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Ten Thousand Miles with a Dog Sled - A Narrative of Winter Travel in Interior Alaska
by Hudson Stuck
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For a full hour, until it was impossible to stand gazing any longer for the cold, the fascinating display was watched, and how much longer it continued cannot be said. It was a grand general aurora, high in the heavens, not vividly coloured save for the prismatic fringes, but of brilliant illumination, and remarkable amongst all the auroras observed since for its sudden changes and startling climaxes. Draped auroras are common in this country, though it has been wrongly stated that they are only seen near open seas, but their undulations are generally more deliberate and their character maintained; this one flashed on and off and changed its nature as though some finger were pressing buttons that controlled the electrical discharges of the universe. Yet it was noticed that even in its brightest moments the light of the stars could be seen through it.

[Sidenote: A LOCAL AURORA]

The next aurora to be described was of a totally different kind. It occurred on the 18th of March, 1905. The writer, with an Indian attendant, was travelling on the Koyukuk River from Coldfoot to Bettles, and, owing to a heavy, drifted trail, night had fallen while yet the road-house was far away. There was no moon and the wind-swept trail was wholly indistinguishable from the surrounding snow, yet to keep on the trail was the only chance of going forward at all, for whenever the toboggan slid off into the deep, soft snow it came to a standstill and had to be dragged laboriously back again. A good leader would have kept the trail, but we had none such amongst our dogs that year. Thus, slowly, we went along in the dark, continually missing the trail on this side and on that. We did not know on which bank of the river the road-house was situated, for it was our first journey in those parts. We only knew the trail would take us there could we follow it. All at once a light burst forth, seemingly not a hundred yards above our heads, that lit up that trail like a search-light and threw our shadows black upon the snow. There was nothing faint and fluorescent about that aurora; it burned and gleamed like magnesium wire. And by its light we were able to see our path distinctly and to make good time along it, until in a mile or two we were gladdened by the sight of the candle shining in the window of the road-house and were safe for the night.

Now, one does not really know that this was an aurora at all, save that there was nothing else it could have been. It was a phenomenon altogether apart from the one first described; not occupying the vault of heaven, streaming from horizon to zenith; not remote and majestic. There was really little opportunity to observe it at all; one's eyes were fixed upon the trail it illumined, anxious not to set foot to the right or left. Save for an occasional glance upward, we saw only its reflected light upon the white expanse beneath. It was simply a streak of light right above our heads, holding steadily in position, though fluctuating a little in strength—a light to light us home, that is what it was to us. And it was the most surprising and opportune example of what has been referred to here as the local aurora that eight winters have afforded. The most opportune but not the most beautiful; the next to be described, though of the local order, was the most striking and beautiful manifestation of the Northern Lights the writer has ever seen. It was that rare and lovely thing—a coloured aurora—all of one rich deep tint.

[Sidenote: A RED AURORA]

It was on the 11th of March, 1907, on the Chandalar River, a day's march above the gap by which that stream enters the Yukon Flats and five days north of Fort Yukon. A new "strike" had been made on the Chandalar, and a new town, "Caro," established;—abandoned since. All day long we had been troubled and hindered by overflow water on the ice, saturating the snow, an unpleasant feature for which this stream is noted; and when night fell and we thought we ought to be approaching the town, it seemed yet unaccountably far off. At last, in the darkness, we came to a creek that we decided must surely be Flat Creek, near the mouth of which the new settlement stood; and at the same time we came to overflow water so deep that it covered both ice and snow and looked dangerous. So the dogs were halted while the Indian boy went ahead cautiously to see if the town were not just around the bend, and the writer sat down, tired, on the sled. While sitting there, all at once, from the top of the mountainous bluff that marked the mouth of the creek, a clear red light sprang up and spread out across the sky, dyeing the snow and gleaming in the water, lighting up all the river valley from mountain to mountain with a most beautiful carmine of the utmost intensity and depth. In wave after wave it came, growing brighter and brighter, as though some gigantic hand on that mountain top were flinging out the liquid radiance into the night. There was no suggestion of any other colour, it was all pure carmine, and it seemed to accumulate in mid-air until all the landscape was bathed in its effulgence. And then it gradually died away. The native boy was gone just half an hour. It began about five minutes after he left and ended about five minutes before he returned, so that its whole duration was twenty minutes. There had been no aurora at all before; there was nothing after, for his quest had been fruitless, and, since we would not venture that water in the dark, we made our camp on the bank and were thus two hours or more yet in the open. The boy had stopped to look at it himself, "long time," as he said, and declared it was the only red aurora he had ever seen in his twenty odd years' life. It was a very rare and beautiful sight, and it was hard to resist that impression of a gigantic hand flinging liquid red fire from the mountain top into the sky. Its source seemed no higher than the mountain top—seemed to be the mountain top itself—and its extent seemed confined within the river valley.

[Sidenote: A GRAND GENERAL DISPLAY]

There is only one other that shall be described, although there are many mentioned with more or less particularity in the diaries of these travels. And this last one is of the character of the first and not at all of the second and third, for it was on the grand scale, filling all the heavens, a phenomenon, one is convinced, of an order distinct and different from the local, near-at-hand kind. There was exceptionally good opportunity for observing this display, since it occurred during an all-night journey, the night of the 6th of April, 1912, with brilliant starlight but no moon while we were hastening to reach Eagle for Easter.

We had made a new traverse from the Tanana to the Yukon, through two hundred miles of uninhabited country, and had missed the head of the creek that would have taken us to the latter river in thirty miles, dropping into one that meandered for upward of a hundred before it discharged into the great river. It was one o'clock on Good Friday morning when we reached a road-house on the Yukon eighty miles from Eagle. The only chance to keep the appointment was to travel all the two remaining nights. So we cached almost all our load at the road-house, for we should retrace our steps when Eagle was visited, and thus were able to travel fast.

Both nights were marked by fine auroral displays, so extensive and of such apparent height as to give the impression that they must be visible over large areas of the earth. Both continued all night long and were of the same general description, but the second night's display was emphasised in its main features and elaborated in its detail, and was the more striking and notable and worthy of description.

It began by an exquisite and delicate weaving of fine, fluorescent filaments of light in and out among the stars, until at times a perfect network was formed, like lace amidst diamonds, first in one quarter of the heavens, then in another, then stretching and weaving its web right across the sky. The Yukon runs roughly north and south in these reaches, and the general trend of the whole display was parallel with the river's course. For an hour or more the ceaseless extension and looping of these infinitely elastic threads of light went on, with constant variation in their brilliance but no change in their form and never an instant's cessation of motion.



Then the familiar feature of the draped aurora was introduced, always a beautiful sight to watch. Slowly and most gracefully issued out of the north band after band, band after band of pale-green fire, each curling and recurling on itself like the ribbon that carries the motto under a shield of arms, and each continually fraying out its lower edge into subdued rainbow tints. Then these bands, never for a moment still, were gathered up together to the zenith, till from almost all round the horizon vibrant meridians of light stretched up to a crown of glory almost but not quite directly overhead, so bright that all the waving bands that now assumed more the appearance of its rays paled before it. Then the crown began to revolve, and as it revolved with constantly increasing speed, it gathered all its rays into one gigantic spiral that travelled as it spun towards the east until all form was dissipated in a nebulous mist that withdrew behind the mountains and glowered there like a dawn and left the skies void of all light save the stars. It was a fine instance of the stupendous sportiveness of the aurora that sometimes seems to have no more law or rule than the gambolling of a kitten, and to build up splendid and majestic effects merely to "whelm them all in wantonness" a moment later. A particularly fine and striking phase of an aurora is very likely to be followed by some such sudden whimsical destruction. It was as though that light hidden behind the mountains were mocking us.

Then from out the north again appeared one clear belt of light that stretched rapidly and steadily all across the heavens until it formed an arch that stood there stationary. And from that motionless arch, the only motionless manifestation that whole night, there came a gradual superb crescendo of light that lit the wide, white river basin from mountain top to mountain top and threw the shadows of the dogs and the sled sharper and blacker upon the snow,—and in the very moment of its climax was gone again utterly while yet the exclamations of wonder were on our lips. It was as though, piqued at our admiration, the aurora had wiped itself out; and often and often there is precisely that impression of wilfulness about it.

All night long the splendour kept up, and all night long, as the dogs went at a good clip and one of us rode while the other was at the sled's handle-bars, we gazed and marvelled at its infinite variety, at its astonishing fertility of effect, at its whimsical vagaries, until the true dawn of Easter swallowed up the beauty of the night as we came in sight of Eagle. And we wondered with what more lavish advertisement the dawn of the first Easter was heralded into the waste places of the snow.

[Sidenote: SOUND AND SMELL]

There are men in Alaska, whose statements demand every respect, who claim to have heard frequently and unmistakably a swishing sound accompanying the movements of the aurora, and there are some who claim to have detected an odour accompanying it. Without venturing any opinion on the subject in general, the writer would simply say that, though he thinks he possesses as good ears and as good a nose as most people, he has never heard any sound or smelled any odour that he believed to come from the Northern Lights. Indeed, he has often felt that with all the light-producing energy and with all the rapid movement of the aurora it was mysterious that there should be absolutely no sound. The aurora often looks as if it ought to swish, but to his ears it has never done it; so much phosphorescent light might naturally be accompanied by some chemical odour, but to his nostrils never has been.

Queer, uncertain noises in the silence of an arctic night there often are—noises of crackling twigs, perhaps, noises of settling snow, noises in the ice itself—but they are to be heard when there is no aurora as well as when there is. It is rare to stand on the banks of the Yukon on a cold night and not hear some faint crepitating sounds, sometimes running back and forth across the frozen river, sometimes resembling the ring of distant skates. Without offering any pronouncement upon what is a very interesting question, it seems to the writer possible that, to an ear intently listening, some such noise coinciding with a decided movement of a great auroral streamer might seem to be caused by the movement it happened to accompany.



CHAPTER XIV

THE ALASKAN DOGS

[Sidenote: MALAMUTE, HUSKY, AND SIWASH]

THERE are two breeds of native dogs in Alaska, and a third that is usually spoken of as such. The malamute is the Esquimau dog; and what for want of a better name is called the "Siwash" is the Indian dog. Many years ago the Hudson Bay voyageurs bred some selected strains of imported dog with the Indian dogs of those parts, or else did no more than carefully select the best individuals of the native species and bred from them exclusively—it is variously stated—and that is the accepted origin of the "husky." The malamute and the husky are the two chief sources of the white man's dog teams, though cross-breeding with setters and pointers, hounds of various sorts, mastiffs, Saint Bernards, and Newfoundlands has resulted in a general admixture of breeds, so that the work dogs of Alaska are an heterogeneous lot to-day. It should also be stated that the terms "malamute" and "husky" are very generally confused and often used interchangeably.

The malamute, the Alaskan Esquimau dog, is precisely the same dog as that found amongst the natives of Baffin's Bay and Greenland. Knud Rasmunsen and Amundsen together have established the oneness of the Esquimaux from the east coast of Greenland all round to Saint Michael; they are one people, speaking virtually one language. And the malamute dog is one dog. A photograph that Admiral Peary prints of one of the Smith Sound dogs that pulled his sled to the North Pole would pass for a photograph of one of the present writer's team, bred on the Koyukuk River, the parents coming from Kotzebue Sound.

There was never animal better adapted to environment than the malamute dog. His coat, while it is not fluffy, nor the hair long, is yet so dense and heavy that it affords him a perfect protection against the utmost severity of cold. His feet are tough and clean, and do not readily accumulate snow between the toes and therefore do not easily get sore—which is the great drawback of nearly all "outside" dogs and their mixed progeny. He is hardy and thrifty and does well on less food than the mixed breeds; and, despite Peary to the contrary, he will eat anything. "He will not eat anything but meat," says Peary; "I have tried and I know." No dog accustomed to a flesh diet willingly leaves it for other food; the dog is a carnivorous animal. But hunger will whet his appetite for anything that his bowels can digest. "Muk," the counterpart of Peary's "King Malamute," has thriven for years on his daily ration of dried fish, tallow, and rice, and eats biscuits and doughnuts whenever he can get them. The malamute is affectionate and faithful and likes to be made a pet of, but he is very jealous and an incorrigible fighter. He has little of the fawning submissiveness of pet dogs "outside," but is independent and self-willed and apt to make a troublesome pet. However, pets that give little trouble seldom give much pleasure.

His comparative shortness of leg makes him somewhat better adapted to the hard, crusted snow of the coast than to the soft snow of the interior, but he is a ceaseless and tireless worker who loves to pull. His prick ears, always erect, his bushy, graceful tail, carried high unless it curl upon the back as is the case with some, his compact coat of silver-grey, his sharp muzzle and black nose and quick narrow eyes give him an air of keenness and alertness that marks him out amongst dogs. When he is in good condition and his coat is taken care of he is a handsome fellow, and he will weigh from seventy-five to eighty-five or ninety pounds.

The husky is a long, rangy dog, with more body and longer legs than the malamute and with a shorter coat. The coat is very thick and dense, however, and furnishes a sufficient protection. A good, spirited husky will carry his tail erect like a malamute, but the ears are not permanently pricked up; they are mobile. He is, perhaps, the general preference amongst dog drivers in the interior, but he has not the graceful distinction of appearance of the malamute.

The "Siwash" dog is the common Indian dog; generally undersized, uncared for, half starved most of the time, and snappish because not handled save with roughness. In general appearance he resembles somewhat a small malamute, though, indeed, nowadays so mixed have breeds become that he may be any cur or mongrel. He is a wonderful little worker, and the loads he will pull are astonishing. Sometimes, with it all, he is an attractive-looking fellow, especially when there has been a good moose or caribou killing and he has gorged upon the refuse and put some flesh upon his bones. And if one will take a little trouble to make friends with him he likes petting as much as any dog. Most Indian dogs "don't sabe white man," and will snap at one's first advances. On the whole, it is far better to let them alone; for, encouraged at all, they are terrible thieves—what hungry creatures are not?—and make all sorts of trouble with one's own team. The pure malamute and the pure husky do not bark at all, they howl; barking is a sure sign of an admixture of other strains.

[Sidenote: DOG BREEDING]

Here it may be worth while to say a few words about the general belief that dogs in Alaska are interbred with wolves. That the dog and the wolf have a common origin there can be no doubt, and that they will interbreed is equally sure, but diligent inquiry on the part of the writer for a number of years, throughout all interior Alaska, amongst whites and natives, has failed to educe one authentic instance of intentional interbreeding, has failed to discover one man who knows of his own knowledge that any living dog is the offspring of such union.

While, therefore, it is not here stated that such cross-breeding has not taken place, or even that it does not take place, yet the author is satisfied that it is a very rare thing, indeed, and that the common stories of dogs that are "half wolf" are fabulous.

Indeed, it seems a rare thing when any sort of pains is taken about the breeding of dogs. In a country where dogs are so important, where they are indispensable for any sort of travel during six or seven months in the year over by far the greater portion of it, one would expect that much attention would be paid to dog breeding; but this is not the case. Here and there a man who takes pride in a team will carefully mate the best available couple and carefully rear their offspring, but for the most part breeding seems left to chance. A team all of malamutes or all of huskies, a matched team of any sort, is the exception, and excites interest and remark.

The market for dogs is so uncertain that it is doubtful if there would be any money in scientific breeding for the trail. When a stampede to new diggings takes place, the price of dogs rises enormously. Any sort of good dog on the spot may be worth a hundred dollars, or a hundred and fifty, and the man with a kennel would make a small fortune out of hand. But at other times it is hard to get twenty-five dollars for the best of dogs.

The cost of maintenance of a dog team is considerable. When the mail-routes went all down the Yukon, and dogs were used exclusively, the contracting company estimated that it cost seventy-five dollars per head per annum to feed its dogs; while to the traveller in remote regions, buying dog feed in small parcels here and there, the cost is not less than one hundred dollars per head. Of course, a man engaged in dog raising would have his own fish-wheel on the Yukon and would catch almost all that his dogs would eat. Fish is plentiful in Alaska; it is transportation that costs. Dogs not working can do very well on straight dried fish, but for the working dog this ration is supplemented by rice and tallow or other cereal and fat; not only because the animal does better on it, but also because straight dried fish is a very bulky food, and weight for weight goes not nearly so far. Cooking for the dogs is troublesome, but economical of weight and bulk, and conserves the vigour of the team. In the summer-time the dogs are still an expense. They must be boarded at some fish camp, at a cost of about five dollars per head per month.

The white man found the dog team in use amongst the natives all over the interior, but he taught the Indian how to drive dogs. The natives had never evolved a "leader." Some fleet stripling always ran ahead, and the dogs followed. The leader, guided by the voice, "geeing" and "hawing," stopping and advancing at the word of command, is a white man's innovation, though now universally adopted by the natives. So is the dog collar. The "Siwash harness" is simply a band that goes round the shoulders and over the breast. In the interior the universal "Siwash" hitch was tandem, and is yet, but as trails have widened and improved, more and more the tendency grows amongst white men to hitch two abreast; and the most convenient rig is a lead line to which each dog is attached independently by a single-tree, either two abreast, or, by adding a further length to the lead line, one behind the other, so that on a narrow trail the tandem rig may be quickly resorted to.

[Sidenote: THE DOCKING OF TAILS]

One advantage of the change from single to double rig is the decay of the cruel custom of "bobbing" the dogs' tails. When dogs are hitched one close behind the other (and the closer the better for pulling) the tail of the dog in front becomes heavy with ice from the condensation of the breath of the dog behind, until not only is he carrying weight but the use of the tail for warmth at night is foregone. So it was the universal practice to cut tails short off. But sleeping out in the open, as travelling dogs often must do, in all sorts of weather, with the thermometer at 50 deg. or 60 deg. below zero sometimes, a thick, bushy tail is a great protection to a dog. With it he covers nose and feet and is tucked up snug and warm. It is the dog's natural protection for the muzzle and the thinly haired extremities. A few years ago almost all work dogs in the interior were bobtailed; now the plumes wave over the teams again.

Five dogs are usually considered the minimum team, and seven dogs make a good team. A good, quick-travelling load for a dog team is fifty pounds to the dog, on ordinary trails. The dogs will pull as much as one hundred pounds apiece or more, but that becomes more like freighting than travelling. On a good level trail with strong big dogs, men sometimes haul two hundred pounds to the dog. These, however, are "gee-pole propositions," in the slang of the trail, and the man is doing hard work with a band around his chest and the pole in his hand. For quick travelling, fifty pounds to the dog is enough.

The most useful "outside" strains that the white man has introduced into the dogs of the interior are the pointer and setter and collie. The bird-dogs themselves make very fast teams and soon adapt themselves to the climate, but their feet will not stand the strain. The collie's intelligence would make him a most admirable leader, did he not have so pronouncedly the faults of his good qualities; he wants to do all the work; he works himself to death. It is the leader's business to keep the team strung out; it is not his business to pull the load. But the admixture of these strains with the native blood has produced some very fine dogs. The Newfoundland and Saint Bernard strains have been perhaps the least successful admixtures. They are too heavy and cumbersome and always have tender feet; their bodies and the bodies of their mongrel progeny are too heavy for their feet.

[Sidenote: DOG LOYALTY]

The last statement, with regard to Newfoundland and Saint Bernard dogs, has an interesting exception. There is a dog, not uncommon in Alaska, that by a curious inversion of phrase is known as the "one-man-dog." What is meant is the "one-dog-man dog," the dog that belongs to the man that uses only one dog. Many and many a prospector pulls his whole winter grub-stake a hundred miles or more into the hills with the aid of one dog. His progress is slow, in bad places or on up grades he must relay, and all the time he is doing more work than the dog is, but he manages to get his stuff to his cabin or his camp with no other aid than one dog can give. It is usually a large heavy dog—speed never being asked of him, nor steady continuous winter work—often of one of the breeds mentioned, or of its predominant strain. The companionship between such a man and such a dog is very close, and the understanding complete. Sometimes the dog will be his master's sole society for the whole winter.

Indeed, any man of feeling who spends the winters with a dog team must grow to a deep sympathy with the animals, and to a keen, sometimes almost a poignant, sense of what he owes to them. There is a mystery about domestic animals of whatever kind. It is a mystery that man should be able to impose his will upon them, change their habits and characters, constrain them to his tasks, take up all their lives with unnatural toil. And that he should get affection and devotion in return makes the mystery yet more mysterious.

The dog gets his food—often of poor quality and scant quantity—and that is all he gets. Yet the life of a work dog that has a kind and considerate master is not an unhappy one. The dog is as full of the canine joy of life as though he had never worn a collar, and not only sports and gambols when free, but really seems to like his work and do it gladly. He will chafe at inaction; he will come eagerly to the harness in the morning; often will come before he is called and ask to be harnessed; and if for any reason—lameness or galled neck or sore feet—a dog is cut out of the team temporarily, to run loose, he will try at every chance to get back into his place and will often attack the dog that seems to him to be occupying it; while a dog left behind will howl most piteously and make desperate efforts to break his chain and rejoin his companions and his labour. And the wonderful and pitiful thing about it is that no sort of severity or brutality on his master's part will destroy that zealous allegiance. The dog in Alaska is absolutely dependent upon man for subsistence, and he seems to realise it.

There is a great deal of cruelty and brutality amongst dog drivers in Alaska. At times, it is true, most dogs need some punishment. Dogs differ as much as men do, and some are lazy and some are self-willed. The best of them will develop bad trail habits if they are allowed to—habits which will prove hard to break by and by and be a continual source of delay and annoyance until broken. But a very slight punishment, judicially administered at the moment, will usually suffice just as well as a severe one, and the main source of brutality in the punishment of dogs is sheer bad temper on the part of the driver, and has for its only possible end, not the correction of the animal's fault but the satisfaction of its owner's rage. To see some hulking, passionate brute lashing a poor little dog with a chain, or beating him with a club; to see dogs overworked to utter exhaustion and their lagging steps still hastened by a rain of blows, these are the sickening sights of the trail—and they are not uncommon. The language of most dog drivers to their dogs consists of a mixture of cursing and ribaldry, excused by the statement that only by the use of such speech may dogs be driven at all. But there is little point in the excuse; such speech is, to an extent not far from universal, the speech of the country. Swedes who have little and Indians who have none other English will yet be volubly profane and obscene; in the latter case often with complete ignorance of the meaning of the terms. Yet it must be recorded not ungratefully by the impartial observer that the rare presence of a decent woman or a clergyman will almost always put a check upon blackguardly speech, even that of a dog driver; women and clergymen being supposed the only two classes who could have any possible objection to foulness of mouth. To refer continually to the excrements of the body, to sexual commerce, natural and unnatural, all in the grossest terms, and to mix these matters intimately with the sacred names, is "manly" speech amongst a large part of the population of Alaska.

* * * * *

[Sidenote: REINDEER]

[Sidenote: REINDEER AS DRAUGHT ANIMALS]

It has been claimed with justice that the introduction of the reindeer into Alaska has been highly successful; yet there is much misconception amongst people "outside" as to the nature of that success. Stimulated by the example of the United States Government, and urged thereto by Doctor Wilfred Grenfell and others, the Canadian Government is now introducing reindeer into Labrador; and the distinguished missionary physician, whose recent decoration gives lustre to the royal bestower as well as to the recipient, has publicly announced his hope that these domesticated herbivora will "eliminate that scourge of the country, the husky dog." To announce such a hope, based upon any results in Alaska, is to announce misconception of the nature of the success which has attended Doctor Sheldon Jackson's "reindeer experiment." There is not a dog the less in Alaska because of the reindeer, nor ever will be; in so far as similarity of conditions warrant us in expecting similar results, it is safe to predict that the reindeer will never "eliminate the husky dog" in Labrador.

But before discussing the success of the reindeer experiment and its lack of any bearing upon the number or the usefulness of the dog, the writer would pause to take strong exception to the description of the husky dog as the "scourge" of Labrador, and would insist that any such wholesale condemnation is a boomerang that returns upon the head of the Labradorian who uses it. For, as the dog is one of the most adaptable of all domestic animals, and is, to an amazing extent, what his master makes him, to bring a railing accusation against the whole race of dogs is in reality to accuse those who breed and rear them.

Why should the dog have richly earned the gratitude and affection of all the world except Labrador? Why should he be called the "Friend of Man" everywhere except amongst these particular people? Far to the north of them the Esquimaux prize and cherish their dogs. Throughout the whole wide region to the west and northwest of them the dog is man's indispensable ally and faithful servant. The same husky dog has made good his claim upon man in Alaska. It is he and his brother, the malamute, that have opened up Alaska so far as it has been opened; without whom to-day the development of the country would suddenly cease. And to the question that is often asked "outside," as to whether the Alaskan dog is not a savage beast, it is justly replied: "Not unless he happens to belong to a savage beast." Is it really otherwise anywhere? Instead of the reindeer eliminating the dog, there is far greater likelihood of the dog eliminating the reindeer; and the professed dog lover, indignant at the opprobrious term applied to a whole race of dogs, may be disposed to echo Lady Macbeth's wish: "May good digestion wait on appetite."

So far as substituting another draught animal for the dog is concerned, if the whole equine tribe, even down to Manchurian ponies should for some strange reason be out of the question, the Canadian Government had better import the polar ox or the yak. It is only amongst a nomadic people, whose main quest is pasturage, that the reindeer is a satisfactory draught animal. When introduced into Alaska there was doubtless expectation that he would be generally useful in this capacity. For a while certain mail-routes on the Seward Peninsula were served by him, and here and there a deluded prospector put his grub-stake on a reindeer sled. It is safe to say that no reindeer are so employed to-day. They were soon abandoned on the mail trails, and the prospector, after one season's experience, slaughtered his reindeer and traded its meat and hide for a couple of dogs.

Consider that the reindeer feeds upon one thing alone, the moss that is named after him, and that while this moss is very widely distributed indeed, throughout Alaska, it is not found at all in the river valleys or the forests, but only upon the treeless hills at considerable elevation. Now the rivers are the highways. It is on their frozen surface, or on "portage" trails through the woods, that the greater part of all travelling is done and, in particular, that established routes of regular communication are maintained. To leave the trail after a day's journey, to wander miles into the hills, to herd the deer while they browse from slope to slope, digging the snow away in search of their provender, is wholly incompatible with any sustained or regular travel. The reindeer is a timid and almost defenceless creature. Wolves and lynxes prey upon him. One lynx is thought to have killed upward of twenty head in one season out of the herd that was stationed at Tanana, leaping upon the backs of the creatures, cutting their throats, sucking their blood, and riding them until they dropped and died. A few dogs will soon work havoc in a herd. So the reindeer must be constantly protected and at the same time must have range over a considerable scope of country. The care of reindeer is a business in itself, not a mere detail of the business of transportation or travel.

[Sidenote: DOG FOOD]

On the other hand, the dog's ration for many days is carried on the sled he hauls. There is a definite limit to it, of course, and knowledge of this limit made every experienced dog driver incredulous, from the first, of Doctor Cook's claim to have travelled some eleven hundred miles, from Etah to the North Pole and back, with a team of dogs hauling their own food. It is possible, however, on fair trails, with rigid economy, to travel five hundred miles and haul dog food and man food and the other indispensables of a long journey; and that is twice as far as it is ever necessary to travel in the interior of Alaska without reaching a supply point, the northern slope to the Arctic Ocean excepted.

Perhaps it would be putting it better to say that a team of seven dogs can haul their own and their driver's food and the camp equipment, all, of course, carefully reduced to a minimum, for a month. Dog food of one sort or another can be bought at any place where anything whatever is sold. Almost any Indian village will furnish dried fish, and it is often possible, with no other weapon than a .22 rifle, to feed dogs largely on the country through which they pass. The writer's team has had many a meal of ptarmigan, rabbits, quail, and spruce hen, while to enumerate other articles, on which at times and in stress for proper food, his dogs have sustained life and strength for travel, would be to enumerate all the common human comestibles. Aside from the usual ration of fish, tallow, and rice boiled together, corn-meal, beans, flour, oatmeal, sago (though that is poor stuff), tapioca, canned meats of all kinds, canned salmon, even canned kippered herring from Scotland, seal oil, seal and whale flesh, ham and bacon, horse flesh, moose and caribou and mountain-sheep flesh, canned "Boston brown bread," canned butter, canned milk, dried apples, sugar, cheese, crackers of all kinds, and a score of other matters have at times entered into their food. Dogs have been "tided over" tight places for days and days on horse oats boiled with tallow candles, working the while. Anything that a man can eat, and much that even a starving man would scarcely eat, will make food for dogs. At the last and worst, dog can be fed to dog and even to man. When a dog team reaches a mining camp where supplies of all sorts are scarce—and that is not an uncommon experience—it is sometimes an exceedingly expensive matter to feed it; but something can always be found that will serve to keep it going until the return to a better-stocked region. In the winter of 1910-11, when there was such scarcity in the Iditarod, it cost the writer thirty-nine dollars and fifty cents to feed seven dogs for a week, and he has more than once been at almost a similar charge in the Koyukuk. But in all his travels he has never yet been unable to procure some sort of food for his dogs. At times they have been fed for days on rabbits straight; at times on ptarmigan straight.

[Sidenote: THE REINDEER'S USEFULNESS]

Speaking broadly, the reindeer is a stupid, unwieldy, and intractable brute, not comparing for a moment with the dog in intelligence or adaptability. The common notion that his name is derived from the use of reins in driving him, thus putting him in the class with the horse, is a mistake; the word comes from a Norse root which refers to his moss-browsing habit. The "rein" with which he is driven is a rope tied around one of his horns. He has no cognisance of "gee" and "haw," nor of any other vocal direction, but must be yanked hither and thither with the rope by main force; while to stop him in his mad career, once he is started, it is often necessary to throw him with the rope. In Lapland there are doubtless individual deer better trained; the Lap herders tell of them with pride; but in the main this is a just description of reindeer handling. All the chief herders in Alaska are Laps, brought over for their knowledge of the animals, and the writer has repeatedly ridden behind some of their best deer.

Wherein, then, lies the success of the reindeer experiment in Alaska? Chiefly in the provision of a regular meat supply by which the natives and whites in the vicinity of a herd are relieved from the precariousness of the chase or the rapacity of the cold-storage butcher company. The Esquimau, having served his allotted apprenticeship of five years and entered upon possession of a herd, can at any time kill and dress a "kid of the flock" for his family or for the market. The price of butcher's meat has been kept down all over the Seward Peninsula by the competition of the numerous reindeer herds, to the comfort of the population and the exasperation of the butcher company, and many an Esquimau has become passably rich. The skin of the animal also furnishes a warm and much-needed material for clothing and finds a ready sale at a good price.

This success is, however, confined so far to the coast. The herds have not thriven in the interior and have now all been withdrawn to the coast. Beasts of prey killed them; a hoof disease destroyed many; others are supposed to have died from eating some poisonous fungus. In five or six years the herd at Tanana had not increased at all, but rather diminished, and the same is true of the other herds on the Yukon. The Indian, moreover, does not take to herding as the Esquimau does, and can hardly be induced to the segregation of himself and his family from his tribe which reindeer herding involves. The "apprentices" on the Yukon were nearly all of them Esquimaux from the coast.

It may be that the salt of the coast region is essential to the well-being of the reindeer; it is not so with the caribou—and the reindeer is nothing but a domesticated caribou—many herds of which, in the interior of Alaska, never visit the coast at all; but all caribou herds have their salt-licks, and one wishes that the oft-recommended plan of furnishing salt for the herds in the interior had been adopted by the government for a season before their removal was determined upon.

Like most other "resources" of Alaska, the imported reindeer, at first decried and ridiculed, has now become the slender foundation for extravagant speculations of prosperity. The "millions of acres waiting for the plough" in the interior have lately been supplemented in this visionary treasury by the capitalisation of the vast tundras of the coast, the golden wheat-fields of the one finding counterpart in the multitudinous herds of the other. The growing dearth of cattle-range in the United States offers, it seems, to Alaska the opportunity of supplying the American market with meat, and the kindling fancy of the enthusiastic "booster" sees trains loaded with frozen reindeer meat rolling into Chicago.

While the reindeer will never supersede the dog as a draught animal anywhere, the horse is rapidly superseding him on good trails in the more settled and peopled regions. In the Fairbanks and Nome districts, in the Circle and Koyukuk districts, in the Fortymile and in the Iditarod—in all districts where any extensive mining is carried on—heavy freights are moved by horses, and this tendency will doubtless increase rather than diminish. The dog team cannot compete with the horse team when it comes to moving heavy loads over good trails. The grain that the horse eats is imported, and in the main will probably always be imported, but oats cut green and properly cared for make excellent fodder, and the native hay, while not nearly as nutritious as the imported timothy, will sufficiently supplement grain.

We hear a great deal nowadays of the benefits which are to come to Alaska from the railroad which the United States is expected to build from tide-water to the Yukon, and the clamorous voices of the journalist and the professional promoter and politician, which seem the only voices which ever reach the ear of government, are insistent that this is the one great thing that will bring prosperity to the country. Yet the writer is confident that he expresses almost the unanimous opinion of those who live in the country, outside of the classes mentioned, when he says that if the amount of money which this railroad will cost were expended upon good highways and trails the benefit would be much greater. It is means of intercommunication between the various parts of the country that is the great need of Alaska; some of its most promising sections are almost inaccessible now or accessible only at great trouble and expense. Access to the country itself, for the introduction of merchandise, is furnished easily enough during three or four months of the year by its incomparable system of waterways. Good highways, well engineered and well maintained, over which horse teams could be used summer and winter, would remove much of what at present is the almost prohibitive cost of distributing that merchandise from river points. Such roads would give an enormous stimulus to prospecting, and would render it possible to work gold placers all over the country that are of too low grade to be worked at the present rates of transportation. A really good highway from Valdez to Fairbanks and the making of the long-ago begun Valdez-Eagle road; a good highway from Fairbanks to the upper Tanana as far as the Nabesna, connecting with the one from the Copper River country and the coast; another from the Yukon into the Koyukuk and the Chandalar; another from Fairbanks into the Kantishna, connecting with one from the lower Kuskokwim and one from the Iditarod; a road from Eagle across the almost unknown region (save for the line of the 141st meridian) between the Yukon and the Porcupine Rivers; two or three roads between the Yukon and the Tanana; a road from the Koyukuk to Kotzebue Sound—these would constitute main arteries of travel and would open up the country as no trunk railroad will ever do. The expense would be great, both of construction and maintenance, but it would probably not be greater than the cost of constructing and maintaining the proposed railroad. Twenty or thirty ordinary freight trains a year would bring in all the goods that Alaska consumes. Before that amount can be very greatly increased there must be a large development of the means by which it is to be distributed throughout the country.

Some day, perhaps, these roads will be made, and the horse, not the dog, will be the draught animal upon them. Yet it would be a rash conclusion that even then the time will be at hand when there will be no longer use for the work dog in Alaska. Away from these main arteries of travel he will still be employed. So long as great part of the land remains a noble arctic wilderness; so long as the prospector strikes farther and farther into the rugged mountains; so long as quick travel over great stretches of country is necessary or desirable; so long as the salmon swarm up the rivers to furnish food for the catching; so long as the Indian moves from fishing camp to village and from village to hunting camp—so long will the dog be hitched to the sled in Alaska; so long will his joyful yelp and his plaintive whine be heard in the land; so long will his warm tongue seek his master's hand, even the hand that strikes him, and his eloquent eyes speak his utter allegiance.



INDEX



INDEX

Agriculture, 228, 229, 230, 231, 367

Alarm-clocks, 304

Alatna River, 70

Albert the pilot, 60

Allakaket, 190-195

Alphabet, 69

Amundsen, 292, 392

Animals, wild, 257, 276, 277, 298, 405

Anthropologists, 270

Arctic Ocean, 97, 98

Army posts: economic value, 151 discipline and life, 217 frequent changes, 217 surgeons, 218

Arthur, 158, 163

Athabascan language, 349

Atler, 170, 171

Auroras, 46, 380-391

Baker Creek Springs, 155

Bathing, 85

Beaver City, 345

Bering Sea, 129

Betticher, C. E., 254

Bettles, 54, 56, 63

Black fox, 258, 362

Blizzard, 40

Blossom Cape, 103, 106

Blow-holes, 13

Bluff, 126

Bompas, Bishop, 283

Brook, Alfred, 309

Burke, Dr., 158, 167, 169, 187

Caching, 17, 20, 70, 335

Camp: making details, 41, 42, 43 night made, 91 devices, 243 in wet snow, 302

Camp-Robbers, 335, 299, 300

Candle, 102

Candles, 108, 109

Caribou, 107, 409

Carter, Miss, 184

Chandalar: River, 26, 27, 35 village, 27, 28, 29, 34 Gap, 36, 37

Chatanika River, 4, 6, 8

Chena, 156, 249, 250

Chief Isaac, 263

Chinnik, 127

Choris Peninsula, 106

Circle City, 11, 20, 290

Clearwater Creek, 256

Clothes: drying, 42, 53 moose hide, 202, 203 tuberculosis, 306, 362 missions, 363

Coal, 92, 93

Coldfoot, 47, 48, 49

Cook, Dr., 405

Cooking: camp dishes, 43 cleanliness, 85 bear meat, 168 by relays, 209 for dog, 397

Council, 116

Creepers, 111

Cribbage, 124

Death Valley, 112, 113

Denali (Mt. McKinley), 225, 305

Deputy marshals, 365

Development schemes, 410, 411

Diphtheria, 28, 29, 32, 287, 313

Disease: epidemic, 6; cf. diphtheria, measles, tuberculosis

Dishkaket, 332

Disinfectants, 32

Dogs: price of, 4 frozen toes, 8 sled, 20, 25, 45 beds, 42 food, 44, 407 harness, 45 tails, 45 fight, 93 digging up snow, 110 helpless on smooth ice, 113 conscience, 115 on fish food, 115 with reindeer, 119, 120 refuse to lead, 125 preference for land trails, 129 intelligence, 139, 156; cf. Nanook strength, 174 dislike wet feet, 178 cost of boarding, 181 in trail making, 200 in soft weather, 213 suffering on steep trails, 214 companionship, 223 moccasin leggings, 224 houses, 232, 237 play, 234 intelligence, 234, 237 sleeping, 235 thieving, 236 partners of man, 238 working life, 239 frozen foot, 253 with no coat, 275 and Indians, 291 howling, 303, 304 stray, 320, 321 general characteristics, 392-402 cost of maintenance, 396 ill used by whites, 397

Eagle, 285

Eagle Summit, 10, 11

Education: spread of English, 23, 24 phonograph, 52 scientific, 58 novel methods, 80 ignorance of native language, 81 artificial methods, 131 mission, 132, 355

Egbert Fort, 286

Endicott Mountains, 62

Esquimaux: sense of humour, 51, 87 isolated, 62 huts, 70 as hunters, 75 prayers, 82 music, 82 morality, 83 industry, 86 Sabbatarianism, 88 sense of distance, 91 fish eating, 92 gut windows, 94 devoutness, 95 sleeping customs, 95 undemonstrativeness, 95 igloos, 96 non-alcoholic, 99 tobacco, 99 hospitality, 106 carving, 124 singing, 130 attitude of white men toward, 134 snow goggles, 146 kindly manners, 182 antipathy to Indians, 185, 265 superstitions, 191, 269

Fairbanks, 156, 249, 250, 251, 252, 253, 382

Farthing, Miss, 244, 246, 247, 248

Fish Creek, 297

Forts: Alaskan, 342

Fortymilers, 280

Fortymile River, 281, 282

Gambling, 279

Game, 257, 277, 325, 368, 369, 406

Gold train, 5

Greek Church, 310, 322

Grenfell, Dr., 402

Grimm, Charles, 56

Half-breeds, 315, 316, 318, 319

Hamlin, Fort, 342

Hammond River, 47

Hans, 102, 103, 105

Hip-ring, 226

Hobo, the frozen, 134, 135

Hogatzitna, 76

Horses, 409, 410, 411

Hospitality, cf. Esquimaux and Indians, 49

Hot Springs, 227, 228

Hotham Inlet, 96

Hudson Bay Company, 21, 22

Husky, 392

Ice: glare, 9 rubber, 9, 179, 180 blow-holes, 13 bluffs, 79 mining, 126, 160, 161 jam, 167 breaking, 170 way to determine holding capacity, 179

Iditarod City, 294, 295, 296, 297, 327

Igloo, 96, 106

Indians: civilized, 24 uncivilized, 25 religion, 30 language, 141 trade with, 152, 153 diminishing, 153, 154 disease, 154 relations with whites, 173 dancing and sports, 189 preparation for death, 190 effect of civilization, 192, 193 lack of initiative, 197 demoralization, 216, 278, 279 birth-rate and death-rate, 217, 218 best education for, 245 women teachers, 246, 247 kindliness, 254 traders, 258 hospitality, 261, 303 missions, 263, 279 not savages, 264 fear of Esquimaux, 265 peaceable, 266 not idolators, 267 Christianity, 268, 270 moral character, 285 pauperization, 288, 289 cruelty to dogs, 291 effect of reproof, 292 self-government, 293 whites, 293 epidemics, 308, 312, 313 at mercy of traders, 311 half-breed, 315 and whites, 317, 318 meat carriers, 332 carving, 334 general discussion of, 348-370 and photographs, 378

Interpreters, 154, 155, 186

Jackson, Dr. S., 402

Jade Mountains, 89

Jette, Fr., 140, 141

John River, 62

Journalism, 250

Kikitaruk, 98, 102

Knapp, 100

Kobuk: River, 63, 76 Mountains, 74 missionary, 80 town, 182

Kobuks, 51

Kotzebue, 106, 107 Sound, 63, 97, 102

Koyukuk: River, 39, 40, 48, 52, 65, 384 Canon, 52 deserted towns, 65 Indians, 158, 142 mission, 183

Krusenstern, 97

Kuskokwim River, 322, 323

Lamps, 34

Langdon, Captain, 288

Launch, motor, 158, 159, 160, 161, 163

Lewis Cut-Off, 333

Lingo, 51, 115, 239

London, Jack, 265

Long Beach, 84, 88

Lookout Mountain, 61

Loomis, Dr., 296

Lower ramparts, 219

Lunar: phenomena, 18, 157 eclipse, 78

Lynx, 405

MacDonald, Archdeacon, 22, 23, 30, 31

Magistrates, 364

Mail carrying, 215, 331

Malamute, 392

Mal-de-raquet, 201

Mansfield Lake, 271

Matches, 243

Measles, 312

Medicine men, 246, 247, 267, 268

Melozitna, 209

Menthol balm, 201

Meteorological: phenomena, heat radiation, 55 rain, rare in winter, 134 local weather changes, 144 variable climate in Alaska, 188 cause of fluctuating temperature readings, 195, 196

Minchumina, 307, 308 Lake, 303

Mining: towns and camps, 5, 6, 11, 12, 47, 48, 65, 251, 252 town morality, 83, 84, 328, 354 luxurious life, 108, 122 fires, 116, 330 on beach, 123 in ice, 126 decayed, 221, 222, 223, 284 primitive methods, 281, 282 claims, 295 flimsy buildings, 328 morals, 329 services in, 330 missionaries, 331 agriculture, 366

Mirage, 90

Mission stations: schools, 355, 358 clothing, 363, 369 isolated, 369

Missionary: nurse, 33 methods, 69, 81, 84, 194, 195, 307

Moccasins, 7

Money, 64

Moses' Village, 65, 180

Mountain: sunshine, 61 temperature, 61

Mukluk, 7, 19, 86

Mush, 200, 214

Nanook, 200, 232, 233, 234, 235, 236, 237, 238, 240

Natural religion, 58, 191, 267

Nelson, 161, 162

Nenana, 244, 245

Nicoli's Village, 322

Noatak, 90

Nome, 120, 122, 123

Northern Commercial Company, 241

Norton: Bay, 127 Sound, 117

Nose protection, 87, 145

Noyutak Lake, 76

Nulato, 48, 140 massacre, 142, 143

Old Woman Mountain, 135

One-eyed William, 172, 173, 174

Overflow: water, 6, 7, 27, 37 ice, 9

Paraselene, 57

Parkee, 35, 71

Peary, Admiral, 393

Pedometer, 73

Petersen, 114, 115

Photographing, 241, 242

Photography, 371-379

Place names, 326

Point Hope, 3, 56, 97, 99, 100

Potatoes, 229

Potlatch, 310, 353

Prevost, Jules, 154

Prices, 324, 327, 362 trading, 362, 396, 407

Prospectors: in winter, 78 and Esquimaux, 88 pinching out, 92 ruined, 146 self-reliance, 161, 162 poet, 322 imagination, 326 knowledge of Bible, 328 dogs, 399 visions, 409 railways, 410

Ptarmigan, 325

Quikpak River, 153

Raft, 256

Ragarou, Fr., 147

Railroads, 410, 411

Rampart City, 221, 222, 223, 338, 339

Rasmunsen, 392

Reading matter, 77, 205, 324, 325, 336

Red Mountain, 176

Reindeer, 119, 120, 402, 405, 407, 409

Roadhouse accommodation, 34, 324 gambling, 128 keepers of, 132 talk, 289 poet, 321, 322 reading matter, 324, 325 Arctic travel reminiscences, 335

Roxy, 70, 71, 72, 87, 91, 96, 101

Russian Alaska, 142, 143: Church of, cf. Greek Church

Saint John's-in-the-Wilderness, 188, 195

Salchaket, 254

Scientists, 269, 270

Seasons, 230

Seward Peninsula, 109, 111, 112, 113

Signal corps, 135, 136, 137, 220

Sishwoymina, 309

Siwashing, 41, 67, 138, 392, 394

Slate Creek, 46

Sled: width, 110 brake, 113 overturning, 113, 114 improvised, 164 in soft snow, 166 use of willow saplings, 167, 179 gee pole, 220 convertible rig, 275 unpacking, 345 harness, 397 team, 397 weight carried, 398 dog rations, load, 405

Sleeping bag, 104, 105

Smoke, 54

Snow banners, 39 melting, 42 glasses, 145, 146 blindness, 146, 147, 148, 290

Snow-shoes, 7, 346

Society of Friends, 99

Solar: light, effect on speed-shutters, 374 phenomena, 15, 16, 31, 39, 45, 57, 73, 74, 90, 103, 211

Solomon's, 126

Speed, 17, 20, 60, 75, 91, 96, 97, 110, 130, 198, 199, 299, 337

Squirrel River, 93, 94, 95

Starvation, 184, 185

Stefanson, 88, 268, 269

Summit, 11

Takotna, 323

Tanana, 150, 151, 152, 216, 217, 255, 256, 258, 271, 273, 274, 337, 369 River, 155, 255, 256

Tapis, 271

Telegraph system, 136

Temperature: low, travel, 14 animal life, 16 in river bottoms, 19, 50, 61 effect on lamps, 34 on parts of the body, 36 on log huts, 37 condensation, 53 smoke, 54 clear weather, 55 wind, 57 emotional power, 59 death from freezing, 61, 66, 68 cleanliness, 86 altitude, effect of, 204 greatest cold, effect of, 206 fluctuations, 212 confinement, 215 effect on cameras and films, 372, 374 on emulsions, 376, 377 and auroras, 381 high, 301 effect on dirt roof, 346 on Yukon River, 347

Thermos bottle, 261

Toboggan, 13, 37, 38, 46, 89

Topkok, 117

Town crier, 278

Tozitna, 209, 213

Trader: anti-monopolist, 241 profits, 334 missions, 258 articles sold to Indians, 361

Trading monopoly, 144

Trail: river, 2, 13, 37 dry and wet, 7 mountain, 10, 38 width, 15 lost, 18, 19, 67, 104, 320 blazed, 26 wind-swept, 40 in snow, 72, 138 breaking, 74, 75 exchange, 75 with hard crust, 109 telephone, 118 effect of horses on, 149, 150 cutting, 176 making, 198 always serpentine, 198 staked, 198, 210 widening, 202 stage, 254 double tripping, 298 in soft snow, 301 swampy, 332 Yukon, 336 in gale, 340 "sidling," 341 at night, 344 in thaw, 346, 347 found by aurora, 384

Tsormina, 308

Tuberculosis, 359, 360

Twelve-Mile Summit, 9

Unalaklik, 132

Walter, 314, 321, 336, 341

Whiskey, 153, 222, 363

White, John, 121

Wind: protection against, 35 different local velocities, 37 physical labour, 46 in extreme cold, 57 as a malignant spirit, 112 high velocities, 219 in The Ramparts, 338

Wiseman, 47

Wolf, 395

Yukon, 12, 139, 153, 219, 336, 351 Flats, 12, 13, 343 Fort, 21, 22, 24, 350



* * * * *

Transcriber's Notes:

Obvious punctuation errors repaired.

Page 77, "Bergundy" changed to "Burgundy" (of Burgundy, with)

Page 97, "rouch" changed to "rough" (over the rough ice)

Page 306, sidenote "MINCHUMINA" changed to MINCHUMINA" (THE MINCHUMINA FOLK)

Page 334, "Iditerod" changed to "Iditarod" (Iditarod, now a whole)

Page 361, "satteens" changed to "sateens" (velvets and sateens)

Page 418, "Minchumina" changed to "Minchumina" (Minchumina, 307, 308)

Page 420, "Unalaklik" changed to "Unalaklik" (Unalaklik, 132)

For this text version, the w with the grave accent is denoted by ẃ.

THE END

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