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Denny, Henry, Jr. (1902-1979) | Sealaska Heritage Institute Archives

Name: Denny, Henry, Jr. (1902-1979)

Historical Note:

Henry Denny Jr. (1902-1979) was Tlingit Indian leader, orator, Naa Sháade Háni (clan leader) for the Neix.ádi Clan, Ch’áak’ Koowú Hít (Eagle Fan-Tail House), and recipient of the Saanyá Kwáan Neix.ádi Clan title of Gashéiksh (often known in English as Chief Kashakes) being Gashéiksh IV. Denny was born January 27, 1902 in T’éesh Kwáan Xagu (known in English as Saxman, Alaska) to Henry Denny Sr. (1860-1947) and Bessie Johnson Denny (1870-1973). Denny Jr. was of the Eagle Moiety, the Neix.ádi Clan, and of the Ch’áak’ Koowú Hít (Eagle Fan-Tail House). His Tlingit names were Gitxwán and Asdaaxaay.

Denny was selected to be Gashéiksh IV in on Dec. 25, 1917. At a T’éesh Kwáan Xagu ceremony held from Dec. 22-25, 1917 by John McKay (1835-1931) of the Neix.ádi Clan, Charles T. Johnson (1863-1948) was named Gashéiksh III, and Henry Denny Jr.—then only 14 years old at the time—was named Gashéiksh IV. The hereditary title was passed from the then late George Johnson, Gashéiksh II, who died circa 1910 during a flu epidemic. From 1917 on Denny was trained to be a leader. In 1927 Charles T. Johnson reportedly held a formal ceremony in T’éesh Kwáan Xagu to announce the passing of the title of Gashéiksh from himself to Henry Denny Jr. Although Denny was involved as caretaker of the physical structure of the Ch’áak’ Koowú Hít after 1927, with the advent of capitalism and private property, in 1952 Denny took legal possession/title of the Ch’áak’ Koowú Hít, where he lived until his death in 1979.   

Prior to his death he ensured the house would be left to his daughter Dorothy M. Utterberg. (In 1994 the Ch’áak’ Koowú Hít [known as the Chief Kashakes House] was placed on the National Register of Historic Places by Dorothy Utterberg and Bruce Kelley). In 1978 Denny designated Joseph Denny Sr. (1904-1984) to be Gashéiksh V, and reportedly, in 1984 Reynold “Mickey” Denny (1913-1991) was named Gashéiksh VI.

During Henry Denny Jr.’s life he married Mae Tolsen (1903-1944) in 1918 and the couple later had three children, Dorothy Mae (1921-2008), Lawrence Robert (b. 1922), and Theodore Richard Denny (1923-1976). According to available BIA census records, Denny and his family are documented as living in Ketchikan between 1938 and 1946, before Denny took up residence in T’éesh Kwáan Xagu in 1952 at the Gashéiksh House. The Ketchikan Daily News (9 Sept. 1961) also reported that Denny worked as a fisherman in the T’éesh Kwáan Xagu area aboard the F/V Kay. However, family stated that Denny had leased the F/V Kay for a short period, but actually worked aboard his own ship Coastal Pride which he fished from for 30 years. He was a member of the Alaska Native Brotherhood. He lived in T’éesh Kwáan Xagu until his death in 1979. 

Sources: Words of Henry Denny Jr. on recording in Box 1, Item 9; recording of Denny Jr. on MC 41, Tape 58, file notes on Denny, correspondence with donor and grandson Bruce Kelley, and National Register of Historic Places Registration Form documentation on the history of the Chief Kashakes House, BIA Census records, and book The Legacy of Saxman: Looking to the Future Through Our Past (2011).

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