Gambell, Alaska

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"Sivuqaq" redirects here. For the walrus, see Sivuqaq (walrus).
Gambell, Alaska
Gambell Alaska June 16 '06.jpg
Location of Gambell, Alaska
Location of Gambell, Alaska
Coordinates: 63°46′34″N 171°42′03″W / 63.77611°N 171.70083°W / 63.77611; -171.70083Coordinates: 63°46′34″N 171°42′03″W / 63.77611°N 171.70083°W / 63.77611; -171.70083
Country United States
State Alaska
Census Area Nome
Incorporated December 12, 1963[1]
 • Mayor Branson Tungiyan[2]
 • Total 30.4 sq mi (78.6 km2)
 • Land 10.9 sq mi (28.2 km2)
 • Water 19.5 sq mi (50.4 km2)
Elevation 0 ft (0 m)
Population (2010)[3]
 • Total 681
 • Density 22/sq mi (8.7/km2)
Time zone Alaska (AKST) (UTC-9)
 • Summer (DST) AKDT (UTC-8)
ZIP code 99742
Area code 907
FIPS code 02-27640
GNIS feature ID 1402463, 2419389

Gambell (GAM-bull)[4] (Central Siberian Yupik: Sivuqaq)[5] is a city[3][6] in the Nome Census Area of the U.S. state of Alaska. Located on St. Lawrence Island, it had a population of 681 at the 2010 census.[3]


Sivuqaq is the Yupik language name for St. Lawrence Island and for Gambell. It has also been called Chibuchack and Sevuokok.

St. Lawrence Island has been inhabited sporadically for the past 2,000 years by both Alaskan Yup'ik and Siberian Yupik people. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the island had a population of about 4,000.

Between 1878 and 1880 a famine decimated the island's population. Many who did not starve left. The remaining population of St. Lawrence Island was nearly all Siberian Yupik.

In 1887, the Reformed Episcopal Church of America decided to open a mission on St. Lawrence Island. That year a carpenter, lumber and tools were left at Sivuqaq by a ship. The carpenter worked with local Yupik to build a wood building, the first they had ever seen. When the building was finished, the carpenter left the keys to the door with a local chief and departed. Since the carpenter had not spoken Siberian Yupik, the residents did not know the purpose of the building.

The Reformed Episcopal Church had not been able to find missionaries willing to live on St. Lawrence Island, so the building built for the mission was left unoccupied. In 1890, the building was acquired by Sheldon Jackson. He spoke to the Reverend Vene and Nellie Gambell, of Wapello, Iowa, about moving to St. Lawrence Island. Gambell was hired as a schoolteacher and the Gambells came to the island in 1894. They had a daughter in 1897. Nellie Gambell became ill and the Gambells spent the winter of 1897-1898 in the United States, where Nellie was hospitalized. In the spring of 1898 they embarked on a return journey to St. Lawrence Island on the schooner Jane Gray. The ship sank in a storm and 37 people on it drowned, including the Gambells and their daughter.

After their death, Sivuqaq was renamed in the Gambells' honor.

On June 22, 1955, during the Cold War. a US Navy P2V Neptune with a crew of 11 was attacked by two Soviet fighters in international waters over the Bering Straits between Siberia and Alaska, and crashed near Gambell, where the crew was rescued (3 wounded by Soviet fire; 4 injured in crash.) The Soviet Government, in response to a US diplomatic protest, was unusually conciliatory, stating that:

There was an exchange of shots after a Soviet fighter advised the US plane that it was over Soviet territory and should leave (the US denied that the US plane fired at all).

The incident took place under heavy cloud cover and poor visibility, although the alleged violation of Soviet airspace could be the responsibility of US commanders not interested in preventing such violations.

The Soviet military was under strict orders to "avoid any action beyond the limits of the Soviet state frontiers."

The Soviet Government "expressed regret in regard to the incident."

The Soviet Government, "taking into account... conditions which do not exclude the possibility of a mistake from one side or the other," was willing to compensate the US for 50% of damages sustained—the first such offer ever made by the Soviets for any Cold War shootdown incident.

The US Government stated that it was satisfied with the Soviet expression of regret and the offer of partial compensation, although it said that the Soviet statement also fell short of what the available information indicated.[7]

Gambell and Savoonga received joint title to most of the land on St. Lawrence Island under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971.

The An-24 incident at Gambell, Alaska occurred February 27, 1974, when a Soviet Antonov An-24LR "Toros" (CCCP-47195) ice reconnaissance aircraft landed at Gambell, Alaska.

On August 30, 1975, Wien Air Alaska Flight 99 crashed when trying to land in Gambell. 10 of the 32 passengers and crew on board were killed.


Gambell is located on the northwest cape of St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea, 325 km (202 mi) southwest of Nome. It is 58 km (36 mi) from the Chukchi Peninsula in the Russian Far East.


According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 30.4 square miles (79 km2), of which, 10.9 square miles (28 km2) of it is land and 19.5 square miles (51 km2) of it (64.10%) is water.

The town is served by Gambell Airport.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1910 221
1920 48 −78.3%
1930 250 420.8%
1940 296 18.4%
1950 309 4.4%
1960 358 15.9%
1970 372 3.9%
1980 445 19.6%
1990 525 18.0%
2000 649 23.6%
2010 681 4.9%
Est. 2014 700 [8] 2.8%
U.S. Decennial Census[9]

As of the census[10] of 2000, there were 649 people, 159 households, and 121 families residing in the city. The population density was 59.5 people per square mile (23.0/km²). There were 187 housing units at an average density of 17.2 per square mile (6.6/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 95.69% Native American, 3.54% White, 0.46% Asian, and 0.31% from two or more races. 0.31% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 159 households out of which 51.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 43.4% were married couples living together, 18.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 23.3% were non-families. 18.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 0.6% had someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 4.08 and the average family size was 4.82.

In the city the population was spread out with 38.5% under the age of 18, 10.6% from 18 to 24, 27.4% from 25 to 44, 17.6% from 45 to 64, and 5.9% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age was 26 years. For every 100 females there were 132.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 143.3 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $31,458, and the median income for a family was $30,625. Males had a median income of $30,625 versus $22,250 for females. The per capita income for the city was $8,764. About 30.6% of families and 28.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 29.6% of those under the age of 18 and 33.3% ages 65 or older.


Gambell is served by the Bering Strait School District. Gambell School serves grades Pre-K through 12.

In 1984, two teams of Gambell students—one team of junior high students and one team of 9th through 12th grade—stunned American education by winning two national championships in Future Problem Solving, one of the nation's most difficult academic competitions. Most of the Gambell students had never been off the island, ridden in elevators or on escalators, or stayed in a hotel. They had to compete against students from schools and programs for the gifted on subjects, such as genetic engineering and nuclear waste disposal, of which the Gambell students had never before heard.


  1. ^ "Directory of Borough and City Officials 1974". Alaska Local Government (Juneau: Alaska Department of Community and Regional Affairs) XIII (2): 35. January 1974. 
  2. ^ 2015 Alaska Municipal Officials Directory. Juneau: Alaska Municipal League. 2015. p. 65. 
  3. ^ a b c "Gambell city, Alaska". Profile of General Population and Housing Characteristics: 2010 Demographic Profile Data. United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 23, 2013. 
  4. ^ "Gambell". Division of Community and Regional Affairs, Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. Retrieved January 23, 2013. 
  5. ^ Issenman, Betty. Sinews of Survival: The living legacy of Inuit clothing. UBC Press, 1997. pp252-254
  6. ^ "Alaska Taxable 2011: Municipal Taxation - Rates and Policies" (PDF). Division of Community and Regional Affairs, Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. January 2012. 
  7. ^ "VP-9 Mishap". June 22, 1955: US Navy Aircraft Attacked Over Bering Sea. U. S. Navy Patrol Squadrons. 24 Jan 2011. Retrieved April 7, 2011. 
  8. ^ "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Incorporated Places: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2014". Retrieved June 4, 2015. 
  9. ^ "Census of Population and Housing". Retrieved June 4, 2015. 
  10. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 

Further reading[edit]

  • The Kids from Nowhere, Alaska Northwest Books, 2006.

External links[edit]