Ezi Family from Matanuska
(ALSO KNOWN AS MATANUSKA VILLAGE)
DENA'INA CHIEF BASTUTE/BASDUT (SIMEON EZI)
by Coleen Mielke 2022
Niteh was the Dena'ina
name for a village in the Matanuska Valley. I have found it spelled several
different ways; everything from Niteh, to Nitakh, to Nitak, to Nikta, and
if that isn't confusing enough, the Ahtna name for Niteh is
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. Even though Niteh changed locations
over the years (due to the ever-changing shoreline) it was always called
Niteh; the name was associated with the people and not necessarily an exact
The original Niteh location (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, the Ezi's moved their home
towards the Knik River. This new location is referred to, in some
records, as New Niteh or Matanuska Village.
In the Shem Pete's Alaska
book, he tells a story about Basdut and his wife Noatha. Pete says that
Noatha (Nicholi) was the daughter of a powerful medicine man at Tyone Lake,
and she walked from Tyone Lake all the way to Niteh, where she married Basdut
and their first children were twins: Bill and Mary Ezi (I have not found
record of twins yet).
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
Nuch'ishtunt (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 (alone) 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.
The 1900 U.S. Census for Matanuska River listed the family like this:
BASHTOOT born 1870 (age 30) Knik Tribe
NOATHA born 1878 wife (age 22) Knik Tribe
DELLIA born 1898 daughter (age 2) Knik Tribe
ASKLIAH born 1879 brother (age 22) Knik Tribe
Several sources say Basdut and Noatha had a daughter Mary born about 1898.
I'm wondering if Dellia's name (above) was changed to Mary when her parents
names were changed to Simeon and Olga Esia. Later, Esia was changed to Ezi
by the Eklutna Vocational School. Their other children were Bill, Pete, Jack
and Annie. They also raised a number of orphaned children.
When Chief Ezi died in 1935, the Anchorage Times ran the following
Chief Ezi of the Once Powerful
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.