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“Sayings, Wise and Otherwise,” (also in the “The Sayings of Dr. Bushwhacker and Other Wise Men”) by Frederic S. Cozzens; American Book Exchange, New York; 1880; pp. 69-72.



Sitka: Our New Acquisition.


“I N the Americo-Russian archipelago there is an island called by the above name, on which is the capital city of New Archangel. It is situated off a belt of land, fringed with Russian islands, about thirty miles wide, and three hundred and forty-five miles long; which shuts off one-half of British America from the Pacific; and north of that, the great peninsula, like a shoulder of mutton, tough, sinewy, and fat with Arctic animal life, rolls up into the mighty fore-arm of Mount St. Elias, and rolls down in avalanches, eternal snow-storms, glaciers, fogs, and icy rivers to the Pacific on the west side and to the Arctic Sea on the north side. To the consumptive patient the land offers few attractions, but to those philosophers, whose lungs are strong enough to endure the fatigues of a lecture-room, she has an eloquence and beauty, diversified with two volcanoes, whose throats are in a perpetual blaze of excitement. What splendor there is in yonder Aurora Borealis, that for myriads of years has played upon these lakes, streams, and mountain peaks! How delicious nature is in her normal condition! I think I hear one of the Strong Minded, say to her lovely companion in philosophy! ‘Ah, 70 Maria! let us lay aside our fans and chignons, and put on snow shoes, and explore! Will you go with me from the heated atmosphere of social life into the calm sequestered retreats of Russian America? Shall we build huts of blocks of ice, like the hardy Esquimaux, and wrap ourselves in the drapery of a robe of sable skins or sea otters, worth $20,000 at least, and despise the pomp of this world? You know, my dear, sables are very cheap there. Catherine of Russia had to get her sables by keeping up a very expensive military establishment at Sitka. She was a very illustrious, strong-minded woman, to be sure; and her morals were a little loose, and she poisoned her husband; but what are those trifling enjoyments compared with carrying out a great idea? It is not so cold as the eastern side of the continent. The isothermal lines cause a great moderation in the atmosphere there. Let us establish a school there. There are 78,000 souls — if they have souls — of Calmucs, Creoles, native Indians, Kuriles, Aleutians and Kodiaks, Kamschatkians and Esquimaux; and how pleasant it will be to teach them the rudiments! By and by they can vote. Fly with me, dear Maria! Do you not long for the snow shoes that will carry you over those vast steppes to a superior intelligence? An intelligence with nature, a communion with her visible forms, a relief from the world, and the sweet sympathy that we shall feel with the Aurora Borealis!’

“The reason why the Czar wishes to dispose of this fertile territory is because he cannot conquer the North 71 Pole, that being the only Pole that has escaped his autocratic fist. It must be said, however, that it affords us many fine harbors for our whalers after animal petroleum, for heretofore we have had but one decent harbor on the Pacific coast, and that is San Francisco. Now we shall have plenty of them, if we are lucky enough to find them in the fogs which are perpetual there.

“The principal inhabitants of this vast territory are mountains. There is not a tree that will risk its vegetable life by attempting to grow there; the low lands are covered with moss instead of grass, and the best kind of Russian shred isinglass springs spontaneously from the crevices of the rocks. Of the amphibious animals, the green seal or moet is most valued there, being highly prized by the Japanese; the Muscovy duck flies about in a very wild state in those high latitudes, while the double-headed eagle preys alike upon the russ and the walrus. Most of the artificial teeth in the United States are made from the tusks of this latter animal, so that in future we shall get our teeth free of duty. The British having heretofore had an exclusive treaty with the Russian government to supply this place with food and ice-picks, no doubt this lucrative branch of commerce will fall into our hands. There is no doubt a vast quantity of gold hidden under the soil, as it has never made its appearance above the surface. It is proposed to get up a Russian Crushing Company to extract this valuable ore from the veins of Mt. St. Elias. Spruce-trees not bigger than a wisp broom 72 grow in some patches. There are valuable, as a beer is brewed from them, very useful as a remedy for the scurvy. The castle at New Archangel is very heavily garrisoned with 50 Calmucs and Cossacks, mounts 24 brass-mounted breech-loaders, five seven-pounders, twelve horse-pistols, two mountain howitzers, one Governor, one Russian flag, two ensigns, and a fast team of Esquimaux dogs for flying artillery practice. The diplomatic correspondence with old Gowrowski, who is the governor of the fort, has not been published as yet, as he asserts the United States Government cannot turn him without the consent of the Senate. The vivid description of this enchanting country by Campbell will no doubt recur to the reader. Speaking of the hardy sailor on that coast, he says: —

“ ‘Cold on his midnight watch the breezes blow,
     From wastes that slumber in eternal snow,
    And waft, across the wave’s tumultuous roar,
    The wolf’s long howl from Oonalaska’s shore.’ ”


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