The travels into Alaska wrangell

 I arrived at Wrangell in a canoe with a party of Cassiar miners in

October while the icy regions to the northward still burned in my mind.

I had met several prospectors who had been as far as Chilcat at the

head of Lynn Canal, who told wonderful stories about the great glaciers

they had seen there. All the high mountains up there, they said, seemed

to be made of ice, and if glaciers “are what you are after, that’s the

place for you,” and to get there “all you have to do is to hire a good

canoe and Indians who know the way.”

But it now seemed too late to set out on so long a voyage. The days

were growing short and winter was drawing nigh when all the land would

be buried in snow. On the other hand, though this wilderness was new to

me, I was familiar with storms and enjoyed them. The main channels

extending along the coast remain open all winter, and, their shores

being well forested, I knew that it would be easy to keep warm in camp,

while abundance of food could be carried. I determined, therefore, to

go ahead as far north as possible, to see and learn what I could,

especially with reference to future work. When I made known my plans to

Mr. Young, he offered to go with me, and, being acquainted with the

Indians, procured a good canoe and crew, and with a large stock of

provisions and blankets, we left Wrangell October 14, eager to welcome

weather of every sort, as long as food lasted.

I was anxious to make an early start, but it was half-past two in the

afternoon before I could get my Indians together—Toyatte, a grand old

Stickeen nobleman, who was made captain, not only because he owned the

canoe, but for his skill in woodcraft and seamanship; Kadachan, the son

of a Chilcat chief; John, a Stickeen, who acted as interpreter; and

Sitka Charley. Mr. Young, my companion, was an adventurous evangelist,

and it was the opportunities the trip might afford to meet the Indians

of the different tribes on our route with reference to future

missionary work, that induced him to join us.

When at last all were aboard and we were about to cast loose from the

wharf, Kadachan’s mother, a woman of great natural dignity and force of

character, came down the steps alongside the canoe oppressed with

anxious fears for the safety of her son. Standing silent for a few

moments, she held the missionary with her dark, bodeful eyes, and with

great solemnity of speech and gesture accused him of using undue

influence in gaining her son’s consent to go on a dangerous voyage

among unfriendly tribes; and like an ancient sibyl foretold a long

train of bad luck from storms and enemies, and finished by saying, “If

my son comes not back, on you will be his blood, and you shall pay. I

say it.”

Mr. Young tried in vain to calm her fears, promising Heaven’s care as

well as his own for her precious son, assuring her that he would

faithfully share every danger that he encountered, and if need be die

in his defense.

“We shall see whether or not you die,” she said, and turned away.

Toyatte also encountered domestic difficulties. When he stepped into

the canoe I noticed a cloud of anxiety on his grand old face, as if his

doom now drawing near was already beginning to overshadow him. When he

took leave of his wife, she refused to shake hands with him, wept

bitterly, and said that his enemies, the Chilcat chiefs, would be sure

to kill him in case he reached their village. But it was not on this

trip that the old hero was to meet his fate, and when we were fairly

free in the wilderness and a gentle breeze pressed us joyfully over the

shining waters these gloomy forebodings vanished.

We first pursued a westerly course, through Sumner Strait, between

Kupreanof and Prince of Wales Islands, then, turning northward, sailed

up the Kiku Strait through the midst of innumerable picturesque islets,

across Prince Frederick’s Sound, up Chatham Strait, thence

northwestward through Icy Strait and around the then uncharted Glacier

Bay. Thence returning through Icy Strait, we sailed up the beautiful

Lynn Canal to the Davidson Glacier and the lower village of the Chilcat

tribe and returned to Wrangell along the coast of the mainland,

visiting the icy Sum Dum Bay and the Wrangell Glacier on our route.

Thus we made a journey more than eight hundred miles long, and though

hardships and perhaps dangers were encountered, the great wonderland

made compensation beyond our most extravagant hopes. Neither rain nor

snow stopped us, but when the wind was too wild, Kadachan and the old

captain stayed on guard in the camp and John and Charley went into the

woods deer-hunting, while I examined the adjacent rocks and woods. Most

of our camp-grounds were in sheltered nooks where good firewood was

abundant, and where the precious canoe could be safely drawn up beyond

reach of the waves. After supper we sat long around the fire, listening

to the Indian’s stories about the wild animals, their

hunting-adventures, wars, traditions, religion, and customs. Every

Indian party we met we interviewed, and visited every village we came


Our first camp was made at a place called the Island of the Standing

Stone, on the shore of a shallow bay. The weather was fine. The

mountains of the mainland were unclouded, excepting one, which had a

horizontal ruff of dull slate color, but its icy summit covered with

fresh snow towered above the cloud, flushed like its neighbors in the

alpenglow. All the large islands in sight were densely forested, while

many small rock islets in front of our camp were treeless or nearly so.

Some of them were distinctly glaciated even belong the tide-line, the

effects of wave washing and general weathering being scarce appreciable

as yet. Some of the larger islets had a few trees, others only grass.

One looked in the distance like a two-masted ship flying before the

wind under press of sail.

Next morning the mountains were arrayed in fresh snow that had fallen

during the night down to within a hundred feet of the sea-level. We

made a grand fire, and after an early breakfast pushed merrily on all

day along beautiful forested shores embroidered with autumn-colored

bushes. I noticed some pitchy trees that had been deeply hacked for

kindling-wood and torches, precious conveniences to belated voyagers on

stormy nights. Before sundown we camped in a beautiful nook of Deer

Bay, shut in from every wind by gray-bearded trees and fringed with

rose bushes, rubus, potentilla, asters, etc. Some of the lichen tresses

depending from the branches were six feet in length.

A dozen rods or so from our camp we discovered a family of Kake Indians

snugly sheltered in a portable bark hut, a stout middle-aged man with

his wife, son, and daughter, and his son’s wife. After our tent was set

and fire made, the head of the family paid us a visit and presented us

with a fine salmon, a pair of mallard ducks, and a mess of potatoes. We

paid a return visit with gifts of rice and tobacco, etc. Mr. Young

spoke briefly on mission affairs and inquired whether their tribe would

be likely to welcome a teacher or missionary. But they seemed unwilling

to offer an opinion on so important a subject. The following words from

the head of the family was the only reply:—

“We have not much to say to you fellows. We always do to Boston men as

we have done to you, give a little of whatever we have, treat everybody

well and never quarrel. This is all we have to say.”

Our Kake neighbors set out for Fort Wrangell next morning, and we

pushed gladly on toward Chilcat. We passed an island that had lost all

its trees in a storm, but a hopeful crop of young ones was springing up

to take their places. I found no trace of fire in these woods. The

ground was covered with leaves, branches, and fallen trunks perhaps a

dozen generations deep, slowly decaying, forming a grand mossy mass of

ruins, kept fresh and beautiful. All that is repulsive about death was

here hidden beneath abounding life. Some rocks along the shore were

completely covered with crimson-leafed huckleberry bushes; one species

still in fruit might well be called the winter huckleberry. In a short

walk I found vetches eight feet high leaning on raspberry bushes, and

tall ferns and _Smilacina unifolia_ with leaves six inches wide growing

on yellow-green moss, producing a beautiful effect.

Our Indians seemed to be enjoying a quick and merry reaction from the

doleful domestic dumps in which the voyage was begun. Old and young

behaved this afternoon like a lot of truant boys on a lark. When we

came to a pond fenced off from the main channel by a moraine dam, John

went ashore to seek a shot at ducks. Creeping up behind the dam, he

killed a mallard fifty or sixty feet from the shore and attempted to

wave it within reach by throwing stones back of it. Charley and

Kadachan went to his help, enjoying the sport, especially enjoying

their own blunders in throwing in front of it and thus driving the duck

farther out. To expedite the business John then tried to throw a rope

across it, but failed after repeated trials, and so did each in turn,

all laughing merrily at their awkward bungling. Next they tied a stone

to the end of the rope to carry it further and with better aim, but the

result was no better. Then majestic old Toyatte tried his hand at the

game. He tied the rope to one of the canoe-poles, and taking aim threw

it, harpoon fashion, beyond the duck, and the general merriment was

redoubled when the pole got loose and floated out to the middle of the

pond. At length John stripped, swam to the duck, threw it ashore, and

brought in the pole in his teeth, his companions meanwhile making merry

at his expense by splashing the water in front of him and making the

dead duck go through the motions of fighting and biting him in the face

as he landed.

The morning after this delightful day was dark and threatening. A high

wind was rushing down the strait dead against us, and just as we were

about ready to start, determined to fight our way by creeping close

inshore, pelting rain began to fly. We concluded therefore to wait for

better weather. The hunters went out for deer and I to see the forests.

The rain brought out the fragrance of the drenched trees, and the wind

made wild melody in their tops, while every brown bole was embroidered

by a network of rain rills. Perhaps the most delightful part of my

ramble was along a stream that flowed through a leafy arch beneath

overleaping trees which met at the top. The water was almost black in

the deep pools and fine clear amber in the shallows. It was the pure,

rich wine of the woods with a pleasant taste, bringing spicy spruce

groves and widespread bog and beaver meadows to mind. On this amber

stream I discovered an interesting fall. It is only a few feet high,

but remarkably fine in the curve of its brow and blending shades of

color, while the mossy, bushy pool into which it plunges is inky black,

but wonderfully brightened by foam bells larger than common that drift

in clusters on the smooth water around the rim, each of them carrying a

picture of the overlooking trees leaning together at the tips like the

teeth of moss capsules before they rise.

I found most of the trees here fairly loaded with mosses. Some broadly

palmated branches had beds of yellow moss so wide and deep that when

wet they must weigh a hundred pounds or even more. Upon these moss-beds

ferns and grasses and even good-sized seedling trees grow, making

beautiful hanging gardens in which the curious spectacle is presented

of old trees holding hundreds of their own children in their arms,

nourished by rain and dew and the decaying leaves showered down to them

by their parents. The branches upon which these beds of mossy soil rest

become flat and irregular like weathered roots or the antlers of deer,

and at length die; and when the whole tree has thus been killed it

seems to be standing on its head with roots in the air. A striking

example of this sort stood near the camp and I called the missionary’s

attention to it.

“Come, Mr. Young,” I shouted. “Here’s something wonderful, the most

wonderful tree you ever saw; it is standing on its head.”

“How in the world,” said he in astonishment, “could that tree have been

plucked up by the roots, carried high in the air, and dropped down head

foremost into the ground. It must have been the work of a tornado.”

Toward evening the hunters brought in a deer. They had seen four

others, and at the camp-fire talk said that deer abounded on all the

islands of considerable size and along the shores of the mainland. But

few were to be found in the interior on account of wolves that ran them

down where they could not readily take refuge in the water. The

Indians, they said, hunted them on the islands with trained dogs which

went into the woods and drove them out, while the hunters lay in wait

in canoes at the points where they were likely to take to the water.

Beaver and black bear also abounded on this large island. I saw but few

birds there, only ravens, jays, and wrens. Ducks, gulls, bald eagles,

and jays are the commonest birds hereabouts. A flock of swans flew

past, sounding their startling human-like cry which seemed yet more

striking in this lonely wilderness. The Indians said that geese, swans,

cranes, etc., making their long journeys in regular order thus called

aloud to encourage each other and enable them to keep stroke and time

like men in rowing or marching (a sort of “Row, brothers, row,” or

“Hip, hip” of marching soldiers).

October 18 was about half sunshine, half rain and wet snow, but we

paddled on through the midst of the innumerable islands in more than

half comfort, enjoying the changing effects of the weather on the

dripping wilderness. Strolling a little way back into the woods when we

went ashore for luncheon, I found fine specimens of cedar, and here and

there a birch, and small thickets of wild apple. A hemlock, felled by

Indians for bread-bark, was only twenty inches thick at the butt, a

hundred and twenty feet long, and about five hundred and forty years

old at the time it was felled. The first hundred of its rings measured

only four inches, showing that for a century it had grown in the shade

of taller trees and at the age of one hundred years was yet only a

sapling in size. On the mossy trunk of an old prostrate spruce about a

hundred feet in length thousands of seedlings were growing. I counted

seven hundred on a length of eight feet, so favorable is this climate

for the development of tree seeds and so fully do these trees obey the

command to multiply and replenish the earth. No wonder these islands

are densely clothed with trees. They grow on solid rocks and logs as

well as on fertile soil. The surface is first covered with a plush of

mosses in which the seeds germinate; then the interlacing roots form a

sod, fallen leaves soon cover their feet, and the young trees, closely

crowded together, support each other, and the soil becomes deeper and

richer from year to year.

I greatly enjoyed the Indian’s camp-fire talk this evening on their

ancient customs, how they were taught by their parents ere the whites

came among them, their religion, ideas connected with the next world,

the stars, plants, the behavior and language of animals under different

circumstances, manner of getting a living, etc. When our talk was

interrupted by the howling of a wolf on the opposite side of the

strait, Kadachan puzzled the minister with the question, “Have wolves

souls?” The Indians believe that they have, giving as foundation for

their belief that they are wise creatures who know how to catch seals

and salmon by swimming slyly upon them with their heads hidden in a

mouthful of grass, hunt deer in company, and always bring forth their

young at the same and most favorable time of the year. I inquired how

it was that with enemies so wise and powerful the deer were not all

killed. Kadachan replied that wolves knew better than to kill them all

and thus cut off their most important food-supply. He said they were

numerous on all the large islands, more so than on the mainland, that

Indian hunters were afraid of them and never ventured far into the

woods alone, for these large gray and black wolves attacked man whether

they were hungry or not. When attacked, the Indian hunter, he said,

climbed a tree or stood with his back against a tree or rock as a wolf

never attacks face to face. Wolves, and not bears, Indians regard as

masters of the woods, for they sometimes attack and kill bears, but the

wolverine they never attack, “for,” said John, “wolves and wolverines

are companions in sin and equally wicked and cunning.”

On one of the small islands we found a stockade, sixty by thirty-five

feet, built, our Indians said, by the Kake tribe during one of their

many warlike quarrels. Toyatte and Kadachan said these forts were

common throughout the canoe waters, showing that in this foodful,

kindly wilderness, as in all the world beside, man may be man’s worst


We discovered small bits of cultivation here and there, patches of

potatoes and turnips, planted mostly on the cleared sites of deserted

villages. In spring the most industrious families sailed to their

little farms of perhaps a quarter of an acre or less, and ten or

fifteen miles from their villages. After preparing the ground, and

planting it, they visited it again in summer to pull the weeds and

speculate on the size of the crop they were likely to have to eat with

their fat salmon. The Kakes were then busy digging their potatoes,

which they complained were this year injured by early frosts.

We arrived at Klugh-Quan, one of the Kupreanof Kake villages, just as a

funeral party was breaking up. The body had been burned and gifts were

being distributed—bits of calico, handkerchiefs, blankets, etc.,

according to the rank and wealth of the deceased. The death ceremonies

of chiefs and head men, Mr. Young told me, are very weird and imposing,

with wild feasting, dancing, and singing. At this little place there

are some eight totem poles of bold and intricate design, well executed,

but smaller than those of the Stickeens. As elsewhere throughout the

archipelago, the bear, raven, eagle, salmon, and porpoise are the chief

figures. Some of the poles have square cavities, mortised into the

back, which are said to contain the ashes of members of the family.

These recesses are closed by a plug. I noticed one that was caulked

with a rag where the joint was imperfect.

Strolling about the village, looking at the tangled vegetation,

sketching the totems, etc., I found a lot of human bones scattered on

the surface of the ground or partly covered. In answer to my inquiries,

one of our crew said they probably belonged to Sitka Indians, slain in

war. These Kakes are shrewd, industrious, and rather good-looking

people. It was at their largest village that an American schooner was

seized and all the crew except one man murdered. A gunboat sent to

punish them burned the village. I saw the anchor of the ill-fated

vessel lying near the shore.

Though all the Thlinkit tribes believe in witchcraft, they are less

superstitious in some respects than many of the lower classes of

whites. Chief Yana Taowk seemed to take pleasure in kicking the Sitka

bones that lay in his way, and neither old nor young showed the

slightest trace of superstitious fear of the dead at any time.

It was at the northmost of the Kupreanof Kake villages that Mr. Young

held his first missionary meeting, singing hymns, praying, and

preaching, and trying to learn the number of the inhabitants and their

readiness to receive instruction. Neither here nor in any of the other

villages of the different tribes that we visited was there anything

like a distinct refusal to receive school-teachers or ministers. On the

contrary, with but one or two exceptions, all with apparent good faith

declared their willingness to receive them, and many seemed heartily

delighted at the prospect of gaining light on subjects so important and

so dark to them. All had heard ere this of the wonderful work of the

Reverend Mr. Duncan at Metlakatla, and even those chiefs who were not

at all inclined to anything like piety were yet anxious to procure

schools and churches that their people should not miss the temporal

advantages of knowledge, which with their natural shrewdness they were

not slow to recognize. “We are all children,” they said, “groping in

the dark. Give us this light and we will do as you bid us.”

The chief of the first Kupreanof Kake village we came to was a

venerable-looking man, perhaps seventy years old, with massive head and

strongly marked features, a bold Roman nose, deep, tranquil eyes,

shaggy eyebrows, a strong face set in a halo of long gray hair. He

seemed delighted at the prospect of receiving a teacher for his people.

“This is just what I want,” he said. “I am ready to bid him welcome.”

“This,” said Yana Taowk, chief of the larger north village, “is a good

word you bring us. We will be glad to come out of our darkness into

your light. You Boston men must be favorites of the Great Father. You

know all about God, and ships and guns and the growing of things to

eat. We will sit quiet and listen to the words of any teacher you send


While Mr. Young was preaching, some of the congregation smoked, talked

to each other, and answered the shouts of their companions outside,

greatly to the disgust of Toyatte and Kadachan, who regarded the Kakes

as mannerless barbarians. A little girl, frightened at the strange

exercises, began to cry and was turned out of doors. She cried in a

strange, low, wild tone, quite unlike the screech crying of the

children of civilization.

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