“The Battle of Old Sitka, June, 1802”, © Ray Troll, 2002
This drawing was inspired by reading historical accounts of Russian and Tlingit conflicts in Southeast Alaska in the late 1700’s and early 1800s. It intended primarily as a study of the incredible carved wooden war helmets and intricate body armor that Tlingit warriors of high status wore into battle.
Sometime near the summer solstice in 1802 hundreds of Tlingit warriors attacked the Russian/Aleut settlement of St. Michael’s, near present day Sitka, Alaska, slaughtering most of the inhabitants. In a carefully planned assault half of the attacking force came by immense war canoes and the other half descended on the fort from the surrounding forest.
A Russian historian named Khlebnikov wrote this passage about the attack:
The Tlingits “suddenly emerged noiselessly from the shelter of the impenetrable forests, armed with guns, spears and daggers. Their faces were covered with masks* representing the heads of animals, and smeared with red and other paint; their hair was tied up and powdered with eagle down. Some of the masks were shaped in imitation of ferocious animals with gleaming teeth and of monstrous beings. They were not observed until they were close to the barracks; and the people lounging about the door had barely enough time to rally and run into the building when the (Tlingits), surrounding them in a moment with wild and savage yells, opened a heavy fire from their guns at the windows. A terrific uproar was continued in imitation of the cries of the animals represented by their masks, with the object of inspiring greater terror.”