Of the nine chapters in this book I have transcribed only the first
four. If you wish to read the entire book you will find it at
CONDITION OF AFFAIRS
TERRITORY OF ALASKA.
HENRY W. ELLIOTT,
SPECIAL AGENT TREASURY DEPARTMENT.
GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE.
LETTER TO THE SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY.
Washington, D. C, November 16, 1874.
Sir: In compliance with the provisions of the act of Congress approved April 22, 1874, I have the honor to submit the following report upon the condition and importance of the
fur trade in the Territory of Alaska ; "the present condition of the seal-fisheries of Alaska ; the haunts and habits of the seal ; the preservation and extension of the fisheries as a source of revenue to the United States, with like information respecting the fur-bearing animals of Alaska generally ; the statistics of the fur-trade ; and the condition of the people or natives, especially those upon "whom the successful prosecution of the fisheries and fur-trade is dependent :''
The first measure suggested by my investigations this season, is one of reform in the present government of the Territory.
It is supposed that a useless outlay of money and labor is not intended to be persisted in, when the same annual
expenditure will give prompt and effective supervision over interests in that region which seem now to be sadly neglected. The present mismanagement of affairs in Alaska is not attributable to any other cause than that of the universal ignorance
prevailing in the United States, at the time of the transfer, in regard to the form of government needed, and since then no one seems to have taken any intelligent or active interest
in the matter. In the following report, herewith submitted, I desire to draw your attention to the statements and suggestions contained in the chapter devoted to this subject, and I trust that yon may be pleased to give them your approval.
The pecuniary value of the fur-seal interests of the Government renders it highly important that the Treasury Department, now intrusted
[sic] with its care and supervision, should possess definite and authoritative information as to its proper
management for its perpetuation in its original integrity, at least. I, therefore, take great pleasure in calling your attention especially to the accompanying report upon the subject, which embodies the results of three seasons (1872, 1873, and 1874) close
personal observation and research on the ground, with maps and illustrations.
In connection with the condition of the natives of the Territory, on whom the successful prosecution of the fur-trade is dependent, I have been led into a very careful study of the history and habits of the sea-otter in this country, to the successful hunting of which between four and five thousand
Christian Aleutians and Kodiakers look for a means of livelihood. Since the transfer, fire-arms, formerly proscribed, have been introduced among the sea-otter hunters. This, in combination with the keenest rivalry of opposition traders, makes it only a question of a very short time ere these valuable and interesting animals are exterminated, on the existence of which so many
Christianized natives are totally dependent for all of the comforts, and many even of the necessities, of a semi-civilized
life. The remedy for this is a very simple and effective one, and I beg leave to refer to my discussion of the subject in this report
under the head of the sea-otter and its hunters.
In my report it will be seen that I have given the Yukon, Aleutian, and Sitkan sections close attention, having yet to more fully examine the Kodiak, Cooks Inlet, and Copper
River districts ; that I have, in connection with Lieut. Washburn Maynard, United States Navy, my associate during the past season, carefully resurveyed the area and position of the
breeding-grounds of the fur-seal on the Prybilov Islands. We surveyed Saint Matthews Island, which is contiguous and was
entirely unknown and uninhabited, in order to settle the question, so frequently asked, and to which no definite reply could be given, as to whether or not it was suitable ground for
fur seals to land upon and breed, should these animals ever become dissatisfied with their present locality ; and that
I have compiled, from Russian and other authorities, facts and statistics as to the extent of the fur-trade in the early days of the
Territory, so as to compare with the condition of this business at the present, as I get it from traders and agents in the country
generally. Of necessity, I have been obliged to use my judgment in selecting and taking these figures, both from the written as well as the verbal authorities. These I submit as being very nearly correct, to the best of my knowledge and belief. The remarkable increase in the catch of fur-bearing animals since
the change of ownership of the country is most striking, but in perfect harmony with the strong contrast between the
indolent, make shift management of the Russian-American Fur Company in later times and that of our energetic, economical traders.
The extravagant statements which have been made in regard to the resources of this Territory, which, on the one hand, were they true, would lit it for the future reception of a
highly-civilized population, while, on the other, it would be made a land of utter desolation, worthlessness, and an entire loss of seven millions of purchase-money, besides being a burden to the General Government, these announcements, so often made and reiterated throughout our country, have caused me to pay great attention to the subject, and in this report I have endeavored to give a concise description of the agricultural character of the Territory as I have seen it, which thus far might be
truthfully summed up in saying that there are more acres of better land lying now a wilderness and jungle in sight on the
mountaintops of the Alleghenies from the car-windows of the Pennsylvania road than can be found in all Alaska ; and when it is remembered that this land, wild,
in the heart of one of our oldest and most thickly-populated States, will remain as it now is, cheap,
and undisturbed for an indefinite time to come, notwithstanding its close proximity to the homes of millions of energetic and enterprising men, it is not difficult to estimate the value of the Alaskan acres, remote as they are, and barred out by a most disagreeable sea-coast climate, leaving out altogether the great West and vast agricultural regions of British America ; but then, directly to the contrary, it would be
wrong to hint by this statement, true as it is, that the country is worthless, for on the Seal Islands alone the Government possesses property which would not remain in the market many days unsold were it offered for seven millions, and from which the annual revenue is doubly sufficient to meet all expenditures for the proper government of the whole Territory, if the matter was correctly adjusted. Again, it should be understood that,
beyond a few outcrops of Tertiary coal and small leads near Sitka of gold and silver, with reports of native copper in situ,
nothing is known whatever of the mineral wealth of the Territory at the present writing, as far as I can learn, but which I have reason to think will develop into some value.
My opinion with reference to the fishing interests in the Territory has been almost entirely formed by the accounts of old, experienced fishermen whom I have met in the country
personally engaged in fishing in these waters. The value and probable yield of the cod-banks of Alaska have been greatly overrated, but it may be reasonably anticipated that the success attending the canning of salmon on the Columbia
River will stimulate the prosecution of this industry at the mouths of all the large streams and rivers of the Territory.
In connection with my survey of affairs in the Territory, the Seal Islands in especial, I have been most fortunate in being associated with a gentleman so
efficient and conscientious as Lieut. Washburn Maynard, the officer selected by the Secretary of the
Navy, in compliance with the act of Congress,
to accompany me on this tour of investigation, and to report independently.
It is also fitting that I should speak in flattering terms of the high character of the service rendered us this season by Captain J. G. Baker, commanding the United States revenue-cutter
Reliance, who carried us with all care and expedition to such
points as we saw fit to designate, and which it was possible to visit in a sailing-vessel, with the time allotted.
The several subjects within the scope of my report I have arranged, and herewith respectfully present in the following order, viz :
CHAPTER I. The character of the country.
II. The natives or people of Alaska ; their condition &c.
III. The duty of the Government in the Territory of Alaska.
IV. Trade in the Territory and the traders,
The sea-otter and its hunting.
The condition of affairs on the Seal Island ; Prybilov group.
The habits of the fur seal.
VIII. Fish and fisheries.
IX. Ornithology of the Prybilov Islands.
I have endeavored in the preparation of this report to be as concise as possible, perhaps so to a fault, but the enumeration of the thousand and one little things that have combined to form opinion, and indirectly influence ones judgment, can interest no one but the writer.
On the subject of Alaska, it is safe to assert that no other unexplored section of the world was ever brought into notice suddenly, about which so much has been emphatically and positively written, based entirely upon the whims and caprices of the writers, and, therefore, it will not be at all surprising if the truth in regard to the Territory does frequently come into
contact with many erroneous popular opinions respecting it.
With the hope that the results of my labor as presented in the following report will meet with your approval and support, I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
HENRY W. ELLIOTT,
Special Agent Treasury Department.
Hon. B. H. Bristow,
Secretary of the Treasury.
THE CHARACTER OF THE COUNTRY.
THE TERRITORY OF ALASKA.
So much has been said pro and con as to the natural wealth and advantages of our new acquisition, the Territory of Alaska, that the widest possible divergence of opinion has arisen upon this subject ; on the one hand, we hear that here is a country no more rugged or uninviting than is Sweden or
Norway, where a high civilization exists, with just as much natural adaptation for the home of advancing humanity, with vast forests of the finest ship-timber, with iron, copper, coal, and possibly rich gold and silver mines, with valleys
and plains upon which sheep and cattle can be bred and raised without more than ordinary care, so abundant is the grass and other vegetation ; that the climate is
extremely mild on the seaboard, no more damp and foggy than on the coast of Oregon, &c. ; while, on the other hand, we are as gravely told that it is an area of total desolation ; that it is locked up in the grasp of winters frosts for eight or nine months in the year ; that icebergs and snow fill the sea and drift in fathomless rifts ; that it is bare and barren, only moss and
swale grass 5 that even the inhabitants there drag out a miserable existence on seal-meat, oil, and like food ; and that it will never become the home of white men, because there is no object in the land that will draw them there save the small fur-trading interests.
There is truth in both declarations, but no such thing as a happy medium can be struck between the two views; a fair, dispassionate statement in regard to this matter, however, at the time of the transfer of the Territory,
could hardly have been made, no citizen of the United States having the means of the opportunity to form a proper judgment. The Russians did not live here as a people, but as a company of fur-traders only, with a single eye to the getting of skins ; and the matter of their subsistence while so doing was comparatively of little importance; but it should be said that at all of their posts throughout the Territory they fully tested the capabilities of soil and climate for garden-products, and at many of them gave bogs
and cattle a trial, with a deep interest in the success of their experiments. The
Russian American Company in retiring from the country gave us a generally correct map of the
Territory, accurate figures as to the numbers and distribution of the natives ; but upon other points the most vague or else conflicting data, and in this condition of knowledge we took possession of the country. Its true status, therefore, and real importance were simply unknown to our people.
Since that time, however, quite a number of adventurers, traders, miners, fishermen, and the like have had their attention and interest centered here, and the resources of the country in small sections have been keenly scrutinized with a view to what the country could or could not yield in supply of human wants.
THE DIVERSIFIED CHARACTER OF THE COUNTRY.
Everybody is familiar with the geographical position of Alaska, with its extended area of coast-line, stretching from a trifle south of the 55th parallel of north latitude, above Fort Simpson, on the British Columbian Territory, far to the
northward and westward away into the Arctic Ocean and above the arctic circle; and, in describing the character of this vast trend of land, it should be divided into several natural districts, by reason of the local difference between them.
The Sitkan district. Starting from Portland Canal and running north to Cross Sound
and the head of Lynn Canal, the eye glances
over a range of country made up of hundreds of islands, large and small, and a bold, mountainous coast, all everywhere rugged
and abrupt in contour, and, with exception of highest summits, the bills, mountains, and valleys, the last always narrow and winding, are covered with a dense jungle of spruce and fir, cedar and shrubbery, so thick, dark, and damp, that it is traversed only
the expenditure of great physical energy, and a clear spot, either on islands or mainland, where an acre of grass might grow by itself, as it does in
the little "parks" far in the interior, cannot be found. In these forest-jungles, especially on
the lowlands and always by the water-courses, will be found a fair proportion of ordinary timber of the
character above designated. The spruce and fir, however, are so
heavily charged with resin, that they can be used for nothing but
the roughest work; the cedar is, however, an excellent article. But
back from the Coast Range here, on which our boundary-line is
dotted, springs up quite a different country again, higher
everywhere from the sea-level by thousands of feet, dry, with not
one-tenth part of the rain-fall, vast rolling plains or table-lands
and rounded mountain-tops, over which fire has swept not many years
ago, for the last time, as it has frequently done before, utterly
destroying* the pine-forests, leaving nothing but the blackened and
bleached trunks piled upon and across one another at the sport of tierce gales ; and springing up from
beneath this desolation and shutting over it is a new forest of young" pine and
poplars, with a large number of service-berry and salal bushes interspersed. The valleys here widen out, and contain large tracts of excellent ground for cultivation,
with the significant objection, however, of being subject to frosts so late in the spring as June 10, and so early in the summer as the 20th of August. This, of course, excludes the question of agricultural utility ; and although the grass grows everywhere here in the valleys in the most luxuriant manner, yet cattle cannot run out through the winters, which are here bitterly cold; widely different from those a hundred miles only to the westward across the Coast
Range. Here, under the powerful influence of the great Pacific, winter is never anything but wet and chilly, seldom ever giving the people a weeks skating on the small lake back of Sitka. Day after day there
are high winds and drizzling rains, with breaks in the leaden sky showing gleams of clear blue and sunlight ; and here the agriculturist or gardener has like cause for discouragement, for nothing will ripen ; whatever he plants grows and enters on its stages of decay without perfecting. It must, moreover, be remarked that there is but very little land fit even for this
unsatisfactory and most unprofitable agriculture, i. e., properly drained and warm soil enough for the very hardiest cereals. There is not one acre of such tillable land to every ten
thousand of the objectionable character throughout the larger portion of this area, and certainly not more than one acre to a thousand in the best regions. Grass grows in small localities or areas, wherever it is not smothered by forests and thickets,
in the valleys over this whole Sitkan district ; its presence, however, is not the rule, but the exception, so vigorous is the growth of shrubbery and timber; and even did it grow in large amount, the curing of hay is simply impracticable. Although the winters are mild, still there is not enough ranging-ground to
support herds of cattle throughout the year and have them within control.
Mount Saint Elias district. Reaching from Cross Sound to Prince Williams Sound is a second and clearly-defined region, exhibiting a bald, bare sea-front, with scarcely au island or a rock in its long stretch of over three hundred miles ; little belts of spruce timber skirt the lowlands by the sea, while that which is hilly and mountainous is almost bare ; grass and berries grow, however, in great
abundance. It is the most cheerless, but at the same time the most interesting, portion of the Territory, not from any other point of view, however, than that of the tourist or geologist, who will find Mount Saint Elias the highest peak in North America, and the superb mountains of Fairweather and
Cillon, and the country about them, covered, for miles and miles, with mighty glaciers, a field of most instructive interest. An immense mass of ice comes down into the head of Lynn Canal, which, the Indians say, originates and travels from Mount
Fairweather over fifty miles away. This glacier is some eight miles wide where it faces the sea in the channel, and many hundred feet in thickness, perfectly magnificent, and should be visited, for, as yet, this region, like the most of our new Territory, has not been trodden by the foot of white man, and seldom even by the savage. Its exceptional presentation of timber, its long reaches of rounded, low, barren hills, and relative scarcity of both birds and animals, make this section about as uninviting, on economic grounds, as any in the Territory, and the paucity of Indian life within its limits speaks definitely for its poverty as to game and fish.
Cook's Inlet district. I refrain from giving the reports which I received from this section, inasmuch as they are very
contradictory in many leading features ; though, in a general way, the ideas given me are undoubtedly correct.
They represent the country similar to Kodiak, with more timber.
The Peninsular and Kodiak Island. This region, lying between Iliamna Lake and the False Pass, between the head of the
Peninsula of Alaska and contiguous islands, is the most valuable section of the entire Territory, possessing the most equable climate, especially so at Kodiak, growing the
garden-supplies of potatoes, turnips, &c., the only place where hay can be made, enough
for a few head of stock, with anything like a certainty, from season to season
of but the country comprised in this district, which forms the southern and western half of the Peninsula, does not possess any of
the above-mentioned qualifications in the same degree by any means. The island of Kodiak and the whole district is, however, rugged and mountainous, with numerous small lakes and tiny rivers or streams, up which a considerable number of salmon run every year. Timber, of spruce and fir, grows in fair quantity in the northern and eastern end of Kodiak, all the islands to the eastward, and down the Peninsula as far as Chignik Bay ; it is not large, but in size for fuel, rough building,
&c. Grass grows most luxuriantly, especially on Kodiak, but the area suitable for its support is limited, there
being no plains or dry and accessible valleys in which to cut and cure it. There are many winters here in which cattle might be kept in small numbers without exceptional care and expense, i. e., enough to afford milk and beef for a small settlement, and also sheep and hogs. Little patches of land can be found where a small garden will thrive consisting of potatoes, turnips, &c., but reaching down to the Aleutian Islands, and over them, is a region bare entirely of timber and nearly so of shrubbery, rugged, abrupt, and extremely mountainous, the surface broken into patches set, as it were, on end this is no country adapted for agriculture, for the prevalence of foggy, dark weather would
render even the limited area that could be utilized with sunlight unserviceable for the production of fruits and vegetables. Soil there is
sufficiently rich and deep, but it is too cold to
mature or ripen garden-products, except in very favored localities where, as at Ounalashka, a few potatoes of inferior quality, good turnips, and lettuce, are in the favorable seasons raised. The Western Islands are all essentially volcanic, with scarcely a trace of sedimentary rock to be found; consisting of high, steep ridges and
peaks of porphyries and volcanic tufa, with here and there syeuitic granites. The vegetation, such as it is, principally Empetrum nigrum, grows most rank and luxuriant on the flanks and even the summits of many of these high places, and the light, frail stems of this plant, which are of about the size of strawberry-vines, the natives gather and bring down from the hills in large bundles for fire-wood. The only shrub that
lifts its head above the earth, of value as wood, is a willow, (Salix reticulata,) which grows in scattered clumps along the little
water-courses, twisted and contorted, yet of sufficient size to furnish in early days strong and serviceable frames for native
skinboats or "baidars." Scattered over the Aleutian Islands and on the Peninsula are many small lakes, some of them quite large. The Peninsular country is more rolling and level, on the north shore
especially so ; for from Port Moller on up to the head of Bristol Bay extensive flats make out from the
highlands and stretch between them and the sea in width varying from ten to sixty miles.
There are a number of volcanoes in this district, such as that of Makooshin, on Ounalashka Island, Akootan and
Shishaldin, on Oonimak, which, however, do not eject lava, but emit smoke, steam, and ashes, although in times past and within the memory of man large stones have been thrown out by many of them, and still earlier
lava has been poured out on Oonimak in immense streams. The seared, rugged courses of the once liquid rock make traveling on that island excessively fatiguing. Akootan, on Akootan Island, and Makooshin are, perhaps, the most active, or as lively as
any the Territory to-day. There has been no disturbance on their account in the country for the last thirty years to mention, but previous to that time many severe
earthquake shocks have been recorded, and the growth of a new island,
Bogaslov, twenty miles north of Oomnak, in Bering's Sea, has been witnessed by the present generation, and I think
that the phenomena attending the appearance of this island far out at sea and alone must have been coincident with the whole
history of the formation of the Aleutian Chain, and therefore I may be excused for giving the substance of the story as told by
several of the Russian writers.
In the fall of 1796 the residents of Oonimak and Ounalashka were surprised by a series of loud reports and tremblings of the earth, followed by the appearance of a dense dark cloud, full of gas and ashes, which came down upon them from the sea to the northward, and, after a week or ten days, during which time the cloud hung steadily over them, accompanied with earthquakes and subterranean thunder, it cleared away somewhat, so that they saw distinctly to the northward a bright light burning above the sea, and, upon closer inspection in their boats, the people found that a
small island, elevated about 100 feet above sea-level, had been forced up and was still in the
process of elevation and enlargement, formed of lava and scoriae. The volcanic action did not cease on this island until 1S25, when it left above the water an oval peak, almost inaccessible, 400 to 500 feet high, and four or five miles in circumference. It was
soon after this occupied by sea-lions and resorted to by sea-fowl
which were found here in 1825, when
the Russians lauded for the first time, and the rocks were still warm.
In this way and recently, geologically speaking, were the Aleutian Islands formed from
the Peninsula westward, including the Prybilov Group and Saint 3Iattbews,
their appearance marking
the course of a line of least resistance in the earths crust.
The Yukon District. In this division may be placed all that
the bead of Bristol Bay and north and west of the Peninsular Range of mountains as they extend far into
the interior, reaching to the arctic and far beyond, an immense area of desolate sameness, almost unknown, and likely to be so for an indefinite time, the banks of
the Yukon River being the only track traversed as yet by white men into the interior. This great range of country may
properly be divided into two sections, the bills or timber-lands and
the plains or tundra. The former seldom approach the waters of Bering or the Arctic
Sea nearer than fifty or sixty miles, and generally trend some two to three hundred miles back.
The general contour of the interior is a vast undulating plain, with high, rounded granitic hills
ridges scattered here and there, on the flanks of which, and by the countless lakes
and water-courses, grow in tolerable abundance spruce, fir, hemlock, birch, and
poplar, with a large number of hardy shrubs indigenous all the world over to these latitudes. The summers short, but warm and pleasant
; the winters long, and
bitter] cold and inclement.
The tundra, however, which fronts the whole coast-line of this, the most extensive section of
the Territory, is, indeed, cheerless and repellent at any season ; in the summer it is a great flat swale, full of bog-holes, slimy, decayed peat, innumerable lakes, shallow, stagnant,
and from all places swarm mosquitoes of the most malignant type, while in winter it is a wide snow plain, over which fierce gales of wind, at zero
temperature, sweep in constant succession, making travel as painful and dangerous as can be well imagined. In this season all approach to
the coast is barred by a great system of shoals and banks, which extend so far out to sea that a vessel drawing 10 feet of water will be hard aground, out of sight of land, off
the mouth of the Yukon.
There is a vast area of this district between the head of Cooks Inlet and
the Arctic, and far back into the interior, that is entirely unknown, but as traders are extending their routes in all directions, this interior may in time be explored
The Ounalashka District. Under this head may be placed the Aleutian Islands ; and as Illolook or Ounalashka Village is the most important place among them, both with regard to population and trade, and the best position as a port, its name may be fitly applied to the whole region.
This great chain of rugged islands, enveloped during the greater part of the year in fogs, and swept over by frequent gales, that, in combination with the mists and currents, make it a region dreaded by the mariner, abounds in sharp hills, and hilly or bluffy mountainous masses. Nearly every island and there are many, small and large is as it were set up on
end with small patches of bottom-laud here and there, in rare Intervals, at the base of the hills and mountains.
The appearance of any of these islands from a ship approaching them during the summer, on a clear sunny day and such days are occasionally known is most attractive: a rich, dark coat of vivid
green clothes the valleys, hills, and mountains, quite to the snow-line. In these narrow defiles and bottom-land patches, the grass is most luxuriant, growing
waist high, with low, stunted willow-bushes here and there in small quantity; and it is at first not apparent, when one strolls about the country on such a day, that it is utterly worthless as an agricultural or stock-raising
country The mountains principally consist of syeuitic granites and porphyries, with sharp
summits and abrupt slopes, and present numerous small watercourses, with little or no valley-ground. The vegetation is rank and luxuriant, and, in favorable seasons, the grasses ripen their seeds well. Quite a variety of berries abound ; for
example, salmon, huckle, crow, and blue berries. The only timber is a slight willow, nowhere larger than a mans wrist, and not over 7 or 8 feet high, growing in small, scattered clumps, with stunted specimens climbing way up the hill-sides. The thick, dense carpet of crow-berry plants, into which one sinks at every step ankle-deep, covers the entire country, and makes traveling very tedious for a pedestrian. Several species of grass grow
everywhere in patches, and if more sunlight were to fall upon these cold, moist places, where vegetation now springs up every
year in such quantities, but of such inferior quality, hay might be cured, and it might be called a fair grazing-country ; but
although the islands would amply support herds of cattle and flocks of sheep during the summer-months, these animals would generally need shelter and feed for three to five months as winter comes on, and far into the spring
during late seasons, when light winds rage and keep the snow in drifts.
Bailey might also be grown with a little more sunlight ; and potatoes might also be matured year after year in fair quantity, and a good kitchen-garden established in the most favored sections ; but perpetual fogs and mists hang like
palls over the land and render it of no agricultural importance.
The summers are mild, foggy, and humid, with an average temperature of 50° Fahrenheit, with winters also mild, foggy, and humid, and an average temperature of 30°. Minimum thermometer here seldom or never falls lower than 10° ; there never has been recorded four consecutive weeks of temperature lower than 3° or 5°. The weather begins to grow colder in October, and does not become milder until
April. The natives here think that 12° to 15° is pleasant weather, but if it goes down to 3° or 5°, it is to them, horribly cold. There are,
however, exceptional seasons. For instance, the summer of 1831, in July and August the thermometer did not rise above 35°, and evenings were not uncommon with as low a temperature as 12°.
Rain falls at all times and with all winds, but mostly in the
autumn, with southeast and easterly winds, and less with
southwest winds in winter.
Snow begins to fall in September, (and even in August,) and
does not cease earlier than May, although it frequently melts
as fast as it falls far into December. It is seen on the higher
mountains all the year round. The average snow-fall is from
2 to 5 feet; the high, driving winds make the snow intensely
disagreeable and impede traveling.
The cloudiness of the district is remarkable ; there are not a
dozen cloudless days in the whole year; about thirty to fifty
fine days ; and Veniaminov says, after living there ten years,
"that the sun may he seen in a hundred to a hundred and sixty
days during the year."
Thunder is seldom ever heard, and lightning never seen ;
although the clouds seem to constantly suggest it. Auroras
are also almost unknown, and when seen are very faint.
The old Aleuts here say that in early times the snow was
deeper and the cold greater than it has been for some time
past, while, on the other hand, they assert that the winds are
getting stronger and harsher as time rolls on with them. Veniaminov says, "In all the time of my living here there
not one day from morning to evening that was entirely without wind, or was a perfect calm." The winds blow hero strong
from all quarters, strongest in October, November, December, and
March. The gales do not usually last more than three days
at a time, but they follow in quick succession in the seasons
There are a multitude of little lakes of fresh water on the
islands, and in nearly all of the small streams (for there are no
large ones) are found brook trout of good quality.
In view of the foregoing, what shall we say of the resources
of Alaska, viewed as regards its agricultural or horticultural
It would seem undeniable that owing to the unfavorable climatic conditions which prevail on the coast and in the interior,
the gloomy fogs and dampness of the former, and the intense,
protracted severity of the winters, characteristic of the latter,
unfit the Territory for the proper support of any considerable
Men may, and undoubtedly will, soon live here, in comparative comfort, as they labor in mining-camps, lumber and ship
timber mills, and salmon-factories, but they will bring with
them everything they want except fish and game, and when
they leave the country it will be as desolate as they found it.
Can a country be permanently and prosperously settled that
will not in its whole extent allow the successful growth and
ripening of a single crop of corn, wheat, or potatoes, and where
the most needful of any domestic animals cannot be kept by
poor people ?
The Russians, who have subdued a rougher country, and settled in large communities under severer conditions than have
been submitted to by any body of our own people as yet, were
in this Territory, after some twenty years at least of patient,
intelligent trial, obliged to send a colony to California to raise
their potatoes, grain, and beef; the history of their settlement
there, and forced abandonment in 1842, is well known.
We may with pride refer to the rugged work of settlement
so successfully made by our ancestors in New England, but it
is idle to talk of the subjugation of Alaska as a task simply requiring a similar expenditure of persistence, energy, and ability.
In Massachusetts our forefathers had a land in which all the
necessaries of life, and many of the luxuries, could be produced
from the soil with certainty from year to year; in Alaska their
lot would have been quite the reverse, and they could have maintained themselves therewith no better success than the present
inhabitants. Attention should be directed to the development
of its mineral wealth, which I have reason to think will yet
prove to be considerable, and effort should be made to stimulate and protect the present available industries of the fur
trade, the canning of salmon, &c.
THE NATIVES OR PEOPLE OF ALASKA : THEIR
THEIR LIFE IN THE PAST, IN THE PRESENT, AND PROSPECTS
FOR THE FUTURE.
In taking the subject of the condition of the people of Alaska
into consideration, the character of the country in which they
live should always be kept in mind, for the life of any people
is insensibly but surely molded by the climate and land in
which they are found : under favorable and genial influences
of soil and climate, a rude race may be raised from barbarism,
pass into civilization, and be sustained by these favoring supports.
The inhabitants of the Territory are divided into two decidedly
distinct races, widely different in habits and disposition ; one of
these two classes consists of the Christian Aleuts, who live
upon the Aleutian Islands, the Seal Islands, the Peninsula of
Alaska, the adjacent Islands, and Kodiak ; the Indians, occupying all the rest of the inhabited country, constitute the other. It
will be seen by a Russian table [not shown here] which I submit in connection
with this subject that quite a large number, in 1863, of the
natives, outside of the district above specified, are claimed as
Christians, but I cannot recognize the claim to-day ; they have
worn off what little Christianity they may have possessed ten
years ago, and there is no Christian influence, properly speaking,
in the Territory, outside of the Aleutians and the people of
Kodiak ; these people are naturally fitted for the reception of
the principles of Christianity, or otherwise they would have
remained Indians, as the others, who are savages, have done.
The Russian Greek Catholic priests spared no effort in their
attempts to convert the Koloshians of Sitka and those of
kindred stock elsewhere in the Territory, but met with partial
failure in every instance.
The fact that among all the savage races found on the northwest coast by Christian pioneers and teachers the Aleutians
are the only practical converts to Christianity, goes far, in my
opinion, to set them apart as very differently constituted in
mind and disposition from our aborigines, to whom, however,
they are intimately allied. They adopted the Christian faith
with very little opposition, readily exchanging their barbarous
customs and wild superstitions for the agreeable rites of the
Greek Catholic Church and its more refined myths and legends.
At the time of their first discovery they were living as savages
in every sense of the word, bold and hardy ; but now, to all outward signs and professions of Christianity they respond as
sincerely as our own church-going people.
The question as to the derivation of these people is still a
mooted one among ethnologists ; in all points of personal bearing, intelligence, character, as well as physical structure, they
seem to form a link of perfect gradation between the Japanese
and Eskimo, although their traditions and language are entirely
distinct and peculiar to themselves ; they, however, claim to
have come first to the Aleutian Islands from a "big land to the
westward," and that when they came here first they found the
land uninhabited, and that they did not meet with any people
until their ancestors had pushed on to the eastward as far as the
Peninsular and Kodiak.
The Aleuts, as they appear to-day, have been so mixed with
Russian, Koloshian, and Kamschadale blood, &c., that they
present characteristics in one way or another of the various
races of men from the negro up to the Caucasian. The predominant features among them are small, wide-set, dark eyes,
broad and high cheek-bones, causing the jaw, which is full and
square, to often appear peaked ; coarse, straight black hair,
small, neatly-shaped feet and hands, together with brownish
yellow complexion. The men will average in stature five feet
four or five inches; the women less in proportion, although
there are exceptions among them, some being over six feet in
height, and others dwarfs.
The number of these people, including those of Kodiak, who
resemble the Aleutians only as Christians, having no other cultural or blood affinity, is about 5,000, but when first discovered
by the Russians they were four and five times as many; at least
20,000 were living on the Aleutian Islands and the Peninsular in
1760; and from that time, in obedience to that natural law
which causes an inferior class to succumb to its superior when
brought into opposition, the Aleuts were quickly diminished in
number until it became an object of care and solicitude on the
part of the Russians to save them for the prosecution of the fur
trade. In 1834 they numbered only about 4,000. Kodiak in
chided, and therefore they have not diminished nor increased
to any noteworthy degree during the last forty years. There
has been a slight increase, if any, up to the present time.
When first discovered they were living in large "yourts'' or
"oo-laga-muh'' houses partially underground, which resemble
very much such a structure as our farmers put up for a root
cellar, with the difference only of having the entrance through
a hole ill the top, going in and out on a rude ladder or notched
timber post. Some of these yourts were very large, as shown
by the ruins to-day ; one on Oonimak Island, north side, is
over 500 feet in length, with corresponding width, and one at
Koshegau, Ounalashka Island, the foundations still standing,
shows that it was 87 yards long and 40 wide; and an old
woman who was living only two years ago, remembered when
her people lived there, and called it "a handsome house." In
these yourts they lived by forties, fifties, and hundreds as a
single family, with the double object of protection and warmth,
where fuel was so scarce and precious.
For a full account of them as they existed when first visited
by the Russian priests I can do no better than call attention to
the history of their lives and condition, as published by Father
Veniaminov,* a noble missionary, and who made good use of his
time in recording faithfully the custom of a people which has
been entirely changed by Christianity in less than one hundred
years. As an illustration, showing how exceedingly superstitious they were in these early days, I may mention that there
is a small stream running into the northwest head of Beaver
Bay, Ounalashka Island, forming a very pretty little waterfall, and near by it is a large mass of dark basaltic rock ; the
water of this creek the Aleuts never dared to drink for fear of
instant death, and to the stone they paid homage, and revered
it as a devil petrified.
As they are living at this time, nearly every family is in
possession of a hut or " barrabkie, built partly underground,
walled up on the sides, and roofed over with dirt and sod ; a
small window placed at one end, and a low door at the other,
which opens into a low, dark alley, which in turn communicates with the living-room by another small door. This living
* A translation is published in Alaska and its Resources, W. H. Dall : Lee
&. Shepard, 1870.
room is not large, seldom over tea feet square, and often not
more than seven or eight, with a hard earthen or wooden floor;
the walls are neatly boarded up and sometimes papered and embellished with pictures of church saints. ln this room the Aleut
spends most of his time when not hunting; shuts himself up
in it with his family, builds a hot fire, lasting only a few
minutes, in the little stove or Russian oven, and either drinks cup
after cup of tea, or stupefies himself with "quass" or
native beer, and lies for hours, and days even, in dull, stupid
enjoyment on his pallet. I have looked into a barrabkie where
there were twenty men, women, and children packed into a
living-room not more than ten feet square, all drinking tea,
with the perspiration rolling down in beady streams from
every face. Many of these huts are damp and exceedingly
filthy, while others are dry and cleanly ; but the temper and
disposition of the Aleuts is that of improvidence and shiftlessness, and all exist, with a few exceptions, as a matter of course,
in a state of ignorance, though a great many read and write,
in consequence of their relationship to the church, the services
of which are recited in the Russian tongue, and as most of the
sub-priests, deacons, &c., are recruited from the ranks of the
people themselves, (the boys only being educated for this purpose.) a large proportion of them speak and read
enough for all ordinary use.
The manners and customs of these people, to-day, possess
in themselves nothing of a barbarous or remarkable character,
aside from that which belongs to a state of advanced semi-civilization. They are exceedingly polite and civil, not only to
their trading agents, but among themselves, and visit one with
another freely and pleasantly, the women being great gossips ;
but, on the whole, their intercourse is very quiet indeed, for the
topics of conversation are few, and, judging from their silent
but unconstrained meetings, they seem to have a mutual knowledge, as if by sympathy, as to what may be occupying each
others minds, rendering speech superfluous. It is only when
under the influence of beer or liquor that they lose their naturally quiet and amiable disposition and fall into drunken
Having been so long under the control and influence of the
Russians, they have adopted many of the customs of the latter,
in giving birth-day dinners, naming their children, &c. They
are great tea-drinkers, but seldom use coffee. On account
of scarcity of fuel, they use a great amount of bard bread, soda
and sweet crackers, instead of buying flour and baking it.
They are remarkably attached to their church, which is well
adapted to them, and no other form of religion could be better
or have a firmer hold upon the sensibilities of the people.
Their chastity and sobriety cannot be commended.
As parents, they are very indulgent while their children are
infants or under the age of eight or nine years, but when this age
is attained by their offspring they become harsh disciplinarians
and task-masters, putting burdens upon young shoulders that are
heavy enough for adults, always exacting implicit obedience.
Though many children are born, the mothers are not successful in
rearing them, for they are extremely negligent in regard to air
and diet, irregular in their meals and slumbers, shiftless and unclean, and they frequently indulge in intoxication while nursing their infants. These vices cause an excessive mortality
among the children. The Aleuts are dependent entirely upon
themselves, except at the Seal Islands, for relief and aid in
case of illness, yielding themselves to such treatment as they
can get with the utmost patience and resignation. They believe
generally in a mild form of Shamanism, or in the laying on of
hands, which is practiced usually by old women.
The average Aleut is a bold, hardy trapper, as he must be to
be successful as a sea-otter hunter, and this is the only profession or calling that his country can offer him. He is a patient,
steady workman, and supplies as good manual labor as could
be desired, and such as is required in the country. The Russians
made sailors, navigators, carpenters, blacksmiths, store-keepers,
&c., of this race ; but since the transfer of the Territory there
are too many of our own people of that class idle for the Aleuts
to compete with, and who come directly into the country in response to any demand for such labor, so that he
falls back upon
the sea-otter as his sole support against a relapse into barbarism. Competition in this business he has no occasion to fear
from the white man, who would never consent to spend the
same amount of skill and energy for the returns which satisfy
the Aleutian hunter.
It will therefore be evident that the good condition of the native hunters of this Territory is a matter of great importance
to the traders who have any deep interest in the fur-trade ; and
it is not remarkable, in view of the clearness of the case, as above
stated, that the Aleuts to-day are existing in greater comfort,
in better houses, with greater facilities for hunting, and receive
better pay than they ever realized before for their skins. Of
this I am confident, by personal observation of the present, and
from a knowledge of the past derived from the archives of the
Russian company, and the history, meager but true, of the
early traders in the country. The enlightened and true business
policy adopted by the agents of the Alaska Commercial Company with regard to the improvement of the condition of the
bunters of the Aleutian Islands bas already begun to bear its
golden fruit in an immensely increased yield of sea-otters every
year. This statement is fully corroborated by a person of all
men in the whole country best qualified to pass an independent
and correct opinion, Father Innocent Sbiesnekov, an intelligent and pious Greek Catholic priest, in charge of the Aleutians, who was born and raised on the ground, and with whom
I have had several interviews bearing upon the subject of this
There is one general evil, not confined to this section of the
Territory, but more injurious to the people here than elsewhere,
and that is the curse of beer drinking and the disorders which
arise constantly from its effects. These people have an inordinate fondness for spirituous liquors, and as
this is not permitted
to be made, vended, or brought into the Territory, the traders
among these natives keep such a sharp lookout for whisky schooners, that the traffic is thoroughly suppressed among the
Aleutians; and the people, therefore, determined to have some
means of ministering to their craving appetites for strong drink,
brew a thick, sour, alcoholic beer, by fermenting sugar, hops,
flour, dried apples, &c., together, in certain proportions, with
water, and many of them manage to keep intoxicated and stupefied for weeks, and even months, at a time ; beating their
wives and children, destroying their houses, and recently, on
several occasions, committing murder. This practice makes
every one of the settlements at frequent intervals, and always
after the return of a successful bunting-party, a scene of lamentable debauchery,
which can only be stopped either by prohibiting the sale or importation of sugar into the Territory, or
by empowering Government agents to inflict summary punishment for the least criminal offenses growing out of intoxication.
A great severity in the punishment would be required, for it
must be said, to their credit, that they are naturally a law-abiding
people, and the mere presence of an officer is, with few exceptions, enough to secure obedience.
For the present demoralization among the natives of the Territory in this respect (and it is a vital one) the Government
alone is responsible. The people, during the last lour or five
years, have indulged in all manner of excesses while under the
influence of beer, and have observed that, do what they will,
from beating their wives up to cold-blooded murder, there is
no authority in the land to punish them ; and this knowledge
tends to continue this unhappy state of affairs. This laxity is
an injustice toward the orderly and more soberly-inclined portion of the communities, subjecting them to the control of the
leaders of drunken revels and to an immense amount of unnecessary suffering. The sea-otter traders would gladly pay, in the
form of a slight tax on the skins of that animal, more than
enough to afford a liberal salary twice over for the services of
some man armed with authority to suppress this demoralization
and attend to other urgent matters neglected on the part of the
From the Aleuts we pass to the consideration of the rest of
the people (Indians) of the Territory, who, by far the most
numerous, are living now as they were when first discovered,
over a hundred years ago; those of the north, belonging to the
Eskimo race and immediate derivatives, are quite amiable in
their barbarism when compared with the Polishes and other
tribes of Indians proper in their neighborhood. Any steps that
may be taken for the elevation and improvement of the condition of these Indians in the Territory of Alaska, however well
intended, would be entirely abortive. If they work, and they
frequently do, on the coasters as seamen, and about the sound
and Victoria as laborers, wood-cutters, &c., the money necessary for a debauch or a gambling game is the incentive. The
condition of any savage people is one that arouses the sympathy
of benevolent minds, and for its amelioration has absorbed the
best energies and resources of hundreds of brave, devoted men
who have labored in our country, but the result of such labor
can only be successful under certain conditions of life and
mental constitution of a savage race not found in Alaska.
The Russian priests energetically struggled with these Indians
of Alaska, from Bering's Straits down to Queen Charlottes
Island, backed up and cordially aided by the Russian-American
Company, which hoped to gain more control over the natives,
(and would have done so had the missionaries succeeded,) but
the result was most unsatisfactory. A thin varnish of decency,
honesty, morality, &c., was put on, but the subject had to be
re-varnished every day or his evil nature would continue to
From what we are led to plainly understand by the history
of well-directed and persistent efforts in the past, we can only
consider the present condition of the Indians of Alaska as
that of savages, and beyond the power of the Government or
of the church to change for the better. If they were a people
living in a country favorable to exertion and were merely lazy
and ignorant, then there would be hope with some assurance of
success in effecting a change for the better, but the case is
worse, for the obstacles are insuperable.
They are living in the manner customary with all Indians
who have an abundance of fish and game, and when they suffer
in any section of the Territory, as they frequently do, for want
of food, it is on account of the indolence and improvidence
during the seasons of plenty, for all of these people on the mainland who, at regular periods of the year, have access to a most
lavish profusion of fish and the flesh of deer, are never caught
by a severe winter with a full supply of provisions on hand,
and exist through the long, cold spring-months most miserably,
often living upon their skin-garments, offal, &. As an instance
of this improvidence, Captain lien nig, an old trader, cites the
following case: At the mouth of the Keisha River, which
empties into Bristol Bay between the Peninsula and the mainland, the reindeer pass by swimming in large herds across in
September as they go in feeding to and from the peninsula; the
natives at this season run along the bank as the deer rise from
the water and spear them with great ease and in any number
that fancy or want may dictate. At one time Captain Henning
counted here seven hundred deer carcasses as they lay rotting
and untouched save by the removal of the hides; not a pound
of meat of the thousands putrefying had been saved by the
natives, who would be living perhaps in less than five mouths
in a state of starvation.
These Indians are not steady, persistent hunters like the
Aleuts ; they are fickle, and have far less to gain by trade in
their estimation than the Aleutians, who, on the contrary, are
not satisfied with a small amount of tobacco and a few beads,
which are the staple commodities with the Indians, together
with a little powder and ball. The Aleuts want good clothes ;
they desire to dress their women and children well ; they crave
tea, sugar, flour, &c., all of which are simply despised by the
savage, and, consequently, a little hunting will obtain all he
wants in return from the trader, and exertion beyond this, on
his part, appears to him simply absurd or ridiculous.
While the sea-otter trade in Alaska, therefore, is well developed, the fur-trade on the mainland is by no means of the
importance it might be made to assume were the hunting as
energetically followed up as is that prosecuted by the people of
Kodiak and the Aleutian Islands ; the industry and energy,
however, of our traders will undoubtedly add largely every succeeding year to the yield, in creating desire among the Indians,
and thus stimulating exertion on their part in hunting so as to
insure its gratification.
I shall not enter into a description of these Indians. Their
treacherous, indolent lives have been most accurately and fully
described by a score of writers ; one of the earliest, that of
Port lock and Dixon, in 1786, 1787, and 1788, reads as if it had
been written from my own notes taken this season, so little
have they changed in the main of habit and disposition. Of
course, when the Russians were obliged, in 1832,* to commence
the liquor-trade with them in self-defense against American
adventurers and the Hudson Bay Company, and the small-pox
in 1835 swept like wild-fire through all the villages on the northwest coast, destroying nearly one-third of them, the combination
of two such terrible evils, whisky and the plague, demoralized
and diminished them to such an extent that they never have
recovered their former strength, nor is it now probable that they
will recover it.
The number of Indians now living in the Territory is, according to best authority and my judgment, between eighteen and
twenty thousand. Of this number, between ten and twelve
thousand belong to that district bounded on the north by Cooks
Inlet and south by Fort Simpson ; the remainder inhabit that
stretch of country reaching from Bristol Bay to Kotzebue Sound,
and back into the far interior, where there are several tribes,
supposed to be quite numerous, about which very little is
known even by the traders.
On this coast-line of Alaska, between Bering's Straits and
*This was stopped in 1842. A treaty was made between them and the
Hudson Bay Company.
Fort Simpson, are found six distinct tongues through which
their relations of affinity may be traced, viz : the Aleutian; the
Kodiak ; the Kenai, or Cook's Inlet ; the Yakutat, or Mount
Saint Elias country ; the Sitkan; and the Kalgan, or Prince of
The Aleutian tongue is the language of the inhabitants of
the Aleutian Islands and part of the Peninsula ; it is divided
into two dialects, one spoken by the Aleuts of Atka, and the
other by those of Ounalashka.
The Kodiak tongue is the root of all the dialects spoken
on the shores of Bering Sea, and still farther north and to the
east; it is the tongue spoken by the Cockier of the Asiatic
side, and is divided into six distinct dialects, and these again
subdivided, so that the Kodiak root is the language of the following tribes :
The Malamutes, of Kotzebue Sound, Norton Sound, Port Clarence, the
Dioceses, King, Sledge, and Saint Lawrence Islands.
The Aziagmutes, of Saint Michaels, part of the Pastol Bay
and as far north as Norton's Sound.
The Agoolmutes, of the mouth of the Yukon River.
The Magmutes, between Cape Romanzov and Cape Avinov.
The Koskoquims, of Koskoquim Bay and River.
The Aglahmutes, of the Nushagak country, and part of the
The Nunivaks, of Nunivak Island, who use a dialect almost
like the pure Kodiak, which is spoken on that island.
The Koyoukons, of the Middle Yukon River.
The Ingaleeks, of the Lower Yukon River.
The Choogaks, between Cape Elizabeth and the mouth of
Copper River, (taking all the south shore of the Kenai Peninsula and Prince Williams Sound.)
The Kenai tongue can hardly be called of Kodiak derivation; it is divided into four dialects:
The Kenai, of the Gulf of Kenai, or Cook's Inlet.
The Maidnorskie, or people on Copper River.
The Kolchans, or people of the Upper Koskoquim River
quite a large tribe, estimated at six or seven thousand.
The Kahvichpaks, a people on the Upper Yukon. In this dialect are many words of Kodiak and Yahkutat.
The Kenai language is the most difficult of all the Indian
tongues, so abounding in a profusion of harsh, guttural sounds
that their own savage neighbors frequently try in vain to acquire them when it is for their interest to do so.
The Yahkutat tongue is spoken only by the people of Yahkutat, or that belt of coast between Lituya Bay and Copper
River; it is divided into two dialects, viz :
The Yahkutats, from Icy Bay to Cross Sound.
The Oogalenskie, from mouth of Copper River to Icy Bay.
The Sitka, or Kolosh tongue, is spoken by all the Indians
from Lituya Bay to Prince of Wales Island, the Stickeen, and
without any dialects, although there are eight or ten tribes, and
they are relatively numerous.
The Kahegan, or Prince of Wales, is spoken on that
island and Queen Charlottes, and completes the list of languages in the Territory, as far as I can intelligently compile
and arrange them.
relative population of these different tribes can be recognized,
and by them it will be seen that, save where the Aleutians and
Kodiakers are living, together with a number of Russian half-breeds or Creoles, there are no organized or fixed settlements
in the Territory; the Indians roaming at will in the mountains
and over the plains during the summer, fishing and berrying principally, until the severity of approaching winter drives them
back to underground houses in the north, and wooden huts and
large barracoons by the sea at the south, where, reeking in filth,
four and five months are passed in perfect comfort to them, provided that they have food, passed in sloth and sleep, with the
exception of a small proportion of them who are marten, mink,
and fox trappers. These men frequently perform an astonishing
amount of labor, enduring incredible hardships, should the
happen to be ambitious, but this is a very rare quality.
The two leading stations in the Territory, (excepting the Prybilov Islands,) both with regard to trade
and population, are the
villages of Ounalashka and Kodiak, each with an Aleut and
Creole population of four hundred, more than double the number occupying any other settlement, save that of Belcovskie,
which has two hundred and forty-eight, with a sea-otter trade
fully equal or superior to either Ounalashka or Kodiak. Then
following in order of trade and population, we have the villages
of Unga, of one hundred and sixty-two souls; Atka, of one
hundred and thirty-one souls ; Oomnak, of one hundred and
nineteen souls ; then comes Sitka, with a population to-day,
principally Russian half-breeds, of one hundred and eighty-six,*
* Not counting the troops, Government employes, or Indians.
and no trade whatever to mention, and commercially of less
importance than any one of the following points, in addition to
the list above, viz : Koskoqim, Nushagak, and Saint Michaels.
Even should trade ever be re-established in Sitka, it would consist principally of the fur of marten, mink, and beaver, with
air-dried deer-skins ; but as matters now stand in the Territory,
there is no future for Sitka ; a change only in the supervision of
the interest of the Government in that district can benefit it,
or make it worth the attention of a small trader to live there.
On this point I speak at length in my chapter on the duty of
the Government in this respect.
The sum and substance of my investigations with reference
to the condition of the people of Alaska during the past season
may be given briefly as follows : That the Indians are living
as usual, in nearly the same number and in the same condition
as when under Russian rule, with the marked and significant
exception that they have been under no restraint whatever by
government for the past five years, such as they were accustomed to have imposed upon them by the old regime, and
that this is rapidly making it troublesome and dangerous for
small traders to go in among them on the northwest coast.
Those in the vicinity of Sitka have become familiar with the process of distillation of whisky from molasses, and make a large
amount of it openly, in addition to what they get by illicit
The Christian Aleuts and Kodiakers are in, if anything, a
better condition than at the time of the transfer; some sections, as at Ounalashka, in a greatly improved state, which is,
by the way, promised to all the rest in the course of a few
years, if proper, prompt steps are taken by Government.
But the condition of the small population of Creoles, chiefly at
Sitka, is changed very much for the worse; they were storekeepers, clerks, sailors, traders, artisans, &c., of the old
company, and there is no longer any great demand for that labor
in the country, and not likely to be during their lives, at least;
they are unfortunate in not having the training or the energy
to make good hunters, for this is the only industry the Territory holds out for them. To say that they are now in spirit
and purse poor, is true, but still they are not in any physical
misery, the abundance of fish and game preventing such a result. From my observation and knowledge of them, I can truly
state that they are now in a better condition in the Territory,
living as they do, than they would be anywhere else in our
country, with an exceptional case, of course, here and there, for
they are not distinguished by either energy or industry, as a
I have been assured by the Russian bishop having the spiritual direction of affairs in the Greek Catholic Church, now established in the Territory, that there is no intention on the part
of the home church to neglect its interest there ; that he is at
the present time busily engaged in fitting a class of young
Russians for the work of priests and teachers in Alaska, by
giving them a thorough knowledge of the English language in
addition to the regular course of discipline usually necessary
for his church.
If any, on the part of the Government, attempt to teach them,
we shall soon have to feed some eight or ten thousand paupers.
All they need is to be sustained and protected in their hunting
industries, as is indicated in the following chapter, and they ill take care of themselves.
THE DUTY OF THE GOVERNMENT WITH REGARD
TO THE TERRITORY AND ITS PEOPLE.
The measures which are now in force for the support of law
and order in the Territory are entirely inadequate and costing
much more than a correct and efficient system would. The
case is a plain one, and the facts in regard to it are as follows:
The Territory of Alaska was received from the hands of a powerful
fur-trading organization which held absolute sway over the entire
domain, even to the life and death of the people, and which had
governed the land despotically for more than sixty years. It was
fully prepared at any moment to
carry out its orders, and was supported by a small fleet of sail
and steam vessels, and a regularly-organized troop of employes
and retainers, over two thousand in number, placed here and
there throughout the country, the headquarters being at Sitka,
for political reasons.
War and revenue-marine vessels, with duly-authorized officers
and agents, were sent to the principal stations, villages, and
ports, where they ran up our flag and loudly proclaimed the fact
to the people, or natives, that they were now free and independent ; that no person or parties had the power to control or direct their trade in furs, or any other matter to which they might
turn their attention ; that crime of all description, theft, murder, &c., would be
promptly dealt with, and that the agents of
the American Government would visit them at irregular though
frequent intervals, or upon call, with these vessels fully prepared
to enforce and execute the law. This was done in 1863 and 1869.
This is all that has been done, and to-day, as matters are conducted, the country is as far from control by our Government
as though it were a foreign laud, the agents of the Government,
both military and civil, being unable to exercise any effectual
supervision over the affairs of the Territory, or to enforce the
The propriety of quartering troops in this Territory may be
seriously questioned ; for where any considerable body of natives exist they will be found upon the seaboard and estuaries,
and the only way by which their villages can be reached is by water. Traveling by land is simply impossible, so that to-day
the two companies of artillery at Sitka are entirely unable to
correct the most wanton outrage which the Indians might see
lit to perpetrate but a mile from their sentry-lines.
The practical result of quartering troops among people like
these in Alaska is bad. The communities thus visited were
net remarkable for sobriety, morality, or industry before the
coming of our troops, but after their arrival they change for the
worse, wherever the natives were brought in contact with them,
was very marked. Honorable officers find it sufficiently difficult to restrain their subordinates in camps and posts remote
from demoralizing temptation, but when their men are surrounded by simple natives who will sell themselves for rum and
tobacco, the inevitable result follows of debauchery and intemperance. The history of the military occupation of this Territory by our Government, although brief, reflects no honor upon
the troops, and is a most unfortunate one for the natives with
whom they came in contact, so much so that all the posts
throughout the Territory have been discontinued except that
of Sitka, of which the law, I believe, compels a continuance,
and which, 1 trust, will be soon repealed for the relief of the
troops, the credit of the Government, and also a saving of unnecessary expense to the public Treasury in moving the soldiers to and from the Territory and of subsidizing a mail-steamer to carry their letters, &c.
The present statute, which provides ostensibly for the government of the Territory, authorizes the appointment of a collector of customs and four or five deputies there, the former located at Sitka, the others at Ounalashka, Kodiak, and Wrangel, where they are able only to conjecture as to the condition
of revenue details in their respective districts, for they are unable to leave their posts. The collector of customs can exercise no adequate vigilance against the illicit manufacture and
trade in whisky, smuggling, &t3., with the sailing-cutter which
is allotted to this district. A small stern-vessel alone can follow these traders and smugglers through the innumerable narrow amid intricate channels and fjords of the
With the present sailing cutter, no calculation can be made
with reference to her movements; she is at the mercy of wind
and tide ; how long will be her trip to a given place, and when she will return, no satisfactory conjecture can be made; she
may be absent but a few days, and the absence may be protracted
a month. If the natives were to seize a traders schooner a
hundred, or even fifty, miles away from Sitka, and were the collector to get instant word of it, weeks might elapse before the
sailing-cutter could get upon the ground of the outrage, and
would even then be utterly unable to follow the outlaws.
There is no trading done at Sitka ; the eight or ten thousand
Indians between Cross Sound and Fort Simpson trade entirely
in the inshore passages and channels with all sorts of men and
craft; what is going on no one knows, and, as matters now
stand, the collector and his deputies are certainly not to blame
if they never know.
As matters now stand, the town-site of Sitka is the only place
in the Territory where the merest shadow of ability exists on
the part of the Government to sustain law and order, protect
property, &c. The troops there stationed are utterly helpless to
do anything outside of their station, and what is more, the Indians know it and laugh at them when they are reproached and
warned tor misdemeanors. The collector of customs has a sailing-cutter, which is of no earthly use, for she cannot be used
in the intricate inside passages, where the principal body of
natives live, and can at the best make a wide, shy visit to Kodiak or Ounalashka, or some such outside sea port, and then
is at the mercy of the most fickle and uncertain weather for
sailing, so that no calculation can be made upon her going or
The natives of the Territory have been living since the transfer under no effectual government restraint a sudden and pernicious change from the strict Russian regime ; for now everywhere in the Aleutian Islands and at Kodiak the natives are
in the habit of drinking " quass," or home-brewed beer, to such
an extent that it bids fair to ruin them unless checked. The
leaders in drunken orgies are getting perfectly reckless, for they have noted the fact that during the past five years there has
been no punishment or notice taken by proper authority of
crime, including theft, wife-beating, and murder ; that there is
no such thing as the shadow, even, of suspicion or power on the
part of the Government, of which they have only heard and
That these people have not behaved worse during the last
two or three years in their present life of unchecked license is
a strong evidence of their naturally amiable and law-abiding
disposition, and it is manifestly wrong on the part of the Government to allow the disorderly element in the Aleutian all
Indian communities to gather such strength by continued inattention ; for it is leading to the rapid demoralization of the
Aleutians, and is making it unsafe for white traders to venture
singly among the Indians. I therefore most earnestly call
attention to a plan for reform in the Territory, which will not
annually draw from the Treasury more than half of what is
received every year from the tax netted from the Seal Islands
The annual revenue derived by the Government from the Territory, about
$300,000 net, is sufficient to support the proposed
system of government, and afford an unexpended balance,
every year, of from $100,000 to $150,000; and it would also
result, in a very few years, in adding greatly to the receipts.
The following is the plan, after much deliberation, which I
venture to propose : *
1. Withdrawal of the troops from the Territory.
2. The placing of the collector of customs at Kodiak where
he can live without the slightest danger of injury from savages,
although if left alone at Sitka he would be subjected to no actual risk. There is no reason why the central point for the
action of the revenue-officers should be at Sitka in preference
to either Kodiak or Ounalashka ; both of the latter being better
situated, with ten times the amount of trade, and double the
law-abiding population ; but the deputy, now at Kodiak, might
be transferred to Sitka.
3. A small revenue-steamer should be provided, with a single
gun, and having compound engines, so that she will use but
three or four tens of coal per diem, and steam seven to eight
knots per hour, and fitted with spars to take advantage of
favoring winds. Such a vessel could move to any point on
brief notice. She should cruise steadily throughout the year, for
she would move in good, sheltered channels. The appearance
of this vessel, at frequent intervals, would be all that is
necessary to guarantee security of life and property to traders
throughout the entire district. Her cruising-trips would establish a prompt means of communication between posts; and she
could visit Tongass or Fort Simpson every two or three
*Always excepting the Prybilov Group of Seal Islands, which are well provided for by special acts of Congress, approved July 1, 1870, and March 5, 1872
months and obtain the mail for the Territory, which the revenue-cutter stationed on Puget Sound should be detailed to
bring at preconcerted intervals of two or three months, and, by
so doing, give the Territory a mail-system.
4. The abolition of the present subsidized mail-steamer
which runs between Portland and Sitka. The handful of white
citizens there, only two of them citizens of the United States,
have no more right to claim the privilege of a mail-steamer,
which now runs for their benefit exclusively, than have the inhabitants of Kodiak, Ounalashka, or Saint Michael's, or half a
dozen other villages of greater population or of more importance in this Territory.
5. The appointment of an agent, a man of character and education, who will have an opportunity to keep the Government
well informed of the exact condition of the people in the Territory and its resources, by reason of the facilities for travel
afforded by the revenue-steamer.
6. The extension of the jurisdiction of the courts of Oregon
or Washington Territory over this Territory, so that when persons belonging to the Territory, guilty of murder, arson, &c.,
are arrested and sent down for trial, they can be punished,
and not permitted to escape, as they have been in more than
one case already, for want of this jurisdiction.
7. The laws relating to our mining-lands might be so extended as to include the Territory of Alaska. Gold and silver,
copper, iron, and coal exist here, and there is no predicting
what the future may bring forth, for prospectors are constantly
By placing matters in the Territory on such a footing as I
have described, at least some definite approach to a system of
law and order would be initiated. There would be a steady
and prompt means of communication between all the stations
where life and property exist. No whisky-smuggling or oppression of the natives could be carried on without its speedy
apprehension and suppression, and the petty crimes which are
so aggravating and demoralizing at present throughout the
Territory would quickly cease. The annual revenue now
derived from the Territory is more than sufficient to support
the whole system recommended.
Beyond the adoption of this plan, in my judgment, on
the part of the Government, nothing more is required by the
Territory and its people. Any scheme of establishing Indian
reservations or agencies in this country, with an idle and mischievous retinue of superintendents, chaplains, and school
teachers, seems to me entirely uncalled for. The people here
are keen hunters and quick-witted traders, and need no help
or care beyond that I have indicated. Such of them as are Christianized have long ago embraced the Greek Catholic faith,
and adhere to it with devotion. The rest, or Indians, as they
are called, are just as far from being in a Christian state of mind as they were when first approached by the Russian priests,
over a hundred years ago.
With regard to the education of the children of the better
class of the natives, that is, the Christian Aleuts, there appears
to be one invincible obstacle. The children, speaking a strange
tongue, will not attend school, and their parents, as a body,
will either prevent or discourage them by positive command,
or by utter indifference. If they are to be educated, their church
alone can do it. It now controls them perfectly in this matter
That the children will not attend school has been most
thoroughly tested already, not only by the Russians, but by
ourselves during the past four years on the Seal Islands. In
1835 a school was opened at Ounalashka, and presided over by
one of the most indomitable and excellent of men, Veniaminov,
who tells us that in this settlement of over 275 souls then, only
" twelve boys could be brought together." When more than
this is wanted by Alaska in the way of legislation by Government, it will suggest itself in due time, and in reason.
TRADE IN THE TERRITORY, AND THE TRADERS,
STATIONS, STATISTICS, ETC.
Trade is devoted chiefly to furs, with occasional dealings
in oil and ivory ; it is divided among a few parties, the Alaska
Commercial Company having a large preponderance, by virtue
of greater resources and greater energy, than any or all of its
competitors combined; the sagacity of its traders, and the kindness with which they treat the natives, have resulted in even
more than quadrupling the yield of furs in the Yukon and
Ounalashka districts, as reported by the Russian American Fur
Company at the time of the transfer. The operation of this
company is confined to the country west from Kodiak, embracing
the Aleutian Islands, where they at the present time have but
little competition ; on the Yukon, Koskoquim, and Ounalashka they are
opposed by Charles Jansen, and by David Shirpser
at Belcovskie and Kodiak, and a number of small traders and
whalers in Kotzebue Sound. The trade east of Kodiak, up
Cooks Inlet, down the coast back of Sitka, to Fort Simpson,
is, so far as is known for I was unable to examine this district given up to small traders who
fly in and out in light schooners, canoes, &c., and, doubtless, is
quite extensive and
largely illicit, for the natives will not trade at Sitka for money ;
so the inference plainly is that they dispose of their furs for
whisky, &c., in the inshore passages, where smuggling can be
When the Russian traders first opened up the country the
natives were everywhere found engaged in fierce intestine wars,
and not prosecuting the chase of fur-bearing animals more
than enough to supply themselves with skins for manufacture into garments ; depending on the sea for their principal
means of subsistence.
They used the skin of the sea-otter and beaver generally for
cloaks, employing usually three sea-otters for one cloak ; one of
these skins was cut into two pieces and afterward sewed together, so as to form a square, and were loosely tied about the
shoulders with small leather strings, fastened on each side; it
was the sight of these sea-otter cloaks that excited the greed and
cupidity, and stimulated the adventurous trips made by the
first Russian traders in the Aleutian Islands, and the wearisome voyages of the English and French to the coast of Vancouver's Island, and to the northward as far as Cook's Inlet, so
early as 1785-'86. The beauty and value of the skin of the sea-otter alone drew men, who, in spite of all danger, visited every
mile of the rugged coast of this Territory, nearly a hundred
years ago, in rude, clumsy ships and shallops, and depended
upon ruder nautical instruments, without charts, &c.
The hardships endured and perils encountered by these hardy,
indomitable adventurers can be appreciated only by the seaman
of to-day, who may sail in their tracks, provided with a generally correct chart of a coast then absolutely unknown, in the
best sailing-vessels, fully equipped with perfect nautical instruments, and yet this modern sailor cannot sleep day or night
with safety while he is on the coast or among the islands, so
severe is the trial.
The first great demand by the natives in the Territory, as an
equivalent for their furs, was iron ; the English traders used to
make it up into thick wrought bands, about eighteen inches to
two feet in length, with a breadth of two inches, called " toes ; "
for one of these, at first, they readily procured a fine sea-otter
or two, and a hatchet would obtain two or three ; tobacco, the
present great staple of trade, was then scarcely in demand,
but soon became so ; flour, when given by the Russians to some Aleuts at Ounalashka, in 1788, was taken by them up to a hilltop and thrown by handfuls to the wind, the natives enjoying
the sight of the mock snow-storm spectacle much more than
the use of the material for food ; over on the mainland, when
crackers and sugar were given to some natives, at Nushagak,
they spit it from their mouths with disgust, wearing an expression of exceeding dislike for the strange food ; lead pleased
the Aleutians at first very much, it could be cut and fashioned
so readily, but the most determined trials on their part failed,
of course, to make it retain a cutting-edge, and they finally gave
By degrees, however, and quite rapidly, iron with form of
spear heads, axes, knives, kettles, &c., became a drug among
the people generally, and a taste for the wearing of cotton
and woolen goods, the use of tea and tobacco, caused the natives
of the Aleutian Islands to strain every nerve in hunting the sea-otter, and so effectually did they do so that
the animals diminished in a very short time to bat a fraction of their former
number; but the natives of the mainland, a very different class
of people, and incapable of living in as advanced a civilization
as the Aleutians, were never aroused, and never will be, to any
such activity by any legitimate effort to trade ; they only covet
tobacco and rum, and a little of either, used as an Indian uses
them, goes a long way.
Therefore, while we may say that the fur-trade of the Aleutian Islands and the Peninsula, as far as Kodiak, has been and
is to-day developed to its full importance, it is very evident
that, with regard to the rest of the Territory, the annual yield
can be and will be greatly augmented by the exertions of our
energetic and industrious traders who are now scattered in
keen rivalry over the ground.
By the very nature of the business, character of country,
and climate of Alaska, white men will never themselves do any
sea-otter hunting or mainland trapping; it rests solely with
the natives, and the annual yield depends entirely upon the
exertions which these people may be inclined to make as a
means of procuring coveted articles in the hands of the traders.
The hardship and privation to which the fox and marten trappers, and especially the sea-otter hunters, are subjected while
in pursuit of their quarry are very great, yet not so great but
that white men could endure and would endure them did it pay
well enough ; but it will be seen by reference to the tables
giving the fur yield of the Territory that in proportion to the
number of hunters, all of whom are more or less skillful, the
return is a small one, and would not equal the earnings of the
ordinary mechanic or day-laborer in our country, with the
marked exception of the wages of the inhabitants of the Seal
Islands, who live better and receive more pay than a majority
of our people who are dependent upon manual labor for support.
The life and labor of the trader on the mainland and islands
is one of much discomfort, and at certain seasons of the year
of incessant activity. A chief trader, though burdened with
much responsibility, lives quietly and comfortably at the redoubt or station where he is posted, the headquarters usually
of a very large district; but the trading is all done by deputy
traders, who are under the control of this head officer. These
men start out from the post alone, perhaps accompanied by an
Indian, with a dog-team and sled, which is loaded with several hundred-weight of goods, such as are likely to be most prized
by the tribes they intend to visit for the purposes of trade,
usually tobacco, calico, beads, and powder and ball, caps, &c. ;
but the great bulk is generally tobacco. These men start in
the dead of winter, provided with nothing but a blanket, a
tent, a few pounds of dried meat or fish, and tea, and go in
this way from tribe to tribe, from settlement to settlement,
until the intended circuit is made or the goods disposed of.
When the trader reaches a settlement he inquires if the
Indians there have any furs ; if so, he pitches his tent and
unpacks his goods under it, seats himself in the middle, near
an aperture in the tent, so that the natives may approach and
look in upon his assortment. Their skins are then passed
through the opening with an intimation of what is desired
from the traders stock in exchange. The trader examines the
skins, tosses them over into a common heap, and tears off the
cloth or passes out the tobacco as the Indians require; and
this continues till the business is concluded.
If the trader finds at the close of his trading at any one or
more settlements that the bulk or weight of his furs is too great
for removal on his sled, he gives the surplus into the care of
some one of the people, counting over to him in the presence
of the whole village all the skins. This man takes charge and
honestly guards them until the trader comes in person or sends
for them, and the whole community seems to feel as if their
reputation were at stake, for they will neither molest the
traders cache nor permit others to do so. This is certainly a
strange and most noteworthy characteristic of the Indians of
the great interior of Alaska, designated in this report as the
The trading on the northwest coast, however, from Paget
Sound up to Prince Williams Sound, was and is conducted in
a very different manner from that of the Yukon district. Here
the traders, large and small, employed vessels varying from
steamers of considerable size to sloops. Since, however, the withdrawal of the Russian American Company from the Territory, and the steamer Labouchere of the
Hudson Bay Company, but one trading-steamer remains upon this coast, viz, the
old Otter, the property of the last-named corporation. Sailing
vessels, small schooners principally, monopolize the trade, and
of these there are eight or ten at least.
The practice of these trading vessels is to cruise along the
coast, running into the numerous canals, channels, and harbors
so characteristic of the region, where they come to an anchor,
within easy reach of the shore, and wait for the natives to
come off to them in their canoes laden with whatever they
may possess fit for barter. The trading itself is tedious beyond all measure. The natives will sit in their canoes
around the vessel for hours before showing the least attention or desire for business; then when it does begin the
haggling baffles description; each Indian after the other trying to get a little more than his predecessor, no matter how
slight or insignificant it may be. The traders of course dare
not, even to gain precious time, deviate from an invariable
rule or tariff in barter, and so the slow exchange goes on. The
Indians throughout this whole section are shrewd and artful
traders, and do not scruple to adopt any means by which they
can outwit or deceive the white trader, so that it is unfortunately a case of diamond cut diamond wherever traders meet
the natives of the northwest coast to-day.
With the Indians of the Territory trade is carried on without the use of coin, but on the Aleutian Islands, among the
Christian Aleuts, the people take cash for their furs and pay
over the counters of the different stores for their goods ; and
this necessitates the keeping of accounts, since the traders
often find it to their advantage to give credit to a penniless
hunter. These accounts the Aleuts keep in very good shape,
and they are seldom in error over their reckoning.
The Russians pursued a different course from our people in
conducting their trade in this region, where they were free from
the competition of rival traders. Baranov, the real founder
and maker of the Russian American Company, was a man of
indomitable energy and foresight, and gave the affairs of the
company his vigilant personal supervision everywhere and at
all times, but his successors were unlike him, and made no
exertion to pay dividends to the stockholders, or to pay debts.
All of these gentlemen, with one exception. General Viviatovskie, were officers of the imperial fleet, and lived in official
rotation at Sitka, which was selected in preference to Kodiak
as a better position in which to menace and repel the advances
of the Hudson's Bay people along the coast belonging to
Alaska. They were surrounded by a troop of subordinates,
living without regard to cost or expenditure of time or labor ;
a fleet of fourteen or fifteen vessels, steam and sail. Indeed,
no better commentary on the management can be made than
a reference to their archives, where in almost any one year,
look, for instance, January, 1863, (Techmainov, vol. ii, p. 224,)
at this table showing the number and distribution of the employes and dependents :
Fins, and foreigners.
Or a grand total of 6,977 dependents of all classes, and of this
number over 1,200 were paid regular salaries, from the governor
down to the serf.
And yet, with this small army of servants and dependents, the
Russians, for the last forty years of their possession, did not
get one-half of the furs annually that our traders now secure
every year since their establishment in the Territory, while
there are not over two hundred men engaged in the whole business at present.
Take the sea-otter trade for instance. The Russians called
it a fair season when they secured in the course of the year,
throughout the whole Territory, 350 to 400 sea-otters ; many
years occurred in which less than 200 were taken ; but during
the last two years 2,500 to 3,000 have been captured each season in the Aleutian and Kodiak districts alone; and I estimate
that not less than 500 have been taken from Cooks Inlet down
to Fort Simpson. This great increase in the development of
the business is simply due to the active personal supervision
of the present agents and traders.
In connection with this view of the trade and traders in the
Territory, it is proper to mention the operations of the Alaska
Commercial Company, as it has been the subject of comment
by the press. The whole matter appears to amount to this,
that the fur-trade of Alaska, (always excepting the Seal
Islands,) placed, as it is, in a fair field for competition, will
sooner or later be controlled by those who invest the most money in the undertaking and send the best men for the work,
who make their stations more attractive to the natives, and
render communication between their wide-scattered posts more
frequent and regular. It will be more difficult every year for
small or inexperienced traders to do anything at the fur-trade
in this Territory, and the trade does not appear extensive
enough to support the operations of two companies, each with
as much capital invested as the one in question. The result
would be that one would have to withdraw. As far, however,
as the Government is concerned, the field for trade in Alaska
is free and open to all ; a practical illustration of which is
shown in the following statement of affairs existing at Ounalashka :
Ounalashka is an Aleutian village of some four hundred
souls, men, women, and children ; of these sixty are first-class
sea-otter hunters, and this is their profession. The Alaska
Commercial Company have erected three large warehouses
fronting a wharf, where their vessels unload and load ; a large
store-house, filled with a most extensive selection of goods ; a
very large dwelling-house for their traders; with office, courtyard, stables for cattle and sheep, a blacksmith shop,
finished in first-class style, and furnished thoroughly throughout. The company have also erected and are building snug
cottages for their best hunters to live in ; and there is a schoolhouse, where the native children are invited to attend, which
some do. In opposition to this, a young man is placed in a
small, weather-worn, rickety shanty, which is made to serve
as warehouse, store, and living-room for the agent ; a most
meager stock of goods, no assortment whatever; and yet this
young man, who has not got one dollar to back him, came to
me and complained of the almost total loss of his trade, and
said in explanation that it was due to the fact that though the natives wanted to trade with him, yet they were living under
the influence of fear to such an extent that they dared not do
it, and hence transferred their trade. I told him, after looking
about the place and talking with the natives and their priest
for three or four days, that the only fear that these people of
Ounalashka had in the matter was a most wholesome one; it
was the fear, coupled with au absolute certainty, that, as he
was situated for trade, they would not do as well at his establishment as they could at his opponents, and the dullest of
them could readily appreciate it ; therefore, if any successful
opposition to the Alaska Commercial Company is to be made
in the Territory where it is established, money must, be freely
expended in buildings and upon the people, who will go with
wonderful promptness and unanimity wherever they can make
the most in trade and are best treated, for they are keen and
I now pass to the consideration of the several trading-districts, and the character and quality of the furs obtained from
THE YUKON DISTRICT.
Kotzebue Sound :
The trade at this place with the natives is principally by
whaling vessels, which are supplied with liquors; they tit out
and clear from the Sandwich Islands for the arctic, and take
advantage of the impunity with which they can visit this port
and profit by this illicit occupation ; for the natives here, as
everywhere else, are passionately fond of liquor, and a large
proportion of the best furs from the Lower Yukon, the region south
of Saint Michaels, is picked out by Indian traders and carried to this place, where they can be exchanged for whisky.
The trade, however, that belongs to the sound itself is not extensive ; only a small number of Eskimo live here, in scattered
settlements along the coast, at the mouths of debouching creeks,
&c. The catch of fur-bearing animals is not large; the people
themselves live more by trading than by hunting, i. e., trading
between the people living far to the southward and eastward
on the one hand, and the whalers and others, making profits as
Norton's Sound :
A. few Eskimo traders live here ; the catch and yield of fur-bearing animals unimportant. These people assist the Kotzebue
traders in getting their furs carried up and over to that place,
and many of them go over to Port Clarence with an assortment of
furs, beaver principally, where they meet the people from
the Asiatic side, who cross Bering's Straits in the winter on the
ice by way of the Diomede Islands, with dog-sleds, loaded with
tame reindeer-skins tanned, which are in great demand by the
natives of this district for manufacture into cloaks, coats, parkas, &c., while the Asiatics are equally desirous of getting any
and all kinds of fur, such as mink, marten, land-otter, beaver, &c., but desire beaver especially.
The Diomedes, Kings Island, Sledge Island, and Saint
Are inhabited by a few Eskimo, but there is no trade with
them worth mentioning ; they have a little walrus-oil and ivory,
and a few red foxes, and occasionally get some whalebone.
This is a shipping-point only for the accumulated furs gathered by the traders from the Lower and Upper Yukon, at Nulato. Fort Yukon, and the Tannanah.
[sic] The present annual yield
from these points is the largest and most valuable from the
mainland of Alaska. A vessel coming to Saint Michaels in the
summer will find from one hundred to one hundred and fifty
Indians; they have come in from long distances to the northwest, eastward, and southward ; but the fur-trading on the
Yukon River and its many tributaries is very irregular as to
time and place year after year, the traders constantly moving
from settlement to settlement. This year they may only get a
thousand skins where they got five thousand last season, and
vice versa. It is impossible to say where the best place for
trade will be, the catch in different sections varying every
winter with the depth of snow, the severity of climate, &c.
Trade here is small and unimportant, principally walrus-oil,
some ivory, and a few red foxes.
Cape Romanzov :
Traders come up from the Koskoquim and down from the
Yukon to this point, where they get some very good furs, mink,
marten, and foxes. At Cape Aviuova, the district there is quite
celebrated for its marten catch, both in quantity and quality;
a large number of brown bear range here, where they subsist
upon berries, roots, reindeer, &c. The Indians live in small
huts and settlements scattered all along the coast down from
The trade is extensive, and done principally at Kolmakov Redoubt, about one hundred and fifty miles up the river from
its mouth, and at a station some sixty miles below it. The
traders come down the river in June with their cargoes and
meet the ships. The principal trade is beaver, red foxes, mink,
(plenty,) marten, laud-otter, (abundant,) bears, brown and
black. The people of this district keep traveling all the year
About the same as at Kuskoquim, but the quality of sable
or marten deteriorates very much and rapidly as the trader
goes south from this region. The people are also great travelers,
always on the move. This section closes the Yukon district,
– which forms the western boundary of that of the Peninsula
and Kodiak. In this country, between Kotzebue and its southern boundary back into the interior as far as a thousand miles,
furs are gathered as follows :
Bearer are taken of the very best quality and in the greatest
quantity, and an immense number of musk-rat skins, for the
trader must buy everything, (these musk-rat skins are principally shipped to France and Germany, for
poor people wear
them;) of red foxes, quite a large number are taken. Black
foxes are seldom obtained, perhaps three or four on an average
during the year. Silver-gray foxes, a small number annually.
Mink and marten of very fine quality from Kuskoquim to the northward, but from this point to the southward this fur deteriorates rapidly. Land-otter, quite a large number of the best
quality. Black and brown bear, a few ; a small trade in swans down. Eider-down, with profit, cannot be sold in San Francisco,
but it is valuable in Russia. (German goose-down is used by
our upholsterers in preference, as it is much cheaper and just
as good.) Reindeer-skins are dried; quite a large number of
these which go east are tanned, and make a very superior
Figures to show the number of skins taken out of the country might easily be obtained were it under the control of a single corporation, as it was under the Russian rule, but as it is
now, with ten or a dozen independent traders, large and small,
all studiously concealing or purposely exaggerating their transactions in order to draw or divert trade, the figures, were they
furnished, would be quite unreliable. The following table, however, showing the yield of this district during a period of
twenty years, between 1842 and 1861, as given by Russian authority, may be deemed correct; and I was assured by Father
Shiesneekov, of Ounalashka, a Russian priest, born and raised
in this country, that the present yield of furs is at least four
times as great every year. If I could rely on what has been
affirmed by the traders whom 1 have met in the Territory, the
catch in the Yukon district during the last three years has averaged six times as much as the Russian annual average.
The Peninsular and Kodiak.
This is the only trading-station on the north shore of the
Peninsula, and it is in itself inconsiderable; the people have a
few red foxes, a few beaver, but quite a fair number of reindeer-skins, the country being fairly alive
with these animals; they
also are adjacent to the large walrus hauling-grounds in Bristol Bay, and some ivory is secured by them ; they have a few
brown bears, an occasional wolf-skin, and a little swans-down.
A sea-otter post: the natives bring in the skins of these
animals, which they obtain at Saanach and the Chernobour Rocks; the trade otherwise is unimportant a few red foxes
and brown bears.
Saanach. A sea-otter post recently established : nearly two-thirds of the sea-otters captured in the whole Alaskan district
are taken around this island.
Uiifja. A sea-otter post, with small trade in red foxes, black
and brown bears, &c.
Kodiak; or Saint Paul. Once, the headquarters of the old
Russian American Company, but since 1825 it has been a
mere trading post; a large number of sea-otter hunters make
it their home, and bring in their quarry for trade there ; all the
trade of Kenai and Cook's Inlet came in here under the old
regime, but it is now confined principally to the sea-otter trade ;
the Cooks Inlet and Katmai trade is mostly engrossed by
trading-schooners plying between these places and Paget
Sound; the yield of this district under the Russian control
is given for twenty years, 1842-1861, inclusive, as follows: sea-otters, 5,809 ; beaver, 85,381 ; marten, 14,295 ; minks, 1,175 ;
musk-rats, 14,313; wolverines, 1,276; marmots, 712; wolves, 58.
In the Cook's Inlet district, the Mount Saint Elias and Sitkan
Districts, there are no well-established trading-posts,
the business being conducted on shipboard everywhere, the
natives coming to the trading-schools in their canoes.
At the time of the Russian occupation there was considerable
trading done at Sitka, but now it has fallen off entirely, the
natives of that place and vicinity going back into the inside
passages, where they can trade with whisky-schooners in perfect security, as affairs are now conducted in the Territory.
A large variety of furs are brought in from the dense forests
and high mountains of this region such as red, black, and silver foxes, brown and black bears, mink, marten, porcupines,
beaver, land and sea otter, fur seal, hair-seal, deer, rabbits,
squirrels, mountain-goats, ermines, and the hoary marmot or
The Ounalashka district :
This embraces the whole of the Aleutian Archipelago, and is
given entirely to the sea-otters; there is nothing else in this
section fit for trade save a few red and black foxes, and in it
are established six stations, viz : Ounalashka, the largest and principal one, Alcootan,
Chernovslde, Oomnak, Atlca, and Attou, which are the homes of the sea-otter hunters, and where they
The stations enumerated in the foregoing districts comprise
all that are established in the Alaskan Territory.
The value of the fur-trade.
With the exception of the Sitkan and Cooks Inlet districts,
the gross value of the animal fur-production of Alaska can be
closely ascertained. I append to this head several tables from
Russian authorities in reference to the subject, and call attention to the fact that for the last
ninety years or more, up to the
present date, the prices of the leading furs in our market to-day
are very much what they were then, with the exception of the
fur-seal, which has been greatly enhanced in value by reason of
improvement in dressing, but the marten and the sea-otter
stand to-day at almost the same figures at which they were
bought and sold a hundred years ago in China, where the value
of money has remained the same; the native hunters, however, receive now three, four, and five times as much as they
were paid by the Russian American Company for their skins.
The following list may be taken as very nearly correct, and
shows the gross value of the fur-trade of the Territory to the
traders for the year 1873 :
100,000 fur-seal skins, at an average of $7 [for] $700, 000
3,000 sea-otter skins, at an average of $75 [for] 225,000
50,000 skins from the Yukon district, assorted, at an average of $2.
[for] 100, 000
30,000 skins from all the rest of the Territory, (this is a very unsatisfactory estimate,) at an average of $2
[for] 60, 000
A grand total of 1,085,000
Which is more than double the annual receipts of any one of
the best of the last twenty years of the Russian American
Company, so far as can be judged by reference to their statements, as is shown in the table at the close of this article.
It seems that the Seal Islands represent two-thirds of the
whole value of the fur-trade of Alaska, and that with the sea-otter interest combined there is scarcely anything left.
Matters are now so arranged on the Seal Islands that the Government nets a revenue of $300,000 per annum, with the preservation of its interest there in all of its original integrity.
With reference to the sea-otter trade, I think I clearly show
the necessity for protection from the Government in my discussion of the subject in this report, and, in regard to the
remaining interests, the country itself protects them.
The following shows the amount of food-supplies required,
independent of tea, tobacco, and liquor, for the annual subsistence of the employes of the
(1863 ;) a years supply or more was always kept in advance in
case of an emergency, (from Techmainov :
Wheat, 14,000 poods, at 3 rubles and 26 kopecks a pood, (or
Flour, 498 poods, at rubles and 31 kopecks a pood.
Peas, 404 poods, at 4 rubles and 90 kopecks a pood.
Split wheat, 404 poods, at 4 rubles and 90 kopecks a pood.
Salt, 922 poods, at 3 rubles and 78 kopecks a pood.
Butter, 498 poods, at 20 rubles and 20 kopecks a pood.
Hams, 92 poods, at 50 kopecks a pound.
The rubles are paper, equal to 20 cents each. A pood is 36
pounds English, or 40 Russian pounds.