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Tent Life in Siberia by George Kennan

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enjoyment of a grand holiday. Bells jangled incessantly from the
church tower; dog-sledges, loaded with girls, went dashing about the
streets, capsising into snow-drifts and rushing furiously down hills
amid shouts of laughter; women in gay flowery calico dresses, with
their hair tied up in crimson silk handkerchiefs, walked from house to
house, paying visits of congratulation and talking over the arrival of
the distinguished American officers; crowds of men played football
on the snow, and the whole settlement presented an animated, lively

On the evening of the third day after Christmas, the priest gave in
our honour a grand Siberian ball, to which all the inhabitants of
the four villages were invited, and for which the most elaborate
preparations were made. A ball at the house of a priest on Sunday
night struck me as implying a good deal of inconsistency and I
hesitated about sanctioning so plain a violation of the fourth
commandment. Dodd, however, proved to me in the most conclusive manner
that, owing to difference in time, it was Saturday in America and not
Sunday at all; that our friends at that very moment were engaged in
business or pleasure and that our happening to be on the other side
of the world was no reason why we should not do what our antipodal
friends were doing at exactly the same time. I was conscious that
this reasoning was sophistical, but Dodd mixed me up so with his
"longitude," "Greenwich time," "Bowditch's _Navigator_," "Russian
Sundays" and "American Sundays," that I was hopelessly bewildered, and
could not have told for my life whether it was today in America or
yesterday, or when a Siberian Sunday did begin. I finally concluded
that as the Russians kept Saturday night, and began another week at
sunset on the Sabbath, a dance would perhaps be sufficiently innocent
for that evening. According to Siberian ideas of propriety it was just
the thing.

A partition was removed in our house, the floor made bare, the room
brilliantly illuminated with candles stuck against the wall with
melted grease, benches placed around three sides of the house for the
ladies, and about five o'clock the pleasure-seekers began to assemble.
Rather an early hour perhaps for a ball, but it seemed a very long
time after dark. The crowd which soon gathered numbered about forty,
the men being all dressed in heavy fur _kukhlankas,_ fur trousers,
and fur boots, and the ladies in thin white muslin and flowery calico
prints. The costumes of the respective sexes did not seem to harmonise
very well, one being light and airy enough for an African summer,
while the other seemed suitable for an arctic expedition in search of
Sir John Franklin. However, the general effect was very picturesque.
The orchestra which was to furnish the music consisted of two rudely
made violins, two _ballalaikas_ (bal-la-lai'-kahs) or triangular
native guitars with two strings each, and a huge comb prepared with
a piece of paper in a manner familiar to all boys. Feeling a little
curiosity to see how an affair of this kind would be managed upon
Siberian principles of etiquette, I sat quietly in a sheltered corner
and watched the proceedings. The ladies, as fast as they arrived,
seated themselves in a solemn row along a wooden bench at one end
of the room, and the men stood up in a dense throng at the other.
Everybody was preternaturally sober. No one smiled, no one said
anything; and the silence was unbroken save by an occasional rasping
sound from an asthmatic fiddle in the orchestra, or a melancholy toot,
toot, as one of the musicians tuned his comb. If this was to be the
nature of the entertainment, I could not see any impropriety in having
it on Sunday. It was as mournfully suggestive as a funeral. Little did
I know, however, the capabilities of excitement which were concealed
under the sober exteriors of those natives. In a few moments a little
stir around the door announced refreshments, and a young Chuancee
brought round and handed to me a huge wooden bowl, holding about four
quarts of raw frozen cranberries. I thought it could not be possible
that I was expected to eat four quarts of frozen cranberries! but
I took a spoonful or two, and looked to Dodd for instructions. He
motioned to me to pass them along, and as they tasted like acidulated
hailstones, and gave me a toothache, I was very glad to do so.

The next course consisted of another wooden bowl, filled with what
seemed to be white pine shavings, and I looked at it in perfect
astonishment. Frozen cranberries and pine shavings were the most
extraordinary refreshments that I had ever seen--even in Siberia; but
I prided myself upon my ability to eat almost anything, and if the
natives could stand cranberries and shavings I knew I could. What
seemed to be white pine shavings I found upon trial to be thin
shavings of raw frozen fish--a great delicacy among the Siberians, and
one with which, under the name of "struganini" (stroo-gan-nee'-nee),
I afterward became very familiar. I succeeded in disposing of these
fish-shavings without any more serious result than an aggravation of
my toothache. They were followed by white bread and butter, cranberry
tarts, and cups of boiling hot tea, with which the supper finally
ended. We were then supposed to be prepared for the labours of the
evening; and after a good deal of preliminary scraping and tuning the
orchestra struck up a lively Russian dance called "kapalooshka." The
heads and right legs of the musicians all beat time emphatically to
the music, the man with the comb blew himself red in the face, and the
whole assembly began to sing. In a moment one of the men, clad in a
spotted deerskin coat and buckskin trousers, sprang into the centre
of the room and bowed low to a lady who sat upon one end of a long
crowded bench. The lady rose with a graceful courtesy and they began
a sort of half dance half pantomime about the room, advancing and
retiring in perfect time to the music, crossing over and whirling
swiftly around, the man apparently making love to the lady, and the
lady repulsing all his advances, turning away and hiding her face
with her handkerchief. After a few moments of this dumb show the lady
retired and another took her place; the music doubled its energy
and rapidity, the dancers began the execution of a tremendous
"break-down," and shrill exciting cries of "Heekh! Heekh! Heekh!
Vallai-i-i! Ne fstavai-i-i!" resounded from all parts of the room,
together with terrific tootings from the comb and the beating of half
a hundred feet on the bare planks. My blood began to dance in my veins
with the contagious excitement. Suddenly the man dropped down upon his
stomach on the floor at the feet of his partner, and began jumping
around like a huge broken-legged grasshopper upon his elbows and the
ends of his toes! This extraordinary feat brought down the house in
the wildest enthusiasm, and the uproar of shouting and singing drowned
all the instruments except the comb, which still droned away like a
Scottish bagpipe in its last agonies! Such singing, such dancing,
and such excitement, I had never before witnessed. It swept away my
self-possession like the blast of a trumpet sounding a charge. At
last, the man, after dancing successively with all the ladies in
the room, stopped apparently exhausted--and I have no doubt that he
was--and with the perspiration rolling in streams down his face, went
in search of some frozen cranberries to refresh himself after his
violent exertion. To this dance, which is called the "Russki"
(roo'-ski), succeeded another known as the "Cossack waltz," in which
Dodd to my great astonishment promptly joined. I knew I could dance
anything he could; so, inviting a lady in red and blue calico to
participate, I took my place on the floor. The excitement was
perfectly indescribable, when the two Americans began revolving
swiftly around the room; the musicians became almost frantic in their
endeavours to play faster, the man with the comb blew himself into
a fit of coughing and had to sit down, and a regular tramp, tramp,
tramp, from fifty or sixty feet, marked time to the music, together
with encouraging shouts of "Vallai! Amerikansi! Heekh! Heekh! Heekh!"
and the tumultuous singing of the whole crazy multitude. The pitch of
excitement to which these natives work themselves up in the course
of these dances is almost incredible, and it has a wonderfully
inspiriting effect even upon a foreigner. Had I not been temporarily
insane with unnatural enthusiasm, I should never have made myself
ridiculous by attempting to dance that Cossack waltz. It is regarded
as a great breach of etiquette in Siberia, after once getting upon
the floor, to sit down until you have danced, or at least offered
to dance, with all the ladies in the room; and if they are at all
numerous, it is a very fatiguing sort of amusement. By the time
Dodd and I finished we were ready to rush out-doors, sit down on a
snow-bank, and eat frozen fish and cranberry hailstones by the quart.
Our whole physical system seemed melting with fervent heat.

As an illustration of the esteem with which Americans are regarded in
that benighted settlement of Anadyrsk, I will just mention that in the
course of my Cossack waltz I stepped accidentally with my heavy boot
upon the foot of a Russian peasant. I noticed that his face wore for
a moment an expression of intense pain, and as soon as the dance
was over, I went to him, with Dodd as interpreter, to apologise. He
interrupted me with a profusion of bows, protested that it didn't hurt
him _at all_, and declared, with an emphasis which testified to his
sincerity, that he regarded it as an honour to have his toe stepped on
by an American! I had never before realised what a proud and enviable
distinction I enjoyed in being a native of our highly favoured
country! I could stalk abroad into foreign lands with a reckless
disregard for everybody's toes, and the full assurance that the more
toes I stepped on the more honour I would confer upon benighted
foreigners, and the more credit I would reflect upon my own benevolent
disposition! This was clearly the place for unappreciated Americans to
come to; and if any young man finds that his merits are not properly
recognised at home, I advise him in all seriousness to go to Siberia,
where the natives will regard it as an honour to have him step on
their toes.

Dances interspersed with curious native games and frequent
refreshments of frozen cranberries prolonged the entertainment until
two o'clock, when it finally broke up, having lasted nine hours. I
have described somewhat in detail this dancing party because it is
the principal amusement of the semi-civilised inhabitants of all the
Russian settlements in Siberia, and shows better than anything else
the careless, happy disposition of the people.

Throughout the holidays the whole population did nothing but pay
visits, give tea parties, and amuse themselves with dancing,
sleigh-riding, and playing ball. Every evening between Christmas and
New Year, bands of masqueraders dressed in fantastic costumes went
around with music to all the houses in the village and treated the
inmates to songs and dances. The inhabitants of these little
Russian settlements in north-eastern Siberia are the most careless,
warmhearted, hospitable people in the world, and their social life,
rude as it is, partakes of all these characteristics. There is no
ceremony or affectation, no "putting on of style" by any particular
class. All mingle unreservedly together and treat each other with the
most affectionate cordiality, the men often kissing one another when
they meet and part, as if they were brothers. Their isolation from all
the rest of the world seems to have bound them together with ties of
mutual sympathy and dependence, and banished all feelings of envy,
jealousy, and petty selfishness. During our stay with the priest we
were treated with the most thoughtful consideration and kindness, and
his small store of luxuries, such as flour, sugar, and butter, was
spent lavishly in providing for our table. As long as it lasted he was
glad to share it with us, and never hinted at compensation or seemed
to think that he was doing any more than hospitality required.

[Illustration: ANADYRSK IN WINTER]

With the first ten days of our stay at Anadyrsk are connected some of
the pleasantest recollections of our Siberian life.

[Illustration: Woman's Mittens of Elk skin]



Immediately after our arrival at Anadyrsk we I had made inquiries as
to the party of Americans who were said to be living somewhere near
the mouth of the Anadyr River; but we were not able to get any
information in addition to that we already possessed. Wandering
Chukchis had brought the news to the settlement that a small band of
white men had been landed on the coast south of Bering Strait late in
the fall, from a "fire-ship" or steamer; that they had dug a sort of
cellar in the ground, covered it over with bushes and boards, and gone
into winter quarters. Who they were, what they had come for, and how
long they intended to stay, were questions which now agitated the
whole Chukchi nation, but which no one could answer. Their little
subterranean hut had been entirely buried, the natives said, by the
drifting snows of winter, and nothing but a curious iron tube out of
which came smoke and sparks showed where the white men lived. This
curious iron tube which so puzzled the Chukchis we at once supposed to
be a stove-pipe, and it furnished the strongest possible confirmation
of the truth of the story. No Siberian native could ever have invented
the idea of a stove-pipe--somebody must have seen one; and this fact
alone convinced us beyond a doubt that there were Americans living
somewhere on the coast of Bering Sea--probably an exploring party
landed by Colonel Bulkley to cooperate with us.

The instructions which the Major gave me when we left Gizhiga did not
provide for any such contingency as the landing of this party near
Bering Strait, because at that time we had abandoned all hope of such
cooperation and expected to explore the country by our own unaided
exertions. The engineer-in-chief had promised faithfully, when we
sailed from San Francisco, that, if he should leave a party of men at
the mouth of the Anadyr River at all, he would leave them there early
in the season with a large whale-boat, so that they could ascend the
river to a settlement before the opening of winter. When we met the
Anadyrsk people, therefore, at Gizhiga, late in November, and learned
that nothing had been heard of any such party, we of course concluded
that for some reason the plan which Colonel Bulkley proposed had been
given up. No one dreamed that he would leave a mere handful of men
in the desolate region south of Bering Strait at the beginning of an
arctic winter, without any means whatever of transportation, without
any shelter, surrounded by fierce tribes of lawless natives, and
distant more than two hundred miles from the nearest civilised human
being. What was such an unfortunate party to do? They could only live
there in inactivity until they starved, were murdered, or were brought
away by an expedition sent to their rescue from the interior. Such was
the situation when Dodd and I arrived at Anadyrsk. Our orders were to
leave the Anadyr River unexplored until another season; but we knew
that as soon as the Major should receive the letters which had passed
through our hands at Shestakova he would learn that a party had been
landed south of Bering Strait, and would send us orders by special
courier to go in search of it and bring it to Anadyrsk, where it would
be of some use. We therefore determined to anticipate these orders and
hunt up that American stove-pipe upon our own responsibility.

Our situation, however, was a very peculiar one. We had no means of
finding out where we were ourselves, or where the American party was.
We had not been furnished with instruments for making astronomical
observations, could not determine with any kind of accuracy our
latitude and longitude, and did not know whether we were two hundred
miles from the Pacific coast or five hundred. According to the report
of Lieutenant Phillippeus, who had partially explored the Anadyr
River, it was about a thousand versts from the settlement to Anadyr
Bay, while according to the dead reckoning which we had kept from
Gizhiga it could not be over four hundred. The real distance was to us
a question of vital importance, because we should be obliged to carry
dog-food for the whole trip, and if it was anything like a thousand
versts we should in all probability lose our dogs by starvation before
we could possibly get back. Besides this, when we finally reached
Anadyr Bay, if we ever did, we should have no means of finding out
where the Americans were; and unless we happened to meet a band of
Chukchis who had seen them, we might wander over those desolate plains
for a month without coming across the stove-pipe, which was the only
external sign of their subterranean habitation. It would be far worse
than the proverbial search for a needle in a haystack.

When we made known to the people of Anadyrsk our intention of going to
the Pacific coast, and called for volunteers to make up a party,
we met with the most discouraging opposition. The natives declared
unanimously that such a journey was impossible, that it had never been
accomplished, that the lower Anadyr was swept by terrible storms and
perfectly destitute of wood, that the cold there was always intense,
and that we should inevitably starve to death, freeze to death,
or lose all our dogs. They quoted the experience of Lieutenant
Phillippeus, who had narrowly escaped starvation in the same region in
1860, and said that while he started in the spring we proposed to
go in midwinter, when the cold was most intense and the storms most
severe. Such an adventure they declared was almost certain to end in
disaster. Our Cossack Gregorie, a brave and trustworthy old man, had
been Lieutenant Phillippeus's guide and Chukchi interpreter in 1860,
had been down the river about a hundred and fifty miles in winter,
and knew something about it. We accordingly dismissed the natives and
talked the matter over with him. He said that as far as he had ever
gone towards Anadyr Bay there was trailing-pine enough along the banks
of the river to supply us with firewood, and that the country was no
worse than much of that over which we had already travelled between
Gizhiga and Anadyrsk. He said that he was entirely willing to
undertake the trip, and would go with his own team of dogs wherever we
would lead the way. The priest also, who had been down the river in
summer, believed the journey to be practicable, and said he would
go himself if he could do any good. Upon the strength of this
encouragement we gave the natives our final decision, showed them
the letter which we brought from the Russian governor at Gizhiga
authorising us to demand men and sledges for all kinds of service, and
told them that if they still refused to go we would send a special
messenger to Gizhiga and report their disobedience. This threat
and the example of our Cossack Gregorie, who was known to be an
experienced guide from the Okhotsk Sea to the Arctic Ocean, finally
had the desired effect. Eleven men agreed to go, and we began at once
to collect dog-food and provisions for an early start. We had as yet
only the vaguest, most indefinite information with regard to the
situation of the American party, and we determined to wait a few days
until a Cossack named Kozhevin (ko-zhay'-vin), who had gone to visit a
band of Wandering Chukchis, should return. The priest was sure that
he would bring later and more trustworthy intelligence, because the
wandering natives throughout the whole country knew of the arrival
of the mysterious white men, and would probably tell Kozhevin
approximately where they were. In the meantime we made some additions
to our heavy suits of furs, prepared masks of squirrelskin to be worn
over the face in extremely low temperatures, and set all the women in
the village at work upon a large fur tent.

On Saturday, Jan. 20th, N.S., Kozhevin returned from his visit to the
Chukchis north of Anadyrsk, bringing as we expected later and fuller
particulars with regard to the party of exiled Americans south
of Bering Strait. It consisted, according to the best Chukchi
intelligence, of only five men, and was located on or near the Anadyr
River, about one day's journey above its mouth. These five men were
living, as we had previously been told, in a little subterranean
house rudely constructed of bushes and boards, and entirely buried in
drifted snow. They were said to be well supplied with provisions,
and had a great many barrels, which the Chukchis supposed to contain
vodka, but which we presumed to be barrels of salt-beef. They made a
fire, the natives said, in the most wonderful manner by burning "black
stones in an iron box," while all the smoke came out mysteriously
through a crooked iron tube which turned around when the wind blew!
In this vivid but comical description we of course recognised a coal
stove and a pipe with a rotary funnel. They had also, Kozhevin was
told, an enormous tame black bear, which they allowed to run loose
around the house, and which chased away the Chukchis in a most
energetic manner. When I heard this I could no longer restrain a
hurrah of exultation. The party was made up of our old San Francisco
comrades, and the tame black bear was Robinson's Newfoundland dog! I
had petted him a hundred times in America and had his picture among my
photographs. He was the dog of the expedition. There could no longer
be any doubt whatever that the party thus living under the snow on the
great steppes south of Bering Strait was the long talked of Anadyr
River exploring party, under the command of Lieutenant Macrae; and our
hearts beat fast with excitement as we thought of the surprise which
we should give our old friends and comrades by coming upon them
suddenly in that desolate, Godforsaken region, almost two thousand
miles away from the point where they supposed we had landed. Such a
meeting would repay us tenfold for all the hardships of our Siberian

Everything, by this time, was ready for a start. Our sledges were
loaded five feet high with provisions and dog-food for thirty days;
our fur tent was completed and packed away, to be used if necessary
in intensely cold weather; bags, overstockings, masks, thick
sleeping-coats, snow-shovels, axes, rifles, and long Siberian
snow-shoes were distributed around among the different sledges, and
everything which Gregorie, Dodd, and I could think of was done to
insure the success of the expedition.

On Monday morning, Jan. 22d, the whole party assembled in front of
the priest's house. For the sake of economising transportation, and
sharing the fortunes of our men, whatever they might be, Dodd and I
abandoned our _pavoskas_, and drove our own loaded sledges. We did not
mean to have the natives say that we compelled them to go and then
avoided our share of work and hardships. The entire population of the
village, men, women, and children, turned out to see us off, and
the street before the priest's house was blocked up with a crowd
of dark-faced men in spotted fur coats, scarlet sashes, and
fierce-looking foxskin hoods, anxious-faced women running to and fro
and bidding their husbands and brothers good-bye, eleven long, narrow
sledges piled high with dried fish and covered with yellow buckskin
and lashings of sealskin thongs, and finally a hundred and twenty-five
shaggy wolfish dogs, who drowned every other sound with their combined
howls of fierce impatience.

Our drivers went into the priest's house, and crossed themselves and
prayed before the picture of the Saviour, as is their custom
when starting on a long journey; Dodd and I bade good-bye to the
kind-hearted priest, and received the cordial "s' Bokhem" (go with
God), which is the Russian farewell; and then springing upon our
sledges, and releasing our frantic dogs, we went flying out of the
village in a cloud of snow which glittered like powdered jewel-dust in
the red sunshine.

Beyond the two or three hundred miles of snowy desert which lay before
us we could see, in imagination, a shadowy stove-pipe rising out of a
bank of snow--the "San greal" of which we, as arctic knights-errant,
were in search.

[Illustration: Ceremonial Masks of Wood]



I will not detain the reader long with the first part of our journey
from Anadyrsk to the Pacific Coast, as it did not differ much from
our previous Siberian experience. Riding all day over the ice of the
river, or across barren steppes, and camping out at night on the snow,
in all kinds of weather, made up our life; and its dreary monotony was
relieved only by anticipations of a joyful meeting with our exiled
friends and the exciting consciousness that we were penetrating a
country never before visited by civilised man. Day by day the fringe
of alder bushes along the river bank grew lower and more scanty, and
the great steppes that bordered the river became whiter and more
barren as the river widened toward the sea. Finally we left behind us
the last vestige of vegetation, and began the tenth day of our journey
along a river which had increased to a mile in width, and amidst
plains perfectly destitute of all life, which stretched away in one
unbroken white expanse until they blended with the distant sky. It
was not without uneasiness that I thought of the possibility of being
overtaken by a ten days' storm in such a region as this. We had made,
as nearly as we could estimate, since leaving Anadyrsk, about two
hundred versts; but whether we were anywhere near the seacoast or not
we had no means of knowing. The weather for nearly a week had been
generally clear, and not very cold; but on the night of February 1st
the thermometer sank to -35 deg., and we could find only just enough small
green bushes to boil our teakettle. We dug everywhere in the snow
in search of wood, but found nothing except moss, and a few small
cranberry bushes which would not burn. Tired with the long day's
travel, and the fruitless diggings for wood, Dodd and I returned to
camp, and threw ourselves down upon our bearskins to drink tea. Hardly
had Dodd put his cup to his lips when I noticed that a curious,
puzzled expression came over his face, as if he found something
singular and unusual in the taste of the tea. I was just about to
ask him what was the matter, when he cried in a joyful and surprised
voice, "Tide-water! The tea is salt!" Thinking that perhaps a little
salt might have been dropped accidentally into the tea, I sent the men
down to the river for some fresh ice, which we carefully melted. It
was unquestionably salt. We had reached the tide-water of the Pacific,
and the ocean itself could not be far distant. One more day must
certainly bring us to the house of the American party, or to the mouth
of the river. From all appearances we should find no more wood; and
anxious to make the most of the clear weather, we slept only about six
hours, and started on at midnight by the light of a brilliant moon.

[Illustration: A MAN OF THE YUKAGIRS]

On the eleventh day after our departure from Anadyrsk, toward the
close of the long twilight which succeeds an arctic day, our little
train of eleven sledges drew near the place where, from Chukchi
accounts, we expected to find the long-exiled party of Americans. The
night was clear, still, and intensely cold, the thermometer at sunset
marking forty-four degrees below zero, and sinking rapidly to -50 deg.
as the rosy flush in the west grew fainter and fainter, and darkness
settled down upon the vast steppe. Many times before, in Siberia and
Kamchatka, I had seen nature in her sterner moods and winter garb;
but never before had the elements of cold, barrenness, and desolation
seemed to combine into a picture so dreary as the one which was
presented to us that night near Bering Strait. Far as eye could pierce
the gathering gloom in every direction lay the barren steppe like a
boundless ocean of snow, blown into long wave-like ridges by previous
storms. There was not a tree, nor a bush, nor any sign of animal or
vegetable life, to show that we were not travelling on a frozen ocean.
All was silence and desolation. The country seemed abandoned by God
and man to the Arctic Spirit, whose trembling banners of auroral
light flared out fitfully in the north in token of his conquest and
dominion. About eight o'clock the full moon rose huge and red in the
east, casting a lurid glare over the vast field of snow; but, as if it
too were under the control of the Arctic Spirit, it was nothing more
than the mockery of a moon, and was constantly assuming the most
fantastic and varied shapes. Now it extended itself laterally into a
long ellipse, then gathered itself up into the semblance of a huge red
urn, lengthened out to a long perpendicular bar with rounded ends,
and finally became triangular. It can hardly be imagined what added
wildness and strangeness this blood-red distorted moon gave to a scene
already wild and strange. We seemed to have entered upon some frozen
abandoned world, where all the ordinary laws and phenomena of Nature
were suspended, where animal and vegetable life were extinct, and from
which even the favour of the Creator had been withdrawn. The intense
cold, the solitude, the oppressive silence, and the red, gloomy
moonlight, like the glare of a distant but mighty conflagration, all
united to excite in the mind feelings of awe, which were perhaps
intensified by the consciousness that never before had any human
being, save a few Wandering Chukchis, ventured in winter upon these
domains of the Frost King. There was none of the singing, joking,
and hallooing, with which our drivers were wont to enliven a night
journey. Stolid and unimpressible though they might be, there was
something in the scene which even _they_ felt and were silent. Hour
after hour wore slowly away until midnight. We had passed by more than
twenty miles the point on the river where the party of Americans was
supposed to be; but no sign had been found of the subterranean house
or its projecting stove-pipe, and the great steppe still stretched
away before us, white, ghastly, and illimitable as ever. For nearly
twenty-four hours we had travelled without a single stop, night or
day, except one at sunrise to rest our tired dogs; and the intense
cold, fatigue, anxiety, and lack of warm food, began at last to tell
upon our silent but suffering men. We realised for the first time the
hazardous nature of the adventure in which we were engaged, and the
almost absolute hopelessness of the search which we were making for
the lost American party. We had not one chance in a hundred of finding
at midnight on that vast waste of snow a little buried hut, whose
location we did not know within fifty miles, and of whose very
existence we were by no means certain. Who could tell whether the
Americans had not abandoned their subterranean house two months
before, and removed with some friendly natives to a more comfortable
and sheltered situation? We had heard nothing from them later than
December 1st, and it was now February. They might in that time have
gone a hundred miles down the coast looking for a settlement, or have
wandered far back into the interior with a band of Reindeer Chukchis.
It was not probable that they would have spent four months in that
dreary, desolate region without making an effort to escape. Even if
they were still in their old camp, however, how were we to find them?
We might have passed their little underground hut unobserved hours
before, and might be now going farther and farther away from it, from
wood, and from shelter. It had seemed a very easy thing before we left
Anadyrsk, to simply go down the river until we came to a house on the
bank, or saw a stove-pipe sticking out of a snow-drift; but now, two
hundred and fifty or three hundred miles from the settlement, in a
temperature of 50 deg. below zero, when our lives perhaps depended upon
finding that little buried hut, we realised how wild had been our
anticipations, and how faint were our prospects of success. The
nearest wood was more than fifty miles behind us, and in our chilled
and exhausted condition we dared not camp without a fire. We must go
either forward or back--find the hut within four hours, or abandon the
search and return as rapidly as possible to the nearest wood. Our dogs
were beginning already to show unmistakable signs of exhaustion, and
their feet, lacerated by ice which had formed between the toes, were
now spotting the snow with blood at every step. Unwilling to give up
the search while there remained any hope, we still went on to the
eastward, along the edges of high bare bluffs skirting the river,
separating our sledges as widely as possible, and extending our line
so as to cover a greater extent of ground. A full moon now high in the
heavens, lighted up the vast lonely plain on the north side of the
river as brilliantly as day; but its whiteness was unbroken by any
dark object, save here and there little hillocks of moss or swampy
grass from which the snow had been swept by furious winds.

We were all suffering severely from cold, and our fur hoods and the
breasts of our fur coats were masses of white frost which had
been formed by our breaths. I had put on two heavy reindeerskin
_kukhlankas_ weighing in the aggregate about thirty pounds, belted
them tightly about the waist with a sash, drawn their thick hoods up
over my head and covered my face with a squirrelskin mask; but in
spite of all I could only keep from freezing by running beside
my sledge. Dodd said nothing, but was evidently disheartened and
half-frozen, while the natives sat silently upon their sledges as if
they expected nothing and hoped for nothing. Only Gregorie and an old
Chukchi whom we had brought with us as a guide showed any energy or
seemed to have any confidence in the ultimate discovery of the party.
They went on in advance, digging everywhere in the snow for wood,
examining carefully the banks of the river, and making occasional
detours into the snowy plain to the northward. At last Dodd, without
saying anything to me, gave his spiked stick to one of the natives,
drew his head and arms into the body of his fur coat, and lay down
upon his sledge to sleep, regardless of my remonstrances, and paying
no attention whatever to my questions. He was evidently becoming
stupefied by the deadly chill, which struck through the heaviest
furs, and which was constantly making insidious advances from the
extremities to the seat of life. He probably would not live through
the night unless he could be roused, and might not live two hours.
Discouraged by his apparently hopeless condition, and exhausted by
the constant struggle to keep warm, I finally lost all hope and
reluctantly decided to abandon the search and camp. By stopping where
we were, breaking up one of our sledges for firewood, and boiling a
little tea, I thought that Dodd might be revived; but to go on to the
eastward seemed to be needlessly risking the lives of all without any
apparent prospect of discovering the party or of finding wood. I had
just given the order to the natives nearest me to camp, when I thought
I heard a faint halloo in the distance. All the blood in my veins
suddenly rushed with a great throb to the heart as I threw back my fur
hood and listened. Again, a faint, long-drawn cry came back through
the still atmosphere from the sledges in advance. My dogs pricked up
their ears at the startling sound and dashed eagerly forward, and in a
moment I came upon several of our leading drivers gathered in a little
group around what seemed to be an old overturned whale-boat, which lay
half buried in snow by the river's bank. The footprint in the sand was
not more suggestive to Robinson Crusoe than was this weather-beaten,
abandoned whale-boat to us, for it showed that somewhere in the
vicinity were shelter and life. One of the men a few moments before
had driven over some dark, hard object in the snow, which he at first
supposed to be a log of driftwood; but upon stopping to examine it, he
found it to be an American whale-boat. If ever we thanked God from the
bottom of our hearts, it was then. Brushing away with my mitten the
long fringes of frost which hung to my eyelashes, I looked eagerly
around for a house, but Gregorie had been quicker than I, and a joyful
shout from a point a little farther down the river announced another
discovery. I left my dogs to go where they chose, threw away my spiked
stick, and started at a run in the direction of the sound. In a moment
I saw Gregorie and the old Chukchi standing beside a low mound of
snow, about a hundred yards back from the river-bank, examining some
dark object which projected from its smooth white surface. It was the
long talked-of, long-looked-for stove-pipe! The Anadyr River party was

The unexpected discovery, at midnight, of this party of countrymen,
when we had just given up all hope of shelter, and almost of life,
was a God-send to our disheartened spirits, and I hardly knew in my
excitement what I did. I remember now walking hastily back and forth
in front of the snow-drift, repeating softly to myself at every step,
"Thank God!" "Thank God!" but at the time I was not conscious of
anything except the great fact that we had found that party. Dodd, who
had been roused from his half-frozen lethargy by the strong excitement
of the discovery, now suggested that we try to find the entrance to
the house and get in as quickly, as possible, as he was nearly dead
from cold and exhaustion. There was no sound of life in the lonely
snow-drift before us, and the inmates, if it had any, were evidently
asleep. Seeing no sign anywhere of a door, I walked up on the drift,
and shouted down through the stove-pipe in tremendous tones, "Halloo
the house!" A startled voice from under my feet demanded "Who's

"Come out and see! Where's the door?"

My voice seemed to the astounded Americans inside to come out of
the stove--a phenomenon which was utterly unparalleled in all their
previous experience; but they reasoned very correctly that any stove
which could ask in good English for the door in the middle of the
night had an indubitable right to be answered; and they replied in
a hesitating and half-frightened tone that the door was "on the
south-east corner." This left us about as wise as before. In the first
place we did not know which way south-east was, and in the second
a snow-drift could not properly be described as having a corner. I
started around the stove-pipe, however, in a circle, with the hope of
finding some sort of an entrance. The inmates had dug a deep ditch or
trench about thirty feet in length for a doorway, and had covered it
over with sticks and reindeerskins to keep out the drifting snow.
Stepping incautiously upon this frail roof I fell through just as one
of the startled men was coming out in his shirt and drawers, holding a
candle above his head, and peering through the darkness of the tunnel
to see who would enter. The sudden descent through the roof of such an
apparition as I knew myself to be, was not calculated to restore the
steadiness of startled nerves. I had on two heavy _kukhlankas_ which
swelled out my figure to gigantic proportions; two thick reindeerskin
hoods with long frosty fringes of black bearskin were pulled up over
my head, a squirrelskin mask frozen into a sheet of ice concealed my
face, and nothing but the eyes peering out through tangled masses of
frosty hair showed that the furs contained a human being. The man took
two or three frightened steps backward and nearly dropped his candle.
I came in such a "questionable shape" that he might well demand
"whether my intents were wicked or charitable!" As I recognised his
face, however, and addressed him again in English, he stopped; and
tearing off my mask and fur hoods I spoke my name. Never was
there such rejoicing as that which then took place in that little
underground cellar, as I recognised in the exiled party two of my old
comrades and friends, to whom eight months before I had bid good-bye,
as the _Olga_ sailed out of the Golden Gate of San Francisco. I little
thought when I shook hands with Harder and Robinson then, that I
should next meet them at midnight, in a little snow-covered cellar, on
the great lonely steppes of the lower Anadyr. As soon as we had taken
off our heavy furs and seated ourselves beside a warm fire, we began
to feel the sudden reaction which necessarily followed twenty-four
hours of such exposure, suffering, and anxiety. Our overstrained
nerves gave way all at once, and in ten minutes I could hardly raise a
cup of coffee to my lips. Ashamed of such womanish weakness, I tried
to conceal it from the Americans, and I presume they do not know to
this day that Dodd and I nearly fainted several times within the first
twenty minutes, from the suddenness of the change from 50 deg. below zero
to 70 deg. above, and the nervous exhaustion produced by anxiety and lack
of sleep. We felt an irresistible craving for some powerful stimulant
and called for brandy, but there was no liquor of any kind to be had.
This weakness, however, soon passed away, and we proceeded to relate
to one another our respective histories and adventures, while our
drivers huddled together in a mass at one end of the little hut and
refreshed themselves with hot tea.

The party of Americans which we had thus found buried in the snow,
more than three hundred versts from Anadyrsk, had been landed there by
one of the Company's vessels, some time in September. Their intention
had been to ascend the river in a whale-boat until they should reach
some settlement, and then try to open communication with us; but
winter set in so suddenly, and the river froze over so unexpectedly,
that this plan could not be carried out. Having no means of
transportation but their boat, they could do nothing more than build
themselves a house, and go into winter quarters, with the faint hope
that, some time before spring, Major Abaza would send a party of men
to their relief. They had built a sort of burrow underground, with
bushes, driftwood, and a few boards which had been left by the vessel,
and there they had been living by lamp-light for five months, without
ever seeing the face of a civilised human being. The Wandering
Chukchis had soon found out their situation and frequently visited
them on reindeer-sledges, and brought them fresh meat, and blubber
which they used for lamp-oil; but these natives, on account of a
superstition which I have previously mentioned, refused to sell
them any living reindeer, so that all their efforts to procure
transportation were unavailing. The party originally consisted of
five men--Macrae, Arnold, Robinson, Harder, and Smith; but Macrae
and Arnold, about three weeks previous to our arrival, had organised
themselves into a "forlorn hope," and had gone away with a large band
of Wandering Chukchis in search, of some Russian settlement. Since
that time nothing had been heard from them, and Robinson, Harder, and
Smith had been living alone.

Such was the situation when we found the party. Of course, there was
nothing to be done but carry these three men and all their stores back
to Anadyrsk, where we should probably find Macrae and Arnold awaiting
our arrival. The Chukchis came to Anadyrsk, I knew, every winter, for
the purpose of trade, and would probably bring the two Americans with

After three days spent in resting, refitting, and packing up, we
started back with the rescued party, and on February 6th we returned
in safety to Anadyrsk.

[Illustration: Stone Hatchet for cutting edible grass]



All the inhabitants of the settlement were in the streets to meet us
when we returned; but we were disappointed not to see among them the
faces of Macrae and Arnold. Many bands of Chukchis from the lower
Anadyr had arrived at the village, but nothing had been heard of the
missing men. Forty-five days had now elapsed since they left their
camp on the river, and, unless they had died or been murdered, they
ought long since to have arrived. I should have sent a party in search
of them, but I had not the slightest clue to the direction in which
they had gone, or the intentions of the party that had carried them
away; and to look for a band of Wandering Chukchis on those great
steppes was as hopeless as to look for a missing vessel in the middle
of the Pacific Ocean, and far more dangerous. We could only wait,
therefore, and hope for the best. We spent the first week after our
return in resting, writing up our journals, and preparing a report of
our explorations, to be forwarded by special courier to the Major.
During this time great numbers of wild, wandering natives--Chukchis,
Lamutkis (la-moot'-kees) and a few Koraks--came into the settlement
to exchange their furs and walrus teeth for tobacco, and gave us an
excellent opportunity of studying their various characteristics and
modes of life. The Wandering Chukchis, who visited us in the greatest
numbers, were evidently the most powerful tribe in north-eastern
Siberia, and impressed us very favourably with their general
appearance and behaviour. Except for their dress, they could hardly
have been distinguished from North American Indians--many of them
being as tall, athletic, and vigorous specimens of savage manhood as
I had ever seen. They did not differ in any essential particular from
the Wandering Koraks, whose customs, religion, and mode of life I have
already described.


The Lamutkis, however, were an entirely different race, and resembled
the Chukchis only in their nomadic habits. All the natives in
north-eastern Siberia, except the Kamchadals, Chuances, and Yukagirs,
who are partially Russianised, may be referred to one or another of
three great classes. The first of these, which may be called the North
American Indian class, comprises the wandering and settled Chukchis
and Koraks, and covers that part of Siberia lying between the 160th
meridian of east longitude and Bering Strait. It is the only class
which has ever made a successful stand against Russian invasion, and
embraces without doubt the bravest, most independent savages in all
Siberia. I do not think that this class numbers all together more than
six or eight thousand souls, although the estimates of the Russians
are much larger.

The second class comprises all the natives in eastern Siberia who
are evidently and unmistakably of Mongolian origin, including the
Tunguses, the Lamutkis, the Manchus, and the Gilyaks of the Amur
River. It covers a greater extent of ground probably than both of the
other classes together, its representatives being found as far west as
the Yenesei, and as far east as Anadyrsk, in 169 deg. E. long. The only
branches of this class that I have ever seen are the Lamutkis and the
Tunguses. They are almost exactly alike, both being very slenderly
built men, with straight black hair, dark olive complexions, no
beards, and more or less oblique eyes. They do not resemble a Chukchi
or a Korak any more than a Chinaman resembles a Comanche or a Sioux.
Their dress is very peculiar. It consists of a fur hood, tight fur
trousers, short deerskin boots, a Masonic apron, made of soft flexible
buckskin and elaborately ornamented with beads and pieces of metal,
and a singular-looking frock-coat cut in very civilised style out of
deerskin, and ornamented with long strings of coloured reindeer
hair made into chenille. You can never see one without having the
impression that he is dressed in some kind of a regalia or uniform.
The men and women resemble each other very much in dress and
appearance, and by a stranger cannot be distinguished apart. Like the
Chukchis and Koraks, they are reindeer nomads, but differ somewhat
from the former in their mode of life. Their tents are smaller and
differently constructed and instead of dragging their tent-poles from
place to place as the Chukchis do, they leave them standing; when they
break camp, and either cut new ones or avail themselves of frames left
standing by other bands. Tent-poles in this way serve as landmarks,
and a day's, journey is from one collection of frames to another. Few
of the Tunguses or Lamutkis own many deer. Two or three hundred are
considered to be a large herd, and a man who owns more than that is
regarded as a sort of millionaire. Such herds as are found among the
Koraks in northern Kamchatka, numbering from five to ten thousand, are
never to be seen west of Gizhiga. The Tunguses, however, use their few
deer to better advantage and in a greater variety of ways than do
the Koraks. The latter seldom ride their deer or train them to carry
packs, while the Tunguses do both. The Tunguses are of a mild, amiable
disposition, easily governed and easily influenced, and seem to have
made their way over so large an extent of country more through the
sufferance of other tribes than through any aggressive power or
disposition of their own. Their original religion was Shamanism,
but they now profess almost universally the Greco-Russian faith and
receive Christian names. They acknowledge also their subjection to
the authority of the Tsar, and pay a regular annual tribute in furs.
Nearly all the Siberian squirrelskins which reach the European market
are bought by Russian traders from Wandering Tunguses around the
Okhotsk Sea. When I left the settlement of Okhotsk, in the fall of
1867, there were more than seventy thousand squirrelskins there in the
hands of one Russian merchant, and this was only a small part of the
whole number caught by the Tunguses during that summer. The Lamutkis,
who are first cousins to the Tunguses, are fewer in number, but live
in precisely the same way. I never met more than three or four
bands during two years of almost constant travel in all parts of
north-eastern Siberia.

The third great class of natives is the Turkish. It comprises only the
Yakuts (yah-koots') who are settled chiefly along the Lena River from
its head-waters to the Arctic Ocean. Their origin is unknown, but
their language is said to resemble the Turkish or modern Osmanli so
closely that a Constantinopolitan of the lower class could converse
fairly well with a Yakut from the Lena. I regret that I was not enough
interested in comparative philology while in Siberia to compile
a vocabulary and grammar of the Yakut language. I had excellent
opportunities for doing so, but was not aware at that time of its
close resemblance to the Turkish, and looked upon it only as
an unintelligible jargon which proved nothing but the active
participation of the Yakuts in the construction of the Tower of Babel.
The bulk of this tribe is settled immediately around the Asiatic pole
of cold, and they can unquestionably endure a lower temperature with
less suffering than any other natives in Siberia. They are called by
the Russian explorer Wrangell, "iron men," and well do they deserve
the appellation. The thermometer at Yakutsk, where several thousands
of them are settled, _averages_ during the three winter months
thirty-seven degrees below zero; but this intense cold does not seem
to occasion them the slightest inconvenience. I have seen them in a
temperature of -40 deg., clad only in a shirt and one sheepskin coat,
standing quietly in the street, talking and laughing as if it were a
pleasant summer's day and they were enjoying the balmy air! They are
the most thrifty, industrious natives in all northern Asia. It is a
proverbial saying in Siberia, that if you take a Yakut, strip him
naked, and set him down in the middle of a great desolate steppe, and
then return to that spot at the expiration of a year, you will find
him living in a large, comfortable house, surrounded by barns and
haystacks, owning herds of horses and cattle, and enjoying himself
like a patriarch. They have all been more or less civilised by Russian
intercourse, and have adopted Russian manners and the religion of the
Greek Church. Those settled along the Lena cultivate rye and hay, keep
herds of Siberian horses and cattle, and live principally upon coarse
black-bread, milk, butter, and horse-flesh. They are notorious
gluttons. All are very skilful in the use of the "topor" or short
Russian axe, and with that instrument alone will go into a primeval
forest, cut down trees, hew out timber and planks, and put up a
comfortable house, complete even to panelled doors and window-sashes.
They are the only natives in all north-eastern Siberia who can do and
are willing to do hard continuous work.


These three great classes, viz., American Indian natives, Mongolian
natives, and Turko-Yakut natives, comprise all the aboriginal
inhabitants of north-eastern Siberia except the Kamchadals, the
Chuances, and the Yukagirs. [Footnote: There are a few Eskimo-like
natives living in permanent habitations near Bering Strait, but we did
not see them.] These last have been so modified by Russian influence,
that it is hard to tell to which class they are most nearly allied,
and the ethnologist will shortly be relieved from all further
consideration of the problem by their inevitable extinction. The
Chuances and Yukagirs have already become mere fragments of tribes,
and their languages will perish with the present generation.

The natives of whom we saw most at Anadyrsk were, as I have already
said, the Chukchis. They frequently called upon us in large parties,
and afforded us a great deal of amusement by their naive and childlike
comments upon Americans, American instruments, and the curious
American things generally which we produced for their inspection. I
shall never forget the utter astonishment with which a band of them
once looked through my field-glass. I had been trying it one clear
cold day out-of-doors, and quite a crowd of Chukchis and Yukagirs had
gathered around me to see what I was doing. Observing their curiosity,
I gave the glass to one of them and told him to look through it at
another native who happened to be standing out on the plain, at
a distance of perhaps a hundred yards. The expression of blank,
half-incredulous surprise which gradually came over his features as
he saw that native brought up, apparently within a few feet, was
irresistibly comical. He did not dream for a moment that it was a
mere optical illusion; he supposed that the wonderful instrument had
actually transported the man physically from a distance of a hundred
yards up to the place where he stood, and as he held the glass to his
eyes with one hand, he stretched out the other to try to catch hold of
him. Finding to his great astonishment that he could not, he removed
the glass, and saw the man standing quietly as before, a hundred yards
away. The idea then seemed to occur to him that if he could only
get this mysterious instrument to his eyes quickly enough, he would
surprise the man in the very act of coming up--catch him perhaps about
half-way--and find out how it was done. He accordingly raised the
glass toward his face very slowly (watching the man meanwhile
intently, to see that he took no unfair advantage and did not start
too soon) until it was within an inch of his eyes, and then looked
through it suddenly. But it was of no use. The man was right beside
him again, but how he came there he didn't know. Perhaps he could
catch him if he made a sudden dash, and he tried it. This, however,
was no more successful than his previous experiments, and the other
natives looked at him in perfect amazement, wondering what he was
trying to do with all these singular motions. He endeavoured to
explain to them in great excitement that the man had been brought up
apparently within arm's length, and yet he could not touch him. His
comrades of course denied indignantly that the man had moved at all,
and they engaged in a furious dispute as to whether this innocent and
unconscious man had been anywhere near them or not. The native who
maintained the affirmative appealed to me; but, convulsed with
laughter, I could make no reply, and he started off at a run, to see
the man and find out whether he had been brought up or not, and how it
felt to be transported over a hundred yards of space in an instant of
time! We who are familiar with these discoveries of science can hardly
realise how they appear to a wholly uneducated savage; but if a
superior race of beings should come from the planet Mars and show us
a mysterious instrument which enabled a man to be in two different
places at the same time, we should understand the sensations of a
Chukchi in looking through a field-glass.

Soon after this I happened to be encamped one night on a great plain
near Anadyrsk, with a party of these same natives; and having received
a note from Dodd by a special messenger, I was engaged in reading it
by the camp-fire. At several humorous passages I burst into a loud
laugh; whereupon the natives nudged one another with their elbows and
pointed significantly at me, as much as to say, "Just look at the
crazy American! What's the matter with him now?" Finally one of them,
an old grey-haired man, asked me what I was laughing at. "Why," said
I, "I am laughing at this," and pointed to the piece of paper. The old
man thought about it for a moment, compared notes with the others, and
they all thought about it; but no one seemed to succeed in getting
any light as to the cause of my incomprehensible laughter. In a few
moments the old man picked up a half-burned stick which was lying by
the fire and said: "Now suppose I should look at this stick for a
minute and then laugh; what would you think?" "Why," said I candidly,
"I should think you were a fool." "Well," he rejoined with grave
satisfaction, "that's just exactly what I think of you!" He seemed to
be very much pleased to find that our several opinions of such insane
conduct so exactly coincided. Looking at a stick and laughing, and
looking at a piece of paper and laughing, seemed to him equally
absurd. The languages of the Chukchis and Koraks have never-been
reduced to writing; nor, so far as I know, do either of those tribes
ever attempt to express ideas by signs or pictures. Written thought is
to many of them an impossible conception. It can be imagined, perhaps,
with what wonder and baffled curiosity they pore over the illustrated
newspapers which are occasionally given to them by the sailors of
whaling vessels which visit the coast. Some of the pictures they
recognise as representations of things with which they are acquainted;
but by far the greater number are as incomprehensible as the
hieroglyphics of the Aztecs. I remember that a Korak once brought to
me an old tattered fashion-plate from _Frank Leslie's Illustrated
Newspaper_ containing three or four full-length figures of imaginary
ladies, in the widest expansion of crinoline which fashion at that
time prescribed. The poor Korak said he had often wondered what those
curious objects could be; and now, as I was an American, perhaps I
could tell him. He evidently had not the most remote suspicion that
they were intended to represent human beings. I told him that those
curious objects, as he called them, were American women. He burst out
into a "tyee-e-e-e!" of amazement, and asked with a wondering look,
"Are _all_ the women in your country as big as that at the bottom?" It
was a severe reflection upon our ladies' dress, and I did not venture
to tell him that the bigness was artificial, but merely replied sadly
that they were. He looked curiously down at my feet and then at the
picture, and then again at my feet, as if he were trying to trace some
resemblance between the American man and the American woman; but he
failed to do it, and wisely concluded that they must be of widely
different species.


The pictures from these papers are sometimes put to curious uses. In
the hut of a Christianised but ignorant native near Anadyrsk, I once
saw an engraved portrait, cut from _Harper's Weekly_, of Major General
Dix, framed, hung up in a corner of the room and worshipped as a
Russian saint! A gilded candle was burning before his smoky features,
and every night and morning a dozen natives crossed themselves and
said their prayers to a major-general in the United States Army! It
is the only instance, I believe, on record, where a major-general has
been raised to the dignity of a saint without even being dead.
St. George of England, we are told, was originally a corrupt army
contractor of Cappadocia, but he was not canonised until long
after his death, when the memory of his contracts was no more. For
Major-General Dix was reserved the peculiar privilege of being at the
same time United States Minister in Paris and a saint in Siberia!

[Illustration: Woman's fur lined Hood]



Among the few pleasures which reward the traveller for the hardships
and dangers of life in the Far North, there are none which are
brighter or longer remembered than the magnificent auroral displays
which occasionally illumine the darkness of the long polar night, and
light up with a celestial glory the whole blue vault of heaven. No
other natural phenomenon is so grand, so mysterious, so terrible in
its unearthly splendour as this. The veil which conceals from mortal
eyes the glory of the eternal throne seems drawn aside, and the awed
beholder is lifted out of the atmosphere of his daily life into the
immediate presence of God.

On the 20th of February, while we were all yet living together at
Anadyrsk, there occurred one of the grandest displays of the arctic
aurora which had been observed there for more than fifty years, and
which exhibited such unusual and extraordinary brilliancy as to
astonish and frighten even the natives. It was a cold, dark, but clear
winter's night, and the sky in the earlier part of the evening showed
no signs of the magnificent illumination which was already being
prepared. A few streamers wavered now and then in the north, and a
faint radiance like that of the rising moon shone above the dark
belt of shrubbery which bordered the river; but these were common
occurrences, and excited no notice or remark. Late in the evening,
just as we were preparing to go to bed, Dodd happened to go outside
for a moment to look after his dogs; but no sooner had he reached the
outer door of the entry than he came rushing back, his face ablaze
with excitement, shouting: "Kennan! Robinson! Come out, quick!" With
a vague impression that the village must be on fire, I sprang up, and
without stopping to put on my furs, fan hastily out, followed closely
by Robinson, Harder, and Smith. As we emerged into the open air there
burst suddenly upon our startled eyes the grandest exhibition of vivid
dazzling light and colour of which the mind can conceive. The whole
universe seemed to be on fire. A broad arch of brilliant prismatic
colours spanned the heavens from east to west like a gigantic rainbow,
with a long fringe of crimson and yellow streamers stretching up
from its convex edge to the very zenith. At intervals of one or two
seconds, wide, luminous bands, parallel with the arch, rose suddenly
out of the northern horizon and swept with a swift, steady majesty
across the whole heavens, like long breakers of phosphorescent light
rolling in from some limitless ocean of space.

Every portion of the vast arch was momentarily wavering, trembling,
and changing colour, and the brilliant streamers which fringed its
edge swept back and forth in great curves, like the fiery sword of the
angel at the gate of Eden. In a moment the great auroral rainbow, with
all its wavering streamers, began to move slowly up toward the zenith,
and a second arch of equal brilliancy formed directly under it,
shooting up a long serried row of slender, coloured lances toward the
North Star, like a battalion of the celestial host presenting arms to
its commanding angel. Every instant the display increased in unearthly
grandeur. The luminous bands revolved swiftly, like the spokes of a
great wheel of light, across the heavens; the streamers hurried back
and forth with swift, tremulous motion from the ends of the arches to
the centre; and now and then a great wave of crimson would surge up
from the north and fairly deluge the whole sky with colour, tingeing
the white snowy earth far and wide with its rosy reflection. But as
the words of the prophecy, "And the heavens shall be turned to blood,"
formed themselves upon my lips, the crimson suddenly vanished, and
a lightning flash of vivid orange startled us with its wide,
all-pervading glare, which extended even to the southern horizon, as
if the whole volume of the atmosphere had suddenly taken fire. I even
held my breath a moment, as I listened for the tremendous crash of
thunder which it seemed to me must follow this sudden burst of vivid
light; but in heaven or earth there was not a sound to break the
stillness of midnight save the hastily muttered prayers of the
frightened native at my side, as he crossed himself and kneeled down
before the visible majesty of God. I could not imagine any possible
addition which even Almighty power could make to the grandeur of the
aurora as it now appeared. The rapid alternations of crimson, blue,
green, and yellow in the sky were reflected so vividly from the white
surface of the snow, that the whole world seemed now steeped in blood,
and then quivering in an atmosphere of pale, ghastly green, through
which shone the unspeakable glories of the two mighty crimson and
yellow arches. But the end was not yet. As we watched with upturned
faces the swift ebb and flow of these great celestial tides of
coloured light, the last seal of the glorious revelation was suddenly
broken, and both arches were simultaneously shivered into a thousand
parallel perpendicular bars, every one of which displayed in regular
order, from top to bottom, the primary colours of the solar spectrum.
From horizon to horizon there now stretched two vast curving bridges
of coloured bars, across which we almost expected to see, passing and
repassing, the bright inhabitants of another world. Amid cries of
astonishment and exclamations of "God have mercy!" from the startled
natives, these innumerable bars began to move back and forth, with a
swift dancing motion, along the whole extent of both arches, passing
one another from side to side with such bewildering rapidity that
the eye was lost in the attempt to follow them. The whole concave of
heaven seemed transformed into one great revolving kaleidoscope of
shattered rainbows. Never had I even dreamed of such an aurora as
_this_, and I am not ashamed to confess that its magnificence for a
moment overawed and almost frightened me. The whole sky, from zenith
to horizon, was "one molten mantling sea of colour and fire;--crimson
and purple, and scarlet and green, and colours for which there are no
words in language and no ideas in the mind--things which can only be
conceived while they are visible." The "signs and portents" in the
heavens were grand enough to herald the destruction of a world;
flashes of rich quivering colour, covering half the sky for an instant
and then vanishing like summer lightning; brilliant green streamers
shooting swiftly but silently up across the zenith; thousands of
variegated bars sweeping past one another in two magnificent arches,
and great luminous waves rolling in from the inter-planetary spaces
and breaking in long lines of radiant glory upon the shallow
atmosphere of a darkened world.

With the separation of the two arches into bars the aurora reached its
utmost magnificence, and from that time its supernatural beauty slowly
but steadily faded. The first arch broke up, and soon after it the
second; the flashes of colour appeared less and less frequently; the
luminous bands ceased to revolve across the zenith; and in an hour
nothing remained in the dark starry heavens to remind us of the
aurora, except a few faint Magellan clouds of luminous vapour.

The month of February wore slowly away, and March found us still
living in Anadyrsk, without any news from the Major, or from the
missing men, Arnold and Macrae. Fifty-seven days had now elapsed since
they left their camp on the lower Anadyr, and we began to fear that
they would never again be seen. Whether they had starved, or frozen
to death on some great desolate plain south of Bering Strait, or been
murdered by the Chukchis, we could not conjecture, but their long
absence was a proof that they had met with some misfortune.

I was not at all satisfied with the route over which we had passed
from Shestakova to Anadyrsk, on account of its barrenness, and the
impossibility of transporting heavy telegraph poles over its great
snowy steppes from the few wooded rivers by which it was traversed. I
accordingly started from Anadyrsk with five dog-sledges on March 4th,
to try to find a better route between the Anadyr and the head-waters
of the Penzhina River. Three days after our departure we met, on the
road to Penzhina, a special messenger from Gizhiga, bringing a letter
from the Major dated Okhotsk, January 19th. Enclosed were letters from
Colonel Bulkley, announcing the landing of the Anadyr River party
under Lieutenant Macrae, and a map showing the location of their camp.
The Major wrote as follows: "In case--what God forbid--Macrae and
party have not arrived at Anadyrsk, you will immediately, upon the
receipt of this letter, do your utmost to deliver them from their
too long winter quarters at the mouth of the Anadyr, where they were
landed in September. I was told that Macrae would be landed _only in
case of perfect certainty_ to reach Anadyrsk in boats, and I confess I
don't like such surprises as Colonel Bulkley has made me now. For the
present our duty consists in doing our utmost to extricate them from
where they are, and you must get every dog-sledge you can, stuff them
with dog-food and provisions, and go at once in search of Macrae's
camp." These directions I had already anticipated and carried out, and
Macrae's party, or at least all I could find of it, was now living
in Anadyrsk. When the Major wrote this letter, however, he did not
suppose that Dodd and I would hear of the landing of the party through
the Wandering Chukchis, or that we would think of going in search of
them without orders. He knew that he had told us particularly not to
attempt to explore the Anadyr River until another season, and did not
expect that we would go beyond the last settlement. I wrote a hasty
note to Dodd upon the icy runner of my overturned sledge--freezing two
fingers in the operation--and sent the courier on to Anadyrsk with the
letters. The mail also included letters to me from Captain Scammon,
commander of the Company's fleet, and one from my friend W.H. Dall,
who had returned with the vessels to San Francisco, and had written me
while stopping a few days at Petropavlovsk. He begged me, by all the
sacred interests of Science, not to let a single bug or living thing
of any kind escape my vigilant eye; but, as I read his letter that
night by the camp-fire, I thought with a smile that snowy Siberian
steppes and temperatures of 30 deg. and 40 deg. below zero were not very
favourable to the growth and dispersion of bugs, nor to efforts for
their capture and preservation.

I will not go into a detailed account of the explorations which
Lieutenant Robinson and I made in search of a more practicable route
for our line between the Penzhina River and Anadyrsk. We found that
the river system of the Anadyrsk was divided from that of the Penzhina
only by a low mountain ridge, which could be easily passed, and that,
by following up certain tributaries of the latter, crossing the
watershed, and descending one of the branches of the Anadyr, we should
have almost unbroken water communication between the Okhotsk Sea and
Bering Strait. Along these rivers timber was generally abundant, and
where there was none, poles could be distributed easily in rafts. The
route thus indicated was everything which could be desired; and, much
gratified by the results of our labours, we returned on March 13th to

We were overjoyed to learn from the first man who met us after we
entered the settlement that Macrae and Arnold had arrived, and in five
minutes we were shaking them by the hand, congratulating them, upon
their safe arrival, and overwhelming them with questions as to their
travels and adventures, and the reasons of their long absence.

For sixty-four days they had been living with the Wandering Chukchis,
and making their way slowly and by a circuitous route towards
Anadyrsk. They had generally been well treated, but the band with
which they travelled had been in no hurry to reach the settlement, and
had been carrying them at the rate of ten or twelve miles a day all
over the great desolate steppes which lie south of the Anadyr River.
They had experienced great hardships; had lived upon reindeer's
entrails and tallow for weeks at a time; had been alive almost
constantly with vermin; had spent the greater part of two long months
in smoky Chukchi _pologs_, and had despaired, sometimes, of ever
reaching a Russian settlement or seeing again a civilised human being;
but hope and courage had sustained them through it all, and they had
finally arrived at Anadyrsk safe and well. The sum-total of their
baggage when they drove into the settlement was a quart bottle
of whisky wrapped up in an American flag! As soon as we were all
together, we raised the flag on a pole over our little log house,
made a whisky punch out of the liquor which had traversed half
north-eastern Siberia, and drank it in honour of the men who had lived
sixty-four days with the Wandering Chukchis, and carried the stars and
stripes through the wildest, least known region on the face of the

Having now accomplished all that could be done in the way of
exploration, we began making preparations for a return to Gizhiga. The
Major had directed me to meet him there with Macrae, Arnold, Robinson,
and Dodd, as soon as the first of April, and the month of March was
now rapidly drawing to a close.


On the 20th we packed up our stores, and bidding good-bye to the
kind-hearted, hospitable people of Anadyrsk, we set out with a long
train of sledges for the coast of the Okhotsk Sea.

Our journey was monotonous and uneventful, and on the second of April,
late at night, we left behind us the white desolate steppe of the
Paren, and drew near the little flat-topped _yurt_ on the Malmofka,
which was only twenty-five versts from Gizhiga. Here we met fresh men,
dogs, and sledges, sent out to meet us by the Major, and, abandoning
our loaded sledges and tired dogs, we took seats upon the light
_narts_ of the Gizhiga Cossacks, and dashed away by the light of a
brilliant aurora toward the settlement.

About one o'clock we heard the distant barking of dogs, and in a few
moments we rushed furiously into the silent village, and stopped
before the house of the Russian merchant Vorrebeof (vor'-re-be-off')
where we had lived the previous fall, and where we expected to find
the Major. I sprang from my sledge, and groping my way through the
entry into a warm dark room I shouted "Fstavaitia!" to arouse the
sleeping inmates. Suddenly some one rose up from the floor at my feet,
and, grasping me by the arm, exclaimed in a strangely familiar voice,
"Kennan, is that you?" Startled and bewildered with half-incredulous
recognition, I could only reply, "Bush, is that you?" and, when a
sleepy boy came in with a light, he was astonished to find a man
dressed in heavy frosty furs embracing another who was clad only in a
linen shirt and drawers.

There was a joyful time in that log house when the Major, Bush,
Macrae, Arnold, Robinson, Dodd, and I gathered around a steaming
samovar or tea-urn which stood on a pine table in the centre of the
room, and discussed the adventures, haps, and mishaps of our first
arctic winter. Some of us had come from the extremity of Kamchatka,
some from the frontier of China, and some from Bering Strait, and we
all met that night in Gizhiga, and congratulated ourselves and one
another upon the successful exploration of the whole route of the
proposed Russian-American telegraph line from Anadyr Bay to the Amur
River. The different members of the party there assembled had, in
seven months, travelled in the aggregate almost ten thousand miles.

The results of our winter's work were briefly as follows: Bush and
Mahood, after leaving the Major and me at Petropavlovsk, had gone on
to the Russian settlement of Nikolaievsk, at the mouth of the Amur
River, and had entered promptly upon the exploration of the west coast
of the Okhotsk Sea. They had travelled with the Wandering Tunguses
through the densely timbered region between Nikolaievsk and Aian,
ridden on the backs of reindeer over the rugged mountains of the
Stanavoi range south of Okhotsk, and had finally met the Major at the
latter place on the 22d. of February. The Major, alone, had explored
the whole north coast of the Okhotsk Sea and had made a visit to the
Russian city of Yakutsk, six hundred versts west of Okhotsk, in quest
of labourers and horses. He had ascertained the possibility of hiring
a thousand Yakut labourers in the settlements along the Lena River, at
the rate of sixty dollars a year for each man, and of purchasing
there as many Siberian horses as we should require at very reasonable
prices. He had located a route for the line from Gizhiga to Okhotsk,
and had superintended generally the whole work of exploration. Macrae
and Arnold had explored nearly all the region lying south of the
Anadyr and along the lower Myan, and had gained much valuable
information concerning the little-known tribe of Wandering Chukchis.
Dodd, Robinson, and I had explored two routes from Gizhiga to
Anadyrsk, and had found a chain of wooded rivers connecting the
Okhotsk Sea with the Pacific Ocean near Bering Strait. The natives we
had everywhere found to be peaceable and well disposed, and many of
them along the route of the line were already engaged in cutting
poles. The country, although by no means favourable to the
construction of a telegraph line, presented no obstacles which energy
and perseverance could not overcome; and, as we reviewed our winter's
work, we felt satisfied that the enterprise in which we were engaged,
if not altogether an easy one, held out at least a fair prospect of



The months of April and May, owing to the great length of the days
and the comparative mildness of the weather, are the most favourable
months in north-eastern Siberia for outdoor work and travel; and as
the Company's vessels could not be expected to arrive at Gizhiga
before the early part of June, Major Abaza determined to make the
most of the intervening time. As soon as he had recovered a little,
therefore, from the fatigue of his journey, he started with Bush,
Macrae, and the Russian governor, for Anadyrsk, intending to
engage there fifty or sixty native labourers and begin at once the
construction of station-houses and the cutting and distribution of
poles along the Anadyr River. My own efforts to that end, owing to the
laziness of the Anadyrsk people, had been unsuccessful; but it
was hoped that through the influence and cooperation of the civil
authority something might perhaps be done.

Major Abaza returned by the very last winter road in May. His
expedition had been entirely successful; Mr. Bush had been put in
command of the Northern District from Penzhina to Bering Strait, and
he, together with Macrae, Harder, and Smith, had been left at Anadyrsk
for the summer. As soon as the Anadyr River should open, this party
was directed to descend it in canoes to its mouth, and there await
the arrival of one of the Company's vessels from San Francisco, with
reinforcements and supplies. In the meantime fifty native labourers
from Anadyrsk, Osolkin, and Pokorukof, had been hired and placed at
their disposal, and it was hoped that by the time the ice should be
out of the river they would have six or eight station-houses prepared,
and several thousand poles cut, ready for distribution in rafts
between the settlements of Anadyrsk and the Pacific coast. Having thus
accomplished all that it was possible to accomplish with the limited
means and force at his disposal, Major Abaza returned to Gizhiga,
to await the arrival of the promised vessels from America with men,
material, and supplies, for the prosecution of the work.

The season for dog-sledge travel was now over; and as the country
afforded no other means of interior transportation, we could not
expect to do any more work, or have any further communication with
our outlying parties at Anadyrsk and Okhotsk until the arrival of
our vessels. We therefore rented for ourselves a little log house
overlooking the valley, of the Gizhiga River, furnished it as
comfortably as possible with a few plain wooden chairs and tables,
hung up our maps and charts on the rough log-walls, displayed our
small library of two books--Shakespeare and the New Testament--as
advantageously as possible in one corner, and prepared for at least a
month of luxurious idleness.

It was now June. The snow was rapidly disappearing under the influence
of the warm long-continued sunshine; the ice in the river showed
unmistakable signs of breaking up; patches of bare ground appeared
here and there along the sunny hillsides, and everything foretold the
speedy approach of the short but hot arctic summer. Winter in most
parts of north-eastern Siberia begins to break up in May, and summer
advances with rapid strides upon its retreating footsteps, covering
instantly with grass and flowers the ground that it reclaims from
the melting snow-drifts of winter. Hardly is the snow off the ground
before the delicate wax-like petals of the blueberry and star-flower,
and the great snowy clusters of labrador tea begin to whiten the mossy
plains; the birches, willows, and alders burst suddenly into leaf, the
river banks grow green with a soft carpet of grass, and the warm still
air is filled all day with the trumpet-like cries of wild swans and
geese, as they come in great triangular flocks from the sea and
pass high overhead toward the far North. In three weeks after the
disappearance of the last snow all Nature has put on the garments of
midsummer and rejoices in almost perpetual sunshine. There is no long
wet, lingering spring, no gradual unfolding of buds and leaves one by
one as with us. The vegetation, which has been held in icy fetters
for eight long months, bursts suddenly its bonds, and with one great
irresistible sweep takes the world by storm. There is no longer any
night; one day blends almost imperceptibly into another, with only a
short interval of twilight, which has all the coolness and repose of
night without its darkness. You may sit by your open window and read
until twelve o'clock, inhaling the fragrance of flowers which is
brought to you on the cool night wind, listening to the murmur and
plash of the river in the valley below, and tracing the progress of
the hidden sun by the flood of rosy light which streams up in the
North from behind the purple mountains. It is broad daylight, and yet
all Nature is asleep, and a strange mysterious stillness, like that
of a solar eclipse, pervades heaven and earth. You can even hear the
faint roar of the surf on the rocky coast ten miles away. Now and then
a song-sparrow hidden in the alder thicket by the river bank dreams
that it is morning and breaks out into a quick unconscious trill of
melody; but as he wakes he stops himself suddenly and utters a few
"peeps" of perplexity, as if not quite sure whether it be morning, or
only last evening, and whether he ought to sing or go to sleep again.
He finally seems to decide upon the latter course, and all becomes
silent once more save the murmur of the river over its rocky bed and
the faint roar of the distant sea. Soon after one o'clock a glittering
segment of the sun appears between the cloud-like peaks of the distant
mountains, a sudden flash of golden light illumines the green dewy
landscape, the little sparrow in the alder thicket triumphantly takes
up again his unfinished song, the ducks, geese, and aquatic birds
renew their harsh discordant cries from the marshy flats along the
river, and all animated nature wakes suddenly to a consciousness of
daylight as if it were a new thing. There has been no night--but it is
another day.

The traveller who has never before experienced an arctic summer, and
who has been accustomed to think of Siberia as a land of eternal snow
and ice, cannot help being astonished at the sudden and wonderful
development of animal and vegetable life throughout that country in
the month of June, and the rapidity of the transition from winter to
summer in the course of a few short weeks. In the early part of June
it is frequently possible to travel in 'the vicinity of Gizhiga upon
dog-sledges, while by the last of the same month the trees are all in
full leaf, primroses, cowslips, buttercups, valerian, cinquefoil, and
labrador tea, blossom everywhere upon the higher plains and river
banks, and the thermometer at noon frequently reaches 70 deg. Fahr. in the
shade. There is no spring, in the usual acceptation of the word, at
all. The disappearance of snow and the appearance of vegetation are
almost simultaneous; and although the _tundras_ or moss steppes,
continue for some time to hold water like a saturated sponge, they
are covered with flowers and blossoming blueberry bushes, and show no
traces of the long, cold winter which has so recently ended. In less
than a month after the disappearance of snow in 1860, I collected
from one high plain about five acres in extent, near the mouth of the
Gizhiga River, more than sixty species of flowers. Animal life of all
kinds is equally prompt in making its appearance. Long before the ice
is out of the gulfs and bays along the coast, migratory birds begin to
come in from the sea in immense numbers. Innumerable species of
ducks, geese, and swans--many of them unknown to the American
ornithologist--swarm about every little pool of water in the valleys
and upon the lower plains; gulls, fish-hawks, and eagles, keep up a
continual screaming about the mouths of the numerous rivers; and the
rocky precipitous coast of the sea is literally alive with countless
millions of red-beaked puffin or sea-parrots, which build their nests
in the crevices and upon the ledges of the most inaccessible cliffs,
and at the report of a pistol fly in clouds which fairly darken the
air. Besides these predatory and aquatic birds, there are many others
which are not so gregarious in their habits, and which, consequently,
attract less notice. Among these are the common barn and chimney
swallows, crows, ravens, magpies, thrushes, plover, ptarmigan, and
a kind of grouse known to the Russians as "teteref." Only one
singing-bird, as far as I know, is to be found in the country, and
that is a species of small ground-sparrow which frequents the drier
and more grassy plains in the vicinity of the Russian settlements.

The village of Gizhiga, where we had temporarily established our
headquarters, was a small settlement of perhaps fifty or sixty plain
log houses, situated upon the left bank of the Gizhiga River, eight or
ten miles from the gulf. It was at that time one of the most important
and flourishing settlements upon the coast of the Okhotsk Sea, and
controlled all the trade of north-eastern Siberia as far north at the
Anadyr and as far west as the village of Okhotsk. It was the residence
of a local governor, the headquarters of four or five Russian
merchants, and was visited annually by a government supply steamer,
and several trading vessels belonging to wealthy American houses.
Its population consisted principally of Siberian Cossacks and the
descendants of compulsory emigrants from Russia proper, who had
received their freedom as compensation for forcible expatriation.
Like all other _settled_ inhabitants of Siberia and Kamchatka, they
depended for their subsistence principally upon fish; but as the
country abounded in game, and the climate and soil in the valley of
the Gizhiga River permitted the cultivation of the hardier kinds of
garden vegetables, their condition was undoubtedly much better than
it would have been in Russia proper. They were perfectly free, could
dispose of their time and services as they chose, and by hiring
themselves and their dog-sledges to Russian traders in the winter,
they earned money enough to keep themselves supplied with the simpler
luxuries, such as tea, sugar, and tobacco, throughout the year. Like
all the inhabitants of Siberia, and indeed like all Russians, they
were extremely hospitable, good-natured, and obliging, and they
contributed not a little to our comfort and amusement during the long
months which we were obliged to spend in their far-away isolated

The presence of Americans in a village so little frequented by
strangers as Gizhiga had a very enlivening influence upon society,
and as soon as the inhabitants ascertained by experiment that these
distinguished sojourners did not consider it beneath their dignity to
associate with the _prostoi narod_, or common people, they overwhelmed
us with invitations to tea-parties and evening dances. Anxious to see
more of the life of the people, and glad to do anything which would
diversify our monotonous existence, we made it a point to accept every
such invitation which we received, and many were the dances which
Arnold and I attended during the absence of the Major and the Russian
governor at Anadyrsk. We had no occasion to ask our Cossack Yagor when
there was to be another dance. The question was rather, "Where is the
dance to be tonight?" because we knew to a certainty that there would
be one somewhere, and wished only to know whether the house in which
it was to be held had a ceiling high enough to insure the safety of
our heads. It would seem like a preposterous idea to invite people to
dance the Russian jig in a room which was too low to permit a man of
average stature to stand upright; but it did not seem at all so to
these enthusiastic pleasure-seekers in Gizhiga, and night after night
they would go hopping around a seven-by-nine room to the music of a
crazy fiddle and a two-stringed guitar, stepping on one another's toes
and bumping their heads against the ceiling with the most cheerful
equanimity imaginable. At these dancing parties the Americans always
received a hearty welcome, and were fed with berries, black-bread, and
tea, until they could eat and dance no more. Occasionally, however,
Siberian hospitality took a form which, to say the least, was not
altogether pleasant. For instance, Dodd and I were invited one evening
to some kind of an entertainment at the house of one of the Cossacks,
and, as was customary in such cases, our host set before us a plain
lunch of black-bread, salt, raw frozen fish, and a small pepper-sauce
bottle about half full of some liquid which he declared to be vodka.
Knowing that there was no liquor in the settlement except what we
had, Dodd inquired where he had obtained it. He replied with evident
embarrassment that it was some which he had bought from a trading
vessel the previous fall, and which he had reserved for cases
of emergency! I didn't believe that there was a Cossack in all
north-eastern Siberia who was capable of _reserving_ a bottle of
liquor for any such length of time, and in view of his evident
uneasiness we thought best to decline to partake of the liquid
refreshments and to ask no further questions. It might be vodka, but
it was not free from suspicion. Upon our return home I called our boy
and inquired if he knew anything about the Cossack's liquor--how he
obtained it, and where it came from at that season of the year, when
none of the Russian merchants had any for sale. The boy hesitated a
moment, but upon being questioned closely he explained the mystery. It
appeared that the liquor was ours. Whenever any of the inhabitants of
the village came to call upon us, as they frequently did, especially
upon holidays, it was customary to give each one of them a drink.
Taking advantage of this custom, our friend the Cossack used to
provide himself with a small bottle, hang it about his neck with a
string, conceal it under his fur coat, and present himself at our
house every now and then for the ostensible purpose of congratulating
us upon some Russian holiday. Of course we were expected to reward
this disinterested sociability with a drink. The Cossack would swallow
all he could of the fiery stuff, and then holding as much as possible
in his mouth he would make a terrible grimace, cover his face with one
hand as if the liquor were very strong, and start hurriedly for the
kitchen to get some water. As soon as he was secure from observation
he would take out his bottle, deposit in it the last mouthful of
liquor which he had _not_ swallowed, and return in a few-moments to
thank us for our hospitality--and our vodka. This manoeuvre he had
been practising at our expense for an unknown length of time, and had
finally accumulated nearly a pint. He then had the unblushing audacity
to set this half-swallowed vodka before us in an old pepper-sauce
bottle, and pretend that it was some that he had reserved since
the previous fall for cases of emergency! Could human impudence go

I will relate one other incident which took place during the first
month of our residence at Gizhiga, and which illustrates another phase
of the popular character, viz. extreme superstition. As I was sitting
in the house one morning, drinking tea, I was interrupted by the
sudden entrance of a Russian Cossack named Kolmagorof. He seemed to
be unusually sober and anxious about something, and as soon as he had
bowed and bade me good-morning, he turned to our Cossack, Viushin,
and began in a low voice to relate to him something which had just
occurred, and which seemed to be of great interest to them both. Owing
to my imperfect knowledge of the language, and the low tone in which
the conversation was carried on, I failed to catch its purport; but
it closed with an earnest request from Kolmagorof that Viushin should
give him some article of clothing, which I understood to be a scarf or
tippet. Viushin immediately went to a little closet in one corner of
the room, where he was in the habit of storing his personal effects,
dragged out a large sealskin bag, and began searching in it for the
desired article. After pulling out three or four pair of fur boots,
a lump of tallow, some dogskin stockings, a hatchet, and a bundle of
squirrelskins, he finally produced and held up in triumph one-half
of an old, dirty, moth-eaten woollen tippet, and handing it to
Kolmagorof, he resumed his search for the missing piece. This also he
presently found, in a worse state of preservation, if possible, than
the other. They looked as if they had been discovered in the bag of
some poor rag-picker who had fished them up out of a gutter in the
Five Points. Kolmagorof tied the two pieces together, wrapped them up
carefully in an old newspaper, thanked Viushin for his trouble, and,
with an air of great relief, bowed again to me and went out. Wondering
what use he could make of such a worn, dirty, tattered article of
clothing as that which he had received, I applied to Viushin for a
solution of the mystery.

"What did he want that tippet for?" I inquired; "it isn't good for

"I know," replied Viushin, "it is a miserable old thing; but there is
no other in the village, and his daughter has got the 'Anadyrski bol'"
(Anadyrsk sickness).

"Anadyrski bol!" I repeated in astonishment, never having heard of the
disease in question; "what has the 'Anadyrski bol' got to do with an
old tippet?"

"Why, you see, his daughter has asked for a tippet, and as she has
the Anadyrsk sickness, they must get one for her. It don't make any
difference about its being old."

This struck me as being a very singular explanation of a very curious
performance, and I proceeded to question Viushin more closely as to
the nature of this strange disease, and the manner in which an old
moth-eaten tippet could afford relief. The information which I
gathered was briefly as follows: The "Anadyrski bol," so called from
its having originated at Anadyrsk, was a peculiar form of disease,
resembling very much the modern spiritual "trance," which had long
prevailed in north-eastern Siberia, and which defied all ordinary
remedies and all usual methods of treatment. The persons attacked by
it, who were generally women, became unconscious of all surrounding
things, acquired suddenly an ability to speak languages which they
had never heard, particularly the Yakut language, and were gifted
temporarily with a sort of second sight or clairvoyance which enabled
them to describe accurately objects that they could not see and never
had seen. While in this state they would frequently ask for some
particular thing, whose appearance and exact location they would
describe, and unless it were brought to them they would apparently go
into convulsions, sing in the Yakut language, utter strange cries,
and behave generally as if they were insane. Nothing could quiet
them until the article for which they had asked was produced. Thus
Kolmagorof's daughter had imperatively demanded a woollen tippet,
and as the poor Cossack had nothing of the sort in the house, he
had started out through the village to find one. This was all the
information that Viushin could give me. He had never seen one of these
possessed persons himself, and had only heard of the disease from
others; but he said that Paderin, the chief of the Gizhiga Cossacks,
could undoubtedly tell me all about it, as his daughter had been
similarly afflicted. Surprised to find among the ignorant peasantry of
north-eastern Siberia a disease whose symptoms resembled so closely
the phenomena of modern spiritualism, I determined to investigate
the subject as far as possible, and as soon as the Major came in,
I persuaded him to send for Paderin. The chief of the Cossacks--a
simple, honest old fellow, whom it was impossible to suspect of
intentional deception--confirmed all that Viushin had told me, and
gave us many additional particulars. He said that he had frequently
heard his daughter talk the Yakut language while in one of these
trances, and had even known her to relate events which were occurring
at a distance of several hundred miles. The Major inquired how he knew
that it was the Yakut language which his daughter spoke. He said he
did not know certainly that it was; but it was not Russian, nor Korak,
nor any other native language with which he was familiar, and it
sounded very much like Yakut. I inquired what was done in case the
sick person demanded some article which it was impossible to obtain.
Paderin replied that he had never heard of such an instance; if the
article asked for were an uncommon one, the girl always stated where
it was to be found--frequently describing with the greatest minuteness
things which, so far as he knew, she had never seen. On one occasion,
he said his daughter asked for a particular spotted dog which he was
accustomed to drive in his team. The dog was brought into the room,
and the girl at once became quiet; but from that time the dog itself
became so wild and restless as to be almost unmanageable, and he was
finally obliged to kill him. "And do you believe in all this stuff?"
broke in the Major impatiently, as Paderin hesitated for a moment.

"I believe in God and in our Saviour Jesus Christ," replied the
Cossack, as he crossed himself devoutly.

"That's all right, and so you ought," rejoined the Major; "but that
has nothing whatever to do with the 'Anadyrski bol.' Do you really
believe that these women talk in the Yakut language, which they have
never heard, and describe things which they have never seen?"

Photograph in The American Museum of Natural History]

Paderin shrugged his shoulders expressively and said that he believed
what he saw. He then proceeded to relate to us further and still more
incredible particulars as to the symptoms of the disease, and the
mysterious powers which it developed in the persons attacked,
illustrating his statements by reference to the case of his own
daughter. He was evidently a firm believer in the reality of the
sickness, but would not say to what agency he ascribed the phenomena
of second sight and the ability to speak strange languages, which were
its most remarkable symptoms.

During the day we happened to call upon the ispravnik or Russian
governor, and in course of conversation mentioned the "Anadyrski bol,"
and related some of the stories which we had heard from Paderin. The
ispravnik--skeptical upon all subjects, and especially upon this--said
that he had often heard of the disease, and that his wife was a
firm believer in it, but that in his opinion it was a humbug, which
deserved no other treatment than severe corporal punishment. The
Russian peasantry, he said, were very superstitious and would believe
almost anything, and the "Anadyrski bol" was partly a delusion and
partly an imposition practised by the women upon their male relatives
to further some selfish purpose. A woman who wanted a new bonnet, and
who could not obtain it by the ordinary method of teasing, found it
very convenient as a _dernier ressort_ to fall into a trance state and
demand a bonnet as a physiological necessity. If the husband still
remained obdurate, a few well-executed convulsions and a song or two
in the so-called Yakut language were generally sufficient to bring him
to terms. He then related an instance of a Russian merchant whose wife
was attacked by the "Anadyrski bol," and who actually made a winter
journey from Gizhiga to Yamsk--a distance of 300 versts--to procure a
silk dress for which she had asked and which could not be elsewhere
obtained! Of course the women do not always ask for articles which
they might be supposed to want in a state of health. If they did, it
would soon arouse the suspicions of their deluded husbands, fathers,
and brothers, and lead to inconvenient inquiries, if not to still more
unpleasant experiment, upon the character of the mysterious disease.
To avoid this, and to blind the men to the real nature of the
deception, the women frequently ask for dogs, sledges, axes, and other
similar articles of which they can make no possible use, and thus
persuade their credulous male relatives that their demands are
governed only by diseased caprice and have in view no definite object.
Such was the rationalistic explanation which the ispravnik gave of the
curious delusion known as the "Anadyrski bol"; and although it argued
more subtlety on the part of the women and more credulity on the part
of the men than I had supposed either sex to be capable of, I could
not but admit that the explanation was a plausible one, and accounted
satisfactorily for most of the phenomena.

In view of this remarkable piece of feminine strategy, our
strong-minded women in America must admit that their Siberian sisters
show greater ingenuity in obtaining their rights and throwing dust in
the eyes of their lords and masters than has yet been exhibited by all
the Women's Rights Associations in Christendom. To invent an imaginary
disease with such peculiar symptoms, cause it to prevail as an
epidemic throughout a whole country, and use it as a lever to open
the masculine pocketbooks and supply feminine wants, is the greatest
triumph which woman's craft has ever achieved over man's stupidity.

The effect of the ispravnik's revelation upon Dodd was very singular.
He declared that he felt the premonitory symptoms of the "Anadyrski
bol" coming on, and was sure that he was destined to be a victim to
the insidious disease. He therefore requested the Major not to be
surprised if he should come home some day and find him in strong
convulsions, singing "Yankee Doodle" in the Yakut language, and
demanding his back pay! The Major assured him that, in a case of such
desperate emergency, he should be compelled to apply the ispravnik's
remedy, viz., twenty lashes on the bare back, and advised him to
postpone his convulsions until the exchequer of the Siberian Division
should be in a condition to meet his demands.

Our life at Gizhiga during the early part of June was a very decided
improvement upon the experience of the previous six months. The
weather was generally warm and pleasant, the hills and valleys were
green with luxuriant vegetation, daylight had become perpetual, and we
had nothing to do but ramble about the country in pursuit of game, row
down to the mouth of the river occasionally to look for vessels, and
plan all sorts of amusements to pass away the time.

The nights were the most glorious parts of the days, but the perpetual
light seemed even more strange to us at first than the almost
perpetual darkness of winter. We could never decide to our own
satisfaction when one day ended and another began, or when it was
time to go to bed. It seemed ridiculous to make any preparations for
retiring before the sun had set; and yet, if we did not, it was sure
to rise again before we could possibly get to sleep, and then it
seemed just as preposterous to lie in bed as it did in the first
place. We finally compromised the matter by putting tight wooden
shutters over all our windows, and then, by lighting candles inside,
succeeded in persuading our unbelieving senses that it was night,
although the sun outside was shining with noonday brilliancy. When we
awoke, however, another difficulty presented itself. Did we go to bed
today? or was it yesterday? And what time is it now? Today, yesterday,
and to-morrow were all mixed up, and we found it almost impossible to
distinguish one from the other. I caught myself repeatedly making two
entries in my journal in the course of twenty-four hours, with the
mistaken impression that two days had passed.

As soon as the ice was fairly out of Gizhiginsk Gulf, so that vessels
might be expected to enter, Major Abaza caused a number of Cossacks to
be stationed at the mouth of the river, with orders to watch night and
day for sails and warn us at once if any appeared.

On the 18th of June the trading brig _Hallie Jackson_, belonging to
W.H. Bordman, of Boston, entered the gulf, and, as soon as the tide
permitted, ran into the mouth of the river to discharge her cargo.
This vessel brought us the first news from the great outside world
which we had received in more than eleven months, and her arrival was
hailed with the greatest enthusiasm by both Russians and Americans.
Half the population of the village came hurrying down to the mouth of
the river as soon as it became known that a ship had arrived and the
landing-place for several days was a scene of unwonted activity and
excitement. The _Jackson_ could give us no information with regard
to the vessels of our Company, except that when she sailed from San
Francisco in March they were being rapidly loaded and fitted for
sea. She brought, however, all the stores which we had left at
Petropavlovsk the previous fall, as well as a large cargo of tea,
sugar, tobacco, and sundries for the Siberian trade.

We had found by our winter's experience that money could not be used
to advantage in payment for native labour, except in the settlements
of Okhotsk, Gizhiga, and Anadyrsk; and that tea, sugar, and tobacco
were in every way preferable, on account of the universal consumption
of those articles throughout the country and the high price which they
commanded during the winter months. A labourer or teamster, who would
demand _twenty_ roubles _in money_ for a month's work, was entirely
satisfied if we gave him eight pounds of tea and ten pounds of sugar
in its stead; and as the latter cost us only _ten_ roubles, we made
a saving of one-half in all our expenditures. In view of this fact,
Major Abaza determined to use as little money as possible, and pay for
labour in merchandise at current rates. He accordingly purchased from
the _Jackson_ 10,000 lbs. of tea and 15,000 or 20,000 lbs. of white
loaf-sugar, which he stored away in the government magazines, to be
used during the coming winter instead of money.

The _Jackson_ discharged all the cargo that she intended to leave at
Gizhiga, and as soon as the tide was sufficiently high to enable
her to cross the bar at the mouth of the river, she sailed for
Petropavlovsk and left us again alone.



After the departure of the _Jackson_, we began to look forward
with eager anticipation to the arrival of our own vessels and the
termination of our long imprisonment at Gizhiga. Eight months of
nomadic camp life had given us a taste for adventure and excitement
which nothing but constant travel could gratify, and as soon as the
first novelty of idleness wore off we began to tire of our compulsory
inactivity, and became impatient for work. We had exhausted all the
amusements of Gizhiga, read all the newspapers which had been brought
by the _Jackson_, discussed their contents to the minutest details,
explored every foot of ground in the vicinity of the settlement, and
tried everything which our ingenuity could devise to pass away
the time, but all to no avail. The days seemed interminable, the
long-expected ships did not come, and the mosquitoes and gnats made
our life a burden. About the tenth of July, the mosquito--that curse
of the northern summer--rises out of the damp moss of the lower
plains, and winds his shrill horn to apprise all animated nature of
his triumphant resurrection and his willingness to furnish musical
entertainment to man and beast upon extremely reasonable terms. In
three or four days, if the weather be still and warm, the whole
atmosphere will be literally filled with clouds of mosquitoes and from
that time until the 10th of August they persecute every living thing
with a bloodthirsty eagerness which knows no rest and feels no pity.
Escape is impossible and defence useless; they follow their unhappy
victims everywhere, and their untiring perseverance overcomes every
obstacle which human ingenuity can throw in their way. Smoke of
any ordinary density they treat with contemptuous indifference;
mosquito-bars they either evade or carry by assault, and only by
burying himself alive can man hope to finally escape their relentless
persecution. In vain we wore gauze veils over our heads and concealed
ourselves under calico _pologs_. The multitude of our tiny assailants
was so great that some of them sooner or later were sure to find an
unguarded opening, and just when we thought ourselves most secure we
were suddenly surprised and driven out of our shelter by a fresh and
unexpected attack. Mosquitoes, I know, do not enter into the popular
conception of Siberia; but never in any tropical country have I seen
them in such immense numbers as in north-eastern Siberia during the
month of July. They make the great moss tundras in some places utterly
uninhabitable, and force even the reindeer to seek the shelter and the
cooler atmosphere of the mountains. In the Russian settlements they
torment dogs and cattle until the latter run furiously about in a
perfect frenzy of pain, and fight desperately for a place to stand in
the smoke of a fire. As far north as the settlement of Kolyma, on the
coast of the Arctic Ocean, the natives are compelled, in still, warm
weather, to surround their houses with a circle of smudges, to protect
themselves and their domestic animals from the ceaseless persecution
of mosquitoes.

Early in July all the inhabitants of Gizhiga, with the exception of
the governor and a few Russian merchants, closed their winter-houses,
and removed to their "letovies" or summer fishing-stations along the
banks of the river, to await the arrival of the salmon. Finding the
deserted village rather dull, Dodd, Robinson, Arnold, and I removed
to the mouth of the river, and took up our quarters once more in the
empty government storehouse which we had occupied during the stay of
the _Hallie Jackson_.

I shall not dwell long upon the monotonous discomfort of the life
which we led for the next month. It may all be comprised in four
words--inactivity, disappointment, mosquitoes, and misery. Looking for
vessels was our only duty, fighting mosquitoes our only diversion; and
as the former never appeared and the latter never disappeared, both
occupations were equally unprofitable and unsatisfactory. Twenty times
a day we put on our gauze veils, tied our clothing down at the wrists
and ankles, and climbed laboriously to the summit of a high bluff to
look for vessels; but twenty times a day we returned disappointed to
our bare, cheerless rooms, and vented our indignation indiscriminately
upon the country, the Company, the ships, and the mosquitoes. We could
not help feeling as if we had dropped out of the great current of
human affairs, as if our places in the distant busy world had been
filled and our very existence forgotten.

The chief engineer of our enterprise had promised faithfully that
ships with men, material, and supplies for the immediate prosecution
of the work, should be at Gizhiga and at the mouth of the Anadyr River
as early in the season as ice would permit them to enter; but it was
now August, and they had not yet made their appearance. Whether they
had been lost, or whether the whole enterprise had been abandoned,
we could only conjecture; but as week after week passed away without
bringing any news, we gradually lost all hope and began to discuss the
advisability of sending some one to the Siberian capital to inform the
Company by telegraph of our situation.

It is but justice to Major Abaza to say that during all these long
weary months of waiting he never entirely gave up to discouragement,
or allowed himself to doubt the perseverance of the Company in the
work which it had undertaken. The ships might have been belated or
have met with some misfortune, but he did not think it possible that
the work had been abandoned, and he continued throughout the summer to
make such preparations as he could for another winter's campaign.

Early in August, Dodd and I, tired of looking for vessels which never
came, and which we firmly believed never would come, returned on foot
to the settlement, leaving Arnold and Robinson to maintain the watch
at the mouth of the river.

Late in the afternoon of the 14th, while I was busily engaged in
drawing maps to illustrate the explorations of the previous winter,
our Cossack servant came rushing furiously into the house, breathless
with haste and excitement, crying out: "Pooshka! soodna!"--"A cannon!
a ship!" Knowing that three cannon-shots were the signals which Arnold
and Robinson had been directed to make in case a vessel was seen
entering the gulf, we ran hurriedly out of doors and listened eagerly
for a second report. We had not long to wait. Another faint, dull
explosion was heard in the direction of the lighthouse, followed at an
interval of a moment by a third, leaving no room for a doubt that the
long-expected ships had arrived. Amid great excitement a canoe was
hastily prepared and launched, and taking our seats upon bearskins
in the bottom, we ordered our Cossack rowers to push off. At every
_letoie_ or fishing-station which we passed in our rapid descent of
the river, we were hailed with shouts of: "Soodnat soodna"--"Aship!
aship!" and at the last one--Volinkina (vo-lin'-kin-ah)--where we
stopped for a moment to rest our men, we were told that the vessel was
now in plain sight from the hills, and that she had anchored near an
island known as the Matuga (mat'-oo-gah), about twelve miles distant
from the mouth of the river. Assured that it was no false alarm, we
pushed on with redoubled speed, and in fifteen minutes more landed at
the head of the gulf. Arnold and Robinson, with the Russian pilot,
Kerrillof, had already gone off to the vessel in the government
whale-boat, so that there remained nothing for us to do but climb to
the summit of lighthouse bluff and watch impatiently for their return.

It was late in the afternoon when the signal of a vessel in sight had
been given, and by the time we reached the mouth of the river, it was
nearly sunset. The ship, which was a good-sized bark, lay quietly at
anchor near the middle of the gulf, about twelve miles distant, with
a small American flag flying at her peak. We could see the government
whale-boat towing astern, and knew that Arnold and Robinson must be
on board; but the ship's boats still hung at the davits, and no
preparations were apparently being made to come ashore. The Russian
governor had made us promise, when we left the settlement, that if the
reported vessel turned out a reality and not a delusion, we would
fire three more guns. Frequent disappointment had taught him the
fallibility of human testimony touching the arrival of ships at that
particular port, and he did not propose to make a journey to the
lighthouse in a leaky canoe, unless further intelligence should fully
justify it. As there could no longer be any doubt about the fact, we
loaded up the old rusty cannon once more, stuffed it full of wet grass
to strengthen its voice, and gave the desired signals, which echoed in
successive crashes from every rocky promontory along the coast, and
died away to a faint mutter far out at sea.

In the course of an hour the governor made his appearance, and as it
was beginning to grow dark, we all climbed once more to the summit of
the bluff to take a last look at the ship before she should be hidden
from sight. There was no appearance of activity on board, and the
lateness of the hour made it improbable that Arnold and Robinson would
return before morning. We went back therefore to the empty government
house, or "kazarm," and spent half the night in fruitless conjectures
as to the cause of the vessel's late arrival and the nature of the
news which she would bring.

With the earliest morning twilight, Dodd and I clambered again to the
crest of the bluff, to assure ourselves by actual observation that
the ship had not vanished like the _Flying Dutchman_ under cover of
darkness, and left us to mourn another disappointment. There was
little ground for fear. Not only was the bark still in the position
which she had previously occupied, but there had been another arrival
during the night. A large three-masted steamer, of apparently 2000
tons, was lying in the offing, and three small boats could be seen a
few miles distant pulling swiftly toward the mouth of the river.
Great was the excitement which this discovery produced. Dodd rushed
furiously down the hill to the _kazarm_, shouting to the Major that
there was a steamer in the gulf, and that boats were within five miles
of the lighthouse. In a few moments we were all gathered in a group on
the highest point of the bluff, speculating upon the character of the
mysterious steamer which had thus taken us by surprise, and watching
the approach of the boats. The largest of these was now within three
miles, and our glasses enabled us to distinguish in the long, regular
sweep of its oars, the practised stroke of a man-of-war's crew, and in
its stem-sheets the peculiar shoulder-straps of Russian officers. The
steamer was evidently a large war-ship, but what had, brought her to
that remote, unfrequented part of the world we could not conjecture.

In half an hour more, two of the boats were abreast of lighthouse
bluff, and we descended to the landing-place to meet them in a state
of excitement not easily imagined. Fourteen months had elapsed since
we had heard from home, and the prospect of receiving letters and
of getting once more to work was a sufficient excuse for unusual
excitement. The smallest boat was the first to reach the shore, and as
it grated on the sandy beach an officer in blue naval uniform sprang
out and introduced himself as Captain Sutton, of the Russian-American
Telegraph Company's bark _Clara Bell_, two months from San Francisco,
with men and material for the construction of the line. "Where have
you been all summer?" demanded the Major as he shook hands with the
captain; "we have been looking for you ever since June, and had about
come to the conclusion that the work was abandoned." Captain Sutton
replied that all of the Company's vessels had been late in leaving
San Francisco, and that he had also been detained some time in
Petropavlovsk by circumstances explained in his letters. "What steamer
is that lying at anchor beyond the _Clara Bell_?" inquired the Major.
"That is the Russian corvette _Varag_, from Japan."--"But what is she
doing up here?" "Why," said the captain with a quizzical smile, "you
ought to know, sir; I understand that she reports to you for orders. I
believe she has been detailed by the Russian Government to assist in
the construction of the line; at least that was what I was told when
we met her at Petropavlovsk. She has a Russian Commissioner on board,
and a correspondent of the _New York Herald_." This was unexpected
news. We had heard that the Navy Departments of Russia and the United
States had been instructed to send ships to Bering Sea to assist the
Company in making soundings and laying down the cable between the
American and Siberian coasts, but we had never expected to see either
of these vessels at Gizhiga. The simultaneous arrival of a loaded
bark, a steam corvette, a Russian Commissioner, and a correspondent
of the _New York Herald_ certainly looked like business, and we
congratulated ourselves and each other upon the improving prospects of
the Siberian Division.

The corvette's boat by this time had reached the shore, and after
making the acquaintance of Mr. Anossof, Colonel Knox, the _Herald_
correspondent, and half a dozen Russian officers who spoke English
with the greatest fluency, we proceeded to open and read our
long-delayed mail.

The news, as far as it related to the affairs of the Company and the
prospects of the enterprise, was very satisfactory. Colonel Bulkley,
the engineer-in-chief, had touched at Petropavlovsk on his way north,
and had written us from there, by the _Varag_ and the _Clara Bell_,
full particulars as to his movements and dispositions. Three
vessels--the _Clara Bell, Palmetto_, and _Onward_--had been sent from

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