March 2, 2016–Sinrock Mary, The Queen of the Reindeer
Mary Antisarlook, given the name Changunak at birth, was born in 1870 to an Inupiaq mother and a Russian father on Alaska’s Seward Peninsula. By the 1900s, she earned the nickname Sinrock Mary, Queen of the Reindeer, and was known as such for the rest of her life.
Mary grew up in St. Michael, Alaska, at the mouth of the Yukon River. She married an Inupiaq man in 1889 and the couple moved to Cape Nome. Mary served as an interpreter aboard the US Revenue Cutter Bear which transported reindeer from Siberia to Alaska. Mary’s husband, Charley Antisarlook started a reindeer herd with a few of these animals at a place called Sinrock. The couple adopted several children and worked the herd together.
In the winter of 1897-98, eight whaling ships were trapped in the sea ice near Point Barrow, Mary’s husband was part of the “Overland Relief Expedition” mission to deliver food to the starving crew members. Charley accompanied the mission, driving the reindeer before him onto the sea ice.
By 1900, the couple’s herd had grown to 500 head when Mary’s husband died in the measles epidemic. As a woman and a Native, Mary was disqualified from retaining ownership of her husband’s property. She fought for her rights though, and was eventually able to keep half the herd. Eventually, this herd of animals became the largest in the North, earning her the title of “The Richest Woman in Alaska.”
Mary sold meat to local businesses in Nome and the Army station. She garnered her own wealth during the Nome Gold Rush and later moved her herd to Unalakleet where she trained her children to herd. She died in 1948. She is an important and beloved figure in Alaska’s story. She’s remembered for her generosity, warmth and resolve.
A documentary titled “The Reindeer Queen: Once the Richest Woman in Alaska – The True Story of Sinrock Mary” was released in 2000. In 2009, Mary was inaugurated into the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame.