Ezi Family from Matanuska
(ALSO KNOWN AS MATANUSKA VILLAGE)
DENA'INA CHIEF BASDUT (SIMEON EZI)
Coleen Mielke 2019
Niteh was the Dena'ina
name for an Native village in the Matanuska Valley. You can find it spelled
several ways (in various records) everything from Niteh, to Nitakh, to
Nitak, to Nikta, and if that isn't confusing enough, the Ahtna name for
Niteh was Nuu Tah.
By todays landmarks, Niteh was located on a delta between the Matanuska
River and the Knik River and about a mile above the old railroad
bridge over the Matanuska River (probably on the south bank). Even though
Niteh changed locations over the years (due to changes in the shoreline,
etc.) it was always called Niteh; the name was associated with the people,
and not necessarily an exact geographical location.
According to James Kari and James Fall, the original Niteh location (in
some records it is referred to as Old Niteh) had a Russian American trading
post. During the Knik Glacier (Lake George) flood of 1898, the trading
post was washed away, as well as many of the homes at Niteh and the surrounding
area, drowning many villagers.
After the flood of 1898, the Ezi's moved their home more towards the
Knik River. This new location is referred to in some records as New Niteh
or Matanuska Village. Alberta Ezi Stephan said that New Niteh developed
6' to 12' wide cracks in the earth (that filled with water) after the 1964
The most historically prominent
Niteh family was the Ezi family. The 1900 U.S. Census for "Matanuska River"
lists Bashtoot age 30 and wife Noatha age 22 and 1 daughter named Dellia.
Basdut (the widely recognized spelling) was a Dena'ina Chief of Upper Cook
Inlet, who was, by all accounts, a man of his word and highly respected.
Shem Pete tells a story about Basdut and his wife Noatha in a book
called Shem Pete's Alaska by James Kari and James Fall (2003). Pete
says that Noatha (Nicholi) was the daughter of a powerful medicine man
at Tyone Lake. She walked from Tyone Lake all the way to Niteh, where she
fell in love and married Basdut. Their first children were twins: Bill
and Mary Ezi.
Basdut and Noatha's granddaughter, Alberta Ezi Stephan (who spent considerable
time with Noatha), gives a slightly different account of the story. Alberta
said that Noatha's father and step-mother (from the Copper Center area)
had a fish camp at Point Woronzof, where (in about 1896) 18 year old Noatha
worked all summer, putting up dried fish. While there, she met Basdut who
was operating a small steamboat that transferred freight from the large
steamboats docked at Ship Creek, to the smaller settlements.
At the end of that summer, Noatha and her parents packed the fish back
to Copper Center, and by winter, young Noatha decided she wanted to marry
Basdut. After talking to her father about it, she packed some supplies on
her back and walked, by herself, down the Athabascan migration trail that
went from the Copper Center area to Cook Inlet. She married Basdut and they
built a home at Niteh.
Alberta Ezi Stephan said that Basdut and Noatha's names were changed to Simeon
and Olga Esia, and later Ezi. Their children were Bill, Pete, Jack, Annie
and (?), (they also raised many orphaned Native children). After Simeon
and Olga were married, Simeon ended his steam boat business and supported
his family by trapping, fishing and hunting (goat and sheep) in the Jim
Creek and Friday Creek area. They also had a cabin about 150' to 250' up
from the base of Pioneer Peak Mt., next to a pond.
When Chief Ezi died in 1935, the Anchorage Times ran the following article:
Chief Ezi of the Once Powerful Eklutna's Is Given Colorful Adieu
Anchorage Times 2/24/1935
Covered in a beautiful fringed and highly colored blanket and with another
warm blanket beside him, and wearing a strikingly designed, new, pair of
mukluks, and attired in a new suit of clothes and other garnishments, Chief
Ezi, for many years the respected idol of the once powerful tribe of Eklutna's,
was laid to rest in the Anchorage Cemetery. Mourned by scores of his
people who were present and also honored by a number of white friends, the
old Chieftain was lowered into the grave as men, women and children
of his tribe chanted in Russian and as the burial ritual was recited in Russian
by Mrs. Billy Austin. The old Chief rests beneath a “TOP” house, largest
of the kind seen in this region, made by his own sons and placed above the
grave yesterday immediately after the service and burial. The house
stands 5 feet above the grave, is 6½'long and 3½' wide.
Over the house rises a large wooden cross, cut out of a log in one solid
piece. The services continued for 2 hours and were characterized with
numerous songs, chants and readings, all in Russian, according to the ritual
of the Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in who’s faith they had been reared
and trained from childhood.