IN the summer of 1741, Vitus Behring, a descendant of the Danish Vikings, who roamed the seas in the search of strange lands to pillage or conquer, set sail from the Kamchatka coast on a similar mission in the service of the Russian Empire. Leaving Awatska Bay, the present site of Petropaulovski, he sailed to the southeast as far as the latitude of 46° N., when, finding no land, he turned to the northeast. On the 18th of July he sighted a rocky range of coast, — behind which towered lofty mountains, their summits white with perpetual snows,— and thus caught the first glimpse of what is now known as Russian America. The point where Behring first saw land is supposed to have been lat. 58½° N., and the lofty mountains were probably Mount Fairweather and its neighboring peaks.
Sailing north, the coast was soon found to take a westerly direction, and Behring skirted it for miles without stopping to explore the shores. His ship was badly damaged during the long cruise, his crew sick and dispirited ; so, instead of pushing through the passage that was eventually found, he sailed homewards, skirting the long chain of islands that lie like steppingstones between the two continents, and at last finding, with his fellow-sailors, a grave on one of the islands nearest the Kamchatka coast. He had accomplished his task of adding a new territory to the Russian Empire.
In 1775, the Spanish Captain De la Bodega, cruising up the Pacific coast of America to add new lands to the American possessions of the Spanish crown, reached lat. 58° N., probably in the neighborhood of Sitka. In accordance with its policy in regard to American discoveries, the voyage of De la Bodega was kept secret by the Spanish government, and only became known when the title to the coast was disputed in after years.
Three years later the adventurous British navigator, Captain Cook, having passed around the southernmost point of the American Continent, undertook to return to England by passing around its northern extremity, thus solving the question of a northwest passage by sailing to the northeast. Following the coast closely, he discovered a deep indentation, known now as Cook’s Inlet, which he hoped might prove to be the long-sought passage. Having discovered his mistake, he sailed in the track of Behring along the Aliaska peninsula, passed through the island chain, and coasted up to Behring’s Strait, through which he passed, and skirted the northern shore of the continent until, at 161° 46' W., he was stopped by an impenetrable barrier of ice stretching northward from Icy Cape. This was on the 18th of August. For eleven days he vainly sought a channel through the ice-field, and then reluctantly turned back, to meet his death, like his Danish predecessor, on the return voyage.
In 1826, Captain Beechey, sent out by the British government to meet Sir John Franklin, sailed through Behring's Strait, and reached Point Barrow, one hundred and twenty-six miles northeast of the farthest point reached by Cook, and there was stopped by ice. At the same time Sir John Franklin, travelling westward from the Mackenzie River, reached long. 148° 52' W., or about seven and a half degrees from the point reached by Beechey from the westward.
In 1837, Dease and Simpson, two servants of the Hudson’s Bay Company, reached Point Barrow from the east, and thus completed the coast exploration of Russian America. Just after Dease and Simpson had turned back from Point Barrow an expedition sent out by the Russian American Fur Company reached the same point from the west, and found the natives assembling in great numbers to kill the English explorers, who, by turning back, had escaped the dangers of which they were ignorant. The Russians, being few in number, beat a hasty retreat; and thus Point Barrow remained the ultima Thule of exploration on the northern coast.
From the first discovery of the coast the Russians were active in its exploration. The government encouraged expeditions in search of a northeast passage to the Atlantic, whilst mercantile adventurers examined the coast, and the numerous islands that masked it. In 1783 a commercial expedition followed the line of the Aleutian Islands and the coast down to the sixtieth parallel, finding the rocky shores swarming with the sea otter, and the land beyond full of foxes. A settlement was made on the island of Kodiak, and a fur-trade opened with the Asiatic continent. Other explorations were made north and south, with the same result of finding valuable hunting-grounds for the fur-bearing animals. In 1799 the Emperor Paul gave permission to these several companies to organize in one, under the name of the Russian American Fur Company, and granted the power to occupy and subject to Russia all territory north of 55° not already occupied or claimed by any other nation, with the exclusive privilege of hunting and trading in all such territory. In this way a chain of trading-posts and forts was formed, stretching from Dixon’s Entrance to Norton Sound. The headquarters of the company were in time removed from Kodiak Island to the island of Sitka, seventeen degrees farther east, where a considerable settlement of Russians, Aleutians, and natives was formed.
The operations of the fur-traders were confined chiefly to the islands skirting the coast, and to the immediate shores of the main-land. A lofty range of mountains slopes down to the sea from Dixon’s Entrance to Cape Spencer, and beyond this the Russians did not penetrate. The country behind was hunted by the Hudson’s Bay Company, and it was an unsettled question how far the rights of each company extended. By the treaties of 1824 and 1825, the Russians were confirmed in possession of the whole northwestern peninsula west of 141° W., and a narrow strip of coast down to Observatory Inlet, with all the islands of the coast. A lease of the coast from Cape Spencer to the southern limit was granted to the Hudson’s Bay Company for hunting and trading purposes.
The successive exploring and commercial expeditions along the coast had made its general configuration and characteristics well known, even the lonely shores of Behring’s Sea having become familiar to the Russian navigator and fur-trader. Of the interior of the great peninsula which formed the chief possession of Russia on the American main-land little or nothing was known. Vague rumors came to the traders at Kodiak, in the early days of the Fur Company, of a great river that rose in the Rocky Mountains, and, after flowing through a vast unknown territory, poured its waters into Behring’s Sea. In 1819, the Russian government obtained a description of Bristol Bay, where a trading-post had been established at the mouth of the Nushagak River, and of Behring’s Sea from the bay northward to Cape Romanzoff, and thus learned the existence of a large river, the Kuskokvim, which entered the sea midway between the head of Bristol Bay and Cape Romanzoff. In 1829 Lieutenant Nasilef explored the Kuskokvim a short distance, with the purpose of discovering what connection existed between that river and the Nushagak. The result of this exploration was the establishment of a trading-post, Fort Kolmakoff, on the Kuskokvim, about one hundred and fifty miles from its mouth. Between this post and Fort Alexander, on Bristol Bay, communication was kept up by a chain of rivers, lakes, and portages.
In 1833, Governor Wrangel selected the island of St. Michael, on Norton Sound, as the site of a fort and tradingpost. Communication was opened with the natives of the main-land, and more definite information obtained of the existence of the large river Kvihpak, of which so many obscure reports had been received. It was a mighty river, of the source of which the natives knew nothing, except that it was far in the interior. It came from the east until within about a hundred miles of the coast, when it turned sharply southward, running about two hundred miles more, and then resumed its westward course, entering the sea by several mouths, below Norton Sound. It flowed somewhere through a heavily timbered country, for the shores below its mouths were always lined with driftwood, which supplied the natives of the coast with building materials and fuel. Several expeditions were sent down from Fort St. Michael to explore the mouths of the Kvihpak, but the shallowness of the water on the coast, and other difficulties, prevented the accomplishment of the object. Attempts were made at the same time to open communication by land routes between Fort St. Michael and the basins of the Kvihpak and Kuskokvim, and trading-posts were with much difficulty established at a few points, the natives of the interior, different in character from those on the coast, continuing to manifest a decided hostility to the white intruders.
In 1841, the Russian government despatched Lieutenant Zagoyskin and six assistants, with instructions to spend two years in exploring the basins of the Kvihpak and Kuskokvim Rivers. In August of the following year they set out from St. Michael in seal-skin canoes, and coasted up Norton Sound to the north, about sixty miles, to the river Unalakleat, exploring the shores on the way. The season was so far advanced that no progress could be made into the interior by boat, and the adventurers returned to Fort St. Michael, where they busied themselves in preparing for a winter journey into the interior. On the 4th of December they again set out, with five sledges and twenty-seven dogs. After seven days’ journeying through heavy snow-storms, they reached the village at the mouth of the Unalakleat, and ascended that river, with the purpose of crossing the mountains to the Kvihpak by the route usually taken by the natives. The continuance of heavy snow-storms frustrated their purpose, and they were compelled to turn back. The Unalakleat enters Norton Sound from the east. Its course is very crooked, but its length in a straight line is probably from sixty-five to seventy miles. A mile and a half from its mouth begins a forest, extending back from the banks about two thousand feet on either side, of alder, poplar, and fir. For six or seven miles the coast range of mountains runs nearly parallel with the river, the cliffs on the right bank being much higher than those on the left. The width of the stream at its lower part varies from a hundred and forty to five hundred and twenty-five feet.
On the 29th of December, sufficient snow having fallen, the party again set out on snow-shoes and sledges, and succeeded in reaching the Kvihpak in about lat. 64° 20' N., about three hundred and fifty miles above its mouth. Here they found a river about a mile and a half wide, frozen over, on which they continued their course northeast to the native village of Nulato, in lat. 64° 42' N., long. 157° 58' W., the highest point that had been reached by the Russian traders.
From Nulato, after a month’s rest, they started on the 25th of February, 1843, up the Nulato River, travelling northeast seven days, cutting off the frequent bends of the stream by crossing marshy plains, and in one instance traversing a forest. Reaching the point from which a native road ran to Kotzebue Sound, Lieutenant Zagoyskin endeavored to persuade the natives to guide him to that place, but without success. They excused themselves on the plea that the time had come for reindeer-hunting, and, unless they set out at once, the village would starve. The party set out alone, finding the route marked by sticks, but, after five days’ travel, were compelled to turn back for want of provisions, when they had reached lat. 65° 36' N. By this route, it was ascertained, an extensive trade was carried on between the natives of the coast and those on the Nulato and the higher Kvihpak. The latter brought their furs and received in exchange the iron, tobacco, beads, and other commodities obtained by the coast natives from the Russian traders, from speculative whalers who ran up above the Russian posts to do an illicit trade in furs, or from the Asiatic natives who kept up a commercial intercourse with their brethren across Behring’s Straits.
On the 3d of June, Lieutenant Zagoyskin with six men and a native interpreter, carrying provisions for three months, set out from Nulato in a large seal-skin canoe, with the intention of reaching the mountains which divided Russian from British America, and establishing the connection between the Kvihpak of the Pacific coast and the Yukon of British America, which had been erroneously described on the maps (and still is on most maps published in the United States) as flowing into the Icy Sea through the river Colville, between the Mackenzie River and Point Barrow. On leaving Nulato, the Kvihpak, for about twelve miles, was found to be about a mile and a half wide, filled with long, narrow islands connected by sand-bars, which at low water are dry. Above the junction with the Nulato, the course of the river lay for many miles through a level plain covered with small lakes abounding in fish. Numerous streams entered from either side, and the banks were well covered with willow, alder, aspen, birch, poplar, and large firs. The woods did not extend a great distance from the river, marshy plains stretching behind them to the foot of the hilly ranges that divided the affluents of the Kvihpak from those of rivers of smaller size on either side of it. Some of these hills reach heights varying from five hundred to fifteen hundred feet, and one range, which approaches close to the Kvihpak, terminates in a round volcano, called by the natives Natagash.
Nearly two hundred miles above Nulato the expedition met with a serious obstacle to their further progress. A sand - bank stretched across the stream, over which the natives had been accustomed to carry their canoes, but which was now covered with water. The current was strong, and the party worked in vain with the oars to stem it. Not only the current, but the difficult nature of the channel, interposed obstacles that proved to be insurmountable. Too shallow in some places to be crossed, in others the deeper channels were filled with rocks and drift-wood. For hours they labored in vain to push or pull their canoe through the obstacles and against the rapid current, and then abandoned it in despair. To carry their canoe around the obstacle would have rendered necessary the cutting of a road three and a half miles long through an impenetrable forest,— a work which it was beyond the power of the expedition to accomplish. Reluctantly they turned their faces homeward, and rapidly descended the river, reaching Nulato in seven days. The width of the Kvihpak, through the distance explored, was found to average about a mile.
In the autumn of 1843 the expedition descended the Kvihpak to Ikagimit, a trading-post about two hundred miles below Nulato. The river was found to be navigable for canoes the whole distance between those points, the water muddy, and the current strong in many places. The average width was a mile and a half, the depth varying from one fathom to over ten fathoms. The left bank was low, with scattered hills in the distance ; the right bank high, frequently rising almost into mountains. The country was well wooded. Zagoyskin says: “ Fifteen miles from Anvika the soil on the right bank changes from sand to clay. In one place it cracks. I have seen pure clean earth of different bright colors,—red, yellow, straw-color, and white, with all their various shades. This, I think, contains lead.” At one point the river sweeps around the base of a group of conical mountains, two thousand feet in height, near which rises an isolated volcano of about the same height. Nearly all the tributary rivers enter from the left bank, and many of them abound with beaver.
On the 5th of November the Kvihpak was closed with ice. A few days later the natives flocked to the river to catch a small, greasy lamprey found in great numbers as soon as the river was frozen over, and remained about two weeks. To the dwellers on the Kvihpak this fish is as the white-bait is to the Londoner or the first shad to the New-Yorker.
As soon as the ice was strong, Lieutenant Zagoyskin and his party left Ikagmut and ascended the river on sledges, passing sometimes over bare ice and at other times over snow, to the village of Paymut, intending to cross the mountains to the river Kuskokvim, which near the 160th meridian approaches the Kvihpak before the latter bends to the north and the former to the east. Ascending the river Nallik, a stream three hundred and fifty feet wide, which enters the Kvihpak from the southeast, they soon struck southward along a road that crossed a marshy plain to the mountain Tamatulit, twenty-five hundred feet high, towering above the right bank of the Kuskokvim. Leaving the mountain on one side, the road crossed a lake, entered a marsh covered with shrubbery and traversed by many small creeks, and passed through higher land to the river bank. The expedition followed the course of the Kuskokvim up to Fort Kolmakoff, a fortified trading-post in lat. 6i° 34' N., long. 158" 37' W.
The Kuskokvim is smaller than the Kvihpak, and, for a hundred and fifty or two hundred miles from its mouth, varies from seven hundred to eighteen hundred feet in width. The bends, filled with islands, gave the river a more picturesque appearance than the Kvihpak, the scenery of which is somewhat monotonous. The rocks on the right bank differed from those on the right bank of the Kvihpak, and in many places Lieutenant Zagoyskin found mica. The left bank is clothed with heavy fir-trees ; and parallel with the course of the river, at a distance of twenty miles, runs a range of mountains, two thousand feet high, which divides the waters of the Kuskokvim from those of the Nashagak, which flows into Bristol Bay. Between Fort Kolmakoff and Fort Alexander, on Bristol Bay, communication is kept up by a chain of rivers, lakes, and portages.
The winter was spent in exploring the country between the Kuskokvim and the Kvihpak, which was found to be full of small rivers, and in tracing the lower portion of the Chageluk, one of the largest affluents of the Kvihpak, which runs nearly parallel with that river for some distance, and enters it near lat. 62° N,, long, 160° W. On the 1st of May, 1844, the ice in the Kuskokvim began to move, and by the gth the river was perfectly clear. On the 19th the expedition started up the river in seal-skin canoes. The Kuskokvim was found to be from seven hundred to twenty-one hundred feet wide above Fort Kolmakoff, with occasional sand-bars, some of them a mile and a half wide. For nearly a hundred miles it runs between rocky cliffs, from three hundred to five hundred feet in height, covered with a dense forest; the channel is clear, and the current not so strong as that of the Kvihpak. At this point the river Hulitnak enters from the south (lat. 6i° 42' N., long. 156° 5o' W.) ; it is two hundred feet wide at its mouth, and guarded at its entrance on the left bank by rocky cliffs from two hundred to four hundred feet high. From this point, far in the interior, could be seen a conical mountain whose top was covered with snow. A few miles up the Hulitnak the hills on the left bank give way to a marshy plain, whilst on the right side runs a chain of hills five hundred feet high.
Twenty miles higher up the Kuskokvim, breaking through the hills that line the left bank of that river above the Hulitnak, comes in the Shulkak, which, the natives say, takes its rise in a lake among the Chigmit Mountains, some of the nearest peaks of which could be seen by the expedition about fifty miles to the southward. A short distance above the Shulkak comes in the Chigvanateel, also from the south. At this point were met six canoes filled with natives. To keep on good terms with the natives, and prevent misunderstanding, — for they could conceive of no reason for the presence of a white man in those regions except to trade, — a few pounds of tobacco and some old clothes were exchanged for a large heap of beaver, otter, reindeer, and black-bear skins. The natives coveted a certain coat without sleeves which struck their fancy, but the pile of nearly two hundred valuable furs which comprised their stock was not considered an equivalent, and they were obliged to content themselves with tobacco and less prized articles of clothing.
Above these streams the Kuskokvim narrowed to about seven hundred feet, the current was slower, and the water of a dull yellowish white. The river wound around a cape two hundred or three hundred feet high on the right bank, the left bank being about eighteen feet high, and covered with a dense forest; beyond which, in the distance, rose a chain of mountains. Higher up, a spur of the mountain chain terminated on the left bank of the river in a rocky ridge, beyond which the forest gave place to a fiat meadow, or marshy plain. At the mouth of the river Sochotno, in lat. 62° 58' N., long. 1550 6' W., the expedition stopped, having reached about one hundred and eighty miles above Fort Kolmakoff, and about three hundred and fifty miles above the mouth of the river. At this point the natives spoke of a beautiful inland sea in the interior, somewhere between the Kuskokvim and the Kvihpak. The same story was repeated by the natives at other points on the Kuskokvim and also on the Kvihpak. It was described as a large and beautiful lake, abounding in fish, and supporting a numerous people on its banks. It was the opinion of Lieutenant Zagoyskin that the location of this lake was somewhere between lat. 63° and 65° N. and long. 150° and 154° W., and that it probably found an outlet for its waters by the river Haggaya into the Kvihpak.
It was the intention of Lieutenant Zagoyskin to explore the Kuskokvim to its source ; but the men he had taken with him from Fort Kolmakoff were obliged to return, that they might be ready to transport goods across to Fort Alexander, on Bristol Bay. He was, therefore, reluctantly compelled to turn back, reaching Fort Kolmakoff on the 5th of JuneA few days later he crossed to the Kvihpak by a chain of lakes and rivers different from that he had traversed in the winter, and then descended the Lower Kvihpak to the divergence of its several channels to the sea. The hills and forests disappeared, and at one point a chain of lakes in a flat country stretched away to the right as far as the eye could reach. The soil at this part of the river contained a layer of organic matter from the forest, about three feet deep, beneath which was wet clay. Lieutenant Zagoyskin records no observation of his own in regard to the depth of water in the lower branches of the Kvihpak, but says that in 1833 a servant of the Fur Company ascended the Aphuna, or northern mouth of the Kvihpak with case, and descended about thirty miles of another channel, but found the water too shallow to enable him to reach the sea. On reaching the sea, Zagoyskin sailed up the coast in his canoe, keeping about half a mile from the shore, as sand-banks and rocks farther out made navigation dangerous, and reached Fort St. Michael on the 21st of June, after two years of difficult and perilous exploration.
In the winter of 1860, Robert Kennicott, a young American naturalist of fine promise and of undaunted resolution, though of delicate frame, entered the Russian American territory from the British line, above the Yukon. He had come, the last part of the route alone, from the head of Lake Superior, by the way of the chain of lakes and the Mackenzie River, through the vast wilds that lie between Lake Superior and the Arctic Sea. On his way he had collected specimens in every department of natural science, and these specimens, numbering thousands, and weighing tons in the aggregate, were taken at each trading-post by the Hudson's Bay Company, and transported free to Canada, where they were again taken, without pay, by the express companies, and delivered to the Smithsonian Institute, under whose auspices he was travelling. The Hudson's Bay Company had poached on the manor of the Russian Fur Company, and about sixty miles beyond the boundary. just at the fork of the Porcupine and Yukon Rivers, Kennicott found a trading-post, Fort Yukon, in charge of an old Scotchman, who, with his wife and a jovial Roman Catholic priest, together with some voyagours and Esquimaux, formed the settlement. Here Kennicott remained all winter, gathering hundreds of specimens, and gaining all the information possible from the natives in regard to the course of the Yukon, about which uncertain reports existed at the fort. Among the important discoveries was that of the breeding-place of the Canvas-back duck, — the eggs of which, never before seen by a naturalist, literally covered acres. Here, too, he found the nests and eggs of the beautiful Bohemian wax-wing, — the only place where its eggs have ever been found. In the spring he set out on his homeward journey, still gathering specimens as he went; and on his return commenced reducing the results of his observations to writing, when he was interrupted by another call to the field of duty.
In pursuance of a design to connect the American and European continents by a telegraph line through Northern Asia, the wires of the Western Union Telegraph Company were extended northward through Oregon and Washington Territories to Vancouver’s Island, and thence it was proposed to carry them northward through British and Russian territory to Behring's Strait. Carried by a cable through the Strait, or some part of the Kamchatka Sea, it was designed to then push the line through Siberia to meet the Russian government lines coming eastward from St. Petersburg. The route through the British possessions above British Columbia, and the whole interior of Russian America, was entirely unknown. It was determined to make the survey by two parties, one keeping northward from Vancouver’s Island, and the other proceeding by sea to the vicinity of Behring’s Strait, and then going eastward and southward, to meet the party coming north. The information obtained in regard to the “great river” of Russian America, led to the hope that the party could ascend it from Behring's Sea to Fort Yukon, and then follow its course southward through British territory, — the party coming north keeping the same route to the place of meeting. A small steamer, the " Lizzie Horner,” was purchased in San Francisco, and put on board one of the vessels of the expedition, with the design of ascending the Kvihpak in her as far as possible. The services of Major Kennicott had been secured for the command of the expedition by way of Behring's Sea, his previous visit to Russian America, and his profound scientific knowledge, peculiarly fitting him for the task.
On the 10th of July, 1865, the expedition left San Francisco in the barque " Golden Gate," accompanied by the engineer-in-chief of the Company, Colonel Bulkley, in the propeller “ G. S. Wright.” In a month they reached Sitka, the head-quarters of the Russian American Fur Company, where they remained about two weeks, completing their arrangements and receiving the lavish courtesies of the Russian officials. On the 22d of August the expedition sailed again, steering for the outer point of the Aliaska peninsula. The islands that line the southern front of this remarkable projection were reached about long. 160° W., and at one of them, Ounga, a short stop was made. The principal features of this island were similar to most of the others in the group. Originally of volcanic origin, it has a steep front about six hundred feet in height, beyond which the land is rolling. The elevations are covered with moss interspersed with flowers, and in the depressions is a little coarse grass with small bushes. A bed of coal (lignite) sixteen inches thick was found on this island, and the Russians worked it for a short time, but ultimately abandoned it as of little value, Here, as on several other islands, a few Russians supported themselves by fishing. In running along the coast, a volcano was seen, in full activity; and others, that had at no very distant period been in eruption, were seen on the peninsula and islands. Codfish were plentiful along the route through the islands. The entrance to Behring’s Sea was made through the Ounimak passage, in long. 165° W., lat. 54½ N., the depth of water at the entrance being two hundred and forty feet, and the current very strong. On the 13th of September, the expedition entered Norton Sound and rounded to at St. Michael. Kennicott and his party were landed and the vessels left, with Colonel Bulkley, for Kamchatka.
The island of St. Michael lies on the south side of Norton Sound, and is divided by a narrow channel from the main-land, and by a wider channel from Stuart’s Island. It is about twelve miles across in either direction, of volcanic origin, but of no great height, the greatest elevation being three hundred feet. A good harbor affords protection against all but the northerly winds. At this point is a fort of logs and earth, mounting six four-pounders, and garrisoned by twenty Russians under Factor Stephanoff. Close to the fort is an Esquimau or Malimeet village, of ten huts, — partly burrows in the side of the hill, and partly buildings of driftlogs. A chain of similar villages extends along the coast of Norton Sound. The temperature at St. Michael is milder than at any other point on that part of the coast, a fact accounted for by its being surrounded by water, and by the current coming from the south. In summer there is a healthy, though scanty vegetation.
It was the intention of Kennicott to go down the coast in the small steamer “ Lizzie Horner,” to be commanded by Lieutenant Charles Pease, to the lower, and deepest, mouth of the Kvihpak, or Yukon, and in her to traverse the whole length of the river as far as navigation was possible, making surveys at the proper points. Unfortunately, that project had to be abandoned. The engineer engaged at San Francisco was grossly incompetent, and the machinery of the steamer was found to be radically defective. Fruitless attempts were made to remedy the deficiencies, and she was at length abandoned. This was a serious blow to the usefulness of the expedition. Major Kennicott changed his plan, and adopted the ordinary route of the Russian traders as high up as they went, being that taken by Zagoyskin twenty-three years before. From Nulato be proposed to travel in the winter by dog teams up the river to Fort Yukon.
On the 27th of September the party, numbering twelve persons, crossed Norton Sound in an open barge to the village of Unalakleat, at the mouth of the river of that name, the voyage being rendered unpleasant by a violent snowstorm, the first of the season. At Unalakleat the Russians had built a log fort, occupied by six men, and defended by two four-pounder guns. Cold weather set in rapidly, and the first work of the party was to build a fort of drift-logs, banked up with sods and gravel, and the logs chinked with moss. The luxury of a chimney was added, the mortar for which was made with mud and boiling water.
October 21st, Pease, Ketchum, and Adams, accompanied by five Esquimaux, each of whom carried eighty pounds of baggage strapped to his back, went up the Unalakleat. The thermometer marked two degrees below zero, but the river was not frozen hard enough to walk on. On the third day they reached Ulucook, a winter village of the Ingalik tribe, forty miles above Unalakleat. Here they stopped a month, buying fish and preparing it for the winter’s provision of the party.
The Ingaliken are part of an Indian race occupying a middle position between the Esquimaux, or Malimeets, of the coast, and the Indians of the interior. They are the traders, roaming from the Yukon to the coast, and bartering the skins of the Indians for the traders’ goods and the Esquimau supplies. At one time they were a powerful race; but a succession of wars with the Esquimaux and the interior Indians has thinned their numbers. In their habits and customs they have become more Esquimau than Indian, building their huts partly under ground, like the former, instead of on the surface as does the latter. The winter hut of the Norton Sound. Esquimau is built of spruce logs, split and set on edge, and is roofed in the same manner, with a square hole in the top, and the whole, except the opening in the roof, is covered with sods and earth until it is like a low dome. About half the height of the interior is below the surface of the ground. The entrance is by a tunnel or covered gallery, about twenty feet long, communicating with a square stockade closed with a door. Inside the stockade is a circular opening to descend into the tunnel. The hut is about sixteen feet square, with logs at the sides for seats. The fire burns in the centre, directly under the hole in the roof. The furniture and kitchen utensils of the hut are composed of kettles bought of the whalers, earthen pots, like flower-pots, made by the natives, for various purposes, and a lamp, —a saucer of dried mud, filled with blubber, and with dried moss for wicking, the root of a tree serving for a chandelier. When night comes, the occupants of the hut let the fire die down, stretch dried skins across the opening in the roof, the circular entrance in the stockade, and at the doorway leading from the hut to the tunnel, thus cutting off every current of air. Then, stretching themselves with their heads to the fire, resting on logs for pillows, they sleep in an atmosphere as hot and dense as that of a slow oven.
In the centre of every village is the Kadgim, or great meeting-house. Here their work is carried on, feasts held, visitors received, and here the men sleep. Built on the same plan as the other huts, it is much larger and higher, and has a raised seat earned around its sides. It was at the Kadgim in Ulucook that Lieutenant Zagoyskin witnessed the performance of their traditionary custom of “drowning little bladders in the sea,” performed in honor of the sea spirit Ugiak. When Zagoyskin entered the Kadgim he found it occupied by about fifty men, who had just been washing themselves in a reeking liquid which cannot be more particularly named. The stench was overpowering and the heat suffocating, but there was no help for it. The festival then began. On a strip of moose-skin stretched across one end of the apartment were suspended about a hundred fantastically painted bladders, taken from animals killed with arrows only. At one end of the line hung a carved representation of a man’s head, and a gull ; at the other end, two partridges. Threads fastened to this line were drawn over the cross-beam, and these threads were jerked so as to set the figures in motion. A stick, six feet high, bound around with straw, stood under the line. A native advanced from the group, danced solemnly before the bladders, and then, pulling some straw from the stick, lighted it, and passed it under bladders and images so as to smoke them. The stick and straw were carried outside, and all the occupants of the Kadgim indulged in a dance which lasted throughout the greater part of the day. They stripped to the waist before dancing, and, by their frantic contortions to the monotonous beat of the tambourine, kept every muscle in motion. At frequent intervals the women brought in frozen fish and strips of deer-meat, which the dancers devoured ravenously, and then resumed the dance. After eating and dancing all day in the poisonous atmosphere, they huddled on the floor at night, every man with his head to the fire, and slept: till morning. Unlike the natives of Kamchatka, who have a horribly nauseating method of intoxication, the Malimeets of the American coast of Behring’s Sea have no stimulating drink. Their method of getting intoxicated is to smoke tobacco and take the smoke into their lungs, which produces partial stupefaction. In one of the grand feasts some members of Kennicott’s party were treated by the natives to a dish, which was accepted as the hyperborean substitute for ice-cream and strawberries, and eaten without aversion, if not with much relish. The disgust of those who indulged in the luxury may be imagined on their discovering the delectable compound to be reindeer fat, chewed to a paste by the old women, then mixed with snow and flavored with berries.
The natives on the Lower Kuskokvim have peculiar funeral observances. When a member of the family dies, his relatives eat nothing but sour or yearold food, and do not go to the river for twenty days. They spend their time seated in one corner of the room with their backs to the door. Every five days they wash themselves, else all the relatives of the deceased would die. Before the funeral the body is carried into the Kadgim, where it is placed in a sitting posture with the feet drawn up, in a corner opposite to the door. The inhabitants of the village bring in votive offerings of skin dresses, in one of which the corpse is dressed, while the others are placed in a box with the body. The box is carried to the burying-ground and placed on four posts, near which is raised a large board painted with the figure of that object of which the deceased was most fond. In front of the board are set some articles belonging to the deceased, and his remaining effects are divided in the Kadgim. The interior natives burn their dead ; and if one dies in winter, his relatives carry the body with them, using it instead of a log as a pillow at night, and burning it when warm weather comes.
The Kuskokvim natives have also a peculiar usage — suggestive of the Christmas customs of American children — of hiding articles for some time, and at a particular feast presenting them to the members of their families.
On the 8th of November the Unalakleat River froze so that it could be traversed with dog teams. The cold rapidly increased, the thermometer marking 20° below zero on the 8th of November, reaching 32° on the 19th, and on the ist of January getting down to 40° below zero, — the lowest point noted, —with a fierce norther blowing. The dog teams were got ready, and the provisions prepared for packing, when Kennicott returned from Nulato with the discouraging information that it would be impossible to go up the Yukon during the winter. He had himself made a ten days’ journey above Nulato, and found but few natives, most of them having gone northward to hunt the reindeer. He ascertained that there was no prospect of getting food for his dogs, and without an assurance that this could be obtained, it would be madness to attempt the journey. The winter was therefore spent at Fort St. Michael, in making preparations for the summer's work.
On the 3d of April the weather moderated, and indications of the coming spring were visible. A portion of the party set out for Grantley Harbor, with instructions to join the main body at Nulato. Ten days afterwards Lieutenants Ketchum and Pease, and Mike Lebarge, a Canadian voyageur attached to the party, started for Nulato. The ice was five feet thick, and the ground covered with snow, but on the bay the ice was rapidly softening, so that the party had to keep close to the shore, and sometimes found six inches of water on the surface. Next day they reached Unalakleat, rested a day, and then set out for Ulucook, walking the forty miles behind a dog-sled loaded with three bags of flour. Continuing their journey, on the 19th they struck the Yukon, about thirty miles below Nulato. On the 22d they reached Nulato, having travelled all the way upon the river, and next day were joined by the party from Grantley Harbor.
Nulato is a small native village, in which a Russian trading-post has been established, with three white men and a four-pounder iron cannon as its sole defence. During the winter two skin boats had been brought over from St. Michael for the voyage up the Yukon. The largest was thirty-five feet long and six feet wide, made of seal-skin stretched over a light framework of wood fastened with sinews. A square sail, spreading twenty yards of canvas, could be rigged. The other boat was a “ baidark,” or light skin canoe, with a covering of skin that fitted tightly to the skin tunic worn by the occupant of the boat, so as to be perfectly waterproof. A baidark has holes for three passengers, and in this differs from a kyak, which only admits one occupant. The baidark was intended for Major Kennicott and two of his party, whilst the larger boat would carry the others, together with the provisions.
Everything was ready for the departure, and the members of the expedition were anxiously awaiting the breaking up of the ice, when a sad calamity put an end to the arrangements. Major Kennicott had for several days complained of dizziness, and a strange sensation in his head. The succession of disappointments he had experienced since his landing weighed heavily on his mind, and, combined with the effects of the arduous labors of the previous six years, had broken down both his spirit and his constitution. On the morning of May 13th he was absent from breakfast, and the Indian sent in search returned without finding him. Lieutenant Pease became alarmed, and started with Lebarge to find him. About twenty rods from the fort they came on him, lying on his back, dead. An open compass was lying by his side, and it is supposed that, after taking some observations and making calculations by tracing figures in the sand, he straightened himself up and fell instantly dead, probably from heart disease.
The death of the commander of the expedition frustrated all the plans that had been formed. Lieutenant Ketchum, as the oldest of the party, took command, and appointed Lieutenant Pease as his second. It was decided that Ketchum, with the voyageur Lebarge, and a half-breed, Lewis Kean, should go up to Fort Yukon in the baidark, whilst Lieutenant Pease and some others of the party should take the remains of Major Kennicott in the seal-skin boat to Fort St. Michael, by going down the river to the coast. Pease and the half-breed Kean set to work on a coffin made of boards torn from the sides of the fort, calked with candle-wick, and pitched with turpentine gum. The lining was made of some green baize found in the fort, and tacked with brads cut with shears from a strip of copper that had formed part of the sheathing of a ship’s bottom. Dressed in full uniform, and shrouded in the American flag, the body of Major Kennicott lay for three days open to the sorrowful gaze of those who had shared his later labors, (one of these had been his friend and companion in past years,) and then the face of one of whom science had great hope was hid from view. Had Major Kennicolt lived to carry out his plans, completed his explorations of the extreme Northern country, and reduced his observations to writing, the scientific world would have been a great gainer by his knowledge. Unfortunately, during the six or seven years before his death he was more a worker than a writer, and the hurried notes he committed to paper will throw but little light on what he had discovered, compared with what died with him, unregistered.
On the 23d of May the ice broke up, and on the morning of the 25th, Ketchum, Lebarge, and Kean started up the river in the baidark, whilst Pease, taking with him Smith, Adams, and Dyer, and a crew of three Esquimaux, started down the river in the seal-skin boat, having with them the remains of Major Kennicott. A few miles below Nulato the ice and driftwood were overtaken in a rapid current, and a landing was made on an island to escape swamping. The voyage was continued, the party sometimes making thirteen or fourteen miles, and at others going at a more rapid rate, at one time making seventy-seven miles in a day’s run. At night they found a welcome in an Indian village, or camped out on an island. On the 1st of June they took an Indian on board as a guide, but soon became suspicious that he was trying to mislead them. Following his directions, Pease steered into a wide channel which proved to be a lateral connection with the Chageluk River, and entered that river a short distance above its confluence with the Yukon, or Kvihpak. Here they came suddenly on a village inhabited by a tribe hostile to those above, and bearing a bad reputation among the Russians. As soon as the boat came in sight, it was surrounded with canoes filled with Indians, whose conduct was far from reassuring. Preserving his self-possession, Lieutenant Pease opened a conversation with the chief, and made him presents of tobacco and calico, and finally of a knife, which completely won his good-will. He expressed his gratification at meeting with the first white men who had ever reached his village. When the boat was about to leave, the Indians drew up in a body to fire a salute. As Pease was not quite sure of the intentions of his professed friends, he commenced the salute by hitting a mark at long range with his rifle, and directing one of his party to keep up a continuous fire with revolvers. This exhibition of rapid firing and length of range put an end to any idea of attack on the part of the Indians, if such a purpose had been meditated.
Stopping one night at the Russian post known as “The Mission,” — the Ikagmut of Zagoyskin’s narrative, — containing several houses and a church, their voyage was continued the next day, until the northern mouth of the river was reached. On the way they saw several islands covered with geese and swans, and found on one island the nest of a goose with three eggs in it. On the 5th of June, after passing through a herd of seals, the boat left the main channel for one taking a more northerly course, and ending in a narrow canal leading into the Pastolic River, which enters Norton Sound several miles above the northern mouth of the Yukon. The sea-coast was reached on the morning of June 6th, twelve days after leaving Nulato. The voyage up the coast was long and tedious, owing to baffling winds and the dangers of the reefs, the fort at St. Michael not being reached until June 15th.
Not long afterwards Ketchum and his party returned to Fort St. Michael, having successfully made the passage to Fort Yukon and back. The country from Nulato eastward was found to be similar to that lower down the river, the banks varying in height, but most of the near elevations being on the northern side ; the streams from the north were small, and those from the south much larger. The character of the timber improved, the spruce ranging from twenty-five to one hundred feet in height. There were no more serious obstructions to navigation than occur in most Western rivers, the sand-bars having, during their passage, a fair depth of water, and the rapids below Fort Yukon offering no insurmountable obstacle to a good steamer. The current was found to be very strong. The proper steamers to navigate the Yukon are stern-wheelers, with very powerful engines. At Fort Yukon a new fort had been built, about a mile and a half from the old fort, and the Roman Catholic priest who had spiritual charge during Kennicott’s visit had given place to an Episcopal minister.
Late in the autumn the long-expected ship from San Francisco arrived at St. Michael, with Colonel Bulkley on board. A reorganization of the party was made. Lieutenant Pease, as the attached friend of the late Major Kennicott, was sent home with his remains, and the remainder of the party, under Lieutenant Ketchum, were ordered to retrace their steps into the interior, and carefully survey the Upper Yukon, following it, if possible, to its source, or until meeting an exploring party advancing north from British Columbia. From that party nothing has since been heard on the Atlantic side. So far as the general public is concerned, its principal work, however, was done. The Yukon had been explored from Behring’s Sea to above its junction with the Porcupine. Beyond that point its course had been traced by the servants of the Hudson’s Bay Company. The abandonment of the Russian American Telegraph enterprise, owing to the success of the Atlantic Cable line, has put a stop to further exploration in the interest of the Telegraph Company.
The coast line of Russian America is of two distinct characters, the line of division being the Aliaska peninsula. At the boundary line, on the Icy Sea, the coast is low, and formed of frozen mud-banks, keeping this character coming west until Point Barrow is reached, the most northern point, a long low spit of gravel and loose sand. Going southwest, the low coast is intersected with narrow lakes, and covered with swampy moss, to the neighborhood of Cape Lisburne, a mass of limestone rocks eight hundred and fifty feet high. From this point to and around Kotzebue Sound, the coast is low and swampy, with occasional hills. Cape Prince of Wales, which forms the eastern side of the gateway of Behring's Strait, is precipitous and rocky, and is indented by Port Clarence, which has a good entrance, with ten fathoms of water, and a mud bottom. Opening also into the eastern side of the Cape is Granlley Harbor, smaller and completely landlocked, offering a perfectly secure anchorage. Below this point, the country near the sea is rolling, and the coast low and inaccessible except in certain portions of Norton and Bristol Sounds, while the sea is shallow, owing to the alluvium poured into it by the rivers and dammed back into Behring's Sea by the barrier of the Aliaska peninsula. The shore is covered with a heavy growth of moss, thrown up by the frost into large bunchy masses.
Below the Aliaska peninsula the formation of the coast is totally different. A lofty mountain range occupies the coast from Observatory Inlet to Cook’s Inlet, and then sweeps around towards the Asiatic side along the peninsula. On this side the cliffs are rocky and precipitous, and descend abruptly into the Pacific, with deep soundings close to the shore. Along the greater part of the Pacific coast line of the territory extends a group, or several groups, of islands, some of large size, fifty to a hundred miles in length. The narrow strip of coast belonging to Russian America from Cross Sound to Observatory Inlet, and the coast below to Puget Sound, is masked by a series of islands so situated as to leave between them and the main-land an unbroken line of inland navigation, the most extraordinary in the world. Sir George Simpson, who passed through it twice in 1841, says it is admirably adapted for steam navigation, affording a safe passage in every condition of the weather except fogs. Beyond the Copper River is another group of islands ; and stretching from the mouth of Cook’s Inlet to the end of the peninsula is still another group, to which the largest, Kodiak, gives its name. All these islands are of volcanic character, and in some of them along the Aliaska peninsula, as also on the main-land, volcanoes are still active. Traces of volcanic action are also found on the few islands along the coast of Behring’s Sea.
The whole main-land coast up to Cook's Inlet is heavily wooded, and many of the islands also have a good supply of trees. Beyond the mountain range, near and beyond the boundary line, up to Cook’s Inlet, stretches a comparatively level country, covered with grass. The islands of the Pacific coast are hilly, the rocks covered with moss, whilst in the valleys is good land, with grass and shrubs.
The rivers of Russian America are numerous and important. Going north from the boundary line of British Columbia, the first river of consequence is the Stikine, or Francis River, in lat. 56’ N., which forms the principal gateway to the valuable British territory beyond, and which passes through a country rich in gold. The Stikine has two mouths, its greatest width at the principal outlet being about half a mile. It is navigable for steamers of light draught, for four months in the year, a distance of a hundred and fifty miles;
and the steamer “Flying Dutchman” made several trips up it to Shakes-, ville, a mining town one hundred and forty miles from its mouth. Twenty miles above Shakesville the Grand Canon commences, and above that point canoe navigation is practicable for a considerable distance. The Stikine previous to entering the mountain range at the Grand Cañon drains an undulating country covered with luxuriant grass, then passes through a rich mineral region, and finally enters the sea between steep banks clothed with dense forests of pine and cypress. Small rivers enter the natural canals and inlets of the coast up to lat. 60° N., long. 144° W., where the Copper River enters. By this river the natives have communication with the Yukon in nearly the same longitude, the two rivers and their affluents approaching each other so closely that but short portages are made. Cook’s Inlet, which cuts a deep gash in the coast line, also has its tributary streams, by which communication is kept up by the coast natives with the interior.
Above the Aliaska peninsula the first stream is the Nashagak, in Bristol Bay, reported by the natives to connect by lakes and marshes with Cook's Inlet on one side, and with the Kuskokvim on the other. The Kuskokvim, entering Behring’s Sea above Cape Newenham, has been explored by Russians and natives for about six hundred miles. Its course from the mouth up is generally northeast, but, like all the rivers of the region, it is very crooked. The Kuskokvim is navigable for lightdraught steamers for a great portion of its length. Its current is moderately rapid.
But the great river of Russian America is the Yukon, or Kvihpak, which had long been a mystery to British and American hydrographers, and which was never fully explored by white men until the summer of 1866. It is the Mississippi of the Northwest. The Yukon rises in the mountainous region of Pelly Banks, in British America, and runs northwest until it enters Russian America in about lat. 64° N. It continues its northwesterly direction until it receives the waters of the Porcupine from the northeast. About seventy miles above the junction with that river it threads its way through a pass in the Big Beaver Mountains, then traverses a flat country for about a hundred miles, when it again cuts a spur of the Big Beaver Mountains, and enters the system of the great northern peninsula. From this point it runs a little south of east until opposite the head of Norton Sound, when it bends abruptly to the south to lat. 62° N., where it again turns to the west and flows into Behring’s Sea. From the junction with the Porcupine to its outlet in Behring’s Sea, this river is navigable for steamboats, having a depth varying from one to ten fathoms, and a width varying from a mile to a mile and a half. Its course is very tortuous. There are four known mouths, the most northern of which is obstructed by a bar on which is a depth of four feet of water, the south channel having ten feet of water at the entrance. There are other streams of less importance entering Norton’s Sound and Kotzebue Bay; and the Colville, which enters the Icy Sea and was long supposed to be the mouth of the Yukon, is said by the natives to be navigable for a considerable distance.
The course of nearly all the rivers is generally a little south of west. The mountain ranges from the south cease before reaching the Icy Sea, and the great peninsula above Cook’s Inlet is traversed by a number of low mountain ranges running in a southwesterly direction. In the intervening spaces between those ranges the principal rivers find their way. As a general rule the rivers wash the base of the hills on the right side, the left banks being low, and at a distance from the river frequently swampy. The southern tier of hills is, however, nearly always in sight, and spurs from it occasionally jut out on the left bank. A peculiar feature of the country is the manner in which the affluents of the great rivers interlock, or are connected by lakes ; so that, whilst the peninsula can be traversed from east to west by following the line of the principal rivers, it can also be traversed from south to north by short passes through the mountains, or by ascending the smaller streams that coma through the gaps in the rocky banks on the right of the rivers, and then passing by lakes and short portages to the numerous rivers flowing north into the large rivers. In this way the natives and the traders pass from the Copper River to Fort Yukon, and from Cook’s Inlet to Kotzebue Sound.
The interior of the upper peninsula is well timbered to within about a hundred miles of the coast, on the line of the Kvihpak, or Yukon, and still nearer on some of the smaller streams. The prevailing timber and the most useful is the spruce, which is frequently of considerable diameter, and from seventy to a hundred feet high. Birch grows, but not in great quantity, as far north as the line of the Kvihpak. Poplar, alder, and willow are found along all the rivers in considerable quantity. On the Pacific coast the main-land and many of the islands are covered with dense forests of pine, — the most useful of all trees, — which reach the water’s edge ; and in the neighborhood of the Stikine, Sir George Simpson says, is a species of cypress, which, from its durability and lightness, is almost unequalled for boat-building. The Russians have neglected to turn this immense fund of wealth to account, being fearful lest their monopoly of fur-trading would be affected by the opening of a timber trade. The pine is of the largest size and finest quality, equalling in value the famous forests of Norway. Bongard reports pines and spruces on the coast having a diameter of seven feet and a height of one hundred and sixty feet.
Russian America teems with animal life. Its seas afford the finest fisheries in the world, its rivers are filled with fish, and its woods, hills, valleys, and plains support vast quantities of furbearing animals and valuable birds. The waters of the North Pacific, along the whole coast from Dixon's Strait to the end of the Aleutian Islands, swarm with cod and halibut of the largest size. In 1865, Acting-Surveyor Giddings, of Washington Territory, called the attention of the Secretary of the Interior to this fact. After describing the value of the fisheries in the Strait of Fuca, he said: “ Farther north, along the coast, between Cape Flattery and Sitka, in the Russian possessions, both cod and halibut are very plenty, and of a much larger size than those taken at the Cape, or farther up the straits and sound. No one who knows those facts for a moment doubts that, if vessels similar to those used by the Bank fishermen that sail from Massachusetts and Maine were fitted out here, and were to fish on the various banks along this coast, it would even now be a most lucrative business..... The cod and halibut on this coast, up near Sitka, are fully equal to the largest taken in the Eastern waters.”
The Legislature of Washington Territory, by formal resolution, called the attention of the general government to the great value of the fisheries of the Russian American coast, and petitioned for the adoption of such measures as would obtain for Americans the right to fish in those waters. Lieutenant Pease reports that, on the passage up, the sea near the Kodiak group of islands was found to be full of cod, a barrel of which was caught with a line as the vessel sailed through. No attempt has been made to utilize those treasures of the deep, except by the Russians on the islands and coast, who fish for their own support and that of the Indians dependent on them. Whales are numerous in the North Pacific, and also in Behring's Sea, the whalers following them up to Behring’s Strait.
The rivers, from the Stikine to the highest known on the great peninsula, swarm with fish, especially with the different varieties of salmon. In the Stikine the salmon and salmontrout are plentiful. The red salmon, or “ squoggan ” of the natives, weighing about four pounds, is taken in July and August, and the sea salmon — the native " kase,” weighing sometimes thirty pounds—is taken from the commencement of the fishing season until late in the autumn. The rivers of the upper peninsula abound in salmon of the largest size, white-fish in immense quantities, sturgeon, pike, and mountain trout. The natives catch pike, salmon, and white-fish by spearing them, using a long-shafted spear with a loose head attached to the shaft by a short line. They launch this spear with great dexterity, and the head, when buried in the fish, is detached from the shaft by the shock, the short line allowing play to the fish, which cannot then twist itself free. Lieutenant Pease reports spearing salmon weighing forty pounds, and pike six feet in length. The natives dry the fish in strips, which, with dried reindeer meat, form their winter provisions.
The islands on the Pacific coast have been favorite haunts of the fur seal and the sea otter, and it was from this source that the Russian Fur Company obtained the greater part of their supplies. In spite of eighty years of war waged upon them by the hunters for this company, the numbers of the seal and the otter have not been seriously diminished. Above the Aliaska peninsula, where they have been almost exempt from molestation, they are found in immense numbers. On the island of St. Paul are large numbers of fur seal, and seal of different varieties with herds of walrus swarm along the coast of Behring’s Sea.
The animal life along the Yukon and its tributaries is reported by Lieutenant Pease and the late Major Kennicott to be in astonishing quantity and great variety, and the Russian explorers of the Kuskokvim and other rivers of the continent give similar reports. Among the fur-bearing animals that are found in great numbers may be enumerated the otter, beaver, mink, ermine, sable, martin, black and Arctic foxes, with some other varieties, large and small marmots, squirrels,—a red variety with very handsome fur being particularly noticeable, — lynx, wolverine, wolves, black, grizzly, and Arctic bears, muskrats, — of a different species from those found in the lower latitudes, — reindeer, and, north of the Yukon, the moose.
But, great as are the numbers and variety of these animals, the feathered life of the country is still more remarkable. The region which lies between the Rocky Mountains and Behring’s Sea is the breeding-place of myriads of birds that visit the lower latitudes during a portion of the year. The winged column that comes up the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains from the Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico, and the column that comes up its western face and the Sierra Nevada from the lower latitudes of the Pacific Ocean, meet on this spot, feast on the berries that cover the ground in profusion, raise their broods of young, and start at the end of summer on their southern tour.
The food of the flocks of geese, ducks, and other birds that make this their breeding-place is chiefly the small Alpine cranberry, a fruit smaller than the common cranberry, and not so palatable until touched by the frost, when it becomes delicious ; the bog-bilberry, a favorite food for bears and geese, which grows in greater perfection here than in more southern latitudes ; the empetrum ; the salmon berry, resembling a large yellow raspberry, but of insipid flavor ; and a blue moss-berry, growing in great quantities on a small evergreen moss.
About the middle of April the feathered visitors begin to arrive. The snow-birds come first, followed by the ospreys, gerfalcons, eagles, and gulls. Then come the geese of every variety, the ducks, and the swans. The white and black geese keep on their course until they reach the Arctic Sea, and the others settle on the rivers and marshes of the interior. As summer advances, other birds arrive, and proceed at once to the work of nesting and raising their broods. Finches of various kinds, the American robin, the yellow poll, black and yellow warblers, the tree-bunting, and other small birds of numerous species, enliven the woods during the summer months, and become the prey of an endless variety of hawks. Swallows come in great numbers, stay a short time, and leave early in August. Our cherished acquaintance, the snow-bird, on its arrival from the south, puts on gayer plumage, and sings melodiously the whole season through, although utterly innocent of musical execution when with us. We have before mentioned the discovery by Major Kennicott, in the vicinity of Fort Yukon, of the breeding-places of the canvas-back duck, previously a mystery to naturalists. On the margin of a marshy lake, having a depth of from fifteen to twenty inches of water, they had spread platforms of sedge, and on these deposited their eggs. Major Kennicott saw acres literally covered with these eggs. Lieutenant Pease says the natives reported that the marshes along the Yukon for hundreds of miles afforded breeding-places for these ducks.
All the birds fatten rapidly on the juicy berries so plentiful in the interior. The geese especially become so fat, that during the moulting season they are scarcely able to fly, and are knocked down with sticks by the Indian children, who speedily fatten, as well as the geese. It is a season of feasting from the Rocky Mountains to the Strait, from the North Pacific to the Icy Sea.
With the first indication of coming winter the summer birds take their flight, the birds of the Atlantic and of the Pacific slopes each taking the right direction with unerring instinct, leaving the ptarmigan, the spruce-birds, chickadees, and red-birds to keep each other company in the long winter months. With the first snows come the winter visitors, the Arctic owls, and a large white hawk, seeking refuge from the more intense cold of the polar region.
While animal and bird life abound, there is no dearth of insects. Mosquitoes are more plentiful than pleasant, and afford food for the swallows and other small birds that flock thither to prey upon them. Hard-winged insects, beetles of several kinds, are numerous, and several varieties of butterfly were seen by Lieutenant Pease and by Major Kennicott hovering over the flowers that abound among the long grass and on the river-banks. Neither snakes nor frogs have been reported on the line of the Yukon.
There is little doubt that the mineral wealth of Russian America is enormous. The coast range of mountains that form the territory occupied from lat, 54° 40' to lat. 6o° is a continuation of the Sierra Nevada chain, in which lie the gold and silver mines of Nevada and California and of British Columbia. On the Stikine River gold has already been discovered, and miners are at work. The same formation reaches across towards Asia by the Aliaska peninsula, and sends a branch towards the Icy Sea. Indications of gold have also been found in the streams of the upper peninsula. Copper is known to exist in a virgin state, similar to that of Lake Superior, on the Copper River and at points along the Pacific coast. Lieutenant Pease found a copper-bearing rock at Cape Romanzoff, in Behring’s Sea. Indications of lead were discovered by Lieutenant Zagoyskin in the lower part of the Kvihpak or Yukon. Iron has been found in several places on the Pacific coast, and worked by the Russians. Coal is known to lie in large beds on the northern coast. The natives report it in different parts of the interior. On the voyage down the Kvihpak, when two days’ sail below Nulato, the natives pointed out a hill on the right, and told Lieutenant Pease that coal was found there, and that it had been worked to a small extent for native use. At Ounga Island, west of the Kodiak group, a bed of coal of inferior quality, about sixteen inches thick, is exposed on the hillside, and has been worked to a limited extent by the Russians. In the Kodiak group coal of better quality has been found, and worked successfully.
The climate of the Pacific coast is much more temperate than that of the same latitudes on the coast of the Atlantic. The observations of Baron Wrangell at Sitka, for a period of ten years, gave a yearly mean of 46.4°. This, in lat. 57° 3' N., is a mean temperature four degrees warmer than that of Portland, Maine, in lat. 43° 40' N.. and six degrees warmer than that of Quebec, in lat. 46° 49' N. Iluluk, on the Aliaska peninsula, in lat. 53° 52' N., has a mean temperature of 39.7°, the same as that of Williamstown, Vt., in lat. 44° 7' N., and four degrees warmer than that of Copper Harbor, Lake Superior. At Sitka, it is said to rain nearly, if not quite, every day in the year. The harbor is always open, and there is not sufficient ice for the use of the inhabitants. Along the Aliaska peninsula, solid and clear ice is obtained for the supply of the markets of the Pacific coast. On Sitka and the islands of that group the valleys afford abundant grass for animals, and the settlers keep some cows and horses. Vegetables, such as potatoes, turnips, cabbages, and radishes, are raised with ease, and come to perfection. Potatoes are raised also at Cook’s Inlet, in lat. 6i° N., though they will not ripen at Kamchatka, ten degrees farther south, thus showing the great difference in temperature between the east and west coasts. At St. Michael, in Norton Sound, lat. 63° 28' N., the occupants of the post cultivate a small garden, and raise turnips and radishes. The experiment has not been tried in the interior, but success would not be improbable, as the country abounds in edible roots. The temperature falls as the distance from the coast is increased. The yearly mean at Ikagmut, on the Lower Yukon or Kvihpak, in lat. 61° 47' N., long. 1610 14' W., about one hundred and fifty miles from the coast, was 24.57°. At Fort Yukon, about six hundred miles in a straight line from Behring’s Sea, the yearly mean was 16.92°, in lat. 64° N. At Ikagmut mercury froze in February and March on several years. As the mean of ten years’ observation, ice forms on the Kvihpak November 4th, and breaks up May 23d, the river being free of ice about June 2d. The average period during which the river remains closed is two hundred days.
In many places, if not throughout the main-land, “ ground ice ” is found at a varying depth. In winter the soil freezes solid, and in summer thaws out to a depth varying from a few inches to several feet, below which lies the permanently frozen subsoil to the depth of several feet. Zagoyskin relates that, in digging a well at St. Michael, alternate layers of ground ice and a fatty clay were passed through ; and Lieutenant Pease reports having dug at St. Michael, in August, to the depth of thirty inches, when ground ice was reached. At Ikagmut, Zagoyskin reports the soil thawed to the depth of seven inches only. In exploring a route for the Russian American Telegraph line in lat. 55° N., long. 126° W., Major Pope reports that ground ice can be found at any time of the year at a depth of six or eight feet below the surface, and the surface soil usually freezes to the depth of two feet in the winter, leaving an intervening stratum of unfrozen soil from four to six feet thick. The “ground ice” does not prevent the growth of vegetation. The roots of trees do not penetrate it, but spread as on the surface of a flat rock. In the frozen soil of Kotzebue Sound, in the mouths of the Kvihpak, and in Bristol Bay, are found large deposits of fossil ivory, similar to that found in Siberia, and a considerable trade has been carried on in this article of commerce.
The inhabitants of Russian America are estimated at five or six thousand Russians, mostly settled on the islands of the Pacific coast, and about fifty or sixty thousand Esquimaux and Indians. The natives are divided into numerous tribes, varying greatly in their habits and traditions. The Esquimaux occupy the coast and the lower part of the rivers having their outlet in Behring’s Sea. Differing greatly from each other in many of their characteristics, they differ still more as a whole from the Esquimaux of the Arctic regions to the eastward of Russian America. They live by fishing, and hunting the reindeer. The natives of the interior, classed by Richardson as the Kutchins, and known to the coast natives as KohYukons, and by other names, are of a totally different race, dressing more like the Indians of the lower latitudes, with an outer dress of furs for winter wear ; adorning themselves with beads, which constitute their wealth; and building their winter houses on the surface, instead of partly under ground, as do the Esquimaux. They live by the chase, and trade occasionally with the British factor at Fort Yukon, and, by means of the Ingaliken, with the coast natives and the Russians. They have an enmity towards the Russians, and have several times surprised their posts and slaughtered the occupants. For this reason the Russians have not penetrated far into the interior. The Americans attached to the telegraph expedition found no difficulty in dealing with them, and Lieutenant Pease says he has left many friends among both Esquimaux and Indians.
On the Pacific coast and islands there are other tribes, those belonging to the Kodiak and Aleutian groups being allied to the Esquimaux of Behring’s Sea, and the natives of the Sitka group and coast, the Tchilkats, being evidently related by language and habits to the tribes of the Upper Yukon. By long contact with the white settlers and the sailors visiting the coast, they have become degraded and debauched. The men are semi-slaves to the Russians, working for the nominal wages of twenty cents per day. The women are very dissolute.
By treaty made during the present year, the whole of the Russian possessions in North America are ceded to the United States, in consideration of the payment of seven million two hundred thousand dollars in gold, the cession including the islands in Behring’s Sea, as also the whole of the Aleutian Islands, leaving to Russia only Behring’s Island and Copper Island, off the coast of Kamchatka. By the terms of the treaty, all the franchises and leases granted to corporate bodies or individuals, of whatever nation, terminate on the transfer of the territory. The known wealth of the territory in fish, fur, and timber, and its probable mineral wealth, have already been set forth. To what has already been said may be added the opinion expressed in Blodgett’s Climatology of the Northwestern Districts : “ It is most surprising that so little is known of the great islands, and the long line of coast from Puget's Sound to Sitka, ample as its resources must be even for recruiting the transient commerce of the Pacific, independent of its immense intrinsic value. To the region bordering the Northern Pacific the finest maritime positions belong throughout its entire extent; and no part of the west of Europe exceeds it in the advantages of equable climate, fertile soil, and commercial accessibility of the coast. The western slope of the Rocky Mountain system may be included as a part of this maritime region, embracing an immense area from the forty-fifth to the sixtieth parallel, and five degrees of longitude in width. The cultivable surface of this district cannot be much less than three hundred thousand square miles."
The greater part of this valuable territory, on the main-land, belongs to Great Britain ; but only about four hundred miles of the British possessions front on the coast. An outlet for the remainder was provided by the leasing from the Russians of the strip of main-land up to Cross Sound. Sir George Simpson, who, as Governor-inchief of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s territories, visited the coast up to that point, mentions the lease with great satisfaction, adding, that “this strip, in the absence of such an arrangement as has just been mentioned, renders the interior comparatively useless to England The Russo-American treaty of 1867 puts an end to the “arrangement.”