More Tramping around Alaska with G. C. Martin.
On the map, chapter 21 is the red path. The current chapter is yellow with popups. Chapter 23 is the pink path.
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Here and There Synopsis:
July 26, 1903
Valdez has, “one business street … lined with a few stores, many groggeries and gambling halls, [and] the inevitable redlight district.” Perhaps a thousand people live here at this stop-off on the way to Eagle on the Yukon. It rains all summer and 63 feet of snow reportedly fell last winter. “Fort Liscum is immediately across the bay from Valdez, where there is a company of soldiers watching all the rapscallions who prey on honest miners.”
The same Colonel Greene and his party, whom Hayes met on the Bertha out of Sitka, passed through Valdez just before Hayes arrived. Breathtaking reports in the Seattle newspapers tell of their fights with bears and daring exploits on the ice fields. According to Hayes, every column inch is hogwash: “The fact is they never left the Bertha making the round trip in all comfort. Lies are what go over about this northland; no one wants to hear the truth.”
Boarding the Bertha again for Inerskin (sic) Bay, Hayes and Martin hear the skipper laughing at the tales of Colonel Green and his party. Hayes speaks with a prospector now on board the Bertha who staked a rich claim near Dawson. “He sold it for $32,000. Lost half of it in one night at faro, and in three weeks was broke.” Now he’s on his way up the Chitina River to a new strike. “Everybody is insane with gold fever. I’m content with my pay and hope to stay on. Most of the men we meet are broke, but all are hopeful of striking it soon. Many do, but more find graves in this wilderness.”
22.2 Bear Meat at Inerskin Bay
July 30, 1903
Hayes uses the name Inerskin Bay, but from the description of the surrounding land features, it must be the bay now called Iniskin. Martin, who is busily renaming everything in sight, says that this bay was named in honor of a Russian named Enochskin. Somehow the name has settled to Iniskin.
The two won’t stay long here. As Martin examines the sedimentary rock with igneous intrusions and evidence of volcanic action, Hayes speaks with Guzmer, chief of the small local tribe. Guzmer speaks enough English to give a report of a volcanic eruption in 1883: “Big fire! Night all same day! Plenty noise! Fire he come shore here.” (Hayes’ quote.)
Miskar, another man native to the place, shows Hayes the skin covered bidarkies by which the tribe supports itself fishing.
When two other men arrived with the haunches of a bear, “larger than the largest bullock in size,” in their boat, Martin wanted to try a bit. So Hayes traded oats for bear. After parboiling it three times, and cooking for a total of five hours, the meat was at least tender, “But I noticed Martin ate but little. The Indians made short work of the lot, however, and all was well.”
22.3 Abundance at Brown’s Creek
August 3, 1903
The two-man, Perkins and Martin, expedition moves slightly north to “another nameless bay.” Hayes never catches Martin’s christening of the bay, “But the large creek that flows into it is to be called Brown’s Creek, this after the head of an oil drilling company whose cabins are here.”
“The numbers of salmon running into this creek are beyond computation.” When Hayes tries to row a skiff across the thirty-foot wide stream, the oars cannot find water, only salmon. The stream is about three-feet deep but no one dares enter to cross for fear of being pressed down by the numbers of salmon and drowned. “The whole of Alaska holds no more luscious fish than these. We eat them day after day and do not become satiated. If we should, there are trout in equal numbers with the salmon.” Hayes gave Guzmer’s wife some fishhooks and now she is catching salmon four times as fast as Hayes.
At Brown’s oil drilling camp, the men have chained a “pet” brown bear that arrived in a coat sleeve but has grown so fast only the strongest man can hold its leash. Suspicious of the men, the bear has great affection for a young malamute dog with coloring similar to the bear’s. The poor pup is nearly crushed with affection whenever the bear catches it in a great hug. Because the bear likes his food cooked better than raw, Hayes boils this giant “pet” a bucket of fine trout.
Hayes hunts with a setter dog so smart that the hunter needs no gun. The dog leaps onto his duck at the slightest quiver of grass. Remarking again on the abundance of the salmon: “Seals lay in the mouth of the creek and play with the salmon running into the stream. They toss them playfully, take one bite and release them for another.” Wildlife abounds up here, but even this vast land has its limits: “There are a few caribou, so say the natives, and an occasional moose. These animals are hunted so sharply the have fled to better and safer pastures.”
22.4 Exploring Chinitna Bay
In this region tides rise more than 30’ and the currents run faster than any boat can counter, so Hayes must navigate the entrance to Chinitna Bay carefully. Once ashore, he and Martin marvel at a petrified forest standing out from a solid sedimentary rock base; follow bear paths two feet deep in the moss where one hind footprint measures 11”x16”; and reassess the map’s 11,000 foot estimate for Mt Illamna (sic) as closer to 8,500 feet.
“From Illamna emits steam white as snow. Three vast columns rise heavenward for thousands of feet when the air is clear and calm. These join at a great height, making one of the most spectacular pictures I have ever seen.” Chinaboro, another active volcano forty miles from Iliamna, belches smoke that droops around its edges like a mushroom. Mt. Redoubt, farther north, stands quiet for now.
Martin foolishly expects the sea to obey his wishes. He planned to explore a sea cliff base at low tide and when Hayes demurred fearing the tidal bore, Martin sneered, “If you are afraid, you had better go back to the tent!” (Hayes’ quote.) Martin survived his folly but only by two feet. Trapped by the incoming tide, he scrambled up the cliff face as far as he could climb. The 30’ tidal surge rose to his waist – two more feet and he would have drowned. “He seems to think he has achieved a heroic stunt. I think he is a fool.”
Hayes isn’t alone in thinking Martin a fool. When Martin ordered Hayes to auction their small skiff, Hayes turned up a sourdough willing to pay $12. But according to government regulations an auction must be held. So after receiving the $12 offer, Martin called out “What am I bid for this boat?” (Hayes’ quote.) Being the only one present, the $12 man lowered his bid to $10 and Martin sold for that. “The old sourdough turned and looked at me for a long time. Like myself, he considered Martin cuckoo in some ways, and he is.”
22.5 Back at Brown’s Creek
Everywhere Hayes turns, mountain peaks soar into the blue air. In addition to the volcanoes Chinaboro, Iliamna, and Redoubt, the great snow peaks of Cape Douglas and Afognak can bee seen from Brown’s Creek. From the mouth of the inlet, even Mt. McKinley is visible far to the north.
Martin didn’t affix the name Mt. McKinley; that had already been accomplished by Alfred Hulse Brooks who also named mountains for Vice-President Roosevelt, and senators Foraker and Tillman who controlled appropriations for geological surveys. “They reciprocated by giving Brooks full charge of all Alaska. He is a good geologist, but is more interested in Brooks than in his country’s welfare.”
While waiting for a ship out of Brown’s creek, “there are endless new rocks to investigate.” And not only rocks – between Iliamna and Chinaboro volcanoes, oil seeps directly onto the ground. Unscrupulous promoters sell stock on oil puddles to, “easy money hunters in the States,” knowing full well that no great oil reserve likely lies between these two fiery peaks.
22.6 Big Bears in Kodiak
August 21, 1903
On the short trip back from Brown’s creek to Iniskin Bay in a small boat overloaded with Martin, Hayes, and Brown’s men, three great huskies also on board almost did them all in. The dogs began rushing from side to side in panic, nearly upsetting the frail craft before the men could restrain them.
From Iniskin Bay, Hayes and Martin were finally able to catch a ship on the way out to Kodiak Island. “At the village of Kodiak a bartender in a low-brow groggery there has a bear skin that squares 12 ½ feet each way.” The town of Kodiak retains a strong feel of the Russian culture established by the fur trappers who built it. The sea otters the Russians hunted are so rare now that only natives are allowed to take any more. “Its wonderful fur doomed it to destruction, just as the fur seal is going now. Man is the most wasteful, destructive animal this earth contains.”
22.7 Cold Bay
August 27, 1903
After Kodiak, the ship made a short stop at a salmon cannery at Uyak on the west side of Kodiak Island. “One of the greatest salmon runs known comes in here to spawn every year, and once 3,000,000 of the fish were taken at one time.” Without capacity to process so many fish, much of the catch was simply destroyed. Hayes laments that the lust for short-sighted profit will soon send the salmon the way of the sea otter.
Hayes wonders: How did the bears cross from the mainland to Kodiak Island? “Shelikoff Strait is one of the roughest bits of water about the Alaskan coast … Perhaps land lay all the way across in some distant geological epoch, for surely no bear could swim that distance in such rough water.” In any case, huge bears roam the island now.
Current maps show Cold Bay farther south from the spot Hayes says they explore next; Martin has gone across from this Cold Bay eight miles to Lake Bencharof. Bad weather forces the two to share the shelter of a fetid old Russian barabara with some of the locals.
Near Lake Bencharof, oil workers drill at a spot where, “over square miles of country oil has at one time flowed and mingled with the soil until all is similar to asphalt.” Initially, coal was shipped from the south to power the drilling rig, until “some genius, waiting for the coal, at last tried out the asphalt. It burns better than the coal, and is here in millions of tons.” So the coal remains heaped on the beach unused.
22.8 Kodiak Again on the Way South
As the year turns to autumn, it is time for the expedition to return south. “Martin explored much of the coast, and has a badly swelled head. His expedition has received considerable publicity, and he has been flattered by the heads of the mining and oil drilling companies until he believes he is an important man.” Hayes believes Martin’s accounts of the area are being used by speculators to inflate the value of their “barren claims” for sale to gullible investors in the states. “Any remark he makes is at once used to bolster up their stock selling industry, and they even ask for my opinion at times.”
The small steamer Newport that will run as far as Valdez, brings them again to Kodiak Island. A sheep farmer has set up here – providing “a luscious tidbit” for the bears. The many fine furs of red fox, silver-greys, and black foxes they’ve seen about the area convince Hayes that fox farming on the small isolated islands hereabout would be a viable industry.
22.9. Resurrection Bay
September 12, 1903
On board the Newport, “Martin has doubled up with a Belgian scientist, has a bad case of the swell head because of the constant flattery these embryo oil barons have heaped upon him.” Hayes rooms with some gamblers. His other choice would have been bunking with several priests from various missions about Alaska. Also aboard are, “Some of the hard-eyed sisterhood who gold-dig the miners out of every cent.” With ever the wry sense of humor, Hayes notes the “unregenerate steward sandwiched [the priests] between the girls of the row.”
A storm rages all the way from Kodiak Island, but here in the deep bay all is calm. Hayes believes a town will soon be built on this site – the railroad terminal will call it into existence. Right now, “The Santa Ana is here from the south with a cargo of timber, iron and miscellaneous goods for a railway that is to be built towards Fairbanks, a new camp on the Tanana River, a tributary of the Yukon.” The railway promoters who join the company of the Newport, “are in a fever of ecstasy at their prospect of easily gained riches, selling stock to gullible people also anxious to make money without work.”