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Ten Thousand Miles with a Dog Sled - A Narrative of Winter Travel in Interior Alaska
by Hudson Stuck
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We had to traverse the ice of Hotham Inlet northward to its mouth, double the end of the peninsula, and then travel south along the coast to the mission at Kikitaruk, the peninsula being too rugged to cross. Three considerable rivers drain into Hotham Inlet, roughly parallel in their east and west courses, the Noatak, the Kobuk, and the Selawik, so that its waters must be commonly more fresh than salt, for its bounds are narrow and the extensive delta of its eastern shore would argue its depth slight. Ahead of us, as we travelled north making a bee-line for the end of the peninsula, all the afternoon, loomed the rocky promontory of Krusenstern, one of Kotzebue's capes, and far beyond, stretching up the dim coast-line, lay the way to Point Hope. It was with a sinking of the heart that I gazed upon it, for I knew already, though I had not announced a decision, that the road to Point Hope could not be my road that year. All day long the thermometer stood between -40 deg. and -30 deg., and the constant light sea-breeze kept scarfs wrapped closely about mouths and noses, which always means disagreeable travel. When the company stopped at noon to eat a little frozen lunch, I was too chilly to cease my movement and pressed on. The day of that blessed comfort of the trail, the thermos flask, was not yet. By two-thirty we had reached Pipe Spit, which still further contracts the narrow entrance of the inlet, and turning west for a mile or two rounded the point and then turned south for ten miles along the coast. Just about dark we reached the mission and stood gazing out over the rough ice of Kotzebue Sound to the Arctic Ocean, having made the forty miles in ten and a half hours. We had come about one thousand miles from Fairbanks, all of it on foot and most of it on snow-shoes.

[Sidenote: THE ARCTIC OCEAN]

So here was my first sight of the Arctic Ocean. All day long I had anticipated it, and it stirred me,—a dim, grey expanse stretching vast and vague in the dusk of the evening. The old navigators whose stories I had read as a boy passed before me in their wonderful, bold sailing vessels, going in and out uncharted waters that steamships will not venture to-day—Kotzebue, Beechey, Collinson, McClure—pushing resolutely northward.

Less happy had been my first sight of the Pacific Ocean, five years before. I had the ill luck to come upon it by way of that Western Coney Island, Santa Monica, and from the merry-go-rounds and cheap eating places Balboa and Magellan and Franky Drake fled away incontinent and would not be conjured back; though, indeed, the original discoverers would have had yet further occasion to gaze at one another "with a wild surmise" if they had seen shrieking companies "shooting the chutes." But here was vastness, here was desolation, here was silence; jagged ice masses in the foreground and boundless expanse beyond, solemn and mysterious. The Arctic Ocean was even as I had pictured it.

The missionary in charge at Kikitaruk had been informed by letter of our projected journey during the previous summer and had long expected us. We were received with kindness and hospitality, and after supper began at once our acquaintance with his work, for there was a service that night which it was thought we should attend. I spoke for a few minutes through an excellent interpreter and then spent a couple of hours nodding over the stove, overcome with sleep, while there was much singing and "testimony."

[Sidenote: TOTAL-ABSTINENCE ESQUIMAUX]

The Californian Society of Friends, established here a number of years with branches at other points on Kotzebue Sound, has done an excellent work amongst the Esquimaux. If they had accomplished nothing else it would stand to the everlasting credit of the Society's missionaries that they have succeeded in imbuing the natives under their charge with a total aversion to all intoxicating liquor. We had come down from the remotest points to which the influence of these people has extended; we had met their natives five hundred miles away from their base of instruction, and everywhere we found the same thing. It was said by the white men on the Koyukuk that a Kobuk could not be induced to take a drink of whisky. It seemed to us a pity that the force of this most wholesome doctrine should be weakened by the unsuccessful attempt to include tobacco in the same rigorous prohibition. In several cabins where we stayed there was no sign of smoking until members of our party produced pipes, whereupon other pipes were furtively produced and the tobacco that was offered was eagerly accepted. From any rational point of view the putting of whisky and tobacco in the same category is surely a folly. There can be few more harmless indulgences to the native than his pipe, and no one knows the solace of the pipe until he has smoked it around the camp-fire in the arctic regions after a hard day's journey.

The decision to turn my back on Point Hope was, I think, the most painful decision I ever made in my life; with all my heart I wanted to go on. It was only one hundred and sixty or one hundred and seventy miles away. The journey had been made in three or four days; but we were now come to a country where travel is impossible in bad weather and where bad weather prevails; and that journey might quite as likely take two weeks. I worked over the calendar in my diary, figuring how many days of travel still remained, allowing reasonable margins, and I could not see that I had much more than time to get back to Fairbanks before the break-up, which for sufficient reason I regarded as my first duty. The day of rest at Kikitaruk was Washington's birthday, the 22d of February. Eight weeks would bring us to the 19th April, by which time the trails would be already breaking up. Counting out Sundays, that left forty-eight days of travelling with something like twelve hundred miles yet to make without going to Point Hope—an average of about twenty-five miles a day. I knew that we had made no such average in the distance already covered, and though I knew also that travelling improved generally as the season advanced, I did not know how very much better going there is on the wind-hardened snows of the coast when travelling is possible at all. Again and again I have regretted that I did not take the chance and push on, but at the time I decided as I thought I ought to decide, and one has no real compunctions when that is the case.

[Sidenote: THE RESOLUTION TO TURN SOUTH]

So a first-hand knowledge of our own most interesting work among the Esquimaux was not for me on that occasion—and there has arisen no opportunity since. Mr. Knapp, who had planned to spend the rest of the winter at Point Hope, would get a guide and a team here and turn north after some days' rest, while I would turn south. Roxy was impatient to return to Bettles. "Me no likee this country," was all that could be got out of him. So I paid him his money and made him a present of the .22 repeating rifle with which he had killed so many ptarmigan on the journey, outfitted him with clothes, grub, and ammunition, and let him go; saying good-bye with regret, for he was a good boy to us all the way.

It was late on the night of our single day of rest when I got to bed, for there had been squaring up of accounts and much writing, and when I went to bed I did not sleep. Again and again I reviewed the decision I had come to and fought against it, though such is far from my common habit. Even as I write, years after, the bitter rebellious reluctance with which I turned south comes back to me. I wished the hospital at Fairbanks at the bottom of the deep blue sea. I protested I would go on and complete my journey, even though it involved "thawing out" at Tanana and getting to Fairbanks on a steamboat in the summer. I had a free hand, a kindly and complaisant bishop, and none would call me strictly to account. Then I realised that it was merely pride of purpose, self-willed resolution of accomplishing what had been essayed—in a word, personal gratification for which I was fighting, and with that realisation came surrender and sleep.



CHAPTER IV

THE SEWARD PENINSULA—CANDLE CREEK, COUNCIL, AND NOME

ONE day's rest was not a great deal after the distance we had come—and that day fully occupied with business—but since Point Hope was abandoned some sort of schedule must be made for the Seward Peninsula, and where Sunday shall be spent is always an important factor in arranging these itineraries. There was just time to reach Candle for the next Sunday and it was decided to attempt it. Hans would accompany me as far as Candle, where he hoped to find work. It meant two days of forty-five miles each, for it is ninety miles from Kikitaruk to Candle, but they told us it could be done.

So the reluctant adieus made, letters despatched, some mailed here at Kikitaruk, some to be carried back to Bettles and mailed there—these latter getting outside long before the former—we started at seven in the morning instead of six, as we had planned, on the journey down the shore of Kotzebue Sound. That hour's delay turned out to be a calamity for us.

The trail was smooth along the beach until Cape Blossom was reached, and I had the first riding of the winter, Hans and I alternately running and jumping on the sled. There was a portage across the cape, and three or four miles below it was the wreck of the river steamer Riley, which used to make a voyage up the Kobuk with supplies for the miners at the Shungnak. The thermometer was at -38 deg. when we started, and the same light but keen breeze was blowing that had annoyed us on the other side of the peninsula. What a barren, desolate region it is!—low rocks sinking away to the dead level of the snow-field on the one hand, nothing but the ice-field on the other.

[Sidenote: A BAD NIGHT]

[Sidenote: CAMPED IN THE OPEN]

We were bound for an igloo forty-five miles from the mission, the only shelter between Kikitaruk on the peninsula and Kewalik on the mainland, and we had been warned that the igloo would be easy to miss if it grew dark as it would be almost indistinguishable from the snow-drifts of the shore. Some directions from a multitude of counsellors remembered in one sense by Hans and in another by me, added to our uncertainty as to just where the igloo lay. The wind increased in force as the evening advanced and the last time I looked at the thermometer it still registered -38 deg.. The sun set over the sound with another of those curious distortions which had before proved ominous to us. It was flattened and swollen out like a pot-bellied Chinese lantern, with a neck to it and an irregular veining over its surface that completed the resemblance. The wind increased until the air was full of flying snow and it grew dark, and still there was no sign of the igloo. Only slowly and with much difficulty could the trail be followed, and that meant we were soon not moving fast enough to keep warm in the fierce wind. At last we lost the trail altogether, and sometimes we found ourselves out on the rough ice of the sound and sometimes wallowing in a fresh snow-drift on the shore. I became possessed with the fear that we had passed the igloo. I was positive that we were told at the mission that we should reach it before the high bluffs were passed, and we had passed them a long way and had now but a shallow shelf to mark the coast-line. It is strange how long that delusion about passing his destination will pursue the Alaskan traveller. Presently the dogs dropped off a steep bank in the dark, and only by good fortune we were able to keep the heavy sled from falling upon them, for they were dead tired and lay where they dropped. With freezing fingers I unhitched the dogs while Hans held the sled, and we lowered it safely down. But it was plain that it was dangerous to proceed. We could not find the trail again and were growing alarmingly cold. We were "up against it," as they say here, "up against it good and strong." We had a tent but no means of putting it up, a stove but nothing to burn in it, a grub box full of food but no way to cook it. So the first night of coast travel was to show us the full rigour and inhospitality of the coast and to make us long for the interior again. Wood can almost always be found there within a few miles, if it be not immediately at hand, and no one properly appreciates the hospitality of a clump of spruce-trees until he has spent a night of storm lying out on this barren coast. We turned the dogs loose and threw them a fish apiece, unlashed the sled, and got out our bedding. I had been sleeping in robes, Hans in a shedding caribou-hide sleeping-bag that was my pet aversion. When he crawled out in the morning he was so covered with hair that he looked like a caribou, and the miserable hairs were always getting into the food. We fished them out of the coffee, pulled them out of the butter, and picked them out of the bread. But now in that sleeping-bag he had an enormous advantage. We lay side by side on the snow in the lee of the sled, and, tuck myself up with blanket and robe as I would, it was impossible to keep the swirling snow from coming in. I called the dogs to me and made them lie on my feet and up against my side, and so long as they lay still I could get a little warmth, but whenever they rose and left me I grew numb again. But Hans in his sleeping-bag was snoring. The bag is the only bedding on the coast. Added to the physical discomfort of that sleepless, shivery night was some mental uneasiness. There was no telling to what height the storm might rise, nor how long it might continue. Sometimes travellers overtaken in this way on the coast have to lie in their sleeping-bags for three days and nights before they can resume their journey. The only interest the night held was the thought that came to me that as nearly as I could tell we camped exactly on the Arctic Circle. The long night dragged its slow length to the dawn at last and the wind moderated a little at the same time, so with the first streak in the east I awoke Hans, we gathered our poor dogs together, rolled up the snow-incrusted bedding, and resumed our journey. Two miles farther on was the igloo! Our calls awoke some one and we were bidden to enter. Descending a ladder and crawling through a dark passage we came in to the grateful warmth and shelter. The chamber was crowded with sleeping Esquimaux and reeked with seal oil and fish, but Hans said it "looked good and smelled good to him," and so it did to me also. One has to lie out on that coast in a storm to appreciate the value of mere shelter. We went at once to cooking, for we had eaten nothing but a doughnut or two in twenty-four hours, and surely never meal was more relished than the reindeer steaks and the coffee we took amongst those still sleeping Esquimaux. I should have liked to spend the day and the next night there, for they were friendly and kindly, but the wind had moderated somewhat and there was still a chance to reach Candle for Sunday. With the offer of a sack of flour at Kewalik we induced a couple of Esquimaux to accompany us, for I knew we had to cross the mouth of a bay over the ice to reach the mainland and I wanted to take no more chances.

Our company, again raised to four, started out about nine, and until the Choris Peninsula was reached the trail still skirted the shore. It is strange that Kotzebue, who named this peninsula of a peninsula for the artist who accompanied his expedition in 1816, should have left the main peninsula itself unnamed, and that the British expedition which named Cape Blossom ten years later should have failed to supply the omission. It still bears no name on the map. We portaged across the Choris Peninsula and at the end of the portage took a straight course across the mouth of Escholtz Bay (Escholtz was Kotzebue's surgeon) for Kewalik on the mainland, passing Chamisso Island, named for Kotzebue's poet friend. There is something very interesting to me in this voyage of Kotzebue's, and I have long wished to come across a full narrative of it. But the bitter wind that swept across that ice-sheet with the thermometer at -30 deg. brought one's thoughts back to one's own condition. My hands I could not keep warm with the gear that had sufficed for 50 deg. and 60 deg. below in the interior, and I was very glad to procure from one of our native companions a pair of caribou mitts with the hair inside, an almost invulnerable gauntlet against cold. If that wind had been in our faces instead of on our sides I am sure we could not have travelled at all. At last we won across the ice and brought up at a comfortable road-house at Kewalik, about ten miles from Candle. Here we lay overnight, taking the opportunity of thawing out and drying the frost-crusted bedding, leaving the short run into town for the morning.

[Sidenote: CANDLE CREEK]

The diggings on Candle Creek yield to the Koyukuk diggings only as the most northerly gold mining in the world. Although the general methods are the same in all Alaskan camps, local circumstances introduce many differences. In all Alaskan camps the ground is frozen and must be thawed down. The timber of the interior renders wood the natural fuel for the production of the steam that thaws the ground, but the scarcity of wood on the Seward Peninsula substitutes coal. There is coal on the peninsula itself, but of very inferior quality, mixed with ice. One may see chunks of coal with veins of ice running through them thrown upon the fire. The wood of the interior is a great factor in its commercial and domestic economy, and its absence on the Seward Peninsula makes great change not only in the natural aspect of the country but in the whole aspect of its industrial and domestic life also. Wood-chopping for the stove and the mill, wood-sawing, wood-hauling employ no small percentage of all the white men in the interior—occupations which do not exist at all on the peninsula. But its encompassment by the sea, its peninsularity, is the dominating difference between the Seward Peninsula and the interior, and does indeed make a different country of it altogether. All prices are very much lower on the peninsula because ships can bring merchandise directly from the "outside." Thus amongst those who have money to spend there is a more lavish scale of living than in the interior towns, and luxuries may be enjoyed here that are out of the question there. Perhaps, conversely, it is true that life on the peninsula is somewhat harder for the poorer class. Whether a railway from salt water to the mid-Yukon would redress this great difference in the cost of everything may be doubted. Railways do not usually operate at less than water-rates. There will probably always be an advantage in the cost of living and mining in favour of the Seward Peninsula camps.

There had been no public religious service of any sort in Candle, with its several hundreds of population, in three years, so there was special satisfaction in having reached the place for Sunday when many miners were in town from the creeks, and an overflowing congregation was readily assembled. And there was great pleasure in three days' rest at the hospitable home of a friend while the temperature remained below -40 deg., exacerbated by a wind that rendered travelling dangerous. Moreover, by waiting I had company on the way, and now that I was without native attendant or white companion, and disposed, if possible, to make the journey right across the peninsula to Council and then to Nome without engaging fresh assistance, I was doubly glad of the opportunity of travelling with two men bound for the same places and acquainted with the route.

[Sidenote: THE SEWARD PENINSULA]

Travelling, like so many other things, is very different on the Seward Peninsula. The constant winds beat down and harden the snow until it has a crust that will carry a man anywhere. There are only two means by which snow becomes crusted; one is this packing and solidifying by the wind, and the other is thawing and freezing again. There is much less wind in the interior than on the coast, and usually much less snowfall, and the greater part of the surface of the country is protected by trees; the climate, being continental instead of marine, is not subject to such great fluctuations of temperature. A thaw sufficiently pronounced or sufficiently prolonged to put a stout crust on the snow when freezing is resumed, is a very rare thing in the interior and a common thing on the coast. So a striking difference in travel at once manifests itself; in the interior all the snow is soft except on a beaten trail itself, while in the Seward Peninsula all the snow is alike hard. The musher is not confined to trails—he can go where he pleases; and his vehicle is under no necessity of conforming in width to a general usage of the country—it may be as wide as he pleases. Hence the hitching of dogs two and three abreast; hence the sleds of twenty-two, twenty-four, or twenty-six inches in width. My tandem rig aroused the curiosity of those who saw it. Hence many other differences also. Hitherto we had not dreamed of watering the dogs since snow fell; now I found their mouths bloody from their ineffectual attempts to dig up the hard snow with their teeth, and had to water them night and morning. It is not the custom on the Seward Peninsula to cook for the dogs, and dog mushers there argue the needlessness of that trouble. But the true reason is other and obvious. It is difficult for the traveller to get enough wood to cook for himself, let alone the dogs. On the Seward Peninsula skis are extensively used when there is soft snow; the prevalence of brush almost everywhere in the interior renders them of little use—and they are, therefore, little used, snow-shoes being universal.

So, as in nearly all such matters everywhere, local peculiarities, local differences, local customs, usually arise from local conditions, and the wise man will commonly conform so soon as he discovers them. There is almost always a sufficient reason for them.

[Sidenote: A "SIDLING" TRAIL]

The journey from Candle to Council was a surprisingly swift one. We covered the one hundred and thirty miles in three days, far and away the best travelling of the winter so far, but the usual time, I found. The hard snow gives smooth passage though the interior of the peninsula is rugged and mountainous; two prominent elevations, the Ass's Ears, standing up as landmarks during the first day of the journey. The route crossed ridge after ridge with steep grades, and the handling of the heavy sled alone was too much for me. Again and again it was overturned, and it was all that I could do, and more than I ought to have done, to set it up again. The wind continued to blow with violence, and shelter from it there was none. One hillside struggle I shall always remember. The trail sloped with the hill and the wind was blowing directly down it. I could keep no footing on the marble snow and had fallen heavily again and again, in my frantic efforts to hold sled and dogs and all from sweeping down into a dark ravine that loomed below, when I bethought me of the "creepers" in the hind-sack, used on the rivers in passing over glare ice. With these irons strapped to my feet I was able to stand upright, but it was only by a hair's breadth once and again that I got my load safely across. When I was wallowing in a hot bath at Council two days later I found that my hip and thigh were black and blue where I had fallen, though at the time, in my anxiety to save the dogs and the sled, I had not noticed that I had bruised myself. So, judging great things by little, one understands how a soldier may be sorely wounded without knowing it in the heat and exaltation of battle.

Then for a while there would be such travel as one sees in the children's picture-books, where the man sits in the sled and cracks his whip and is whisked along as gaily as you please—such travel as I had never had before; but there was no pleasure in it—the wind saw to that.

On the second day we crossed "Death Valley," so called because two men were once found frozen in it; a bleak, barren expanse, five or six miles across, with a great gale blowing right down it, charged not only with particles of hard snow but with spicules of ice and grains of sand. Our course was south and the gale blew from the northwest, and the right side of one's body and the right arm were continually numb from the incessant beating of the wind. The parkee hood had to be drawn closely all the time, and the eyes were sore from trying to peer ahead through the fur edging of the hood. One grows to hate that wind with something like a personal animosity, so brutal, so malicious does it seem. An incautious turn of the head and the scarf that protected mouth and nose was snatched from me and borne far away in an instant, beyond thought of recovery. It seems to lie in wait, and one fancies a fresh shrill of glee in its note at every new discomfiture it can inflict. There is nothing far-fetched in the native superstition that puts a malignant spirit in the wind; it is the most natural feeling in the world. I said so that night in camp, and one of my companions mentioned something about "rude Boreas," and I laughed. The gentle myths of Greece do not fit this country. The Indian name means "the wind beast," and is appropriate.

A savage, forbidding country, this whole interior of the Seward Peninsula, uninhabited and unfit for habitation; a country of naked rock and bare hillside and desolate, barren valley, without amenities of any kind and cursed with a perpetual icy blast.

[Sidenote: DEATH VALLEY]

The valley crossed and its ridge surmounted, a still more heart-breaking experience was in store. We descended the frozen bed of a creek from which the wind had swept every trace of snow so that the ice was polished as smooth as glass. The dogs could get no footing and were continually down on their bellies, moving their legs instinctively but helplessly, like the flippers of a turtle, while the wind carried dogs and sled where it pleased. The grade was considerable and in bends the creek spread out wide. Nothing but the creepers enabled a man to stand at all, and creepers and brake together could not hold the sled from careering sideways across the ice, dragging the dogs with it, until the runners struck some pebble or twig frozen in the ice and the sled would be violently overturned. Twice with freezing fingers I unlashed that sled lying on its side, and took out nearly all the load before I could succeed in getting it upright again, losing some of the lighter articles each time. The third time was the worst of all. The brake had been little more than a pivot on which sled and dogs were swung to leeward, but now the teeth had become so blunt that, though I stood upon it with all my weight, it would not hold at all nor check the sideways motion under the impulse of the wind. Right across the creek we went, dragging the dogs behind, jerking them hither and thither over the glassy surface. I saw the rocks towards which we were driving, but was powerless to avert the disaster, and hung on in some hope, I suppose, of being able to minimise it, till, with a crash that broke two of the uprights and threw me so hard that I skinned my elbow and hurt my head, we were once more overturned. Never since I reached manhood, I think, did I feel so much like sitting down and crying. It seemed hopeless to think about getting down that creek until the wind stopped, and one doubts if the wind ever does stop in that country. But there was no good sitting there like a shipwrecked mariner, nursing sores and misfortunes; presently one would begin to feel sorry for oneself—that last resort of incompetence. And the bitter wind is a great stimulus. It will not permit inaction. So I was up again, fumbling at the sled lashings as best I could with torpid fingers, when one of my companions, uneasy at my delay, very kindly made his way back, and with his assistance I was able to get the sled upright again without unloading and hold it somewhat better on its course until another bend or two brought us to the partial shelter of bluffs and, a little farther, to the cabin where we were to spend the night. I understood now why my companions had a sort of hinged knife-edge fastened to one runner of their sled. By the pressure of a foot the knife-edge engaged the ice and held the sled on its course. This is another Seward Peninsula device.

[Sidenote: THE KINDLY SWEDE]

I have it in my diary that "a Swede named Petersen was very kind to us at the cabin, cooking for us and giving us cooked dog feed." Blessed Swede named Petersen!—there are hundreds of them in Alaska—and I shall never forget that particular one's kindness—the only man I met in the Seward Peninsula who still persisted in cooking dog feed whenever he could. He had cooked up a mess of rice and fish enough to last his three or four dogs several days while he sojourned at this cabin, and he gave it all to us and would take nothing for it. His language was what Truthful James calls "frequent and painful and free." I ignored it for a while, loath to take exception to anything a man said who had been so kind. But at last I could stand it no longer—it took all the savour out of his hospitality—and I said: "I hope you won't mind my saying it, for I'd hate to give offence to a man who has been so good to strangers as you have, but I wish you'd cut out that cursing; it hurts my ears." He sat silent a moment looking straight at me, and I was not sure how he had taken it. Then he said: "Maybe you been kinder to me saying that, than I been to you. That's the first time I ever been call down for cursin'. I don't mean nothin' by it; it's just foolishness and I goin' try to cut it out."

The dogs had done but ill on the dry fish, accustomed as they were to cooked food, and they ate ravenously of their supper. Only the previous night Lingo had betrayed his trust for the first and last time. Coming out of the cabin just before turning in, to take a last look round, I saw Lingo on top of the sled eating something, and I found that he had dug a slab of bacon out of the unlashed load and had eaten most of it. I knew he was hungry, missing the filling, satisfying mess he was used to, and I did not thrash him, I simply said, "Oh, Lingo!" and the dog got off the sled and slunk away, the very picture of conscious, shamefaced guilt. That was the only time he did such a thing in all the six years I drove him.

Council was past its prime at the time of this visit, but just as we entered the town, at the end of the third day's run, it seemed in danger of going through all the stages of decadence with a rush to total destruction out of hand, for a fire had broken out in a laundry, and with the high wind still blowing it looked as though every building was doomed. Of two chemical engines possessed by the town one refused to work, but the vigour and promptness of the people in forming two lines down to the river, and passing buckets with the utmost rapidity, coped with the outbreak just in time to prevent its spreading beyond all control. Tired as we were, we all pitched in and passed buckets until parkees and mitts and mukluks were incrusted with ice from water that was spilled. Efficient protection is a matter of great difficulty and expense in Alaskan towns, and there is not one of them that has escaped being swept by fire. The buildings are almost necessarily all of wood, the cost of brick and stone construction being prohibitive. No one can guarantee ten years of life to a placer-mining town, and there would be no warrant for the expenditure of the sums required for fireproof building even were the capital available. But the rapidity with which they are rebuilt, where rebuilding is justified, is even more remarkable than the rapidity with which they are destroyed.

A Saturday and Sunday were very welcome at Council, and the courtesy of the Presbyterian minister, who gave up his church and his congregations to me, Esquimaux in the morning and white at night, was much appreciated.

[Sidenote: NORTON SOUND]

In warmer weather, the thermometer no lower than -5 deg. at the start, but with the same gale blowing that had blown ever since we left Candle, though it had shifted towards the northeast, we got away on Monday morning, bound for Nome, ninety miles away, hoping to reach the half-way house that night. Five or six hours' run over good trails, with no greater inconvenience than the acceleration of our pace by the wind on down grades, until the sled frequently overran the dogs with entanglements and spillings, brought us to the seacoast at Topkok, and a noble view opened up as we climbed the great bluff. There Norton Sound spread out before us, its ice largely cleared away and blown into Bering Sea by the strong wind that had prevailed for nearly a week, its waves sparkling and dashing into foam in the March sunshine; the distant cliffs and mountains of its other shore just visible in the clear air. It was an exhilarating sight—the first free water that I had seen since the summer, and it seemed rejoicing in its freedom, leaping up with glee to greet the mighty ally that had struck off its fetters.

But from this point troubles began to grow. We dropped down presently to the shore and passed along the glare surface of lagoon after lagoon, the wind doing what it liked with the sled, for it was impossible to handle it at all. Sometimes we went along broadside on, sometimes the sled first and the dogs trailing behind, moving their silly, helpless paws from side to side as they were dragged over the ice on their bellies. When we had passed these lagoons the trail took the beach, running alongside and just to windward of a telephone-line, with rough shore ice to the left and bare rocks to the right. Again and again the already injured sled was smashed heavily against a telephone pole. I would see the impact coming and strive my utmost to avert it, but without a gee pole, and swinging the sled only by the handle-bars, it was more than I could do to hold the sled on its course against the beam wind that was forcing it towards the ice and the telephone poles; and a gee pole could not be used at the rate we had travelled ever since we left Candle. Mile after mile we went along in this way. I do not know how many poles I hit and how many I missed, but every pole on that stretch of coast was a fresh and separate anxiety and menace to me. I think I would have been perfectly willing to have abolished and wiped out the whole invention of the telephone so I could be rid of those hateful poles. What were telephone poles doing in the arctic regions anyway? Telephone poles belonged with electric cars and interurban trolley-lines, not with dog teams and sleds.

Then it grew dark and the wind increased. I did not know it, but I was approaching that stretch of coast which is notorious as the windiest place in all Alaska, a place the topography of which makes it a natural funnel for the outlet of wind should any be blowing anywhere in the interior of the peninsula. My companions were far ahead, long since out of sight. I struggled along a little farther, and, just after a particularly bad collision and an overturning, I saw a light glimmering in the snow to my right. It was a little road-house, buried to the eaves and over the roof in snow-drift, with window tunnels and a door tunnel excavated in the snow. I was yet, I learned, five miles from Solomon's, my destination, but I hailed this haven as my refuge for the night and went no farther, more exhausted by the struggle of the last two or three hours than by many an all-day tramp on snow-shoes. It was a miserable, dirty little shack, but it was tight; it meant shelter from that pitiless wind. That night the thermometer stood at 7 deg., the first plus temperature in twenty-two days.

By morning the gale had greatly diminished, and by the time I reached Solomon's and rejoined my companions it was calm, the first calm since we left the middle Kobuk. We had some rough ice to cross to avoid a long detour of the coast, and then we were back on the shore again and it began to snow. The snow was soon done and the sun shone, but the new coating of dazzling white gave such a glare that it was necessary to put on the snow glasses for the first time of the winter—and that is always a sign winter draws to a close.

[Sidenote: DOGS AND REINDEER]

On the approach to Nome we had our first encounter with reindeer, and at once my dog team became unmanageable. I had had some trouble that morning with a horse. A new dog I procured at Kikitaruk had never seen a horse before, and made frantic efforts to get at him, leaping at his haunches as we passed by. But when they saw the reindeer the whole team set off at a run, dragging the heavy sled as if it were nothing. The Esquimau driving the deer saw the approaching dogs and hastily drew his equipage off the trail farther inshore, standing between the deer and the dogs with a heavy whip. What the result would have been had the dogs reached the deer it is hard to say. I had kept my stand on the step behind the sled and managed to check its wild career with the brake and to throw it over and stop the approach before the carnivora reached their immemorial prey. Herein lies one of the difficulties of the domestication of reindeer in Alaska, a country where so far dogs have been the only domestic animals. Again, as we entered the outskirts of Nome the incident was repeated, and only the hasty driving of the reindeer into a barn prevented the dogs from seizing the deer that time.

[Sidenote: NOME]

Jimmy was long deposed from his ineffectual leadership and a little dog named Kewalik—the one I obtained at Kikitaruk—was at the head of the team. Kewalik had never seen so many houses before; hitherto almost every cabin he had reached on his journeys had been a resting-place, and he wanted to dive into every house we passed. At Candle and Council both, our stopping-place had been near the entrance to the little town. But now we had to pass up one long street after another and I had continually to drag him and the team he led first from a yard on this side of the road and then from one on the other. The dog was perfectly bewildered and out of his head by the number of people and the number of houses he saw. We were indeed a sorry, travel-worn, unkempt, uncivilised band, man and dogs, with an old, battered vehicle, and we felt our incongruity with the new environment as we entered the metropolis of the luxury and wealth of the North. Here we passed a jeweller's shop, the whole window aglow with the dull gleam of gold and ivory—the terrible nugget jewellery so much affected in these parts and the walrus ivory which is Alaska's other contribution of material for the ornamental arts. Here we passed a veritable department store, its ground-floor plate-glass window set as a drawing-room, with gilded, brocaded chairs, marquetry table, and ormolu clock, and I know not what costliness of rug and curtain. It was all so strange that it seemed unreal after that long passage of the savage wilds, that long habitation of huts and igloos and tents. Hitherto we had often been fortunate could we buy a little flour and bacon; here the choice comestibles of the earth were for sale. I looked askance at my greasy parkee as I passed shops where English broadcloth and Scotch tweeds were displayed; at my worn, clumsy mukluks when I saw patent-leather pumps. But Nome knows how to welcome the wanderer from the wilderness and to make him altogether at home. There could be no warmer hospitality than that with which I was received by the Reverend John White and his wife, than that which I had at many a home during my week's stay.

Nothing in the world could have caused the building of a city where Nome is built except the thing that caused it: the finding of gold on the beach itself and in the creeks immediately behind it. It has no harbour or roadstead, no shelter or protection of any kind; it is in as bleak and exposed a position as a man would find if he should set out to hunt the earth over for ineligible sites.

But Nome is also a fine instance of the way men in the North conquer local conditions and wring comfort out of bleakness and desolation by the clever adaptation of means to ends.

The art of living comfortably in the North had to be learned, and it has been learned pretty thoroughly. People live at Nome as well as they do "outside." One may sit down to dinners as well cooked, as well furnished, as well served as any dinners anywhere. The good folk of Nome delight in spreading their dainty store before the unjaded appetite of the winter traveller, and it would be affectation to deny that there is keen relish of enjoyment in the long-unwonted gleam of wax candle or electrolier upon perfect appointment of glass, silver, and napery, in the unobtrusive but vigilant service of white-jacketed Chinaman or Jap. Nome has a great advantage over its only rival in the interior, Fairbanks, in the matter of freight rates. The same merchandise that is landed at the one place for ten or twelve dollars a ton within ten or twelve days of its leaving Seattle, costs fifty or sixty at the other, and takes a month or more to arrive. But this accessibility in the summer is exactly reversed in the winter. No practicable route has been discovered along the uninhabited shores of Bering Sea, and all the mail for Nome comes from Valdez to Fairbanks and then down the Yukon and round Norton Sound by dog team. In winter Fairbanks is within seven or eight days of open salt water; Nome a full month. After navigation closes in October, the first mail does not commonly reach the Seward Peninsula until January. So that, with all its comforts and luxuries, Nome is a very isolated place for eight months in the year.



[Sidenote: MINING AT NOME]

We went out with the dog sled to the diggings a few miles behind the town, and a busy scene we found, enveloped in steam and smoke. Here an old beach line had been discovered and was yielding rich reward for the working. A long line of conical "dumps" marked its extension roughly parallel with the present shore, and the buckets that arose from the depths, travelled along a cable, and at just the right moment upset their contents, continually added to these heaps. All the winter "pay-dirt" is thus excavated and stored; in the summer when the streams run the gold is sluiced out. But that phrase "when the streams run" covers a world of difficulty and expense to the miner. In some places in this Seward Peninsula, ditches thirty and forty miles long have been constructed to insure the streams running when and where they are needed.

There was quite a little to do in Nome. A new sled must be bought, and another dog, and, above all, some arrangement made about a travelling companion. I was not willing to hire a native who would have to return here, and I was resolved never again to travel alone. So I put an advertisement in the newspaper, desiring communication with some man who was intending a journey to Fairbanks immediately, and was fortunate to meet a sober, reliable man who undertook to accompany and assist me for the payment of his travelling expenses.

The week wore rapidly away, and I began to be eager to depart, mindful of the eight hundred odd miles yet to be covered. Spring seemed already here and summer treading upon her heels, for the town was all slush and mud from a decided "soft snap," the thermometer standing well above freezing for days in succession.

A visitor to this place is struck by the number of articles made from walrus ivory exposed for sale, chief amongst them being cribbage-boards. A walk down the streets would argue the whole population given over to the incessant playing of cribbage. The explanation is found in the difficulty of changing the direction of Esquimau activity once that direction is established. These clever artificers were started making cribbage-boards long ago and it seems impossible to stop them. Every summer they come in from their winter hunting with fresh supplies carved during the leisure of the long nights. The beautiful walrus tusk becomes almost an ugly thing when it is thus hacked flat and bored full of holes. The best pieces of Esquimau carving are not these things, made by the dozen, but the domestic implements made for their own use, and some of this work is very clever and tasteful indeed, adorned with fine bold etchings of the chase of walrus, seal, and polar bear.



CHAPTER V

NOME TO FAIRBANKS—NORTON SOUND—THE KALTAG PORTAGE—NULATO—UP THE YUKON TO TANANA

WE left Nome on the 13th of March, the night before being taken up by a banquet which the Commercial Club was kind enough to give me; indeed, the whole stay was marked by lavish kindness and hospitality, and I left with the feeling that Nome was one of the most generous and open-handed places I had ever visited.

The soft weather continued and made sloppy travel. Our course lay all around Norton Sound to Unalaklik, and then over the portage to Kaltag on the Yukon; up the Yukon to the mouth of the Tanana, and then up that river to Fairbanks. The first day's run was the retracing of our steps to Solomon's, and that was done without difficulty save for a new trouble with the dogs. It appeared that we no longer had any leader. All the winter through my team had been behind another team, and that constant second place had turned our leaders into followers. We thought we had two leaders, but neither one was willing to proceed without some one or something ahead of him. On such good ice-going as this it was out of the question for one of us to run ahead of the team simply to please these leader-perverts, and the whip had to be wielded heavily on Jimmy's back ere he could be induced to fill his proper office—and then he did it ill, with constant exasperating stoppings and lookings-back. At Solomon's I met a man who had spent some years with Peary in his arctic explorations, and I sat up far into the night drawing interesting narratives out of him. So far as Topkok we were still retracing our steps, but once over the great bluff, which gave no view this time owing to the mist which accompanies this soft weather, we were on new ground, our course lying wholly along the beach.

At Bluff was the most interesting, curious gold mining I have ever seen, the extraction of gold from the sand of Norton Sound, two hundred yards or more out from the beach. There it lies under ten or twelve feet of water with the ice on top. How shall it be reached? Why, by the exact converse of the usual Alaskan placer mining; by freezing down instead of thawing down. The ice is cut away from the beginning of a shaft, almost but not quite down to the water, leaving just a thin cake. The atmospheric cold, penetrating this cake, freezes the water below it, and presently the hole is chopped down a little farther, leaving always a thin cake above the water. A canvas chute is arranged over the shaft, with a head like a ship's ventilator that can be turned any way to catch the wind. Gradually the water is frozen down, and as it is frozen more and more ice is removed until the bottom is reached, surrounded and protected by a cylindrical shaft of ice; then the sand can be removed and the gold it contains washed out. They told us they were making good money and their ingenuity certainly deserved it.

[Sidenote: ICE TRAVEL]

We stopped that night at the native village of Chinnik, the people of which are looked after by a mission of the Swedish Evangelical Church on Golofnin Bay, which we should cross to-morrow. But the mission is off the trail, and we did not come to an acquaintance with the missionaries of this body until we reached Unalaklik. Next day, climbing and descending considerable grades in warm, misty weather, we reached Golofnin Bay, pursued it some distance, and left it by a very steep, long hill that was close to one thousand feet high, at the foot of which we were once more on the beach of the sound—and at the road-house for the night. From that place the trail no longer hugged the coast but struck out boldly across the ice for a distant headland, Moses' Point, where we lunched, and, that point reached, struck out again for Isaac's Point, most of the travelling during a long day in which we made forty-eight miles being four or five miles from land. The day was clear, and the shore-line of the other side of the sound, which grew nearer as we proceeded, was subject to strange distortions of mirage. The road-house that night nestled picturesquely against a great bluff, and right across the ice lay Texas Point, for which we should make a bee-line to-morrow. Sometimes the traveller must go all round Norton Bay, but at this time the ice was in good condition and our route cut across the mouth of the bay for twenty-two miles straight for the other side. It was like crossing from Dover to Calais on the ice. The passage made, the Alaskan mainland was reached once more, the Seward Peninsula left behind us, and our way lay across desolate, low-lying tundra strewn with driftwood and hollowed out here and there into little lagoons. Evidently the waves sweep clean across it in stormy weather when the sound is open; a salt marsh. In the midst of it reared a sort of lookout tripod of driftwood thirty or forty feet high, lashed and nailed together, with a precarious little platform on top and cleats nailed to one of the uprights for ascent. I essayed the view, but the rusty nails broke under my feet. We deemed it a hunting tower from which water-fowl might be spied in the spring. Sixteen miles of this melancholy waste brought us to the shore again, to a tiny Esquimau village and a tumble-down, half-buried shack of a road-house where we should spend the night, a little schooner lying beached in front of it. If its exterior were uninviting, the scene as we entered was sinister. By the light of a single candle—though it was not yet dark outside—amidst unwashed dishes and general grime, sat an evil-eyed Portuguese or Spaniard, in a red toque, playing poker with three skin-clad Esquimaux. So absorbed were they in the game that they had not heard us arrive nor seen us enter. With a brief, reluctant interval for the preparation of a poor supper, the card playing went on all the evening far into the night. My companion discovered that the chips were worth a dollar apiece and judged it to be "considerable of a game." At last I arose from my bunk and said that we were tired and had come there to sleep, and with an ill grace the playing was shortly abandoned and the natives went off. The arctic shores have their beach-combers as well as the South Sea Islands.

[Sidenote: UNALAKLIK]

The next day was Sunday, but I was anxious to spend my day of rest at Unalaklik and most indisposed to spend it here, so we got away with a very early start long before daylight. Six or seven miles of tundra and lagoon travel and the trail crossed abruptly a tongue of land and struck out over the salt-water ice for a cape fifteen miles away. The going was splendid. It was not glare ice, but ice upon which snow had melted and frozen again. It was so smooth that one dog could have drawn the sled, yet not so smooth as to deny good footing. We kept well out to sea, passing close to the mountainous mass of Besborough Island, plainly riven by some ancient convulsion from the sheer bluffs of the mainland. Our only trouble was in keeping the dogs well enough out, for, not being water-spaniels or other marine species, they had a hankering after the land and a continual tendency to edge in to shore.

So from headland to headland we made rapid, easy traverse, thoroughly enjoying the ride, munching chocolate and raisins, speculating about the seasons when it had been possible to cross direct from Nome to Saint Michael on the ice, and exchanging stories we had heard of the disasters and hairbreadth escapes attending such overbold venture. Only this winter three men and a dog team were blown out into Bering Sea by a sudden storm, and lay for four days in their sleeping-bags drifting up and down on an ice cake, until at last they were blown back to the shore ice and made their escape. And there is a fine story of a white man rescued in half-frozen state by his Esquimau wife, and carried for miles on her back to safety.

At last we turned a point and drew in to the shore, and, not seeing the little town till we were almost upon it, arrived at Unalaklik early in the afternoon. We had made the two hundred and forty miles, as it is called, from Nome, in six days. In the last twelve days of travel we had covered five hundred miles, an average of nearly forty-two miles per day, far and away the best travelling of the winter. The preceding five hundred miles had taken twenty-two days.

We were in time to attend the Esquimau services at the mission both afternoon and night, and I found them very much the same as at Kikitaruk, with the exception that the singing was much more advanced and was very good indeed. There was an anthem of the Danks type sung by a choir—the parts well maintained throughout, the attacks good, the voices under excellent control—that it pleased and surprised me to hear, and there was a long discourse most patiently and, as I judged, faithfully interpreted by a bright-looking Esquimau boy. It is well for those who speak much through an interpreter to listen occasionally to similar discourse. Only so may its unavoidable tediousness be appreciated.

[Sidenote: GOVERNMENT SCHOOLS]

The school next day pleased me still more, and I was glad that I had a school-day at the place. I heard good reading and spelling, saw good writing, and listened with real enjoyment to the fresh young voices raised again and again in song. There was, however, something so curiously exotic that for a moment it seemed irresistibly funny, in "The Old Oaken Bucket," from lips that have difficulty with the vowel sounds of English; from children that never saw a well and never will see one;—and I was irreverent enough to have much the same feeling about "I love thy templed hills," etc., in that patriotic Plymouth Rock song which is so little adapted for universal American use that, in a gibe not without justice, it has been called "Smith's Country, 'tis of Thee." One wonders if they sing it in the Philippine schools; and, so far as these regions are concerned, one wishes that some teacher with a spark of genius would take Goldsmith's hint and write a simple song for Esquimau children that should

"Extol the treasures of their finny seas And their long nights of revelry and ease";

the splendour of summer's perpetual sunshine and the weird radiance of the Northern Lights; but prosody is not taught in your "Normal" school. The thing is a vain, artificial attempt to impose a whole body of ideas, notions, standards of comparison, metaphors, similes, and sentiments upon a race to which, in great measure, they must ever be foreign and unintelligible. Here were girls reading in a text-book of so-called physiology, and, as it happened, the lesson that day was on the evils of tight lacing! The reading of that book, I was informed, is imposed by special United States statute, and the teacher must make a separate report that so much of it has been duly gone through each month before the salary can be drawn. Yet none of those girls ever saw a corset or ever will. One is reminded of the dear old lady who used to visit the jails and distribute tracts on The Evils of Keeping Bad Company.

But these incongruities aside, the school was a good school and well taught, the government appointing the teachers, as I learned, upon the nomination of the mission authorities; the only way that a government school can be successful at any mission station, for the two agencies must work together, as one's right hand works with one's left, to effect any satisfactory result. The hours spent in it were very enjoyable, and one wished one might have had opportunity for further acquaintance with some of the bright-faced, interesting children, both full-bloods and half-breeds.

Unalaklik is a thriving Esquimau community, noted for its native schooner building and its successful seal hunters and fishermen. We were rejoiced to see signs of native prosperity and advance, and we left Unalaklik with high hope for its future.

Here also was real rest and refreshment at a road-house. Road-houses in Alaska are as various in quality as inns are "outside." Our previous night's halt was at one of the worst; this was one of the best. The proprietor was a good cook and he did his best for us, with omelet and pastry, and young, tender reindeer. It has been said that road-house keeping in Alaska is like soliciting life insurance "outside," the last resort of incompetence. Certain it is that a thoroughly lazy and incompetent man may yet make a living keeping a road-house, for there is no rivalry save at the more important points, and travellers are commonly so glad to reach any shelter that they are not disposed to be censorious. None the less, when they find a man who takes a pride in his business and an interest in the comfort of his guests, they are highly appreciative.

[Sidenote: THE KALTAG PORTAGE]

We should have only an occasional road-house from now on, but expected to reach some inhabited cabin each night. Our good travelling was over though we did not know it. We knew that the hard snows of the Seward Peninsula and the bare ice of Norton Sound were behind us, but we kept telling ourselves that the travel of all the winter would surely have left a fine trail on the Yukon. We were now about sixty-five miles from Saint Michael, by the coast. But taking the ninety-mile portage from Unalaklik to Kaltag we should reach the Yukon River more than five hundred miles above Saint Michael, so much does that portage cut off. This is the route the military telegraph-line takes, and we should travel along close beside it much of the way until the Yukon was reached.

The soft weather persisted, and we had even doubt about starting out in such a rapid thaw. A visit to the telegraph station informed us that the warm wave was spread all over interior Alaska and that there was general expectation of an early break-up. But if the snow on the portage were indeed rapidly going, that was all the more reason for getting across before it had altogether gone; so we pulled out in the warm, muggy weather, and even as we pulled out it began to rain!

Up the little Unalaklik River, water over the ice everywhere, we went for a few miles and then took to the tundra. All the snow had gone except just the hard snow of the trail, a winding ribbon of white across the brown moss. The rain changed to sleet and back to rain again, and soon we were wet through and had much trouble in keeping that penetrating, persistent drizzle from wetting our load through the canvas cover. Though not an unique experience, it is rare to be wet with rain on the winter trail—rarer in the interior probably than on the coast. Once since on the Kuskokwim and once on the Fortymile it has happened to me in seven winters' travel. We pushed on for thirty miles, past several little native villages, until we came to Whaleback, a village part Esquimau and part Indian. These were the last Esquimaux we should see, and I was sorry, for I had grown to like very heartily and to respect very sincerely this kindly, gentle, industrious, good-humoured race. Surely they are a people any nation may be proud to have fringing its otherwise uninhabitable coasts, and should be eager to aid and conserve. There comes a feeling of impotent exasperation to me when I realise how many white men there are who speak of them continually with the utmost contempt and see them dwindle with entire complacency. The same thing is true in even more marked degree about the Indians of the interior: nine tenths of the land will never have other inhabitant, of that I am convinced, and the only question is, shall it be an inhabited wilderness or an uninhabited wilderness? Here, lodging with the natives, and, I make no doubt, living off them too, we found a queer, skulking white man whom I had met in several different sections of interior Alaska, known as "Snow-shoe Joe" or "The Frozen Hobo." The arctic regions one would esteem a poor place for the hobo, but this man manages to eke out an existence, if not to flourish, therein. Work he will not under any circumstances, but subsists on the hospitality of the whites until he has entirely worn it out and then removes to the natives, mushing from camp to camp and "bumming" his way as he goes. He was on his way to Saint Michael, he told me with perfect gravity, "to get work."

[Sidenote: THE U. S. SIGNAL-CORPS]

Before dark we had reached our destination for the night at the Old Woman Mountain, the divide between the waters of the Yukon and the waters of Norton Sound, and were kindly received and well treated at the telegraph station, the only resort on this portage for weary travellers. Here is surely a lonely post. For reasons connected with the maintenance of the wires and the keeping open of communications, it is necessary to have telegraph stations every forty or fifty miles, each with two or three men and a dog team, and shelter cabins about half-way between stations. A wind that blows a tree down in the narrow right-of-way cut through the forest—for we were come to forest again—or a heavy snowfall that loads branches until they fall across the wires, a post that comes up out of its hole as the thawing of spring heaves the ground around it, or the caving of the bank of a stream along which the line passes—any one of a dozen such happenings anywhere along its thousand miles of course, may put the entire inland telegraph system out of operation; and the young men in whose section the interruption occurs—they have a means of determining that—must get out at once, find the seat of the trouble and repair it. In all sorts of weather, unless the thermometer be below -40 deg., out they must go.

It may be doubted if any other army in the world ever constructed and maintained a permanent telegraph line under such arduous conditions. It has been the army's one contribution to Alaska, the one justification for the enormous expense of maintaining army posts in the interior. Indeed it is often said by those who feel keenly the neglect of the territory by the general government that this telegraph system is the one contribution of the United States to Alaska. It is certainly a great public convenience and has assisted very materially in such development as the country has made. The men of the signal-corps deserve great credit for the faithful, dogged way in which they have carried out year after year their difficult and hazardous work, and often and often the weather-stressed traveller has been grateful for the hospitality which their cabins have afforded him.

They have not been an unmixed blessing to the country; soldiers do not usually represent the highest morale of the nation, and though the signal-corps is in some respect a picked corps, yet the men are soldiers, with many of the soldier characteristics. Too often a remote telegraph station has been a little centre of drunkenness, gambling, and debauchery with a little circumference of native men and women, and while some of the officers of the corps have been willing and anxious to do all in their power to suppress this sort of thing in their scattered and difficult commands, others have been jealous only for the technical efficiency of their work.

[Sidenote: MORE SNOW]

There are many allowances to be made for young men taken from the society of their kind and thrust out hundreds of miles in the wilderness to sit down for a year or two at one of these isolated spots. They may see no women save those amongst a straggling band of Indians for the whole time of their exile; they may see no white man save a mail-carrier—and in many places not even a mail-carrier—for weeks together. Time sometimes hangs very heavily on their hands, for trees are not always blowing down, nor wires snapping through the tension of the cold, and at some stations there will not be a dozen telegraph messages sent the whole winter through. If a young man be at all ambitious of self-improvement, here is splendid opportunity of leisure, but a great many are not at all so disposed. Character, except the most firmly founded, is apt to deteriorate under such circumstances; standards of conduct to be lowered. And what is here written of the young men of the signal-corps may well apply in great measure to a large proportion of all the white men in the country.

The "eighty-mile portage" we had heard of at Nome became ninety miles at Unalaklik, and added another five to itself here, so that although we had travelled forty-two miles that day we were told that there were yet fifty-three ahead before we reached the Yukon.

So we decided not to attempt it in one day and to rest the next night at a "repair cabin" twenty-eight miles farther, making a somewhat late start in view of a short journey. It had been wiser to have started early. During our night at Old Woman Mountain some three inches of snow fell, and we found as we descended the Yukon slope that all the moisture that had fallen upon us as rain the previous day had fallen on this side as snow. The trail was filled full and buried, and so soft and mushy was it that although snow-shoes were badly needed they were impossible. The snow clung to them and came off the ground with them in heavy, clogging masses every time they were lifted. It clung to the sled, to the harness, to the dogs' feet, to everything that touched it; it gathered in ever-increasing snowballs on the long hair of the dogs. Travelling in warm weather in loose, new snow is most disagreeable work. We plugged along for twenty miles, and then in the dark in an open country with little patches of scattering spruce, had great trouble in finding the trail at all.

At last we could find it no longer, and when there was no hope of reaching the cabin that night we made a camp. We had now no tent or stove with us, so a "Siwash camp" in the open was the best we could do, and a wet, miserable camp it was. By inexcusable carelessness on my part, candles had been altogether forgotten in the replenishing of the supplies, and a little piece an inch long which we found loose in the grub box was all that we possessed. Dogs and men alike exhausted with the long day's sweating struggle through the deep snow, sleep should have come soundly and soon. It did to the rest, but I lay awake the night through. The easy, riding travel of the preceding week had been a poor preparation for to-day's incessant toil, and I was too tired to sleep. In the morning our bedding was covered with a couple of inches of new snow. My companion got up at daylight and made a journey of investigation ahead, following the trail better, but not finding the cabin. We had thought ourselves within a mile or two of it, but evidently were farther away. However, when we had eaten a hasty breakfast and hitched up and had gone along the trail that had been broken that morning to its end, ten yards beyond the place where my companion had turned back, we came in sight of the cabin, and there we lay and rested and dried things out all day and spent the next night. During the day there came a team from Kaltag, and once again we enjoyed the delight of receiving, and at the same time conferring, the richest gift and greatest possible benefit to the traveller—a trail.

[Sidenote: THE YUKON ONCE MORE]

The next evening as it drew towards dark, after another day of soft, warm disagreeable travel, we reached the end of the portage, and the broad white Yukon stretched before us once more. Our hearts leaped up and I think the dogs' hearts leaped up also at the sight. I called to Nanook as we stopped on the bank, "Nanook, there's the good old Yukon again!" and he lifted his voice in that intelligent, significant bark that surely meant that he saw and understood. We had left the Yukon on the 15th of December at Fort Yukon; we reached it again on the 23d of March at Kaltag, more than six hundred miles lower down. We had two hundred and fifty miles of travel on its surface before us, and then close to another two hundred and fifty up the Tanana River to Fairbanks. But alas! for the fine Yukon trail we had promised ourselves! As we looked out across the broad river there was no narrow, dark line undulating over its surface, nor even a faint, continuous inequality to hint that trail had been, on snow "less hideously serene"; its perfect smoothness and whiteness were unscarred and unsullied. The trail was wiped out and swallowed up by the late snows and winds.

[Sidenote: A LEARNED JESUIT]

There is little interest in lingering over the long, laborious, monotonous grind up that river on show-shoes. When one has looked forward to pleasant, quick travel, the disappointment at slow, heavy plodding is the keener. The first little bit of trail we had was as we approached Nulato two days later on a Sunday morning, and it was made by the villagers from below going up to church at the Roman Catholic mission. We arrived in time for service, and enjoyed the natives' voices raised in the Latin chants as well as in hymns wisely put into the vernacular. It is historically a little curious to find Roman Catholic natives singing praises in their own tongue, and Protestant missions, like those on the Kobuk and Kotzebue Sound, using a language "not understanded of the people." The day was the Feast of the Annunciation as well as Sunday, and there was some special decorating of the church and perhaps some elaboration of the music. Here for the first and only time I listened to a white man so fluent and vigorous in the native tongue that he gave one the impression of eloquence. Father Jette of the Society of Jesus is the most distinguished scholar in Alaska. He is the chief authority on the native language, and manners and customs, beliefs and traditions of the Middle Yukon, and has brought to the patient, enthusiastic labour of years the skill of the trained philologist. It is said by the Indians that he knows more of the Indian language than any one of them does, and this is not hard to believe when it is understood that he has systematically gleaned his knowledge from widely scattered segments of tribes, jotting down in his note-books old forms of speech lingering amongst isolated communities, and legends and folk-lore stories still remembered by the aged but not much repeated nowadays; always keen to add to his store or to verify or disprove some etymological conjecture that has occurred to his fertile mind. His work is recognised by the ethnological societies of Europe, and much of his collected material has been printed in their technical journals.

A man of wide general culture, master of three or four modern, as well as the classic, languages, a mathematician, a writer of beautiful, clear English, although it is not his mother tongue, he carries it with the modesty, the broad-minded tolerance, the easy urbanity that always adorn, though they by no means always accompany, the profession of the scholar; and one is better able to understand after some years' acquaintance with such a man, after falling under the authority of his learning and the charm of his courtesy, the wonderful power which the society he belongs to has wielded in the world. If such devotion to the instruction of the ignorant as was described at the mission on the middle Kobuk be praiseworthy, by how much the more is one moved to admiration at the spectacle of this man, who might fill with credit any one of half a dozen professional chairs at the ordinary college, gladly consecrating his life to the teaching of an Indian school!

Hearing an interest expressed in the massacre which took place at Nulato in 1851, Father Jette offered to accompany us to the site of that occurrence, about a mile away. It stands out prominently in the history of a country that has been singularly free from bloodshed and outrage, and its date is the notable date of the middle river, as the establishment of the post at Fort Yukon by the Hudson Bay Company in 1846 is the notable date of the upper river. They are fixed points in Indian chronology by which it is possible to approximate other dates and to reach an estimate of the ages of old people.

[Sidenote: THE NULATO MASSACRE]

Much has been written about the Nulato massacre, and the accounts vary in many particulars. The Russian post here was first established by Malakof in 1838. Burned during his absence by the Indians, it was re-established by Lieutenant Zagoskin of the Russian navy in 1842. The extortions and cruelties of his successor, Deerzhavin, complicated by a standing feud between two native tribes, and probably having the rival powers of certain medicine-men as the match to the mine, brought about the destruction of the place and the death of all its inhabitants, white and native, by a sudden treacherous attack of the Koyukuk Indians. It happened that Lieutenant Barnard of the British navy, detached from a war-ship lying at Saint Michael to journey up the river and make inquiries of the Koyukuk natives as to wandering white men, survivors of Sir John Franklin's expedition, who might have been seen or heard of by them, was staying at the post at the time and perished in the general massacre. His grave, with a headboard bearing a Latin inscription, is neatly kept up by the Jesuit priests at Nulato.

In the last few years the river has been invading the bank upon which the old village stood, and as the earth caves in relics of the slaughter and burning come to light. Old copper kettles and samovars, buttons and glass beads, all sorts of metal vessels and implements have been sorted out from charred wood and ashes, together with numerous skulls and quantities of bones. One of the most interesting of these relics was a brass button from an official coat, with the Russian crowned double-headed eagle on the face, and on the back, upon examination with a lens, the word "Birmingham."

Half the day serving for our day of rest this week, we were up and ready to start early the next morning, but so violent a wind was blowing from the southeast that we decided to remain, and the clatter of the corrugated iron roof and the whirling whiteness outside the windows made us glad to be in shelter. As the day advanced the wind increased to almost hurricane force, and the two-story house in which we lay began to rock in such a manner as to make the proprietor alarmed for his dwelling.

There was an "independent" trading-post at this village which seemed to present an object-lesson in rapacity and greed. There was not an article of standard quality in the store; the clothing was the most rascally shoddy, the canned goods of the poorest brands; the whole stock the cheapest stuff that could possibly be bought at bargain prices "outside," yet the prices were higher even than those that prevail in Alaska for the best merchandise. Loud complaints are often made against the commercial corporation which does the great bulk of the business in interior Alaska, yet if the writer had to choose whether he would be in the hands of that company or in the hands of an "independent" trader, he would unhesitatingly cast in his lot with the company. The independent trader makes money, sometimes makes large money, and makes it fairly easily, but the calling seems to appeal mainly, if not wholly, to men of low character and no conscience. There are few things that would redound more to the benefit of the Indian than a great improvement in the character of the men with whom he is compelled to do business.

The wind had subsided by the next morning and had been of benefit rather than injury to us, for it had blown the accumulated new snow off the old trail so that it was possible to perceive and follow it. But what was our surprise to find, with the recollection of that rattling roof and swaying building fresh in our minds, that ten miles away there had been no wind at all! The snow lay undisturbed on every twig and bough from which the gentlest breeze would have dislodged it. One never ceases to wonder at what, for want of a better word, must be called the localness of much of the weather in Alaska—though, for that matter, in all probability it is characteristic of weather in all countries. The habit of continual outdoor travel gives scope as well as edge to one's observation of such things which a life in one place denies. That wind-storm had cut a clean swath across the Yukon valley. Yet it seems strange that so violent a disturbance could take place without affecting and, to some extent, agitating the atmosphere for many miles adjacent.

[Sidenote: SNOW GLASSES]

So, sometimes in snow-storm, sometimes in wind, always on snow-shoes and often hard put to it to find and follow the trail at all, we struggled on for two or three days more, sleeping one night at a wood-chopper's hut, another in a telegraph cabin crowded with foul-mouthed infantrymen sent out to repair the extensive damage of the recent storm and none too pleased at the detail, we plodded our weary way up that interminable river. At last we met the mail-man, that ever-welcome person on the Alaskan trail, and his track greatly lightened our labour. By his permission we broke into his padlocked cabin that night by the skilful application of an axe-edge to a link of the chain, and were more comfortable than we had been for some time. Past the mouth of the Koyukuk, past Grimcop, past Lowden, past Melozikaket to Kokrine's and Mouse Point, we plugged along, making twenty-two miles one day and thirty another and then dropping again to eighteen. The temperature dropped to zero, and a keen wind made it necessary to keep the nose continually covered. At this time of year the covering of the nose involves a fresh annoyance, for it deflects the breath upward, and the moisture of it continually condenses on the snow glasses, which means continual wiping. A stick of some sort of waxy compound to be rubbed upon the glass, bought in New York as a preventive of the deposit of moisture, proved entirely useless. In this respect the Esquimau snow goggle, which is simply a piece of wood hollowed out into a cup and illuminated by narrow slits, has advantage over any shape or kind of glass protection. A French metal device of the same order that is advertised in the dealer's catalogues was found to fail, perhaps owing to a wrong optical arrangement of the slits. It caused an eye-strain that brought on headache. But if that principle could be scientifically worked out and such a device perfected, it would be a boon to the traveller over sun-lit snow, for it would do away with glass altogether, with its two chief objections—its fragility and its opacity when covered with vapour.

[Sidenote: SNOW-BLINDNESS]

The indispensability of some eye protection when travelling in the late winter, and the serious consequences that follow its neglect, were once again demonstrated at Mouse Point. The road-house was crowded with "busted" stampeders coming out of the Nowikaket country. There had been a report of a rich "strike" on a creek of the Nowitna, late the previous fall, and a number of men from other camps—some from as far as Nome—had gone in there with "outfits" for the winter. The stampede had been a failure; no gold was found; there was much indignant assertion that no gold ever had been found and that the reported "strike" was a "fake," though to what end or profit such a "fake" stampede should be caused, unless by some neighbouring trader, it is hard to understand; and here were the stampeders streaming out again, a ragged, unkempt, sorry-looking crowd in every variety of worn-out arctic toggery, many of them suffering from acute snow-blindness. It is surprising that even old-timers will go out in the hills for the whole winter without providing themselves with protection against the glare of the sun which they know will inevitably assail their eyes before the spring, yet so it is; and this lack of forethought is not confined to the matter of snow glasses: the first half dozen men we received in Saint Matthew's Hospital at Fairbanks suffering from severely frozen feet were all old-timers grown careless.

Father Ragarou, another Jesuit priest of another type, reached the road-house from the opposite direction about the same time we did, and I was interested in watching his treatment of the inflamed eyes. Upon a disk of lead he folded a little piece of cotton cloth in the shape of a tent, and, setting fire to it, allowed it to burn out completely. Then with a wet camel's-hair brush he gathered up the slight yellow residuum of the combustion and painted it over the eyes, holding the lids open with thumb and finger and drawing the brush through and through. An incredulous spectator, noticing the sacred monogram neatly stamped upon the disk of lead, made some sneering remark to me about "Romish superstition," but remembering the Jesuit's bark, and recalling that I had in my writing-case at that moment a letter I had brought all the way from the Koyukuk addressed to this very priest, begging for a further supply of a pile ointment that had proved efficacious, I held my peace. Whether it be an oxide or a carbonate, or some salt that is formed by the combustion, I am not chemist enough to know, but I saw man after man relieved by this application. Even the scoffer was convinced there was merit in the treatment, though stoutly protesting that "them letters" had nothing to do with it; which nobody took the trouble to argue with him. My own custom—we are all of us doctors of a sort in this country—is to instil a few drops of a five-per-cent solution of cocaine, which gives immediate temporary relief, and then apply frequent washes of boric acid, bandaging up the eyes completely in bad cases by cloths kept wet with the solution. But I do not know that it brings better result than the lead treatment. Certainly it is a matter in which an ounce of any sort of prevention is better than a pound of any sort of cure. The affection is a serious one, being nothing more or less than acute ophthalmia; the pain is very severe, and repeated attacks are said to bring permanent weakness of the eyes. Smoked glasses or goggles,[A] veils of green or blue or black, even a crescent eye-shade cut out of a piece of birch-bark or cardboard and blackened on its under-side with charcoal, will prevent the hours and sometimes days of torture which this distemper entails.

[Sidenote: HORSES AND MULES]

For a few miles we had the trail of the stampeders, but when that crossed the river we put on our snow-shoes and settled to the steady grind once more. A day's mush brought us to "The Birches," and another to Gold Mountain. Between the two places there was a portage, and the trail thereon, protected by the timber, was good. We longed for the time when all trails in Alaska shall be taken off the rivers and cut in the protecting forest. But we had gone but a mile along this good trail when our hearts sank, for we saw ahead of us a procession of army mules packing supplies from Fort Gibbon to the telegraph repair parties. We pulled out into the snow that the mules might pass, and the soldiers said no word, for they knew just how we felt, until the last soldier leading the last mule was going by, and he turned round and said: "And her name was Maud!" It was in the height of Opper's popularity, his "comic supplements" the chief dependence of the road-houses for wall-paper. The reference was so apposite that we burst into laughter, but there was nothing funny about the devastation that had been wrought. That good trail was all gone—the bottom pounded out of it—and nothing was left but a ploughed lane punched full of sink-holes. We had no trouble following the trail on the river after this encounter, but it had been almost as easy going to have struck out for ourselves in the unbroken snow of the winter. It is hard to make outsiders understand how a man who loves all animals may come to hate horses and mules, particularly mules, in this country. Our travelling is above all a matter of surface. Distance counts and weather counts, but surface counts for more than either. See how fast we came across the Seward Peninsula in the most distressing weather imaginable! A well-used dog trail becomes so hard and smooth that it offers scarce any resistance to the passage of the sled, and for walking or running over in moccasins or mukluks is the most perfect surface imaginable. The more it is used the better it becomes. But put a horse on that trail and in one passage it is ruined. The iron-shod hoofs break through the crust at every step and throw up the broken pieces as they are withdrawn. With mules it is even worse; the holes they punch are deeper and sharper. Neither man nor dog can pass over it again in comfort. One slips and slides about at every step, the leg leaders and ankle sinews are strained, the soles of the feet, though hardened by a thousand miles in moccasins, become sore and inflamed, and at night there is a new sort of weariness that only a horse-ruined trail gives. As a rule, the dog trail is of so little service to the horse or mule that it were as cheap to break out a new one in the snow, and it is this knowledge that exasperates the dog musher. So there is not much love lost between the horse man and the dog man in Alaska.

[Sidenote: ARMY POSTS AND NATIVES]

At last, after a night at "Old Station," we came in sight of Tanana, where is Fort Gibbon, the one the name of the town and the post-office, the other the name of the military post and the telegraph office. The military authorities refuse to call their post "Fort Tanana" and the postal authorities refuse to allow the town post-office to be called "Fort Gibbon," so there they lie, cheek by jowl, two separate places with a fence between them—a source of endless confusion. A letter addressed to Fort Gibbon is likely to go astray and a telegram addressed to Tanana to be refused. Stretching along a mile and a half of river bank, and beginning to come into view ten miles before they are reached, the military and commercial structures gradually separate themselves. Here to the left are the ugly frame buildings—all painted yellow—barracks, canteen, officers' quarters, hospital, commissariat, and so on. Two clumsy water-towers give height without dignity—a quality denied to military architecture in Alaska. To the right the town begins, and an irregular row of one and two story buildings, stores, warehouses, drinking shops, straggle along the water-front.

Unlike most towns in interior Alaska, Tanana does not depend upon an adjacent mining camp. It owes its existence first to its geographical position as the central point of interior Alaska, at the confluence of the Tanana and Yukon Rivers. Most of the freight and passenger traffic for Fairbanks and the upper river is transshipped at Tanana, and extensive stocks of merchandise are maintained there. The army post is the other important factor in the town's prosperity, and is especially accountable for the number of saloons. Not only the soldiers, but many civilian employees, are supported by the post, and when it is understood that three thousand cords of wood are burned annually in the military reservation, it will be seen that quite a number of men must find work as choppers and haulers for the wood contractors. Setting aside the maintenance of the telegraph service, which has already been referred to, it may be said without unfairness that the salient activities of the army in the interior of Alaska are the consumption of whisky and wood. There is no opportunity for military training—for more than six months in the year it is impossible to drill outdoors—and the officers complain of the retrogression of their men in all soldierly accomplishments during the two years' detail in Alaska. Whether the prosperity of the liquor dealer be in any real sense the prosperity of the country, and whether the rapid destruction of the forest be compensated for by the wages paid to its destroyers, may reasonably be doubted.

Three miles away is a considerable native village where the mission of Our Saviour of the Episcopal Church is situated, with an attractive church building and a picturesque graveyard. The evil influence which the town and the army post have exerted upon the Indians finds its ultimate expression in the growth of the graveyard and the dwindling of the village.

This point at the junction of the two rivers was an important place for the inhabitants of interior Alaska ages before the white man reached the country. Tribes from all the middle Yukon, from the lower Yukon, from the Tanana, from the upper Kuskokwim met here for trading and for general festivity. It is impossible nowadays to determine when first the white man's merchandise began to penetrate into this country, but it was long before the white man came himself. Such prized and portable articles as axes and knives passed from hand to hand and from tribe to tribe over many hundreds of miles. Captain Cook, in 1778, found implements of white man's make in the hands of the natives of the great inlet that was named for him after his death, and they pointed to the Far East as the direction whence they had come. He judged that they had been brought from the Hudson Bay factories clean across the continent. There are many Indians still living who remember when they saw the first white man, and some were well grown at the time, but diligent inquiry has failed to discover one who ever saw a stone axe used, though some old men have been found who declared that their fathers, when young, used that implement. Traces have been discovered of the importation of edge-tools from four directions—from the mouth of the Yukon; from the Lynn Canal, by way of the headwaters of the Yukon; from the Prince William Sound, by way of the headwaters of the Tanana; as well as from the Hudson Bay posts in the Canadian Northwest, by way of the Porcupine River.

When the Russians established themselves at Nulato in 1842, and the Hudson Bay Company put a post at Fort Yukon in 1846, Nuchalawoya, as Tanana was called, became the scene of commercial rivalry, and it is said that by the meeting of the agents and voyageurs of the two companies at this point the identity of the Yukon and Quikpak Rivers was discovered.

The stories that linger with the village ancients of the great numbers of Indians who used to inhabit the country are doubtless based upon recollections of the gathering at old Nuchalawoya, when furs were brought here from far and wide, when there was no other place of merchandise in mid-Alaska. Now almost every Indian village has a trader and a store. That the race has diminished, and in most places is still diminishing, is beyond question, but that it was ever very largely numerous the natural conditions of the country forbid us to believe.

[Sidenote: WHISKY-PEDDLERS]

During the Reverend Jules Prevost's time at Tanana—and he was in residence in the year of this journey—from careful vital statistics kept during two periods of five years each, the race seemed barely to be holding its own; but since that time there has been a considerable decline, coincident with the increase of drunkenness and debauchery at the village when Mr. Prevost's firm hand and watchful eye were withdrawn. The situation tends to grow worse, and while one does not give up hope, for that would mean to give up serious effort, the outlook for the Indians at this place seems unfavourable. Two hundred soldiers, six or eight liquor shops,—the number varies from year to year,—three miles off a native village of perhaps one hundred and fifty souls, and dotting those intervening miles cabins chiefly occupied by "bootleggers" and go-betweens—that is the Tanana situation in a nutshell. The men desire the native girls, and the liquor is largely a lure to get them. Tuberculosis and venereal disease are rife, and the two make a terribly fatal combination amongst Indians.

It was good to enjoy Mr. and Mrs. Prevost's hospitality, and it was good to speak through such an admirable interpreter as Paul. Something more than intelligence and knowledge of the languages are required to make a good interpreter; there must be sympathy and the ability to take fire. With such an interpreter, leaping at the speaker's thoughts, carrying himself entirely into his changing moods, rising to vehemence with him and again dropping to gentleness, forgetting himself in his identification with his principal, there is real pleasure in speaking to the natives who hang upon his vicarious lips. On the other hand, one of the most intelligent mission interpreters in the country is also so phlegmatic in disposition, so lifeless and monotonous in his speech, and particularly so impassive of countenance, that he reminds one of Napoleon's saying about Talleyrand: that if some one kicked him behind while he was speaking to you his face would give no sign of it at all.

[Sidenote: CHENA AND FAIRBANKS]

It is not necessary to write much detail of the two-hundred-mile journey to Fairbanks up the Tanana River. The trail was then wholly on the river, but now it has been taken wholly off, as every Alaskan musher hopes some day will be done with all trails. The region about the mouth of the river and for some miles up is one of the windiest in the country, and there is always troublesome crossing of bare sand-bars and of ice over which sand has been blown. The journey hastens to its close; men and dogs alike realise it, and push on willingly over longer stages than they had before attempted.

Two days from Tanana we were luxuriating in the natural hot springs near Baker Creek, wallowing in the crude wooden vat, when "Daddy Karstner" had shovelled enough snow in to make entering the water possible, and emerging ruddy as boiled lobsters. It was a beautiful and interesting spot then, with noble groves of birch and the finest grove of cottonwood-trees in Alaska—all cut down now—all ruined in a plunging and bounding and quite unsuccessful attempt to make a "Health Resort" of the place for the "smart set" of Fairbanks. It is a scurvy trick of Fortune when she gives large wealth to a man with no feeling for trees. We spent Sunday there and roamed over the curious domain, snow-free amidst all the surrounding snow, rank in vegetation amidst the yet-lingering winter death; and then we wallowed again.

Tolovana, Nenana, and then one long run of fifty-four miles, the longest and last run of the winter, and—Chena and Fairbanks. But just before we reached Chena, as we passed the fish camp where the dogs had been boarded the previous summer, Nanook stopped the whole team, looked up at the bank and gave utterance to his pronounced five barks on the descending scale. None of the other dogs seemed to notice or recognise the place, but Nanook said as plainly as if he had uttered speech: "Well, well! there's where I spent last summer!"

We reached Fairbanks on the 11th of April, in time for Good Friday and Easter, after an absence of four months and a half—with the accumulated mail of all that period awaiting me. The distance covered was about twenty-two hundred miles, three fourths of it on foot, more than half of it on snow-shoes. At Chena I had called up the hospital at Fairbanks on the telephone, and the exchange operator had immediately recognised my voice and bidden me welcome; but when I reached Fairbanks, a light beard that I had suffered to grow during the winter made me unrecognisable by those who knew me best. So effectually does a beard disguise a man and so surely may his voice identify him.

FOOTNOTE:

[A] This was written before the writer learned the superior protection afforded by amber glass.



CHAPTER VI

THE "FIRST ICE"—AN AUTUMN ADVENTURE ON THE KOYUKUK

IT is not attempted in this narrative to give separate account of all the journeys with which it deals. That would involve much repetition and tedious detail. Our long journey has been described from start to finish, taking the reader far north of the Yukon, then almost to the extreme west of Alaska, and then round by the Yukon to mid-Alaska again. It is proposed now to give sketches of such parts of other journeys as do not cover the same ground, and they will lie, with one exception, south of the Yukon. While visiting many of the same points every winter, it has been within the author's good fortune and contrivance to include each year some new stretch of country, sometimes searching out and visiting a new tribe of natives, and blazing the way for the establishment of permanent missionary work amongst them. To these initial journeys belongs a zest that no subsequent travels in the same region ever have; there is a keen interest in what every new turn of a trail shall bring, every new bend of a river; there is eagerness rising with one's rising steps to excitement for the view from a new mountain pass; above all, there is deep satisfaction coupled with a sense of solemn responsibility in being the first to reach some remote band of Indians and preach to them the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. There are few men nowadays on the North American continent to whom that privilege remains.

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