Yukon Nuggets

1867 Yukon Nuggets

Alaska purchase


Psst. Wanna buy a used bridge in Brooklyn? How about some ocean front property in Arizona? Con artists and their marks are a dime a dozen. Always were.

Take for example back in 1859. That year, Czarist Russia offered to sell a huge land mass in North America to the United States. Russia had claimed this unknown land mass since 1725 when Czar Peter the Great sent mariner Vitus Bering on a journey to explore the North American coast.

On the journey, Bering found the coast line of this northern land to be teaming with wildlife and fish. The interior, which he did not enter, was filled with mountains and forests. The land - now called Alaska - was totally unexplored. But for the next century and a half, Russian traders toured the coastline trading with local native peoples.

As the United States expanded westward in the early 1800s, Americans soon found themselves in competition with Russian explorers and traders. Moscow, however, lacked the financial resources to support major settlements or a military presence along the Pacific coast of North America and permanent Russian settlers in Alaska never numbered more than four hundred.

In 1859, Russia decided to cut its losses with the land and offered to sell Alaska to the United States. The ugly U.S. Civil War delayed the sale, but after the war, Secretary of State William Seward quickly took up a renewed Russian offer and on March 30, 1867, agreed to a proposal from the Russian Minister in Washington to purchase Alaska for 7.2 million dollars.

Seward had a big fight on his hands with the US senate that thought the deal was throwing good money after bad. Critics called the proposal "Seward's Folly". Why on earth would America want such a far off, no good, frozen land.

However, Seward's arguments won the day and on April 9, 1867, the US Senate approved the treaty. President Andrew Johnson signed the treaty on May 28, and Alaska was formally transferred to the United States on October 18, 1867. The purchase ended Russia's presence in North America and ensured U.S. access to the Pacific northern rim.

For three decades after the purchase, the United States paid little attention to Alaska, which was governed under military or, at times, no visible rule at all. Seeking a way to impose U.S. mining laws, the United States formed a civil government in 1884.

Skeptics of Seward's Folly changed their tune when a major gold deposit was discovered in the Yukon in 1896, and Alaska became the gateway to the Klondike gold fields. Alaska became the 49th state of the Union on January 3, 1959.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.

Les McLaughlin

Les McLaughlin

As storyteller, radio man, and music producer, Les proved a passionate preserver of Yukon heritage throughout his life — nowhere more evident than as the author and voice of CKRW’s “Yukon Nuggets,” from its inception until his passing in 2011.