Area History

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Archaeological evidence suggests that areas within Togiak National Wildlife Refuge have been continuously occupied for at least 2,000 years. Today the Native peoples of Togiak Refuge are collectively known as Yup'ik Eskimos.


The first known European contact with Native peoples in southwest Alaska came in 1778, with the expedition of Captain James Cook. The Cook group reached Cape Newenham on July 16, 1778, and somewhere to the north of this point (probably Goodnews Bay) were contacted by a group of Eskimos in kayaks. Cook was of the opinion that these people had no previous contact with whites, as they had no tobacco or foreign articles in their possession.  

At the time of the 1880 census over 2,300 people lived within the Togiak Refuge area, with over 1,800 living along the Togiak River. The abundant fish and wildlife here, including both terrestrial and marine species, allowed people to live in a higher concentration than in many areas of Alaska. 

The fur trade and reindeer herding were both important in the early economy of southwest Alaska. In the 1880s, salmon canneries were established in the area and the commercial salmon fishery quickly became the primary industry in the area. This importance continues to the present day, with fishing fleets based in most local communities. Other industries are growing as well. As visitors learn of the scenic beauty of the region, and the world class hunting and fishing, tourism is increasing. The rural communities toady are a mix of ancient ways and 21st century technology. 

To view a timeline that summarizes important historical events in the area from the Cook expedition through Alaska statehood in1959 visit our Refuge Establishment Timeline page.

Access the Prehistoric Salmon Runs report to read a technical publication reconstructing prehistoric salmon runs.