National Geographic : 1942 Dec
Riddle of the Aleutians Official Photograph U. S. Navy All Hands Rally round a Letter from Home-Best Tonic for Morale Hollywood art is another "pick-me-up" for sagging spirits. Mail from the States cheers these Marines manning a pillbox at vital Dutch Harbor, jumping-off-place for United States attacks against Japan. separates it from Amaknak Island. Here Dutch Harbor, with the U. S. naval air sta tion, is located. In my month's stay I gath ered two or three hundred specimens of Aleu tian flora, making my way over the mountain ous country, sometimes through vegetation breast-high. Mountains surround the little village, dis tinguished for its big white Russian church. There are few trails and no roads. The island was almost as much an unexplored wilderness as when Father John Veniaminov, one of the first Russian missionaries, wandered on its heights, teaching Nature lore to his children. The Russian regime of more than a century ended in 1867, when Alaska was sold to the United States. The valuable furs of the seal and the sea otter originally attracted Russian traders, and later settlers brought Christianity. In Bering's time the number of Aleuts was less than 20,000. There are fewer than 1,400 of them now. Beyond Unalaska, except for some islands utilized as fox farms, there are only three inhabited islands, Umnak, Atka, and Attu, but each has its little Russian church, visited from time to time by the Rus sian priest who has his principal station on Unalaska. There services are held in a big church which has replaced one Father John built in 1824 with his own hands. This remarkable man came from Irkutsk in 1823 with his wife, his year-old son, an aged mother, and a brother. After traveling more than 600 miles across the wilds of Siberia on horseback, the party set sail for Unalaska. There Father John, who was a skillful car penter, began building his church. He also translated the liturgy of the Greek Church and the Gospels into Aleutian. "Of all the good qualities of the Aleuts," he records, "nothing gave me more pleasure and satisfied my heart than the diligence they had for listening, or more properly the thirst they had for hearing the Word of God, for a most untiring preacher could become weary sooner than their diligence become lessened."