and oddities are now nearly forgotten despite the fact that he was father to both the salmon preserving and lode mining industries in Southeast Alaska.
Pat Roppel is the author of numerous books about mining, fishing and man's use of the land. She lives in Wrangell, and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org