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Historical Event

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September 4, 1741

Short Description:




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Russians aboard the St. Peter visit the Aleutian inlands and meet the native people there for the first time. A scientist named Steller records their characteristics and describes the encounter - in which brandy and tobacco were offered to the Aleuts while a piece of whale blubber was offered to the Russians.





Arctic Passage - First Scientist of the Bering Sea


Important Text:

On September 4, while the St. Peter was attempting to continue its

western course against a persistent wind, the Russians encountered their

first Americans. Two natives in kayaks paddled toward the ship, shouting

as they came. No one on board the St. Peter could understand what the

natives were saying, but the Americans gestured toward the land, pointed

to their mouths and scooped up sea water with their hands to indicate an

offering of refreshment to the Russians. The Russians tied two Chinese

tobacco pipes and some glass beads to a piece of board and launched it

toward the closest kayak. In turn, one of the Aleuts tied a dead falcon to a

stick and passed it to a Koriak aboard the St. Peter. Apparently the Aleut

wanted the Russians to place other gifts between the bird's claws and

return the falcon on the stick, but instead, the Koriak tried to pull the

Aleut closer and, in alarm, the Americans released the stick.

A boat was lowered from the St. Peter for a shore party. Steller,

Waxell, the Koriak interpreter, and several seamen rowed to the beach. A

landing on the rocky shore was impossible; so three of the boat party

undressed and waded ashore to be greeted by friendly Aleuts-

natives of the Aleutian Islands- who presented a piece of whale blubber. 

One Aleut was bold enough to paddle out to the St. Peter and was given a cup of brandy. which he downed, then hurriedly spat out. Brandy not being well received, the Russians offered their second most prized delicacy, a lighted pipe. This, too, was rejected. 

On the beach the Aleuts were quite taken with the Koriak

interpreter, presumably boccause his features resembled their own. As the

Russians prepared to return to the St. Peter some of the Americans held on

 to the Koriak, and others tried to haul the boat ashore. This

confrontation between Americans and Russians was a classic case of

mutual distrust and misunderstanding and was resolved by the classic 

method a show of superior force. Three of the boat crew fired their

muskets over the heads of the Aleuts, who swiftly released Koriak and

boat and threw themselves on the ground. The Russians dashed to the

water. The first test of strength was concluded. All the elements of the

future subjection of the Americans by their eastern neighbors had passed

in review. Tobacco and liquor had made their initial appearance. The first

echoes of the firearms soon to enslave a free people resounded from the

hills. Both peoples were disappointed and frustrated by the events: the

Russians because "we had not been able to observe what we had intended

but on the other hand had met what we had not expected"; the Aleuts

because, apparently, their intentions had been misunderstood. 25 The

Russians laughed at the Aleuts' consternation as they picked themselves

up "and waved their hands to us to be off quickly as they did not want us

any longer." 26 These laughs of derision and the futile waving of the

Aleuts were significant characterizations of the respective assertions of

the two peoples. History was to demonstrate that the Aleuts were no

match for the aggressive Russians. Yet waving the Russians away would

not banish them. This first contact was a prelude and a brief but

prophetic introduction to the subsequent bloody incidents that were to

occur in the conquest of the Bering Sea.

Steller, accustomed to moralizing on his own endeavors and those of

his companions, did not indulge in any reflections on the future of the

Aleuts, though he made a close observation of their physical appearance,

"They are of medium stature, strong and stocky, yet fairly well

proportioned, and with very fleshy arms and legs. The hair of the head is

glossy black and hangs straight down all around the head. The face is

brownish, a litle flat and concave. The nose is also flattened, though not

particularly broad or large. The eyes are as black as coals, the lips 

prominent and turned up. In addition they have short necks, broad

shoulders, and their body is plump though not big-bellied." 27

The Aleuts wore what Steller guessed to be "whale-gut shirts with

sleeves, very neatly sewed together, which reach to the calf of the leg.

Some had skin boots and trousers and carried iron knives. Steller

speculated on the probability that the Americans knew the craft of

metalworking. He also described the Aleut kayak, noting its resemblance

to those of Greenland Eskimos.

"The American boats are about two

fathoms long, two feet high, and two feet wide on the deck, pointed

towards the nose but truncate and smooth in the rear." 29 The boats had a

frame construction covered with skins and a manhole which could be

made watertight. To this circular hole was attached a strip of material

which could be "tightened or loosened like a purse. When the American

has sat down in his boat and stretched his legs under the deck, he draws

this hem together around his body and fastens it with a bowknot in order

to prevent any water from getting in." 30

Steller did not believe that the Aleuts made their homes on the

islands. He had not yet observed any of their dwellings and assumed that

they only visited the wind-swept islands on hunting forays from the

mainland. He also speculated on the origins of the Americans, noting

their physical similarities to Siberian peoples, which suggested an Asiatic


Topics: (click image to open)

Man The Fat Hunter
Man is a lipivore - hunting and preferring the fattiest meats they can find. When satisifed with fat, they will want little else.
Human Predatory Pattern
Killing animals larger in weight than humans - a rare occurrence for carnivores. Generally means hunting mammoths and other large fat megafauna.
Pre-civilization races
The Inuit lived for as long as 10,000 years in the far north of Canada, Alaska, and Greenland and likely come from Mongolian Bering-Strait travelers. They ate an all-meat diet of seal, whale, caribou, musk ox, fish, birds, and eggs. Their nutritional transition to civilized plant foods spelled their health demise.
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