National Geographic : 1951 Apr
551 American Eskimos, Three Miles from Russia, Skid a Skin Boat into the Boundary Channel Since the glacial age the Diomedes, two islands in the Bering Strait, have served as steppingstones between Asia and America. In 1867 Russia sold Little Diomede to the United States, but retained Big Diomede, three miles away. Each island supports an Eskimo village. Their inhabitants scratch a living from sea and land by hunting whales, walruses, seals, bears, and foxes. Little Diomede families, living closer to Siberia than to Alaska, used to trade with their Russian neighbors. Soviet and American citizens, oblivious of passports and politics, commuted between the islands; they intermarried. United States cigarettes, tea, flour, and sugar bought Siberian furs and walrus-tusk ivory. During the summer of 1948 a little Iron Curtain was clamped down in Bering Strait. Russian soldiers impris oned 18 Little Diomede traders visiting Big Diomede. For 52 days the captives existed on black bread and watery soup while Soviet officers questioned them about Alaskan defenses. Released, they returned home starving. Hunters and youngsters here slide an umiak down to the channel facing snow-flecked Big Diomede. Their walrus-hide boat shows two changes in the last 2,000 years: steam-bent hardwood ribs and outboard motor. Once out of water, the umiak will be placed on a rack to dry out lest soggy skins rot (page 559).