Tenes Formed Crucial Arteries for the Ahtna

Published October 2017

By William E. Simeone

In the Ahtna language, the word for trail is tene. Trails used to haul meat are called c’ayaas tene, a trail used in the summer is saen tene and traplines are ‘aełta tene. The Ahtna created hundreds of trails and the highways that now cross the Ahtna homeland followed routes pioneered by
the Ahtna.

Trails were crucial arteries along which passed people and goods. For this reason specific clans controlled access to certain trails. For example, Wilson Justin said a trail between Batzulnetas and Taral that went around the base of Mounts Sanford and Drum belonged to the ’Ałts’e’tnaey and Naltsiine clans. Trails used to reach trading posts were controlled by a chief or denae and used only with their permission. Jim McKinley (1980) said that when the Ahtna traded with the Russians “other tribe [clan] can’t go where he [the denae] make trail. They don’t let other tribe [clan] to trade down there unless they have meeting to decide to let them go. Gave them permission.”

Trails linked the Ahtna homeland with the territories of the Tlingit, Upper and Lower Tanana, Dena’ina and Tutchone. The Ahtna moved furs, copper, tanned skins and dried salmon along these routes. Trails led down the Matanuska and Susitna rivers to Cook Inlet where the Ahtna traded with Dena’ina, Russians and Americans. Other trails led to the Gulf of Alaska and Prince William Sound. One route went down the Copper River, another over the Valdez glacier to Valdez Arm, while a third traversed the Bering glacier to Yakutat. At least two trails led north to the Tanana River, while another went east to the Yukon Territory.

Jim Sinyon (1973) described traveling down the Matanuska River to Knik to trade caribou skins and furs for tea and tobacco.

 

Every winter the people go there. While most of the time we was there we just camp and sit around and eat. We don’t know the winter went by. We finally moved one day this way. We use sledges and we go up [the Matanuska River]. We come back we just use sledges on it [the river]. Well we went up the Chickaloon River, we come over the pass into the Oshetna River, and we come to the Susitna River we thought we get on the ice in that river.

 

The Ahtna created an extensive network of interregional trails connecting salmon fishing camps with winter settlements, upland hunting territories and lakeside spring camps. Elsie and Frank Stickwan said people from Dry Creek (Latsibese’ Cae’e) had a trail to Crosswind Lake where there was a caribou fence. That trail went on to Tyone Lake (Hwtsuughe Ben Ce’e). From there a trail went down the Tyone River and on to Valdez Creek and eventually Cantwell. People who lived at Tazlina had a trail to Tazlina Lake (Bendiil Bene’), to Mt. Drum (Hwdaandi K’ełt’aeni), and the Sanford River (Ts’itaeł Na). Chief Ewan had a trail to Ewan Lake (Łiidzi Bene’) and another to Tangle Lakes (Ten ’Aax Bene’).