How Do You Pronounce Glacier? And Other Alaska Fun Facts

Frank and Nell are steaming up to Juneau. Almost there! During this part of their five month journey it seems like they have an experience worth writing about to their New York cousins every other minute! I definitely am getting a sense that Frank is taking more notes here than he was during the legs in California and Oregon. In this part their fellow passengers get in an amusing argument over how to pronounce “glacier” right. I didn’t realize there even were different ways! This section finishes out with detailed descriptions of hunting, different Alaskan wildlife, and geology/mining in the Treadwell Mines area. Frank has said that Alaska is a great county, and it looks like the natural resources are what impress him the most. He half-joking says he wants to invest in Alaska fish canning and mining operations, I wonder if he would have ever actually considered it if the opportunity was right?

Passing between islands many thousands feet high, with here and there a narrow rivulet trickling down from above, or a large cataract of water falling from such a distance that ’tis lost in a mist before it reaches the bottom, we listen to an argument between an Englishman and a Chicago girl, as to the proper way to pronounce the word “glacier”.

Heretofore this couple have been on the best of terms, but now they are waxing warm, and presently they separate and are not seen together for an hour or more,- when the ice seems to have melted, and the bets are even, as to whether we can make a match of it. After this some of the passengers have the audacity to speak of them as “Mr. & Mrs. Glacier.”

But speaking of these islands, we could see with our field glasses, on several occasions, what appears to be deer, (or elephants, as a little girl called them) standing near the water’s edge, or sometime in the open. Once I saw a deer swimming across from one island to another, not more than 100 feet from our steamer.

Deer_captured_by_SS_Dolphin.jpg
Deer captured by S.S. Dolphin, c. 1896-1913. University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Below the snow line, nearly all of these mountains are covered with forests, and we are told that all through the 20,000 islands of Alaska, bear, deer, and all kinds of game are abundant, and that it is veritably a sportsman’s paradise.

I must speak of the fish of Alaska, for there are probably no other waters in the world where so many kinds, and so plentiful a supply of fish are to be found. Halibut are caught weighing as much as 500 pounds, but the average is 100 to 200 pounds each. It takes a strong line and hook to pull these fish up to the boat, and then they are lifted in with iron hooks made for that purpose. Our missionary told us the Indians catch a certain kind of fish with a sort of rake, made by driving 40 or 50 nails through a board about ten feet long in such a way that the sharp points all stick up one way. Then when this Indian runs across a school of fish he pushes his rake down between them gently, and all of a sudden pulls it up with a sharp jerk and shakes a dozen or two dozen fish into his boat, repeating the operation until it is full. We did not believe this story at the time, but I have since had good evidence that it is true.

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Tlingit Halibut Fish Hook, c. 1880. Smithsonian Institution, Department of Anthropology.

Herring are caught in good quantities and are manufactured into oil, and fertilizer, the latter being shipped to Honolulu to use on the Sugar plantations there. 2500 barrels of herring have been caught at one haul of the net

Salmon are brought here by the Canneries at from one of 5 cents a fish, and they weigh from five to thirty pounds each. Compare this with the seven-and-a-half, and ten cents per pound, which the Columbia River Canneries pay this season, and you will see why so many new canneries are starting up in Alaska. There is a fortune in it for a man with $50000.00 to build and start one. I tried to borrow Forty-nine Thousand from a man for this purpose, but he wanted some security, so I changed my mind and will not go into business at present:- some people are too particular in small things.

Juneau is about 150 miles North of Fort Wrangle and is situated at the foot of a precipitous mountain over 3000 feet high. There are Gold mines and glaciers all around this town, and it rains 90 inches in a year, about three times the quantity which falls in New York State.

It is so damp here that the ladies never take the curl-papers out of their hair:- the moss grows on the roofs of the houses, and the people are all web-footed.

Across the bay is the famous Treadwell Mine which was purchased of a French Canadian in 1882 for $430.00 by John Treadwell. It now maintains a population of over Two Thousand people, and has paid over Eight Million Dollars on dividends, There are 880 stamps crushing this low grade ore, which is only worth $2.90 per ton. The output from 1000 to 3000 tons per day, and pays a profit of $1.80 per ton, net. The ore contains Gold, Silver, Lead, Copper, and one or two other metals which I have forgotten. We went all through the mine and mills conducted by one of the sub-foremen, whom we met on the steamer. One mill contains 300 stamps. There is so much pounding and noise in these mills that the employees talk with their fingers, and never try to use their tongues. Women are not employed in this department.

Treadwell Mine. Douglas Island.JPG
Treadwell Mine, Douglas Island, 1899. National Museum of the American Indian.

Our guide told us of an island we had passed lower down near Ketchikan, which is said to be a vast mountain of almost pure copper. I told him not to mention it to anyone and I would stake a claim on it when we returned, but he said it was already covered with stakes, as well as shot-guns and rifles, and I would do well to keep away. What a selfish world this is, so much trouble, all for a little copper.

Treadwell Mine Panorama
Treadwell Mines, Alaska. c. 1911. Library of Congress.

This post is part of a longer travelogue written by Frank L. Felter of Los Angeles, a distant relative of mine, as he and his wife Nell journeyed up to and around Alaska in 1900. To read the previous part, click here. To read the next part, click here.

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