False Pass Population & Census

False Pass: A Brief Settlement Sketch

Original Town Site:  False Pass, as an official village recognized by the government, is the product of the 20th century.  In the present townsite, there are several house pits shown on the city map that indicate that people lived here before the first documented settler arrived between 1900 and the 1910 census and lived in the same general location as the Aleut house pits.  The settler was Charles Rosenberg (from Germany) with his Aleut wife Martha and their seven children.  Rosenberg had a lodger by the name of William Gardner, an Aleut.  Gardner made a Soldier's Additional Allotment land claim with the federal government a few hundred feet away from the Roseberg residence. This land claim was then sold to P.E. Harris and it became the P.E. Harris & Company salmon cannery property.   The modern village began with the building of the P.E. Harris salmon cannery in 1919 and the creation of the U.S. post office at the cannery in 1921. 1, 2

Aleut Settlements within city boundaries:  In the north part of town, there are at least two locations that have pre-contact Aleut barabara house pits. Unimak Island and the lower Alaska Peninsula were fairly heavily populated during Aleut times and a number of small Aleut village sites can be found within the present city limits.  These sites are usually located near good food resources such as salmon streams or sea mammal hunting sites.   Some of these sites may have been of a seasonal nature but none have been studied formally by archeologists to learn the details.  During Aleut times the larger and more important Aleut villages were located primarily on the north side of Unimak Island and near the Bering Sea on the lower Alaska Peninsula, because of the more abundant and dependable food resources in that area.


The immigrants who came to early False Pass were primarily Aleuts from Morzhovoi and other Unimak area villages.  The map below shows the location of those villages.  The closest ethnic ties run through the now abandoned village of (New) Morzhovoi and back through the abandoned Aleut villages on Unimak Island and lower Alaska Peninsula.  Unfortunately, there is virtually no data on these long-abandoned Aleut villages.  During Russian occupation, few Russians lived in Aleut villages because it was against the official policy of the Russian American Company.  Only a male Russian employee or two were permitted to live in the larger villages to oversee the Company's interests in the fur and ivory trade. This meant that during the Russian period there was little formal racial inter-marrying.  3

After Alaska was purchased from Russia in 1867, immigrants began to arrive from the U.S.   Most of these immigrants were men who came almost directly from northern Europe, mostly Scandinavia.  These men tended to marry Aleut women and they settled here and in other places in the Unimak area. This process was facilitated by the laws that stipulated that non-Aleut men married to Aleut women could take part in the hunting of sea otters.  Of couse these men brought with them the current fishing and hunting technologies from northern Europe.  In this way, the acculturation of the Aleuts into American society was speeded up considerably and the Aleut blood line became more mixed.

False Pass, Alaska: Sources of Immigration
                               Click on map to see a larger version.


False Pass Population Trends:  The U.S. Census began tabulating census data for False Pass only after the village was recognized as an official entity when the U.S. Post Office was established in 1921.  Therefore, the first census in which False Pass showed up was in 1930.  But, the village actually existed prior to that and data from the census for 1910 shows the individuals who lived there at that time under the census place-name of "Unimak Villages".  Unimak Villages again showed up in the census in 1920, one year after the building of the salmon cannery.  The 1920 census shows the growth in the village and surrounding area that is now within the City of False Pass boundaries. It also shows the increased immigration of men from northern Europe and the families that they created with Aleut women.  All of these men were engaged in commercial forms of hunting, fishing and trapping and this ushered in an era of intensified commercialization of the natural resources.

Since the detailed original census sheets are now available for the censuses through 1930, it is possible to determine not only the number of individuals, but their ethnicity and occupations.  On this page we will look at each decennial census to trace the growth of the population and the occupations held by the breadwinners of the families. 



Click on graphs to see larger version.





Unimak Area Village Population Trends:

The population of False Pass
was made up entirely of people who came from other villages and from immigrants from abroad who settled here because of work opportunities.  The magnet that brought immigrants was fox trapping and the salmon cannery which provided cannery work and commercial salmon fishing opportunities.  Immigrants came from most of the villages shown on the graph on the left.

Pre-20th Century Aleut Villages:  The graph shows that all the traditional Aleut villages (Old Morzhovoi, Sanak, Morzhovoi and Belkofski) had histories taking them back in the Aleut era.  (Each village has its own page on this website where more details will emerge.)  In the traditiional Aleut villages, the focus was originally on subsistence use of the local resources. The subsistence system was revolutionized in the 18th century by the arrival of the Russians. The Russians forced the Aleuts to harvest fur pelts and ivory as commercial exportable products.  Even so, these Aleut villages still maintained a heavy reliance on local subsistence foods for the household.  After the arrival of the American settlers, these villages were strongly drawn into the most lucrative enterprise of the day, sea otter hunting.  Since the most efficient way to hunt sea otters was the traditional Aleut way, these villages boomed towards the end of the 19th century but virtually collapsed when the sea otters were exterminated locally by 1910.  The population graph clearly shows the huge negative impact of that economic collapse on all the Aleut villages.

20th Century Villages:  All of the villages that were founded during the American period (Dora Harbor, Company Harbor, Pauloff Harbor, Ikatan and False Pass) were founded because of local fishery resources that became commercialized and the products were totally for export.  This meant that even though local subsistence foods were harvested, lifestyles had changed sufficiently so that everyone was dependent upon the cash economy. The only work that provided this cash was the harvest of local furs, salmon and cod for the export market.   With the exception of False Pass, all of these villages were short-lived and abandoned by 1975 due to depletion of cod, the collapse of the fox fur market and the restructuring of the salmon industry.  False Pass survives because of its strategic location on Isanotski Strait and its proximity to valuable marine resources. 3

1910, the first Census data for False Pass:  Even though False Pass as an official entity did not come into existence until 1921, people had already settled at this location.  This graph shows the occupations of the inhabitants at that time.  All occupations are listed as "Hunting & Fishing", meaning they gained income from these activities, but there are no further details.  The salmon cannery had not yet been built, but it is known that cod and salmon were salted as a source of income in the Unimak area beginning in the 1890's. By 1910, sea otter hunting had been prohibited.  So, hunting may have been used to take larger fur bearing animals and trapping was most likely included under the term 'hunting'.  Charles Rosenberg is the man from Germany and William Gardner is a lodger in his home.  The graph clearly shows the mixing of local Aleuts with caucasian immigrants. 


Unimak Island Census, Occupations, 1910

The Rosenberg barabara photo to the right shows how early trappers and hunters often lived while in the bush.  The 1910 census reveals Charles Rosenberg as an immigrant settler in False Pass. An interesting 1908 story about meeting Rosenberg and his family at the Urilia Bay barabara can be read here.6

Trappers and hunters in the Unimak area often modeled their cabins on the Aleut barabara.  Barabaras were the best way to stay warm and comfortable in the cool and damp Aleutian climate.  There are no trees in the area and securing alder brush for firewood was difficult, time consuming and often impossible.  Beach driftwood was also scarse.  A metal smoke stack can be seen protruding through the sod roof, next to a skylight. 

Rosenberg shows up in the 1900 Morzhovoi census as a hunter, with his Aleut wife Dahlia and their seven children.  Most likely he came here originally to hunt sea otters.  He lists his home address as San Francisco, California.  Charles Rosenberg came to this area from Germany via Unalaska and Morzhovoi. He built this barabara near Urilia Bay on Unimak Island for his trapping operations.4

Rosenberg Barabara-Urilia Bay, Alaska

Perhaps the oldest structure in False Pass, the cabin in the photo below was built by John Gardner in 1923, then sold to Charlie Peterson and finally to Unga Man (Albert Olsen).  It is now mostly fallen down, but it was well built with a small cellar.  His old boat engine is still on the beach in front of the cabin.  The cabin is located in the north section of town on a point of land now called "Unga Man's".  As the village has grown, the flat land near this area has become the focus of development for the industrial/commercial section of town. 

Albert Olsen was born in Norway and married an Aleut woman named Dora and had a daughter named Annie.  He does not show up in the census until 1930 although local old-timers say that he had been around years before this date. 5

Unga Man (Albert Olsen) with Wolf, False Pass, Alaska

Click on photo for larger version

Unga Man (Albert Olsen) cabin, False Pass, Alaska


Morzhovoi, Alaska, 1920 Census Occupations

The 1920 Census, Occupations:
  Because of the lack of official standing of False Pass and area settlements, the people living in and near False Pass at the time of the 1920 census were listed under "Morzhovoi Village".  Officially, we have to accept the census data, but If we separate out the people who were most likely residents of False Pass, we get 23 people living in and around False Pass and 37 in Morzhovoi. Data for Morzhovoi will be discussed on the Morzhovoi page.

These 23 False Pass residents all had non-Russian/Aleut surnames and have been identified by local old-timers as residents. William Gardner, the False Pass settler who sold his land claim to P.E. Harris for the cannery, was the 'winterman' at the cannery, meaning that he took care of the salmon cannery during the off-season when it was closed. Three of the False Pass men were trappers, three were fishermen for the cannery and two worked in the cannery. 5 

It is important to note that nearly all the cannery workers in False Pass were brought in from outside and stayed only the season.  They stayed in cannery bunkhouses and were never counted in the census. This pattern remained throughout the history of the cannery and was and is the typical arrangement for large seafood processing plants in Alaska.

The False Pass economy in 1920 was clearly dependent upon trapping fox in the winter and working for the cannery during the summer salmon season. 

Unimak Villages: 1930 Census, Occupations

The 1930 Census, Occupations:
  Again in 1930, the U.S. Census designation for False Pass was 'Unimak Villages'.  It is clear from looking at the detailed enumeration that this data is for people living in what is now the City of False Pass. 

This census includes the settlements of Ikatan, where there was a salmon cannery, and Sourdough Flats, besides the town core of False Pass.  Several people actually lived on the end of the Alaska Peninsula.  The census provided enough detailed ethnic data that it was possible to determine many interesting relationships.  There were now more marriages between Aleut women and north European men and their descendents were in the work force.  Twelve of the working men were from northern Europe.  Two Alaskan Eskimos lived in the area and one was a trapper and the other worked in the cannery.  Nine of the total of 25 workers were designated as Aleuts. 

By 1930 trapping for fox was the primary occupation, accounting for 16 out of 25 workers.  Since trapping is a winter occupation, many of these men probably did some work with the fishery during the summer.  The remaining 9 workers were involved with commercial salmon fishing and processing. 

False Pass, Alaska; 1940 Census, Occupations

The 1940 Census, Occupations: The data sheets for this census of False Pass were called "Unimak Village" and included the populations of False Pass, Ikatan and other residences along Isanotski Strait.  However, the census taker did indicate which residences were actually in the village of Ikatan and therefore that data will be shown on the Ikatan page of this website.  From conversations with the now deceased elder John Hoblet, it was determined which people listed on the "Unimak Village" census sheet actually lived along Isanotski Strait outside the village.  These people are not included in this graph for the village of False Pass.  The Isanotski Strait residences will be presented on a separate graph.

Fur trapping for fox ended in the late 1930's when the fur market collapsed, so that by 1940 there was only one local trapper remaining.  The P.E. Harris salmon cannery continued to dominate the economy during this period and many local women worked on the canning line and local men worked as watchman, beach gang and foreman.  By this time, more local fishermen were acquiring their own fishing boats and were fishing for salmon using beach seines.

In 1940 there were four men living in False Pass who were born in Norway and one from Sweden. 

Isanotski Strait settlements, Alaska; 1940 census

Settlements along Isanotski Strait were included on the "Unimak Village" enumeration sheet for the 1940 census.  By using historical information from elders in False Pass, it was determined that 15 of the people actually lived in dispersed cabins along Isanotski Strait.

On the Unimak Island side of the Strait was located the small settlement called "Sourdough Flats".  Pictures of that site can be seen on the "Sourdough Flats" page of this website here.  The last family to live at Sourdough Flats was that of Odd Steffensen and his wife Alice and they moved away in 1965.  Also on the Unimak side at a place called Johnson's were two cabins built near a small waterfall.  Nick Kristensen built the original cabin and his Eskimo wife is buried here.

The Alaska Peninsula side of Isanotski Strait had three cabins built at separate locations, each on a small stream.  Albert Wick, who worked as blacksmith at the False Pass cannery, had a cabin just south of Stonewall cliff and that cabin still stands.  Einar Ellison (Lonesome Einar) built a cabin up on a bluff just opposite Whirl Point.  Both Wick and Ellison were batchelors who trapped in the winter time.  Frank Van Loock (One Luck) built a cabin near an old Aleut village site alongside a stream that comes down from Sentinel Peak.  Van Loock was married to an Eskimo woman Veronica and they had five children.

Unimak Village Settlements, 1940; False Pass, Alaska

The False Pass area was called "Unimak Village" in the 1940 U.S. Census.  The settlements in the area are shown on the map on the left.  Nearly everyone in the area lived by seasonal work in the salmon fishery or by trapping fox for furs. But, to supplement their seasonal income, it was often advantageous to live away from the villages so that it would be easier to hunt and fish for subsistence purposes.  Therefore, there were a number of cabins that sheltered trappers, fishermen and their families, scattered along Isanotski Strait and the shores of Ikatan Bay.

It should be noted that aside from the private land belonging to the two salmon canneries (P.E. Harris in False Pass and Pacific American Fisheries in Ikatan), all the land was owned by the Federal Government and it had never been surveyed nor legally claimed by individuals. In Ikatan the cannery had been abandoned but there were a number of private homes built on cannery land and nearby that were occupied by fishermen and their families. Beyond the cannery land, settlers could choose nearly any piece of land they wished to build upon because the land was considered public and open for settlement.  Therefore, cabins were built in many places and over time they were sold or traded to other individuals with no official deed.  There were no government officials in the area and no formal land claims were made by the inhabitants.  This land situation did not change until the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act by the U.S. Congress in 1971.  At that time, the Isanotski Corporation was formed in False Pass and it became the legal owner of most of the unclaimed land on both sides of Isanotski Strait, from the Ikatan Peninsula to the Bering Sea.

False Pass, Alaska: 2000 Census, Occupations

The 2000 Census, Occupations:
  The 2000 census data available is of a general nature.  The 2010 general census data has not yet been released.

Occupation data for False Pass in the year 2000 show that the community has become similar in job structure to other modern communities in the U.S.  Office/service jobs now account for over half of the workforce.  These include work in the city office, the medical clinic, the school, the store and other office work.  Fishing accounts for about 25% and most of these are boat crewmen.  Manual labor accounts for slightly over 15% of the workforce. 

Since the local salmon cannery burned in 1981, there was no local processing of seafood.  Local fishermen delivered their catch to tenders or to the processing plants in King Cove or Port Moller where the fish were processed. 

The general trend of slow population decrease that started after the burning of the cannery, seems to be continuing as of 2010, even with the construction of a small seafood processing plant.

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1) U.S. Census, 1910, "Unimak Villages"
2) Black, Lydia T.  "History and Ethnohistory of the Aleutians East Borough, Limestone Press, 1999.  pg 366 "Gardner's Homestead..."
3) Black: Chapters on False Pass, Morzhovoi, Belkofski & Sanak.
4) Stanley Kristensen, personal communication.
5) John Hoblet, personal communication
6) Dunn, Robert  "On the Chase for Volcanoes, Mt. Shishaldin and the Hermit of Unimak", The Outing Magazine, vol 52, 1908, pg. 557-572,  Google ebook