Vikings of the Pacific - The Adventures of the Explorers who Came from the West, Eastward
by Agnes C. Laut
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E-text prepared by Al Haines

Transcriber's note:


The Adventures of the Explorers Who Came from the West, Eastward

Bering, the Dane; the Outlaw Hunters of Russia; Benyowsky, the Polish Pirate; Cook and Vancouver, the English Navigators; Gray of Boston, the Discoverer of the Columbia; Drake, Ledyard, and Other Soldiers of Fortune on the West Coast of America



Author of "Pathfinders of the West," Etc.

[Frontispiece: Seal Rookery, Commander Islands.]

New York The MacMillan Company London: MacMillan & Co., Ltd. 1905 All rights reserved

Copyright, 1905, by the MacMillan Company. Set up and electrotyped. Published December, 1905.



At the very time the early explorers of New France were pressing from the east, westward, a tide of adventure had set across Siberia and the Pacific from the west, eastward. Carrier and Champlain of New France in the east have their counterparts and contemporaries on the Pacific coast of America in Francis Drake, the English pirate on the coast of California, and in Staduchin and Deshneff and other Cossack plunderers of the North Pacific, whose rickety keels first ploughed a furrow over the trackless sea out from Asia. Marquette, Jolliet and La Salle—backed by the prestige of the French government are not unlike the English navigators, Cook and Vancouver, sent out by the English Admiralty. Radisson, privateer and adventurer, might find counterpart on the Pacific coast in either Gray, the discoverer of the Columbia, or Ledyard, whose ill-fated, wildcat plans resulted in the Lewis and Clark expedition. Bering was contemporaneous with La Verendrye; and so the comparison might be carried on between Benyowsky, the Polish pirate of the Pacific, or the Outlaw Hunters of Russia, and the famous buccaneers of the eastern Spanish Main. The main point is—that both tides {viii} of adventure, from the east, westward, from the west, eastward, met, and clashed, and finally coalesced in the great fur trade, that won the West.

The Spaniards of the Southwest—even when they extended their explorations into the Northwest—have not been included in this volume, for the simple reason they would require a volume by themselves. Also, their aims as explorers were always secondary to their aims as treasure hunters; and their main exploits were confined to the Southwest. Other Pacific coast explorers, like La Perouse, are not included here because they were not, in the truest sense, discoverers, and their exploits really belong to the story of the fights among the different fur companies, who came on the ground after the first adventurers.

In every case, reference has been to first sources, to the records left by the doers of the acts themselves, or their contemporaries—some of the data in manuscript, some in print; but it may as well be frankly acknowledged that all first sources have not been exhausted. To do so in the case of a single explorer, say either Drake or Bering—would require a lifetime. For instance, there are in St. Petersburg some thirty thousand folios on the Bering expedition to America. Probably only one person—a Danish professor—has ever examined all of these; and the results of his investigations I have consulted. Also, there are in the State Department, Washington, some hundred old log-books of the Russian hunters which {ix} have—as far as I know—never been turned by a single hand, though I understand their outsides were looked at during the fur seal controversy. The data on this era of adventure I have chiefly obtained from the works of Russian archivists, published in French and English. To give a list of all authorities quoted would be impossible. On Alaska alone, the least-known section of the Pacific coast, there is a bibliographical list of four thousand. The better-known coast southward has equally voluminous records. Nor is such a list necessary. Nine-tenths of it are made up of either descriptive works or purely scientific pamphlets; and of the remaining tenth, the contents are obtained in undiluted condition by going directly to the first sources. A few of these first sources are indicated in each section.

It is somewhat remarkable that Gray—as true a naval hero as ever trod the quarter-deck, who did the same for the West as Carrier for the St. Lawrence, and Hudson for the river named after him—is the one man of the Pacific coast discoverers of whom there are scantiest records. Authentic histories are still written, that cast doubt on his achievement. Certainly a century ago Gray was lionized in Boston; but it may be his feat was overshadowed by the world-history of the new American republic and the Napoleonic wars at the opening of the nineteenth century; or the world may have taken him at his own valuation; and Gray was a hero of the non-shouting sort. The data on {x} Gray's discovery have been obtained from the descendants of the Boston men who outfitted him, and from his own great-grandchildren. Though he died a poor man, the red blood of his courage and ability seems to have come down to his descendants; for their names are among the best known in contemporary American life. To them my thanks are tendered. Since the contents of this volume appeared serially in Leslie's Monthly, Outing, and Harper's Magazine, fresh data have been sent to me on minor points from descendants of the explorers and from collectors. I take this opportunity to thank these contributors. Among many others, special thanks are due Dr. George Davidson, President of San Francisco Geographical Society, for facts relating to the topography of the coast, and to Dr. Leo Stejneger of the Smithsonian, Washington, for facts gathered on the very spot where Bering perished.

WASSAIC, New York,

July 15, 1905.







Peter the Great sends Bering on Two Voyages: First, to discover whether America and Asia are united; Second, to find what lies north of New Spain—Terrible Hardships of Caravans crossing Siberia for Seven Thousand Miles—Ships lost in the Mist—Bering's Crew cast away on a Barren Isle . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3




Frightful Sufferings of the Castaways on the Commander Islands—The Vessel smashed in a Winter Gale, the Sick are dragged for Refuge into Pits of Sand—Here, Bering perishes, and the Crew Winter—The Consort Ship under Chirikoff Ambushed—How the Castaways reach Home . . . . . 37




How the Sea-otter Pelts brought back by Bering's Crew led to the Exploitation of the Northwest Coast of America—Difference of Sea-otter from Other Fur-bearing Animals of the West—Perils of the Hunt . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 62




The American Coast becomes the Great Rendezvous for Siberian Criminals and Political Exiles—Beyond Reach of Law, Cossacks and Criminals perpetrate Outrages on the Indians—The Indians' Revenge wipes out Russian Forts in America—The Pursuit of Four Refugee Russians from Cave to Cave over the Sea at Night—How they escape after a Year's Chase . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 80




Siberian Exiles under Polish Soldier of Fortune plot to overthrow Garrison of Kamchatka and escape to West Coast of America as Fur Traders—A Bloody Melodrama enacted at Bolcheresk—The Count and his Criminal Crew sail to America . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 106






How the Sea Rover was attacked and ruined as a Boy on the Spanish Main off Mexico—His Revenge in sacking Spanish Treasure Houses and crossing Panama—The Richest Man in England, he sails to the Forbidden Sea, scuttles all the Spanish Ports up the West Coast of South America and takes Possession of New Albion (California) for England . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 133




The English Navigator sent Two Hundred Years later to find the New Albion of Drake's Discoveries—He misses both the Straits of Fuca and the Mouth of the Columbia, but anchors at Nootka, the Rendezvous of Future Traders—No Northeast Passage found through Alaska—The True Cause of Cook's Murder in Hawaii told by Ledyard—Russia becomes Jealous of his Explorations . . . . . . . . . . . 172




Boston Merchants, inspired by Cook's Voyages, outfit Two Vessels under Kendrick and Gray for Discovery and Trade on the Pacific—Adventures of the First Ship to carry the American Flag around the World—Gray attacked by Indians at Tillamook Bay—His Discovery of the Columbia River on the Second Voyage—Fort Defence and the First American Ship built on the Pacific . . . . . . . . . 210




A New England Ne'er-do-well, turned from the Door of Rich Relatives, joins Cook's Expedition to America—Adventure among the Russians of Oonalaska—Useless Endeavor to interest New England Merchants in Fur Trade—A Soldier of Fortune in Paris, he meets Jefferson and Paul Jones and outlines Exploration of Western America—Succeeds in crossing Siberia alone on the Way to America, but is thwarted by Russian Fur Traders . . . . . . . . . . . . 242




Activities of Americans, Spanish, and Russians on the West Coast of America arouse England—Vancouver is sent out ostensibly to settle the Quarrel between Fur Traders and Spanish Governors at Nootka—Incidentally, he is to complete the Exploration of America's West Coast and take Possession for England of Unclaimed Territory—The Myth of a Northeast Passage dispelled Forever . . . . . . . . . . . 263






The Pursuit of the Sable leads Cossacks across Siberia; of the Sea-otter, across the Pacific as far south as California—Caravans of Four Thousand Horses on the Long Trail—Seven Thousand Miles across Europe and Asia—Banditti of the Sea—The Union of All Traders in One Monopoly—Siege and Slaughter of Sitka—How Monroe Doctrine grew out of Russian Fur Trade—Aims of Russia to dominate North Pacific . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 293




Baranof lays the Foundations of Russian Empire on the Pacific Coast of America—Shipwrecked on his Way to Alaska, he yet holds his Men in Hand and turns the Ill-hap to Advantage—How he bluffs the Rival Fur Companies in Line—First Russian Ship built in America—Adventures leading the Sea-otter Hunters—Ambushed by the Indians—The Founding of Sitka—Baranof, cast off in his Old Age, dies of Broken Heart . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 316

INDEX . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 339


Seal Rookery, Commander Islands . . . . . . . . . Frontispiece

Peter the Great . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5

Map of Course followed by Bering . . . . . . . . . . . . 20-21

The St. Peter and St. Paul, from a rough sketch by Bering's comrade, Steller, the scientist . . . . . . . 29

Steller's Arch on Bering Island, named after the scientist Steller, of Bering's Expedition . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39

A Glacier . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46

Sea Cows . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53

Seals in a Rookery on Bering Island . . . . . . . . . . . . 57

Mauritius Augustus, Count Benyowsky . . . . . . . . . . . . 109

Sir John Hawkins . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 135

Queen Elizabeth knighting Drake . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 146

The Golden Hind . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 151

Francis Drake . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 155

The Crowning of Drake in California . . . . . . . . . . . . 164

The Silver Map of the World . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 171

Captain James Cook . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 180

The Ice Islands . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 194

The Death of Cook . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 205

Departure of the Columbia and the Lady Washington . . . 211

Charles Bulfinch . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 212

Medals commemorating Columbia and Lady Washington Cruise 215

Building the First American Ship on the Pacific Coast . . . 223

Feather Cloak worn by a son of a Hawaiian Chief, at the celebration in honor of Gray's return . . . . . . . . . . 226

John Derby . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 228

Map of Gray's two voyages, resulting in the discovery of the Columbia . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 231

A View of the Columbia River . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 237

At the Mouth of the Columbia River . . . . . . . . . . . . 239

Ledyard in his Dugout . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 244

Captain George Vancouver . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 265

The Columbia in a Squall . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 269

The Discovery on the Rocks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 274

Indian Settlement at Nootka . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 276

Reindeer Herd in Siberia . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 288

Raised Reindeer Sledges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 294

John Jacob Astor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 303

Sitka from the Sea . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 314

Alexander Baranof . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 317





Vikings of the Pacific




Peter the Great sends Bering on Two Voyages: First, to discover whether America and Asia are united; Second, to find what lies north of New Spain—Terrible Hardships of Caravans crossing Siberia for Seven Thousand Miles—Ships lost in the Mist—Bering's Crew cast away on a Barren Isle

We have become such slaves of shallow science in these days, such firm believers in the fatalism which declares man the creature of circumstance, that we have almost forgotten the supremest spectacle in life is when man becomes the Creator of Circumstance. We forget that man can rise to be master of his destiny, fighting, unmaking, re-creating, not only his own environment, but the environment of multitudinous lesser men. There is something titanic in such lives. They are the hero myths of every nation's legends. We {4} somehow feel that the man who flings off the handicaps of birth and station lifts the whole human race to a higher plane and has a bit of the God in him, though the hero may have feet of clay and body of beast. Such were the old Vikings of the North, who spent their lives in elemental warfare, and rode out to meet death in tempest, lashed to the spar of their craft. And such, too, were the New World Vikings of the Pacific, who coasted the seas of two continents in cockle-shell ships,—planks lashed with deer thongs, calked with moss,—rapacious in their deep-sea plunderings as beasts of prey, fearless as the very spirit of the storm itself. The adventures of the North Pacific Vikings read more like some old legend of the sea than sober truth; and the wild strain had its fountain-head in the most tempestuous hero and beastlike man that ever ascended the throne of the Russias.

When Peter the Great of Russia worked as a ship's carpenter at the docks of the East India Company in Amsterdam, the sailors' tales of vast, undiscovered lands beyond the seas of Japan must have acted on his imagination like a match to gunpowder.[1] Already he was dreaming those imperial conquests which Russia still dreams: of pushing his realm to the southernmost edge of Europe, to the easternmost verge of Asia, to the doorway of the Arctic, to the very threshold of the {5} Chinese capital. Already his Cossacks had scoured the two Siberias like birds of prey, exacting tribute from the wandering tribes of Tartary, of Kamchatka, of the Pacific, of the Siberian races in the northeasternmost corner of Asia. And these Chukchee Indians of the Asiatic Pacific told the Russians of a land beyond the sea, of driftwood floating across the ocean unlike any trees growing in Asia, of dead whales washed ashore with the harpoons of strange hunters, {6} and—most comical of all in the light of our modern knowledge about the Eskimo's tail-shaped fur coats—of men wrecked on the shores of Asia who might have qualified for Darwin's missing link, inasmuch as they wore "tails."

And now the sailors added yet more fabulous things to Peter's knowledge. There was an unknown continent east of Asia, west of America, called on the maps "Gamaland." [2] Now, Peter's consuming ambition was for new worlds to conquer. What of this "Gamaland"? But, as the world knows, Peter was called home to suppress an insurrection. War, domestic broils, massacres that left a bloody stain on his glory, busied his hands for the remaining years of his life; and January of 1725 found the palaces of all the Russias hushed, for the Hercules who had scrunched all opposition like a giant lay dying, ashamed to consult a physician, vanquished of his own vices, calling on Heaven for pity with screams of pain that drove physicians and attendants from the room.

Perhaps remorse for those seven thousand wretches executed at one fell swoop after the revolt; perhaps memories of those twenty kneeling supplicants whose heads he had struck off with his own hand, drinking a bumper of quass to each stroke; perhaps reproaches {7} of the highway robbers whom he used to torture to slow death, two hundred at a time, by suspending them from hooks in their sides; perhaps the first wife, whom he repudiated, the first son whom he had done to death either by poison or convulsions of fright, came to haunt the darkness of his deathbed.

Catherine, the peasant girl, elevated to be empress of all the Russias, could avail nothing. Physicians and scientists and navigators, Dane and English and Dutch, whom he had brought to Russia from all parts of Europe, were powerless. Vows to Heaven, in all the long hours he lay convulsed battling with Death, were useless. The sins of a lifetime could not be undone by the repentance of an hour. Then, as if the dauntless Spirit of the man must rise finally triumphant over Flesh, the dying Hercules roused himself to one last supreme effort.

Radisson, Marquette, La Salle, Verendrye, were reaching across America to win the undiscovered regions of the Western Sea for France. New Spain was pushing her ships northward from Mexico; and now, the dying Peter of Russia with his own hand wrote instructions for an expedition to search the boundaries between Asia and America. In a word, he set in motion that forward march of the Russians across the Orient, which was to go on unchecked for two hundred years till arrested by the Japanese. The Czar's instructions were always laconic. They were written five weeks before his death. "(1) At {8} Kamchatka . . . two boats are to be built. (2) With these you are to sail northward along the coast. . . . (3) You are to enquire where the American coast begins. . . . Write it down . . . obtain reliable information . . . then, having charted the coast, return." [3]

From the time that Peter the Great began to break down the Oriental isolation of Russia from the rest of Europe, it was his policy to draw to St. Petersburg—the city of his own creation—leaders of thought from every capital in Europe. And as his aim was to establish a navy, he especially endeavored to attract foreign navigators to his kingdom. Among these were many Norse and Danes. The acquaintance may have dated from the apprenticeship on the docks of the East India Company; but at any rate, among the foreign navigators was one Vitus Ivanovich Bering, a Dane of humble origin from Horsens,[4] who had been an East India Company sailor till he joined the Russian fleet as sub-lieutenant at the age of twenty-two, and fought his way up in the Baltic service through Peter's wars till in 1720 he was appointed captain of second rank. To Vitus Bering, the Dane, Peter gave the commission for the exploration of the waters between Asia and America. As a sailor, Bering had, of course, been on the borders of the Pacific.[5]

{9} The scientists of every city in Europe were in a fret over the mythical Straits of Anian, supposed to be between Asia and America, and over the yet more mythical Gamaland, supposed to be visible on the way to New Spain. To all this jangling of words without knowledge Peter paid no heed. "You will go and obtain some reliable information," he commands Bering. Neither did he pay any heed to the fact that the ports of Kamchatka on the Pacific were six thousand miles by river and mountain and tundra and desert through an unknown country from St. Petersburg. It would take from three to five years to transport material across two continents by caravan and flatboat and dog sled. Tribute of food and fur would be required from Kurd and Tartar and wild Siberian tribe. More than a thousand horses must be requisitioned for the caravans; more than two thousand leathern sacks made for the flour. Twenty or thirty boats must be constructed to raft down the inland rivers. There were forests to be traversed for hundreds of miles, where only the keenest vigilance could keep the wolf packs off the heels of the travellers. And when the expedition should reach the tundras of eastern Siberia, there was the double danger of the Chukchee tribes on the north, hostile as the American Indians, and of the Siberian exile population on the south, branded criminals, political malcontents, banditti of {10} the wilderness, outcasts of nameless crimes beyond the pale of law. It needed no prophet to foresee such people would thwart, not help, the expedition. And when the shores of Okhotsk were reached, a fort must be built to winter there. And a vessel for inland seas must be constructed to cross to the Kamchatka peninsula of the North Pacific. And the peninsula which sticks out from Asia as Norway projects from Europe, must be crossed with provisions—a distance of some two hundred miles by dog trains over mountains higher than the American Rockies. And once on the shores of the Pacific itself, another fort must be built on the east side of the Kamchatka peninsula. And the two double-decker vessels must be constructed to voyage over the sleepy swell of the North Pacific to that mythical realm of mist like a blanket, and strange, unearthly rumblings smoking up from the cold Arctic sea, with the red light of a flame through the gray haze, and weird voices, as if the fog wraith were luring seamen to destruction. These were mere details. Peter took no heed of impossibles. Neither did Bering; for he was in the prime of his honor, forty-four years of age. "You will go," commanded the Czar, and Bering obeyed.

Barely had the spirit of Peter the Great passed from this life, in 1725, when Bering's forces were travelling in midwinter from St. Petersburg to cross Siberia to the Pacific, on what is known as the First Expedition.[6] {11} Three years it took him to go from the west coast of Europe to the east coast of Asia, crossing from Okhotsk to Kamchatka, whence he sailed on the 9th of July, 1728, with forty-four men and three lieutenants for the Arctic seas.[7] This voyage is unimportant, except as the kernel out of which grew the most famous expedition on the Pacific coast. Martin Spanberg, another Danish navigator, huge of frame, vehement, passionate, tyrannical out dauntless, always followed by a giant hound ready to tear any one who approached to pieces, and Alexei Chirikoff, an able Russian, were seconds in command. They encountered all the difficulties to be expected transporting ships, rigging, and provisions across two continents. Spanberg and his men, winter-bound in East Siberia, were reduced to eating their dog harness and shoe-straps for food before they came to the trail of dead horses that marked Bering's path to the sea, and guided them to the fort at Okhotsk.

Bering did exactly as Czar Peter had ordered. He built the two-deckers at Kamchatka. Then he followed the coast northward past St. Lawrence Island, which he named, to a point where the shore seemed to turn back on itself northwestward at 67 degrees 18 minutes, which proved to Bering that Asia and America were not {12} united.[8] And they had found no "Gamaland," no new world wedged in between Asia and America, Twice they were within only forty miles of America, touching at St. Lawrence Island, but the fog hung like a blanket over the sea as they passed through the waters now known as Bering Straits. They saw no continent eastward; and Bering was compelled to return with no knowledge but that Russia did not extend into America. And yet, there were definite signs of land eastward of Kamchatka—driftwood, seaweed, sea-birds. Before setting out for St. Petersburg in 1729, he had again tried to sail eastward to the Gamaland of the maps, but again foul weather had driven him back.

It was the old story of the savants and Christopher Columbus in an earlier day. Bering's conclusions were different from the moonshine of the schools. There was no "Gamaland" in the sea. There was in the maps. The learned men of St. Petersburg ridiculed the Danish sailor. The fog was supposed to have concealed "Gamaland." There was nothing for Bering but to retire in ignominy or prove his conclusions. He had arrived in St. Petersburg in March, 1730. He had induced the court to undertake a second expedition by April of the same year.[9]

{13} And for this second expedition, the court, the senate the admiralty, and the academy of sciences decided to provide with a lavish profusion that would dazzle the world with the brilliancy of Russian exploits. Russia was in the mood to do things. The young savants who thronged her capital were heady with visionary theories that were to astonish the rest of mortals. Scientists, artisans, physicians, monks, Cossacks, historians, made up the motley roll of conflicting influences under Bering's command; but because Bering was a Dane, this command was not supreme. He must convene a council of the Russian officers under him, submit all his plans to their vote, then abide by their decision. Yet he alone must carry responsibility for blunders. And as the days went on, details of instructions rolling out from admiralty, senate, and academy were like an avalanche gathering impetus to destruction from its weight. He was to establish new industries in Siberia. He was to chart the whole Arctic coast line of Asia. He was to Christianize the natives. He was to provide the travelling academicians with luxurious equipment, though some of them had forty wagon-loads of instruments and carried a peripatetic library.

Early in 1733, the Second Expedition set out from St. Petersburg in detachments to cross Siberia. There were Vitus Bering, the commander, Chirikoff and Spanberg, his two seconds, eight lieutenants, sixteen mates, twelve physicians, seven priests, carpenters, {14} bakers, Cossacks, sailors,—in all, five hundred and eighty men.[10] Now, if it was difficult to transport a handful of attendants across Siberia for the first simple voyage, what was it to convoy this rabble composed of self-important scientists bent on proving impossible theories, of underling officers each of whom considered himself a czar, of wives and children unused to such travel, of priests whose piety took the extraordinary form of knouting subordinates to death, of Cossacks who drank and gambled and brawled at every stopping place till half the lieutenants in the company had crossed swords in duels, of workmen who looked on the venture as a mad banishment, and only watched for a chance to desert?

Scouts went scurrying ahead with orders for the Siberian Cossacks to prepare wintering quarters for the on-coming host, and to levy tribute on the inhabitants for provision; but in Siberia, as the Russians say, "God is high in the Heaven, and the Czar is far away;" and the Siberian governors raised not a finger to prepare for Bering.

Spanberg left St. Petersburg in February, 1733. Bering followed in March; and all summer the long caravans of slow-moving pack horses—as many as four thousand in a line—wound across the desert wastes of West Siberia.

{15} Only the academists dallied in St. Petersburg, kissing Majesty's hand farewell, basking in the sudden sunburst of short notoriety, driving Bering almost mad by their exorbitant demands for luxuriously appointed barges to carry them down the Volga. Winter was passed at Tobolsk; but May of 1734 witnessed a firing of cannon, a blaring of trumpets, a clinking of merry glasses among merry gentlemen; for the caravans were setting out once more to the swearing of the Cossacks, the complaining of the scientists, the brawling of the underling officers, the silent chagrin of the endlessly patient Bering. One can easily believe that the God-speed from the Siberians was sincere; for the local governors used the orders for tribute to enrich themselves; and the country-side groaned under a heavy burden of extortion. The second winter was passed at Yakutsk, where the ships that were to chart the Arctic coast of Siberia were built and launched with crews of some hundred men.

It was the end of June, 1735, before the main forces were under way again for the Pacific. From Yakutsk to Okhotsk on the Pacific, the course was down the Lena, up the Aldan River, up the Maya, up the Yudoma, across the Stanovoi Mountains, down the Urak river to the sea. A thousand Siberian exiles were compelled to convoy these boats.[11] Not a roof had been prepared to house the forces in the mountains. Men and horses were torn to pieces by the timber {16} wolves. Often, for days at a time, the only rations were carcasses of dead horses, roots, flour, and rice. Winter barracks had to be built between the rivers, for the navigable season was short. In May the rivers broke up in spring flood. Then, the course was against a boiling torrent. Thirty men could not tug a boat up the Yudoma. They stood in ice-water up to their waists lifting the barges over the turbulent places. Sores broke out on the feet of horses and men. Three years it took to transport all the supplies and ships' rigging from the Lena to the Pacific, with wintering barracks constructed at each stopping place.

At Okhotsk on the Pacific, Major-General Pissarjeff was harbor master. This old reprobate, once a favorite of Peter the Great, had been knouted, branded and exiled for conspiracy, forbidden even to conceal his brand; and now, he let loose all his seventy years of bitterness on Bering. He not only had not made preparation to house the explorers; but he refused to permit them inside the stockades of the miserable huts at Okhotsk, which he called his fort. When they built a fort of their own outside, he set himself to tantalize the two Danes, Bering and Spanberg, knouting their men, sending coureurs with false accusations against Bering to St. Petersburg, actually countermanding their orders for supplies from the Cossacks. Spanberg would have finished the matter neatly with a sharp sword; but Bering forbore, and Pissarjeff {17} was ultimately replaced by a better harbor master. The men set to work cutting the timber for the ships that were to cross from Okhotsk to the east shore of Kamchatka; for Bering's ships of the first voyage could now be used only as packet boats.

Not till the fourth of June, 1741, had all preparations ripened for the fulfilment of Czar Peter's dying wishes to extend his empire into America. Two vessels, the St. Peter and the St. Paul, rode at anchor at Petropaulovsk in the Bay of Avacha on the east coast of Kamchatka. On the shore was a little palisaded fort of some fifty huts, a barrack, a chapel, a powder magazine. Early that morning, solemn religious services had been held to invoke the blessing of Heaven on the voyagers. Now, the chapel bell was set ringing. Monks came singing down to the water's edge. Cannon were fired. Cheer on cheer set the echoes rolling among the white domed mountains. There was a rattling of anchor chains, a creaking of masts and yard-arms. The sails fluttered out bellying full; and with a last, long shout, the ships glided out before the wind to the lazy swell of the Pacific for the discovery of new worlds.

And why not new worlds? That was the question the officers accompanying Bering asked themselves as the white peaks of Kamchatka faded on the offing. Certainly, in the history of the world, no expedition had set out with greater prestige. Eight years had it {18} taken to cross Siberia from St. Petersburg to the Pacific. A line of forts across two continents had been built for winter quarters. Rivers had been bridged; as many as forty boats knocked together in a single year to raft down the Siberian torrents. Two hundred thousand dollars in modern money had been spent before the Pacific was reached. In all, nine ships had been built on the Pacific to freight supplies across from Okhotsk to the eastern side of Kamchatka, two to carry Bering to the new continent of "Gamaland" which the savants persisted in putting on the maps, three to explore the region between Russia and Japan. Now, Bering knew there was no "Gamaland" except in the ignorant, heady imaginings of the foolish geographers. So did Alexei Chirikoff, the Russian second assistant. So did Spanberg, the Dane, third in command, who had coasted the Pacific in charting Japan.

Roughly speaking, the expedition had gradually focussed to three points: (1) the charting of the Arctic coast; (2) the exploration of Japan; (3) the finding of what lay between Asia and America. Some two hundred men, of whom a score had already perished of scurvy, had gone down the Siberian rivers to the Arctic coast. Spanberg, the Dane, with a hundred others, had thoroughly charted Japan, and had seen his results vetoed by the authorities at St. Petersburg because there was no Gamaland. Bering, himself, undertook the voyage to America. All the month of {19} May, council after council had been held at Avacha Bay to determine which way Bering's two ships should sail. By the vote of this council, Bering, the commander, was compelled to abide; and the mythical Gamaland proved his evil star.

The maps of the D'Isles, the famous geographers, contained a Gamaland; and Louis la Croyere d'Isle, relative of the great map maker, who had knocked about in Canada and was thought to be an authority on American matters, was to accompany Chirikoff, Bering's first lieutenant. At the councils, these maps were hauled out. It was a matter of family pride with the D'Isles to find that Gamaland. Bering and Chirikoff may have cursed all scientists, as Cook, the great navigator, cursed savants at a later day; but they must bow to the decision of the council; and the decision was to sail south-southeast for Gamaland. And yet, there could have been no bitterness in Bering's feelings; for he knew that the truth must triumph. He would be vindicated, whatever came; and the spell of the North was upon him with its magic beckoning on—on—on to the unknown, to the unexplored, to the undreamed. All that the discoveries of Columbus gave to the world, Bering's voyage might give to Russia; for he did not know that the La Verendryes of New France had already penetrated west as far as the Rockies; and he did know that half a continent yet lay unexplored, unclaimed, on the other side of the Pacific.


But with boats that carried only one hundred casks of water, and provisions for but five months, the decision to sail south-southeast was a deplorable waste of precious time. It would lead to the Spanish possessions, not to the unknown North. On Bering's boat, the St. Peter, was a crew of seventy-seven, Lieutenant Waxel, second in command, George William Steller, the famous scientist, Bering's friend, on board. On the St. Paul, under the stanch, level-headed Russian lieutenant, Alexei Chirikoff, were seventy-six men, with La Croyere d'Isle as astronomer. Not the least {21} complicating feature of the case was the personnel of the crews. For the most part, they were branded criminals and malcontents. From the first they had regarded the Bering expedition with horror. They had joined it under compulsion for only six years; and the exploration was now in its eleventh year. Spanberg, the other Dane, with his brutal tongue and constant recourse to the knout, who had gone to St. Petersburg to report on Japan, they cordially hated. Chirikoff, the Russian, was a universal favorite, and Bering, the supreme commander, was loved for his {22} kindness; but Bering's commands were subject to veto by the Russian underlings; and the Russian underling officers kept up a constant brawl of duels and gaming and drink. No wonder the bluff Dane sailed out from the snow-rimmed peaks of Avacha Bay with dark forebodings. He had carried a load of petty instructions issued by ignoramus savants for eight years. He had borne eight years of nagging from court and senate and academy. He had been criticised for blunders of others' making. He had been set to accomplish a Herculean task with tied hands. He had been threatened with fines and court martial for the delay caused by the quarrels of his under officers to whom he was subject. He had been deprived of salary for three years and accused of pilfering from public funds. His wife, who had by this time returned with the wives of the other officers to Russia, had actually been searched for hidden booty.[12] And now, after toils and hardships untold, only five months' provisions were left for the ships sailing from Kamchatka; and the blockhead underlings were compelling a waste of those provisions by sailing in the wrong direction. If the worst came, could Bering hold his men with those tied hands of his?

The commander shrugged his shoulders and signalled Chirikoff, the Russian, on the St. Paul, to lead the way. They must find out there was no Gamaland {23} for themselves, those obstinate Russians! The long swell of the Pacific meets them as they sheer out from the mountain-girt harbor. A dip of the sails to the swell of the rising wind, and the snowy heights of Avacha Bay are left on the offing. The thunder of the surf against the rocky caves of Kamchatka coast fades fainter. The myriad birds become fewer. Steller, the scientist, leans over the rail to listen if the huge sperm whale, there, "hums" as it "blows." The white rollers come from the north, rolling—rolling down to the tropics. A gray thing hangs over the northern offing, a grayish brown thing called "fog" of which they will know more anon. The grayish brown thing means storm; and the "porps" tumbling, floundering, somerseting round the ships in circles, mean storm; and Chirikoff, far ahead there, signals back doubtfully to know if they shouldn't keep together to avoid being lost in the gathering fog. The Dane shrugs his shoulders and looks to the north. The grayish brown thing has darkened, thickened, spread out impalpably, and by the third day, a northling wind is whistling through the riggings with a rip. Sails are furled. The white rollers roll no longer. They lash with chopped-off tops flying backward; and the St. Peter is churning about, shipping sea after sea with the crash of thunder. That was what the fog meant; and it is all about them, in a hurricane now, stinging cold, thick to the touch, washing out every outline but sea—sea!

{24} Never mind! They are nine days out. It is the twelfth of June. They are down to 46 degrees and no Gamaland! The blockheads have stopped spreading their maps in the captain's cabin. One can see a smile wreathing in the whiskers of the Dane. Six hundred miles south of Kamchatka and no Gamaland! The council convenes again. It is decided to turn about, head north, and say no more of Gamaland. But when the fog, that has turned hurricane, lifts, the consort ship, the St. Paul, is lost. Chirikoff's vessel has disappeared. Up to 49 degrees, they go; but still no Chirikoff, and no Gamaland! Then the blunder-makers, as usual, blunder more. It is dangerous to go on without the sister ship. The council convenes. Bering must hark back to 46 degrees and hunt for Chirikoff. So passes the whole month of June. Out of five months' provisions, one wasted, the odium on Bering, the Dane.

It was noticed that after the ship turned south, the commander looked ill and depressed. He became intolerant of opposition or approach. Possibly to avoid irritation, he kept to his cabin; but he issued peremptory orders for the St. Peter to head back north.

In a few days, Bering was confined to bed with that overwhelming physical depression and fear, that precede the scourge most dreaded by seamen—scurvy. Lieutenant Waxel now took command. Waxel had all a sailor's contempt for the bookful blockheads, who wrench fact to fit theory; and deadly enmity arose {25} between him and Steller, the scientist. By the middle of July, the fetid drinking water was so reduced that the crew was put on half allowance; but on the sleepy, fog-blanketed swell of the Pacific slipping past Bering's wearied eyes, there were so many signs of land—birds, driftwood, seaweed—that the commander ordered the ship hove to each night for fear of grounding.

On the thirteenth of July, the council of underlings had so far relinquished all idea of a Gamaland, that it was decided to steer continuously north. Sometime between the 16th and 20th, the fog lifted like a curtain. Such a vision met the gaze of the stolid seamen as stirred the blood of those phlegmatic Russians. It was the consummation of all their labor, what they had toiled across Siberia to see, what they had hoped against hope in spite of the learned jargon of the geographers. There loomed above the far horizon of the north sea what might have been an immense opal dome suspended in mid-heaven. One can guess how the lookout strained keen eyes at this grand, crumpled apex of snow jagged through the clouds like the celestial tent peak of some giant race; how the shout of "land" went up, how officers and underlings flocked round Bering with cries and congratulations. "We knew it was land beyond a doubt on the sixteenth," says Steller. "Though I have been in Kamchatka, I have never seen more lofty mountains." The shore was broken everywhere, showing inlets and harbors. {26} Everybody congratulated the commander, but he only shrugged shoulders, saying: "We think we've done big things, eh? but who knows? Nobody realizes where this is, or the distance we must sail back. Winds may be contrary. We don't know this land; and we haven't provisions to winter."

The truth is—the maps having failed, Bering was good enough seaman to know these uncharted signs of a continent indicated that the St. Peter was hopelessly lost. Sixteen years of nagging care, harder to face than a line of cannon, had sucked Bering's capacity of resistance like a vampire. That buoyancy, which lifts man above Anxious Fright, had been sapped. The shadowy elemental powers—physical weakness, disease, despair—were closing round the explorer like the waves of an eternal sea.

The boat found itself in a wonder world, that beggared romance. The great peak, which they named St. Elias, hung above a snowy row of lesser ridges in a dome of alabaster. Icebergs, like floating palaces, came washing down from the long line of precipitous shore. As they neared anchorage at an island now known as Kyak, they could see billows of ferns, grasses, lady's slippers, rhododendrons, bluebells, forget-me-nots, rippling in the wind. Perhaps they saw those palisades of ice, that stretch like a rampart northward along the main shore west of St. Elias.

The St. Peter moved slowly landward against a head wind. Khitroff and Steller put off in the small {27} boats with fifteen men to reconnoitre. Both found traces of inhabitants—timbered huts, fire holes, shells, smoked fish, footprints in the grass. Steller left some kettles, knives, glass beads, and trinkets in the huts to replace the possessions of the natives, which the Russians took. Many years later, another voyager met an old Indian, who told of seeing Bering's ship anchor at Kyak Island when he was a boy; but the terrified Indians had fled, only returning to find the presents in the huts, when the Russians had gone.[13] Steller was as wild as a child out of school, and accompanied by only one Cossack went bounding over the island collecting specimens and botanizing. Khitroff, meanwhile, filled water-casks; but on July 21, the day after the anchorage, a storm-wind began whistling through the rigging. The rollers came washing down from the ice wall of the coast and the far offing showed the dirty fog that portended storm. Only half the water-casks had been filled; but there was a brisk seaward breeze. Without warning, contrary to his custom of consulting the other officers, Bering appeared on deck pallid and ashen from disease, and peremptorily ordered anchors up.

In vain Steller stormed and swore, accusing the chief of pusillanimous homesickness, "of reducing his explorations to a six hours' anchorage on an island shore," "of coming from Asia to carry home American water." The commander had had enough of {28} vacillation, delay, interference. One-third of the crew was ailing. Provisions for only three months were in the hold. The ship was off any known course more than two thousand miles from any known port; and contrary winds might cause delay or drive the vessel on the countless reefs that lined this strange coast, like a ploughed field.

Dense clouds and a sleety rain settled over the sea, washing out every outline, as the St. Peter began her westward course. But what baffled both Bering and the officers was the fact that the coast trended, not north, but south. They were coasting that long peninsula of Alaska that projects an arm for a thousand miles southwestward into the Pacific.

The roar of the rollers came from the reefs. Through the blanketing fog they could discern, on the north, island after island, ghostlike through the mist, rocky, towering, majestic, with a thunder of surf among the caves, a dim outline of mountains above, like Loki, Spirit of Evil, smiling stonily at the dark forces closing round these puny men. All along Kadiak, the roily waters told of reefs. The air was heavy with fogs thick to the touch; and violent winds constantly threatened a sudden shift that might drive the vessel on the rocks. At midnight on August 1, they suddenly found themselves with only three feet of water below the keel. Fortunately there was no wind, but the fog was like ink. By swinging into a current, that ran a mill-race, they were carried out to eighteen fathoms {29} of water, where they anchored till daybreak. They called this place Foggy Island. To-day it is known as Ukamok.

The underlings now came sharply to their senses and, at the repeatedly convened and distracted councils between July 25 and August 10, decided that there was only one thing to do—sail at once for the home port of Kamchatka. The St. Peter was tossing about in frightful winds among reefs and hurricane fog like a cork. Half the crew lay ill and helpless of scurvy, {30} and only two months' provisions remained for a voyage of two thousand miles. The whole crew signed the resolution to go home.

Only twenty-five casks of water remained. On August 30 the St. Peter anchored off a group of thirteen bald, bare, treeless rocks. It was thought that if some of the scurvy-stricken sailors could be carried ashore, they might recover. One, Shumagin, died as he was lifted ashore. This was the first death, and his name was given to the islands. Bering himself was so ill he could not stand. Twenty emaciated men were laid along the shore. Steller hurried off to hunt anti-scorbutic plants, while Waxel, who had taken command, and Khitroff ordered the water-casks filled. Unfortunately the only pool they could find was connected with an arm of the sea. The water was brackish, and this afterward increased disease.

A fatality seemed to hang over the wonder world where they wandered. Voices were heard in the storm, rumblings from the sea. Fire could be seen through the fog. Was this fire from volcanoes or Indians? And such a tide-rip thundered along the rocks as shook the earth and set the ship trembling. Waxel knew they must not risk delay by going to explore, but by applying to Bering, who lay in his berth unconscious of the dangers on this coast, Khitroff gained permission to go from the vessel on a yawl with five sailors; but by the time he had rowed against head winds to the scene of the fire, the Indians had {31} fled, and such beach combers were crashing ashore, Khitroff dare not risk going back to the ship. In vain Waxel ground his teeth with rage, signalled, and waited. "The wind seemed to issue from a flue," says Steller, "with such a whistling and roaring and rumbling that we expected to lose mast and rudder, or be crushed among the breakers. The dashings of the sea sounded like a cannon."

The fact was, Khitroff's yawl had been smashed to kindling wood against the rocks; and the six half-drowned Russians were huddling together waiting for help when Waxel took the other small boat and went to the rescue. Barely had this been effected at the cost of four days' delay, in which the ship might have made five hundred miles toward home, when natives were seen paddling out in canoes, gesticulating for the white men to come ashore. Waxel lowered away in the small boat with nine armed men to pay the savages a visit. Close ashore, he beckoned the Indians to wade out; but they signalled him in turn to land, and he ordered three men out to moor the boat to a rock. All went well between Russians and Indians, presents being exchanged, till a chief screwed up his courage to paddle out to Waxel in the boat. With characteristic hospitality, Waxel at once proffered some Russian brandy, which, by courtesy among all Western sailors, is always known as "chain lightning." The chief took but one gulp of the liquid fire, when with a wild yell he spat it out, shouted that he had been poisoned, and dashed ashore.

{32} The three Russians succeeded in gaining Waxel's boat, but the Indians grabbed the mooring ropes and seized the Chukchee interpreter, whom Waxel had brought from Siberia. Waxel ordered the rope cut, but the Chukchee interpreter called out pitifully to be saved. Quick as flash, the Russians fired two muskets in midair. At the crash that echoed among the cliffs, the Indians fell prostrate with fear, and the interpreter escaped; but six days had been wasted in this futile visit to the natives.

Scarcely had they escaped this island, when such a hurricane broke over the St. Peter for seventeen days that the ship could only scud under bare poles before a tornado wind that seemed to be driving north-northwest. The ship was a chip in a maelstrom. There were only fifteen casks of water fit to drink. All food was exhausted but mouldy sea-biscuits. One sailor a day was now dying of scurvy, and those left were so weak that they had no power to man the ship. The sailors were so emaciated they had to be carried back and forward to the rudder, and the underling officers were quarrelling among themselves. The crew dared not hoist sails, because not a man of the St. Peter had the physical strength to climb and lower canvas.[14]

{33} The rain turned to sleet. The sleet froze to the rotting sails, to the ice-logged hull, to the wan yardarms frost-white like ghosts. At every lurch of the sea slush slithered down from the rigging on the shivering seamen. The roar of the breakers told of a shallow sea, yet mist veiled the sky, and they were above waters whose shallows drop to sudden abysmal depths of three thousand fathoms. Sheets of smoking vapor rose from the sea, sheets of flame-tinged smoke from the crevasses of land volcanoes which the fogs hid. Out of the sea came the hoarse, strident cry of the sea-lion, and the walrus, and the hairy seal. It was as if the poor Russians had sailed into some under-world. The decks were slippery as glass, the vessel shrouded in ice. Over all settled that unspeakable dread of impending disaster, which is a symptom of scurvy, and saps the fight that makes a man fit to survive.

Waxel, alone, held the vessel up to the wind. Where were they? Why did this coasting along unknown northern islands not lead to Kamchatka?

The councils were no longer the orderly conferences of savants over cut-and-dried maps. They were bedlam. Panic was in the marrow of every man, even the passionate Steller, who thought all the while they were on the coast of Kamchatka and made loud complaint that the expedition had been misled by "unscrupulous leaders."

At eight o'clock on the morning of October 30 it was seen that the ice-clogged ropes on the starboard {34} side had been snapped by the wind like dry sticks. Offerings, vows, prayers went up from the stricken crew. Piety became a very real thing. The men prayed aloud and conferred on ways to win the favor of God. The colder weather brought one relief. The fog lifted and the air was clear. The wind veered northeast, and on November 4, to their inexpressible joy, a dim outline sharpened to hard, clear horizon; and the gazing crew gradually saw a high, mountainous coast become clear beyond doubt directly ahead sixteen miles. Surely, this was Kamchatka? Surely, God had heard their vows? The sick crawled on hands and knees above the hatchway to see land once more, and with streaming eyes thanked Heaven for the escape from doom. Grief became joy; gruff, happy, hilarious laughter; for a few hidden casks of brandy were brought out to celebrate the end of their miseries, and each man began pointing out certain headlands that he thought he recognized. But this ecstasy was fool joy born of desperation. As the ship rounded northeastward, a strangeness came over the scene; a chill over the good cheer—a numbing, silent, unspeakable dread over the crew. These turbulent waters running a mill-race between reefs looked more like a channel between two islands than open coast. The men could not utter a word. They hoped against hope. They dare not voice their fears. That night, the St. Peter stood off from land in case of storm. Topsails were furled, and the wind had ripped the other {35} sails to tatters, that flared and beat dismally all night against the cordage. One can imagine the anxiety of that long night with the roar of the breakers echoing angrily from shore, the whistle of the wind through the rotten rigging, the creaking of the timbers to the crash and growl and rebound of the tide. Clear, refulgent with sunshine like the light of creation's first day, the sting of ozone in the air, and the freshness of a scene never before witnessed by human eyes—dawned the morning of November 5.

The shore was of black, adamant rock rising sheer from the sea in a rampart wall. Reefs, serried, rank on rank, like sentinels, guarded approach to the coast in jagged masses, that would rip the bottom from any keel like the teeth of a saw; and over these rolled the roaring breakers with a clutch to the back-wash that bade the gazing sailors beware. Birds, birds in myriads upon myriads, screamed and circled over the eerie heights of the beetling cliffs. This did not look like Kamchatka. These birds were not birds of the Asiatic home port. These cliffs were not like the snow-rimmed mountains of Avacha Bay.

Waxel called a council.

Officers and men dragged themselves to Bering's cabin. Waxel had already canvassed all hands to vote for a landing to winter on these shores. This, the dying Bering opposed with all his might. "We roust be almost home," he said. "We still have six casks of water, and the foremast. Having risked so {36} much, let us risk three days more, let us risk everything to reach Avacha Bay." Poor Bering! Had his advice been followed, the saddest disaster of northern seas might have been averted; for they were less than ten days' run from the home harbor; but inspired by fool hopes born of fear, like the old marsh lights that used to lure men to the quicksands—Waxel and Khitroff actually persuaded themselves this was Kamchatka, and when one lieutenant, Ofzyn, who knew the north well from charting the Arctic coast, would have spoken in favor of Bering's view, he was actually clubbed and thrown from the cabin. The crew voted as a man to land and winter on this coast. Little did they know that vote was their own death warrant.

[1] See Life of Peter the Great, by Orlando Williams, 1859; Peter the Great, by John Lothrop Motley, 1877; History of Peter I, by John Mottley, 1740; Journal of Peter the Great, 1698; Voltaire's Pierre le Grand; Segur's Histoire de Russie et de Pierre le Grand.

[2] Who this man Gama, supposed to have seen the unknown continent of Gamaland, was, no one knew. The Portuguese followed the myth blindly; and the other geographers followed the Portuguese. Texeira, court geographer in Portugal, in 1649 issued a map with a vague coast marked at latitude 45 degrees north, with the words "Land seen by John de Gama, Indian, going from China to New Spain."

[3] These instructions were handed to Peter's admiral—Count Apraxin.

[4] Born 1681, son of Jonas and Anna Bering, whom a petition describes, in 1719, as "old, miserable, decrepit people, no way able to help ourselves."

[5] He fought in Black Sea wars of 1711; and from lieutenant-captain became captain of the second rank by 1717, when Russians, jealous of the foreigner, blocked his promotion. He demanded promotion or discharge, and withdrew to Finland, where the Czar's Kamchatkan expedition called him from retirement.

[6] The expedition left St. Petersburg February 5th.

[7] The midshipman of this voyage was Peter Chaplin, whose journal was deposited in the Naval College of the Admiralty, St. Petersburg. Berg gives a summary of this journal. A translation by Dall is to be found in Appendix 19, Coast Survey, Washington, 1890.

[8] A great dispute has waged among the finical academists, where the Serdze Kamen of this trip really was; the Russian observations varying greatly owing to fog and rude instruments. Lauridsen quarrels with Mueller on this score. Mueller was one of the theorists whose wrongheadedness misled Bering.

[9] It was in 1730 that Gvozdef's report of a strange land between 65 degrees and 66 degrees became current. Whether this land was America, Gamaland, or Asia, the savants could not know.

[10] It is from the works of Gmelin, Mueller, and Steller, scientists named to accompany the expedition, that the most connected accounts are obtained. The "menagerie," some one has called this collection of scientists.

[11] Many of the workmen died of their hardships at this stage of the journey.

[12] Berg says Bering's two sons, Thomas and Unos, were also with him in Siberia.

[13] Sauer relates this incident.

[14] See Mueller, p. 93, 1764 edition: "The men, notwithstanding want, misery, sickness, were obliged to work continually in the cold and wet, and the sickness was so dreadful that the sailors who governed the rudder were obliged to be led to it by others, who could hardly walk. They durst not carry much sail, because there was nobody to lower them in case of need, and they were so thin a violent wind would have torn them to pieces. The rain now changed to hail and snow."





Frightful Sufferings of the Castaways on the Commander Islands—The Vessel smashed in a Winter Gale, the Sick are dragged for Refuge into Pits of Sand—Here, Bering perishes, and the Crew Winter—The Consort Ship under Chirikoff Ambushed—How the Castaways reach Home

Without pilot or captain, the St. Peter drifted to the swirling current of the sea along a high, rocky, forbidding coast where beetling precipices towered sheer two thousand feet above a white fret of reefs, that gave the ocean the appearance of a ploughed field. The sick crawled mutely back to their berths. Bering was past caring what came and only semiconscious. Waxel, who had compelled the crew to vote for landing here under the impression born of his own despair,—that this was the coast of Avacha Bay, Kamchatka,—saw with dismay in the shores gliding past the keel momentary proofs that he was wrong. Poor Waxel had fought desperately against the depression that precedes scurvy; but now, with a dumb hopelessness settling over the ship, the invisible hand of the scourge {38} was laid on him, too. He went below decks completely fordone.

The underling officers still upon their feet, whose false theories had led Bering into all this disaster, were now quarrelling furiously among themselves, blaming one another. Only Ofzyn, the lieutenant, who had opposed the landing, and Steller, the scientist, remained on the lookout with eyes alert for the impending destruction threatened from the white fret of the endless reefs. Rocks rose in wild, jagged masses out of the sea. Deep V-shaped ravines, shadowy in the rising moonlight, seemed to recede into the rock wall of the coast, and only where a river poured out from one of these ravines did there appear to be any gap through the long lines of reefs where the surf boomed like thunder. The coast seemed to trend from northwest to southeast, and might have been from thirty to fifty miles long, with strange bizarre arches of rock overhanging endless fields of kelp and seaweed. The land was absolutely treeless except for willow brushwood the size of one's finger. Lichens, moss, sphagnum, coated the rocks. Inland appeared nothing but billowing reaches of sedges and shingle and grass.

Suddenly Steller noticed that the ebb-tide was causing huge combing rollers that might dash the ship against the rocks. Rushing below decks he besought Bering's permission to sound and anchor. The early darkness of those northern latitudes had been followed by moon-light bright as day. Within a mile of the east shore, {39} Steller ordered the anchor dropped, but by this time, the rollers were smashing over decks with a quaking that seemed to tear the ship asunder. The sick were hurled from their berths. Officers rushed on deck to be swept from their feet by blasts of salt spray, and just ahead, through the moonlight, could be seen the sharp edge of a long reef where the beach combers ran with the tide-rip of a whirlpool. There is something inexpressibly terrifying even from a point of safety in these beach combers, clutching their long arms hungrily for prey. The confusion of orders and {40} counter-orders, which no man had strength to carry out, of terrified cries and prayers and oaths—was indescribable. The numb hopelessness was succeeded by sheer panic terror. Ofzyn threw out a second anchor that raked bottom. Then, another mountain roller thundering over the ship with a crash—and the first cable snapped like a pistol shot. The ship rebounded; then drove before the back-wash of the angry sea. With no fate possible but the wall of rocks ahead, the terrorized crew began heaving the dead overboard in the moonlight; but another roaring billow smashed the St. Peter squarely broadside. The second hawser ripped back with the whistling rebound of a whip-lash, and Ofzyn was in the very act of dropping the third and last anchor, when straight as a bullet to the mark, as if hag-ridden by the northern demons of sailor fear, hurled the St. Peter for the reef! A third time the beach combers crashed down like a falling mountain. When the booming sheets of blinding spray had cleared and the panic-stricken sailors could again see, the St. Peter was staggering stern foremost, shore ahead, like a drunken ship. Quick as shot, Ofzyn and Steller between them heaved over the last anchor. The flukes gripped—raked—then caught—and held.

The ship lay rocking inside a reef in the very centre of a sheltered cove not six hundred yards from land. The beach comber had either swept her through a gap in the reef, or hurled her clear above the reefs into shelter.

{41} For seven hours the ship had battled against tide and counter-current. Now, at midnight, with the air clear as day, Steller had the small boat lowered and with another—some say Waxel, others Pleneser, the artist, or Ofzyn, of the Arctic expedition—rowed ashore to reconnoitre. Sometime between the evening of November 5 and the morning of November 6, their eyes met such a view as might have been witnessed by an Alexander Selkirk, or Robinson Crusoe. The exact landing was four or five miles north of what is now known as Cape Khitroff, below the centre of the east coast of Bering Island.[1] Poor Waxel would have it, they were on the coast of Kamchatka, and spoke of sending messengers for help to Petropaulovsk on Avacha Bay; but, as they were to learn soon enough, the nearest point in Kamchatka was one hundred miles across the sea. Avacha Bay was two hundred miles away. And the Spanish possessions of America, three thousand. They found the landing place literally swarming with animal life unknown to the world before. An enormous mammal, more than three tons in weight, with hind quarters like a whale, snout and fore fins resembling a cow, grazed in herds on the fields of sea-kelp and gazed languidly without fear on the newcomer—Man. This was the famous sea-cow described by the enthusiastic Steller, but long since extinct. Blue foxes swarmed round the very feet of the {42} men with such hungry boldness that half a dozen could be clubbed to death before the others scampered. Later, Steller was to see the seal rookeries, that were to bring so much wealth to the world, the sea-lions that roared along the rocks till the surf shook, the sea-otter whose rare pelt, more priceless than beaver or sable, was to cause the exploration and devastation of the northern half of the Pacific coast.

The land was as it had appeared to the ship—utterly treeless except for trailing willows. The brooks were not yet frozen, and snow had barely powdered the mountains; but where the coves ran in back between the mountains from the sea were gullies or ditches of sand and sedge. When Steller presently found a broken window casing of Kamchatka half buried in the sand, it gave Waxel some confidence about being on the mainland of Asia; but before Steller had finished his two days' reconnoitre, there was no mistaking the fact—this was an island, and a barren one at the best, without tree or shelter; and here the castaways must winter.

The only provisions now remaining to the crew were grease and mouldy flour. Steller at once went to work. Digging pits in the narrow gullies of sand, he covered these over with driftwood, the rotten sail-cloth, moss, mud, and foxskins. Cracks were then chinked up with clay and more foxskins. By the 8th of November he was ready to have the crew landed; but the ship rolled helpless as a log to the tide, and the few well {43} men of the staff, without distinction of officers from sailors, had to stand waist-deep in ice-slush to steady the stretchers made of mast poles and sail-cloth, that received the sick lowered over decks. Many of the scurvy stricken had not been out of their berths for six weeks. The fearful depression and weakness, that forewarn scurvy, had been followed by the pains, the swollen limbs, the blue spots that presage death. A spongy excrescence covered the gums. The teeth loosened. The slightest noise was enough to throw the patient into a paroxysm of anguished fright; and some died on the decks immediately on contact with the cuttingly cold air. Others expired as they were lowered to the stretchers; others, as they were laid along the strip of sandy shore, where the bold foxes were already devouring the dead and could scarcely be driven off by the dying. In this way perished nine of the St. Peter's crew during the week of the landing.

By November 10, all was in readiness for Bering's removal from the ship. As the end approached, his irritability subsided to a quieted cheerfulness; and he could be heard mumbling over thanks to God for the great success of his early life. Wrapped in furs, fastened to a stretcher, the Dane was lowered over the ship, carried ashore, and laid in a sand pit. All that day it had been dull and leaden; and just as Bering was being carried, it began to snow heavily. Steller occupied the sand pit next to the commander; and in {44} addition to acting as cook and physician to the entire crew, became Bering's devoted attendant.

By the 13th of November, a long sand pit had been roofed over as a sort of hospital with rug floor; and here Steller had the stricken sailors carried in from the shore. Poor Waxel, who had fought so bravely, was himself carried ashore on November 21.

Daily, officers tramped inland exploring; and daily, the different reconnoitring parties returned with word that not a trace of human habitation, of wood, or the way to Kamchatka had been discovered. Another island there was to the east—now known as Copper Island—and two little islets of rock; but beyond these, nothing could be descried from the highest mountains but sea—sea. Bering Island, itself, is some fifty miles long by ten wide, very high at the south, very swampy at the north; but the Commander Group is as completely cut off from both Asia and America as if it were in another world. The climate was not intensely cold; but it was so damp, the very clothing rotted; and the gales were so terrific that the men could only leave the mud huts or yurts by crawling on all fours; and for the first three weeks after the landing, blast on blast of northern hurricane swept over the islands.

The poor old ship rode her best at anchor through the violent storms; but on November 28 she was seen to snap her cable and go staggering drunkenly to open sea. The terror of the castaways at this spectacle {45} was unspeakable. Their one chance of escape in spring seemed lost; but the beach combers began rolling landward through the howling storm; and when next the spectators looked, the St. Peter was driving ashore like a hurricane ship, and rushed full force, nine feet deep with her prow into the sands not a pistol shot away from the crew. The next beach comber could not budge her. Wind and tide left her high and dry, fast in the sand.

But what had become of Chirikoff, on board the St. Paul, from the 20th of June, when the vessels were separated by storm? Would it have been any easier for Bering if he had known that the consort ship had been zigzagging all the while less than a week's cruise from the St. Peter? When the storm, which had separated the vessels, subsided, Chirikoff let the St. Paul drift in the hope that Bering might sight the missing vessel. Then he steered southeast to latitude 48 degrees in search of the commander; but on June 23 a council of officers decided it was a waste of time to search longer, and ordered the vessel to be headed northeastward. The wind was light; the water, clear; and Chirikoff knew, from the pilot-birds following the vessel, from the water-logged trees churning past, from the herds of seal floundering in the sea, that land must lie in this direction. A bright lookout was kept for the first two weeks of July. Two hundred and forty miles were traversed; and on a calm, {46} clear night between the 13th and 15th of July, there loomed above the horizon the dusky heights of a wooded mountainous land in latitude 55 degrees 21 minutes. Chirikoff was in the Alexander Archipelago. Daybreak came with the St. Paul only four miles off the conspicuous heights of Cape Addington. Chirikoff had discovered land some thirty-six hours before Bering. The new world of mountains and forests roused the wildest enthusiasm among the Russians. A small boat was lowered; but it failed to find a landing. A light wind sprang up, and the vessel stood out under shortened sails for the night. By morning the wind had increased, and fog had blurred out all outlines of the new-found land. Here the ocean currents ran northward; and by morning of the 17th, when the sun pierced the washed air and the mountains began to appear again through jagged rifts of cloud-wraith, Chirikoff found himself at the entrance of a great bay, girt by forested mountains to the water's edge, beneath the high cone of what is now known as Mount Edgecumbe, {47} in Sitka Sound. Sitka Sound is an indentation about fifteen miles from north to south, with such depths of water that there is no anchorage except south and southwestward of Mount Edgecumbe. Impenetrable woods lined the mountains to the very shore. Great trunks of uprooted trees swept past the ship continually. Even as the clouds cleared, leaving vast forests and mountain torrents and snowy peaks visible, a hazy film of intangible gloom seemed to settle over the shadowy harbor.[2]

Chirikoff wished to refill his water-casks. Also, he was ambitious to do what the scientists cursed Bering for not doing off St. Elias—explore thoroughly the land newly found. The long-boat was lowered with Abraham Dementieff and ten armed men. The crew was supplied with muskets, a brass cannon, and provisions for several days. Chirikoff arranged a simple code of signals with the men—probably a column of smoke, or sunlight thrown back by a tin mirror—by which he could know if all went well. Then, with a cheer, the first Russians to put foot on the soil of America bent to the oar and paddled swiftly away from the St. Paul for the shadow of the forested mountains etched from the inland shore. The long-boat seemed smaller as the distance from the St. Paul increased. Then men and boat disappeared behind an {48} elbow of land. A flash of reflected light from the hidden shore; and Chirikoff knew the little band of explorers had safely landed. The rest of the crew went to work putting things shipshape on the St. Paul. The day passed with more safety signals from the shore. The crew of the St. Paul slept sound out in mid-harbor unsuspicious of danger. Another day passed, and another night. Not so many signals! Had the little band of Russians gone far inland for water, and the signals been hidden by the forest gloom? A wind was singing in the rigging—threatening a landward gale that might carry the St. Paul somewhat nearer those rocky shores than the Russians could wish. Chirikoff sent a sailor spying from the lookout of the highest yard-arm. No signals at all this day; nor the next day; nor the next! The St. Paul had only one other small boat. Fearing the jolly-boat had come to grief among the rocks and counter-currents, Chirikoff bade Sidor Savelief, the bo'swain, and six armed sailors, including carpenters to repair damages, take the remaining boat and go to Dementieff's rescue. The strictest orders were given that both boats return at once. Barely had the second boat rounded the elbow of shore where the first boat had disappeared when a great column of smoke burst from the tree-tops of the hidden shore. To Chirikoff's amazement, the second crew made no signal. The night passed uneasily. Sailors were on the watch. Ship's rigging was put in shape. Dawn was witnessed {49} by eager eyes gazing shoreward. The relief was inexpressible when two boats—a long and a short one like those used by the two crews—were seen rounding the elbow of land. The landward breeze was now straining the St. Paul's hawsers. Glad to put for open sea to weather the coming gale, Chirikoff ordered all hands on deck and anchors up. The small boats came on with a bounce over the ocean swell; but suddenly one of Chirikoff's Russians pointed to the approaching crafts. There was a pause in the rattle of anchor chains. There was a pause in the bouncing of the small boats, too. They were not the Russian jolly-boats. They were canoes; and the canoes were filled with savages as dumb with astonishment at the apparition of the St. Paul as the Russians were at the canoes. Before the Russians had come to their senses, or Chirikoff had time to display presents to allure the savages on board as hostages, the Indians rose in their places, uttered a war-whoop that set the rocks echoing, and beating their paddles on the gun'els, scudded for shore. Gradually the meaning dawned on Chirikoff. His two crews had been destroyed. His small boats were lost. His supply of fresh water was running low. The fire that he had observed had been a fire of orgies over mutilated men. The St. Paul was on a hostile shore with such a gale blowing as threatened destruction on the rocks. There Was nothing to do but scud for open sea. When the gale abated, Chirikoff returned to Sitka and cruised {50} the shore for some sign of the sailors: but not a trace of the lost men could be descried. By this time water was so scarce, the men were wringing rain moisture out of the sails and distilling sea-water. A council was called. All agreed it would be worse than folly to risk the entire crew for the twelve men, who were probably already dead. There was no small boat to land for more water; and the St. Paul was headed about with all speed for the northwest.[3]

Slant rain settled over the sea. The wind increased and grew more violent. The St. Paul drove ahead like a ghost form pursued through a realm of mist. Toward the end of July, when the weather cleared, stupendous mountains covered with snow were seen on the northwestward horizon like walls of ice with the base awash in thundering sea. Thousands of cataracts, clear as crystal, flashed against the mountain sides; and in places the rock wall rose sheer two thousand feet from the roaring tide. Inlets, gloomy with forested mountain walls where impetuous streams laden with the milky silt of countless glaciers tore their way through the rocks to the sea, could be seen receding inland through the fog. Then the foul weather settled over the sea again; and by the first {51} week of August, with baffling winds and choppy sea, the St. Paul was veering southwestward where Alaska projects a long arm into the Pacific. Chirikoff had passed the line where forests dwarf to willows, and willows to sedges, and sedges to endless leagues of rolling tundras. Somewhere near Kadiak, land was again sighted. When the fog lifted, the vapor of far volcanoes could be seen hanging lurid over the mountain tops.

Wind was followed by dead calm, when the sails literally fell to pieces with rain-rot in the fog; and on the evening of September 8 the becalmed crew were suddenly aroused by the tide-rip of roaring breakers. Heaving out all anchors at once, Chirikoff with difficulty made fast to rocky bottom. In the morning, when the fog lifted, he found himself in the centre of a shallow bay surrounded by the towering cliffs of what is now known as Adakh Island. While waiting for a breeze, he saw seven canoe loads of savages put out from shore chanting some invocation. The Russians threw out presents, but the savages took no notice, gradually surrounding the St. Paul. All this time Chirikoff had been without any water but the stale casks brought from Kamchatka; and he now signalled his desperate need to the Indians. They responded by bringing bladders full of fresh water; but they refused to mount the decks. And by evening fourteen canoe loads of the taciturn savages were circling threateningly round the Russians. Luckily, {52} at nightfall a wind sprang up. Chirikoff at once slipped anchor and put to sea.

By the third week of August, the rations of rye meal had been reduced to once a day instead of twice in order to economize water. Only twelve casks of water remained; and Chirikoff was fifteen hundred miles from Kamchatka. Cold, hunger, thirst, then did the rest. Chirikoff himself was stricken with scurvy by the middle of September, and one sailor died of the scourge. From the 26th, one death a day followed in succession. Though down, Chirikoff was not beaten. Discipline was maintained among the hungry crew; and each day Chirikoff issued exact orders. Without any attempt at steering, the ship drifted westward. No more land was seen by the crew; but on the 2d of October, the weather clearing, an observation was taken of the sun that showed them they were nearing Kamchatka. On the 8th, land was sighted; but one man alone, the pilot, Yelagin, had strength to stay at the helm till Avacha Bay was approached, when distress signals were fired from the ship's cannon to bring help from land. Poor Croyere de l'Isle, kinsman to the map makers whose mistakes had caused disaster, sick unto death of the scurvy, had kept himself alive with liquor and now insisted on being carried ashore. The first breath of clear air above decks was enough. The scientist fell dead within the home harbor. Chirikoff was landed the same day, all unaware that at times in the mist and {53} rain he had been within from fifteen to forty miles of poor Bering, zigzagging across the very trail of the afflicted sister ship.

By December the entire crew of Bering's castaways, prisoners on the sea-girt islands of the North Pacific, were lodged in five underground huts on the bank of a stream. In 1885, when these mud huts or yurts were examined, they were seen to have walls of peat three feet thick. To each man was given a pound of flour. For the rest, their food must be what they caught or clubbed—mainly, at first, the sea-otter, whose flesh was unpalatable to the taste and tough as leather. Later, Steller discovered that the huge sea-cow—often thirty-five feet long—seen pasturing on the fields of sea-kelp at low tide, afforded food of almost the same quality as the land cow. Seaweed grew in miniature forests on the island; and on this pastured the monster bovine of the sea—true fish in its hind quarters but oxlike in its head and its habits—herding together like cattle, snorting like a horse, moving the neck from side to side as it grazed, with the hind leg a fin, the fore fin a leg, udder between the fore legs, and in place of teeth, plates. Nine hundred or more sea-otter—whose pelts afterward brought a fortune to the crew—were killed for food by Steller and his companions; but two sea-cows provided the castaways with food for six weeks. On November 22d died the old mate, who had weathered northern seas for fifty {54} years. In all, out of a crew of seventy-seven, there had perished by January 6, 1742, when the last death occurred, thirty-one men.

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