Bethel (Mamterilleq in Central Alaskan Yup'ik) is a city located near the west coast of the U.S. state of Alaska, approximately 400 miles west of Anchorage. Accessible only by air and river, Bethel is the main port on the Kuskokwim River and is an administrative and transportation hub for the 56 villages in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.
Bethel is the largest community in western Alaska and in the Unorganized Borough, as well as the 9th largest in the state, with a population of 6,080 as of the 2010 Census. Bethel is home to the lone detention center in southwestern Alaska, the Yukon Kuskokwim Correction Center. In 2009, Bethel opted out of status as a "Local Option" community, theoretically opening the door to allowing alcohol sales in the city; residents and city officials maintain that all liquor license requests will be actively opposed.
Southwestern Alaska was the traditional place of Yup'ik people and their ancestors for thousands of years. They called their village Mamterillermiut, meaning "Smokehouse People", after their nearby fish smokehouse. It was an Alaska Commercial Company trading post during the late 19th century, and had a population of 41 people in the 1880 U.S. Census.
In 1885, the Moravian Church established a mission in the area under the leadership of Rev. John Henry Kilbuck, Jr., a Lenape, and his wife Edith, a daughter and granddaughter of Moravian missionaries in Kansas. They both learned Yup'ik, which greatly enhanced their effectiveness as missionaries. He made Yup'ik the language of the Moravian Church in the community and region, and helped translate scripture into the people's language. The missionaries moved Bethel from Mamterillermiut to its present location on the west side of the Kuskokwim River. A United States post office was opened in 1905.
Alaska Natives in this area have had a long Christian history, in part from Russian Orthodox, Catholic and Moravian influence. As in many Alaska Native villages, Christian tradition has become interwoven with the people's original culture.
Development came to the area during and after World War II, causing social disruption among the Alaska Natives.
In 1971 Bethel established a community radio, which has been a strong influence in the redevelopment and revival of Yupik culture and self-definition. It was the first Native-owned and operated radio station. Similar stations were soon started in Kotzebue, and by 1990, there were 10 stations in communities of fewer than 3,500 people.
On February 19, 1997, a school shooting attracted widespread media attention to Bethel when 16-year-old Evan Ramsey, a student at Bethel Regional High School, shot and killed his principal and one student and wounded two others, for which he later received a 198-year prison sentence.
In 2012, a person in town put signs all over stating that a Taco Bell would be coming soon, when in reality it was all an elaborate hoax and there wouldn't be a Taco Bell opening. Taco Bell corporate responded by airlifting a "taco truck" to Bethel to serve up to 10,000 tacos for the community. The event was featured in a commercial for Taco Bell and in a CNN report.