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Alaska and the Yukon, 1890

Arctic & Northern History

Victoria Daily Times Tuesday, October 28, 1890.

The Victoria Daily Times, Tuesday, October 28, 1890.

AGRICULTURE IN ALASKA, 1890. Governor Knapp Tells What Can be Raised
There - Legislation About Land Laws.

    Hon. Lyman E. Knapp, the affable and cordial Governor of Alaska, has been interviewed by a reporter.

    When asked about the agricultural advantages and availabilities of Alaska, Governor Knapp replied: "Agriculture in Alaska is as yet only a matter of theory. Very little has been done in the way of agricultural pursuits. Special farming, like cultivation of roots, berries, and the keeping of dairies for local demand has proven very advantageous. The climate is too cold and wet for the cultivation of grains. Furthermore clearing is too difficult for rapid development of the country, and even if our experiments should prove successful we should have no markets for our produce.

    "The potatoes, cauliflowers, onions and turnips raised in Alaska are the finest I have seen anywhere. We had some cauliflowers that we intended to send to the Spokane Falls exposition, but our poor transportation facilities prohibited us from doing so.

    "Alaska abounds in berries. Along the Chilcat river, the Yakuat river, Prince William's sound and on Corak island fine and good strawberries are raised in abundance. Our cranberries are smaller than those raised in the States, but excel them in flavor. We have a kind of berry called the salmon berry, which is similar to your raspberry but larger. Our blackberries are not by any means like the eastern blackberries. They are similar to the blueberries, but a little more tart and probably are a variety of the blackberries.

    "Timothy grows fine. The great drawback is the weather, which does not allow us to cure the grass. Cattle live out-doors without being fed except during winter, when it is extraordinarily cold. The snowfall is light and the winters are not severe. In Sitka the thermometer has been down to zero only once in 46 years. Last year it reached four degrees above zero one night.

    "The product of roots and vegetables does not yet supply the local market. The interior of Alaska has, in my opinion, great possibilities as regards agriculture. The climate is not as wet as it is along the coast, but private enterprise cannot afford to experiment with it. The government should take some steps to solve the question.

    "Mr. Chapman, the Presbyterian missionary at Aurik, which lies 200 miles up the Yukon river, wrote to me that he had sown some grain and had found that it ripened."

    "What are the land laws of Alaska, Mr. Governor?"

    "Well, on the 8th day of January last, Senator Platt of Connecticut introduced in the United States senate a bill, which provides for the acquisition of land by purchase and for the establishment of townsites. This bill passed the senate with some amendments and was sent to the house. One of these amendments, preserves the homestead right and provides for a partial survey. Another amendment provides that the capital be changed from Sitka to Juneau, and that certain islands be reserved for the use of certain Indian tribes. This last amendment met with considerable opposition in the house. The bill was returned trom the house to the senate and referred to a committee, where it now pends.

    "I feel certain that the senate will not allow the reservation of some of these islands."

    "How far up is the Yukon river navigable?"

    "You can get up the Yukon 1600 miles by large steamers, but in small boats you may go from Lake Lindeman clear down to the mouth of the river, a distance of some 3000 miles. Tourists who have undertaken the journey tell me that they had a delightful trip. Lake Lindeman lies about 118 miles from Juneau, and it is in common parlance called the head waters of the Yukon. In order to reach Lake Lindeman it is necessary to to cross the Chilcat pass, a very steep mountain. The Indians who live here have made a good income by carrying the necessities of tourists across the pass. They have monopolized the packing business. and woe to him who tries to buck against the monopoly. And strong fellows they are, too. Each of them can carry 100 pounds on his back, while the tourist has all he can attend to in order to get across alive and without broken limbs."

    "How many Indian villages are there in Alaska?"

    "There are 300 named villages, besides many unnamed."

    "How do the Indians live?"

    "They live in large huts, with a large aperture in the roof for the emission of the smoke and for ventilation, for they are very filthy. In Sitka there are 1200 inhabitants and only 90 huts."

    "When do you leave for Sitka?" I shall return to Sitka on the 19th day of November."