Trip to Alaska. A Narrative of What was Seen and Heard During a Summer Cruise in Alaskan Waters.

p. 79-80, on Russian church services in the 1880s: As you enter, the congregation stands facing the screen, but back from the rotunda. The men stand upon the right, the women on the left. The singers consist of men and boys led by the second priest. In Sitka the choir had a position behind a screen to the right of the rotunda. Here in Onalaska they occupy a narrow gallery, where there is also a bench for visitors.

There may be no priest in sight, but the singing in a monotonous half-chant continues at all times when the priest is not reading or praying. Presently the curtain in the centre is drawn back, an altar within the sanctum sanctorum is revealed, and a priest in gorgeous vestments and wearing a tall, bell-crowned, blue- velvet hat, is seen reading, praying, or swinging a censer. The attendant who waits upon him kisses his hand with each article given him, and crosses himself as he passes the altar. The curtain is drawn again and the holy of holies is once more concealed from view.

p. 81-83, on Russian-native relations regarding religion among the Aleuts of Onalaska: As to religion, it is with these people a matter of faith, pure and unadulterated. It is the priest’s business to conduct them to heaven. All they have to do is what they are told, and this they appear to do in great earnestness, at least in form.

The Russians had the advantage over others in dealing with these people, which is the result of both using the same language and of long domination, which completely subjected them to the will of what they for generations felt be a superior race backed by unlimited power. The children got some exceedingly primitive rudiments of book knowledge in the Russian language, but not enough to hurt them with all the proverbial perils of limited learning. Now the Alaska Commercial Company supports an English school upon this as upon each of the seal islands. Until English becomes the language of the country, American missionaries need not look to do much proselyting from the Russian church. In truth there does not seem to be any reason why they should. The Aleuts are peaceful and contented, and will ask for nothing that their present condition does not afford them until their characters shall have been changed by the intermingling of Anglo-Saxon blood. When this occurs they may want politics and an improved religion.

Just now they get along very well, all things considered. They are lazy, but, as they have to subsist on fish and oil as staples, it could not be expected that they should be enterprising or industrious. They may sin, but they go to confession and are guaranteed forgiveness. They go to church on Sunday morning and have a dance in the evening. A dance on Sunday night is considered a very proper thing, and as there is no gossip and nothing stronger than tea for them to drink, perhaps no great harm comes of it. Onalaska consists of a straggling settlement of some sixty houses of natives and a few Company buildings, situated upon a sand-spit, about six miles from Captain’s Bay, where Cook, the navigator, wintered in 1804-5 [sic, more likely 1778].

p. 216-17, on marriage ceremonies in the Aleutians: There is not much of the spooney business in Aleut courtship. The steamer landed the wife- hunting seal-skinners on Friday. On Saturday one of them was asked, “Are you married yet?” “Not yet, but I shall be to-morrow.” “Who are you going to marry?” “I don’t know yet.”

On Sunday, two days after the arrival of the wife hunters, three of them were married, two couples at one time and one at another. The three couples would have been executed [sic] together but there were only four crowns among the church properties. Crowns and candles are indispensable at these weddings. When marrying a couple, the priest appears in full vestments, with the tall, slightly tapering coffee-pot-shaped velvet hat; and a choir of male voices chant nasal responses to the long service read by his reverence. The couples to be married are stood up in a row, the first step being to place a lighted candle, decorated with a crimson bow, in each hand. Then the reading commences, and continues till the priest shows signs of fatigue, when the attendant brings out blessed rings on a blessed tray, and each one puts on his or her ring, taken at random from the tray, man and woman being treated alike in this respect. After the rings there is more reading, with responses from the nasal choir; and when the priest becomes exhausted again the blessed crowns are brought out. On this occasion there were four crowns,—two which were old and lustreless, and two which were not only new, but brilliant with rubies, emeralds, and diamonds, or what looked like them, and answered every purpose just as well. There stood the two couples, like the kings and queens of a chessboard, with crowns upon heads which did not fit them.

Of the two couples in this case one bride, of a Russian appearance, was dressed in a light silk with a purple stripe; she had a blue bow at her throat, and a pink sash around her waist. Her hair had been braided damp over night, and hung in waves down her shoulders. Her eyes were downcast constantly during the ceremony, and her nose, long and straight, pointed sharply toward the floor in an ominous manner. She wore a cynical sort of smile, like that of an experienced circuit preacher when he knows that large-headed fellow with a thick neck, high cheek bones, and a twenty-pound fist, so that when he should have bowed he dared not, knowing that if he attempted it his crown would tumble to the floor. On the other hand the bride’s crown was altogether too large for her, and, wearing her abundant hair down her back on that day only gave the crown a greater chance to settle. If she had worn it in a coil on the back of her head, or in a braid clubbed up behind, or in a pad on top á la pompador , or en chignon, or watteau, or in any of the thousand and one á la styles known to modern capillary engineering, the crown might have been stayed in some sort of a genteel position. But it settled down too far at first, and every time she bowed in response to the words read by the priest, and every time she nodded in reply to the questions, if she would obey; &c., with the hardly-ever smile upon her resigned face, the crown sunk lower and lower till it got down over her ears; and when the priest led the couple, hand in hand, three times around the little stand that served as an altar on this occasion, she looked like the most abandoned creature in the world, and as if she did not care who knew it. Of course the effect was all due to the crown coming down over her ears and to the Mephistophelean smile upon her countenance, which deepened as the crown descended, but it was enough to scare all thought of marrying in Onalaska out of the head of any reflecting man.