Descendants of Alaska Native chief reclaim remains

German count shot Nagita, was later acquitted of murder charges

Posted: Sunday, October 10, 2004

FAIRBANKS - Descendants of an Alaska Native chief who was shot to death by a German count almost 100 years ago have reclaimed his remains.

They teamed up Thursday with anthropology students to dig up Chief Nagita's remains at a Fairbanks cemetery and now plan to bury him in Nenana near other members of his family.

"The whole family was unanimous, they wanted him back," said Alexander Ketzler, one of Nagita's great-grandsons. "We're happy to find him."

Nagita - who didn't have a second name, according to Ketzler - came from the now-vanished village of Beyadatenna, located in the general vicinity of the Parks Highway about 15 miles north of Cantwell.

Ketzler said his great-grandfather was shot to death on Nov. 15, 1910, by Emil Maurer, a German count who was stranded and "starving to death" near Cantwell while on an adventure trip to Alaska with his wife.

Ketzler said some contemporary accounts described Nagita as a fierce and hostile Indian who was shot by the count in self-defense. But Ketzler doesn't buy it, noting that accounts of the incident by Maurer changed many times.

Ketzler said he believes Nagita was helping the couple but was shot without provocation as he drove his dog team with his wife and three children past the count.

Authorities planned to let the matter drop, Ketzler said, but two miners who later encountered Nagita's wife pushed for a trial. Maurer was acquitted on first-degree murder charges.

Nagita originally was interred elsewhere, but his remains later were brought to Fairbanks by territorial marshals for use in the criminal case.

He remained at the Fairbanks grave site, beneath a marker without a legible name on it, until Ketzler found out about the body last year from Rex Fisher, a former history teacher with an interest in the cemetery.

"We had a couple family meetings and we decided, collectively, we all wanted him back where he belonged," Ketzler said.

The Nenana tribe asked the city of Fairbanks to remove the body through the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, a request that was quickly granted.

The family plans to positively identify the remains through DNA testing.

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