WRANGELL AND VICINITY (Historic Information)

The Indians do not know, and history will never chronicle the date when Wrangell was first an Indian village. The Russians established a post here in 1833. It is named in honor of a director of the Russian-American Fur Company, who was Governor General of Alaska during the period of his directorship. 1840-9. In going up the coast this is the first opportunity one has to see some trace of the Russians, and although it is but little, still one is anxious to see for the first time a Creole, some old kitchen utensil, or any mark of their habitation, however dimly it may appear now.

The old deserted Indian village, graves and totems are fair samples of their kind at fifty other places on the coast, and the most convenient of access. No tourist should pass through Wrangell without remaining over between boats.

The village had its "up and downs." First, a frontier Russian post, enjoying the activities of the sea otter trade; then after being almost deserted, it was boomed by the gold excitement of Cassair District, and after that had passed, and for some years, being nothing more than a sleepy relic of curiosity to tourists, it was suddenly revived again by the Klondike rush of 1897-8, many of the prospectors going in by way of the Stikine River, twelve miles above town.

Gold was discovered on this river as far back as 1862, the first reports of which are in House Documents 177 of the second session of the Fortieth Congress. The Cassair discoveries about ten years later brought hundreds of miners to Wrangell, and these prospected on every side, staking numerous claims of gold and copper.

The Hudson Bay Fur Company trespassed on this Russian territory by the way of the Stikine, and came near causing open hostilities, which were happily settled by leasing it from the Russians, and Wrangell from 1837 to 1847 was a Hudson Bay trading post. The population of all kinds is about 1,200. The curio trade is good, and the fish industry is large. Scow Bay is the largest halibut shipping port in Alaska. It is a supply station for canneries and mines, and a boat runs up the Stikine in summer, to Telegraph Creek. Wrangell is on a small island of the same name, and just above it is another of the same size, Zarembo, named in honor of a Russian officer by Wrangell in recognition of his services in frustraliny the encroachments of the Hudson Bay Company. It has a spring at which water is bottled and sold at Seattle and elsewhere; ask for Zarembo water.

Northwest of Wrangell is Mitkof Island; southwest, Zarembo; south. Woronkofski; in fact, Wrangell is surrounded with islands, capes, etc., bearing Russian names, in the midst of which is Petersburg, on Wrangell Narrows, where fishing craft of every kind assemble, where miners and trappers come to trade or catch a boat, where Indians and Orientals work or fish side by side, where game is plentiful, and the scenery unsurpassed.

We passed through many straits, channels and narrows; Stephens Pass, with its bold rocks in the cracks of which, dwarfed, twisted and starved spruces twine their roots in search for nourishment and to hold themselves from precipitation into the sea; Granville Straits, where the shores are so near that we can almost touch the trees on both sides, and streams of snow water dash for thousands of feet down from snow-covered summits reared almost perpendicularly above us; and Tongass Narrows, so densely robed in evergreen forest, with here and there peeping vestiges of the Tongass natives. But of all, the Wrangell Narrows are the most interesting. The steamers whistle, and whistle and whistle as a warning to other boats not to enter the dangerous passage at the same time. If the tide is out a moderately large boat must wait for more water and go in on the incoming tide. A dangerous rock lies hidden at one of the most dangerous places. The strong tide currents are likely to swing the vessel out of the narrow channel, and at times the propeller kicks up the muddy water. The hulks of other vessels still visible on the rocks continually remind the pilots of the peril, particularly that of the Colorado, which went on the rocks in 1900. An enormous whisky sign spans the length of the stranded wreck, always creating some merriment for the pleasure-seeking tourist, but to others it is synonymous of a whisky sign just as red and visible on the stranded life and fortune of thousands of most noble men. The expense to the Government for clearing and improving this channel would be less than the amount of loss already; so would be the cost of prohibiting the sale of intoxicants for beverages be less to the Government than either the police expenses, costs of criminal trials, or losses of private fortunes, not to include the physical pain, and domestic trouble.

The Stikine River has been a thoroughfare to Indian, trapper, trader and miner for years. Some gold is found along the stream, and countless glaciers and rugged mountains are on every hand. A little north of the mouth of the river is LeConte Bay and Glacier, and farther, at intervals of ten miles, is Patterson and Baird Glaciers, about which great icebergs float at all times. The peak above Baird Glacier is Devil's Thumb, and above the others is Kate's Needle; they are Alaska boundary marks. Farragut Bay at the east end of Frederick Sound is noted for its abundant salmon and halibut. In these waters many of the small Arctic cod boats fish in winter, and with them the smaller halibut boats, perfectly safe from the ocean storms of the season, while in midsummer they go on the outside.

Some of the richest quartz samples that I have seen from Alaska came from the hills back of Farragut Bay. The small mountain stream running into the bay affords excellent power, and here are a thousand acres of bottom land, unexcelled in fertility; it will produce five tons of timothy or other grass per acre, with a market near always ready to pay $25 per ton or more. The same land will, I believe, average 300 bushels of potatoes to the acre, and will grow many other crops, with a yawning market ready at all times. This land and much other like it can be homesteaded, and will be in a few years. It is not lonesome here, as canneries, mines and other industries, and several villages can be reached in two or three hours' run of a good naphtha launch.

Going from Wrangell northward, Kupreanof Island, on the west side of the narrows and at the head of Duncan Canal, is highly mineralized, in gold, copper and silver, and several mines have been extensively developed, deep shafts sunk, buildings, trams and wharves erected, and large sums expended, but it is a mixed low-grade quartz proposition, which will not be profitable until some one solves the economical problems as at Treadwell, then here, on Prince of Wales Island and in many other places on this coast, will be millions and millions of gold, copper and silver. These mines, generally speaking, are not profitable, and but few are worked at all, even after machinery has been installed. The famous Kake Indian village is on Hamilton Bay on the north end of Kupreanof. On the southwest of this island is Kuiu Island, on which no gold has been found, but a little coal. On Coronation Island several shafts have been sunken in Galena prospects. The Star of Bengal, loaded with salmon, was lost on the rocks of this island September 20, 1908, and 111 persons were drowned, and 127 saved.

As we were passing Cape Fenshaw, emerging from Frederick Sound and entering Windham Bay, a conspicuous mountain appeared as a landmark for miles around. It was Mt. Sumdum, about 7,000 feet high. Were we on its summit we could see over the Cassair gold district in Canada; to the northward. Tracy Arm encircles its base for twenty miles, piercing the range deeply; southward is Endicott Arm, into the end of which Dawes Glacier discharges millions of tons of bergs; on the opposite of the Arm is Windham P. O. and Sumdum, in the vicinity of which are a few miners' and Indians' shacks. Truly, this would be a most ideal trip for a summer mountaineering club. The view over the Alexandrian Archipelago would include as much of Southeastern Alaska as could be seen from any one point, in addition to which a sweeping panoramic view could be had of that vast Canadian country over which so many prospectors traveled from the headwaters of the Skeena, Stikeen, Unuk and Taku Rivers to Teslin and the upper waters of the Yukon.

Every creek, bench and rock for ten miles around Sumdum has been prospected. In 1 869 Mix Sylvia discovered gold on Windham and Sumdum Bays, and the gold taken from here, about $40,000, was the first gold of importance' taken from Alaska. Both placer and quartz mines have been developed and perhaps a million dollars taken out. A ten-stamp mill was run for several years, a 3,000-foot tunnel was dug, and extensive improvements made. At present there is but little mining in this vicinity.

Here as everywhere on this range the great cone center is an intrusive diorite, possibly mineral-producing, but not highly mineralized, extending half way down the mountain, where it meets a shistose sedimentary rock, or the fruitful "green-stones," between which contact and the water level gold is usually found.

Admiralty Island, toward the sea, seems to be a big chunk of low-grade nothing; the rock of the island is in part of cretaceous period of miocene epoch, likely to produce coal, and in fact coal signs are numerous, and a little gold has been found on the north, and some copper.

Killisnoo, the large Indian village once bombarded by Capt. Glass (Admiral Glass, recently decesade) for insubordination, was one of the earliest fishing and fur trading stations. The Northwest Trading Company shipped fish oil from there twenty years ago. Its present commercial importance is perhaps greater than any other Indian village in Alaska.

Back to Table of Contents