XXVII. TRADE AND TRANSPORTATION (Historic Information)
Probably there is no practical phase of Alaska that is so little known as that of transportation in and out of the Territory, whether it be of mail or telegram, of, passenger or freight. As illustrative of the ignorance regarding these matters may be mentioned an experience of the writer as he was about to visit Seward Peninsula. An official of high rank, looking over a map of Alaska, broached the point of what would be seen in passing through Valdez en route to Nome. He was astonished to be told that at Valdez one was a thousand miles farther from Nome than when he left Seattle.
The principal ocean steamships in the Alaskan trade are those of the long established Pacific Coast Company, of the vigorous Alaskan Steamship Company, and a foreign line, the Canadian Pacific Navigation Company. Service is frequent, reasonably rapid, and disasters are rare.
The Pacific Coast Company plies fortnightly during winter, and weekly during summer, between Seattle and Skagway. It also runs during June, July, and August an excursion steamer to the glaciers and other points, taking only first class round trip passengers for the eleven-day voyage. It operates tri-monthly steamships to Nome in summer June to September.
The Alaskan Company has a weekly service between Seattle and Skagway in summer, and a twelve-day service m winter. It sends in summer a boat to Nome about every ten days. Its fleet of twelve steamships is most busily engaged in its weekly service to Prince William Sound the voyage to Cordova taking five days, to Valdez six days, and to Seward a week.
The Canadian service to Skagway usually starts from Vancouver, and there are about three boats per month in summer.
ROUTES OF TRAVEL
There is but one starting point for Alaska Seattle; and there are three direct and sharply differing routes to various regions to southeastern Alaska, to southwestern Alaska, and to Seward Peninsula.
To southeastern Alaska are the steamship lines that run, through the Inside Passage, to Skagway, touching at Ketchikan, Wrangell, and Juneau regularly, and occasionally at other ports. The through voyage lasts from four to five days in all seasons, and the first-class fare is $30.
Southwestern Alaska (from Cordova westward to Seward) is reached by direct steamers in five to eight days, and the first-class fare is $40. The ports thus reached are Cordova, Valdez, and Seward, with calls at adjacent ports occasionally. This region is also reached from Seattle via Juneau and the Inside Passage by three or four boats each month, in ten to twelve days; some steamers run through, and in other cases a change at Juneau is necessary. The boats from Juneau touch at Sitka, Yakutat Bay, Cordova, Orca, Valdez, Seward, and occasionally at other points, as far west as Seldovia. At Valdez there is a connecting steamer about the middle of each month, that runs to the Cook Inlet ports, and to Kodiak, ending its voyage at Unalaska (Dutch Harbor). In summer it runs beyond Unalaska to Bristol Bay.
Seward Peninsula and adjacent regions are reached direct only during the open season of four months, from early June to early October. In the open season this ocean voyage of 2,740 miles is made in eight to ten days, the first-class fare being from $75 to $100, according to accommodations, second-class, $65; steerage, $35. Steamers leave Seattle from about June 5 to October 5; and they return from Nome from about June 20 to October 15. In 1908 there were seventy-four steamers which arrived and cleared at Nome during the season.
Winter travel in and out of Seward Peninsula lasts from early November to the beginning of April. It commences only with frozen streams and ends with the break-up of the rivers in the Tanana and other southerly valleys. The route is via Valdez, which is an open winter port in frequent and regular communication with Seattle; first-class fare, $45. Travel between Valdez and Fairbanks, 354 miles, is by comfortable tri-weekly stages, the journey occupying from seven to ten days; fare $150. Between Fairbanks and Fort Gibbon (Tanana), about 160 miles, public conveyance by stage, horse, or dog team can often be had, but occasionally recourse must be had to private dog team. Between Fort Gibbon and Nome, about 598 miles, one must nearly always depend on private dog team, and look to a journey of twenty to thirty days at an expense of $200, or more. The cost of such a journey, between Seattle and Nome, will run from $500 to $750, according to one's knowledge of the country, trail-endurance, and accommodations required. There are comfortable road houses along the entire route from Valdez to Nome, and the journey entails no great hardships, apart from exposure to great cold and exhaustion by fatigue in following the dog team from Nome to Fort Gibbon.
In summer the Yukon, Koyukuk, and Tanana Valleys are reached by complex routes. Travel, by the all-American route, is via ocean steamer to Nome and St. Michael, and thence by river boats. These river boats leave St. Michael about twice a week from June 20 to about September 20, and arrive at St. Michael on their return from about June 10 to the end of September. There are only two or three boats each summer up the Koyukukj but the entire Yukon Valley, and the Tanana Valley as far as Fairbanks, can be speedily reached throughout the entire open season by boats running weekly or oftener.
Fort Gibbon (Tanana) at the mouth of the Tanana, is the transportation centre of interior Alaska. Here the Fairbanks traffic connects with that of the Yukon Valley, and much freight with many passengers transfer to and from connecting steamboats from Dawson or St. Michael. In 1905 not less than 224 steamers touched at Fort Gibbon during the open season of five months. In 1906 the number of steamboats was 216, and in 1907 about 200 the tendency being to reduce steamers and increase the number and capacity of the freight-bearing barges that they carry in tow.
The Canadian route is followed for travel in or out of the interior valleys very early in the spring (May), or in the early autumn (middle of September to October). One must journey by steamboat to or from Seattle, via the Inside Passage to Skagway, thence by rail to White Horse, and down the Yukon by steamer to Dawson, where one catches the Dawson-Fairbanks line of American steamboats, which touch at Eagle, Circle, Rampart, and Fort Gibbon (Tanana). While there is an average of four boats a week from White Horse, the service from Dawson to the Tanana is less freciuent, about twice a week.
The development of the resources of Alaska has not been unmarked by corresponding benefits to the United States in general, and to the Pacific Coast in particular. Economic writers have frequently and potently set forth the great importance of the trade of the Orient as an indispensable factor in the future prosperity of this nation, and none will gainsay the soundness of their reasonings. Meanwhile there has sprung into existence an Alaskan trade which is simply enormous in its extent time and circumstance considered.
Statistics are wanting as to this trade prior to 1903, when official reports began. In that year the exportations from the United States to Alaska aggregated $9,987,164, which was considered by many as an extraordinary and inflated business, inviting disaster. In four years, however, the trade has more than doubled, the total importations reaching the value of $19,536,965 in 1907.
Doubtless there are many who will learn with surprise that, as shown by the Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1908, the exportations from the United States to Alaska in 1907 aggregated $18,402,765, which is nearly one-half of our exportations to the Empire of Japan that year, and more than seventy per cent, of those to the Chinese Empire.
When considered with relation to the trade of our insular possessions in the Pacific, the comparisons are distinctly favorable in trade importance to Alaska, whose total importations in 1907 exceeded those of Hawaii by §1,000,000, and were over eighty-two per cent, of the total imports of the Philippine Islands. Realizing that the greatest financial benefits inure to the country that both produces and ships, the Alaskan trade, from this standpoint, is by comparison startlingly beneficial to this country, as the exportations from the United States to Alaska nearly equalled the combined domestic exportations to both Hawaii and the Philippine Islands. The exportations from the United States in 1907 (Statistical Abstract for 1907) to the three countries were as follows . Philippine Islands, $5,155 359, Hawaii, $14,435,725, and to Alaska, $18,402,765. Relative to total importations, foreign and domestic, the percentages were Philippines, seventeen per cent, from the United States, Hawaii, seventy-eight per cent., and Alaska, ninety four per cent.
It may be added that the Alaskan trade demands neither special methods of manufacture nor of packing, and that it deals only in the best of merchandise, as the question of freight charges enters so largely in the cost to the consumer. All shipments are carried m vessels of American register, an additional advantage to our national interests.
The Monthly Summary of Commerce, for December, 1908, shows the character of shipments into Alaska during 1908 to be as follows: Foodstuffs in crude condition and food animals, $1,455,381; foodstuffs, partly or wholly manufactured, $4,326,947, crude materials, for use in manufacturing, $358,991, manufactures for further use in manufacturing, $1,892,867, manufactures ready for consumption, $7,141,908. The three leading classes were, in round numbers, iron and steel manufactures, $3,400,000; meat and dairy products, $2,000,000, breadstuffs and vegetables, $1,152,000. As elsewhere stated the trade in vegetables has been seriously affected by the agricultural development of the Territory. The decrease from 1906 to 1908 of about sixteen per cent, in the shipment of distilled spirits incidentally illustrates the settled and permanent conditions of modern Alaska, which is very far from being a land of wild dissipation and irregular life.
Nome has the largest direct shipments (by ocean), which have been as follows: 1903, $1,726,242; 1904, $1,988,520, 1905, $2,922,082, 1906, $3,740,188, 1907, $2,428,440. The trade of Fairbanks has rapidly increased, the records showing: 1903, $81,968, 1904, $441,705, 1905, $1,789,312, and in 1907, the year of the strike, $2,152,412. It may be added that much now goes into Fairbanks via Valdez.
Although the Alaskan trade is no longer a monopoly, yet it is practically controlled in the interior by several large corporations. The oldest and best known of these is the Northern Commercial Company, which, founded in 1868, was the pioneer of Yukon trade and navigation. For twenty years, as the Alaska Commercial Company, it was the lessee of the Pribilof seal islands, but it now practically confines its operations to the trade of the Yukon watershed. Its local headquarters at St. Michael command the admiration of every Alaskan. At that point are operated a shipyard, hotel, general store, warehousing, machine and repair shops, a laundry, and, of all things, a cold-storage plant for the imported fresh meat. There are complete facilities for the handling and transfer of the thousands of tons of freight that are necessarily transshipped here to the river steamboats navigating the interior waters. The Company's Yukon fleet consists of 32 stern-wheel, light-draft, mostly oil-burning steamboats, and 35 freight-carrying barges, which are towed by the steamboats. In addition to the great plants and warehouses at St. Michael, Tanana, Dawson, and Fairbanks, they operate large trading stores at Bettles on the Koyukuk, at Delta on the Tanana, and at Eagle, Circle, Rampart, Koknnes, Nulato, and Andreafski on the Yukon, having at the last-named place winter quarters for some of their boats and reserve depots of stores.
Second in the field was the North American Trading and Transportation Company, whose activities are mainly displayed in the Klondike trade at Dawson, the Tanana trade at Fairbanks, and on the upper Yukon from Eagle to Tanana (Fort Gibbon). The amount and variety of the stocks carried by these companies are matters of surprise to Alaskan tourists, whose needs and comforts are thoroughly and reasonably subserved by them throughout interior Alaska.
PRICES IN THE INTERIOR
The following retail prices drawn from a Fairbanks paper indicate the cost of living, which is estimated to be $2.50 per day in Fairbanks, where laborers receive about $7, miners $7.50, and mechanics $15 per day. Prices in cents per pound or can: 10 cents for salt, 15 for beans, sugar, and soap, 20 for lard, fresh potatoes, and fresh onions; 25 for bacon, most evaporated fruits, pilot bread, ham, and pork, 25 for salmon, jams, and jellies per can, 50 for keg butter, canned meats, canned vegetables, and canned fruits; 75 for coffee, tea, cocoa, and per dozen eggs; $1 for honey and canned butter, and (gallon) coal oil. Fresh beef, mutton, veal, and pork run from 30 to 60 cents per pound, but fresh chicken and the best fresh veal and pork are 75 cents per pound. At remote mining camps prices run from 100 to 300 per cent, above those at Fairbanks, according to the remoteness and size of camp.
MILITARY TELEGRAPH SERVICE
This service reaches nearly all places of size in the Territory, and speedily serves almost every important permanent industry as well as the promising mining camps. The only extended areas that are without a telegraph are Cook Inlet, Alaska Peninsula, the Kuskokwim watershed, the Yukon Delta, the Point Barrow region, and the Koyukuk Valley. These areas are comparatively unimportant, as seventy-five per cent, of the white population of Alaska are within an hour of a cable, a telephone, or telegraph office, so that at will they can speedily communicate with their friends of the outside world. Less than ten per cent, of the settled whites are fifty miles distant from such service.
The cables from Seattle reach, through Sitka and Valdez, every important Alaskan port from Ketchikan to Seward, on Kenai Peninsula. The connecting land fines from Valdez extend northeast to Eagle, there conpecting with the Dawson system, and northwest to Fairbanks, Tanana, and St. Michael, while wireless sections reach Nome, Circle, and Eagle. Supplementary private systems of telephone reach all the large mining camps near Nome and in the Fairbanks region, while there are connecting railroad systems at Seward, of the Alaska Central, and at Cordova, of the Copper River Railway.
General G. M. Randall suggested the land lines for military purposes, and to Secretary Root is due the credit of the first cable system to Skagway. The line of the army built the land lines under the supervision of technical experts of the Signal Corps.
While the entire responsibility for route, construction, equipment, installation, and operation rested by law on the writer, then Chief Signal Officer of the army, the enterprise would have dragged for years but for the far-seeing and helpful policy of Mr. Root, one of the great American War Secretaries.
Special difficulties practical and theoretical demanded unusual energy and high professional skill from the field workers. In solving these problems, on which the completion and opeiation of the system depended, high credit is due to Colonel (now General) James Allen, and to Major Edgar Russel, for the construction, equipment, and installation in a practically uncharted ocean of the longest American cables ever laid aggregating over 3,000 miles, more than enough to cross the North Atlantic. Similar credit is due Captains G. C. Burnell, G. S. Gibbs, and William Mitchell, for line location and construction under Arctic conditions through hitherto unknown areas of Alaska. Finally Captain L. Wildman equipped, installed, and operated a wireless system largely of his own invention between St. Michael and Nome, the first commercial, long-distance, and regularly operating wireless system in the world now in its sixth year of continuous and uninterrupted service.
The Congressional appropriations for these lines aggregated $l,352,132, and about $1,000,000 additional was involved in the army transportation used, and in the pay, clothing, and subsistence of the soldiers engaged in the construction, operation, and maintenance of the lines. Despite difficulties inherent on work in a practically unknown environment, the system was built, without either deficiency or additional appropriation, from the sums originally estimated.
Failure was freely forecast, the scheme being impracticable, and if built its expenses would swamp the Treasury: fortunately neither prediction was verified. Its value to the Government has been enormous, which before saw local officials in Alaska absolutely without restraint. A telegraph to Nome in 1900 would have saved the American nation a sorrowful chapter in its practically stainless record as to the Federal judiciary.
Commercial business was equally difficult to control, extravagant in its expenses, often inadequate, dilatory, and inefficient. The lines were thrown open to commercial business, to the advantage of the nation, of the Territory, and of the individual. The business done, astonishing even to optimists in its amount, best indicates the value of the system.
The writer was derided for estimating a possible revenue of $100,000 annually, and the receipts for 1903, $1,934.32 were viewed as large. The last fiscal year, however, they amounted to $205,210, and to June 30, 1908, have aggregated $901,316.
It is not infrequently said that corruption is rife in the public service, especially in Alaska. Let it be noted that these telegraph tolls, of nearly a million of dollars, have in their entirety passed through the hands of American soldiers enlisted men and the total loss by embezzlement is but $361.69. This insignificant loss was through a sergeant who deposited $75 the day he deserted who was receiving $1.50 per day for doing the telegraphing and accounting for about $18,000 a year of tolls received; this in a town where skilled workmen were paid $15 per day, and laborers $8 to $9 per day.
Though neglected for many years as to its postal needs, and largely dependent on the Canadian facilities via Dawson, Alaska is now most liberally provided with mail service. The mails for the interior and northwestern Alaska are necessarily irregular of delivery during the months of April, May, and October, when travel is most difficult pending the formation of the autumn ice and of the spring break-up.
Southeastern Alaska and the coast from Yakutat to Seldovia are well cared for during the entire year. Alaska Peninsula and Unalaska receive a monthly mail by coast steamers running west from Valdez, or Seward, starting about the middle of each month; this service is extended during the salmon season to the Bering sea-coast at Nushagak. In winter the Kuskokwim regions are supplied by the monthly mail carried overland from Cold Bay, Shelikof Straits, from November to April. A similar winter service runs from Kenai north to Hober.
The summer mails for Seward Peninsula, the Yukon, Koyukuk, and Tanana Valleys go direct to Nome by steamer during the four months of open season June to early October and those for the interior are forwarded from St. Michael by steamboat. For the rest of the year these valleys are served by the great triweekly mail from Valdez to Fairbanks, thence weekly to Tanana (Fort Gibbon) and Nome. From this through route radiates winter service for all exterior points of importance. The upper Koyukuk Valley has a monthly winter service to and from Tanana from October to May. There is a similar monthly service for the Yukon Delta and Kuskokwim country, from Koserefski.
The Arctic Ocean region as far as Point Barrow has two mails during the winter, to and from Kotzebue; and the Kobuk Valley a monthly mail from November to May.