Sunday is always a busy day here. The mission and native village are three miles away from the town, and service must be held at both. The mission at Tanana is not a happy place to visit for one who has the welfare of the natives at heart. Despite faithful and devoted effort to check it, the demoralisation goes on apace and the outlook is dark.
[Sidenote: SINGLE MEN IN BARRACKS]
"Single men in barracks don't grow into plaster saints," we are told; sometimes they seem to grow into drunken, lustful devils without compassion for childhood, not to mention any feeling of magnanimity towards a feebler race. And when a girl who has been rough-handled, or who has been given drink until she is unable to resist the multiple outrage practised upon her, is told to pick out the malefactors from a company of soldiers, all clean-shaven, all dressed alike, all around the same age, she generally fails to identify altogether. So the offence goes unwhipped, and the officer is likely as not to address a reprimand to the complaining missionary for "preferring charges you are unable to substantiate." Yet an officer who had himself written such a letter told me once that all Indians looked alike to him. Even should the girl identify one or more men, they have usually half a dozen comrades ready to swear an alibi.
Add to the trouble given by the soldiers the constant operation of the slinking bootleggers of the town, a score or more of whom are known to make money by this liquor peddling, and some of whom do nothing else for a living, yet whom it is next to impossible to convict, owing to the cumbrous machinery of the law and the attitude of juries, and it will be seen that the hands of those who are fighting for the native race are tied.
What has been said about the military does not by any means apply to all, either officers or men. Some of the officers have been decent, God-fearing men, conscious of the evil and zealous to suppress it; some of the men, indeed in all probability most of the men, quite free from such offence; some commanding officers have kept such a well-disciplined post that offences of all kinds have been greatly reduced. But the commanding officer is changed every year, and the whole force is changed every two years, so that there is no continuity of policy at the post, and an administration that has grown familiar with conditions and that stands so far as it can for clean living and sobriety and decency and the protection of the native people, may be followed by one that is loftily ignorant of the situation, careless about offences against morality, and impatient of any complaint.
Off by himself, separate from the demoralising influence of the low-down white, there is every hope and encouragement in the effort to elevate and educate the Indian; set down cheek by jowl with the riffraff of towns and barracks, his fate seems sealed.
[Sidenote: DEATH-RATE AND BIRTH-RATE]
Let these two mission stations, the Allakaket and Tanana, one hundred and fifty miles or so apart by the winter trail, represent the two conditions. In six years' time there has been manifest advance at the one and decay at the other. The birth-rate is greatly in excess of the death-rate at the Allakaket, the death-rate greatly in excess of the birth-rate at Tanana. In the year in which this journey was made there were thirty-four deaths and fourteen births at Tanana, and while the difference was an unusually large one, yet in the six years referred to there has not been one year in which the number of births exceeded the number of deaths. One does not have to be a prophet to foresee the inevitable result, if the process be not stopped.
A tribute should be paid to the zeal, now of one, now of another army surgeon at Fort Gibbon in tending the native sick, three miles away, when we have been unable to procure a physician of our own for the place. The missionary nurse, for five years last past Miss Florence Langdon, has been greatly helped in her almost desperate efforts here by the willing co-operation of these medical officers of the army.
[B] See illustration, p. 374.
UP THE YUKON TO RAMPART AND ACROSS COUNTRY TO THE TANANA—ALASKAN AGRICULTURE—THE GOOD DOG NANOOK—MISS FARTHING'S BOYS AT NENANA—CHENA AND FAIRBANKS
OUR course from Tanana did not lie directly up the Tanana River, but up the Yukon to Rampart and then across country to the Hot Springs on the Tanana River. The seventy-five miles up the Yukon was through the Lower Ramparts, one of the most picturesque portions of this great river. The stream is confined in one deep channel by lofty mountains on both banks, and the scenery at times is very bold and wild. But its topography makes it the natural wind course of the country—a down-river wind in winter, an up-river wind in summer blows almost continually. It was no colder than 5 deg. below zero when we started on the trip, but the wind made the travelling unpleasant. The second day it had increased to a gale, and every mile we travelled it grew stronger. We travelled three hours, and the last hour we made scarcely a mile. So thickly charged with flying snow was the wind and so dead ahead that despite parkee hoods it blinded us, and the dogs could hardly be forced to keep their heads towards it. Their faces were so coated with crusted snow that they looked curiously like the face of harlequin in the pantomime. It did become literally intolerable, and when Arthur said that he knew there was a cabin right across the river, we made our way thither and shortly found it and lay there the rest of the day, the gale blowing incessantly. This was disappointing, because it meant that I could not reach Rampart for the Sunday I had appointed.
Next day the wind had ceased and the thermometer went down to 30 deg. below zero. In places the ice was blown clear of snow; in other places it was heavily drifted. By midday we had reached the lonely telegraph station at "The Rapids," and were very kindly received by the signal-corps men in charge. They gave us to eat and to drink and would take no money. There is little travel on this part of the river nowadays, and the telegraph men are glad to see any one who may chance to pass by. We pushed on heavily again, and had to stop and cut a gee pole presently, for it was hard to handle the sled without it; but the gee pole always means laborious travel. The cold was welcome; it meant no wind; and we were glad to see the thermometer drop lower than 50 deg. below zero that night at the old mail cabin. The mail goes no longer on the Yukon River from Fort Yukon to Tanana, and, barring this point, Rampart, towards which we were travelling, which is supplied across country from the Hot Springs, over the route we should traverse, no spot on that three hundred and fifty miles of river receives any mail at all. The population is small and scattered, it is true; on the same grounds Alaska might be denied any mail at all. There has been much resentment at this abandonment of the Yukon River by the post-office and several petitions for its restoration, but it has not been restored.
[Sidenote: THE WIND-SWEPT YUKON]
We travelled all the next day at 50 deg. below zero, and it was one of the pleasantest days of the winter. There was not a breath of wind, the going steadily improved, and, best of all, for three hours we were travelling in the sunshine for the first time this winter. Only those who have been deprived of the sun can really understand how joyful and grateful his return is. There was no heat in his rays, this last day of January; the thermometer stood at 49 deg. below at noon, and had risen but 5 deg. since our start in the morning; but the mere sight of him glowing in the south, where a great bend of the river gave him to us through a gap in the mountains, was cheerful and invigorating after two months in which we had seen no more than his gilding of the high snows. The sun gives life to the dead landscape, colour to the oppressive monotony of white and black, and man's heart leaps to the change as jubilantly as does the face of nature.
[Sidenote: RAMPART AND ITS SALOON]
Rampart City differs from Circle City, the other decayed mining town of the Yukon River, only in that the process is further advanced. Year by year there are a few less men on the creeks behind it, a few less residents in the town itself. Its long, straggling water-front consists in the main of empty buildings, the windows boarded up, the snow drifted high about the doors. One store now serves all ends of trade, one liquor shop serves all the desire for drink of the whites, and slops over through the agency of two or three dissolute squaw men and half-breeds to the natives up and down the river.[C]
Rampart had one fat year, 1898, when many hundreds of gold seekers, approaching the Klondike by Saint Michael and the lower Yukon were attracted and halted by the gold discoveries on Big and Little Minook, and spent the winter here. The next spring news was brought of the rich discoveries on Anvil Creek, behind Cape Nome, and an exodus began which grew into a veritable stampede in 1900, when the gold discoveries in the beach itself were made. Rampart's large population faded away as surely and as quickly to Nome as Circle City's population did to the Klondike. The Indians are almost all gone from their village a mile above the town; they dwindled away with the dwindling prosperity, some to Tanana, some to other points down the river; and what used to be the worst small native community in the interior of Alaska has almost ceased to exist. Most of the little band of white folks still remaining were gathered together at night, and appreciated, I thought, their semiannual opportunity for Divine service.
There is no resisting the melancholy that hangs over a place like this. As one treads the crazy, treacherous board sidewalks, full of holes and rotten planks, now rising a step or two, now falling, and reads the dimmed and dirty signs that once flaunted their gold and colours, "Golden North," "Pioneer," "Reception," "The Senate" (why should every town in Alaska have a "Senate" saloon and not one a "House of Representatives"?), one conjures up the scenes of rude revelry these drinking places witnessed a few years ago. How high the hopes of sudden riches burned in the breasts of the men who went in and out of them, doomed to utter disappointment in the vast majority! What a rapscallion crew, male and female, followed this great mob of gold seekers, and grew richer as their victims grew poorer! What earned and borrowed and saved and begged and stolen moneys were frittered away and flung away that winter; what health and character were undermined! How the ribaldry and valiant, stupid blasphemy rang out in these tumbling-down shanties! Go out on the creeks and see the hills denuded of their timber, the stream-beds punched with innumerable holes, filled up or filling up, the cabins and sluice-boxes rotting into the moss, here and there a broken pick and shovel, here and there a rusting boiler, and take notice that this region has been "developed."
When the debit and credit sides of the ledger are balanced, what remains to Alaska of all these thousands of men, of all the many hundreds of thousands of dollars they brought with them? Those creeks, stripped, gutted, and deserted; this town, waiting for a kindly fire with a favouring breeze to wipe out its useless emptiness; a few half-breed children at mission schools; a hardy native tribe, sophisticated, diseased, demoralised, and largely dead—that seems the net result.
The portage trail from Rampart to the Tanana River goes up Minook Creek and follows the valley to its head, then crosses a summit and passes down through several small mining settlements to the Hot Springs. The trail saves traversing two sides of the triangle which it makes with the two rivers.
The dogs' feet and legs had suffered so much from the deep snow and the heavy labour of the journey out of the Koyukuk and the rough ice of the Yukon that I was compelled to have not merely moccasins but moose-hide leggings made here, coming right up to the belly and tying over the back. All the hair was worn away from the back of the legs and the skin was in many places raw.
We had thought to cover the twenty-five or thirty miles up the valley and over the summit to a road-house just beyond its foot, but rough drifted trails and a high wind held us back until it was dark before the ascent was reached, and we pitched our tent and reserved the climb for the morrow.
It was a hard grind owing to the drifted snow and the wind that still disputed our passage, but the view from the summit, nearly eighteen hundred feet above last night's camp, was compensation enough, for it gave us the great mountain, Denali, or, as the map makers and some white men call it, Mount McKinley. Perhaps an hundred and fifty miles away, as the crow flies, it rose up and filled all the angle of vision to the southwest. It is not a peak, it is a region, a great soaring of the earth's crust, rising twenty thousand feet high; so enormous in its mass, in its snow-fields and glaciers, its buttresses, its flanking spurs, its far-flung terraces of foot-hills and approaches, that it completely dominates the view whenever it is seen at all. I have heard people say they thought they had seen Denali, as I have heard travellers say they thought they had seen Mount Everest from Darjiling; but no one ever thought he saw Denali if he saw it at all. There is no possible question about it, once the mountain has risen before the eyes; and although Mount Everest is but the highest of a number of great peaks, while Denali stands alone in unapproached predominance, yet I think the man who has really looked upon the loftiest mountain in the world could have no doubt about it ever after.
How my heart burns within me whenever I get view of this great monarch of the North! There it stood, revealed from base to summit in all its stupendous size, all its glistening majesty. I would far rather climb that mountain than own the richest gold-mine in Alaska. Yet how its apparent nearness mocks one; what time and cost and labour are involved even in approaching its base with food and equipment for an attempt to reach its summit! How many schemes I have pondered and dreamed these seven years past for climbing it! Some day time and opportunity and resource may serve, please God, and I may have that one of my heart's desires; if not, still it is good to have seen it from many different coigns of vantage, from this side and from that; to have felt the awe of its vast swelling bulk, the superb dignity of its firm-seated, broad-based uplift to the skies with a whole continent for a pedestal; to have gazed eagerly and longingly at its serene, untrodden summit, far above the eagle's flight, above even the most daring airman's venture, and to have desired and hoped to reach it; to desire and hope to reach it still.[D]
Plunging down the steep descent we went for four miles, and then after a hearty dinner at the road-house, essayed to make twenty-one miles more to the Hot Springs. But night fell again with a number of miles yet to come, the recent storm had furrowed the trail diagonally with hard windrows of snow that overturned the sled repeatedly and formed an hindrance that grew greater and greater, and again we made camp in the dark, short of our expected goal.
Of late I had been carrying an hip ring, a rubber ring inflated by the breath that is the best substitute for a mattress. The ring had been left behind at Rampart, and so dependent does one grow on the little luxuries and ameliorations one permits oneself that these two nights in camp were almost sleepless for lack of it.
[Sidenote: THE HOT SPRINGS]
Three hours more brought us to the spacious hotel, with its forty empty rooms, that had been put up, out of all sense or keeping, in a wild, plunging attempt to "exploit" the Hot Springs and make a great "health resort" of the place. The hot water had been piped a quarter of a mile or so to spacious swimming-baths in the hotel; all sorts of expense had been lavished on the place; but it had been a failure from the first, and has since been closed and has fallen into dilapidation. The bottoms have dropped out of the cement baths, the paper hangs drooping from the damp walls, the unsubstantial foundations have yielded until the floors are heaved like the waves of the sea.[E] But at this time the hotel was still maintained and we stayed there, and its wide entrance-hall and lobby formed an excellent place to gather the inhabitants of the little town for Divine service—again the only opportunity in the year.
What a curious phenomenon thermal springs constitute in these parts! Here is a series of patches of ground, free from snow, while all the country has been covered two or three feet deep these four months; green with vegetation, while all living things elsewhere are wrapped in winter sleep. Here is open, rushing water, throwing up clouds of steam that settles upon everything as dense hoar frost, while all other water is held in the adamantine fetters of the ice. Where does that constant unfailing stream of water at 110 deg. Fahrenheit come from? Where does it get its heat? I know of half a dozen such thermal springs in Alaska,—one far away above the Arctic Circle between the upper courses of the Kobuk and the Noatak Rivers, that I have heard strange tales about from the Esquimaux and that I have always wanted to visit.
Whenever I see this gush of hot water in the very midst of the ice and the snow, I am reminded of my surprise on the top of Mount Tacoma. We had climbed some eight thousand feet of snow and were shivering in a bitter wind on the summit, yet when the hand was thrust in a cleft of the rock it had to be withdrawn by reason of the heat. One knows about the internal fire of some portion of the earth's mass, of course, but such striking manifestations of it, such bold irruption of heat in the midst of the kingdom of the cold, must always bring a certain astonishment except to those who take everything as a matter of course.
It is evident that this hot water, capable of distribution over a considerable area of land, makes an exceedingly favourable condition for subarctic agriculture, and a great deal of ground has been put under cultivation with large yield of potatoes and cabbage and other vegetables. But the limitations of Alaskan conditions have shorn all profit from the enterprise. There is no considerable market nearer than Fairbanks, almost two hundred miles away by the river. If the potatoes are allowed to remain in the ground until they are mature, there is the greatest danger of the whole crop freezing while on the way to market, and in any case the truck-farmers around Fairbanks find that their proximity to the consumer more than offsets the advantage of the Hot Springs.
[Sidenote: ARCTIC AGRICULTURE]
When the great initial difficulties of farming in Alaska are overcome, when the moss is removed and the ground, frozen solidly to bedrock, is broken and thawed, when its natural acidity is counteracted by the application of some alkali, and its reeking surface moisture is drained away; when after three or four years' cultivation it begins to make some adequate return of roots and greens, there remains the constant difficulty of a market. Around the mining settlements and during the uncertain life of the mining settlements, truck-farming pays very well, but it could easily be overdone so that prices would fall below the point of any profit at all. Transportation is expensive, and rates for a short haul on the rivers are high, out of all proportion to rates for the long haul from the outside, so that potatoes from the Pacific coast are brought in and sold in competition with the native-grown. And despite the protestations of the agricultural experimental stations, the outside or "chechaco" potato has the advantage of far better quality than that grown in Alaska. Tastes differ, and a man may speak only as he finds. For my part, I have eaten native potatoes raised in almost every section of interior Alaska, and have been glad to get them, but I have never eaten a native potato that compared favourably with any good "outside" potato. The native potato is commonly wet and waxy; I have never seen a native potato that would burst into a glistening mass of white flour, or that had the flavour of a really good potato.
There has been much misconception about the interior of Alaska that obtains yet in some quarters, although there is no excuse for it now. Not only the interior of Alaska, but all land at or near sea-level in the arctic regions that is not under glacial ice-caps, is snow free and surface-thawed in the summer and has a luxuriant vegetation. The polar ox (Sverdrup's protest against the term "musk-ox" should surely prevail) ranges in great bands north of the 80th parallel and must secure abundant food; and when Peary determined the insularity of Greenland he found its most northerly point a mass of verdure and flowers.
No doubt potatoes and turnips, lettuce and cabbage, could be raised anywhere in those regions; the intensity of the season compensates for its shortness; the sun is in the heavens twenty-four hours in the day, and all living things sprout and grow with amazing rankness and celerity under the strong compulsion of his continuous rays. Spring comes literally with a shout and a rush here in Alaska, and must cry even louder and stride even faster in the "ultimate climes of the pole." If the possibility of raising garden-truck and tubers constitutes a "farming country," then all the arctic regions not actually under glacial ice may be so classed.
Any one who visits the Koyukuk may see monster turnips and cabbages raised at Coldfoot, near the 68th parallel; from Sir William Parry's description we may feel quite sure that vegetables of size and excellence might be raised at the head of Bushnan's Cove of Melville Island, on the 75th parallel; he called it "an arctic paradise"; Greely reported "grass twenty-four inches high and many butterflies" in the interior of Grinnell Land under the 82d parallel; and if gold were ever discovered on the north coast of Greenland one might quite expect to hear that some enterprising Swede was growing turnips and cabbages at Cape Morris Jessup above the 83d parallel, and getting a dollar a pound for them.
In favourable seasons and in favourable spots of interior Alaska certain early varieties of Siberian oats and rye have been matured, and it stands to the credit of the Experiment Station at Rampart that a little wheat was once ripened there, though it took thirteen months from the sowing to the ripening. When the rest of the world fills up so that economic pressure demands the utilisation of all earth that will produce any sort of food, it may be that large tracts in Alaska will be put under the plough; but it is hard to believe that nine tenths of all this vast country will ever be other than wild waste land. At present the farming population is strictly an appendage of the mining population, and the mining population rather diminishes than increases.
Your health resort that no one will resort to is a dull place at best and a poor dependence for merchandising, so that the little town of Hot Springs is fortunate in having some mining country around it to fall back upon for its trade. We lay an extra day there, waiting for the stage from Fairbanks to break trail for us through the heavy, drifted snow, having had enough of trail breaking for a while. At midnight the stage came, two days late, and its coming caused me as keen a sorrow and as great a loss as I have had since I came to Alaska.
[Sidenote: NANOOK'S DEATH]
We knew naught of it until the next morning, when, breakfast done and the sled lashed, we were ready to hitch the dogs and depart. They had been put in the horse stable for there was no dog house; the health resorter, actual or prospective, is not likely to be a dog man one supposes; but they were loose in the morning and came to the call, all but one—Nanook. Him we sought high and low, and at last Arthur found him, but in what pitiful case! He dragged himself slowly and painfully along, his poor bowels hanging down in the outer hide of his belly, fearfully injured internally, done for and killed already. It was not difficult to account for it. When the horses came in at midnight, one of them had kicked the dog and ruptured his whole abdomen.
There was no use in inquiring whose fault it was. The dogs should have been chained; so much was our fault. But it was hard to resist some bitter recollection that before this "exploitation" of the springs, when there was a modest road-house instead of a mammoth hotel, there had been kennels for dogs instead of nothing but stables for horses.
I doubt if all the veterinary surgeons in the world could have saved the dog, but there was none to try; and there was only one thing to do, hate it as we might. Arthur and I were grateful that neither of us had to do it, for the driver of the mail stage, who had some compunctions of conscience, I think, volunteered to save us the painful duty. "I know how you feel," he said slowly and kindly; "I've got a dog I think a heap of myself, but that dog ain't nothin' to me an' I'll do it for you."
Nanook knew perfectly well that it was all over with him. Head and tail down, the picture of resigned dejection, he stood like a petrified dog. And when I put my face down to his and said "Good-bye," he licked me for the first time in his life. In the six years I had owned him and driven him I had never felt his tongue before, though I had always loved him best of the bunch. He was not the licking kind.
We hitched up our diminished team and pulled out, for we had thirty miles to make in the short daylight and we had lost time already; and as we crossed the bridge over the steaming slough we saw the man going slowly down to the river with the dog, the chain in one hand, a gun in the other. My eyes filled with tears; I could not look at Arthur nor he at me as I passed forward to run ahead of the team, and I was glad when I realised that we had drawn out of ear-shot.
All day as I trudged or trotted now on snow-shoes and now off, as the trail varied in badness, that dog was in my mind and his loss upon my heart, the feel of his tongue upon my cheek. It takes the close companionship between a man and his dogs in this country, travelling all the winter long, winter after winter, through the bitter cold and the storm and darkness, through the long, pleasant days of the warm sunshine of approaching spring, sharing labour and sharing ease, sharing privation and sharing plenty; it takes this close companionship to make a man appreciate a dog. As I reckoned it up, Nanook had fallen just short of pulling my sled ten thousand miles. If he had finished this season with me he would have done fully that, and I had intended to pension him after this winter, to provide that so long as he lived he should have his fish and rice every day. Some doubt I had had of old Lingo lasting through the winter, but none of Nanook, and they were the only survivors of my original team.
[Sidenote: THE TALKING DOG]
Nanook was in as good spirits as ever I knew him that last night, coming to me and plumping his huge fore paws down on my moccasins, challenging me to play the game of toe treading that he loved; and whenever he beat me at it he would seize my ankle in his jaws and make me hop around on one foot, to his great delight. He was my talking dog. He had more different tones in his bark than any other dog I ever knew. He never came to the collar in the morning, he never was released from it at night, without a cheery "bow-wow-wow." And we never stopped finally to make camp but he lifted up his voice. There was something curious about that. Only two nights before, when we had been unable to reach the health resort owing to wind-hardened drifts right across the trail that overturned the heavy sled again and again, swing the gee pole as one would, and had stopped several times in the growing dusk to inspect a spot that seemed to promise a camping place, Arthur had remarked that Nanook never spoke until the spot was reached on which we decided to pitch the tent. What faculty he had of recognising a good place, of seeing that both green spruce and dry spruce were there in sufficient quantity, I do not know—or whether he got his cue from the tones of our voice—but he never failed to give tongue when the stop was final and never opened his mouth when it was but tentative.
I could almost tell the nature of any disturbance that arose from the tone of Nanook's bark. Was it some stray Indian dog prowling round the camp; was it the distant howling of wolves; was it the approach of some belated traveller—there was a distinct difference in the way he announced each. I well remember the new note that came into his passionate protest when he was chained to a stump at the reindeer camp, and the foolish creatures streamed all over the camping-ground that night. To have them right beside him and yet be unable to reach them, to have them brushing him with their antlers while he strained helplessly at the chain, was adding insult to injury. And he kept me awake over it all night and told me about it at intervals all next day.
The coat that dog had was the heaviest and thickest I ever saw. On his back the long hair parted in the middle, and underneath the hair was fur and underneath the fur was wool. He was an outdoors dog strictly. It was only in the last year or two that he could be induced voluntarily to enter a house; he seemed, like Mowgli, to have a suspicion of houses. And if he did come in he had no respect for the house at all. When first I had him he would dig and scratch out of a dog-house on the coldest night, if he could, and lay himself down comfortably on the snow. Cold meant little to him. Fifty, sixty, seventy below zero, all night long at such temperatures he would sleep quite contentedly. The only difference I could see that these low temperatures made to him was an increasing dislike to be disturbed. When he had carefully tucked his nose between his paws and adjusted his tail over all, he had gone to bed, and to make him take his nose out of its nest and uncurl himself was like throwing the clothes off a sleeping man. He never dug a hole for himself in the snow. I never saw a dog do that yet. In my opinion that is one of the nature-faker's stories. A dog lies in snow just as he lies in sand, with the same preliminary turn-round-three-times that has been so much speculated about. We always make a bed for them, when it is very cold, by cutting and stripping a few spruce boughs, and they highly appreciate such a couch and will growl and fight if another dog try to take it. They need more food and particularly they need more fat when they lie out at extreme low temperatures, and we seek to increase that element in their rations by adding tallow or bacon or bear's-grease—or seal oil—or whatever oleaginous substance we can come by.
[Sidenote: CANINE CHARACTER]
He was a most independent dog was Nanook, a thoroughly bad dog, as one would say in some use of that term—a thief who had no shame in his thievery but rather gloried in it. If you left anything edible within his ingenious and comprehensive reach he regarded it as a challenge. There comes to me a ludicrous incident that concerned a companion of one winter journey. He had carefully prepared a lunch and had wrapped it neatly in paper, and he placed it for a moment on the sled while he turned to put his scarf about him. But in that moment Nanook saw it and it was gone. Through the snow, over the brush, in and out amongst the stumps the chase proceeded, until Nanook was finally caught and my companion recovered most of the paper, for the dog had wolfed the grub as he ran. He would stand and take any licking you offered and never utter a sound but give a bark of defiance when you were done, and he would bear you no ill will in the world and repeat his offence at the next opportunity. Yet so absurdly sensitive was he in other matters of his person that the simple operation of clipping the hair from between his toes, to prevent the "balling-up" of the snow, took two men to perform, one to sit on the dog and the other to ply the scissors, and was accompanied always with such howls and squeals as would make a hearer think we were flaying him alive.
Nanook's acquaintance with horses began in Fairbanks the first season I owned him, before I had had the harness upon him, when he was rising two years old. The dogs and I were staying at the hospital we had just established—because in those days there was nowhere else to stay—waiting for the winter. One of the mining magnates of the infancy of the camp (broken and dead long since; Bret Harte's lines, "Busted himself in White Pine and blew out his brains down in 'Frisco," often occur to me as the sordid histories of to-day repeat those of fifty years ago) had imported a saddle-horse and, as the mild days of that charming autumn still deferred the snow, he used to ride out past the hospital for a canter.
The dog had learned to lift the latch of the gate of the hospital yard with his nose and get out, and when I put a wedge above the latch for greater security he learned also to circumvent that precaution. And whenever the horse and his rider passed, Nanook would open the gate and lead the whole pack in a noisy pursuit that changed the canter to a run and brought us natural but mortifying remonstrance.
The rider had just passed and the dogs had pursued as usual, and I had rushed out and recalled them with difficulty. Nanook I had by the collar. Dragging him into the yard, shutting the gate, and putting in the wedge, I picked up a stick and gave him a few sharp blows with it. Then flinging him off, I said: "Now, you stay in here; I'll give you a sound thrashing if you do that again!" I was just getting acquainted with him then. The moment I loosed his collar the dog went deliberately to the gate, stood on his hind legs while he pulled out the wedge with his teeth, lifted the latch with his nose and swung open the gate, and standing in the midst turned round and said to me: "Bow-wow-wow-wow-wow-wow!" It was so pointed that a passer-by, who had paused to see the proceedings and was leaning on the fence, said to me: "Well, you know where you can go to. That's the doggonedest dog I ever seen!"
It was a pleasure to come back to Nanook after any long absence—a pleasure I was used to look forward to. There was no special fawning or demonstration of affection; he was not that kind; that I might have from any of the others; but from none but Nanook the bark of welcome with my particular inflection in it that no one else ever got. "Well, well; here's the boss again; glad to see you back"; that was about all it said. For he was a most independent dog and took to himself an air of partnership rather than subjection. Any man can make friends with any dog if he will, there is no question about that, but it takes a long time and mutual trust and mutual forbearance and mutual appreciation to make a partnership. Not every dog is fit to be partner with a man; nor every man, I think, fit to be partner with a dog.
Well, that long partnership was dissolved by the horse's hoof and I was sore for its dissolution. There was none left now that could remember the old days of the team save Lingo, and he grew crusty and somewhat crabbed. He was still the guardian of the sled, still the insatiable hand-shaker, but he grew more and more unsocial with his mates, and we heard his short, sharp, angry double bark at night more frequently than we used to. He reminded me of the complaining owl in Gray's "Elegy." He resented any dog even approaching the sled, resented the dogs moving about at all to disturb his "ancient solitary reign."
His work was well-nigh done, and old Lingo had honestly earned his rest. With the end of this winter he would enter upon the easy old age that I had designed for both of them. Lingo had never failed me; never let his traces slack if he could keep them taut, never in his life had whip laid on his back to make him pull; a faithful old work dog for whom I had a hearty respect and regard. But he never found his way to my heart as Nanook did. I loved Nanook, and had lost something personal out of my life in losing him. There are other dogs that I am fond of—better dogs in some ways that either Nanook or Lingo, swifter certainly—but I think I shall never have two dogs again that have meant as much to me as these two. All the other dogs were of the last two years and thought they belonged to Arthur, who fed them and handled them most. But Nanook and Lingo had seen boys come and boys go, and they knew better.
Six years is not very much of a man's life, but it is all a dog's life; all his effective working life. Nanook had given it all to me, willingly, gladly. He pulled so freely because he loved to pull. He delighted in the winter, in the snow and the cold; rejoiced to be on the trail, rejoiced to work. When we made ready to depart after a few days at a mission or in a town, Nanook was beside himself with joy. He would burst forth into song as he saw the preparations in hand, would run all up and down the gamut of his singular flexible voice, would tell as plainly to all around as though he spoke it in English and Indian and Esquimau that the inaction had irked him, that he was eager to be gone again.
Well, he was dead; as fine a dog as ever lived; as faithful and intelligent a creature as any man ever had, not of human race, for servant, companion, and friend. And I thought the more of myself that he had put his tongue to my cheek when I said good-bye to him.
* * * * *
[Sidenote: THE AMATEUR PHOTOGRAPHER]
Here on the Tanana was one of the most interesting original characters of the many in the land: an old inhabitant of Alaska and of the Northwest who had followed many avocations and was now settled down on the river bank, with a steamboat wood-yard, a road-house for the entertainment of occasional travellers, and a little stock of trade goods chiefly for Indians of the vicinity. A round, fat, pursy man he was, past the middle life, with a twinkling eye and a bristling moustache, and a most amazing knack of picking up new words and using them incorrectly. He had fallen out with the great trading company of Alaska and did almost all his purchasing from a "mail-order house" in Chicago, the enormous quarto catalogue on the flimsiest thin paper issued by that establishment being his chief book of reference and his choice continual reading. He would declaim by the hour on the iniquitous prices that prevail in the interior and had the quotations of prices of every conceivable merchandise from his vade mecum at his fingers' ends.
But his chief passion of the past two or three years was photography, in the which he had made but little progress, despite considerable expenditures; and he had come to the conclusion about the time of our visit that what he needed was a fine lens, although, as a matter of fact, he had never learned to use his cheap one. He had recently become acquainted with sensitive film and had ordered a supply. By a transposition of letters, which the nature of the substance doubtless confirmed in his mind when it arrived, he always spoke of these convenient strips of celluloid as "flims," and was just now most eloquently indignant that, although he had broken utterly with the Northern Commercial Company and refused to trade with them at all, the supply of "flims" he had received from the mail-order house were labelled "N. C." "Them blamed monopolists has cornered the flims," he exclaimed, and was hardly persuaded that the letters signified "non-curling" and did not darkly hint at a conspiracy in restraint of trade.
He produced and displayed a number of pieces of apparatus of a generally useless kind which he had ordered on the strength of their much advertising, and he observed sententiously, "We armatures get badly imposed upon." Here were patent gimcrack printing devices, although he had scarce anything worth printing; all sorts of atrocious fancy borders with which he sought in vain to embellish out-of-focus under-exposures; orthochromatic filters and colour screens with which he was eliminating undesirable rays, although the chief thing his negatives lacked was light of any kind. His soiled and stained development trays were scattered about a large table amidst dirty cups and saucers and plates and dishes, while at the other end of the table, surmounting a pile of thumbed and greasy magazines and newspapers, lay the monstrous mail-order catalogue with pencilled indications of further apparatus to be purchased.
But his zeal and enthusiasm and resolute riding of his hobby were very attractive. If he ever gets out of his head the notion that success depends upon apparatus he will doubtless become a photographer of sorts. Enthusiasm of any kind other than mining and "mushing" enthusiasm is so rare in this land that it is welcome even when it seems wasted. He had recently discovered the wax match in his catalogue, and as a parting gift he presented me with a box of "them there wax vespers which beats the sulphur match all to thunder."
[Sidenote: THE SULPHUR MATCH]
But they do not. Nothing in this country can take the place of the old-fashioned sulphur match, long since banished from civilised communities, and the sulphur match is the only match a man upon the trail will employ. Manufactured from blocks of wood without complete severance, so that the ends of the matches are still held together at the bottom in one solid mass, it is easy to strip one off at need and strike it upon the block. A block of a hundred such matches will take up much less space than fifty of any other kind of match, and the blocks may be freely carried in any as they are commonly carried in every pocket without fear of accidental ignition. The only fire producer that it is worth while supplementing the sulphur match with is the even older-fashioned flint and steel, which to a man who smokes is a convenience in a wind. All the modern alcohol and gasoline pocket devices are extinguished by the lightest puff of wind, but the tinder, once ignited, burns the fiercer for the blast. With dry, shredded birch-bark I have made a fire upon occasion from the flint and steel. One resource may here be mentioned, since we are on the subject, which is always carried in the hind-sack of my sled against difficulty in fire making. It is a tin tobacco-box filled with strips of cotton cloth cut to the size of the box and the whole saturated with kerosene. One or two of these strips will help very greatly in kindling a fire when damp twigs or shavings are all that are at hand. A few camphor balls (the ordinary "moth balls") will serve equally well; and there may come a time, on any long journey, when the forethought that has provided such aid will be looked back upon with very great satisfaction.
* * * * *
The mail trail from Tanana to Fairbanks touches the Tanana River only at one point, a few miles beyond the Hot Springs; but, as we wished to visit Nenana, we had to leave the mail trail after two days more of uneventful travel and strike out to the river and over its surface for seventeen or eighteen miles.
[Sidenote: A NOTABLE GENTLEWOMAN]
Nenana is a native village situated on the left bank of the Tanana, a little above the confluence of the Nenana River with that stream, and we have established an important and flourishing school there which receives its forty pupils from many points on the Yukon and Tanana Rivers. None but thoroughly sound and healthy children of promise, full natives or half-breeds, are received at the school, and we seek to give both boys and girls opportunity for the cultivation of the native arts and for some of the white man's industrial training, in addition to the ordinary work of the schoolroom. The school was started and had the good fortune of its first four years' life under the care of a notable gentlewoman, Miss Annie Cragg Farthing, who was yet at its head at the time of this visit, but who died suddenly, a martyr to her devotion to the children, a year later; and a great Celtic cross in concrete, standing high on the bluff across the river, now marks the spot of her own selection—a spot that gives a fine view of Denali—where her body rests, and also the Alaskan mission's sense of the extraordinary value of her life.
It would be easy to give striking instances of the potency and stretch of this remarkable woman's influence amongst the native people, an influence—strange as it may sound to those who deem any half-educated, under-bred white woman competent to take charge of an Indian school—due as much to her wide culture, her perfect dignity and self-possession, her high breeding, as to the love and consecrated enthusiasm of her character. It is no exaggeration to say that Miss Farthing's work has left a mark broad and deep upon the Indian race of this whole region that will never be wiped out.
There is no greater pleasure than to spend a few days at this school; to foregather again with so many of the hopeful young scamps that one has oneself selected here and there and brought to the place; to mark the improvement in them, the taming and gentling, the drawing out of the sweet side of the nature that is commonly buried to the casual observer in the rudeness and shyness of savage childhood. To romp with them, to tell them tales and jingles, to get insensibly back into their familiar confidence again, to say the evening prayers with them, to join with their clear, fresh voices in the hymns and chants, is indeed to rejuvenate oneself. And to go away believing that real strength of character is developing, that real preparation is making for an Indian race that shall be a better Indian race and not an imitation white race, is the cure for the discouragement that must sometimes come to all those who are committed heart and soul to the cause of the Alaskan native. School-teachers, it would seem, ought never to grow old; they should suck in new youth continually from the young life around them; and children are far and away the most interesting things in the world, more interesting even than dogs and great mountains.
[Sidenote: CHIVALROUS INDIAN YOUTH]
All the boys in the school, I think, swarmed across the river with us when we started away early in the morning, and the elder ones ran with the sled along the portage, mile after mile, until I turned them back lest they be late for school.
But when they were gone, still I saw them, saw them gathered round the grey-haired lady I had left, fawning upon her with their eyes, their hearts filled with as true chivalry as ever animated knight or champion of the olden time. Tall, upstanding fellows of sixteen or seventeen, clean-limbed and broad-shouldered, wild-run all their lives; hunters, with a tale of big game to the credit of some of them would make an English sportsman envious; unaccustomed to any restraint at all and prone to chafe at the slightest; unaccustomed to any respect for women, to any of the courtesies of life, I saw them fly at a word, at a look, to do her bidding, saw cap snatched from head if they encountered her about the buildings, saw them jump up and hold open the door if she moved to pass out of a room, saw the eager devotion that would have served her upon bended knee had they thought it would please her. It was wonderful, the only thing of quite its kind I had ever seen in my life.
When early in the school's history an old medicine-man at Nenana had been roused to animosity by her refusal to countenance an offensive Indian custom touching the adolescent girls, and had defiantly announced his intention to make medicine against her, I can see her now, her staff in her hand, attended by two or three of her devoted youths, invading the midnight pavilion of the conjurer, in the very midst of his conjurations, tossing his paraphernalia outside, laying her staff smartly across the shoulders of the trembling shaman, and driving the gaping crew helter-skelter before her, their awe of the witchcraft overawed by her commanding presence. I make no apology that I thought of the scourge of small cords that was used on an occasion in the temple at Jerusalem, when I heard of it. It gave a shrewder blow to the lingering tyrannical superstition of the medicine-man than decades of preaching and reasoning would have done. No man living could have done the thing with like effect, nor any woman save one of her complete self-possession and natural authority. The younger villagers chuckle over the jest of it to this day, and the old witch-doctor himself was crouching at her feet and, as one may say, eating out of her hand, within the year.
I saw these boys again, in my mind's eye, gone back to their homes here and there on the Yukon and the Tanana after their two or three years at this school, carrying with them some better ideal of human life than they could ever get from the elders of the tribe, from the little sordid village trader, from most of the whites they would be thrown with, keeping something of the vision of gentle womanhood, something of the "unbought grace of life," something of the keen sense of truth and honour, of the nobility of service, something deeper and stronger than mere words of the love of God, which they had learned of her whom they all revered; each one, however much overflowed again by the surrounding waters of mere animal living, tending a little shrine of sweeter and better things in his heart.
[Sidenote: LONG-REMEMBERED TEACHING]
Here, three years after the visit and the journey narrated, when these words are written with diaries and letters and memoranda around me, I am just come from a long native powwow, a meeting of all the Indians of a village for the annual election of a village council, important in the evolution of that self-government we covet for these people, but undeniably tedious. And, because at our missions we seek to associate with us every force that looks to the betterment of the natives, we had invited the new government teacher, a lady of long experience in Indian schools, to be present. She had sat patiently through the protracted meeting, and at its close, when she rose to go, a young Indian man jumped up and held her fur cloak for her and put it gently about her shoulders. When she had thanked him she asked with a smile: "Where did you learn to be so polite?" A gleam came into the fellow's eyes, then he dropped them and replied, "Miss Farthing taught me."
Two days before, returning from a journey, I had spent the night at a road-house kept by a white man married to an Indian woman. There was excellent yeast bread on the table, and good bread is a rare thing in Alaska. "Where did you learn to make such good bread?" I inquired of the woman. There came the same light to her eyes and the same answer to her lips. Yet it was nine years ago, long before the school at Nenana was started, that this Indian boy and girl had been under Miss Farthing's teaching at Circle City.
They tell us there is no longer much place or use for gentility in the world, for men and women nurtured and refined above the common level; tell us in particular that woman is only now emancipating herself from centuries of ineffectual nonage, only now entering upon her active career.
Yet I am of opinion, from such opportunities to observe and compare as my constant travel has given me, that the quiet work of this gracious woman of the old school, with her dignity that nothing ever invaded and her poise that nothing ever disturbed, is perhaps the most powerful single influence that has come into the lives of the natives of interior Alaska.
Two days brought us past the little native village and mission at Chena (which is pronounced Shen-aẃ), past the little white town of the same name, to Fairbanks, the chief town of interior Alaska. Chena is at the virtual head of the navigation of the Tanana River and is quite as near to the gold-producing creeks as Fairbanks, which latter place is not on the Tanana River at all but on a slough, impracticable for almost any craft at low water. For every topographical reason, from every consideration of natural advantage, Chena should have been the river port and town of these gold-fields. But Chena was so sure of her manifold natural advantages that she became unduly confident and grasping. When the traders at Fairbanks offered to remove to Chena at the beginning of the camp, if the traders at Chena would provide a site, the offer was scornfully rejected. "They would have to come, anyway, or go out of business." But they did not come; rather they put their backs up and fought. And because Fairbanks was enterprising and far-sighted, while Chena was avaricious and narrow, because Fairbanks offered free sites and Chena charged enormously for water-front, business went the ten miles up the often unnavigable slough and settled there, and by and by built a little railway that it might be independent of the uncertain boat service. The company came, the courts came, the hospital came, the churches came, and Chena woke up from its dreams of easy wealth to find itself and its manifold natural advantages passed by and ignored and the big town firmly established elsewhere.
How well I remember the virulent little newspaper published at Chena in those days and the bitterness and vituperation it used to pour out week by week! One wishes a file of it had been preserved. Alaskan journalism has presented many amusing curiosities that no one has had leisure to collect, but nothing more amusing than the frenzy of impotent wrath Chena vented when it saw its cherished prospects and opportunities slipping out of its grasp for ever.
"If of all words on tongue or pen, The saddest are 'it might have been,' Full sad are those we often see, It is, but it hadn't ought to be."
It takes Bret Harte to strike the note for such rivalry and such disappointment.
[C] In December, 1912, a determined effort was made by the better element of the little handful of white people in this town to secure the withdrawal of the licence of this saloon. The justice of the peace, the government school-teacher, the postmaster, and others went up to Fairbanks (a week's journey over the trail) and opposed the granting of the licence in court. It was shown that the white men of the locality were so reduced in numbers that the business could not be carried on at a profit unless liquor was sold, directly or indirectly, to the Indians. But because by hook and by crook the names of a majority of one or two of all the white residents of the precinct were secured for a petition in favour of the licence (two or three were secured by telegraph at the last moment) the judge held that he had no option under the law but to grant the licence. So, on the one hand, it is a felony to sell liquor to Indians, and annually thousands of dollars are expended in trying to suppress such sale, while, on the other hand, a man is licenced to sell liquor when it is shown that he cannot make a living unless he sells to Indians; that is to say he is virtually granted a licence to sell to Indians. This note is not intended to reflect upon the judge who granted the licence, although all his predecessors have not put that construction upon the law, but upon a law open to that construction.
[D] This was written some two years before the opportunity came. On the 7th of June, 1913, the writer and three companions reached the summit of Denali. ("The Ascent of Denali," Charles Scribner's Sons, 1914.)
[E] In 1913 it was finally destroyed by fire.
TANANA CROSSING TO FORTYMILE AND DOWN THE YUKON—A PATRIARCHAL CHIEF—SWARMING CARIBOU—EAGLE AND FORT EGBERT—CIRCLE CITY AND FORT YUKON
FAIRBANKS was a different place in 1910 from the centre of feverish trade and feverish vice of 1904-5, when the stores were open all day and half the night and the dance-halls and gambling dens all night and half the day; when the Jews cornered all the salt and all the sugar in the camp and the gamblers all the silver and currency; when the curious notion prevailed that in some mysterious way general profligacy was good for business, and the Commercial Club held an indignation meeting upon a threat of closing down the public gaming and refusing liquor licences to the dance-halls, and voted unanimously in favour of an "open town"; when a diamond star was presented to the "chief of police" by the enforced contributions of the prostitutes; when the weekly gold-dust from the clean-ups on the creeks came picturesquely into town escorted by horsemen armed to the teeth. The outward and visible signs of the Wild West are gone; the dance-halls and gambling tables are a thing of the past; the creeks are all connected with Fairbanks by railway and telephone; an early closing movement has prevailed in the shops; and the local choral society is lamenting the customary dearth of tenors for its production of "The Messiah."
Despite the steady decline in the gold output of late years, a drop of from twenty millions down to four or five, there is little visible decay in its trade, and despite stampedes to new diggings all over Alaska, there is no marked visible diminution in its population, though as a matter of fact both must have largely fallen off. The thing that more than any other has sustained the spirits and retained the presence of the business men is the expectation that seems to grow brighter and brighter, of the development of a quartz camp now that the placers are being exhausted. And in that hope lies the chance of Fairbanks to become the one permanent considerable town of interior Alaska. It is a substantial place, with good business houses and many comfortable homes electric-lit, steam-heated, well protected against fire—better than against flood—and, though it does not display the style and luxury of the palmy days of Nome, it has amenities enough to make disinterested visitors and passers-by wish that its hard-rock hopes may be realised.
The little log church that is still, as a local artist put it, "the only thing in Fairbanks worth making a picture of," no longer stands open all day and all night as the town's library and reading-room, but has withdrawn into decorous Sabbath use in favour of the commodious public library built by a Philadelphia churchman; the hospital adjoining it, that for two or three years cared for all the sick of the camp, is supplemented by another and a larger across the slough; young birch-trees have been successfully planted all along the principal streets, and the front yards everywhere are ablaze with flowers the summer through. You may eat hot-house lettuce and radishes in March; hot-house strawberries (at about ten cents apiece) in July and August; while common outdoor garden-truck of all kinds is plentiful and good in its short season.
We had another canine misfortune while we lay there. Doc, one of our leaders, got his chain twisted around his foot the night before we were to leave, and, in pulling to free it, stopped the circulation of the blood and the foot froze. It was as hard as wood and sounded like wood when it hit the sidewalks, from which the snow had been cleared, as the dog came limping along. An hour's soaking in cold water drew the frost out of the foot, and we swathed it in cotton saturated with carron oil, upon which it swelled so greatly that it was impossible to tell the extent of the injury or to determine whether or not the dog would ever be of use again. A kindly nurse at the hospital undertook his care, and we left him behind. One does not buy a dog so late in the season, with all the idle summer to feed him through, if any shift can be made to avoid it, and there was a Great Dane pup at the Salchaket, forty miles away, that I might pick up as I passed and perhaps make some use of for the remainder of the winter.
That mission was the next stop on our journey, and we reached it over the level mail trail, the chief winter highway of Alaska, connecting Fairbanks with Valdez on the coast. Three times a week there is a horse stage with mail and passengers passing over this trail each way, together with much other travel. The Alaska Road Commission has lavished large sums of money upon it, and the four hundred miles or thereabout is made in a week.
[Sidenote: THE SALCHAKET]
A day and a half brought us to the Salchaket, one of a chain of missions along the Tanana River, established by the energy and zeal of the Reverend Charles Eugene Betticher, Jr., during his incumbency at Fairbanks, that have already brought a great change for the better in native conditions. Five years had elapsed since last I visited this tribe, a reconnoitring visit on one of the first steamboats that ever went up the Tanana River above Fairbanks, and it was a delight to see the new, clean village with the little gardens round the cabins, and to note the appreciative attitude which the Indians showed. So highly do they value the missionary nurse in charge that however far afield their hunting may lead them, one of their number is sent back every week to see that the mission does not lack wood and water and meat; a simple, docile, kindly people that one's heart warms to.
This mission was our last outpost to the south. My farther journey had for its prime object the visiting of the natives of the upper Tanana as far as the Tanana Crossing, some two hundred and fifty miles beyond the Salchaket, the inquiring into their condition and into the desirability of establishing a post amongst them.
[Sidenote: THE UPPER TANANA]
The upper Tanana is probably one of the most difficult streams in the world to navigate that can by any stretch of the term be called navigable. The great Alaskan range begins to approach the Tanana River so soon as one gets above Fairbanks. Its prominent peaks, ten thousand to twelve thousand feet high, are continually in view from one angle to another as one pursues the river trail, and come constantly nearer and nearer. All the streams that are confluent with the Tanana on its left bank are glacial streams draining the high ice of these mountains. They come down laden thick with silt, at times foaming torrents, at times merely trickling watercourses that seam with numerous small runnels the wide deltas at their mouths. The tributaries of the right bank flow for the most part through heavily wooded country, and come out cleanly into the river. So the glacial waters form shoals and bars, and the woodland waters during freshets pile them high with driftwood. Such is the chief characteristic of the upper Tanana; a multiplicity of swift, narrow channels amidst bars laden with drift. It is subject to sudden rises of great violence; the attempt to stem a freshet on the upper Tanana is a hair-raising experience as the log of the Pelican would show, but does not come within this narrative. Owing to the origin of much of its water, the Tanana is often in flood in dry, hot seasons, when other rivers run meagrely, as well as in times of rain. It cannot be stemmed in flood; its shoals deny passage in drouth; there must be just the right stage of water to permit its navigation, and that stage, "without o'erflowing, full," is not often found of duration to serve the voyage after the month of June.
A river difficult to navigate in summer is usually a river difficult to travel upon in winter, and the upper Tanana is notoriously dangerous and treacherous. Scarce a winter or a summer that it does not claim victims. It is emphatically a "bad river." Therefore, as far as there is any travel to speak of, land trails parallel the river. Past Richardson where the next night is spent, a decayed mining and trading town that dates back to the stampedes of 1905-6 when it was thought the upper Tanana would prove rich in gold, past Tenderfoot Creek on which the discoveries were made, past the mouth of the Big Delta with the great bluff on the opposite shore and the rushing black water at its foot that never entirely closes all the winter, and on the other hand the wide barrens of the Big Delta itself giving the whole fine sweep of the Alaskan range, we came at length to McCarthy's, the last telegraph station on the river,—for the line strikes across country thence to Valdez following the government trail,—and there spent another night, and here we leave the government-made trail and take to the river surface and the wilderness.
Twelve miles through the woods along the left bank of the river brought us to the aptly named Clearwater Creek, a tributary that comes only from the foot-hills and carries no glacial water. This stream by reason of hot springs runs wide open all the winter and must be crossed by a ferry—a raft on a heavy wire. The man who owned the ferry and the house adjacent was gone from home, so we proceeded to cross as best we could. The raft was so small that first we took the dogs across then unloaded the sled and took part of the load, and returned for the remainder and the sled itself. Finally a canoe was loaded on the raft and, when it had been moored on the side we found it, Arthur paddled himself back. It was a strange scene, rafting and paddling a canoe in interior Alaska on the 2d of March, with the thermometer at -15 deg.. Some eight miles farther along the portage trail we came to a little cabin about dusk, but disdaining its dirt and darkness we pitched our tent.
Another eighteen miles the next day is noted in my diary for pleasant woodland travel and for the particular interest of the numerous animal tracks we passed. Here a moose had crossed the trail, ploughing through the snow like a great cart-horse; here for two or three miles a lynx had urgent business in the direction of the Healy River. A lynx will always follow a trail if there be one, and will pick out the best going on the ice or snow in the absence of trail. I once followed a lynx track from the head of the Dall River to its mouth, and, save for turning aside occasionally to investigate a clump of willows or brush, the lynx was an excellent guide. Here were rabbit tracks and every now and then the little sharp tracks of a squirrel. We stopped for lunch under a tall cottonwood-tree, and Arthur pointed out that the trunk, up to a high crotch, was all seamed by bear claws. He said that the black bear climbed the same tree season after season, and told me that, according to the Indians, this was chiefly done when first he came from his winter den,—for the purpose of getting his bearings, as the boy suggested with a chuckle. A fox, a marten, and a weasel had all passed across lately, and of course then came the exclamation that scarce fails from native lips when a fox track is seen: "I wonder if it were a black fox!" A black fox means sudden wealth beyond the dreams of avarice to an Indian, and any fox track may be the track of a black fox.
The end of that portage brought us out on the Tanana River opposite the little trading-post at the mouth of the Healy—the last post of any kind we should see.
[Sidenote: INDIAN TRADERS]
The trader, by whom we were hospitably entertained, had heard of our projected occupation of the upper Tanana, and alert to his own interests, was anxious to know the plans for the establishment of a mission—plans which were yet all to make. He naturally favoured this spot, which it was already plain was quite out of the question, but professed his readiness to move to any place that we might decide upon, and his entire sympathy and co-operation.
The question of the trader, which always arises upon the establishment of a new mission site, is an important and sometimes a vexatious one, for he wields an influence amongst the Indians second only to that of the mission itself, and may be either a great help or a great hindrance. There is a natural desire to secure a man of character for the new post, and at the same time a natural reluctance to disturb vested interests and arouse bitter enmity by diverting trade. The suggestion has often been made that the mission should itself undertake a store in the interest of the natives, but those with most experience in such matters will agree that it is the wisdom of the bishop that sets his face against mission trading. The two offices are so essentially dissimilar as to be almost incompatible with one another; either the person in charge is a missionary first and a trader afterwards, in which case the store suffers, or he is a trader first and a missionary afterwards, in which case he is not a missionary at all. A clean, sober, and honest trader, content to take his time about getting rich, is a blessing to an Indian community. There are some such, one thinks, but they are not numerous. The profits are large, though the turnover is but one a year; the capital required is small; it is a life with much leisure; but in the main it attracts only a certain class of men.
A band of Indians to whom word of our visit had been sent had come down the river this far to meet us and escort us, but dog food was scarce and our arrival was delayed, and they had been compelled to return to their hunting camp whither we must follow them. We were now farther up the Tanana River than either of us had ever been before; the country had the fascination of a new country; every bend of the river held unknown possibilities, and the keenness and elation that only the penetration of a new country brings were upon the boy as well as upon myself.
The river and the mountains were already drawn much closer together, and as we pursued our journey upon the one we had continual fine views of the other. The going was good—too good—for much of it was new ice and spoke of recent overflow, and all too soon we came upon the water. At the mouth of the Johnson River, one of the glacial streams, the whole river was overflowed, and we waded for a mile through water that deepened continually until there was risk of wetting our load. Then we were compelled to take to the woods and to cut a portage around the worst and deepest of it, and so passed beyond it to good ice and to an empty cabin where we spent the night, glad to be sheltered from an exceedingly bitter wind that had blown all day and had taken all the pleasure out of travel.
[Sidenote: THE THERMOS BOTTLES]
It is in such weather particularly that the thermos flasks prove such a boon to the musher. To stop and build a fire in the wind means to get chilled through. There is no pleasure in it at all, and I would rather push on until the day's journey is done. But the native boy must have his lunch, and will build a fire in any sort of weather and make a pot of tea. The thermos bottle, with its boiling-hot cocoa, gives one the stimulation and nourishment that are desired without stopping for more than a few moments. I have carried a pair of these bottles all day at 60 deg. below zero, and, when opened, snow had to be put into the cocoa before it was cool enough to drink. Of course it is perfectly simple—all the astonishing things are—but I never open one of those bottles in the cold weather and pour out its contents without marvelling at it.
We left the river and struck inland towards the foot-hills of the Alaskan range, a long, rough journey over a trail that had been made by the band that came out to the Healy to meet us, and had been travelled no more than by their coming and going. The snow in this region had been as much lighter than usual as the snow in the Koyukuk had been heavier. Through the tangle of prostrate trunks of a burned-over forest and the dense underbrush that follows such a fire, with not enough snow to give smooth passage over the obstacles, we made our toilsome way, the labour of the dogs calling for the continual supplement of the men, one at the gee pole and one at the handle-bars. Some twenty miles, perhaps, a long day's continuous journey, we pushed laboriously into the hills and then pitched our tent; but in a few miles, next morning, we had struck the main Indian trail from the village near the Tanana Crossing, by which the hunting party had come, and what little was left of the journey went easily enough until we reached the considerable native encampment.
The men were all gone after moose save one half-naked, blear-eyed old paralytic, a dreadful creature who shambled and hobbled up asking for tobacco. The women were expecting us, however, and took the encamping out of our hands entirely, setting up the tent, hauling stove wood and splitting it up, making our couch of spruce boughs, starting a fire, and bringing a plentiful present of moose and caribou meat for ourselves and our dogs. Nothing could have been kinder than our reception; the full hospitality of the wilderness was heaped upon us. It was not until dark that the men returned, and we had all the afternoon to get acquainted with the women and children. Already the chief difficulty we had to encounter presented itself. These people did not speak the language of the lower Tanana and middle Yukon—Arthur's language—at all. Their speech had much more affinity with the upper Yukon language, and it dawned upon me that they were not of the migration that had pushed up the Tanana River from the Yukon, as all the natives as far as the Salchaket certainly did, were not of that tribe or that movement at all, but had come across country by the Ketchumstock from the neighbourhood of Eagle—the route we should return to the Yukon by—and were of the Porcupine and Peel River stock. This was certainly a surprise; I had deemed all the Tanana River Indians of the same extraction and tongue, but the stretch of bad water from the Salchaket to the Tanana Crossing was evidently the boundary between two peoples.
[Sidenote: CHIEF ISAAC]
That night we met Chief Isaac and the principal men of his tribe. At first it seemed that such broken English as three or four of them had would be our only medium of intercourse, but later one was discovered who had visited the lower Tanana and the Yukon and who understood Arthur indifferently well, and by the double interpretation, halting and inefficient, but growing somewhat better as we proceeded, it was possible to enter into communication. These preliminaries arranged, the chief made a set speech of dignity and force. He thanked me for coming to them, and regretted he had not been able to wait longer at the Healy River to help us to his camp. When he was a boy he had been across to the Yukon and had seen Bishop Bompas, and had been taught and baptized by him, but he was an old man now and he had forgotten what he had learned. I was the first minister most of his people had ever seen. They heard that Indians in other places had mission and school, and they had felt sorry a long time that no one came to teach them; for they were very ignorant, little children who knew nothing, and when they heard a rumour that a mission and school would be brought to them their hearts were very glad. Wherever we should see fit to "make mission," there he and his people would go, and would help build for us and help us in every way; but he hoped it would be near Lake Mansfield and the Crossing, where most of them lived at present. Farther down the river was not so good for their hunting and fishing, but they would go wherever we said. That was the burden of the chief's speech.
I took a liking to the old man at once. He was evidently a chief that was a chief. The chieftainship here was plainly not the effete and decaying institution it is in many places on the Yukon. He spoke for all his people without hesitation or question, and one felt that what he said was law amongst them.
There followed for two days an almost continuous course of instruction in the elements of the Christian faith and Christian morals, all day long and far into the night, with no more interval than cooking and eating required. In the largest tent of the encampment, packed full of men and women, the children wedged in where they could get, myself seated on a pile of robes and skins, my interpreters at my side, my hearers squatted on the spruce boughs of the floor, the instruction went on. As it proceeded, the interpretation improved, though it was still difficult and clumsy, as speaking through two minds and two mouths must always be. Whenever I stopped there was urgent request to go on, until at last my voice was almost gone with incessant use. Over and over the same things I went; the cardinal facts of religion—the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the Ascension; the cardinal laws of morality—the prohibition of murder, adultery, theft, and falsehood; that something definite might be left behind that should not be lost in the vagueness of general recollection, and always with the insistence that this was God's world and not the devil's world, a world in which good should ultimately prevail in spite of all opposition.
[Sidenote: SAVAGE, HEATHEN, PAGAN]
It is at once a high privilege and a solemn responsibility to deal with souls to whom the appeal of the Christian religion had never before been made, as were most of my hearers. One cannot call them "heathen." One never thinks of these Alaskan natives as heathen. "Savage" and "heathen" and "pagan" all meant, of course, in their origin, just country people, and point to some old-time, tremendous superciliousness of the city-bred, long since disappeared, except, perhaps, from such places as Whitechapel and the Bowery. A savage is simply a forest dweller, a heathen a heath dweller, and for a large part of each year I come, etymologically, within the terms myself. But with its ordinary implication of ferocity and bloodthirstiness it is absurd to apply the word "savage" to the mild and gentle Alaskan Indian, and, with its ordinary implication of bowing down to wood and stone, it is misleading to apply the term "heathen" to those who never made any sort of graven image.
Much has been written, and cleverly written, about the Alaskan Indian that is preposterously untrue. Arthur, my half-breed boy, had recently been reading a story by Jack London, dealing with the Indians in the vicinity of Tanana, where he was bred and born, and his indignation at the representation of his people in this story was amusing. The story was called The Wit of Porportuk, and it presented a native chief in almost baronial state, with slaves waiting upon him in a large banqueting hall and I know not what accumulated wealth of furs and gold. Such pictures are far more flagrantly untrue to any conditions that ever existed in Alaska than anything Fenimore Cooper wrote about the Five Nations. There were never any slaves in the interior; there was never any wealth amongst the Indians; there was never any state and circumstance of life. And the more one lives amongst them and knows them, the less one believes that they could ever have been a warlike people, despite their own traditions. Sporadic forays, fostered by their ignorant dread of one another or stirred up by rival medicine-men, there may have been between different tribes—and there certainly were between the Indians and the Esquimaux—with ambuscade and slaughter of isolated hunting parties that ventured too far beyond the confines of their own territory; and one such affair would furnish tradition for generations to dilate upon. I have myself found all the men of Nulato gone scouting, or hiding—I could not determine which—in the hills with their guns, upon a rumour that the "Huskies," or Esquimaux, were coming; I have known the Indians of the Yukon and the Tanana, and as far as the Koyukuk, excited and alarmed over the friendly visit of a handful of ragged natives from the Copper River to Nenana at Christmas time, although in either case it must certainly have been fifty years since there was any actual hostile incursion, and probably much longer.
[Sidenote: A GENTLE, TIMID PEOPLE]
They are a very timid people, and an exceedingly peaceable people. Years and years may be spent amongst them without knowledge of a single act of violence between Indian men; they do not quarrel and fight. Bold enough in the chase, willing to face dangers of ice and water and wild beast, they have a dread of anything like personal encounter, and will submit to a surprising amount of imposition and overbearing on the part of a white man without resorting to it. I knew a certain white man who claimed a whole river valley north of the Yukon as his, who warned off hunting parties of Indians who ventured upon it, and made them give up game killed in "his territory." They came to the mission and complained about it, but they never withstood the usurper. It ought to be added that it always appeared more as the making good of a practical joke than as a serious pretension, but the point is—the Indians submitted.
So far as these natives of the interior are concerned they were never idolaters. I cannot find that they had any distinct notion of worship at all. Their religion had root in a certain frantic terror of the unknown, and found expression in ceaseless efforts to propitiate the malign spirits surrounding them on every side. Thus they were given over to the mastery of those amongst them who had the traditional art of such propitiation, and fell more or less completely under that cruellest and most venal of sways, the tyranny of the witch-doctor. It is impossible to doubt, and hard to exaggerate, the grinding and brutal exactions to which this rule led. Anything that a man possessed might be demanded and must be yielded, on pain of disease and death, even to the whole season's catch of fur or the deflowering of a young daughter. The utmost greed and lust that can disgrace humanity found its Indian expression in the lives of some of these medicine-men.
Since every sort of tyranny has its vulnerable spot, since the despotism of Russia was tempered by assassination and of Japan by the effect of public suicide, so melioration of the tyranny of the medicine-man seems to have been found in rivalry amongst members of the craft itself. Oppressed beyond endurance by one practitioner, allegiance would be transferred to some new claimant of occult powers, and the breaking of the monopoly of magic would be followed by a temporary lightening of the burdens. Some of the most lurid of Alaskan legends deal with the thaumaturgic contests of rival medicine-men, and one judges that sleight of hand and even hypnotic suggestion were cultivated to a fine point.
To such minds the Christian teaching comes with glad and one may say instantaneous acceptance. Their attitude is entirely childlike. They are anxious to be told more and more about it, to be told it over and over again. There is never the slightest sign of incredulity. It does not occur to them as possible that a man should be sent all this way to them, should hunt them up and seek them out to tell it to them, unless it were true. And one learns over again how universal is the appeal the Christian religion, and in particular the Life of Our Lord, makes to mankind. I have seen Indians and Esquimaux mixed, hearing for the first time the details of the Passion, stirred to as great indignation as was that barbarian chieftain who laid his hand on his sword and cried, "Would I and my men had been there!" or those Western cowboys, so the story runs, bred in illiteracy and irreligion, to whose children a school-teacher had given an account of the same great events, and who rode up to the schoolhouse the next day with guns and ropes, and asked: "Which way did them blamed Jews go?"
The medicine-man lies low; may himself profess acceptance of the new teaching, may even really accept it (for it is very hard, indeed, to follow and judge all the mental processes of an Indian)—yes, though it expressly sweep all his devils away, out of the sick, out of the wind and storm, from off every grave mound, though it leave him no paltry net-tearing or trap-springing sprite to work upon with his conjurations; yet the old superstition dies hard, often crops up when one had thought it perished, and even sometimes maintains itself, sub rosa, side by side with definite, regular Christian worship.
[Sidenote: THE OLD, OLD STORY]
The arctic explorer Stefanson, a careful and acute observer who has had exceptional opportunities for observation of the intimate life of the Esquimaux, has written much lately of the grafting of Christianity upon native superstition and the existence of both together, as though it were some new thing or newly noticed by himself. Yet every one familiar with the history of Christianity knows that it has characterised the progress of religion in all ages. There was never a people yet that did not in great measure do this thing, nor is it reasonable to suppose that it could have been otherwise. It is impossible to make a tabula rasa of men's minds. It is impossible to uproot customs of immemorial antiquity without leaving some rootlets behind. And what is acquired joins itself insensibly to what is retained, and either the incongruity is hidden beneath a change of nomenclature or is not hidden at all. Our own social life is threaded through and through with customs and practices which go back to a superstitious origin. The matter is such a commonplace of history that it is bootless to labour it here.
A scientist is only a "scientist." How that name tends continually to depreciate itself as the pursuit of physical science is divorced more and more completely from a knowledge of literature, from a knowledge of the humanities! And a scientist is a poor guide to an acquaintance with man, civilised or uncivilised. To come to the study of any race of man, even the most primitive, without some knowledge of all the long history of man, of all the long history of man's thought, man's methods, man's strivings, man's accomplishments, man's failures, is to come so ill equipped that no just conclusions are likely to be reached. Your exclusive "scientist"—and such are most of them to-day—may be competent to deal with circles and triangles, with wheels and levers with cells and glands, with germs and bacilli and micro-organisms generally, with magnetos and dynamos, with all the heavenly host if you like, but he has no equipment to deal with man! Somatic anthropology in particular tends to assume in some quarters such an overimportance that one falls back upon the recollection that the original head measurers were hatters and that all hatters are proverbially mad. The occupation would seem to carry the taint.
It was with much pleasure that I was able to hold out hope to Chief Isaac of the mission and the school he desired so earnestly for his people. It must not be supposed that all of them were in the completely unevangelised state which has been dwelt upon, that to all of them the teaching of those two full days was novel; some of them, like the chief himself, had been across to the Yukon long ago and still bore some trace of the early labours of the Church of England missionaries to whom this region of Alaska that adjoins Canada is so much indebted. Others had once been to the Ketchumstock, upon the occasion of a visit from our missionary at Eagle, and had received instruction from him. But there were many present in that tent who had never seen any missionary, never had any teaching, to whom it was wholly new save as they might have picked up some inkling from those that had been more fortunate.
[Sidenote: TRIBAL CONNECTIONS]
When we left this encampment Isaac sent two of his young men to guide us, with a sled drawn by three or four small dogs, so gaily caparisoned with tapis and ribbons, tinsel, and pompons, that they might have been circus dogs. Here again is evidence of this tribe's affinity with the upper Yukon natives, and so with those of the Mackenzie. I never saw the tapis, a broad, bright ornamented cloth that lies upon the dog's back under his harness, on the Middle Yukon. It is characteristic of the Peel River Indians who come across by the Rampart House and La Pierre House.
A few hours' journey brought us to the Tanana River again, which we crossed, and took a portage on the other side that went up a long defile and then along a ridge and then down another long defile until at night we reached the native village at Lake Mansfield; a picturesque spot, for the lake is entirely surrounded by mountains except on the side which opens to the river. Here the Alaskan range and the Tanana River have approached so close that the water almost washes the base of the foot-hills, and the scenery is as fine and bold as any in Alaska. And here, at Lake Mansfield, if only there were navigable connection between the lake and the river into which it drains, would be an admirable place for a mission station.
A couple of hours next day took us the seven remaining miles to the Tanana Crossing. Here, at that time, was a station of the military telegraph connecting Valdez on the coast with Fort Egbert (Eagle) on the Yukon, a line maintained, at enormous expense, purely for military purposes. It passed through an almost entirely uninhabited country in which perhaps scarcely a dozen messages would originate in a year. The telegraph-line and Fort Egbert itself are now abandoned. Strategic considerations constitute a vague and variable quantity.
It was strange to find this little station with two or three men of the signal-corps away out here in the wilderness. Their post was supplied by mule pack-train from Fort Egbert, more than two hundred miles away, and they told me that only ten pounds out of every hundred that left Fort Egbert reached the Crossing, so self-limited is a pack-train through such country. We amused ourselves calculating just how much farther mules and men could go until they ate up all they could carry.
The Tanana Crossing is a central spot for the Indians of this region. Two days' journey up the river was the village of the Tetlin Indians. Two days' journey into the mountain range were the Mantasta Indians. Two days' journey across towards the Yukon were the Ketchumstock Indians. Most of them would congregate at this spot for certain parts of the year, should we plant a mission there, and despite the picturesque situation of Lake Mansfield, it looked as if the Crossing were the best point for building.
[Sidenote: THE TANANA CROSSING]
Our route lay northeast, across country to Fortymile on the Yukon, two hundred and fifty miles away, along the trail for the greater part of the distance by which the mule train reached the Tanana Crossing. The first five miles was all up-hill, a long, stiff, steady climb to the crest of the mountain that rises just behind the Crossing. We had to take it slowly, with frequent stops, so steep was the grade, and every now and then we got tantalising glimpses through the timber of the scene that spread wider and wider below us. Bend after bend of the Tanana River unfolded itself; the Alaskan range gave peak after peak; there lay Lake Mansfield, deep in its amphitheatre of hills, with the Indian village at its head.
At last my impatience for the view that promised made me leave the boys (we still had Isaac's young men) and push on alone to the top. And it was indeed by far the noblest view of the winter, one of the grandest and most extensive panoramas I had ever seen in my life.
Perhaps three miles away, as the crow flies, from the river, and seventeen hundred and fifty feet above it, as the aneroid gave it, we were already on the watershed, and everywhere in the direction we were travelling the wide-flung draws and gullies of the Fortymile River stretched out, so clear and beautiful a display of the beginnings of a great drainage system that my attention was arrested, notwithstanding my eagerness for the sight that awaited my turning around. But it was upon turning around and looking in the direction from which we had come that the grandeur and sublimity entered into the scene. There was, indeed, no one great dominating feature in this prospect as in the view of Denali from the Rampart portage, but the whole background, bounding the vision completely, was one vast wall of lofty white peaks, stretching without a break for a hundred miles. Enormous cloud masses rose and fell about this barrier, now unfolding to reveal dark chasms and glittering glaciers, now enshrouding them again. In the middle distance the Tanana River wound and twisted its firm white line amidst broken patches of snow and timber far away to either hand, and, where glacial affluents discharged into it, were finer, threadlike lines that marked the many mouths. The thick spruce mantling the slope in the foreground gave a sombre contrast to the fields of snow, and the yellow March sunshine was poured over all the wide landscape save where the great clouds contended with the great mountains.
The boys had stopped to build a fire and brew some tea before leaving the timber, and I was glad of it, for it gave me the chance to gaze my fill upon the inspiring and fascinating scene in the pleasant warmth of the mountain top, with the thermometer at 30 deg. in the shade and just 12 deg. higher in the sunshine.
[Sidenote: A NOBLE VIEW]
How grateful I was for the clear bright day! What a disappointment it has been again and again to reach such an eminence and see—nothing! It was the most extensive view of the great Alaskan range I had ever secured—that long line of sharp peaks that stretches and broadens from the coast inland until it culminates in the highest point of the North American continent and then curves its way back to the coast again. Of course, what lay here within the vision was only a small part of one arm of the range; it stopped far short of Denali on the one hand and Mount Sanford on the other, though it included Mount Kimball and Mount Hayes; yet it was the most impressive sight of a mountain chain I had ever beheld. It was a sight to be glad and grateful for, to put high amongst one's joyful remembrances; and with this notable sight we bade farewell to the Tanana valley.