National Geographic : 1952 Jul
58 A National Geographic Map Alaska, Defender of the North Pacific, Thrusts a Rugged Fist Toward Siberia Sparse roads and the single main railroad point up the disparity between Alaska's population and size about 128,000 people in a territory larger than Texas, California, and Montana combined. Tough terrain and bad weather, which hinder defense, equally discourage aggression. Aboard the North Star the author visited Eskimo outposts along the west coast. Inset shows how Fairbanks sits 4,100 air miles from Moscow. Williwaws poured down the leeward slopes and swept the harbor with hurricane fury. The whirling winds raised misty waterspouts. Aleuts a Sadly Depleted Race During the years the Russians occupied Alaska, they enslaved the friendly Aleuts to pursue sea otter and fur seals; the European masters almost exterminated all three. On the far-flung Aleutians, where formerly some 20,000 to 25,000 Aleuts ventured joy ously through rough seas in graceful bidarkas - boats of stretched skins-sea birds rise in clouds from once-populous islands. The Aleuts now number only about 1,200, according to recent estimates cited by the Alaska Native Service at Juneau. After filling our water tanks, we sailed from Dutch Harbor for Akutan, pulling away from the last wharf we were to touch until our return, 7,000 logged miles later. Sheer cliffs rising from the restless tides presented the most dramatic scenery of the voyage. We anchored in Akutan Bay at twilight. The village perches on a narrow beach at the foot of a mountain. It was easy to see in what esteem the returning teachers were held by the way most of the 80-odd inhabitants swarmed out in boats to greet them. All but the girls. "They are so shy," said our teacher friend, "that they are probably up on the mountainside peeking around rocks." This hamlet is the only one left of seven original villages on Akutan Island. The local whaling station closed down in 1938, but the men find seasonal work in canneries, fur seal ing on the Pribilofs, dragging for king crabs in Bering Sea, and salting cod.