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   Chapter 14 THE CITIES OF THE FAR NORTH

The Land of Tomorrow By William B. Stephenson Characters: 12331

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


OF the cities of Alaska the most interesting historically is Sitka. No one will regret the time spent in visiting this, the former seat of the Russian territorial government and the stronghold of the Greek Catholic Church. After the passing of the Russians it became the first capital of Alaska. It is situate on Baranof Island, facing Sitka Sound. The climate is mild and out-door life delightful.

Sitka is beautifully picturesque. The island-laden ocean sweeps to west of it while on the east the frothing Indian River surges down from its birthplace in the group of snow-capped mountains known as the Seven Sisters. In 1799 the Russians established a trading post here and occupied it until 1804. The old Greek church dating from 1816 still stands, alongside of a new one called St. Peter's-by-the-Sea, erected in 1899. The city contains much that is of interest,-a Museum named in honor of Sheldon Jackson of the Presbyterian Mission. To the influence of this man Alaska is indebted for her now-thriving reindeer industry. During the rush to the gold fields in 1898 word was borne to Washington that the gold-seekers were dying by thousands for lack of food and proper clothing to protect them from the bitter climate into which, in their inexperience, they had entered inadequately equipped. In the effort to aid them the government attempted to send supplies to the starving camps by reindeer. The plan was not a success and the government was left with the reindeer on its hands. Dr. Jackson used his influence with the result that the reindeer were secured for the Eskimos.

Sitka has United States Public Schools. It has also a Presbyterian Industrial Training School for natives. It is the headquarters of the Agricultural Experiment stations, the Coast Survey Magnetic Base Station, and is the residence of both the Russian and Episcopal Bishops of Alaska.

SITKA, THE OLD RUSSIAN CAPITAL OF ALASKA

JUNEAU, THE CAPITAL

ESKIMOS OF ST. MICHAEL

Juneau, the present capital, is also most picturesquely located. From the water it seems to be lying on a shelf,-the cliffs of Mt. Juneau to the rear and the sea in front of it. It is about a hundred miles north by east of Sitka, on Gastineau Channel, opposite Douglas Island on which are situate the celebrated Treadwell mines. Juneau is thoroughly modern as to churches, schools, newspapers, hospitals. It has drainage, police and fire protection, telephone and telegraph service and electric light. A small town of sixteen hundred inhabitants in 1910, it has increased to a thriving city. The ever-increasing population is fast dotting the lower heights with beautiful and comfortable homes and down below them the ever-advancing tunnels of the gold-seekers keep honey-combing the rock-ribbed earth. As one journeys northward he can see the stamp house of the Treadwell mines, built right into the side of the precipitous face of the mountain down which a railroad track has been laid to carry the ore from the tunnels that bore into the heart of the cliff.

Ketchikan is a city of commercial importance because of the fishing industry. It is typical of the settlements along the coast and of the fishing settlements in particular. It also is located on an island which gives it many advantages. On one side it has deep water. On the other side it has mountain, river and lake. Ketchikan is one of the best places for the visitor to see a "run" during which the salmon crowd up the river in a struggle so fierce that many of them are killed in the effort to reach the spawning-grounds.

The most attractive city of this part of the country is Wrangell, named for the Russian explorer and naval officer, Baron Ferdinand Wrangell, wise administrator of affairs connected with the Alaskan colonies of Russia between 1831 and 1836. During his administration an observatory was established at Sitka. He it was who exposed the shameful abuses of the Russian-American Company and prevented the extension of their charter in 1862. He was an astute and far-sighted statesman, and realizing the value of Alaska, he bitterly opposed the sale of the territory to the United States.

Wrangell, the city named after him, lies on an island of the same name a hundred and fifty miles southeast of Juneau. The seeker after the unusual in his travels will find here much to interest and divert him. To Wrangell the traders still bring the trophies of the chase, making their journey down the rapidly-flowing Stikine river from the wonderful Cassiar hunting grounds, famed for their big game. To these grounds every year flock hunters from all parts of the world to shoot the mountain sheep, the moose, the bear and the caribou. In Wrangell, also, one may see the best of what remains of the magnificent totem poles of Alaska.

No lover of history, and particularly the history of the native peoples of the world, can help cherishing a feeling of deep regret when he sees the approaching decay of these expressions of their inner lives. As is the case in our own great west, the steam roller of civilization is passing over what is left of the primitive people, crushing out the spirit of all that once was and in some cases still is revered by them, flattening out that which is picturesque and distinctive in them. Who can look upon the massive-timbered communal houses of the natives of Alaska, before which were placed the totem poles, bold with their blazonry of animals, grotesquely carved and gaudily painted,-eagle and whale, bear, wolf and beaver-without a sigh that soon they, too, will sail into the past with the caravels of Columbus or ride out of the plains with the buffalo to return no more?

Through the long ages the American Indian has worshiped-not the sun, but the great, creative spirit behind the sun! And he has expressed that worship in the celebrated Sun Dance, a truly religious ceremony in which he is now forbidden to indulge by the United States government! In like manner the natives of the Far North expressed themselves in totems. To a certain extent they are ancestor worshipers, as are the Chinese. The totem poles are their expression of their primitive heraldry. The

y erected them in front of their rude dwellings, with a pageantry uncouth, it is true, but in a spirit of sincerity.

I am not one of those who would decry the influence and the splendid service of the missionary. But it is an influence which often works both ways. Many of the latter can see in these expressions of pride of ancestry nothing but the most arrant heathenism, so the totem poles of Alaska are rotting away. And no more are being built. The young natives are being "educated" out of any respect which hitherto they may justly have entertained for their forefathers. There is no scorn known to the human race which is quite so withering as that which the man who does not know who his grandfather was entertains for the man who does!

It can not be long until the totem pole will be a thing of the past. Therefore he who would see them in all their glory must not linger. All will soon be gone. Here at Wrangell are still some splendid specimens, perhaps the best the north country now has to offer.

Skagway may be called the city of romance. Time was when it held the key which unlocked the gateway of the Promised Land,-that golden kingdom of the North. It is now a thriving commercial center. The White Pass railroad begins here, forming a sort of portage by means of which the two extremes of the country may shake hands with each other. The railroad itself is short. But it touches the headwaters of the Yukon with its twenty-five hundred miles of navigation, bearing on its broad bosom the commerce and the traffic of Klondike, Dawson, and Fairbanks, to the outlet in Bering Sea.

But this is not the reason the history of Skagway is romantic. When the gold rush began in 1896 the landing had to be made at Dyea at the other end of the Lynn Canal. From here it was necessary to cross the dangerous Chilkoot Pass, a most hazardous undertaking. One day the word was passed along that another pass (now known as White Pass) had been discovered. With a rush like a flock of frightened sheep the gold seekers turned and went the other way. In one day fifteen thousand people left Dyea for Dawson and Skagway and in that same length of time what had formerly been a swamp became a city!

Abler pens than mine have recorded in novel, poem and play the story of those eventful days. All know now of the famous (or infamous) gambling hells with which these places were infested. The spot in Skagway to-day which most attracts the tourist is the cemetery where lies the body of "Soapy" Smith. "Soapy" was half-outlaw, half-politician, the "Boss" of the town, in fact. Skagway was without doubt the wildest and wickedest place in the world during the reign of "Soapy" Smith. The decent and sober citizens stood it as long as they could. When they felt, however, that Skagway had suffered from her evil reputation long enough they held a meeting and came to a decision! The Sylvester Wharf, now a half-ruin, has been left standing to mark the spot where the fathers of the town ran "Soapy" to cover and shot him.

Dawson, in the Canadian Yukon, had a somewhat similar experience. But the Northwest Mounted Police came to her assistance and brought order out of chaos. The fame of Dawson during the gold rush is world-wide. Her affairs are now in the charge of the Canadian government. There is also a United States Consulate there.

The most important and the largest city in Alaska is Fairbanks. It lies on the Tanana River, practically at the head of navigation. It is the site of the Fourth Judicial District and of government activities in the interior of Alaska. Fairbanks is a city of which any country might be proud, heated by a central steam plant, with schools, churches, hospitals, newspapers, long-distance telephone and wireless stations. The electric plant which lights the city also serves the adjacent mining camps. Fairbanks may be reached all during the year by a stage service three hundred and fifty-four miles from Valdez and during five months in summer steamboat service westward to St. Michael, eastward to Dawson and White Horse, Yukon Territory, is maintained. Reference has already been made to the progress of this delightful city, its social life and the kindly spirit of the people.

As one nears the western coast the cities become few and far between. Anchorage, on Cook Inlet, Iditarod and Nome are the most important. The interesting story of Nome is well known. Prospectors were working the streams for gold when suddenly the yellow dust was found in huge quantities in the sand along the beach! The first settlement was called Anvil City and was the usual mushroom affair. Nowhere else in Alaska was the struggle of the gold-seekers to be compared with those of Nome. Its exposed position on Norton Sound made it subject to the violent coast storms. The conditions were unsanitary, the food and fuel supply a subject of great anxiety, the water supply scanty and the climate cruel. In the face of all these discouragements, however, the hardy pioneers fought and conquered. Nome is now a city of some three thousand, the commercial, judicial and educational center of Seward Peninsula. It is a fine, courageous little city, compactly built, with modern improvements and prosperous business houses. A railroad eighty-five miles long runs to Shelton, but Nome and the adjacent regions are reached direct only between June and October, the open season of Bering Sea.

I always learn with regret of any tourist who takes a trip up the "Inside" passage and returns by the same route. What can he possibly know of Alaska? The broad expanse of country which sweeps away to the north and the west, guarded by the mountains, watered by one of the mightiest rivers in the world,-of this he knows nothing, for it is a country which can not be described. It must be seen to be appreciated. It is this part of Alaska that is Nature's gigantic workshop with a job in it for any man who asks! Here new cities are yet to be born, new business enterprises to be established, new farms to be tilled. Here any man who chooses may have that most prized of all possessions,-a home of his own! There is room for all!

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