Peter the Aleut: the original martyrdom account

Editor’s note: Raymond A Bucko, S.J. is a Jesuit Catholic priest, professor of anthropology, chair of the social work, sociology and anthropology department at Creighton University, Omaha Nebraska.  He completed his doctoral work in anthropology at the University of Chicago in 1992.  His dissertation was  “Inipi: Historic Transformation and Contemporary Significance of the Sweat Lodge in Lakota Ritual Practice.”  He entered the Jesuit order in 1973, earned an masters of divinity at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley in 1983, was ordained that year and completed a Masters in Sacred Theology the next year at Regis College Toronto. He first worked with Native Americans in 1974 and later served as a consultant for the National Conference of Catholic Bishop’s Ad Hoc Committee on Native American Ministry from 1994 to 2007.  He continues to work in this field.

Father Bucko’s original research on Saint Peter the Aleut was for a conference on religion and violence on November 14, 2005.  He subsequently published his presentation as “Peter the Aleut: Sacred Icons and the Iconography of Violence”   Boletín: The Journal of the California Mission Studies Association. Robert Senkewicz Editor.  Volume 23 no.1 Pp. 22-45.  Spring 2006.  Reprinted in: The Contexts of Religion and Violence. Journal of Religion & Society.  Supplement Series 2. Edited by Ronald A. Simkins. The Kripke Center, 2007; Pp 31-48. (PDF version – 

Following a reference from a colleague in Finland he found the initial disposition of Ivan Kiglay in the library of congress card catalogue as:  Istomin, A. A., James R. Gibson, Valeri i Aleksandrovich Tishkov, and Institut *etnologii i antropologii im. N.N. Miklukho-Makla*i*a. 2005. Rossi*i*a v Kalifornii : russkie dokumenty o kolonii Ross i rossi*isko-kaliforni*iskikh sv*i*az*i*akh 1803-1850 : v dvukh tomakh. 2 vols. Moskva: Nauka.  The actual volume was borrowed from the Georgetown University library. To download the original deposition document in Russian, click on this link:

Peter the Aleut story – Initial testimony in Russian

To be entirely clear: This is the source from which all other accounts of St. Peter’s martyrdom are derived. But until now, it has been virtually unknown to Orthodox Christians, who have relied on much later, secondhand versions of the story. We at SOCHA have had a copy of this document for some months, but we (and Fr. Oliver in particular, who can read Russian) haven’t had time to get a translation done. We are grateful to Fr. Bucko for providing one. This initial translation was done by Mr. Gleb Coca, a Moldovian Muskee Fellow at the Creighton University school of business in September 2010. Please note that this is an initial translation only: it needs to be checked and revised by others familiar with the Russian language. But rather than wait for a more polished translation, I (Matthew) thought it best to publish this initial version, along with the original Russian account, with the hope that some of our readers would be inspired to offer their own expertise to produce an authoritative translation.

The bracketed small Roman numerals in the text indicate endnotes.


Testimony of Ivan Kiglay, port worker from Kadiak, regarding the capture by Spanish of a trading unit of RAK [Russian-American company] in 1815, [regarding] death of a dweller of Kadiak Chukagnak (St. Peter Aleut), and regarding his escape to the island Ilimena. Ross, May 1819.

In 1819 year, May, to the castle of Ross, of Kadiak Region, village Kashkatskovo, Ivan Kiglay was brought from the Ilimena Island on the small ship with the similar name, who  was interrogated  with a translators from Kadiak – Ivan Samoilov and Jacob Shelekhov, testimonies as follows: he was delegated by Tarakanov from Saint-Kentina, with others from the trading unit from Kadiak on 15 kayaks, to come to the service of Company of Tarasov, and were delivered on English small ship, named  “Foresta” to the Ilimena Island, where they were trading beavers.   The manager of this branch of the Company –  Tarasov – was not perceiving the trade as profitable and was not hoping for recovery in that island, so he decided to use his kayaks to move on other islands: Saint Rose and Ekaterina and later to the land shore of California. Because of the fact that in the Tarasov’s kayak it happened to be a hole and his Kayak started to fill with water, and because the weather was pretty fresh [cool], we landed at Cape Bay Saint Peter, were we have been kept by the weather.

On the next day a soldier came from the mission in Saint-Pedro, and told to Tarasov, the recently, on the island of Climant, 2 Kadiak dwellers ran away from Tarakanov. An award was declared for bringing them back. Later, although the weather was proper to departure for the island of Ekaterina, Tarasov decided to stay and to wait for those 2 Kadiak dwellers. On the fourth day of staying, about 20 soldiers on horses approached in silence and arrested Tarasov and all the other members of the crew [.] They treated them inhumanly, tortured a lot of people using hatchets, and to one of the Kadiak dweller from village Kaguiatskovo , named Chukagnak, they have hacked his head. After they have stolen all the beavers and their personal belonging, they were transferred to Sankt-Pedro Mission, where those 2 Kadiak Dwellers, who escaped from Climant, had been caught. Missioners and the leader of the named above mission (who’s name he does not remember), made a request to all the Kadiak dwellers to convert to catholic religion, for what they have replied that they have already converted to a Christian religion on Kadiak, and they do not want to convert to any other religion. In a short time, Tarasov and other Kadiak dwellers [crew members] were transferred to Saint Barbara. Though he (Kiglay Ivan) and wounded Chukagnak, were left in the mentioned mission, were kept with Indian criminals in the prison for several days, without food and water.

On that night the chief of the mission brought the order to convert to religion, although they did not do that, despite the critical situation that they faced. On the sunrise of the next day a religious clerk[i] came to the prison, accompanied by betrayed[ii] Indians, and called them out of the prison; Indians surrounded them, and by order started to cut (chop) Chukagnak’s fingers by articulations, from both hands and [after that] arms, and in the end cut his stomach (abdomen) [revealed his intestines], by that time, he was already dead.[iii]  That should have happened also to Kiglay, but at that time to the priest was brought a paper (he does not know from where and from whom). After reading that, [the priest] ordered to bury the body of the dead Chukagnak from Kasguiatskovo in the same place, and he [Kiglay] was send back to prison, and in a short time after that he was send to Saint-Barbara, where he have not found anybody  from his crew nor Tarasov, who had already been sent to Monterey.

Later on that autumn and winter (which will be in 1815), those of port workers from Kadiak, who run away from Tarasov in different places were found and brought to Saint-Barbara, and some of them with kayaks, and those 2 who were in the mission in Saint-Pedro, all together 10 people including Kurbatov. They were assigned to work as well as other Indians, kept for crimes[iv] in handcuffs; the agreement among all of those from Kadiak was to escape from Saint-Barbara and to get to Francis port in their way away from the land, and [to head] to Ross, but it was unclear if it will happen.[v]   

He, Kiglay Ivan, agreed to escape with Kaguiak dwellers Atash’sha Filip, decided to use other means to escape, what they managed to do, they has stolen a kayak and ran away using that, got to the same cape bay Saint Peter, where they were captured, moved to Ekaterina Island, from there to the island Barbara, and from there to the island Ilimena, that happened in a short time because of the good weather. While their arrival to Ilimena, and while they lived there, the local inhabitants were glad to accept them. They trained themselves in catching birds, called Urillas, they used to eat their meat, and their skin they used for clothes for them and for Indians. His friend [Kiglay’s friend] Attash’sha Filip from Kaguiatsk, in one year after arrival to Ilimena, has died. In the autumn of 1818 near Ilimena island appeared 2 Spanish 3-masted [big] ships, stayed 3 days and on easy wind, were coming to the land on small boats, Indians were collecting herbs and berries with good taste for them, while ship was staying, when [other] ship were approaching, or people were coming, they were hiding themselves, helped by Indians. Later a 2-masted ship came, they [Spanish] let Kiglay know that he could join them on the ship, but none of them could speak Russian or Kadiak, so he refused.

While interrogating Kadiak Dweller, Kiglay Ivan, the translator was the dweller of Kadiak region, village Misakovskii, Ivan Samoilov, by his will his son put his hand.[vi]  

While interrogating Kadiak dweller, Kiglay Ivan, the translator was the dweller of Kadiak region, village Chiniatsk, Jacob Shelekhov, who signed by himself.

Fr. Bucko wishes to note that this is an initial translation only. Corrections or insights into this translation are gratefully accepted; please send them to: Once again, to download the original deposition document in Russian, click below:

Peter the Aleut story – Initial testimony in Russian


[i] Ad Litteram, he calls that person a “spiritual person”. It is an old Russian. I don’t know how they were calling it in old Russian, but today they would call a priest differently. Also consider the fact that Kiglay testimony originally was translated form Kadiak language into Russian, and this is the second translation.  

They refer to the spiritual clerks twice in the text, once as “Spiritual person” (which I translated as spiritual clerk), and second time as “spiritual Father”. For “Priest” it is usually used another word, and “Father” (spiritual or saint Father) is closer to a way how a priest is being called in Russia. A person is way too broad and general. I understood it as a reference to person who has something to do with a religion, and formally involved in it, by wearing some sort of clothes which make it distinct.   

I would say that they were trying to show the appurtenance to some other religion of that person in charge of the execution, but it is not necessary to be a priest. And because Kiglay did not know details of other religions, he might have used a broader or a more general term, for people related to spirituality or church, but it might not be necessary a priest.  

As we read before that, it is said that MISSIONERS and the leadership of the Mission asked them first to take the catholic religion. So it might be that by “spiritual person” he referred to a missioner, or something higher in rank than missioners (otherwise he could have repeated the word missioners).   To keep it short – Spiritual person is related to the church or religion (I would say in a formal visible way, like wearing clothes or have the attitude of others). For “priest” it is used another word. “Spiritual person” can also refer to a priest, it is just a broader term.  Also later referrals to this text which I have found online, translate this word as a “priest” to the modern language.

[ii] The word “betrayed” was written on above the line of the regular testimony. Also the word “betrayed” may be interpreted from Russian as “converted”

[iii] In the text I cannot see clearly that it was by order of the religious clerk. It is stated that it is by order, and in that sentence only clerk is mentioned above.

[iv] The word “for crimes” was written on above the line of the regular testimony

[v] The note in the book says that according to Tihmenev, part of Kadiaks managed to escape and after staying for 4 days without water and food in the water , they found themselves in Ross.

[vi] In the original text it is being put in square brackets to be deleted

4 Replies to “Peter the Aleut: the original martyrdom account”

  1. This would seem to undercut the narrow argument against the historicity of St. Peter the Aleut based on the fact that Jesuits were not active in California at the time in question. It seems that “Jesuit” was inserted in place of the term “spiritual clerk/person” by a later author.

  2. At the La Purissima mission in Lompoc, the story is that Russians consulted on the rebuilding of the mission and had the Spanish add two large buttresses which kept the building from collapsing in later earthquakes.

  3. Dear Mathew! I’ll be happy to take over the review of this translation, especially since you know that I am a Peter the Aleut cynic. I remain one today, because this Soviet publication is hardly what I would call an original deposition document. Notabene: it is also somewhat at odds with the very friendly relations between the RAK and the missions discussed by Khlebnikov in hbis journals for that period of time, and even in this piece, there is a good deal of mention that the Kad’yaks had “escaped” from Tarasov, and were being sought and held for crimes. I do not doubt that someone may have been killed; I have serious doubts that it was a case of martyrdom, and Kyglaya was regarded as a less than “chestnyj” person. I still find it more than odd that such a great saint at our Father Among the Saints Innokenty, among the few who knew the RAK as well as could be expected, does not address the Peter story at all, and for that matter, Khlebnikov’s Journals, which do mention the Aliutik running away because of misdeeds, never talk about martyrdom. They do, however, talk about the great hospitality shown by the mission folks. I for one always wonder why Russian martyrdoms ALWAYS involve other nationalities chopping off extremities with axes and knives. Must be a Russian thing, because it continues, right down to the young soldier-of-fortune Rodionov. I promise to be unbiased in my translation review. I would, however, love to see the original “deposition document,” and a copy would be fine. Give me a bit of time; I’ve just had the pleasure and blessing of having become a father again!

    In Christ,

    Vova Hindrichs

  4. Vova,

    Sorry for taking so long to reply. If you’re willing to review the translation, that would be fantastic. Thanks very much, and please keep us posted as you progress. (My own email address is mfnamee [at] gmail [dot] com.)

    Also, congratulations on the birth of your child!


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