Editor’s note: This is the final part of a two-part series on the Russian Fort Elisabeth in Waimea, Kaua‘i’s Westside.
By Chris Cook
Tarakanov proved to be the hero of the Nikolai saga, becoming a chief by improving the fortifications and military tactics of his captors, and also enchanting them by making and flying kites.
Complicated political entanglements focused on the Russian Fort from 1815 into 1817 that drew in Kamehameha, Kaua‘i’s King Kaumuali‘i, Baranov, and through the Russian American Company Czar Alexander of Russia. Into this maelstrom Baranov sent from Sitka to Waimea his trusted hunter and troubleshooter.
Tarakanov bristled under the orders of overbearing Russian Fort Elisabeth commander Gregor Anton Schaffer, but kept quiet, peaceful and out of the way. Schaffer rewarded him with lands along the Hanapepe River, which had been renamed the Don after the Russian river. An account that the strong, smart fur hunter married a Hawaiian woman from the Westside is mentioned in author Lee Croft’s “faction” book “Arm Wrestling Kamehameha.” Croft visited Kaua‘i during the Kaumuali`i Festival held at Waimea in October, and is a Professor Emeritus of Russian Language and Culture at Arizona State University. Records held in a Russian city about two hours by train south of Moscow, show Tarakanov returned there, to his hometown of Kursk, with a wife from overseas, likely this Kaua‘i woman.
When Kamehameha ordered Schaffer and his party of Russians and Aleut Indians out of Waimea, Tarakanov joined him at the Russian earthwork fort built at Princeville. The fur hunter again led a captive Russian American Company party out of trouble later in 1817, at Honolulu Harbor. Sailing across the Kaua‘i Channel in a ship close to sinking due to a leaking hull the Russian party landed in distress at Honolulu. They surrendered to the forces of Kamehameha who were influenced against the Russians by American traders wishing to keep a tight rein on the valuable sandalwood export trade in Hawai‘i. Schaffer, part confidence artist and part physician, immediately sought passage on an American ship heading for Canton, China, leaving Tarakanov in the lurch. The Kursk native analyzed the situation, brokered a deal with an American sea captain, and headed off to the sea otter-rich bays of northern California with the stranded party from the Russian fort.
Updates on the WKBPA work on Russian Fort Elisabeth are posted at www.wkbpa.org/parks.html.