National Geographic : 1952 Jul
Sitka's Warehouses Stand on Tiptoe High above Tide and Fishing Fleet Former capital of Russian America, Sitka became Alaska's capital under the Stars and Stripes, but later yielded the honor to Juneau. Base of 650 boats, the port annually clears a salmon and halibut catch worth $1,000,000. It is the home of the Presbyterians' Sheldon Jackson Junior College, whose 74 years make it Alaska's senior educational institution. Ship's officers here conn North Star up the channel. Most villagers are descended from an old Scot who jumped ship in the Aleutians before the Civil War, married an Attu native, and lived in Akutan for 60 years. His oldest son is postmaster. His wife brought her people's fine art of basketry to Akutan. I asked the last surviving basketmaker why she didn't teach others to carry on the art. "Oh, these modern children don't have the patience to split a thin blade of grass three ways with fingernail to weave fine basket," she said. Like firewater to the Indians, drink has been a curse to the Aleuts. "Now we impose a fine of $25 for drunken ness," the Aleut chief explained. "Up in King Cove a villager is fined $50 for being drunk, council members $100, and the chief $150. "It pays off. Energies and money are diverted to useful activities. In the past two years, with the help of our teacher, we've built seven new houses and many new boats." Ash-throwing Akutan Peak lifts its 1 a-mile wide crater just eight miles away. It has been responsible for a lot of insomnia in the village. Residents wonder when it will blow its top. Some families have moved away.* Bering Sea, Broad but Shallow Out of Akutan bound north, I noted a dif ferent behavior of the ship. Although the winds lashed Bering Sea and buffeted the sooty brown goonies, or black-footed albatrosses, riding astern on stiffened wings, the North Star did not roll as she had in the Pacific. * See "Exploring Aleutian Volcanoes," by G. D . Robinson, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, October, 1948.