Bethel (Central Yupik: Mamterilleq) is the largest community on the Kuskokwim River, located approximately 50 mi (80 km) upriver from where the river flows into Kuskokwim Bay. Bethel is the largest community in western Alaska and in the Unorganized Borough, as well as the ninth largest in the state, with a population of 6,080 as of the 2010 Census.
Annual events in Bethel include the Kuskokwim 300, a dogsled race; Camai, a Yup'ik dance festival held each spring, and the Bethel Fair held in August.
Southwestern Alaska has been the homelands of Yup'ik peoples and their ancestors for thousands of years. The residents of what became Bethel were called the Mamterillermiut, meaning "Smokehouse People", after their nearby fish smokehouse. In the late 19th century, the Alaska Commercial Company established a trading post in the town, called Mumtrekhlogamute, which had a population of 41 people by the 1880 US Census.
In 1885, the Moravian Church established a mission in the area under the leadership of Rev. William Weinland and Caroline (born Yost) and 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 a great social disruption among the Alaska Natives.
In 1971, Bethel established a community radio station KYUK, which has been a strong influence in the redevelopment and revival of Yup'ik culture and self-definition.