Daniel Lee Henry

Daniel Lee Henry

Frontier Rhetorician

Educator, writer, and broadcaster Daniel Lee Henry first became acquainted with local Tlingit culture when he moved to Haines, Alaska in 1983. While researching stories for the Chilkat Valley News, Henry interviewed Chilkoot leader Austin Hammond and other clan elders at the Chilkoot Culture Camp. A few newspaper stories grew into relationships, radio programs, essays, and the oral histories of two dozen elders. In the late 1980s Henry produced the radio program, “Tlingit Words and Songs” with Maria Miller and Rachel “Dixie” Johnson who gave Henry the name Stuwu'kaa or, in her translation, “Idea Man.”

Thirteen years of teaching high school English and speech in Haines, Alaska sharpened Henry’s concerns that the grandchildren of powerful indigenous orators had lost touch with their oral tradition. As 12-year director of the Alaska High School Speech and Drama Association, Henry sought to develop programs to invigorate oral traditions among Native and non-Native teens. When University of Alaska Anchorage hired Henry as an assistant professor of communication in 2001, he founded the Alaska Native Oratory Society, a statewide program designed to reawaken in Native students the oral skills on which their cultures depended for millennia. In 2003 Henry’s efforts were recognized with the Governor’s Award for Civic Advocacy.
Daniel Henry returned to the Chilkat Valley in 2004 to write and produce radio programs dedicated to the power of oral communication. His 2006 association with Klukwan language instructor Marsha Hotch produced a 52-part Tlingit language program, “Tlingit Time,” heard today on public radio stations in Southeast Alaska.

In cooperation with over 30 Tlingit elders, the Sheldon Museum, and a cadre of scholars and community leaders, in 2015 Henry completed a history of white contact in Jilkaat aani (Chilkat territory). Across the Shaman's River: John Muir and the Last Tlingit Stronghold articulates the historical details of a culture often characterized as “the most warlike” tribes of the North. The book, which is being published by University of Alaska Press, will appear in spring 2017.

The materials accessible on this website are drafts from this book and cover many subjects such as:

  • John Muir and the Conversion of the Chilkat Tlingits

  • Tlingit Ownership of Chilkoot and Chilkat Trails

  • Louis & Florence Shotridge

  • Whale House Artifacts Trial of 1993

  • Skondoo'o the Medicine Man

By blending historical narrative, interviews, and eye-witness accounts, the author intends to create a book that is at once historic and contemporary. Reader review of chapter drafts is welcome. Please send comments and/or corrections to Daniel Henry at mudbase@gmail.com.


John Muir and the Quest for the Tlingit Crown Jewels
by Daniel Lee Henry

Below are pdf download links to draft chapters of Daniel Henry's book. They may be downloaded and printed only for personal use. Comments and questions are welcome.
Email Dan Henry


Provides a sweep of the complete book concept, including some chapters not posted on this site.

Across the Shaman's River Overview DRAFT (1.2012).pdf


After days of hand-to-hand battle between Chilkat and Chilkoot neighbors, clan headmen declare the dispute’s end. Six dead on each side. The debt is paid. Former adversaries paddle their war canoes together to Deer Rock, on Chilkoot River ten miles from modern-day Haines, Alaska, where they conduct an elaborate peace ceremony.

Prologue - Becoming Deer DRAFT (10.2015)


Starting with the Great Flood, here is the story of the founding of Chilkat and Chilkoot, and the subsequent growth of one of the most substantial Native American communities on the Northwest Coast. Because of its location at the extreme northern end of the Inside Passage, the Jilkaat kwaan is also one of the final places on the coast visited by European adventurers--first the Spanish, then Russian and British. In the early 19th Century, the headman of Klukwan commissions a master carver to honor the history of his founding clan by creating some of the finest indigenous artwork on the continent--the fabled Whale House artifacts.

Sojourners DRAFT (10.2015)


A visit by renowned naturalist John Muir and Reverend S. Hall Young convinced the warlike Chilkat-Chilkoot alliance to permit a mission in their territory, a kwaan totaling 2.6 million acres. Herein are the details of Muir’s speech and actions as they contributed to a pivotal event in the closing of frontier America.

John Muir & Conversion of the Chilkat DRAFT (6.2012)


A total solar eclipse was only a sidelight in the momentous meeting of William Henry Seward and George Davidson with Chief Kaalaaxch' (Koh'klux) and the residents of Klukwan. For 50 years historians have written that the Chilkat people fled from the eclipse. New research proves quite the opposite. This chapter, presented as a paper at the Tlingit Elders' conference in 2012, reveals the breadth of this little-known chapter in American history.

Kohlux & Tyee DRAFT (3.2012)


Chilkat and Chilkoot tribes owned trails from tidewater through narrow passes in mountain sentinels to the Yukon Interior. Through control of their routes, the Northern Tlingit sustained a strict trade monopoly with Athabaskan Indians of the Yukon. The earliest white men to cross the passes received stern warnings against trading with the “Gunana,” but the Goldrush of ’98 made Native ownership moot.

Route to Riches DRAFT (10.2015)


The early days of Louis and Florence Shotridge and the roots of Northwest Coast art controversies.  As grandson of the great Chilkat chief, Koh’klux, Stuwu’kaa’s birth in 1885 instilled hope among villagers against their uncertain future. U.S. Naval Lt. George Emmons mentored young Louis Shotridge, and convinced his protégée that he was the one to save his culture. In 1902 Shotridge married the daughter of a well-known Tlingit shaman, Skundoo. After the territorial governor selected Florence to demonstrate Chilkat weaving at the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition, the couple’s ambitions and traditional knowledge exposed them to a rarified elevation of American culture. The two performed with the Grand Indian Opera and Louis was a hunting companion to Teddy Roosevelt.

The couple attracted the attentions of University of Pennsylvania Museum of Anthropology director, George Gordon, who brought them to Philadelphia. In the next two decades, Louis attended Wharton School of Business, wrote 16 monographs, prepared a Tlingit grammar with Franz Boas, cataloged exhibits, and led museum tours. He also acquired 500 of the finest Northwest Coast art pieces found anywhere. Through academic training and fieldwork, Shotridge became one of America’s pre-eminent indigenous ethnographers. For all their pride in Louis, Philadelphians fell in love with Florence, their “Indian Princess."

New Indians DRAFT (10.2015)


In the early 1950s war hero Carl Heinmiller and a small cadre of WWII veterans purchased Fort William Henry Seward as Army surplus. Originally built to suppress aggressive Tlingits, the Fort became Alaska Indian Arts, Inc., a training center in which elders taught traditional arts to young students. Non-Native participation grew so much that a half-century later Native artists spoke out against those who profit from selling clan property. After the acquisitions of missionaries, soldiers, and professional collectors seated Tlingit aat.oow in major cities worldwide, only a few notable pieces remained hidden in the recesses of village clan houses. Klukwan residents turned inward, isolating themselves from neighbors throughout the Chilkat Valley. Only in the late Fifties did old ways re-emerge in the Haines-Klukwan area when WWII veteran Carl Heinmiller started a Boy Scout troop that raised funds through Native crafts and dancing. Heinmiller’s Chilkat Dancers earned an international reputation stretching over four decades, bolstered by generations of Native and non-Native artists trained at Alaska Indian Arts, Inc.

From the state seal in the Alaska legislative chambers to the world’s tallest totem pole, Alaska Indian Arts trained a network of master artists whose work continues today. Interviews with current AIA director Lee Heinmiller and a dozen alumni weave a story of a cross-cultural effort to stay the White Wave.

Chilkoot Beachhead DRAFT (10.2015)

Daniel Henry, 2013