Travel and Adventure in the Territory of Alaska, Formerly Russian America—Now Ceded to the United States—and in Other Parts of the North Pacific.

p. 22: Enroute from England to Vancouver in June 1862 viâ the Horn on a steamer called Tynemouth: On board were some three hundred passengers, two-thirds of whom showed a total loss of dignity and self-respect during these early days, and made our vessel much resemble a floating hospital. But there is an end to all things; and by the time we reached the tropics, our friends had recovered their appetites, and, clad in light attire, lounged, smoking, chatting, and reading under the awnings, giving our decks the appearance of a nautical picnic. Our passengers were a study in themselves. They included a number of young men, much too large a proportion of whom .had apparently no profession, business, or definite aim in life, to auger well for their future career in a new country.

p. 23: Our most noticeable living freight was, however, an “invoice” of sixty young ladies, destined for the colonial and matrimonial market. They had been sent out by a home society, under the watchful care of a clergyman and matron; and they must have passed the dreariest three months of their existence on board, for they were isolated from the rest of the passengers, and could only look on at the fun and amusements in which every one else could take a part. Every benevolent effort deserves respect; but, from personal observation, I can not honestly recommend such a mode of supplying the demands of a colony. Half of them married soon after arrival or went into service, but a large proportion quickly went to the bad, and, from appearances, had been there before. The influence of but a few such on the more respectable girls could not have been otherwise than detrimental. To speak ungallantly, but truly, many of these ladies were neither young nor beautiful, and reminded me of the crowd who answered the advertisement in the farce of “Wanted 10,000 Mi11iners!” Of course much might be said about giving the poor creatures a chance! but the fact is that the market would, in the course of affairs, more naturally supply itself. The prosperous settler would send for his sweetheart, or come home in search of one, and could always get suitable domestics sent out by his friends, and meet them at the port of arrival. It will be readily understood too, that in a new country there is a floating population, among whom some individuals by “chance” or by industry have acquired a little money, and are ready to plunge into matrimony on the slightest provocation….

p. 63, on the folk tales of natives of Vancouver Island, told with the help of a white named Macdonald and a guide named Thomas Antoine (Tomo): Here, too, a half-breed, Thomas Antoine by name, but known elsewhere as “Tomo,” joined us, and proved a great acquisition. He could speak any number of Indian dialects, was a good shot, though he had but one arm, could travel or “pack” with the best, and was reliable except when he got hold of some whisky, when he was a perfect devil. Spirits seem to have even more attraction for the half-breed than for the full Indian, and more influence upon him.

p. 64-65: And then the yarns of those evening camps! Macdonald’s story—often begun and never ended—the narrative of his eventful life. Born on Fraser River, the son of a Hudson’s Bay chief trader, the tedious barter with Indians for their peltries had proved distasteful to him, and he ran away, when quite young, to sea, got shipwrecked, and de tained a prisoner in Japan. Here he was closely confined, but on the whole well treated, till he was rescued from the Japanese by Commodore Perry, U. S. Navy, when he called there on his well-known expedition. After many wanderings, Mac brought up in Australia, mined, made money, and

spent it; had once kept a gambling-house and dancing booth at the “diggings.” Later the British Columbian mines had attracted him back to his earliest home; he had “run” a ferry on Fraser River, kept a grog-shop at Lillooet, and played the “honest miner” in Cariboo, and now, hale and hearty as ever, was a member of the V. I. E. E. [Vancouver Island E. E.?] Or else the Indian yarns of Tomo, many of them childish, some incomprehensible, but sometimes showing that the natives have inventive power and a sense of humor. Here is one of them, apparently a native version of the book of Jonah! “An Indian, paddling in his ‘frail kanim’ on the great ‘salt chuck’ or sea, was swallowed—canoe and all—by a great fish, and lay down at the bottom of its belly, sad at heart, thinking it was all up with him, and that never more would he see his people. But in the midst of his affliction comfort came to him; a brilliant idea flashed through his brain—sweet revenge was at least possible, and he proceeded to execute a hastily conceived project. He cut his paddles into shavings—‘wittled’ them, as a Yankee would say—-broke his canoe into fragments, and lighted a great fire on the floor of the creature’s stomach. It was not long before the fish showed, by a tortuous uncomfortable wriggling of his body, that this operation did not agree with him, and he consequently attempted, by swallowing wave after wave, to cool his fevered body, but did not succeed in putting out the fire, though our hero was nearly drowned in the operation. Our Indian, averse to water at all times, appeared at this juncture to get in a very bad temper, and drawing his long knife, stabbed the lining of the creature’s inside till the coats of its stomach were in a very dilapidated state. It was evidently expiring fast, and swam ashore on the beach. Here, while it lay in the agonies of death, our friend cautiously crept-up its throat, and through its gasping mouth, just in time to avoid the collision of its jaws, which came together with a terrific crash, and the great fish was dead!” This formed part only of a long story; many such we had, and varied them by making the woods echo with the latest gems of “nigger” minstrelsy, or even more classical productions.

p. 103, on the transition from Russian to American ownership: In the “good old Russian times” there-were, it is said, about 180 church holidays to the year, now they will be confined to Christmas and New Year’s days, Washington’s birthday and the 4th of July (Independence Day). But if the enlightened citizens of the country choose to avail themselves of the privilege, they can enjoy two Sundays each week. Owing to the fact that the Russians came eastward and we came westward, there is of course a day’s difference where the two meet, and their Sunday in Sitka falls on our Saturday. “The San Franciscan,” says a Californian newspaper, “who arrives at Archangel on Friday night, according to his reckoning, will find the stores closed and business suspended on the following morning, and so will lose not only that day, but the next, too, if his conscientious convictions and the force of habit are only strong enough.

p. 103-04: On the other hand, the pious Alaskan merchant, who belongs to the Greek Church, will look with horror on the impious stranger who offers to trade or swap jack knives on Sunday, but who on Monday morning suddenly assumes a clean shirt, black broadcloth, a nasal twang, and that demurely self-satisfied air which is our national idea of a religious demeanor.”

p. 198: This day we gave a dinner-party to “Ivan,” the bidaishik, and his clerk “Iagor.” Ivan, a half-breed, had been promoted to his present position from the fact that he was a good trader; in other respects, he was an ignorant man, able neither to read nor write. We found him a pretty good fellow. Our banquet of baked ptarmigan and fried ham, pancakes (known, reader, by the poetical name of “flap-jacks”) molasses (known by us as “long-tailed sugar”), and coffee, pleased our Russian friends well, but our tea was not to their standard.

p. 201, Christmas dinner of 1866: Winding up with a limited supply of rum punch, and pipes ad libitum!

Not a bad dinner of itself; the iced cheese was a novelty I can recommend, only the traditional pudding was missing.

We passed the evening singing and reciting. Dall read an original poem, and I brought out a MS. story (still there!) entitled the “Missing Mummy!”*

[Footnote] * Our men at Unalachleet organized some private theatricals, and an original piece, called “Roderick Doo, and how He was Done,” was played with great success.

p. 257-58, on missionary work in Fort Yukon: During our stay, the Rev. Mr. M’Donald, who is a representative of our Church Missionary Society, held several services with the Indians, addressing them sometimes directly, and sometimes through the fort interpreter, Antoine Houle—a man who speaks French, English, and any number of Indian dialects. They listened with apparent attention, and joined in some singing. This gentleman has taught some of the younger people to read English, and his influence is doubtless good. I could not, however, help thinking that with an audience of Indians, representing half a dozen different tribes, speaking as many dialects, it must be very questionable whether they all understand the missionary’s words. As in other places, so here there is a general jargon called “broken slavee,” used for purposes of intercourse; but such a bastard dialect will barely express the language of common life, how much less then the figurative language of the Bible.* One of the great difficulties in Mr. M’Donald’s way in this place is that the Indians are for the larger part of the year scattered all over the country hundreds of miles apart. Of the gentleman himself I can only speak in the highest terms; he is an undoubtedly earnest and zealous missionary, and he has one point in his favor, that so far no whisky trader has come in to interfere with the good work in which he is engaged, and that no rival sect, so far as Fort Yukon is concerned, is present to unsettle the minds of his converts.

[Footnote] * We find in our own land that the Oriental tinge, the metaphors and parables of the Bible, render it somewhat hard to be understood, though we are addressed by teachers of our own race, who have a perfect command of our own language. The missionary, with at the best a foreigner’s knowledge of a strange tongue, addresses those who have no collateral education to assist them, and who know little of anything but their own immediate surroundings. I have shown before how a phenomenon of nature had no name in the Chinook jargon, and that the phrase “children of the forest” could only be translated in a manner to excite the Indian’s laughter. It is not, then, difficult to understand how the poetry of the Bible might become the subject of a jest, and its imagery be wholly unintelligible.

p. 334: In the discussion which followed the reading of Mr. Waddington’s paper at the Royal Geographical Society’s meeting, Dr. Rae pointed out the shallowness of the Saskatchewan River. It would ill become me to criticise the statements of a traveller who has seen as much, or probably a great deal more, of northernmost America than any other man. Nevertheless, no one who is familiar with American river-steamers would lay much stress on this point. I have seen flat bottomed stern-wheel steamers built to draw no more than a foot or fifteen inches of water. On the Upper Missouri, on the Columbia and Fraser rivers, such steamers are common. I well remember, in British Columbia, passing through a “slough,” as it was called, at which the passengers were asked to walk from one side of the boat to the other to assist it in wriggling through, and where a part of the crew and passengers got out into the water to help it on, much as we did with our rafts on the rivers of Vancouver Island.

p. 340: Very severe snow-storms, called “poorgas,” swept across the open and barren country at times during winter; but, nevertheless, our men persevered, in what eventually proved a thankless task. They were often camped out at temperatures below the freezing of mercury. At the station, among other devices for passing the long winter evenings, our men concocted a MS. newspaper, which was entitled The Esquimaux. This was afterward printed in San Francisco, as a memento of the expedition. [Note: this newspaper is not included in the census of expeditionary papers published in Adventures in Polar Reading, and should be added.]