THE General Convention of 1895 met at Minneapolis, and the matter of a bishop for Alaska was again brought up, having been mooted at Baltimore in 1892 and an abortive attempt to elect by the House of Bishops made in the interim. Even then it was resisted. Several amendments to the motion to elect were offered, one asking the Bishop of Selkirk (Canadian Yukon) to continue his supervision at "some proper compensation", one (brilliantly conceived) that the district of Alaska be placed under a retired, invalided bishop from Africa, one adding Alaska to the Missionary District of Olympia and calling the bishop thereof by the double title. This last was indeed actually adopted, but was next day reconsidered and the original motion to elect a Bishop for Alaska was carried. The House of Deputies concurring, the Bishops nominated the Rev. Peter Trimble Rowe of Sault Ste. Marie in the diocese of Michigan, and he was elected and consecrated on St. Andrew's Day following. Thus Alaska issued from the anomalous position it had occupied for eight years and became a part of the ecclesiastical system.
The Bishop of Alaska had served an apprenticeship in the wilderness that fitted him for the duties which his new responsibility involved. The son of a missionary to the Indians, he had been brought up in a settlement of Indians in Ontario, and after his graduation from Trinity College, Toronto, and ordination, had served as a missionary to the Ojibways from 1878 to 1882. For fourteen years thereafter he had charge of eleven widely-scattered missions amongst white people with headquarters at Sault Ste. Marie in the diocese of Michigan, from which charge he was called to the episcopate. Familiar all his life with canoe and snowshoes, with axe and rifle, inured to all sorts of pedestrian fatigue, he entered his fortieth year a few days before he entered his new office, and brought the vigour of his prime to the strenuous task that lay before him.
Bishop Rowe did not delay entrance upon his territory nor stand much upon the order of his going. In the spring of 1896, that is, as soon as Alaskan travel was practicable, he began his first memorable visitation.
Bishop Rowe sailed from Seattle in March, taking with him the Rev. Henry Beers for settlement at Juneau. The place was bustling with men fitting out for the new gold camp at Circle, and was so overcrowded that it was difficult to secure any accommodation at all. A hall was rented for services and some arrangement made for Mr. Beers's lodging. An old friend of the Bishop, Dr. Campbell, clergyman and physician, came out shortly after to Douglas Island, which lies just off Juneau, built the first Episcopal church on the coast for the use of the men working at the important Tread-well mine on the island, and made visits to Ketchikan on Revillagigedo Island, which were the beginning of Church work at that place.
A visit to Sitka, then the capital, followed, and at this old, interesting, and very beautiful place, with its gaily-coloured cathedral of the Greek Church and its remains of massive Russian log structures, the Bishop decided to make his home and bring his wife and family. It remained his residence for a number of years. A beautiful little church was built later, and, later still, an attractive episcopal residence. But, to be done at once with Sitka, these picturesque buildings on a most picturesque island lost their importance with the decline of the place, and when the capital was removed and all the courts and officials, the Bishop found it necessary to remove also. There is perhaps no fairer scene on the coast of North America than Sitka presents; it is a pity that the inexorable movements of people and trade should have shorn it of most of its importance.
The Bishop's First Visit to the Interior But this visitation of the coast was but the necessary preliminary to his penetration of the interior, and April, 1896, found him at Dyea at the head of the Lynn Canal, prepared to attack the Chilkoot Pass and make his way over the mountains to the headwaters of the Yukon River. Two years later thousands of men were following- this route to the Klondike, but the startling discoveries in Canadian territory had not been made when the Bishop braved the snowslides and the glaciers and the rapids of this laborious, perilous route. Waiting as long as they did, I have always been glad that the fathers of the Church did not wait two years longer before consecrating a bishop for Alaska. When I have heard ignorance and prejudice sneering that the Church always follows gold discoveries, and that "it took the Klondike to bring the preachers", I have rejoiced that I could point to the figure of Bishop Rowe climbing the Chilkoot Pass with a pack on his back two years before.
There were others on the trail that spring, bound for the Fortymile and Circle City, hardy pioneers of a very different type from the men that were to follow on the great stampede, men most of whom had learned prospecting and placer mining in California. Amidst these seasoned adventurers the Bishop took his place and bore himself with the best. The pass surmounted, there was the chain of lakes and connecting streams, over the still frozen surface of which it was necessary to pull a heavy sled "by the back of the neck". At Caribou Crossing, where timber was reached, was an end of such travel, and here the "break-up" must be awaited, meanwhile felling trees, whipsawing them into lumber, shaping and fastening and caulking the lumber into a rude boat. Then when the ice was gone and the waters ran full with the melting of the snows, the loaded boat must be launched upon its hazardous course through canons and rapids to the Yukon River. I have been told that the Bishop's boat led the whole flotilla that season; I have heard not only of his capable experienced handling of his own craft but of his frequent assistance of others. And I know that his hardy companions of voyage gathered eagerly to the frequent services that he conducted, many of them unused to religious exercises for many years, or even all their lives. Here was a boatman preaching to boatmen, a "musher" to "mushers"; here was the equal in strength and skill and endurance of any of them to listen to. That he was also a bishop doubtless made appeal to some, but to others meant no more than if he had been a colonel. And, whoever or whatever he might be, here was one always patient and gentle, always unassuming, always quick to be a comrade, always sweet-tempered and genial. Where under the sun will not such an one gather a congregation? They came again and again and listened and were glad to listen. The fastnesses of the ice and the snow, the great rock-shoulders of the soaring peaks, became temples of the living God, as stage by stage the mountains were crossed. The word of the gospel of Jesus Christ was wafted over Lake Lindeman and Lake Bennett, as for awhile axe and saw ceased. Men who had forgotten all about it remembered once more that they had immortal souls, and that some day they must give an account of the deeds done in the body.
While the great labour of the journey perhaps ended with the embarcation, it was only then that its chief hazard began. It took a cool head and a sure hand to guide heavily loaded craft through the boiling waters of Miles Canon and the Whitehorse Rapids. Many a painfully transported "outfit" was swallowed up therein; not a few lives were lost; but the Bishop's boat went safely through, leading the way. These sensational dangers past, they could not yet pursue the long voyage down the Yukon, for the ice of Lake Lebarge was then as now the obstacle to the early navigation of the river. When all above and all below the water runs free, even to the mouth in Bering Sea, the ice of this thirty-mile lake still holds for three weeks or even a month, the average time being twenty days. So the sleds were not abandoned at Caribou Crossing, but were piled on the already heavily-laden boats, and when the upper end of the lake was reached the positions were reversed, the boats, drawn out of the water, were loaded on the sleds and were thus drawn across the rotting, treacherous ice to a re-embarcation at the foot of the lake. The Five Finger Rapids and the Rink Rapids were not formidable to one who had shot the Miles Canon and the Whitehorse Rapids, though alarming enough to the novice.
The present white settlements were, of course, non-existent; a few encampments of Indians were the only signs of human occupation. The ruins of Fort Selkirk showed where the Hudson's Bay post had been built nearly fifty years before, and destroyed almost immediately by coast Indians who resented the loss of their valuable trade-intermediation; the mouth of the Klondike River, the site of the city of Dawson beneath its mountain notably scooped out and scarred by an ancient landslide;--these lay silent and vacant with no hint of the wealth that the one was to produce or the multitudes that the other was to gather.
At Fortymile, more than five hundred miles down the river, the first white men were encountered, and here there must have been a joyful meeting with that veteran of the North, Bishop Bompas, who for more than a quarter of a century had been living and working among the natives of the Mackenzie and the Yukon. The many stories that still linger enable one to form a vivid picture of this stout old soldier of God, so long accustomed to Indian life that he had become more Indian than white. His soiled episcopal garb, his dusty leggings and greasy apron that only by strategy his wife was able to clean, his tender regard for his children of the wilderness and his resentment at the evils which the irruption of the white men brought, these stand out in the remembrance of both races. It must have been with keen satisfaction that he hailed the coming of a Bishop of Alaska whose appointment he had so long urged, that he relinquished an extra-territorial jurisdiction, in fact if not in form, that he had again and again pleaded to be relieved of.
In the early summer of 1896 Circle City was the only white man's town in the interior of Alaska, and perhaps the largest in the whole territory. It was a mining town of a type that California first accustomed the world to, with such changes as its sub-arctic situation involved. Placed on the edge of the Yukon Flats, to the right as one stood on the bank, rose the mountains out of which the river had issued, to the left, stretched away interminably the wide level forested region through which it would spread itself in many channels for two hundred and fifty miles.
A row of saloons and gambling houses and dance halls and general stores lined the water front, with flaunting signs rudely painted on canvas tacked to them. For a number of rows back there straggled little one-room cabins, four or five hundred of them. A sawmill with sprawling, unsightly heaps of yellow sawdust marked the lower end of the settlement; a stranded, wrecked, stern-wheel steamboat lay in a dry slough at the upper end. Beyond the sawmill huddled ten or twelve cabins of Indians, drawn to this place for their destruction, as In-Hans are always drawn to mining towns. All the buildings were of logs chinked with moss, stovepipes thrust themselves through all the roofs, but glass windows were very scarce and cotton cloth covered many openings.
The actual mining that was in progress was, of course, many miles away, back in the hills; the population of the town consisted of those who catered to the miner's wants and those who preyed upon his vices. But every man in the hills had his cabin in the town, used when he resorted thereto for his occasions of business or pleasure. Sounds of revelry rarely failed, day or night; crowds hung around the gambling places; painted faces leered above muslin-curtained windows or boldly promenaded on the river front with men in boots and flannel shirts; tin-pot pianos were banging continually and fiddles screeching.
Although the town was nearly two years old Bishop Rowe conducted the first public worship that had ever been held there, and the whole community turned out. He quickly formulated plans for permanent work and gathered the miners and secured their co-operation. He bought a lot on the river front with a log building already upon it for $1,800, and arranged to secure two other lots for a hospital, which the miners undertook to pay for as soon as work began on the building.
The Bishop found the Indians at Circle City all baptized, many of them familiar with their native Prayer Books and hymn books and Bibles, and all eager to attend Divine Service. He held many services during his six weeks' stay, both for whites and natives, and left, much encouraged and elated, vowing that he would leave nothing undone to send a resident missionary immediately, and, indeed, planning to transfer Mr. Prevost thither from Fort Adams. When this proved impracticable he turned to Bishop Bompas and begged for the loan of one of his men, and that bishop sent the Rev. Mr. Bowen, intended for the Rampart House; so Circle City had its clergyman and regular services of the Church during all the following winter.
To anticipate, for I wish to be done with Circle, the transfer of Mr. Prevost was accomplished next summer, the hospital was built, a physician and a nurse sent in, and the work of the Church firmly established. Then the marvellous gold discoveries of the Klondike were made, and a rush thither began, first from Fortymile and Circle, that did not cease until it had drawn men from the very ends of the earth. In 1898 Circle City was almost abandoned, the diggings across the border proving enormously richer than anything on the Circle City creeks of Mastodon, Deadwood and Eagle. By and by some of the Circle people returned and work on the older diggings was resumed, but the glory was departed and Circle entered upon a period of slow gradual decay which is not finished yet, though there are left but fifteen or twenty white people at the place and perhaps twice as many Indians. Placer mining is still carried on, hydraulicking and dredging have succeeded to the older methods in some places, and for years to come there will be a small, dwindling output of gold. But there is no chance that the town will ever revive, ever again be a considerable centre of population.
The history of Circle is, broadly, the history of every placer-mining town in the interior of Alaska, and the reader may judge of the difficulty which the Church confronts in any attempt at ministration to them. There is no guarantee, there is not any reasonable prospect, of permanence, yet how shall the largest aggregations of white men in the country be left without religion? Ten years is perhaps the average term of the active life of such a town, yet Dawson is more than twenty years old and Fairbanks already sixteen, and they are still centres of population, though much reduced. In other lands there are other resources that, when the gold is gone, take its place in large measure, but in the interior of Alaska all other activities of the white man are ancillary to gold mining. Agriculture is possible beyond what is commonly supposed by outside people, but not to the extent of depending upon itself. With the mines for a market, "truck-farming" pays very well; without that market what is the use of raising the finest cabbages and turnips and potatoes?
Bishop Rowe left Circle to continue his visitation of the Yukon, glad that he had been able to lay foundations in what seemed the assured metropolis of the wide interior country teeming with new and vigourous life. The roistering drunkenness, the orgies of sensuality, the fevered gambling, these prominent characteristics so much dwelt upon by the story-writers (Jack London and Rex Beach will give the reader all he can desire) were indeed prominent enough, yet the Bishop knew that in a community without courts or judge or constable, without school or church, without family life, the evidences of vicious indulgence always assume an undue, and in relation to the life of the place, an unreal prominence, which, as the town settles down and decent men find time to attend to other than their own immediate affairs, presently subsides in large measure, as froth subsides when shaking ceases. It is not in doubt, from the Bishop's reports, that he felt that here on the edge of the frigid zone was the beginning of a large, permanent settlement of white men. Yet the next year, when Sister Elizabeth had gone there as nurse, and a building had been secured for a hospital and the Bishop again visited the place, he found it deserted, a "silent city" as he describes it, the men all gone to the fabulously rich discoveries of the Klondike. "There was not a place left in the town where a man could buy a cup of coffee."
His next stop, resuming the account of the original journey, was at Fort Yukon, and here he found some three hundred Indians, with one white man's store and the ruins of the Hudson's Bay establishment, abandoned shortly after the Purchase nearly thirty years before. Always gentle and tender with natives, as with whites, Bishop Rowe won the hearts of the Indians from the first, and has held them ever since. It is not possible to stop at an Indian community within his jurisdiction and tell them "the Bishop is coming" without seeing their eyes light up and their lips break in a smile.
But Fort Yukon presented no such promise to him as Circle, nor assumed any such importance. Without a single substantial or outstanding structure of any kind, a long- row of hovel-like cabins followed the curve of the river bank. The salmon were running; many of the natives' tents were dotted here and there; scores of cur dogs rushed down to the water's edge as the steamboat approached (as they do still) to fight over the scraps flung them from the galley.
Yet so far as our work is concerned it has become perhaps the most important place on the river. For the white men come and go. They come with much excitement and bustle; the world hears loudly of the towns they build, of the riches they expect, and in some measure, perhaps, acquire. They come in steamboat loads. But they go away by twos and threes when their expectations are realized--or disappointed. They slip away unnoticed, drawn by new discoveries elsewhere or by that restless prospectors' spirit that can never "remain in one stay". The predatory and parasitical classes may be depended upon to depart as soon as money ceases to be plentiful; one by one the saloons close, until some day the storekeepers wake up to the disquieting certainty that "the diggings are played out and the town is on the bum", and they also get away--if they can.
The white men come and go, but the natives remain. So far as the interior is concerned our permanent work, though not necessarily our most important work, is amongst the natives.
It has been explained that there had long been missionary work at Fort Yukon, but upon the Bishop's first visit there was no clergyman residing. He appointed a well-instructed Indian, William Loola, one of Archdeacon McDonald's pupils and companions, to conduct regular worship, as indeed he was already doing, and arranged for the erection of a small building. Bishop Rowe on his first visit laid out $1,800 at Circle and $2500 at Fort Yukon; his first annual report gives three pages to the former place and half a page to the latter. As the years passed by these proportions were reversed.
The Bishop's next visit was at a place some 350 miles further down the river, where Mr. and Mrs. Prevost were eagerly awaiting him, Fort Adams. Mr. Prevost's visit outside, from which he returned with his wife and his steamboat, had brought other support also. A generous lady of New York, Miss Mary King, had given him the money for a church, and much of the material for its construction had been brought in. But a question that had arisen early in the work at this place pressed for settlement before any building could be begun; a question as to the eligibility of the site of the mission. Mr. Canham had sat down there to his teaching and preaching and translating because the trading post had attracted the Indians; Mr. Prevost carried on what was already begun.
But rivers are uncertain things and the Yukon is not merely uncertain, it is capricious and incalculable. A shoal had formed in front of Fort Adams which grew with each season, so that it was continually more and more difficult for steamboats to land. Moreover the place was too far removed from the mouth of the Tanana for the natives of that populous stream to frequent the mission with convenience. So the Bishop and Mr. Prevost took a canoe and paddled twelve miles up the Yukon seeking a new site; finding what seemed a favourable spot in the neighbourhood of its confluence with the Tanana. Here, on a fine forested bench, the mountains rising steeply behind it, at the original Nuchalaw'oya or Nu-clacay'ette, from which, for some reason which I have never been able to understand the early traders removed their post, it was determined, when the consent of the Board of Missions was obtained, to start a new mission station, abandoning, of course, the buildings already standing at Fort Adams, but transporting the new material sent in for the church.
This decision, momentous in several ways, being approved in New York, was carried out in 1900. Meanwhile, following the great influx of white men of the Klondike years, the U. S. army returned to Alaska and selected sites for two posts along the Yukon, one of them three miles below this new mission. A town of white people soon sprang up adjacent to the post. So the town of Tanana, the army post of Fort Gibbon and the native village of St. James's mission, came to be cheek by jowl, to the great prejudice of the Indians; indeed to the ultimate destruction of most of them.
Amongst the other aids which Mr. Prevost received was a printing press, and for some time thereafter he printed and published a small sheet, the first newspaper ever published in the interior of Alaska, called The Yukon Press. Upon it also was printed the first result of the translations he had made into the native tongue. The only known file of The Yukon Press is now in a museum at Fairbanks.
One cannot read the early reports of Bishop Rowe, and particularly his first report from which I have been largely drawing, without being struck by the warm sympathy of his feelings for the native people, his commiseration of their forlorn, neglected condition, his anxious thought and care for their welfare. Moreover, reading twenty-three years after the writing, it is easy to see how much foresight and good sense some of his earliest recommendations carry. And there comes, on top of these impressions, a feeling of the general futility of all reports. It has been recently the task of the present writer to read over files of reports of the governors of Alaska, of the chiefs of the Bureau of Education, of special agents with no reason for official existence save the reports they produced, covering a quarter of a century of Alaskan affairs, and when they are all read and done one feels that they might as well never have been written for all the effect they produced. A cherished hope that it might be otherwise with missionary reports does not survive a reading of them.
Here is one recommendation that, had it been acted upon, would have brought admirable results. The Bishop was quick to see that this station at the junction of the great rivers was a vantage point, and he recommended that two itinerant missionaries be associated with Mr. Prevost who should travel up the Tanana, with its many native villages, and across to the Koyukuk, where also were many Indians; that of the three each should take a turn of residence at the mission, leaving the others free to travel. But it was not done, and the Tanana natives along five hundred miles of their river, and those of the Koyukuk far up theirs, had to wait ten years more to receive other than the most casual ministrations in the one case, and in the other, any at all save what rare visits to St. James's mission might allow.
So Fort Adams was abandoned and disappeared so completely that a short while ago the postmaster at an Alaskan postoffice showed me an advertising circular addressed to "The Missionary in Charge, Fort Adams, Alaska", and was at a loss to whom it belonged. I have read that when Cardinal Manning was an old man he received a circular addressed to Laving-ton, of which parish of the Church of England he had been rector fifty years before. It seems there are some American tradesmen who do not revise their mailing lists much more frequently.
The energetic itinerant work of Mr. Prevost is illustrated by the five hundred odd names of baptized Indians which the Bishop found in the register at Fort Adams, none of the adults, we may properly assume, having received that sacrament without reasonably adequate instruction. His five years had indeed been fruitful.
Two days further on that first journey down the Yukon brought the Bishop to Anvik, and some of the most enthusiastic passages in his report are devoted to this place. Nine years had passed since Christ Church mission was established, nine years of quiet, patient, unremitting labour. The soil had been most unpromising, but the tillage had been faithful and the harvest was already begun. With surprise and pleasure the Bishop heard the people taking part heartily in the worship of God in their own tongue; with deep emotion he laid his hands in confirmation upon the heads of sixteen well-prepared Indians. He writes that his soul is comforted and refreshed.
How shall we enter into the feelings of Mr. Chapman, with these first-fruits of his labours in his hands--"bringing his sheaves with him"? He had sown in tears, now he was "come again rejoicing"; he had cast his bread upon the waters, nothing doubting, all these many days of many years; now it was returned to him. The slowness of response had been trying and discouraging, but his patience and faith had been equal to the task and he saw with reverent joy and gratitude the blessing of God upon his perseverance. One more proof of the abiding power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was vouchsafed to mankind.
The church, the schoolhouse, the mission-house, the sawmill, the storehouse, the tool shop, rose around; another building was already begun, the dormitory for boys; the cabins of Christian Indians clustered near the mission, separate from the village that still adhered to heathenism, or that, at any rate, would not yet break openly with it. One by one the natives, as they made profession and received baptism, moved across the slough from the village and the medicine men and built new cabins. None might build in the new village unless he broke openly and publicly with the medicine man and his conjurations. The new cabins were above ground and clean. Little garden plots began to surround them, some pride of neatness to appear. The children were attending school regularly, their bodies kept free of vermin and acquainted with soap and water; they were slowly learning English, not to the superseding of the native tongue but to the supplementing of it, bilingualism being the proper present goal of the Yukon Indians.
Let me return to the figure of darkness and light, and I think any reader will agree that it may be used with full sincerity. On one side of the slough, the gloom and grime of underground chambers, the walls and floor saturated with filth and infested not only with body parasites but with the accumulated germs of all manner of diseases, the heavy air reeking with ancient fish and mildew; minds still cringing in terror before the senseless jabber of sorcery, apprehensive at every turn of some ghostly evil to be practiced upon them; children with matted hair and old impacted dirt running about in greasy rags never taken off day or night from the time they are put on until they fall off by their own disintegration of decay. On the other side--the church and schoolhouse side--new log cabins with doors and windows, even a little paint showing here and there; potatoes and turnips and cabbages growing behind a picket fence; children, I will not say clean children, as though any such miracle were possible, but children periodically cleaned, regularly washed and their clothes regularly washed, children that go to school each day with shining faces and combed hair; parents with a new gleam and a new confidence in their eyes, even a new pride in their port, the crushing weight of the old spiritual tyranny thrown off, a new dignity of manhood coming with the new freedom and faith and hope. There seems no extravagance, no perfunctoriness in the use of the figure.
I would not imply that there were no halftones, no gradation in the contrast, that the change was always so decisive. I would not imply that there was no Mr. Facing-both-ways, no Pliable, no Littlefaith amongst them--"that helpful set John Bunyan met in Charles the Second's reign." The observer of primitive peoples is of course first struck with their difference from civilized peoples, but after awhile the points of diversity cease to make the strongest impressions and the points of similarity stand out, until at last what strikes most forcibly is the entire identity, so far as fundamental traits of human nature are concerned, between the two. And this is why Christian experience anywhere is, when justly interpreted, valuable anywhere else; why the lessons of missions in one land fortify the wise missionary in another, though ever so remote; why the Bible has its appeal without any bounds of race or region; why Bedford gaol touches the Yukon. But there were also those in whom the change was open and pronounced and whose daily life bore evidence of their regenerated spirits.
Miss Bertha Sabine, afterwards set apart as deaconess and better known as Sister Bertha, had already begun the twenty years' work as teacher and Biblewoman which has given her distinction even amongst the devoted women of the Alaskan mission. The "carpenter who knew something of pharmacy" had served and gone, the buildings testifying to his capacity as an artificer at any rate. A female physician, Dr. Mary Glenton, had also come and gone, and to this day has never been replaced. We had a physician at Anvik for two years, whereas we should have had one for thirty. But only those who have sought for medical missionaries know how terribly scarce they are, scarce as pearls, and almost as many empty shells are brought up in the search as the pearl-diver finds. But how precious a jewel he is when found!
Mr. Chapman had also long since gone out and married and returned, and the delights of domestic and family happiness ameliorated the loneliness and hardship of his situation.
It was not possible for the Bishop to visit Point Hope on this memorable first journey; it is not to this day possible to visit the missions of the interior in the same season that Point Hope is visited owing to the shortness of the summer and the lack of means of transport. Yet what a change Mr. Chapman had already seen in the traffic of the country! Most people at all cognizant of these matters date steamboat activity on the Yukon from the Klondike stampede, but the discoveries in the neighbourhood of Circle City had already given a great impulse to navigation. When the mission at Anvik was started, even when Mr. Prevost went to Fort Adams, one boat a year made a round trip between St. Michael and Fortymile. But in this year thirty steam-driven craft, large and small, public and private, went up the Yukon--and the historic "rush" to the Klondike was yet to take place. The old order had passed.
And things began to move so fast in interior Alaska and on the southeastern and southwestern coasts that not for three years more was the Bishop able to visit the remote Eskimo mission at Point Hope.