Fort Rossiya


Fort Ross in 1828 as seen in Voyage Autour du Monde by Duhant-Cilly. The sea otters were the sole casualty of this early Russian "invasion".

There’s a piece of California that has a quirky history. There is one tiny spot that was not occupied and settled by the Spanish like they did the rest of the state, but by the Russians. After a short exploration they found a lot of sea otters and took 2000 pelts back to the Tsarina Catherine the Great. They came back in 1812 to literally put down some roots; they needed to grow crops for their starving colonies in Alaska, and along with them came many indigenous Aleuts.

Fort Ross in its 200th year. In the Trading post at left see rooms full of naturalist samples, gardening gear, weapons, pelts and food storage. Photo by Andrea Granahan

They sailed into Bodega Bay, named it Port Rumiantsev, then built a small fort up the coast, Fort Ross (Fort Rossiya), and armed it with a whopping 41 cannons. The Spanish at San Francisco decided not to challenge them since they themselves barely had ammo for their rifles. Instead they wined and dined them and bought their trade goods. A long way from the later bunkers built in fear of Russian invasions!  The two mighty world empires made peace in Sonoma County and intermarried merrily with each other, the local Kashaya/Kashia Pomo tribes and the Aleuts.

In January 2012,Violet Parrish-Chappell,of the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians greeted Russian Consul General Vladimir Vinokurov(L) at Fort Ross State Historic Park after a blessing ceremony. On right is CA state Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa. Photo by Kent Porter, Santa Rosa Press Democrat

Gophers and fog,­ both in abundance along the coast,­ did in the Russian crops, and when the last sea otter had sadly been hunted nearly into extinction, the Russians sold the fort to John Sutter and left in 1841. Every Russian child has a picture of Fort Ross in his/her history book. It was the farthest reach of their empire.

The chapel at the fort fell down in the earthquake of 1906 and was rebuilt. In the early 1970’s it was accidentally burned down. Sculptor Bruce Johnson reconstructed it using nineteenth century tools. You can see his magnificent large works at the Sculpture Grove at the Paradise Ridge Winery in Santa Rosa: check here at: http://formandenergy.com/sculpturegrove_exhibit.html .

Get next to sculptor Bruce's big art: Woodhenge by at the Paradise Ridge Sculpture Grove; get inside his art at the chapel at Fort Ross

This year, the last weekend of July expect a lot of quirky folks in costume to show up at the fort to cook in cauldrons, dance, serve tea in glasses and fire cannons at the tallships that will sail to the fort in fine style to celebrate its 200th year birthday. The Kashia Pomo tribe will also be there in full regalia just as they were Russians sailed in and will be long after the rest of us are gone. And yes, there are still plenty gophers to go round, and lots of fog.

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