Villages have existed through history at the mouth of the Karluk River, where great numbers of salmon can be harvested. One of the villages sites was occupied as long as 5,000 years ago. At a more recent site called Karluk 1 (1250 - 1750 A.D.) archaeologists and Alutiiq students have excavated hundreds of beautifully-preserved wooden artifacts including masks, tools, and boxes.
Like Alutiiq people today, the ancient residents of Karluk smoked and dried the river salmon they caught during the summer. The dried fish provided delicious food for family and friends during the long, cold winter. Russian maps often referred to Karluk village (spelled Kallut in Alutiiq) as Nunakakhvak.
Russians and Americans also benefited from the abundant fish at Karluk. The Russian post founded in 1786 included a salmon saltery. The first Kodiak cannery, Karluk Packing Company, was built on Karluk spit in 1878. Just four years later, five canneries were operating at Karluk, bringing many new people to the village. In fact by 1890, only 10% of the people living at Karluk were Alaska Native. At first, seasonal workers were mostly Chinese followed later by Japanese, Filipinos and Mexicans. Scandinavian, Italian and Native fisherman sold their fish to the canneries.
By the late 1800's, millions of fish were being caught and processed each year. Alaska Packers Association finally opened a hatchery in 1896 because officials believed that hatcheries would protect the dwindling salmon runs. But over-fishing continued to reduce the number of salmon at the Karluk River. Eventually the cannery moved to Larsen Bay and the hatchery was closed in 1917.
Some Karluk villagers traveled to Larsen Bay to carry on their work at the cannery. But fishing also continued to be a main industry at Karluk, usually done with purse-seine nets from motorized boats with four-man crews. People today also engage in subsistence hunting, fishing and gathering. The population in 1990 was 71.
The village of Karluk and the Karluk River, Kodiak Island, 1995. Photograph by Patrick Saltonstall.
Two-holed Alutiiq kayak in Karluk Lagoon, circa 1889. Courtesy of the National Archives, Albatross Collection, 22-FFA-1164.
Work crews fish for salmon in front of the canneries at Karluk spit, circa 1889. After spreading long fishnets in the water by rowboat, groups of workers pulled the nets full of fish back into the beach with ropes. Courtesy of the National Archives, 22-FFA-1145.
Karluk, circa 1900. A traditional Alutiiq ciqluaq (house, often referred to as barabara) is seen to the right of a wooden kayak frame. To the left is a smokehouse with fish drying on racks. Across the lagoon are barracks where cannery workers lived. Ships that took canned salmon and seasonal workers back to San Francisco can be seen in the background. Courtesy of the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, B 90.13.5.
Men working at the Karluk salmon hatchery, circa 1887-93. Courtesy of Alaska State Library, USF&WS Collection, PCA 186-3.
A group of young boys standing by an Alutiiq house in Karluk, circa 1906. The thatched roofs of the houses were protected from high winds by covering them with fishnet, which was held in place by driftwood logs. Courtesy of University of Washington Libraries, Cobb Collection, UW 2383.