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Thousands of our people went up to investigate the natural resources of Alaska in 1867-70; they found the fisheries and the fur seals very quickly, but they were disappointed in the profitable search then for precious metals and coal; the timber and growing of useful crops were disappointments too.
Matters quieted down to a common understanding that there was no particular mineral wealth in Alaska until the great Treadwell mine was opened late in the "seventies," and the mining camp and town of Juneau became firmly established early in the "eighties;" since then the opening of one mining camp after another has steadily progressed until to-day hardy men are busy digging for gold throughout the length and breadth of Alaska.
The man who "prospects" for gold in Alaska has an infinitely more difficult task than he has in California or any of the mining districts of the Rocky Mountain States. In the Alaskan country moss, or "sphagnum," and lichens rankly grow all over the earth and rocks of the great interior, so as to completely conceal the character of it, while the strange, luxuriant growths of shrubs and ferns, grasses and vines completely cover, up to the mountain snows, the entire surface outcrop of rocks and soil of the Alaskan coast line between our foot of the "30-mile strip" at Fort Simpson, up to the confines of Cook's Inlet.
Searching, therefore, for indications of valuable "mineral" in Alaska is tedious, and success is purely accidental-necessarily so, for every foot of new territory must be uncovered before the least indication of what it really is can be secured.
No ranches or farms up there where the tired and hungry prospector can refit with food at any season of the year, as he can in the States; he encounters there a climate that chains him to
one place, wherever he may be, when inland, from November till the next June following.
But man possesses an elastic physical organization, and there is nothing in the country of Alaska, or in its weather, that will successfully bar him out from thoroughly developing its mineral wealth wherever it is found within the broad area of that region. Life in its borders, and especially in the great interior, is disagreeable when contrasted with existence on the gold fields of California; but that will count for nothing in the minds of men, who, seeking for gold, find it in Alaska: because, rough and unpleasant as country and climate on the Yukon and its tributaries make the life of a miner, yet it is a healthy air he breathes, and he is not troubled with sickness of any unusual form. Mosquitoes in the summer, of venomous energy, and intense dry cold of the winter within the Yukon interior do not destroy him, though they do annoy and retard his progress.
Broadly speaking, yet entirely correct, Alaska possesses three distinct zones, the Sitkan and Cook's Inlet district, the Aleutian Island and Peninsular district, and the Great Interior or Yukon region. Gold has been found in all of them, but chiefly in the first and last named districts; it is the climate peculiar to these districts that separates and defines them sharply, not the land as viewed with regard to itself, but rather the lay of the land with reference to the ocean. The Sitkan and Aleutian regions get the warmer influence of ocean currents setting north in the great Pacific, so as to greatly modify those degrees of cold in winter and heat in summer that prevail in the Yukon region. But this modification in climate does not give those regions any agricultural or pastoral possibilities even-not an acre of the cereals ever
ripened in Alaska or ever will, as climatic conditions prevail.
So, it is a country in its length and breadth which I described in detail, twenty years ago, using the following summary:
"In view of the foregoing what shall we say of the resources of Alaska viewed as regards its agricultural or horticultural capabilities?
"It would seem undeniable that owing to the unfavorable climatic conditions which prevail on the coast and interior, the gloomy fogs and dampness of the former, and the intense protracted severity of the winters, characteristic of the latter, unfit the Territory for the proper support of any considerable civilization.
"Men may, and undoubtedly will, soon live here in comparative comfort, as they labor in mining camps, lumber and ship timber mills and salmon factories, but they will bring with them everything they want, except fish and game, and when they leave the country it will be as desolate as they found it.
"Can a country be permanently and prosperously settled that will not in its whole extent allow the successful growth and ripening of a single crop of corn, wheat, or potatoes, and where the most needful of any domestic animals cannot be kept by poor people?
"We may with pride refer to the rugged work of settlement so successfully made by our ancestors in New England, but it is idle to talk of the subjugation of Alaska as a task simply requiring a similar expedition of persistence, energy, and ability. In Massachusetts our forefathers had a land in which all the necessaries of life, and many of the luxuries, could be produced from the soil
with certainty from year to year; in Alaska their lot would have been quite the reverse, and they could have maintained themselves there with no better success than the present inhabitants. Attention should be directed to the development of its mineral wealth, which I have reason to think will yet prove to be considerable, and efforts should be made to stimulate and protect the present available industries of the fur trade, the canning of salmon, etc."*
Twenty years of intelligent and active investigation by thousands of our people since the publication of this analysis has confirmed its truth beyond cavil or doubt. But the development of Alaskan mines and mining, and its salmon canneries, has practically ruined the fur trade-these industries cannot thrive side by side.
Alaskan mining for the precious metals is in its infancy: not one thousandth part of the mineral-bearing surface rock and soil of that region has yet been examined; that work is slow and tedious in so rugged a country, even for the hardiest and bestconditioned prospectors, and the success and the failure of these men will from this time forward be constantly in our sight. HENRY W. ELLIOTT.
*A Report on the Condition of Affairs in the Territory of Alaska, by Henry W. Elliott, Washington, 1875; pages 18 and 19.