XXII. SOUTHWESTERN ALASKA AND KODIAK (Historic Information)
Outside of the usual route of excursions lie the Kenai and Alaska Peninsulas, and the adjacent Kodiak Archipelago. By a steamer that leaves Valdez about the middle of each month the traveller reaches certain of the villages and settlements, but special local transportation is necessary to carry out any plans for business or pleasure.
In a measure these are unknown regions, which are well worth either a casual or extended visit for those interested in the fauna and flora of high latitudes, the forms and forces of volcanic action, or the observation of the various tribes which are found in this area.
Kenai Peninsula is heavily timbered throughout, its mountains being forested up to an altitude of about 2,000 feet. While the timber is principally spruce, there are large areas of hemlock, birch, poplar, and other less valuable woods. Many of the valleys opening toward Cook Inlet are fertile lands, suited to the production of the more important vegetables and clothed with fine grass of such quality and abundance as enable stock in many places to live on the winter ranges. Berries are in great abundance, and game of many kinds is plentiful. While the small streams are not well supplied with fish, yet the rivers swarm with salmon in season. The banks in the adjacent; seas are frequented by cod in great numbers and by halibut to a certain extent. Apart from its resources of gold and coal, elsewhere mentioned, and its game, timber, and agricultural possibilities, its landscapes of grandeur and picturesqueness are varied and imposing.
There is quite a population on Kenai Peninsula, which lives on its industries of mining, lumbering, fishing, hunting, and for several years in the work of railway construction.
The peninsula was brought prominently before the public by the project of connecting the new town of Seward, on Resurrection Bay, with the gold placer mines of the Tanana Valley, by a route north to Turn-again Arm, west of Sunrise, and thence up the valley of the Susitna. Financial difficulties have thrown the road into the hands of receivers, and construction work is suspended. The initial point was located at Seward owing to the upper part of Cook Inlet being closed from November to March by ice.
The gold mines of Turnagain Arm, brought into disrepute in their early days by ill-advised methods and unsuitable or worthless machinery, are productive and profitable on a small scale. The Arm, however, is an important base for the placer-mining operations to the north in the watershed of the Susitna and Yentna.
Seward, Kenai Peninsula.
(Terminus of tha Alaska Centrul Railroad.)
The lignites of the Kachemak Bay region are in large quantities and furnish a coal fairly good for steaming purposes, but under existing labor conditions its exploitation is not economically attractive. Later, with the extension of the Alaska Central Railroad, the high-grade coals of the Matanuska Valley will prove profitable.
COOK INLET NATIVES
The natives of this region are of various tribes, and thus the visitor is able to contrast the characteristics of the different types. On the extreme northern coast the interior Indians, the Athapascans, are found. On the southern shores are the Kodiaks, of an Esquimaux type, and at the end of Alaska Peninsula are scattering Aleuts. In addition there are Creoles on the west shores of Kenai Peninsula, of mixed Russian and native blood. The Creoles are scattered along the coast at Hope, Kasilof, and other small settlements, but the greater majority are at Kenai and Seldovia. They have schools and churches, under the Russian Church, and make a living by hunting, trapping, fishing, and when occasion offers as laborers or guides. In addition to lighterage and placer mining, they form a considerable part of the working force at the salmon canneries at Kasilof and Kenai, and are also found at the local saw-mills and lumber camps.
Game has been very abundant on Kenai Peninsula, and yet exists in large numbers. The most valuable and interesting species are brown and black bears, moose, mountain sheep, and foxes. The Kenai moose are among the largest known, and they are hunted vigorously both for trophy antlers and for meat, which is sold in large quantities, with the meat of mountain sheep, to the miners and prospectors. Of scenery Burroughs writes of Kachemack Bay:
Grandeur looked down on it from the mountains around, especially from the great volcanic peaks, Iliamna and Redoubt, sixty miles across the inlet to the west. The former rises over 12,000 feet from the sea, and, bathed in sunshine, was an impressive spectacle. It was wrapped in a mantle of snow, but it evidently was warm at heart, for we could see steam issuing from two points near its summit.
Familiar with the beauties and attractions of Kenai, Mr. A. J. Stone delightfully describes it:
It is a land of magnificent, rugged mountains, and of beautiful rolling meadow lands; a land of eternal fields of glistening snow and ice, and of everlasting fires of burning lignite ; of frozen moss and lichen-covered plains, and of vegetation that is tropical in its luxuriance; a land of extensive coal-fields, smoking volcanoes, and of earthquakes so frequent as to fail to excite comment among its native residents; of charming quiet bays and harbors, and of tides and tide-rips among the greatest in the world; of almost endless days in summer, and of long, dismal winter nights; of an abundant animal life both in the water and on the land. Nowhere else in the world does nature exert itself in so many ways as in the Kenai Peninsula.
The waters, the mountains, the great rivers of ice, the vegetable and animal life, all vie with each other in the production of something unusual and wonderful.
It may be added that the ocean steamers do not proceed beyond Seldovia, and that during the open season from late March to early November the north and west coasts of Cook Inlet (Turnagain Arm and Alaska Peninsula) are reached by small and somewhat irregular steamers.
The Alaska Peninsula has, indeed, at its northeastern extremity extended areas of lake country, with open valleys and great tundras ; but its chief characteristic is the series of lofty volcanic peaks, which continue for a distance of more than 700 miles, from Redoubt southwest to Pogromni. Their sharp abruptness and rocky ruggedness dominate the landscape, the pointed summits being made more striking by the marshy valleys and dreary tundras at their bases, which break the continuity of the range into an irregular succession of isolated cones.
Here the land game, though caribou occupy the land, as shown by the map on the next page, gives way to the products of the sea chase. Unfortunately the palmy days of walrus hunting and otter catching are past, and there are scarcely a dozen permanent Esquimaux settlements on the more than 2,000 miles of indented coast along the peninsula. Belkofski, the former headquarters of the sea-otter and other fur trade, has lost its ancient glory and importance.
Nevertheless, the peninsula is an attractive, almost unvisited and unexploited field for the hunter, the naturalist, and especially for the lover of the unusual and beautiful in nature.
MAP NO. 5 DISTRIBUTION OF CARIBOU AND MOUNTAIN GOATS
Several members of the Harriman Expedition, landing at Kukak Bay, on the north shore of Shelikof Strait, climbed to the top of the green slope back of their camp, and suddenly found themselves on the brink of an almost perpendicular mountain wall with a deep notch, through which they looked clown 2,000 feet into a valley beneath invaded by a great glacier that swept down from the snow-white peaks beyond.
Burroughs, in "Summer Holidays in Alaskan Waters," adds:
For nearly 2,000 miles we had seen mountains and valleys covered with unbroken spruce, cedar, and hemlock forests. Now we were to have 2,000 miles without a tree, the valleys and mountains as green as a lawn, chiefly of volcanic origin, many of the cones ideally perfect, the valleys deepened and carved by the old glaciers, and heights and lowlands alike covered with a carpet of grass, ferns, and flowers.
Among the islands of this group Afognak is interesting, as a fish-culture reservation and for its wooded areas, which caused it to be included in the Chugach National Forest. There are several hundred inhabitants, who have a large Greek chapel, some cattle, flocks of domestic fowl, and thriving vegetable gardens that supplement the usual means of livelihood by fishing.
Large, rugged, and commercially important, Kodiak is one of the most widely known of the Alaskan islands. It is the site of the first trading post; the scene of cruelty and repression as to its natives, and was first to have a church founded and a school opened. Kodiak lost its prestige when the headquarters of the Russian Company was transferred to Sitka. With its sea-otter catch sadly reduced and its population decimated by disease, Kodiak entered unpropitiously within the circle of American civilization, and long held to Russian ways and interests.
Its present population of nearly a thousand Americans, Russians, Creoles, and Indians - live principally on fishing, though there are some few otter taker. Its Karluk River is the most famous salmon stream in Alaska, and its canneries afford the primary means of subsistence for the natives.
To many Americans the island is best known through its enormous beast, the great Kodiak bear the largest species in the world.
Except on the eastern coast, the island is treeless, but its smooth, rounded hills are covered with luxuriant verdure. During the brief summer season the island is most beautiful, the emerald surfaces being brilliant with countless wild flowers in great variety. Cattle thrive; grain does not advance beyond the forage state; vegetables do well. Ample supplies for comfortable living are to be had from the large store of the Northern Commercial Company in the village. There is a fine church, and both the United States and the Greek Church maintain schools.
Burroughs alludes to the island as a pastoral paradise, and says of Kodiak:
So secluded, so remote, so peaceful, such a mingling of the domestic, the pastoral, the sylvan, with the wild and rugged; such emerald heights, such flowery vales, such blue arms and recesses of the sea, and such a vast green solitude stretching away to the west and to the north and to the south! Bewitching Kodiak, the spell of thy summer freshness and placidity is still upon me.