1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Alaska
ALASKA, formerly called Russian America, a district of the United States of America, occupying the extreme northwestern part of North America and the adjacent islands. The name is a corruption of a native word possibly meaning “mainland” or “peninsula.” The district of Alaska comprises, first, all that part of the continent W. of the 141st meridian of W. longitude from Greenwich; secondly, the eastern Diomede island in Bering Strait, and all islands in Bering Sea and the Aleutian chain lying E. of a line drawn from the Diomedes to pass midway between Copper Island, off Kamchatka, and Attu Island of the Aleutians; thirdly, a narrow strip of coast and adjacent islands N. of a line drawn from Cape Muzon, in lat. 54° 40′ N., E. and N. up Portland Canal to its head, and thence, as defined in the treaty of cession to the United States, quoting a boundary treaty of 1825 between Great Britain and Russia, following “the summit of the mountains situated parallel to the coast” to the 141st meridian, provided that when such line runs more than ten marine leagues from the ocean the limit “shall be formed by a line parallel to the windings of the coast and which shall never exceed the distance of ten marine leagues therefrom.” The international disputes connected with this description are referred to below.
Physical Features.—Alaska is bounded on the N. by the Arctic Ocean, on the W. by the Arctic Ocean and Bering Strait, on the S. and S.W. by the Gulf of Alaska and the Pacific Ocean, and on the E. by Yukon Territory and British Columbia. It consists of a compact central mass and two straggling appendages running from its S.W. and S.E. corners, and sweeping in a vast arc over 16 degrees of latitude and 58 degrees of longitude. These three parts will be referred to hereafter respectively, as Continental Alaska, Aleutian Alaska and the “Panhandle.” The range of latitude from Point Barrow in the Arctic Ocean to Cape Muzon is almost 17 degrees—as great as from New Orleans to Duluth; the range of longitude from Attu Island to the head of Portland Canal is 58 degrees—considerably greater than from New York to San Francisco. The total area is about 586,400 sq. m. The general ocean-coast line is about 4750 m., and, including the islands, bays, inlets and rivers to the head of tide water, is about 26,000 m. in length (U.S. Coast Survey 1889). The entire southern coast is very irregular in outline; it is precipitous, with only very slight stretches of beach or plain. Its elevation gradually decreases as one travels W. toward the Aleutians. A great submarine platform extends throughout a large part of Bering Sea. The western and northern coasts are regular in outline with long straight beaches; and shallows are common in the seas that wash them. On the Arctic there is a broad coastal plain. Of the islands of Alaska the more important are: at the S.E. extremity and lying close inland, the Alexander Archipelago, whose principal islands from N.W. to S.E. are Chicagof, Baranof, Admiralty, Kupreanof, Kuiu, Prince of Wales (the largest of the archipelago and of all the islands about Alaska, measuring about 140 m. in length and 40 m. in width), Etolin and Revillagigedo; S.W. of the mainland, two groups—(1) Kodiak, whose largest island, of the same name, is 40 m. by 100 m., and may be considered a continuation of the Kenai Peninsula, and whose W. continuation, S. of Alaska Peninsula, consists of the Semidi, Shumagin and Sannak clusters; (2) the Aleutian Islands (q.v.) sweeping 1200 m. W.S.W. from the end of Alaska Peninsula, W. of the mainland, in Bering Sea, the Pribilof Islands, about 500 m. S. of Cape Prince of Wales, the small Hall and St Matthew Islands, about 170 m. S.W. of the same cape, St Lawrence Island (100 m. and 10 to 30 m. wide), which is about half way between the last mentioned pair of islets and Cape Prince of Wales and Nunivak Island, near the mainland and due E. of St Matthew; and in the middle of Bering Strait the Diomede Islands, which belong in part to Russia.Very little was known about Alaska previous to 1896, when the gold discoveries in the Klondike stimulated public interest regarding it. Since 1895, however, the explorations of the United States Geological Survey and the Department of War, and other departments of the government, have fully established the main features of its physiography. It has mountains, plateaus and lowlands on a grand scale. “In a broad way, the larger features of topography correspond with those of the western states. There is a Pacific Mountain system, a Central Plateau region, a Rocky Mountain system, and a Great Plains region. These four divisions are well marked, and show the close geographic relation of this area to the southern part of the Continent.” The orographic features of the Pacific Mountain system trend parallel to the coast-line of the Gulf of Alaska, changing with this at the great bend beyond the N., and of the Panhandle from S.E. and N.W. to N.E. and S.W. and running through the Alaska Peninsula. The Pacific Mountain system includes four ranges. The Coast Range of the Panhandle attains a width of 100 m., but has no well-defined crest line. The range is characterized by the uniformity of summit levels between 5O00 and 6000 ft. Continuing the Coast Range, with which it is closely associated—the Chilkat
river lies between them—is the St Elias Range (a term now used to include not only the mountains between Cross Sound and Mt. St Elias, but the Chugach, Kenai, Skolai and Nutzotin mountains); among its peaks are: Mt. Crillon (15,900 ft.), Mt. Fairweather (15,290 ft.), Mt. Vancouver (15,666 ft.), Mt. Wrangell (17,500 ft., an active volcano) in the Nutzotin Mountains, Mt. St Elias (18,024 ft.) and, in Canadian territory, Mt. Logan (19,539 ft.). The Aleutian Range, of whose crest the Aleutian Islands are remnants, fills out the system near the coast. The Alaskan Range, connecting with the Nutzotin and Skolai branches of the St Elias Range, lies a little farther inland; it is splendidly marked by many snowy peaks, including Mt. Foraker (17,000 ft.) and Mt. McKinley. The latter, which on the W. rises abruptly out of a marshy country, offers the obstacles of magnificent, inaccessible granite cliffs and large glaciers to the mountaineer; it is the loftiest peak in North America (ca. 20,300 ft.). In the Alaskan Range and the Aleutian Range there are more than a dozen live volcanoes, several of them remarkable; the latter range is composed largely of volcanic material. Evidences of very recent volcanic activity are abundant about Cook Inlet. The Rocky Mountain system extends from Canada (the Tukon territory) into N.E. Alaska, which it crosses near the Arctic Coast in a broad belt composed of several ranges about 6000 ft. in altitude. There is no well-defined crest line; the axis of the system is roughly parallel to the Pacific Mountain system, but runs more nearly E. and W. in Alaska. Between the Pacific Mountain and the Rocky Mountain systems lies the vast Central Plateau region, or Yukon plateau. Finally, between the Rocky Mountains and the Arctic Ocean is the Arctic Slope region, a sloping plain corresponding to the interior plains of the United States.
First Physiographic Region.—The Panhandle is remarkably picturesque. The maze of islands, hundreds in number, of the Alexander Archipelago (area about 13,000 sq. m.) are remnants of a submerged mountain system; the islands rise 3000 to 5000 ft. above the sea, with luxuriantly wooded tops and bald, sheer sides scarred with marks of glacial action; the beachless coast is only a narrow ledge between the mountains and the sea, and unlike the coast of Norway, to which in outline it is not dissimilar, is bold, steep and craggy. Through the inner channels, sheltered from the Pacific by the island rampart, runs the “inland passage,” the tourist route northward from Seattle, Washington. The inter-insular straits are carried up into the shore as fjords heading in rivers and glaciers. Thus the Stikine river continues Sumner Strait and the Taku continues Cross Sound. The Stikine, Taku and Alsek rivers all cross the mountains in deep-cut canyons. Everywhere the evidences of glacial action abound. Most remarkable are the inlets known as Portland Canal and Lynn Canal (continuing Chatham Strait). The first is very deep, with precipitous shores and bordering mountains 5000 to 6000 ft. high; the second is a noble fjord 100 m. long and on an average 6 m. wide, with magnificent Alpine scenery. It is subject in winter to storms of extraordinary violence, but is never closed by ice. Both Portland Canal and Lynn Canal are of historical importance, as the question of the true location of the first and the commercial importance to Canada or to the United States of the possession of the second, were the crucial contentions in the disputes over the Alaska-Canadian boundary. At the head of Lynn Canal, the only place on the whole extent of the south-eastern Alaskan coast where a clear-cut waterparting is exhibited between the sea-board and interior drainage, the summits of the highest peaks in the Coast Range are 8000 to 9000 ft. above the sea. White Pass (2888 ft.) and Chilkoot Pass (3500 ft.), at the head of the Lynn Canal, are the gateway to the mining country of the Klondike and Upper Yukon. They are the highest points that one meets in travelling from Skagway along the course of the Yukon to Bering Sea.
Prior to the opening (in August 1900) of the railway between Skagway and White Horse, Canada (110 m.), by way of the White Pass, all transportation to the interior was effected by men and pack-animals (and for a time by a system of telpherage) over these passes and the Chilkat or Dalton trail; the building of the railway reduced carriage rates to less than a tenth of their former value, and the Chilkat and Chilkoot Passes were no longer used. The coast region above the Panhandle shows on a smaller and diminishing scale the same characteristic features, gradually running into those of the Aleutians. Out of the Alaska and Nutzotin mountains two great rivers flow southward: the Copper, practically unnavigable except for small boats, because of its turbulence and the discharge of glaciers into its waters; and the Susitna, also practically unnavigable. Both of these rivers have their sources in lofty mountain masses, and are swift and powerful streams carrying with them much silt; their passes over the water-parting N. of the Kenai Peninsula are through gorges from 4000 to 10,000 ft. in depth. The Copper, the Susitna and its tributary, the Yentna, as well as the Skwentna, a tributary of the Yentna from the west, all run through picturesque canyons, and their upper courses are characterized by glacial and torrential feeders. Their valleys are well timbered.
The glaciers of the Panhandle and throughout the rest of the Pacific region are most remarkable—extraordinary alike for their number and their size. They lie mainly between 56° and 61° N. lat., in a belt 1000 m. long, of which the central part, some 350 or 500 m. long and 80 m. to 100 m. wide, has been described as one great confluent névé field. Thousands of Alpine glaciers from one to fifteen miles long fill the upper valleys and canyons of the mountains. More than a hundred almost reach the sea, from which they are separated by detrital lowland or terminal moraines. Other glaciers are of the Piedmont type. Greatest of these and of Alaskan glaciers is the Malaspina, a vast elevated plateau of wasting ice, 1500 sq. m. in area (nearly a tenth the area of all Switzerland), touching the sea at only one point, though fronting it for 50 m. behind a fringing foreland of glacial debris. It is fed by Alpine glaciers, among them one of the grandest in Alaska, the Seward, which descends from Mt. Logan. It is more than 50 m. long, and more than 3 m. broad at its narrowest point, and several times in its course flows over cascades, falling hundreds of feet. Of tide-water glaciers the most remarkable is probably the Muir. It has an area of 350 sq. m.; the main trunk, which is 30 to 40 m. broad, is fed by 26 tributaries, 20 of which are each greater than the Mer de Glace, and pushes its bergs into the sea from ice cliffs almost 2 m. wide, standing 100 to 200 ft. above the water, and extending probably 700 to 1000 ft. beneath its surface. It has been calculated that the average daily discharge of the Muir in summer is 30,000,000 cubic ft. Its course, which is only about 13 m., has a slope of 100 ft. per mile, and the main current moves 7 ft. daily. The character of the Muir was greatly altered by an earthquake in 1899. There are some 30 tide-water glaciers—a considerable number of them very noteworthy. The Valdez is 30 m. long and 5000 ft. in altitude. Most of the Alaskan glaciers are receding, but not all of them; and at times there is a general advance. The Muir receded 1.6 m. from 1879–1890, the Childs about 600 yards in 17 years; others over 4, 7 or 10 m. in 20 years.
The Aleutian Islands (q.v.), like the Alexander Archipelago, are remnants of a submerged mountain system. Their only remarkable features are the volcanoes on the easterly islands, already mentioned.
Continental Alaska.—Continental Alaska in the interior is essentially a vast plateau. “The traveller between the main drainage areas of the interior is struck by the uniform elevation of the interfluminal areas. Rounded hills, level meads and persistent flat-topped ridges, composed of rocks of varying structure, rise to about the same level and give the impression that they are the remnants of a former continuous surface. Occasional limited areas of rugged mountains rise above this level, and innumerable stream valleys have been incised below it; but from the northern base of the St Elias and Alaskan ranges to the southern foothills of the Rocky Mountain system, and throughout their length, the remnants of this ancient level are to be seen. In height it varies from about 5000 ft. close to the bases of the mountain systems to less than 3000 ft. in the vicinity of the main lines of drainage, and slopes gradually towards the north.” The Seward Peninsula is particularly rugged. This great plateau drains westward through broad, gently flowing streams, the network of whose tributary waters penetrates every corner of the interior and offers easy means of communication. Both the main streams and the smaller tributaries often flow through deep canyons. The Yukon is one of the great drainage systems of the world. The Yukon itself has a length of more than 2000 m. and bisects the country from E. to W. Behind the bluffs that form in large part its immediate border its basin is a rolling country, at times sinking into great dead levels like the Yukon flats between Circle City and the Lower Ramparts, some 30,000 sq. m. in area. Of the two great affluents of the Yukon, the Tanana is for the most part unnavigable, while the Koyukuk is navigable for more than 450 m. by river steamers, and for more than 500 m. above its mouth shows no appreciable diminution in volume. A low water-parting divides the Yukon valley from the Kuskokwim, the second river of Alaska in size, navigable by steamers for 600 m. Torrential near its source, it is already a broad, sluggish stream at its confluence with the East Kuskokwim. The tides rise 50 ft. near its mouth and the tide-head is 100 m. above the mouth.
Rocky Mountains.—The Rocky Mountain system in Alaska is higher and more complex than in Canada. About 100 m. wide at the international boundary, where the peaks of the British Mountains on the N. and of the Davidson Mountains On the S. are 7000 to 8000 ft. high, the system runs W.S.W. as the Endicott Mountains, two contiguous ranges of about 5000 to 6000 ft., and as these ranges separate, the northern becomes the De Long, the southern the Baird Mountains, whose elevation rapidly decreases toward the coast-line. The system is sharply defined on the north and less so on the south.
Arctic Slope Region.—The Arctic Slope region is divided into the Anuktuvuk Plateau about 80 m. wide, with a maximum altitude to the S. of 2500 ft., and between the plateau and the Arctic Ocean the Coastal Plain. Very little is known of either part of the region.
Climate.—From the foregoing description of the country it is evident that the range of climate must be considerable. That of the coast and that of the Yukon plateau are quite distinct. The Panhandle, along with the lisière (foreland), westward to Cook Inlet might be called temperate Alaska, its climate being similar to that of the N.W. coast of the United States; while to the westward and northward the winters become longer and more severe. The cause of the mild climate of the Panhandle, formerly supposed to be the Japanese current, or Kuro Shiwo, is now held to be the general eastward drift of the waters of the North Pacific in the direction of the prevalent winds. To the warmth and moisture brought by this means the coastal region owes its high equable temperature, its heavy rainfall (80–110 in.) and its superb vegetation. The mean annual temperature is from 54° to 60° F. Winter sets in about the 1st of December and the snow is gone save in the mountains by the 1st of May. The thermometer rarely registers below zero F. or above 75° F.; the difference between the midwinter and midsummer averages is seldom more than 25°. The summer is relatively dry, the autumn and winter wet. The vapour-laden sea air blowing landward against the girdle of snow and glaciers on the mountain barriers a few miles inland drains its moisture in excessive rain and snow upon the lisière, shrouding it in well-nigh unbroken fog and cloud-bank. Only some 60 to 100 days in the year are clear. In passing from the Sitkan district westward toward Kodiak and the Aleutians (q.v.) the climate becomes even more equable, the temperature a little lower and the rainfall somewhat less; the fogs at first less dense, especially near Cook Inlet, where the climate is extremely local, but more and more persistent along the Aleutians. The clear days of a year at Unalaska can be counted on the fingers; five days in seven it actually rains or snows. Bering Sea is covered with almost eternal fog. Along the coast N. of Alaska Peninsula the rainfall diminishes to 10 in. or less within the Arctic circle; the summer temperature is quite endurable but the winters are exceedingly rigorous. East of the mountains in south-eastern Alaska the atmosphere is dry and bracing, the temperature ranging from −14° to 92° F. In the farther interior, in the valleys of the Yukon, the Tanana, the Copper and the Sushitna the summers are much the same in character, the winters much more severe. On the Yukon at the international boundary the mean of the warmest month is higher than that of the warmest month at Sitka, 500 m. southward. At some points in the Upper Yukon valley the range of extreme temperatures is as great as from −75° to 90° F. The mean heat of summer in the upper valley is about 60° to 70° F., and at some points in the middle and lower valley even higher. By the middle of September snow flurries have announced the imminence of winter, the smaller streams congeal, the earth freezes, the miner perforce abandons his diggings, and navigation ceases even on the Yukon in October. All winter snows fall heavily. The air is dry and quiet, and the cold relatively uniform. In midwinter in the upper valley the sun rises only a few degrees above the horizon for from four to six hours a day, though very often quite obscured. In December, January, February and March the thermometer often registers lower than −50° F., and the mean temperature is −20°. In May the rivers open, the cleared land thaws out, and by June the miner is again at work. Summer is quickly in full ascendancy. In May and June the sun shines from eighteen to twenty hours and diffused twilight fills the rest of the day. The rainfall is light, from 10 to 25 in. according to the year or the locality. Dull weather is unknown. All nature responds in rich and rapid growth to the garish light and intense heat of the long, splendid days. But the Alaska summer is the uncertain season at times the nights are cold into July, at times snow falls and there are frosts in mid-August; sometimes rain is heavy, or again there is a veritable drought. In the great river valleys S. of the Yukon basin climatic conditions are much less uniform.
Fauna and Flora.—The fauna of Alaska is very rich and surprisingly varied. The lists of insects, birds and mammals are especially noteworthy. Of these three classes, and of other than purely zoological interest, are mosquitoes, which swarm in summer in the interior in vast numbers; sea fowl, which are remarkably abundant near the Aleutians; moose, and especially caribou, which in the past were very numerous in the interior and of extreme economic importance to the natives. The destruction of the wild caribou has threatened to expose the Indians to wholesale starvation, hence the effort which the United States government has made to stock the country with domestic reindeer from Siberia. This effort made under the direction of the Bureau of Education has been eminently successful, and in the future the reindeer seems certain to contribute very greatly to the food, clothing, means of shelter and miscellaneous industries of the natives; and not less to the solution of the problems of communication and transportation throughout the interior. It is, however, the fish and the fur-bearing animals of its rivers and surrounding seas that are economically most distinctive of and important to Alaska. The fishing grounds extend along the coast from the extreme south-east past the Aleutians into Bristol Bay. Herring are abundant, and cod especially so. There are probably more than 100,000 sq. m. of cod-banks from 22 to 90 fathoms deep in Bering Sea and E. of the Alaska Peninsula. Salmon are to be found in almost incredible numbers. Of marine mammals, whales are hunted far to the N. in Bering Sea and the Arctic Ocean, but are much less common than formerly, as are also the walrus, the sea otter and the fur seal. All these are disappearing before commercial greed. The walrus is now found mainly far N.; the sea otter, once fairly common throughout the Aleutian district, is now rarely found even on the remoter islands; the fur seal, whose habitat is the Pribilof Islands in Bering Sea, has been considerably reduced in numbers by pelagic hunting. There are half-a-dozen species of hair seals and sea-lions. The number of fur-bearing land animals is equally large. Sables, ermine, wolverines, minks, land otters, beavers and musk-rats have always been important items in the fur trade. There are black, grizzly and polar bears, and also two exclusively Alaskan species, the Kodiak and the glacier bear. The grey wolf is common; it is the basal stock of the Alaskan sledge-dog. The red fox is widely distributed, and the white or Arctic fox is very common along the eastern coast of Bering Sea; a blue fox, once wild, is now domesticated on Kodiak and the Aleutians, and on the southern continental coast, and a black fox, very rare, occurs in south-eastern Alaska; the silver fox is very rare.
The Alaskan flora is less varied than the fauna. The forests of the coastal region eastward from Cook Inlet, and particularly in south-eastern Alaska, are of fair variety, and of great richness and value. The balsam fir and in the south the red cedar occur in scant quantities; more widely distributed, but growing only under marked local conditions, is the yellow or Alaska cedar, a very hard and durable wood of fine grain and pleasant odour. The Oregon alder is fairly common. Far the most abundant are coast and Alpine hemlocks and the tide-land or Sitka spruce. The last is not confined to this part of Alaska, but is the characteristic and universal tree. It is of primary economic importance to the natives, who use it for the most various purposes. On the islands of the Alexander Archipelago and on Prince William Sound it grows to gigantic size; even on the Koyukuk and the middle Yukon it attains in places a diameter of 2 ft. In 1902 a forest reservation comprising the largest part of the Alexander Archipelago was created by the United States government. The separation of the coast and interior floras is almost complete; only along the mountain passes and river valleys, and rarely there, is there an exchange of species. Timber, however, is fairly abundant along the entire course of the Yukon above Anvik (about 400 m. from the mouth), along the great tributaries of the Yukon, and, so far as explorations have revealed, along every stream in central Alaska; and the woods of the interior consist almost entirely of spruce. On the Yukon flats it grows in a vast forest impenetrably dense. The timber line, which in the Panhandle and along the southern coast of the continental mass runs from 1800 to 2400 ft., frequently rises in the interior plateau even to 4000 ft. Next in importance after spruce, in the interior, is birch, and then balsam poplar. Thickets of alders and willows in wet places and new-made land, aspens and large cottonwoods west of the characteristic spruce area (as on Seward Peninsula), are also common. Toward the Arctic circle, the timber becomes, of course, sparse, low, gnarled and distorted. The willows in the Arctic drainage basin shrink to shrubs scarcely knee-high. Bushes are common in western Alaska, but undergrowth is very scanty in the forests. Grasses grow luxuriantly in the river bottoms and wherever the tundra moss is destroyed to give them footing. Most distinctive is the ubiquitous carpeting of mosses, varying in colours from the pure white and cream of the reindeer moss to the deep green and brown of the peat moss, all conspicuously spangled in the brief summer with bright flowers of the higher orders, heavy blossoms on stunted stalks. The thick peat moss or tundra of the undrained lowlands covers probably at least a quarter of Alaska; the reindeer moss grows both on the lowlands and the hills. Sedges available for forage grow in the tundra. In August berries are fairly abundant over the interior; one of them, the salmon or cloud berry, preserved in seal oil for the winter, is an important food of the natives. The grasses are killed by the frosts in September. The western timber limit is on Kodiak Island. The Aleutian Islands (q.v.) are almost destitute of trees, but are covered with a luxuriant growth of herbage. Climatic differences cannot account for the treeless condition of the country W. of this point, and the true explanation lies probably in the fact that in winter, when the seeds of the coastal forests ripen and are released, the prevalent winds W. of Kodiak are damp and blow from the S. and S.W., while the spread of the seeds requires dry winds blowing from the N. and N.W. Such favourable conditions occur only rarely.
The Soil of Alaska seems to be in itself rich, and quite capable of agricultural development; the great impediment to this is in the briefness of the summer. Contrary, however, to the once universal belief, the experiments of the department of agriculture of the United States have definitely proved that hardy vegetables in great variety can readily be produced in the coastal region and at various stations in the Yukon valley; and presumably, therefore, all over the interior S. of the Arctic circle, save along Bering Sea; also that there is little doubt of the practicability of successfully cultivating buckwheat, barley and oats, and possibly also rye and wheat; that grasses for grazing grow generally and often in abundance; and in general that the possibilities of interior Alaska as a live-stock country are very considerable. It is calculated that a twentieth of south-eastern Alaska is available for agriculture, and that of the entire country 100,000 sq. m. are pasturable or tillable.
Industry.—The fur and fish resources of Alaska have until recently held first place in her industries. Herrings furnish oil and guano, and the young fish are packed as “sardines” at Juneau. Cod can be taken with comparatively little danger or hardship. During the Russian occupation a small amount was shipped to California and the Sandwich Islands. The take since 1879 has been practically constant. The take of halibut is increasing steadily. The salmon industry dates from 1878. The total output (in 1901, 100,000,000 ℔; in 1906, about 72,000,000 ℔), which since 1900 has been more than half the total salmon product of the United States, is more than ten' times the product of all other fish. On the Karluk river, Kodiak Island, is the greatest salmon fishery in the world. More than 3,000,000 salmon have been canned here in one season. The second salmon stream is the Nushagak, flowing into Bristol Bay; this bay is the richest fishing field of Alaska, furnishing in 1901, 35% of the total production. The recklessly wasteful manner in which these fisheries are conducted, and the inadequate measures taken by the United States government for their protection, threaten the entire industry with destruction. From 1867 to 1902 the value of the total fishery product was estimated at $60,000,000. The fur-seal industry has been better protected but still unavailingly. (See Seal Fisheries and Bering Sea Arbitration.) The value of the fur seals taken from 1868 to 1902 was estimated at $35,000,000 and that of other furs at $17,000,000. The walrus, hunted for its ivory tusks, and the sea otter, rarest and most valuable of Alaskan fur animals, are near extermination; the blue fox is now bred for its pelt on the Aleutians and the southern continental coast; the skins of the black and silver fox are extremely rare, and in general the whole fur industry is discouragingly decadent. The whale fishery also has greatly fallen off; there is no profit on the oil and the whales are sought for the baleen alone; they are much less numerous too than they once were, and have to be sought farther and farther north.
Minerals.—The timber resources of Alaska are untouched and the serious exploitation of her minerals is very recent. As early as 1861 gold discoveries were made on the Stikine river; repeated discoveries, culminating in the Cassiar district “boom,” were made in British Columbia from 1857 to 1874; colourings along the Yukon were reported in 1866–1867 and systematic prospecting of the upper river began about 1873. Juneau was founded in 1880; the same year the opposition of the Indians was withdrawn that had prevented the crossing of the mountain passes to the interior, and after 1880 repeated and scattered discoveries were made on the Lewes, Pelly, Stewart and other streams of the Upper Yukon country in Canada. As early as 1883–1885 there was a considerable mining excitement due to these discoveries, and a much greater one in 1887 after the discovery of coarse gold on Forty Mile Creek in American territory; but these were as nothing to the picturesque and feverish rush that followed the location of the first Klondike claim in Canadian territory in August 1896. (See Klondike.) The mines in American territory were temporarily deserted for the new diggings. Other gold districts are scattered over the whole interior of Alaska. Nome (q.v.) was the scene of a great gold mining stampede in 1900. The quartz mines near Juneau are among the greatest stamp mills of the world (See Juneau.) The product of gold and silver (of the latter some 1.3% of the total) from 1895 to 1901 was more than $32,000,000 from Alaska proper (not including that from the Canadian Yukon fields) as against a production of $5,000,000 in 1880–1896. The gold product of the Canadian Yukon territory from 1896–1903 was about $96,000,000, as estimated by the Canadian Geological Survey. In 1905 the product of gold from Alaska was valued at $15,630,000 (mines report); and from 1880 to 1906 the production of gold, according to the estimate of A. H. Brooks, was more than $100,000,000. The gravest problem of mining in the interior country, even graver than that presented by the climate, is transportation; in 1900 the Tanana fields, for example, were provisioned from Circle City, about 125 m. distant, at the rate of a cent per ℔ mile (i.e. $2000 for moving a ton 100 m.). Even higher rates prevailed in the copper country in 1902. Various other minerals in addition to gold have been discovered, and several of them, notably copper and silver (the latter appearing with the gold deposits), may probably be profitably exploited. In 1905 the product of copper was valued at $759,634, that of silver at $80,165 (mines report). Coal, and in much larger quantities lignite, have been found in many parts of Alaska. Most important, because of their location, are deposits along the Alaska Peninsula and between Circle City and Dawson. The latter furnishes fuel to the river steamboats, and it is hoped may eventually supply the surrounding mining region. There are valuable deposits of gypsum on Chicagof Island, and marble quarries are being developed on Prince of Wales Island.
As against $7,200,000 paid for Alaska in 1867, the revenues returned to the United States in the years 1867–1903 totalled $9,555,909 (namely, rental for the Fox and Pribilof Islands, $999,200; special revenue tax on seal-skins, $7,597,351; Alaskan customs, $528,558; public lands, $28,928; other sources $401,872). It has been estimated that in the same period the United States drew from Alaska fish, furs and gold to the value of about $150,000,000; that up to 1903 the imports from the states aggregated $100,000,000; and that $25,000,000 of United States capital was invested in Alaska.
Since 1896 communication with the outer world has been greatly increased. Alaskan mails leave the states daily, many post-offices are maintained, mail is regularly delivered beyond the Arctic circle, all the more important towns have telegraphic communication with the states, there is one railway in the interior through Canadian territory from Skagway, and other railways are planned. The total mileage in 1906 was 136 m. In that year the Alaskan Central Railroad (from Seward to Fairbanks, 463 m.) was chartered; 45 m. of this road were in operation in 1905. One long military road as an “All American” route from Valdez has long been built.
Population.—The population in 1867 at the time of the cession from Russia is estimated at 30,000, of which two-thirds were Eskimo and other Indians. Population returned in 1880, 33,426; in 1890, 32,052; in 1900, 63,592, of whom approximately 48% were whites, 46% natives and 6% Japanese and Chinese; (1910 census) 64,356. The Asiatics are employed in the salmon canneries. The natives of Alaska fall under four ethnologic races: the Eskimo or Innuit—of these the Aleuts are an offshoot; the Haidas or Kaigani, found principally on Prince of Wales Island and thereabouts; the Thlinkits, rather widely distributed in the “Panhandle”; and the Tinnehs or Athapascans, the stock race of the great interior country. In 1890 the pure-blooded natives numbered 23,531, of whom 6000 were Haidas, Thlinkits or other natives of the coastal region, 1000 Aleuts, 3400 Athapascans and 13,100 Eskimo. The natives have adopted many customs of white civilization, and on the Aleutians, and in coastal Alaska, and in scattered regions in the interior acknowledge Christianity under the forms of the Orthodox Greek or other churches. The rapid exhaustion in late years of the caribou, seals and other animals, once the food or stock-in-trade of the Aleuts and other races, threatens more and more the swift depletion of the natives. They have also felt the fatal influence of the liquor traffic. From 1893 to 1895 the United States expended $55,000 to support the natives of the Fur Seal Islands. This policy threatens to become a continued necessity throughout much of Alaska. There is a small government Indian reservation on Afognak Island, near Kodiak. The white population is extremely mobile, and few towns have an assured or definite future. The prosperity of the mining towns of the interior is dependent on the fickle fortune of the gold-fields, for which they are the distributing points. Sitka, Juneau (the capital) and Douglas, both centres of a rich mining district, Skagway, shipping point for freight for the Klondike country (see these titles), and St Michael, the ocean port for freighting up the Yukon, are the only towns apparently assured of a prosperous future. Wrangell (formerly Fort St Dionysius, Fort Stikine and Fort Wrangell), founded in 1833, is a dilapidated and torpid little village, of some interest in Alaskan history, and of temporary importance from 1874 to 1877 as the gateway to the Cassiar mines in British Columbia. Its inhabitants are chiefly Thlinkit Indians.
Government.—Alaska, by an act of Congress approved the 7th of May 1906, received the power to elect a delegate to Congress. Before this act and the elections of August 1906 Alaska was a governmental district of the United States without a delegate in Congress. Its administration rests in the hands of the various executive departments, and is partly exercised by a governor and other resident officials appointed by the president. It is a military district, a customs district (since 1868), is organized into a land district, and constitutes three judicial divisions. In 1867–1877 the government was in the hands of the department of war, although the customs were from the beginning collected by the department of the treasury, with which the effective control rested from 1877 until the passage of the so-called Organic Act of 17th May 1884. This act extended over Alaska the laws of the state of Oregon so far as they should be applicable, created the judicial district and a land district, put in force the mining laws of the United States, and in general gave the administrative system the organization it retained up to the reforms of 1899–1900. The history of government and political agitation has centred since then in the demand for general land legislation and for an adequate civil and criminal law, in protests against the enforcement of a liquor prohibition law, and in agitation for an efficiently centralized administration. As the general land laws of the United States were not extended to Alaska in 1884, there was no means, generally speaking, of gaining title to any land other than a mining claim, and so far as any method did exist its cost was absolutely prohibitive. After partial and inadequate legislation in 1891 and 1898, the regular system of land surveys was made applicable to Alaska in 1899, and a generous homestead law was provided in 1903. An adequate code of civil and criminal law and provisions for civil government under improved conditions were provided by Congress in 1899 and 1900. The agitation over prohibition dates from 1868; the act of that year organizing a customs district forbade the importation and sale of firearms, ammunition and distilled spirits; the Organic Act of 1884 extended this prohibition to all intoxicating liquors. The coast of Alaska offers exceptional facilities for smuggling, and liquor has always been very plentiful; juries have steadily refused to convict offenders, and treasury officials have regularly collected revenue from saloons existing in defiance of law. The prohibition law is still upon the statute-books. The chief weaknesses in the colonial administration of the territory, particularly prior to 1900—but only to a slightly less extent since—have been decentralization and a lax civil service. The concomitants of these have been irresponsibility and inefficiency. The governor has represented the president without possessing much power; the department of war has had ill-defined duties; the department of justice has, in theory, had charge of the general law; the department of the interior has administered the land law; the agents of the bureau of education have superintended the stocking of Alaska with reindeer; the United States Fish Commission has investigated the condition of marine life without having powers to protect it. The treasury department has charted the coasts, sought to enforce the prohibition law, controlled and protected the fur seals and fisheries, and incidentally collected the customs. Since the creation of the department of commerce and labour (1903), it has taken over from other departments some of these scattered functions. All in all, the government has proved itself without power to protect the most valuable industries of the district, and for many years there has been talk of a regular territorial government. The paucity of permanent residents and the poverty of the local treasury seem to make such a solution an impossible one.
History.—The region now known as Alaska was first explored by the Russian officers Captain Vitus Bering and Chirikov in 1741 They visited parts of the coast between Dixon Entrance and Cape St Elias, and returned along the line of the Aleutians. Their expedition was followed by many private vessels manned by traders and trappers. Kodiak was discovered in 1763 and a settlement effected in 1784. Spanish expeditions in 1774 and 1775 visited the south-eastern coast and laid a foundation for subsequent territorial claims, one incident of which were the Nootka Sound seizures of 1789. Captain James Cook in 1778 made surveys from which the first approximately accurate chart of the coast was published; but it was reserved for Vancouver in 1793–1794 to make the first charts in the modern sense of the intricate south-eastern coast, which only in recent years have been superseded by new surveys. Owing to excesses committed by private traders and companies, who robbed, massacred and hideously abused the native Indians, the trade and regulation of the Russian possessions were in 1799 confided to a semi-official corporation called the Russian-American Company for a term of twenty years, afterwards twice renewed for similar periods. A monopoly of the American trade had previously been granted in 1788 to another private company, the Sholikof. Alexander Baranov (1747–1819); chief resident director of the American companies (1790–1819), one of the early administrators of the new company, became famous through the successes he achieved as governor. He founded Sitka (q.v.) in 1804 after the massacre by the natives of the inhabitants of an earlier settlement (1799) at an adjacent point. The headquarters of the company were at Kodiak until 1805, and thereafter at Sitka. In 1821 Russia attempted by ukase to exclude navigators from Bering Sea and the Pacific coast of her possessions, which led to immediate protest from the United States and Great Britain. This led to a treaty with the United States in 1824 and one with Great Britain in 1825, by which the excessive demands of Russia were relinquished and the boundaries of the Russian possessions were permanently fixed. The last charter of the Russian-American Company expired on the 31st of December 1861, and Prince Maksutov, an imperial governor, was appointed to administer the affairs of the territory. In 1864 authority was granted to an American company to make explorations for a proposed Russo-American company's telegraph line overland from the Amur river in Siberia to Bering Strait, and through Alaska to British Columbia. Work was begun on this scheme in 1865 and continued for nearly three years, when the success of the Atlantic cable rendered the construction of the line unnecessary and it was given up, but not until important explorations had been made. In 1854 a Californian company began importing ice from Alaska. Very soon thereafter the first official overtures by the United States for the purchase of Russian America were made during the presidency of James Buchanan. In 1867, by a treaty signed on the 30th of March, the purchase was consummated for the sum of $7,200,000, and on the 18th of October 1867 the formal transfer of the territory was made at Sitka.
Since its acquisition by the United States the history of Alaska has been mainly that of the evolution of its administrative system described above, and the varying fortunes of its fisheries and sealing industries. Since the gold discoveries a wonderful advance has been made in the exploration of the country. A military reservation has been created with Fort Michael as a centre. The two events of greatest general interest have been the Fur Seal Arbitration of 1893 (see Bering Sea Arbitration), and the Alaska-Canadian boundary dispute, settled by an international tribunal of British and American jurists in London in 1903. The boundary dispute involved the interpretation of the words, quoted above, in the treaties of 1825 and 1867 defining the boundary of the Russian (later American) possessions, and also the determining of the location of Portland Canal, and the question whether the coastal girdle should cross or pass around the heads of the fjords of the coast. The tribunal was an adjudication board and not an actual court of arbitration, since its function was not to decide the boundary but to settle the meaning of the Anglo-Russian treaty, which provided for an ideal (and not a physical) boundary. This boundary did not fit in with geographical facts; hence the adjudication was based upon the motive of the treaty and not upon the literal interpretation of such elastic terms as “ocean,” “shore” and “coast-line.” The award of the tribunal made in October 1903 was arrived at by the favourable vote of the three commissioners of the United States and of Lord Alverstone, whose action was bitterly resented by the two Canadian commissioners; it sustained in the main the claims of the United States.
Authorities.—W. H. Dall and M. Baker, “List of Charts, Maps, and Publications relating to Alaska”, in United States Pacific Coast Pilot, 1879; Monthly Catalogue United States Public Documents, No. 37 (1898), and Bulletin 227, United States Geological Survey (1904), for official documents; H. H. Bancroft, Alaska 1730–1885, pp. 595-609; and various other bibliographies in titles mentioned below, especially in Brooke's The Geography and Geology of Alaska.
General.—United States Monthly Summary of Commerce and Finance, July 1903, “Commercial Alaska, 1867–1903. Area, Population,Productions, Commerce . . .”; W. H. Dall, Alaska and its Resources (Boston, 1870); C. Sumner, Speech on “Cession of Russian-America to the United States,” in Works, vol. xi. (Boston, 1875); C. H. Merriam, editor, Harriman Alaska Expedition (New York, 1901–1904, 3 vols.).
Physiography and Climate.—United States Department of War, Explorations in Alaska, 1869–1900 (Washington, 1901); United States Geological Survey, Annual Reports since 1897—“The Geography and Geology of Alaska: A Summary of Existing Knowledge,” by Alfred H. Brooks (Washington, 1906; Professional Paper, No. 45), with various maps (see National Geographic Mag., May 1904, for a map embodying all knowledge then known); “Altitudes in Alaska” (Bulletin 169, by H. Gannett); “Geographic Dictionary of Alak
sa” (Bulletin 299, Washington, 1906), by M. Baker; United States Post Office, “Map of Alaska” (1901); United States Coast and Geodetic Survey, Bulletins and maps; Bulletin American Geographical Society, February 1902, F. S. Schrader, “Work of the United States Geological Survey in Alaska”; Journal of Franklin Institute, October and November 1904, W. R. Abercrombie—“The Copper River Country of Alaska”; I. C. Russell, Glaciers of North America.
Industries.—United States Census, 1880, Ivan Petroff, Report on the Population, Industries and Resources of Alaska; United States Census, 1890 and 1900; on reindeer, Fifteenth Annual Report on Introduction of Domestic Reindeer into Alaska, by Sheldon Jackson (Washington, 1906); on agriculture, United States Department of Agriculture, Experiment Stations, Bulletin Nos. 48, 62, 82 . . . (1898–1900); Seal and Salmon Fisheries and General Industries of Alaska, 1868–1895 (Washington, 1898) (United States Treasury, also 55 Congress, 1 Session, House Document 92, vols. vi.–x.), 4 vols.; D. S. Jordan et al., The Fur Seals and Fur Seal Islands (or Report of the Fur Seal Investigation, 1896–1897 (Washington, 1898), 4 vols.; also many special reports on the seals published by the United States Treasury; for Report of British seal experts, Great Britain, Foreign Office Correspondence, United States, No. 3 (1897), No. 1 (1898).
History and Government.—H. H. Bancroft, Alaska, 1730–1885 (San Francisco, 1886); W. H. Dall, “Alaska as it was and is, 1865–1895,” in Bulletin of the Philadelphia Society of Washington, xiii.; Governor of Alaska, Annual Report to the Secretary of the Interior; Fur Seal Arbitration, Proceedings (Washington, 1895, 16 vols.); also Great Britain, Foreign Office Correspondence, United States, Nos. 6, 7, 8 (1893), No. 1 (1895); Alaskan Boundary Tribunal, Cases, Counter-cases, Arguments, Atlases of United States and Great Britain (Washington, 1903 seq.); and a rich periodical literature.
Population, Natives.—United States National Museum, Ann. Report (1896); W. Hough, “Lamp of the Eskimo” (long, and of general interest); F. Knapp and R. L. Childe, The Thlinkets of South-Eastern Alaska (Chicago, 1896).
- At Kodiak, the monthly means range from 28° to 55° with a total range from −10° to 82° F., as against −3° to 87° F. at Sitka; the average temperature is 40.6° F., rainfall 59 in.
- At St Michael the mean annual temperature is about 26°, the monthly means run from about −2° to 54°, and the extreme recorded temperatures from about −55° to 77° F.; at Port Clarence the annual mean is 22°, monthly means −7° to 51° F.; extreme range of temperature, −38° to 77° F.; at Point Barrow the annual mean is 7.7° F., monthly means −18.6° to 38.1°F., extreme range of temperature −55° to 65° F.
- The mean annual temperature on the Yukon at the international line is about 21° F., the monthly means run from −17° to 60° F., the range of extreme temperatures from −80° to 90° F.
- At Fort Yukon five years’ records showed mean seasonal temperatures of 14°, 60°, 17°, and −23.8° F. for spring, summer, autumn and winter respectively; at Holy Cross Mission 20°, 59°, 36° and 0.95°, at Nulato 29°, 60°, 36° and −14°.
- The Harriman expedition collected in two months 1000 species of insects, of which 344 species (and 6 genera) were new to science.
- The trees here grow as large as 10 in. in diameter and 40 or 50 ft. high; the branches do not spread, even where there is room, so that the tallest tree has a top only four or five feet broad; the roots, which cannot penetrate the shaded and frozen soil, spread over the ice or shallowly into the tundra carpeting, and often only by their matted network prevent the fall of the trees.
- 280 species of mosses proper, of which 46 were new to science, and 16 varieties of peat moss (Sphagnum) were listed by the Harriman expedition; and 74 species or varieties of ferns.
- The value of the total product of Alaska's fish canneries was in 1905 $7,735,782, or 29.3% of the total for the United States; in 1900 it was 17.4% of the country's total.
- Seattle, Sitka and Valdez are connected by cable; telegraph lines run from the Panhandle inland to the Yukon and down its valley to Fort St Michael.