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over mountain passes, afoot or a-horseback, and down the upper Yukon River and down the lakes and rivers by raft, skiff and steamboat.
To describe these routes is the next task-first, that by the way of St. Michael, and second-up the Yukon River.
Route, via St. Michael and the Yukon River.This begins by a sea-voyage, which may be direct, or along the coast. The special steamers (and future voyages, no doubt) usually take a direct course across the North Pacific and through the Aleutian Islands to St. Michael, in Norton Sound, a bight of Bering Sea. The distance from San Francisco is given as 2,850 miles; from Victoria or Seattle, about 2,200 miles. The inside course would be somewhat longer, would follow the route next to be described as far as Juneau and Sitka, then strike northwest along the coast to St. Michael.
This town, on an island near shore in Norton Sound, was established in 1835 by Lieut. Michael Tébenkoff, of the Russian navy, who named it after his patron saint. Though some distance to the mouth of the Yukon entrance, St. Michael has always been the controlling center and base of supplies for the great valley. The North American Trading and Transportation Company and the Alaska Commercial Company have their large warehouses here, and provide the miners with tools, clothing and provisions. Recently the wharf and warehouse accommodations have been extended, and the population has increased, but if, as is probable, any considerable number of men are stopped there this fall by the freezing of the river, and compelled to pass the winter on the island, they will find it a dreary, if not dangerous experience.
The vessels supplying this depot can seldom approach the anchorage of St. Michael before the end of June on account of large bodies of drifting ice that beset the waters of Norton Sound and the straits between St. Lawrence and the Yukon Delta.
A temporary landing-place is built out into water deep enough for loaded boats drawing five feet to come up at high tide, this is removed when winter approaches, as otherwise it would be destroyed by ice. The shore is sandy and affords a moderately sloping beach, on which boats may be drawn up. A few feet only from high water mark are perpendicular banks from six to ten feet high, composed of decayed pumice and ashes, covered with a layer about four feet thick of clay and vegetable matter resembling peat. This forms a nearly even meadow with numerous pools of water, which gradually ascends for a mile or so to a low hill, of volcanic origin, known as the Shaman Mountain.
Between the point on which St. Michael is built and the mainland, a small arm of the sea makes in, in which three fathoms may be carried until the flagstaff of the fort bears west by north, this is the best-protected anchorage, and has as much water and as good bottom as can be found much farther out.
The excitement of the summer of 1897 caused an enlargement of facilities and the erection of additional buildings, forming a nucleus of traffic called Fort Get There. Here will be put together in the autumn or winter at least three, and perhaps more, new river steamboats, of which only two or three have been running on the lower river during the last two or three years. These are taken up, in pieces, by ships and fitted together at this point. All are flat-bottomed, stern-wheeled, powerfully engined craft, the largest able to carry perhaps 250 tons, such as run on the upper Missouri, and they will burn wood, the cutting and stacking of which on the river bank will furnish work to many men during the coming winter. To such steamers, or smaller boats, all the persons and cargoes must be transferred at St. Michael.
For the last few years there has been no trader here but the agent of the Alaska Commercial Company, and a story is told of the building of a riverboat there in 1892, which illustrates what life on the Yukon used to be. In that year a Chicago man, P. B. Weare, resolved to enter the Alaskan field as a trader. He chartered a schooner, and placed upon it a steamboat, built in sections and needing only to be put together and have its machinery set up, and for this purpose he took with him a force of carpenters and machinists. On reaching St. Michael Weare was refused permission to land his boat sections on the land of the Commercial Company's post, and was compelled to make a troublesome landing on the open beach, where he began operations. Suddenly his ship carpenters stopped work. They had been offered, it was said, double pay by the rival concern if they would desist from all work. Weare turned to the Indians, but with the same ill
The Indians were looking out for their winter grub. Here was the Chicago man 2,500 miles from San Francisco and only two weeks left to him in which to put his boat together and then hope for a chance to ascend the river before winter came on. There was no time in which to get additional men from San Francisco. In the midst of his trouble Weare one day espied the revenue cutter Bear steaming into the roadstead. On board of her was Captain Michael A. Healy. That officer, on going ashore and discovering the con