Here to return to
BOUND FOR THE ARCTIC
THE city of Seattle grows to-day by leaps and bounds. The roar of traffic sounds unceasingly in her streets, the city limits press outward in all directions into the unoccupied territory near by, and the present prosperity and future magnitude of the place seem already assured. She sits, the queen of the Sound, at the meeting-point between the great transcontinental railroads and the great trans-Pacific steamship lines. Great steamers, the largest in the world’s carrying trade, ply unceasingly between the magnificent waters of Puget Sound and the mysterious ports of the far East, as we have learned to call it, — though from Seattle it is the far West, — and fetch and carry the products of the Orient and those of our own great country. Mighty full-riggers from the seas of half the world lift their towering masts skyward, as they swing at the city’s moorings in water that is just offshore, but so deep that the ordinary ship’s cable hardly reaches bottom, hence special cables and moorings are provided. To the westward the Olympic Mountains, clad with the finest timber in the world, lift their snowy cloud-capped summits to the sky, and glow rosy in the light of the setting sun; while, between the city and these mountains beautiful, flow land-locked waters which might hold all the navies of all the world without being crowded, and which seem destined to be the centre of the commerce of the coming century, borne over seas that are yet new to the world’s traffic.
Thus to-day! yet a decade and less ago the city was far from being as energetic. Seattle then slept in the lethargy of a “boom “that had spent itself, and was but just beginning to feel the stir of new life and a solid and real prosperity. Splendid business blocks were but half tenanted, many of the original boomers were financially ruined, yet the city kept up its courage, and had an unabating faith that position and pluck would win out. Already this faith was beginning to have its reward in works, and the faint glimmerings of future great advancement were in sight. More business began to reach the port, and the often almost deserted docks had now and then a ship. One of these on the day of which I write was the Bowhead, and certainly business bustle was not wanting on and near her. Perhaps the amount of work going on was not so very great, but the bustle more than made up for that, and Ben Stovers, the Bow-head’s boatswain, was the guide and director of this bustle, and to blame for the most of its noise.
Stovers had a voice as big as his frame, and that was six feet two in longitude, as he would have said, and it seemed almost that in latitude. Surely, like this terrestrial globe, his greatest circumference was at the equator. Captain Nickerson was wont to say that Stovers was worth his weight in ballast, and that made him the most valuable man on the ship. It was a stock joke on the part of the first mate, when the wind blew half a gale, the crew were aloft reefing topsails, and the good ship plunged to windward with her lee-rail awash, and her deck set on a perilous slant, to politely ask the mighty boatswain to step to the windward rail so that the ship might be on an even keel once more.
It was the voice of this mighty man that was Harry’s first greeting as he came down the dock toward the vessel that was to be his home for the long cruise. It rolled up the dock and reëchoed from the warehouses, and every time its foghorn tones sounded, a little thrill of energy ran through the busy crew.
“Hi there! Bear a hand with that cask,” it yelled, and two or three dusky Kanakas would jump as if stung, and the cask they had been languidly handling would roll up the gangway as if it concealed a motor.
“Come on now, Johnson, and you, Phipps; this is no South Sea siesta. Stir your mud-hooks and flip that bread aboard. Wow, whoop! you’re not on the beach now, you beach-combers; you’ve got wages coming to you. Step lively there!” Result, great rise and fall in breadstuffs, and boxes of hard bread going over the rail and down the hold in a way that made the Chinese cook below shout strange Oriental gibberish, in alarm lest the boxes be stove and the contents go adrift.
“Lighter ahoy!” — this to the man driving a cart down the dock; “clap on sail now and come alongside. We’ve got to get away from this dock before night or the city’ll own the vessel for dock charges.”
This sally brought a grin from the loungers, not a few, who watched the loading, dock charges being always a sore point with the vessels’ owners, and brought the pair of bronchos and the load of goods down the crazy planking at a hand-gallop.
Flour in bags, bolts of cotton cloth and many hued calico, shotguns and rifles, ammunition, what the whalers know as “trade goods” of all sorts, for traffic with the Eskimo tribes, were all being hustled aboard the vessel before the impulse of this great voice, which sounded very fierce, and certainly spurred on the motley crew to greater exertions. Yet it had a ring of good humor in it all, and the men obeyed with a grin as if they liked it.
A tall young fellow with bronzed face and black curly hair stood noting the goods that came aboard and checking them off on a block of paper. He looked up as Harry came down the dock, then gave a shout of recognition, and came down the gangplank with hand extended.
“It’s Harry Desmond, isn’t it?” he said; “awful glad you came. When did you get here? Father is up in the city doing some business. He’ll be as glad as I am that you are here. Come right aboard. I ‘in Joe Nickerson; of course you remember me, don’t you? You’re a good deal bigger and older, but you haven’t changed a bit. I’d know you anywhere. My! but I’m glad you are going up with us.”
He glanced somewhat dubiously at the black hand-satchel that Harry was carrying, but said nothing about it as they went up the plank. Not so the boatswain; he took one look at it and rolled heavily forward.
“Ax your pardon, young feller,” he said; “but ye’d better not take the hard-luck bag aboard, had you? Don’t you want to leave it down here on the dock? We’ll see that it’s safe till you go ashore again.”
Harry was somewhat surprised, and inclined to resent this seemingly needless interference, but Joe spoke up before he could say anything. “Mr. Stovers,” he said, “this is my friend Harry Desmond, of whom you’ve heard me speak. He’s going up with us this trip as supercargo.”
The big boatswain reached down a hand like a ham, and shook Harry’s awkwardly with it.
“Glad t’ meet you,” he said. “Didn’t mean nothing sassy about the bag, you know, but sailors are queer fellows. ‘T ain’t me; I don’t believe it, but the crew think a black bag is full of gales of wind, and lets ‘em out when it’s brought aboard ship. See ‘em looking at it, now. ‘F you could leave it ashore, and bring your dunnage on in a canvas bag, they’d feel better about it. No use getting the men grumbling down for’ard.”
“Certainly,” said Harry politely. “I’ll leave it out on the dock here, if some one will keep an eye on it for a while till I can get something else. Glad you told me. I don’t want to be a bad weather man my first cruise.”
“Thank you,” said the boatswain with equal politeness; “I guess you and I’ll get along all right.” Then he turned suddenly to the crew, who were loitering and gazing uneasily at the black bag.
“‘Vast gawking there, and bend on to that dunnage. Whoop, now! Get her up here! Heave her up, boys, lively now; the gale’s gone down. That’s the new supercargo, and you don’t want to go cutting up any monkeyshines with him. He’s going to leave the hard-luck poke-sack ashore.”
“I’ve got a trunk over at the station, too,” said Harry, as they went down the companionway aft. “Do you suppose they’ll mind if I bring that aboard?
“Well,” said Joe, “they’re superstitious about trunks, too, although they don’t care so much about them as they do about a black bag. That’s a special hoodoo.”
“I’ll store them both ashore, then,” said Harry resolutely; “I want to start all fair with the crew. You have things pretty nice down here, don’t you?” he went on with some surprise as they entered the cabin. Here he saw a room with a well-furnished dining-table, and doors leading off, the fittings being in hard wood, and the whole having an air of refinement and home surroundings pleasant to see.
“Why, yes,” said Joe. “You see a whaling captain lives aboard his vessel the year round, and we like to have things snug. Father’s cabin is just aft of this. He keeps his charts there and instruments. The first mate has the one on the starboard, and you and I are to share this.”
Joe, as he spoke, showed Harry into a little cabin which was lighted by a port side dead-light, and which had two neat berths with clean bedding and white sheets. There was abundant locker room, and the whole looked somewhat as any boy’s room might that was occupied by a young man studious and interested in outdoor sports. A rifle and shotgun hung on the wall, and other boyish belongings were scattered about. There was a shelf or two of books, and it reminded Harry in a certain way of his own room at home. Joe noted his approval with pleasure, and seeing him glance at the books said:
“Father’s got quite a library in his room that you are welcome to use. We’ll study navigation and some of those things together, if you want to. Here’s your locker, and these hooks are for you. You may have either bunk you wish, but I think you’ll find the lower one more convenient. Come on ashore now, and I’ll help you get your things aboard and get you settled. We sail to-morrow.”
That night at supper, which was deftly served at two bells by the Chinese steward, Harry was cordially welcomed by Captain Nickerson, and met the first mate, a lank, muscular man, bronzed and singularly taciturn, and learned much of his duties as supercargo, which he readily saw were nominal indeed. It was strange how easily he became adapted to life on board, and before bedtime he felt as if he had already lived a long time on a whaling ship. He stored his trunk and the “hoodoo” black bag in the city, and brought his belongings aboard in two canvas sacks, regular sailor’s bags, much to the approval of the two brawny Kanakas of the crew detailed to bring them down for him. Harry was much interested in these dusky South Sea islanders, and found them intelligent, good-natured, and efficient. Joe showed him over the ship, introduced him to the engineer and his assistant, and taught him much about the general working of the vessel. He saw the great kettles, set in brickwork on the forward deck, for the trying out of blubber. He saw the whaling implements, the bundles of staves for casks, and the great space between decks above and below for the storing of these when they should be coopered and filled with oil. He saw the galley where two slant-eyed Chinese were in charge, and the narrow quarters of the crew forward, crowded as much as possible to give more space in hold and on deck for oil casks, and for such members of the crew as he came in contact with he had a pleasant word.
Until Arctic whaling by way of Bering Sea began, few if any whalers were fitted with steam as an auxiliary; but it was found that if vessels were to make a success of the industry among the ice-floes of these treacherous waters, get into and out of the Arctic by the narrow, current-ridden, ice-tangled passage of Bering Straits, it was wise and expedient to add steam to the equipment. Hence many vessels like the Bowhead, though thoroughgoing sailing vessels, were equipped with engines and propeller, to be used when the wind did not serve, or when the passage of ice-floes made it necessary. It was under a full head of steam, then, that the Bowhead passed up Admiralty Inlet, as that portion of the Sound is called, rounded into the Straits of Fuca, and spread her sails to the westerly wind only when she was well out toward Cape Flattery, and breasting the long rollers that swung unimpeded from the vast expanse of the world’s greatest ocean.
THE LONG ROLLERS OF THE NORTH PACIFIC
How Harry’s heart had swelled within him at the sight of this sea! He had something of the feelings of Balboa when he first sighted it from that Central American mountain-top, and fell on his knees in adoration and thanksgiving. He longed like Captain Cook to furrow it with exploring keel, and seek out the enchanting mysteries that lie in and beyond the shores that it touches.
“Great sight, isn’t it, Harry?” said Captain Nickerson, who stood near him and noticed his emotion.
“Yes, sir,” replied Harry. “It seems like dreams coming true to think that I am to see the things that I have read about this side of the world, but never really expected to see with my own eyes.”
The captain smiled. “You’ll see strange sights, my boy, before you get home,” he said, and there was more of prophecy in this than either of them dreamed at the time.
“Are we liable to do any whaling right away?” asked Harry.
“Well, that depends,” replied the captain. “There is now and then a humpback in these waters, but they are pretty shy nowadays, and hard to come up with. They’re hardly worth while. I doubt if we shall lower a boat before we get into Bering Sea and get among the bowheads as they follow the ice up. We are likely to see a whale, though, most any time now.”
“I wish we could,” said Harry, the ardor of the sportsman beginning to thrill in his veins; but no whale appeared that day, though he watched the sea with patience and undiminishing ardor.
A day or two afterward, as he came on dear, he saw a little cloud on the surface of the water like the puff of smoke that follows the discharge of a rifle loaded with black powder. A moment after another puff shot into the air quite near the ship, and he saw beneath it a black body rise languidly to the surface, loll along it a moment, and then sink again. His heart gave a great jump. A whale! Why had none of the crew seen it? To be sure they were not on watch for whales, but still several were on deck, and the first mate, whose watch it was, was pacing leisurely back and forth behind him as he stood at the rail. The mate now and then glanced at the sails to see how they were drawing, and now and then shot a command, a single word if possible, to the crew for a pull on the braces, or something of that sort, but he seemed to take no notice of the puff of smoke and the black body just showing above the surface almost alongside. Harry looked again. Yes, it was there, so near that he could see that the little puff of smoke was a cloud or vapor blown with a whiff into the air from one end of this black body. He could stand it no longer, but rushed up to the mate, grasped his arm, pointed in the direction of his discovery, and said excitedly, “See, see! There he is! Don’t you see the whale?”
“Nope,” calmly replied the taciturn first mate, gazing at the little puff of vapor and the black body.
“Isn’t — isn’t it a whale?” faltered Harry, a little ashamed of his enthusiasm in the face of this stolidity.
“Nope,” said the first mate.
“But it looks like a whale,” persisted Harry; “and it acts like a whale, at least as I have read that they acted. What is it, then?”
“Blackfish,” said the mate, with a sweep of his hand to the other side of the ship. Harry looked in that direction, and was silent in astonishment and delight.
“Hundreds!” said the mate, and resumed his walk on the deck.
There were not so many as that, but there were certainly scores of these creatures sporting lazily in the waves, rolling their black bodies to glisten in the sun, and sending up the puffs of vapor that floated a moment in the breeze and then vanished. It reminded Harry of the skirmish line when the Cadets were encamped at Hingham, and the order “Fire at will” had been given. The puffs were much like those from the Springfield rifle.
The blackfish is really a whale, though the whalemen do not like to consider him as such or give him credit for it. He is small, not generally reaching a length of twenty feet, but otherwise he has all the characteristics of a whale. He blows, breathes, feeds, and lives in whale fashion. But he contains but a barrel or two of oil, of an inferior quality, and hence is beneath the notice of the average whaleman, though vessels in hard luck occasionally turn to and slaughter him rather than return to port empty. His meat, on the other hand, is better than whale meat, and is often esteemed a delicacy on a long whaling voyage when fresh meat from other sources has not been obtainable.
Some time afterward, as they were nearing the Aleutian Islands, Harry was to see his first “real whale,” and witness one of the fierce tragedies of the sea. He sat by the taffrail conning Bowditch’s Navigator, puzzling his way through the intricate and bewildering instructions as to the taking of the sun, the use of sextant and quadrant, the working out of longitude and latitude, while Joe, standing second mate’s watch as was his wont, paced the deck, and now and then passed a word with the boatswain. That worthy was sitting cross-legged near the rail amidships, busy with sailor’s needle and canvas rigging some chafing-gear for some of the lines, when he suddenly sprang to his feet and gazed intently over the bow toward the horizon. A moment he stood thus, and then the great tones of his voice rang out in the musical call:
“A – h – h blow! There she blows! Whale — o!”
The ship sprang into bustle immediately. The watch on deck, which had been languidly busy over such small matters as the boatswain could devise to keep them at work, jumped into instant action, scurrying hither and thither to get the gear up and the boats in trim for a possible conflict. Those below came piling up on deck, and Joe sprang into the rigging, looking intently toward the spot where the whale was supposed to be. Harry gazed eagerly, but he could see nothing.
Captain Nickerson and the first mate appeared as suddenly from below, and the whole ship was activity and attention.
“Where is that whale?” asked the captain.
“Three points off the port bow, sir,” answered Joe; “about four miles, I think.”
“Good!” cried the captain. “Hold your course” — this to the man at the wheel.
He climbed into the mizzen rigging with Joe, and gazed through his glass in the direction indicated. A shade of disappointment came into his face.
“It’s an old bull humpback,” he said, “and I don’t believe we can get near him, but you may see that the first and second boats are in readiness, Mr. Jones.”
“Ay, ay, sir,” answered that man of brevity, using three words in the excitement of the moment; but there had been no need to give the order, for he had several of the crew busy doing just that very thing already. All had been keen in the hope that it would be a sperm whale.
Harry climbed into the rigging too, and as the ship drew toward the spot, he plainly saw an occasional puff as the monster breathed and sent a little cloud of vapor into the air. Steadily they approached the lazy leviathan, and by and by Harry could see his black head and hump, yet still the vessel kept her course, and the order to lower was not given.
“Hullo!” said the captain. “He’s gallied.”
What that might be Harry was not sure, though he took it to mean excited, for the animal suddenly surged forward, half out of water, swung a half circle on the surface with a great sweep of his mighty flukes, and began to forge through the water in their direction.
As he did so, something flashed into the air behind him, and a black figure twenty feet long, shaped somewhat like another whale, seemed literally to turn a somersault from the surface, landing with a thud right on the back of the great humpback. The noise of the blow was plainly heard, though the whale was more than a half mile away. The humpback gave a sort of moaning bellow, and sounded.
“‘Vast there with your boats,” cried the captain; “the killer has got ahead of us.”
The orca, or “whale-killer” as the whalers call him, is one of the most powerful and rapacious animals in the world. Himself a whale, he is the only one of the species that lives on other whales, and does not hesitate to attack the largest of them. He grows to a length of thirty feet, and his activity and strength are extraordinary. One of them has been known to take a full-grown dead whale that the whalemen had in tow, grasp it in his tremendous jaws, and carry it to the bottom, in spite of its captors. One does not have to believe an old writer who says that a killer has been seen with a seal under each flipper, one under the dorsal fin, and a third in his mouth. Eschrit, however, is reckoned reliable, and we have his authority that a killer has been captured, from the stomach of which were taken thirteen porpoises and fourteen seals. The killer is shaped much like a whale, has great jaws filled with sharp teeth, and a pointed dorsal fin, with which he is fabled to dive beneath a whale and rip up his belly. He is found in all seas, but is particularly numerous in the North Pacific. In the far north he pursues the beluga or white whale and the walrus. He captures the young walrus in a novel manner. The latter climbs on the back of the mother and the great ivory tusks keep the orca at bay, but he dives beneath the old one and comes up against her with such a blow that the young one falls from the rounded back of its mother, when it is immediately seized and crushed in the great jaws of the rapacious animal.
For a few moments nothing more was seen of either animal, and then, not his own length from the ship, the whale appeared, shooting up as if from a great depth, and flinging almost the whole of his great bulk straight into the air. The orca rose with him, his jaws set in the body of the whale just behind the left flipper. As the monster shook himself in agony, even when reared almost his whole length in the air, and with his great flukes beating the water beneath to foam, the hold of the orca was broken, and he fell back into the water beside the whale, leaving a great three-cornered tear in the whale’s side that dyed the water crimson as with another tremendous leap the wild wolf of the sea was again on his victim.
Again Harry heard that strange half moan, half bellow, as the frenzied humpback ploughed along the surface to windward, beaten by the blows of the orca as he flung himself into the air, and again and again came down like an enormous club on his victim’s back. And thus the unequal contest went on, and Harry watched them till they disappeared in the distance to windward. He was much impressed by the spectacle.
“How do you suppose it will come out?” he asked, as they clambered down from the rigging.
“The killer will get him, sure,” replied Captain Nickerson. “He will hammer him and worry him for miles, till he is completely exhausted. Then he will get a bite in his lip, and it will be all up with Mr. Humpback. By this time to-morrow as much of him as the orca does not want to eat right away will be floating belly up, and the sea birds and sharks will be busy with it.”
Two days afterward great banks of fog, with now and then a white peak gleaming through, showed that they were nearing the Aleutian Islands. The course was changed more to the northward, and the ship sailed into the windy, cloud-tormented reaches of Unalga Pass. Just as they reached the edge of the mists, the clouds lifted for a moment, and showed a scene of surpassing grandeur. The scarred and weather-beaten abrupt cliffs of the mountain sides rose from dark waters, that flashed green and white as they broke against the island sides, varying from dull red to deep crimson, streaked with vivid green of grasses and golden brown with lichens. Above these again swept the bare uplands, golden and olive with the tundra moss that clothes all to the farthest Arctic limits of the north, while over all, majestic and wonderful, lifting its crystal pinnacle eight thousand feet to the heavens, stood the mighty crest of Shishaldin, clothed white with unmelting snows, and tipped with a fluttering banner of smoke from the undying fires within. Shishaldin and Pogromnia, the one white as snow, the other dark with fur rowed cliff and frozen lava, are chimneys to the banked fires of Unimak Island, in which slumber still, as they have slumbered since the white men first discovered them nearly two centuries ago, the mighty forces of eruption.
In the baffling currents and gusts of the pass sails were furled, and the ship proceeded under a full head of steam, skirting the lofty cliffs of Akutan. On this island once dwelt many thousand happy, contented Aleuts. They were great whalemen, and when the summer brought the humpback whales in schools to their turbulent waters, they captured many of them by bold but primitive hunting. Wisely, they did not attack the old whales, for the humpback is a famous fighter, and the white whalers rarely attack them in these dangerous waters to-day. Instead they picked out the agashitnak (yearlings) or akhoak (calves), and boldly attacked them in their two-holed bidarkas, made of walrus and seal skin stretched over driftwood framework. In the after-hole sat the paddler, and in the forward one the harpooner with his six-foot driftwood harpoon, tipped with an ivory socket bearing a notched blade of slate. This was thrust deep into the young whale and then withdrawn, leaving the socket and blade in his carcass. The mark of the hunter was scratched deep in this slate blade, that he might know it again. On being thus wounded the whale fled to sea, and there, as the Aleuts used to say, “went to sleep for three days.” Meanwhile watchers lined the cliffs, and watched through the scurrying fog for the currents to drift the carcass back to the island. Once perhaps in twenty times this happened, and then there was a feast and great rejoicing in the villages. The mark of the mighty hunter, inscribed on the blade, was found when the weapon was cut out, and he was honored for his feat during life, and even afterward. After his death, if he had been one of the very great men, his body was preserved, cut up, and rubbed on the blades of the young harpooners, that his valor and good fortune might be thus transmitted.
The villagers were bold sea hunters, but gentle and peaceable in their intercourse with one another, and so large were their villages that to-day the ruins of one of them front for nearly a mile on the beach. Over on Akun — another veritable volcanic mountain rising abruptly from the sea — were other prosperous villages, also of primitive whalemen. Here were boiling springs in which the villagers might cook their meat without fire, and the winter’s cold was in no wise to be feared because of the underground heat.
The humpbacks still school in summer about the islands of Akun and Akutan, and millions of whale birds swoop in black clouds above them. The little auks and parrot-bill ducks, as the sailors call the puffin, swarm upon the cliffs, and breed there as of old; but the Aleuts are gone from their ancient villages, and only a diseased remnant remains in favored spots in the once populous archipelago. On Akutan and Akun there are none. At Unalaska, or Illiluk as they called it, a remnant survives, their blood mingled with that of their exterminators, the Russians, and their sod huts cluster about the beautiful Greek church which they support. While the Bowhead lay at anchor in their harbor, Harry and Joe saw much of them, and found them so shy and gentle that it did not seem possible that they ever had risen in revolt against their fierce Cossack oppressors and swept them from the island; but such they did more than a century ago, only to be conquered and almost exterminated by fresh hordes of the invaders.
HARBOR OF UNALASKA
Like a necklace about the throat of Bering Sea, the Aleutian Islands swing in a cloud-capped circle of peaks to within about five hundred miles of the Siberian coast. The story of their discovery and exploitation by the Russians is one of romantic interest, thrilled through with horror at the needless oppression and slaughter of their gentle inhabitants. It was in the year 1740 that the Russians first sighted them, on the ill-fated expedition of Bering and his fellow commander Chirakoff. During the preceding centuries the little white sable known as the Russian ermine had led the wild Cossack huntsmen across the Siberian steppes to the shores of Kamchatka. The value of east Siberian furs in Russian markets was great, and when the wild. huntsmen and traders reached the sea limit, they learned from the natives legends of land yet beyond, over-sea, where furs were still more plentiful. Accordingly, with a commission from the Russian court, Bering and Chirakoff fitted out two little vessels and set out upon these unknown seas on a voyage of discovery. Bering touched the mainland of Alaska, but soon started for home. Chirakoff visited several of the Aleutian Islands and finally reached Kamchatka again, after losing many of his crew from starvation and disease.
Bering, however, was wrecked on the Commander Islands, just off the Gulf of Kamchatka, and died there, but after incredible hardships a remnant of his crew reached the mainland. They had been obliged to subsist on the flesh of the sea otter during their stay on the islands, and they brought back with them some of the pelts of the animals. These were received with great favor in Russia, and the high price offered for the skins gave a great impetus to further exploration of the islands, on which they abounded. Expedition after expedition was fitted out in crazy vessels, and the Promishlyniks, as the Russians called these savage huntsmen and voyagers, began to overrun the Aleutian chain.
Often their unseaworthy ships were wrecked in the gales which surge about the islands. Hunger and disease decimated their crews, and many an expedition started out boldly into the untried tempestuous waters, only to disappear and be no more heard from. Yet now and then an unseaworthy craft would escape the gales, and with half an emaciated crew return, the ship loaded down with many thousands of sea otter, fox, and seal skins, meaning great wealth to the survivors. Nothing could exceed the boldness and hardihood of these men. The half-starved, disease-smitten remnants of the unsuccessful crews would immediately dare the myriad dangers again in a new expedition, so great was their courage and so tempting the prize. We have scant records of the expeditions, yet in those of which we know the misery and death, even when success resulted, is appalling. Yet they kept on, and the boldness and hardihood of the Cossack hunter-mariners were equaled only by their rapacity and cruelty. Invariably met with goodwill and hospitality on the part of the natives of the mountainous islets, their return was invariably oppression and cruelty in the extreme. A busy, contented, hospitable people swarmed in the sheltered coves of the rocky isles when the invasion began. Within thirty years but scattered remnants were left, enslaved, diseased, discouraged. Once only, on Unalaska, they took advantage of the winter and slaughtered their oppressors who remained on the island, but with the spring came new hordes, and they were obliged to sue for peace, with slavery.
This uprising took place in the winter of 1763, and the story of the escape of two of the Promishlyniks, driven to the mountains, at bay on a rocky headland, concealed in a cave, fleeing alongshore in a captured canoe, always with tremendous odds against them, yet always winning in the unequal fight, is an extraordinary one.
Most of the Aleutian Islands to-day are barren, and desolate of inhabitants. Few if any Russians remain, and but a handful of Aleuts. Moreover, the greed of a century and a half has practically exterminated the sea otter. Once so common that it might be killed with a club, the animal is to-day one of the most wary known, and the price of a single skin is a fortune to the Aleut hunter, of whom a few still seek for the prized fur. The Russian domination passed with the sale of Alaska to the United States. The American domination is kindly, but the Aleut does not thrive, and it seems but a few more years before he will have passed into the category of races that have faded before the advance of the white man.
The Bowhead made only a brief stay at Unalaska. Here some coal was added to their supply, and store of fresh water was taken from the reservoir, established by one of the big trading companies that have stations there, at the seal islands, and at St. Michaels, at the mouth of the Yukon River. Then the anchor was hoisted, they steamed out of Captain’s Bay, by the strange headland, Priest Rock, which marks its entrance, and with a southerly wind in the sails left the clouds and snowy peaks behind. Their prow was set toward the mysterious north, and already the man on the lookout was on the watch for the blink of Bering Sea ice not yet melted by the spring sun.