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ALL our preparations were long since made. Our Indian guide had been sent back to Fort Yukon from Coldfoot, and here we engaged a young Esquimau with his dog team and sled, to go across to Kotzebue Sound with us. There was also a young Dane who wished to go from the Koyukuk diggings to the diggings at Candle Creek on the Seward Peninsula, and him we were willing to feed in return for his assistance on the trail. The supplies had been carefully calculated for the journey, the toboggans were already loaded, and we waited but a break in the cold weather to start.

Our course from Bettles would lead us sixty-five miles farther down the Koyukuk to the mouth of the Alatna. The visit to the native village and the burial of the poor fellow frozen to death would take us ten miles farther down than that, and we would return to the Alatna mouth. Then the way would lie for fifty miles or so up that stream, and then over a portage, across to the Kobuk River, which we should descend to its mouth in Kotzebue Sound; the whole distance being about five hundred miles through a very little travelled country. We learned indeed, that it had been travelled but once this winter, and that on the first snow. It was thought at Bettles that we might possibly procure some supplies at a newly established mission of the Society of Friends about half-way down the Kobuk River, but there was no certainty about it, and we must carry with us enough man-food to take us to salt water. Our supply of dog fish we might safely count upon replenishing from the natives on the Kobuk. Another thing that caused some thought was the supply of small money. There was no silver and no currency except large bills on the Koyukuk, and we should need money in small sums to buy fish with. So the agent weighed out a number of little packets of gold-dust carefully sealed up in stout writing-paper like medicine powders, some worth a dollar, some worth two dollars, the value written on the face, and we found them readily accepted by the natives and very convenient. Two years later I heard of some of those packets, unbroken, still current on the Kobuk.

At last, on the 26th of January, we got away. The thermometer stood only a few degrees above -50 deg. when we left, but the barometer had been falling slowly for a couple of days, and I was convinced the cold spell was over. With our three teams and four men we made quite a little expedition, but dogs and men were alike soft, and for the first two days the travel was laborious and slow; then came milder weather and better going.

We passed the two ruined huts of Peavey, the roofs crushed by the superincumbent snow. In the summer of 1898 a part of the stream of gold seekers, headed for the Klondike by way of Saint Michael, was deflected to the Koyukuk River by reports of recent discoveries there. A great many little steamboat outfits made their way up this river late in the season, until their excessive draught in the falling water brought them to a stand. Where they stopped they wintered, building cabins and starting “towns.” In one or two cases the “towns” were electrically lit from the steamboat’s dynamo. The next summer they all left, all save those who were wrecked by the ice, and the “towns” were abandoned. But they had got upon the map through some enterprising representative of the land office, and they figure on some recent maps still. Peavey, Seaforth, Jimtown, Arctic City, Beaver City, Bergman, are all just names and nothing else, though at Bergman the Commercial Company had a plant for a while.

We passed the mouth of the Alatna, where were two or three Indian cabins, and went on the remaining ten miles to Moses’ Village, where the body of the man frozen to death had been brought. Moses’ Village, named from the chief, was the largest native village on the Koyukuk River, and we were glad, despite our haste, that we had gone there. The repeated requests from all the Indians we met for a mission and school on the Koyukuk River and the neglected condition of the people had moved me the previous year to take up the matter. This was my first visit, however, so far down the river.

We found the coffin unmade and the grave undug, and set men vigorously to work at both. The frozen body had been found fallen forward on hands and feet, and since to straighten it would be impossible without several days’ thawing in a cabin, the coffin had to be of the size and shape of a packing-case; of course the ground for the grave had to be thawed down, for so are all graves dug in Alaska, and that is a slow business. A fire is kindled on the ground, and when it has burned out, as much ground as it has thawed is dug, and then another fire is kindled. We had our own gruesome task. The body should be examined to make legally sure that death came from natural causes. With difficulty the clothes were stripped from the poor marble corpse, my companion made the examination, and as a notary public I swore him to a report for the nearest United States commissioner. This would furnish legal proof of death were it ever required; otherwise, since there is no provision for the travelling expenses of coroners, and the nearest was one hundred and forty or one hundred and fifty miles away, there would have been no inquest and no such proof.

The man had delayed his return to Bettles too long. When his food was exhausted and he had to go, there came on that terrible cold spell. A little memorandum-book in his pocket told the pitiful story. Day by day he lingered hoping for a change, and day by day there was entry of the awful cold. He had no thermometer, but he knew the temperature was -50 deg. or lower by the cracking noise that his breath made the old-timer’s test. At last the grub was all gone and he must go or starve. The final entry read: “All aboard to-morrow, hope to God I get there.” The Indians estimated that he had been walking two days, and had “siwashed it” at night somewhere beside a fire in the open without bedding. Holes were burned in his breeches in two places, where, doubtless, he had got too near the fire. He had nothing whatever to eat with him save a piece of bacon gnawed to the rind. There were only two matches in his pocket, and they were mixed up with trash of birch-bark and tobacco, so it is likely he did not know he had them. He had lit all the fires he could light and eaten all the food he had to eat. Still he was plugging along towards the native village nine miles away. Then he lost the trail, probably in the dark, for it was faint and much drifted, and had taken off his snow-shoes to feel with his moccasined feet for the hardened snow that would indicate it. That was almost the end. He had gone across the river and back again, feeling for the trail, and then, with the deadly numbness already upon his brain, had wandered in a circle. The date of his starting in the memorandum-book and the distance travelled made it almost certain that, at some moment between the time when those three moons floated in the sky and the time when that cross glared on the horizon, he had fallen in the snow, never to rise again. Fifty-eight below zero and a wind blowing!

One supposes that the actual death by freezing is painless, as it is certainly slow and gradual. The only instance of sudden gelation I ever heard of is in Longfellow’s “Wreck of the Hesperus,” where the skipper, having answered one question, upon being asked another,

“Answered never a word,
For a frozen corpse was he.”

But if the actual death be painless, the long conscious fight against it must be an agony; for a man of any experience must realise the peril he is in. The tingling in fingers and toes and then in knees and elbows is a warning he recognises only too well. He knows that, unless he can restore warmth by restoring the circulation, he is as good as frozen already. He increases his pace and beats his arms against his breast. But if his vitality be too much reduced by hunger and fatigue and cold to make more than a slight response to the stimulation, if the distance to warmth and shelter be too great for a spurt to carry him there, he is soon in worse case than before. Then the appalling prospect of perishing by the cold must rise nakedly before him. The enemy is in the breach, swarming over the ramparts, advancing to the heart of the fortress, not to be again repelled. He becomes aware that his hands and feet are already frozen, and presently there may be a momentary terrible recognition that his wits begin to wander. Frantically he stumbles on, thrashing his body with his arms, forcing his gait to the uttermost, a prey to the terror that hangs over him, until his growing horror and despair are mercifully swallowed up in the somnolent torpidity that overwhelms him. All of us who have travelled in cold weather know how uneasy and apprehensive a man becomes when the fingers grow obstinately cold and he realises that he is not succeeding in getting them warm again. It is the beginning of death by freezing.

We buried the body on a bench of the bluff across the river from the native village, the natives all standing around reverently while the words of committal were said, and set up a cross marked with lead-pencil: “R. I. P. Eric Ericson, found frozen, January, 1906.” Two or three years later a friend sent me a small bronze tablet with the same legend, and that was affixed to the cross. There are many such lonely graves in Alaska, for scarce a winter passes that does not claim its victims in every section of the country. That same winter we heard of two men frozen on the Seward Peninsula, two on the Yukon, one on the Tanana, and one on the Valdez trail. This day I recorded a temperature of 10 deg., the first plus temperature in thirty-nine days, and that previous rise above zero was the first in twenty days.

That night we gathered all the natives, and after long speech with poor interpretation I ventured to promise them a mission the next year. Some of them had been across to the Yukon years before and had visited the mission at Tanana. Some had been baptized there. Some had never seen a clergyman or missionary of any sort before, and had never heard the gospel preached. We were touched by one old blind woman who told of a visit to a mission on the Yukon, and how she learned to sing a hymn there. Her son interpreted: “She say every night she sing that hymn for speak to God.” She was encouraged to sing it, and it turned out to be the alphabet set to a tune! After much pleading and with some hesitation, I baptized seventeen children, comforting myself with the assurance of the coming mission, which would undertake their Christian training and instruction.

Back next day at the mouth of the Alatna, I was again impressed with the eligibility of that spot as a mission site. It was but ten miles above the present native village, and, with church and school established, the whole population would sooner or later move to it. This gives opportunity for regulating the building of cabins, and the advantage of a new, clean start. Moreover, the Alatna River is the highway between the Kobuk and the Koyukuk, and the Esquimaux coming over in increasing numbers, would be served by a mission at this place as well as the Indians. I foresaw two villages, perhaps, on the opposite sides of the river one clustered about the church and the school, the other a little lower down where these ancient hereditary enemies might live side by side in peace and harmony under the firm yet gentle influence of the church. So I staked a mission site, and set up notices claiming ground for that purpose, almost opposite the mouth of the Alatna, which, in the native tongue, is Allakaket or Allachaket.

There was some trail up the Alatna and we made fair headway on its surface, stopping two nights at Kobuk huts. We are out of the Indian country now, and shall see no more Indians until we are back on the Yukon. The mode of life, the habits, the character of the races are very different the first Esquimau habitation we visited proclaiming it. These inland Esquimaux, though some of the younger ones have never seen salt water our guide, Roxy, for one are still essentially a salt-water people. Their huts, even in the midst of trees, are half-underground affairs, for they have not learned log-building; the windows are of seal gut, and seal oil is a staple article of their diet. Their clothing is also marine, their parkees of the hair-seal and their mukluks of the giant seal. Communications are always kept up with the coast, and the sea products required are brought across. The time for the movement of the Kobuks back and forth was not quite yet, though we hoped we should meet some parties and get the benefit of their trail. Just before we left the Alatna River we stopped at Roxy’s fish cache and got some green fish, hewing them out of the frozen mass with the axe. The young man had fished here the previous summer, had cached the fish caught too late to dry in the sun, and they had remained where he left them for four or five months. Most of them had begun to decay before they froze, but that did not impair their value as dog food, though it rendered the cooking of them a disagreeable proceeding to white nostrils. This caching of food is a common thing amongst both natives and whites, and it is rarely that a cache is violated except under great stress of hunger, when violation is recognised as legitimate. Doughty, in his Arabia Deserta, mentions the same custom amongst the Arabs; Sven Hedin amongst the Tartars. Sparsely peopled waste countries have much the same customs all over the world. Even the outer garb in the Oriental deserts has much resemblance to our parkee; both burnoose and parkee are primarily windbreaks, and it makes little difference whether the wind be charged with snow or sand.

At midday on the 3d of February we left the Alatna River and took our way across country for the Kobuk. We had now no trail at all save what had been made a couple of months before by the only other party that had crossed the portage this winter, and it was buried under fifteen or sixteen inches of snow. There was quite a grade to be climbed to reach the plateau over which our course lay, and the men, with rope over the shoulder, had to help the dogs hauling at the sled. Indeed, over a good deal of this portage, from time to time, the men had to do dog work, for the country is rolling, one ridge succeeding another, and the loose, deep snow made heavy and slow going. One man must go ahead breaking trail, and that was generally my task, though when the route grew doubtful and the indications too faint for white man’s eye, Roxy took my place and I took his gee pole, and slipped his rope around my chest.

Breaking trail would not be so laborious if one could wear the large snow-shoes that are used for hunting. But the hunting shoe, though it carries the man without fatigue, does not help the dogs. The small shoe known as the trail shoe, packs the snow beneath it, and by the time the trail breaker has gone forward, then back again, and then forward once more, the snow is usually packed hard enough to give the dogs some footing. Footing the dog must have or he cannot pull; a dog wallowing in snow to his belly cannot exert much traction on the vehicle behind him. The notion of snow-shoeing as a sport always seems strange to us on the trail, for to us it is a laborious necessity and no sport at all. The trail breaker thus goes over most of the ground thrice, and when he is anxious at the same time to get a fairly accurate estimate by the pedometer of the distance travelled, he must constantly remember to upend the instrument in his pocket when he retraces his steps, and restore it to its recording position when he attacks unbroken snow again. Also he must take himself unawares, so to speak, from time to time, and check the length of his stride with the tape measure and alter the step index as the varying surfaces passed over require. Conscientiously used, with due regard to its limitations, the pedometer will give a fair approximation of the length of a journey, but a man can no more tell how far he has gone by merely hanging a pedometer in his pocket than he can tell the height above sea-level of an inland mountain by merely carrying an aneroid barometer to the top.

It was on this Alatna-Kobuk portage that we saw the most magnificent sunrise any of us could remember. It had been cloudy for some days with threat of snow which did not fall. We were camped in a little hollow between two ridges, and I had been busy packing up the stuff in the tent preparatory to the start, when I stepped out with a load of bedding in my arms, right into the midst of the spectacle. It was simple, as the greatest things are always simple, but so gorgeous and splendid that it was startling. The whole southeastern sky was filled with great luminous bands of alternate purple and crimson. At the horizon the bands were deeper in tone and as they rose they grew lighter, but they maintained an unmixed purity of contrasting colour throughout. I gazed at it until the tent was struck and the dogs hitched and it was time to start, and then I had to turn my back upon it, for our course lay due west, and I was breaking trail. But on the crest of the rising ground ahead there burst upon my delighted eyes a still more astonishing prospect. We were come to the first near view of the Kobuk mountains, and the reflected light of that gorgeous sunrise was caught by the flanks of a group of wild and lofty snow peaks, and they stood up incandescent, with a vivid colour that seemed to come through them as well as from them. To right and left, mountains out of the direct path of that light gave a soft dead mauve, but these favoured peaks, bathed from base to summit in clear crimson effulgence, glowed like molten metal. It was not the reflected light of the sun, but of the flaming sky, for even as I looked, a swift change came over them. They passed through the tones of red to lightest pink, not fading but brightening, and before my companions reached me the sun’s rays sprang upon the mountains from the horizon, and they were golden.

It seems almost foolish to the writer and may well seem tedious to the reader, to attempt in words the description of such scenes; yet so deep is the impression they produce, and so large the place they take in the memory, that to omit them would be to strike out much of the charm and zest of these arctic journeys. Again and again in the years that have passed, the recollection of that pomp of colour on the way to the Kobuk has come suddenly upon me, and always with a bounding of the spirit. I can shut my eyes now and see that incomparable sunrise; I can see again that vision of mountains filling half the sky with their unimaginable ardency, and I think that this world never presented nobler sight. Surely for its pageantry of burning, living colour, for purity and depth and intensity of tint, the Far North with its setting of snow surpasses all other regions of the earth.

That same day we met a couple of Kobuk youths on their way to the Koyukuk, and they gave us the greatest gift it was in the power of man to give us a trail! There is no finer illustration of the mutual service of man to man than the meeting of parties going opposite ways across the unbroken snows. Each is at once conferring and receiving the greatest of favours, without loss to himself is heaping benefit on the other; is, it may be has often been saving the other, and being himself saved. No more hunting and peering for blazes, no more casting about hither and thither when open stretches are crossed; no more three times back and forth to beat the snow down twenty miles a day instead of ten or twelve the boys’ trail meant all that to us. And our trail meant almost as much to them. So we were rejoiced to see them, sturdy youths of sixteen or seventeen, making the journey all by themselves. My heart goes out to these adventurous Kobuks, amiable, light-hearted, industrious; keen hunters, following the mountain-sheep far up where the Indian will not go; adepts in all the wilderness arts; heirs of the uncharted arctic wastes, and occupying their heritage. If I were not a white man I would far rather be one of these nomadic inland Esquimaux than any other native I know of.

That same day we crossed two headwater forks of the Kokochatna, as the Kobuks call it, or the Hogatzitna as the Koyukuks call it, or the Hog River, as the white men call it, a tributary of the Koyukuk that comes in about one hundred and fifty miles below the Alatna. As we came down a steep descent to the little east fork, it showed so picturesque and attractive, with clumps of fine open timber on an island, that it remains in my mind one of the many places from the Grand Canon of the Colorado almost to the Grand Canon of the Noatak, where I should like to have a lodge in the vast wilderness.

We had but crossed the west fork when we knew that we were close to the watershed between the Kobuk and the Koyukuk, between the streams that fall into Kotzebue Sound and those that fall by the Koyukuk and the Yukon Rivers into Bering Sea; and because it seemed a capital geographic feature, it was disappointing that it was so inconspicuous. Indeed, we were not sure which of two ridges was the actual divide. Beyond those ridges there was no question, for the ground sloped down to Lake Noyutak, a body of water some three and a half miles in length and of varying breadth that drains into the Kobuk. Here in a cabin we found three more young Kobuks, and spent the night, getting our first view of the Kobuk River next day, not from an eminence, as I had hoped, but only as we came down a bank through thick timber and opened suddenly upon it. By the pedometer I made the portage forty-six miles.

The upper Kobuk is a picturesque river, the timber being especially large and handsome for interior Alaska. We reached it just above the mouth of the Reed River, tributary from the north. The weather was warm too warm for good travelling the thermometer standing at 15 –­ deg., 20 deg., and one day even 30 deg. above zero all day long, so that we were all bareheaded and in our shirt-sleeves. From time to time, as the course of the river varied, we had distant views of the rocky mountains of the Endicott Range, or, as it might be written, the Endicott Range of the Rocky Mountains, for such, in fact, it is the western and final extension of the great American cordillera. On the other side of those mountains was the Noatak River, flowing roughly parallel with the Kobuk, and discharging into the same arm of the sea.

The division of the labour of camping amongst four gave us all some leisure at night, and I found time to read through again The Cloister and the Hearth and Westward Ho! with much pleasure, quite agreeing with Sir Walter Besant’s judgment that the former is one of the best historical novels ever written. There are few more attractive roysterers in literature to me than Denys of Burgundy, with his “Courage, camarades, lé diable est mort!” This matter of winter reading is a difficult one, because it is impossible to carry many books. My plan is to take two or three India-paper volumes of classics that have been read before, and renew my acquaintance with them. But reading by the light of one candle, though it sufficed our forefathers, is hard on our degenerate eyes.

The days were much lengthened now, and the worst of the winter was done. There would still be cold and storm, but hardly again of the same intensity and duration. When the traveller gets well into February he feels that the back of the winter is broken, for nothing can take from him the advantage of the ever-lengthening days, the ever-climbing sun.

On the afternoon of the third day on the Kobuk we reached a cabin occupied by two white men, the first we had seen since we left Bettles, and we were the first white men they had seen all the winter. They were waiting for the spring, having a prospecting trip in view; simply spending the winter eating up their grub. There was nothing whatever to read in the cabin, and they had been there since the freeze-up! They welcomed us, and we stayed overnight with them, and that night there was a total eclipse of the moon, of which we had a fine view. We had an almanac which gave the time of totality at Sitka, and we knew the approximate longitude of our position, so we were able to set our watches by it.

The next two days are noted in my diary as two of the pleasantest days of the whole journey two of the pleasantest days I ever spent anywhere, I think. A clear, cloudless sky, brilliant sunshine, white mountain peaks all about us, gave picture after picture, and the warm, balmy air made travelling a delight. There are few greater pleasures than that of penetrating into a new country, with continually changing views of beauty, under kindly conditions of weather and trail. In the yellow rays of the early sun, the spruce on the river bank looked like a screen of carved bronze, while the slender stems of birches in front of the spruce looked like an inlaying of old ivory upon the bronze, the whole set upon its pedestal of marble-like snow. The second day we took a portage of nine or ten miles across a barren flat and struck the river again just below a remarkable stretch of bank a mile or so in length, with never a tree or a bush or so much as the smallest shrub growing on it. Thick timber above suddenly ceased, thick timber below suddenly began again, and this bare bank reached back through open, barren flat to a low pass in the mountains. It was a bank of solid ice, so we were told later, and I remembered to have heard of ice bluffs on the Kobuk, and wished that the portage had struck the river above this spot instead of below it, that there might have been opportunity to examine it.

A little farther down the river and we were at the new mission of the Society of Friends, where a cordial reception awaited us and, luxury of luxuries, a warm bath! Again and again the wash-tub was emptied and fresh water was heated until we all had wallowed to our heart’s content. The rude log buildings of the mission had been begun the previous fall, and were not yet complete, but they were advanced enough for occupation, and the work of the mission went actively on. It was in charge of rather an extraordinary man. He gave us a sketch of his life, which was full of interest and matter for thought. For many years he was a police officer and jailer in the West. Then he sailed on a whaler and thus became acquainted with the Esquimaux. He was converted from a life of drunkenness and debauchery though one fancied his character was not really ever so bad as he painted it at a “Peniel” mission in a Californian town. He went in out of mere idle curiosity, just recovered from a spree, and was so wrought upon that when he came out he was a different creature, a new man, the old life with its appetite for vicious indulgence sloughed off and left behind him, and he now possessed with a burning desire to do some such active service for God as aforetime he had done for the devil. After three or four months of some sort of training in an institution maintained by the California Society of Friends a body more like the Salvation Army, one judges, than the old Quakers he volunteered for service at a branch which the old-established mission of the Society at the mouth of the Kobuk desired to plant two hundred miles or so up the river, and had come out and had plunged at once into his task. So here he was, some six or seven months installed, teacher, preacher, trader in a small way, and indefatigable worker in general. Pedagogical training or knowledge of “methods” he had none at all, but the root of the matter was in him, and surely never was such an insatiable school-teacher. Morning, noon, and night he was teaching. While he was cooking he was hearing lessons; while he was washing the dishes and cleaning the house he was correcting exercises in simple addition. In the schoolroom he was full of a genial enthusiasm that seemed to impart instruction by sheer dynamic force. “Boot,” the lesson book said. There was no boot in the schoolroom, all were shod in mukluks. He dives into his dwelling-house attachment and comes back holding up a boot. “Boot,” he says, and “boot” they all repeat. Presently the word “tooth” was introduced in the lesson. Withdrawing a loose artificial tooth of the “pivot” variety from his upper jaw, he holds it aloft and “tooth!” he cries out, and “toot!” they all cry, and he claps it back into his head again.

We were present on Sunday at the services. There was hearty singing of “Pentecostal” hymns with catchy refrains, but we were compelled to notice again what we had noticed amongst the little bands of these people on the Koyukuk when we set them to singing, that the English was unintelligible; and since it conveyed no meaning to us could have had little for them. This is the inevitable result of ignoring the native tongue and adopting the easy expedient of teaching the singing of hymns and the recitation of formulas like the commandments in English. For a generation or two, at least, the English learned, save by children at a boarding-school, where nothing but English is spoken, is fragmentary and of doubtful import in all except the commonest matters of speech. And at such boarding-schools there is danger of the real misfortune and drawback of natives growing up to live their lives amongst natives, ignorant of the native tongue. There is no quick and easy way of stamping out a language, thank God; there is no quick and easy way of imparting instruction in a foreign language. By and by all the Alaskan natives will be more or less bilingual, but the intimate speech and the most clearly understood speech will still be the mother tongue. The singing done, there was preaching through an interpreter, and then each individual present “gave testimony,” which consisted for the most part in the recitation of a text of Scripture. Then there were individual prayers by one and another of the congregation, and then some more singing. The only hymn I could find in the book that I knew was the fine old hymn, “How Firm a Foundation,” and that was sung heartily to the “Adeste Fidèles.” They are naturally a musical race, picking up airs with great facility, and they thoroughly enjoy singing.

After the service the missionary confided some of his troubles to me. He had lately learned through his interpreter that the burden of most of the individual prayers was that the supplicator might “catch plenty skins” and be more successful in hunting than his fellows; and though he had done his best to impress upon them the superior importance of making request for spiritual benefit, he was afraid they had made no change. “Our people ‘outside,’” he said, “don’t understand these folk, and I’m not sure that I thoroughly understand them myself.” “They’re all ‘converted,’” he said; “they all claim to have experienced a change of heart, but some of them I know are not living like converted people, and sometimes I have my doubts about most of them.” My sympathy went out to him in his loneliness and his earnestness and his disappointments. I pointed out that the emotional response to emotional preaching was comparatively easy to get from any primitive people, but that to change their whole lives, to uproot old customs of sensual indulgence, to engraft new ideas of virtue and chastity was a long, slow process anywhere in the world. It was chiefly in the matter of sexual morality that his doubts and difficulties lay, and I was able to assure him that his experience was but the common experience of all those who had laboured for the uplifting of savage people. Indeed, how should it be otherwise? Until quite lately there was almost promiscuous use of women. A man receiving a traveller in his dwelling overnight proffered his wife as a part of his hospitality; the temporary interchange of wives was common; young men and young women gratified themselves without rebuke; children were valuable however come by, and there was no special distinction between legitimate and illegitimate offspring. As one reflects on these conditions and then looks back upon conditions amongst white people, it would seem that all the civilised races have done is to set up a double standard of sexual morality as against the single standard of the savage. It can hardly be claimed that the average white man is continent, or even much more continent than the average Esquimau, but he has forced continence upon the greater part of his women, reserving a dishonoured remnant for his own irresponsible use. And there are signs that some of those who nowadays inveigh against the white man’s double standard are in reality desirous of substituting, not the single standard of the Christian ideal, but the single standard of the savage. In the mining camps the prostitute has a sort of half-way-recognised social position, and in polite parlance is referred to as a “sporting lady” surely the most horribly incongruous phrase ever coined; she often marries a miner who will tell you that she is as good as he is, and she is received afterwards by all but a few as a “respectable married woman.”

There had been some trouble of this sort at this mission. The great northern gold seekers’ wave of ’97 and ’98 threw a numerous band of prospectors up the Kobuk as well as up the Koyukuk. The wave had receded and left on the Kobuk but one little pool behind it, a handful of men who found something better than “pay” on the Shungnak, a few miles away. And there was much criticism of the missionary’s methods amongst them. Word of the arrival of strangers had brought some of them to Long Beach, and on Sunday night I had opportunity of addressing them, with a view to enlisting their sympathy, if possible. What if mistakes were made, what if some of the methods employed were open to question? Here was a man who beyond doubt was earnestly labouring in the best way he knew for the improvement of these natives. Such an effort demanded the co-operation of every right-feeling man.

After all, however grand the physical scenery, the meteorological phenomena, may be, the people of any country are the most interesting thing in it, and we found these Esquimaux extraordinarily interesting. Dirty they certainly are; it is almost impossible for dwellers in the arctic regions to be clean in the winter, and the winter lasts so long that the habit of winter becomes the habit of the year. White and native alike accept a lower standard of personal cleanliness than is tolerated outside. I remember asking Bishop Rowe, before I came to Alaska: “What do you do about bathing when you travel in the winter?” To which he replied laconically: “Do without.” It is even so; travellers on the Alaskan trails as well as natives belong to the “great unwashed.” In the very cold weather the procuring of water in any quantity is a very difficult thing even for house dwellers. Every drop of it has to be carried from a water-hole cut far out on the ice, up a steep grade, and then quite a little distance back to the dwelling for we do not build directly upon these eroding banks. The water-hole is continually freezing up and has to be continually hewed free of ice, and as the streams dwindle with the progress of winter, new holes must be cut farther and farther out. On the trail, where snow must usually be melted for water, it is obvious that bathing is out of the question; even the water for hands and face is sparingly doled by the cook, and two people will sometimes use the same water rather than resort to the painful though efficient expedient of washing with snow. If this be so despite aluminum pots and a full kit of camp vessels, it is much more so with the native, whose supply of pots and pans is very limited. I have seen a white man melt snow in a frying-pan, wash hands and face in it, throw it out, fry bacon and beans in it, then melt more snow and wash his cup and plate in it. There is, however, this to be said anent the disuse of the bath in this country, that in cold weather most men perspire very little indeed, and the perspiration that is exuded passes through to the outer garments and is immediately deposited upon them as frost; and there is this further to be said about dirt in general, that one blessed property of the cold is to kill all odours.

One grows tolerant of dirt in this country; there is no denying it, and it is well that it is so; otherwise one would be in a chronic state of disgust with oneself and every one else. So the dirt of the native, unless specially prominent and offensive, is accepted as a matter of course and ignored. This obstacle overcome, the Esquimaux are an attractive and most interesting race, and compare to advantage with the Indians in almost every particular. They are a very industrious people. Go into an Esquimau’s hut at almost any time when they are not sleeping, and you will find every individual occupied at some task. Here is a man working in wood or bone with the ingenious tools they have evolved; here are women working in skin or fur, and some of them are admirable needlewomen; here, perhaps, is another woman chewing mukluks and many a white man who has kept his feet dry in overflow water is grateful to the teeth that do not disdain this most effective way of securing an intimate union between sole and upper. Even the children are busy: here is a boy whittling out bow and arrow and they do great execution amongst rabbits and ptarmigan with these weapons that entail no cost of powder and shot; here is a girl beating out threads from sinew with a couple of flat stones. Some of us, troubled with unconscientious tailors, wish that a law could be passed requiring all buttons to be sewn on with sinew they never come off.

They are a very light-hearted people, easily amused, bubbling over with laughter and merriment, romping and skylarking with one another at every intermission of labour. One of my white travelling companions on this journey was in the habit of using a little piece of rabbit skin to protect his nose in cold or windy weather. The care of the nose is sometimes very troublesome indeed, it freezes more readily than any other portion of the body; and a little piece of rabbit skin, moistened and applied to the nose, will stay there and keep it warm and comfortable all day. But it does not exactly enhance one’s personal attractions.

We had stopped for camp and were all together for the first time in four or five hours, when Roxy noticed this rabbit-skin nose protector, upon which the breath had condensed all the afternoon until two long icicles depended from it, one on each side, reaching down below the mouth; and he fell straightway into a fit of laughter that grew uncontrollable; he rolled on the snow and roared. A little annoyed at this exhibition, I spoke sharply: “What’s the matter with you, Roxy; what on earth are you cutting up like that for?” Checking himself for a moment, he pointed to my companion and said, “Alleesame walrus,” and went off into another paroxysm of laughter, rolling about and roaring. At intervals all the evening he would break out again, and when we sat down to eat it overcame him once more and he rushed outside where he could give vent to his mirth with less offence.

The boy was straightforward and conscientious. We were camped over Sunday once, and Roxy had noticed many marten tracks in the neighbourhood. He had brought a few traps along with him to set out as we went and pick up on his return, and he wanted to know if I thought he might set some that day, although it was the day of rest. Careful not to interfere in any way with the religious instruction any native has received from any source, I told him that was a matter for him to decide himself; that each man was responsible for his own conduct. The boy thought awhile and he did not set his traps. Now that young man had never received any instruction at a mission; all his teaching had been from other Esquimaux. This same question of working on Sunday was the cause of some of the difficulty between the missionary at Long Beach and the miners at Shungnak. The sluicing or “cleaning-up” season is short, and mining operators generally consider that they cannot afford to lose an hour of it. The Kobuks employed by these miners quit their work on Sunday, and that brought the operations to a standstill. There was something to be said on the miners’ side, but I rejoiced that the Esquimau boys showed such steadfastness to their teaching. “If you cannot use them six days in the week, if it has to be seven or none, then do as the miners on the Yukon side do, consider the country uninhabited, and make your arrangements as though there were no Kobuks.” That was my advice, and this may be read in connection with Mr. Stefanson’s caustic comments on the same rigidity of observance.

We left Long Beach with a grateful feeling for the hospitality with which we had been received and with a substantial respect for the earnest missionary effort that was being put forth there. We were able to replenish our grub supply and also to exchange our two toboggans for one large sled, for we were out of the toboggan country again and they had already become a nuisance, slipping and sliding about on the trail. Our host was up early with a good breakfast for us, and speeded the parting guest, which on the trail is certainly an essential part of true hospitality, with all the honours; the natives lined up on the bank and the younger ones running along with us for a few hundred yards.

Soon after we left the mission we went up a series of terraces to a desolate, barren, wind-swept flat, the portage across which cut off a great bend of the river and saved us many miles of travel. To our right rose the Jade Mountains, whence the supply of this stone which used to be of importance for arrow-heads and other implements was obtained and carried far and wide. A light crust on the snow broke through at every step, though the snow was not deep enough and the ground too uneven to make snow-shoes useful; so we all had more or less sore feet that night when we regained the river and made our camp near the mouth of the Ambler, another tributary from the north.

The next day was an exceedingly long, tedious day. The Kobuk River, which in its upper reaches is a very picturesque stream, began now to be as monotonous as the lower Yukon. It had grown to considerable size, and the bends to be great curves of many miles at a stretch, one of which, a decided bend to the north of the general westerly direction of the river, we were three full hours in passing down. It was while traversing this bend that we witnessed a singular mirage that lent to the day all the enlivenment it had. Before us for ten or twelve miles stretched the broad white expanse of the river bed, shimmering in the mellow sunlight, and far beyond, remote but clear, rose the sharp white peaks of the mountains that divide the almost parallel valleys of the Kobuk and the Noatak. As we travelled, these distant peaks began to take the most fantastic shapes. They flattened into a level table-land, and then they shot up into pinnacles and spires. Then they shrank together in the middle and spread out on top till they looked like great domed mushrooms. Then the broad convex tops separated themselves entirely from their stalk-like bases and hung detached in the sky with daylight underneath. And then these mushroom tops stretched out laterally and threw up peaks of their own until there were distinct duplicate ranges, one on the earth and one in the sky. It was fascinating to watch these whimsical vagaries of nature that went on for hours. A change in one’s own position, from erect to stooping, caused the most convulsive contortions, and when once I lay down on the trail that I might view the scene through the lowest stratum of the agitated air, every peak shot up suddenly far into the sky like the outspreading of one’s fingers, to subside as suddenly as I rose to my feet again. The psalmist’s query came naturally to the mind, “Why hop ye so ye hills?” and our Kobuk boy Roxy, whose enjoyment of fine landscapes and strange sights was always a pleasure to witness, answered the unspoken question. “God make mountains dance because spring come,” he said prettily enough.

Then we crossed another portage and cut off ten miles of river by it, and when we reached the river again I wanted to stop, for it grew towards evening and here was good camping-ground. But we had lately met some travelling Kobuks and they had told Roxy of a cabin “just little way” farther on, and I yielded to the rest of the company, who would push on to it and thus avoid the necessity of making camp. That native “just little way” is worse than the Scotch “mile and a bittock”; indeed, the natives have poor notion of distance in general, and miles have as vague meaning to them as kilometres have to the average Anglo-Saxon.

On and on we pushed, mile after mile, and still no cabin. In the gathering dusk we would continually think we saw it; half-fallen trees or sloping branches simulating snow-covered gables. At last it grew quite dark, and when there was general agreement that we must seek the cabin no longer, but camp, there was no place to camp in. Either the bank was inaccessible or there was lack of dry timber. We went on thus, seeking rest and finding none, until seven-thirty, and then made camp by candle-light, in a poor place at that, having trudged thirty-five miles that day. A night-made camp is always an uncomfortable camp, and an uncomfortable camp means a miserable night, which to-morrow must pay for. We did not get to bed till nearly midnight, and it was nine-forty-five when we started out next morning, and we made only fifteen miles that day.

The Kobuk valley continued to open out wider and wider and the mountains right and left to recede. The Jade Mountains were now dim and distant behind us, and new ranges were coming into view. The people on this lower river are very few. It was just about one hundred miles from Long Beach when we reached the next native village, a miserable collection of pole dwellings, half underground, with perhaps a score of inhabitants. Certainly the conditions of life deteriorated as we descended this river. The country seems to afford nothing but fish; we were amongst the ichthyophagi pure and simple. Roxy, bred and born on the upper Kobuk and never so far down before, is very scornful about it. “Me no likee this country,” he says; “no caribou, no ptarmigan, no rabbits, no timber, no nothin’.” The weather had grown raw and cold again, with a constant disagreeable wind that took all the fun out of travelling. We passed a place where a white man was pessimistically picking away at a vein of coal in the river bluff. “Yes, we been here all winter,” he said, “working on the blamed ledge. I always knowed it was goin’ to pinch out, and now it’s begun to pinch. My partner’s gone to Candle for more grub, but I told him it weren’t no use. It’s pinchin’ out right now. I knowed it afore we started work, but the blamed fool wouldn’t listen to me. ‘It’ll pinch out,’ I told him a dozen times; ’you mark my word it’ll pinch out,’ I told him, and now it’s begun to pinch; and I hope he’ll be satisfied.” We were reminded of the many coal-mines from time to time located on the Yukon, in all or nearly all of which the vein has “pinched out.” The deposits on the coast may be all the fancy of the magazine writer paints, and may hold the “incalculable wealth” that is attributed to them, but the coal on the interior rivers seems in scant measure and of inferior quality.

The same night we reached the native village at the mouth of the Squirrel River, another northern tributary the Kobuk receives most of its waters from the north and we spent the night and the next day, which was Sunday, in one of the half-underground huts of the place, in company with twelve other people. Here we found Roxy’s brother, dubbed “Napoleon” by some white man. They had not seen one another for years, yet all the greeting was a mutual grunt. The Kobuks are not demonstrative in their affections, but it would not be right to conclude the affection lacking. I have seen an old Esquimau woman taking part in a dance the night after her husband was buried, yet it would have been unjust to have concluded that she was callous and indifferent. It is very easy to misunderstand a strange people, and very hard to understand them thoroughly.

The roof of the tent was dome-shaped and it was lit by a seal-gut skylight. In the morning while I was conducting Divine service and attempting most lamely by the mouth of a poor interpreter to convey some instruction, a dog fight outside adjourned to the roof and presently both combatants came tumbling through the gut window into the midst of the congregation. They were unceremoniously picked up and flung out of the door, a few stitches with a needleful of sinew repaired the window, and the proceedings were resumed. These gut windows have their convenience as well as their inconvenience. When the hut gets too warm and close even for Esquimaux, the seal gut is folded back and the outer air rushes in to the great refreshment of the occupants; when the hut is cool enough the gut is replaced. A skylight is far and away the best method of illuminating any single-story structure, and this membrane is remarkably translucent, while the snow that falls or frost that forms upon such a skylight is quickly removed by beating the hand upon the drum-like surface. All glass windows must be double glazed, or else in the very cold weather they are quickly covered with a thick deposit of frost from the condensation of the moisture inside the room, and then they admit much less light than gut does. One of its unpleasant features is the way the membrane snaps back and forth with a report like a pistol whenever the door is opened and shut, but on the whole it is a very good substitute for glass indeed.

These river Esquimaux vary greatly in physical appearance. While many of them are somewhat undersized and all have small feet and hands, some are well-developed specimens of manhood. “Riley Jim,” the chief of this tribe, would be counted a tall, stalwart man anywhere. And while many have coarse, squat features, here and there is one who is decidedly attractive in appearance. A sweet smile which is often upon the face, and small, regular white teeth, greatly help to redeem any countenance. A youth of about eighteen at the Squirrel River would properly be called handsome, one thinks though amongst native people one grows a little afraid of forgetting standards of comparison; and his wife for he was already a husband was a decidedly pretty girl. A word ought to be said which applies to all the Esquimaux we met. Although many people live in one hut and there is no possible privacy, yet we saw no immodesty of any sort. They sleep entirely nude probably our own great-grandparents did the same, at least the people of Defoe and Smollet did, for nightshirts and pyjamas are very modern things. There is much to be said from an hygienic point of view in favour of that custom as against turning in “all standing” as the Indian generally does, or sleeping in the day underwear as most white men do. But although every one of a dozen people in cabin after cabin that we stayed at on the Kobuk River above and below this place, of both sexes and all ages, would thus strip completely and go to bed, there was never any exposure of the body at all. It may be, of course, that our presence imposed a greater care in this respect, but it did not so impress us; it seemed the normal thing. Another noticeable feature of the lives of all these people was their devoutness in the matter of thanks before and after meat. Some of them would not so much as give and receive a drink of cold water without a long responsive grace.

As we went on down the river the country grew bleaker and drearier and the few scattered inhabitants were living more and more the life of the seacoast. The dwellings resembled igloos more than cabins, being completely covered with snow and approached by underground passages, with heavy flaps of untanned sealskin to close them. When we passed a fork of the river we knew that we were entering the delta of the Kobuk, and that another day would take us to the mission on Kotzebue Sound. It was a long, hard day, in which we made forty miles, but an interesting one. With a start at six, we were at the mouth by nine-thirty. The spruce which had for some time been dwarfing and dwindling gave place to willows, the willows shrank to shrubs, the shrubs changed to coarse grass thrusting yellow tassels through the snow. The river banks sank and flattened out and ceased, and we were on Hotham Inlet with the long coast-line of the peninsula that forms it stretching away north and south in the distance. Roxy’s bewilderment was amusing. He stopped and gazed about him and said: “Kobuk River all pechuk!” ("Pechuk” means “played out.”) “What’s the matter, no more Kobuk River?” I think his mind had never really entertained the notion of the river ending, though of course he must often have heard of its mouth in the salt water. He was out of his country, his bearings all gone, a feeling of helpless insecurity taking the place of his usual confidence, and I think he said no more all that day.

We had to traverse the ice of Hotham Inlet northward to its mouth, double the end of the peninsula, and then travel south along the coast to the mission at Kikitaruk, the peninsula being too rugged to cross. Three considerable rivers drain into Hotham Inlet, roughly parallel in their east and west courses, the Noatak, the Kobuk, and the Selawik, so that its waters must be commonly more fresh than salt, for its bounds are narrow and the extensive delta of its eastern shore would argue its depth slight. Ahead of us, as we travelled north making a bee-line for the end of the peninsula, all the afternoon, loomed the rocky promontory of Krusenstern, one of Kotzebue’s capes, and far beyond, stretching up the dim coast-line, lay the way to Point Hope. It was with a sinking of the heart that I gazed upon it, for I knew already, though I had not announced a decision, that the road to Point Hope could not be my road that year. All day long the thermometer stood between -40 deg. and -30 deg., and the constant light sea-breeze kept scarfs wrapped closely about mouths and noses, which always means disagreeable travel. When the company stopped at noon to eat a little frozen lunch, I was too chilly to cease my movement and pressed on. The day of that blessed comfort of the trail, the thermos flask, was not yet. By two-thirty we had reached Pipe Spit, which still further contracts the narrow entrance of the inlet, and turning west for a mile or two rounded the point and then turned south for ten miles along the coast. Just about dark we reached the mission and stood gazing out over the rough ice of Kotzebue Sound to the Arctic Ocean, having made the forty miles in ten and a half hours. We had come about one thousand miles from Fairbanks, all of it on foot and most of it on snow-shoes.

So here was my first sight of the Arctic Ocean. All day long I had anticipated it, and it stirred me, a dim, grey expanse stretching vast and vague in the dusk of the evening. The old navigators whose stories I had read as a boy passed before me in their wonderful, bold sailing vessels, going in and out uncharted waters that steamships will not venture to-day Kotzebue, Beechey, Collinson, McClure pushing resolutely northward.

Less happy had been my first sight of the Pacific Ocean, five years before. I had the ill luck to come upon it by way of that Western Coney Island, Santa Monica, and from the merry-go-rounds and cheap eating places Balboa and Magellan and Franky Drake fled away incontinent and would not be conjured back; though, indeed, the original discoverers would have had yet further occasion to gaze at one another “with a wild surmise” if they had seen shrieking companies “shooting the chutes.” But here was vastness, here was desolation, here was silence; jagged ice masses in the foreground and boundless expanse beyond, solemn and mysterious. The Arctic Ocean was even as I had pictured it.

The missionary in charge at Kikitaruk had been informed by letter of our projected journey during the previous summer and had long expected us. We were received with kindness and hospitality, and after supper began at once our acquaintance with his work, for there was a service that night which it was thought we should attend. I spoke for a few minutes through an excellent interpreter and then spent a couple of hours nodding over the stove, overcome with sleep, while there was much singing and “testimony.”

The Californian Society of Friends, established here a number of years with branches at other points on Kotzebue Sound, has done an excellent work amongst the Esquimaux. If they had accomplished nothing else it would stand to the everlasting credit of the Society’s missionaries that they have succeeded in imbuing the natives under their charge with a total aversion to all intoxicating liquor. We had come down from the remotest points to which the influence of these people has extended; we had met their natives five hundred miles away from their base of instruction, and everywhere we found the same thing. It was said by the white men on the Koyukuk that a Kobuk could not be induced to take a drink of whisky. It seemed to us a pity that the force of this most wholesome doctrine should be weakened by the unsuccessful attempt to include tobacco in the same rigorous prohibition. In several cabins where we stayed there was no sign of smoking until members of our party produced pipes, whereupon other pipes were furtively produced and the tobacco that was offered was eagerly accepted. From any rational point of view the putting of whisky and tobacco in the same category is surely a folly. There can be few more harmless indulgences to the native than his pipe, and no one knows the solace of the pipe until he has smoked it around the camp-fire in the arctic regions after a hard day’s journey.

The decision to turn my back on Point Hope was, I think, the most painful decision I ever made in my life; with all my heart I wanted to go on. It was only one hundred and sixty or one hundred and seventy miles away. The journey had been made in three or four days; but we were now come to a country where travel is impossible in bad weather and where bad weather prevails; and that journey might quite as likely take two weeks. I worked over the calendar in my diary, figuring how many days of travel still remained, allowing reasonable margins, and I could not see that I had much more than time to get back to Fairbanks before the break-up, which for sufficient reason I regarded as my first duty. The day of rest at Kikitaruk was Washington’s birthday, the 22d of February. Eight weeks would bring us to the 19th April, by which time the trails would be already breaking up. Counting out Sundays, that left forty-eight days of travelling with something like twelve hundred miles yet to make without going to Point Hope an average of about twenty-five miles a day. I knew that we had made no such average in the distance already covered, and though I knew also that travelling improved generally as the season advanced, I did not know how very much better going there is on the wind-hardened snows of the coast when travelling is possible at all. Again and again I have regretted that I did not take the chance and push on, but at the time I decided as I thought I ought to decide, and one has no real compunctions when that is the case.

So a first-hand knowledge of our own most interesting work among the Esquimaux was not for me on that occasion and there has arisen no opportunity since. Mr. Knapp, who had planned to spend the rest of the winter at Point Hope, would get a guide and a team here and turn north after some days’ rest, while I would turn south. Roxy was impatient to return to Bettles. “Me no likee this country,” was all that could be got out of him. So I paid him his money and made him a present of the .22 repeating rifle with which he had killed so many ptarmigan on the journey, outfitted him with clothes, grub, and ammunition, and let him go; saying good-bye with regret, for he was a good boy to us all the way.

It was late on the night of our single day of rest when I got to bed, for there had been squaring up of accounts and much writing, and when I went to bed I did not sleep. Again and again I reviewed the decision I had come to and fought against it, though such is far from my common habit. Even as I write, years after, the bitter rebellious reluctance with which I turned south comes back to me. I wished the hospital at Fairbanks at the bottom of the deep blue sea. I protested I would go on and complete my journey, even though it involved “thawing out” at Tanana and getting to Fairbanks on a steamboat in the summer. I had a free hand, a kindly and complaisant bishop, and none would call me strictly to account. Then I realised that it was merely pride of purpose, self-willed resolution of accomplishing what had been essayed in a word, personal gratification for which I was fighting, and with that realisation came surrender and sleep.