Alaska

Since this country was ceded to the United States by Russia in 1887 for a very little consideration much development, comparatively speaking, has marked its impress on the vast territory. Alaska is a great region of land, with tremendous mountains and voluminous lakes and rivers covering nearly all there is of what we call the North in our Western Hemisphere. Mt. St. Elias which I have seen for two whole days while sailing along the coast was once thought to be the highest in North America. But now it has been found that another mountain, in the heart of the country and about one thousand miles away from Mt. St. Elias, is much larger and higher than this one. It is Mt. McKinley, named in honor of our late martyred President.

This summer I spent a few days less than three months in Alaska and it was my privilege to make three thousand miles of sea coast up there. I covered the same course on my return voyage ć this afforded me six thousand miles of sight seeing and experience in Alaska alone for this summer. In the '8O's I lived in Alaska for more than three years. Together with Colonel Ball and Governor Swineford, we citizens of Sitka sent forth the first number of the first newspaper in Alaska - this was in 1885. Now there are at least nine papers in the country. Three thousand miles of sea coast is something big, indeed. Yet, you must remember that this is something less than half of Alaska¼s navigable coast. As the vessel sails along, one sees numerous bays, really as beautiful as can be conceived by a dreamer. Grand sounds capable of harboring large fleets. And the archipelagoes of Alaska -- I think there are more of them, but surely, they are as picturesque as any in the world.

In one part of this immense country, just around the entrance of Cook's inlet, within a radius of two hundred miles, there are now three active volcanoes: Chernobouri, or St. Augustine, Iliamna, and the Redoubt. Kenai is a village 40 miles distant from the last named volcano. During last July I spent two weeks in this village and noticed that, when the wind blew for a considerable time from the S.W., it sprinkled fine ashes brought 40 miles from the burning and smoking Redoubt.

I know very little of inland Alaska. I speak more about that coast country with which I am acquainted. There are many miles of rich timberland, some, by order of President Roosevelt, has been reserved for the Government. Alaska is rich in gold, copper, coal, oil and some stones which are not very precious. Many millions of dollars worth of gold ore has been taken out of the country during the last four years. It is the immense quantity, the superior quality, and the different species of Alaska's fish, furs, and game -- that make the country a rich field of operation for aggressive Corporations.

There is a law regulating the fisheries of Alaska. But the country is so large, the fisheries are very numerous, and the revenue cutters, well I think there are only two for the whole year, besides which there are no officers, except an occasional inspector, to guard at other times, while trespassers are many. The traps obstruct the streams in season and out of season. There is danger that certain species of fish and the best kind of fish, will become extinct. Even now in some parts of Alaska the inhabitants, which rely upon fish, suffer want in the winter. The canneries of Alaska import Chinese labor. It is true that they can not rely on native hands altogether. But the question naturally arises that, if the white American is the superior guardian of the country and its inhabitants, why not exercise proper jurisdiction, open government industrial schools in Alaska, where the Alaskan will be at home, but not export their children to Pennsylvania and to other places as is now being practiced. While the United States government in Alaska upholds secatian industrial schools it gambles with the honorable principle of American's unique manhood. The Alaskan native must have his freedom of the air, the woods and the water. It is too soon, and he never will be able to discipline himself down to the level of the sickly, yellow Chinese, who for twelve and more hours in the filthiest manner cook and can salmon for the delicate table of civilization. The Alaskan also needs his time for putting in his winter supply. It is the duty of the superior white man to be indeed a guardian for his lesser brother. The average Alaskan is not lazy, he will work, and he desires to better his condition; yet he enjoys his individual freedom and does not readily submit to direct pressure. The child of the native soil has rights which must be considered, especially in his native home. He may not fully realize his rights, but why not assist him? Why not be a friend to the weaker one? The vulgar mind is sometimes heard to say: it does not pay to waste means and time with an ungrateful people, especially as they are dying off. I desire to answer this vulgar mind with some facts: 1) no time has yet been wasted on the inhabitants of Alaska, and they are not quite so grateful as highly cultured Christians of ages, and 2) as to means -- U.S. official statistics show that more than the sum paid by our government to Russia for the territory has been already delivered into the Treasury in Washington, and all this money has come out of Alaska and its natives; 3) in some parts of Alaska it is true the natives are dying out rapidly, but there are parts of Alaska where the natives, notwithstanding the odds against them, are holding their own. The creoles or people of mixed blood are, on the contrary, increasing in all parts of Alaska. I think it would be a good plan if the government would keep stores of salt in several parts of the country, and distribute it, of needs be, gratis, among the people. I noticed that salt was sold to the natives in several places of Alaska at too high a price. Many are unable to obtain it, and the result is they dry their fish in the air and eat it without salt. Without such a necessary staple as salt is, the human body becomes susceptible to all forms of disease. The natives should be taught to build separated smoke houses for drying their fish. Separated smoke houses should be built for the poor by the government. Salt, smoked fish, and potatoes will be of more Christian charitable service to the Alaskan Indian than grammar schools and government inspections combined. Fire and smoke are the best disinfector for the damp soil and moldy villages. I have been told that the government made provisions for supplying each town in Alaska with sufficient virus for vaccinations, but when some of our priests and school teachers applied for it, none was to be had.

A large area of land in Alaska is good agricultural country, especially the southern portion. Grain goes not well, but in the Cook's Inlet country certain kinds have matured. As yet experiments have not been fully carried out. For stock raising there are thousands of miles of hay country, and the grasses of Alaska are very luxuriant. Professor Georgeson of the Agricultural Department in Sitka received the best samples of various table vegetables of Alaska from Cook's Inlet and they were raised in the garters of the Orthodox missionary -- the Reverend John Bortnovsky. I was in Cook's Inlet during July. The mushroom season is the month of August. Notwithstanding this, during my stay there, five different mushrooms were gathered and I was entertained for several days with five different dishes of delicious mushrooms. I am told they have nine different kinds of them during the entire season. In the town of St. Paul on Kodiak Island the Rev. Tikhon Shalamoff has domesticated the wild goose and now this foul in large numbers walks about the village together with chickens, etc. The tamed wild goose is much nicer eating than the usual domestic goose.

The principle cities of Alaska are Circle City, Eagle City, Nome, Juneau, Skagway, Valdez, Sitka, Sunrise, St. Michael¼s, Unalaska, and Kodiak.

The majority of Alaskans are Christianized. Our own Church has been organized in Alaska for nearly 110 years. Since the country has been occupied by the United States, the Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, and several other missionaries have come to spread Christianity.

The native population are divided into the tribes of: Tlingit, Chugach, Aglimut, Kenai, Aleut, Eskimo, and one or two inland tribes, usually named after some large river in their own tongue. At the present time there are in all about 15,000 Indians in Alaska. There are about eight thousand half-breeds, and about 10,000 whites, making the total population of Alaska about 33,000.

The public school system has been considerably extended throughout Alaska during the last decade. In a few instances popular suspicion has hindered the progress of American education in Alaska. The cause of suspicion was the fact that most officers and teachers of the department were Baptists, Methodists, but principally Presbyterian missionaries. Nowadays there are very few people that remember the educational work done in Alaska during the Russian Regime. Justice must be done to Alaska likewise in the past representatives of its government and its people. Besides the usual parochial schools in most of the villages, there were the following institutions at Sitka ć the old capitol, industrial and nautical school for young men, an institute of art and practical knowledge for young women, a theological seminary for future pastors, and a parochial school for everybody.

The Russians of Alaska in early days had some land grants in California, and they occupied the whole of what is now known as Sonoma county. From here they shipped wheat and fruit to Alaska. The fine quality of fruit which took a prize in the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893 came from Sonoma and it was planted by the Russians -- the seeds having been brought across Siberia from the Caucasian country and elsewhere.

Long before any one dreamed of a city of San Francisco, there in San Francisco Bay in the little town of Saucelito flourished an iron foundry and machine shops. Here in Saucelito the Russians built the first steamer that ever steamed to the North on the Pacific Ocean. The engineer that brought the first steamer to Alaska is still living, now an old cripple of more than ninety years. He is an Alaskan creole and lives with a son in Seldovia, Alaska. The majority of workmen, men as well as officers, were left with a pension to live on when the old Russian Fur Company turned its accounts over to the Alaska Commercial Company. Strange to say, this old creole, however, was overlooked and was left without a pension. At present there are old citizens of Alaska: Stofeeff, Checheneff, N. Pauloff, P. Pauloft, Fomin, Petelin, most of who faithfully served the Company for over 30 years, and yet they are left without a pension or any aid. We do not question into the workings or intentions of any Company, but as citizens of a free and civilized country we deem it to be our direct duty to call attention to forgetfulness, in order that good may be done by correcting that which may not be exact. It is a very unpleasant and painful duty to bring forward the following example of misdirected benevolence. Seldom was a citizen of San Francisco more honored than the late Louis Sloss, for many years the senior member of the Alaska Commercial Co. When this rich gentleman died, he left several thousand dollars to be divided among three orphan asylums of San Francisco, but he did not mention the poor and the sick in far off Alaska, in St. Paul and St. George Islands, in Unalaska, Belkovsky, and the Yukon, from which places he obtained his wealth, and indirectly through the influence of the Russian priests of those places during the last 35 years, who must now look to the Holy Synod in Russia and to a foreign government for daily bread in their old age.

There is still another misapplied privilege to which attention should be called. I am aware that the officers of both Navy and Army are cultured gentlemen of principle, but whether the officers of the Revenue Marine Service are trained in honorable ideals of justice and politeness, I am not aware. At any rate I have seen two young officers of the latter service abruptly walk into the private homes in Alaska (it matters not how humble the appearance of the house may be) without knocking and without an invitation, seeking for Alaskan curiosities in an impertinent and most curious manner. Especially in the distant Aleutian Islands the simple inhabitants have often been dazed into speechlessness by the golden braid, and gave up their wares for little or nothing. Celebrated Attu baskets, which in our cities sell for one to two hundred dollars apiece have more than once been taken out of the hands of a maiden, who received in return one dollar and sometimes less!

-Father Sebastian Dabovich, 1902

November and December Supplement of the RUSSIAN ORTHODOX AMERICAN MESSENGER.


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