Aleut - Century of Servitude: Aleuts & the Reign of the Treasury Agent

Century of Servitude

Chapter 2. The Reign of the Tresury Agent, 1870-1889

At Congressional hearings in 1888 to investigate the Alaska Commercial Company, Treasury Department agents repeatedly asserted their sovereignty over the Pribilof Aleuts. Here are some examples.

I am the representative of the Government.... The agents have absolute control of the natives.... The Government Agents are required to see that the natives are kept in subjection* [emphases added] and that they perform their duties toward the lessee.1

The Government agent is a sovereign there and his word is law.2

I issued an order - there the agent is supreme ruler and when an agent issues orders, they are generally obeyed promptly.3

Supreme rulers, sovereigns - how did such domination come to pass? Not a single word appeared in either the 1870 Act to Prevent the Extermination of Fur Seals or in the lease to the Alaska Commercial Company that even hinted at dictatorial powers for the agents or for any representatives of the government or the company. On the contrary, the legislation required the Secretary of the Treasury "to make all needful rules and regulations . . for the comfort, maintenance, education, and protection of the natives of said islands."4 Yet, autocratic rule by Treasury agents emerged as the dominant mode of interaction with Aleuts. This pattern was given impetus and shape by a confluence of forces - the characteristics of the administering institution, the priorities it set, and prevailing national attitudes about Indians and Indian welfare - which will become clear as we trace developments on the islands.

The 1870 Act contained three primary objectives as well as the means to achieve them: (1) to protect the seals, it established the Pribilofs as a permanent government reservation, the country's first national wildlife refuge; (2) to advance commercial interests and bring money into the Treasury, it granted an exclusive private lease to the seal fishery from which the federal treasury was to receive annual rent and royalties; and (3) to provide for the Aleuts' comfort, maintenance, education, and protection, it created a government protectorate for the residents of the islands.5 Money, seals, and Aleut welfare - these were the main goals of the federal program on the Pribilofs.

The lease required the Alaska Commercial Company to foster these aims. It granted the company exclusive property rights to seals for twenty years in exchange for an annual rent to the Treasury of $55,000 and a royalty of $2.625 on every seal taken. It required the company to observe conservation regulations including a 100,000 annual limit on seal harvests,6 and to provide for the physical and moral well-being of Aleuts by paying sealers a wage (to be determined by the company), establishing schools, and furnishing supplies - cordwood, salted salmon, and salt and barrels for preserving seal meaty The company voluntarily assumed two additional obligations - rent-free houses and free medical care.8

The company administered the Pribilof operation from its San Francisco office. Its field manager on the Pribilofs, directly responsible to the San Francisco-based superintendent, had general charge of affairs on both islands including supervision of the other nine employees (teachers, physicians, cooks, carpenters). The company provided employees with very explicit, detailed rules and regulations about every phase of the enterprise. By and large, it adopted liberal labor-management policies. These were, of course, in management's interest since company profits hinged directly on an available and presumably satisfied Aleut work force. The company set the Aleuts' rate of pay at 40 cents per seal skin, similar to the rate in the immediately preceding period when Aleuts were selling skins competitively. It assumed support for widows and orphans. And most important, it protected Aleuts' political integrity by instructing its employees to observe the chief's authority in organizing work parties, use no coercion in getting people to labor, and refrain from interfering in the local government or domestic relations of the people.9

The Treasury Department administered the islands from Washington, D.C. Its field agents were directly responsible to the Secretary of the Treasury. Staff on the islands included an agent in charge and three assistant agents. The agent in charge was responsible for supervising the others as well as administering St. Paul. Another agent was in charge of St. George, and the rest assisted the administrators, taking over in their absences from the islands. In contrast to the company, the Treasury Secretary issued virtually no instructions to agents, especially about the human resource management aspects of the program. In the 1888 Congressional hearings, agents complained bitterly about this vacuum.

A: I went there without instructions whatever with the exception of what Senator Voorhees gave me: "Determine to do your whole duty." That was all my instruction.

Q: Did you get any from the Department?
A: None whatever. The surrounding circumstances would dictate what a man's duty would be. 10

Q: Are there any regulations by the Treasury Department for the guidance of the Government agents on those islands?

A: I do not think there are. I never saw any.11

Q: Have you ever been furnished with regulations by the Secretary of the Treasury?

A: . . . the only instructions that I had while I was there was that of Secretary Boutwell, calling attention to the quass* business and to stop giving the natives sugar. . .

Q: This lease was entered into on the 3d of August, 1870, and I understood you to say you have no knowledge of any such rules or regulations made by the Secretary of the Treasury having been furnished?

A: No sir, The rule is supposed to be made by his agents; he has never made any.12

* * * *

A: I landed on St. George Island first . . . remained there a short time . . . and then proceeded to St. Paul Island, and without any positive instructions from the Treasury Department, except in a general way . . . I did not know where the seal islands were . . . neither did I know what my duties would be.13

Q: Did you have any instructions from the Treasury Department?

A: No sir, I had none. When I left, I had some idea of matters up there and asked the Secretary about instructions, and he asked me to write my own instructions.14

This seems like shocking neglect of federal responsibility. Why, one wonders, did the Secretary not only fail to issue guidelines in the first place but turn a deaf ear when agents requested them? Aleut welfare was an explicit goal of the Pribilof program, and managers tended to see it as interdependent with the other two program objectives - money and seals.

In this matter all interests are identical. The government has its obligations to the people and desires also to continue its present revenue from the seal islands. The lessees need the help of the natives to properly prosecute their work according to the contract. The people need watchful care and guidance to strengthen them to resist temptations that assail a people just emerging from an inferior state.15

This sentiment, that each party depends on and benefits from the participation of the other, was expressed repeatedly in the 1888 Congressional hearings. One official even suggested that Aleuts would suffer from an insufficient supply of seal meat, their main staple, without the conservation and management efforts of the company and the government (and this was said at a time when the seals were in sharp decline).16

Yet, although recognizing the interdependence of their objectives, managers did not give them equal weight. Money and seals came first and were usually stated in that order.17 This was not by accident. The Secretary of the Treasury in 1876 Congressional hearings went so far as to define the government's interests in the Pribilofs as distinct from the Aleuts' welfare.

Q: You received the agents' reports?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: Were they satisfactory?

A: I have no recollection to the contrary except in this one particular, some corn plaint about wood; and a complaint came to me in regard to one of their (com pany) men, Dr. McIntyre, that he was disposed not to concede to the natives. It did not touch the interests of the government directly . . . but it touched the rights of the natives in some respects.18

From the beginning, the prevailing sentiment in the Pribilof management system was clear. What was good for the company and the government was good for the Aleuts, and that, indeed, Aleuts' welfare directly depended on the profitability of the seal harvest. With this assumption, federal officials could, with a clear conscience, concentrate on the seals and forget about the people.

Furthermore, neglect of welfare responsibilities was not unusual in a period when social welfare ideas were poorly developed. For the most part, human welfare was equated with physical survival, and the lease assured that. Even in terms of prevailing ideas about Indian welfare, the Secretary probably believed he was fulfilling his obligation. In the conventional view, Indians were savages, uncivilized, "just emerging from an inferior state," and their only salvation lay in American education and conversion to Christianity. The Russians had already accomplished the religious conversion and the company was providing schools.

Another probable influence prompting the Secretary's inaction on guidelines was the very newness of the Pribilof management organization. Bureaucratic rules and routines evolve from experience, and new organizations characteristically adopt loose policies and structures to give managers time to become familiar with alternative strategies and tactics as they watch and assess the actions of front-line staff. A recent study of the careers of organizations showed that new organizations typically have a broad focus and undefined roles, functions, and lines of authority in addition to a general lack of predictability. As organizations orient to long-term goals and internal stability, they become increasingly structured and routinized. 19

In any case, agents were given wide latitude to write their own rules, so it is important to know who these agents were, what backgrounds and qualifications they had. Curiously, though seal conservation was essential to the Department's main economic goal, it did not hire naturalists as agents. Judging by the diversity of agents' backgrounds, the Department specified no qualifications at all. A sample of early agents illustrates this: it includes a member of the Massachusetts legislature and former whaling captain, a Russian-speaking clerk in the Treasury Department, a physician, a judge, two army officers, a future editor of the Pittsburgh Press, a clerk in the Illinois legislature, and a former mayor of Indianapolis - a relatively eminent group.20

At first glance one wonders why these relatively high-status, welltrained persons would want jobs on the remote Pribilof Islands? Their high salary level suggests an answer. The agent in charge earned $10 a day; an assistant agent, $8; and the other two assistants, $6.21 By contrast, the average income of United States workers (all industries) in 1870 was only $1.70 a day (for a five-and-a-half-day week). 22 The job was a political plum and undoubtedly was secured on that basis in a period wnen the patronage system was very popular. In addition to high wages, agents' jobs offered a singularly high level of power and responsibility.

And how did these agents view the Aleuts? Did they perceive them in stereotyped Indian terms as savages, as uncivilized, as inferior? Or did they see them as equals and citizens? The issue of Aleut citizenship was murky. The Russian government had distinguished between two groups of natives - dependent and independent tribes; it granted citizenship only to the former, which included the Aleuts. The treaty ceding the territory to the United States contained a similar distinction - all Russian subjects automatically became United States citizens except members of the uncivilized tribes, but the treaty did not define the uncivilized tribes or the implied category of civilized ones.23 Most officials assumed that all Alaska natives, including the Aleuts, were uncivilized. There were a few exceptions to this interpretation: one by Vincent Colyer, special Indian Commissioner,24 another by the first I regular Treasury agent on the Pribilofs, Charles Bryant.

I cannot refuse a dire share of praise to the natural gifts of the Aleutian race, and I beg leave to express here my earnest belief that the Aleutes might become as good American citizens as any admitted under the fifteenth amendment to the constitution.25
Bryant was impressed with the Aleuts' capabilities: "They have a well organized system of government, under chiefs of their own selection, subject to removal at the will of the people.... Those now acting have done so for three years and are very efficient men."26 Expressing his respect for the Aleuts, Bryant had all pertinent material translated into Russian so the Aleuts could read it. He agitated (without success) for the dismissal of a St. George agent who abused the people.27 And he fought, also in vain, to secure Aleuts' title to their houses. Before the Alaska Commercial Company era, Aleuts lived in their traditional barabaras—partially underground sodand grass-covered houses.28 The Russians considered the barabaras quite acceptable and made no effort to move Aleuts from them.29 But the Americans, appalled at these "damp, insalubrious hovels," insisted that the Aleuts move to above-ground houses.30 The Aleuts resisted. Their centuries-old underground houses had evolved as an adaptation to a cold, windy climate in a treeless environment; they were convinced that they would be cold in the above-ground houses.31 But they had no choice. Company employees, with the support of Treasury agents, destroyed the barabaras. Though Bryant also favored the move to frame houses, he wanted Aleuts to have title to them, firmly convinced that the loss of home ownership would undermine their pride and independence. As the company planned to build the houses, Bryant asked its managers to give title to the Aleuts; the company refused outright. Then Bryant appealed to the Treasury Secretary to build the houses and arrange a form of repayment that would enable Aleuts to become home owners. 32 This plea also went unheard. The company furnished the materials for the houses, the Aleuts built them, and the company retained title. To this day Aleuts still don't own their homes although negotiations to transfer title to them are under way.

The image of Bryant advocating, supporting, and fighting for the Aleuts' causes differs strikingly from the authoritarian picture of agents presented earlier. And so it was at first, but in his six years as agent in charge of the islands, after repeated rejection of his efforts to help Aleuts, Bryant became discouraged and climbed on the bandwagon of agent suppression that apparently won Department approval. Bryant began to exercise increasing control over Aleuts' lives, even requiring them to report all community decisions to him for approval.33

Agents' increasing domination extended to all areas of Aleuts' lives— political, social, economic, and personal, but this did not seem to disturb federal officials who were preoccupied if not dazzled by the great financial returns from the seal industry.

The company's intensive promotion drive brought a substantial increase in the value of fur seal skins; the average price during the twenty years of its lease was three times greater than it had been in 1868. With a harvest of 100,000 seals a year selling at an average price of $14.67,34 the company was making money hand over fist - an estimated $20 million gross and $18 million net in this twenty-year period.35 The government's share was also impressive - a gross of $6 million and a net of over $5 million.36 Henry Elliott, a conservationist and expert on the Pribilof Islands, noted in 1877 that the gross revenues to the Treasury not only covered all management costs but were six times greater than the federal government's total outlay for all services and programs in Alaska. 37

Unusually high profits and revenues, these - and they could not be easily charged to over-exploitation of the Pribilof Aleut workers whose income during this twenty-year period compared favorably with that of other industrial workers (male, non-farm). We use this standard of comparison (here and in subsequent analyses) because Pribilovians' work resembled that of other male nonfarm production workers. By the time of the transfer, the Aleuts were skilled in selecting, driving, slaughtering, and skinning the seals l and had developed a division of labor accordingly. The harvest began very early in the day when, at the direction of the company supervisor, a few Aleut laborers would start the drive by running along the beach between the group of male seals and the sea. This served to isolate the seals, to awaken them, and to turn them away from escape to water. The workers then herded the seals slowly to convenient slaughter areas, and as they travelled, they allowed older seals and females to escape and return to the beach. Aleuts were especially skilled at recognizing the age and sex of seals. Next, Aleuts slaughtered the seals under direction of their chief, who was supervised by a company employee. At the killing ground, Aleuts clubbed seals in the head, stabbed them in the heart, and laid them out in order with the flippers cut loose for the skinner. Each operation was conducted by a different group of laborers, the clubbing and skinning by the most skilled and experienced, and the other jobs by the less skilled.

We estimated Aleuts' total income in terms of cash received for sealing, foxing, and occasional labor for the company and the government, as well as the goods and services provided by the company. Of all these sources, sealing was the major one, accounting for about 80 percent of Aleuts' total income.38 In the first decade of this period, Aleuts' average annual income was somewhat less, about 20 percent, than that of other industrial workers. But in the second decade, it was substantially higher, about 40 percent.39

The comparison is even more favorable if we consider that the Aleuts had access to subsistence products not available to most other workers. Elliott estimated an annual consumption of 600 pounds of seal meat per person on St. Paul. 40 The availability of seal meat and wages that compared to those of other workers do not bespeak affluence; however, the existence of savings accounts certainly suggests that Aleuts had surplus funds, funds not needed for basic necessities. The company paid Aleuts 4 percent interest on moneys deposited with it. By 1874 over half the Pribilof adults (over 17 years old) ' had savings accounts totalling more than $40,000, a considerable sum for that period.41

So the Aleuts were not impoverished in this period, furthermore, as the company paid them a competitive wage for labor performed, they enjoyed an economic status similar to that of other American workers. But that describes only part of the Aleuts' situation. Economic well-being involves more than physical survival and wage labor; it involves certain basic rights that were denied the Aleuts.

At first the company followed the Russians' practice of paying Aleuts' wages into a community fund to be distributed by the chief and priest (the priest was an Aleut) according to classifications which they determined.42 Treasury agents very quickly altered this system by appropriating authority to assign classes. Their reason: concern about favoritism in the chief's and priest's classifications.43 But more likely, as later events suggest, agents wanted the power to manipulate work classifications as a means of controling Aleuts' work behavior. The power to lower a worker's class and wage is a compelling sanction.

Agents also violated Aleuts' freedom in the use of their money. The company did not pay sealing wages directly to the Aleuts. After the shares were announced, the company deposited the money with its cashier, designating the amount of credit due each hunter. When a hunter needed money, he presented his passbook to the cashier and received silver in payment. Agents soon placed restraints on the amount of money a sealer could withdraw. They rationalized this infringement in terms of the need to stretch Aleuts' wages until the next sealing division.44 However, as with the work classifications, manipulation of Aleuts' access to their money proved to be another powerful weapon for controlling Aleuts' work behavior.

But why did agents need such control? Aleuts valued their sealing jobs and fought hard to perpetuate their monopoly on conducting the seal harvests (guaranteed in the 1870 legislation). Furthermore, there was no other significant source of employment on the islands. By and large, Aleuts worked willingly in the seal trade. They balked when it came to compulsory labor for government at no pay. Sealing took only a few months of the year. When the Aleuts were not sealing or working for the company, Treasury agents required them to work for the government. They paid them 10 cents an hour for construction and maintenance of government buildings, but this was an incidental part of Aleuts' labor for government. The major part, involving such things as rookery guarding, loading and unloading vessels, construction and maintenance of community facilities, was not paid.45

Agents were able to coerce Aleuts' labor by dint of their enormous sanctioning power extending beyond the manipulation of classifications and money withdrawals. When Aleuts refused to work, agents fined them, put them in irons, threatened them with exile, and in some cases, actually banished them from the islands. The daily logs of a St. Paul agent give a detailed account of the imposition of these sanctions.

Yesterday ordered men to go to H.W P. (Halfway Point) early this AM. if good water, if not good water on foot across the island and pick up wood in piles. This ASI. the men did not go so I called Antone (the chief) and ordered him to get them off at once. I waited an hour and they did not start nor did Antone report. So I rang the bell and called the people together at the shop. I then called out the men mentioned. . . I ordered Karp Buterin, second chief, to take the men over to East Landing and get them off in the boat. He came forward and ordered them to come. They turned their faces to the crowd and appealed to them. The crowd told them not to go. As near as I could learn, they refused to obey and the crowd let out a shout and said they would not go after wood, to all go to their houses. I then ordered the chiefs to bring the men to the Government House.... They came. I requested Mr. Gray (cashier) to come and give them their books and to let me know the amount due the men from the company. He gave me the amounts. I then asked Martin Nederazoff if he was ready to go after wood and obey my order, and he said "no"; I fined him $15. I asked Stepan the same, and he answered "no"; I fined him $15. I asked Kerrick Terakanoff, he said "no"; I fined him $20. I asked Neon Tetoff, he said "yes"; I did not fine him . . . and said I would put them in irons if they did not dry up. . . I then stood them in a line on the floor and told them they had to obey me or I would fine them every dollar they had, besides I had given Mr. Allis orders not to sell them wood or coal, and the end would be they would have to leave the island. Victor called and requested permission to go to H.W*P for wood and wanted, Peter, John and Nectary to go. I gave them permission and after some more talk the crowd in the Government House made up their minds better go. . . They all brought in large amounts of wood.46
In effect, while the company treated the Aleuts like other American workers, government agents treated them like Russian serfs in forcing them to labor without pay. It was the agents of a democratic government, not of a private profit-making company, that imposed this violation.

The government adopted other practices akin to serfdom, such as restricting Aleuts' movements to and from the islands. Technically, Aleuts were not confined to the islands, and the company observed a policy of offering free passage on its boats; but in practice, Aleuts could not leave or return to the islands without official permission. An agent's testimony on this issue is enlightening.

I heard only one complaint, and that was the chief told me there was some money coming to the natives from some former year . . . and wanted to go to San Francisco and settle. I told him that as far as I was concerned I had no objection to it, but I had to report to my superior officer, and if he had no objection to it, he could go. I reported to Mr. Glidden at the time, and he said that he could not give him any permission then, as he would have to report to the Treasury Department and get the permit.47
After a trip to the Aleutians, Alaska's Governor Swineford gave further evidence of restrictions on Aleuts' travel. Aleuts told him, he wrote in his 1887 report, that no one could leave the Pribilofs without Treasury Department permission. 48 The use of this restriction soon became codified in administrative regulations and persisted until World War II.

Similar violations of rights occurred in the political arena. The respect Bryant accorded the Aleuts' indigenous political system died rather quickly., Agents wanted chiefs who could compel their people's labor, not chiefs who joined the people in rebellion. To this end, they soon began to remove elected chiefs from office and appoint substitutes much to the Aleuts' distress. A St. Paul agent vividly described tne process of interference in chief, selection.

Anton Melovidov who was deprived of his office of first chief . . . having since then ! become a good and faithful man . . . in consideration of his good behavior and worth, appointed to their chief by the Treasury agent. The chiefs, Stephan and Volkoff were summoned to the company's office and with Mr. Gray for interpreter, were informed of Anton's appointment. They were instructed to inform him and the people that they might obey him as such. They both accepted the new appointee as satisfactory with them. Later in the day, however, Markel (Volkoff), the second chief, summoned the people together and posing as a champion of their rights, headed an opposition to Anton's appointment and asked for a pow-wow with the Treasury agents which was refused and the rule adopted to communicate with the people only through the chiefs was strictly enforced by the Treasury agents.

Markel was spokesman and did all that he could to force the Treasury agents from their position and grant his request for a pow-wow, which he had promised the people . . . failing to accomplish his purpose he offered his resignation as second chief which was promptly accepted. And Anton Melovidov was promoted to the vacancy. Terentia Stephan followed with his resignation as first chief stating he regretted to do so but the people forced him to the step because Markel resigned . . . His resignation was accepted and Anton Melovidov again promoted and made first chief. He assumed the duties at once without hesitation or fear of the people, all of whom said they would not mind him. Markel was informed that any disobedience of the people would be severely punished, the opposition to Anton was worked up by Markel and the church party, who are constantly scheming to control everything pertaining to the business of the Islands and this disaffection if it may be called such is encouraged and doubtless suggested by the Rev. Paul Shaisnikoff's advice to his people....49

By the end of the Alaska Commercial Company period, agents appropriated full authority to select chiefs: "Formerly the people elected (chiefs) but such abuses arose under the system that the government assumed the authority several years ago and has since continued to exercise it."50 And thus the agents of government, not of the company, sounded the death knell for the Aleuts' ancient chief system.

In earlier times Aleut chiefs had been responsible not only for organizing work parties and village activities but also for administering justice, a function they continued to perform in modified form under Russian administration. Treasury agents quickly changed this practice, assuming authority not only to write the laws but to act as police, investigator, prosecutor, judge, and jury. They observed little distinction between legally defined crimes such as drunkenness and other behavior. Rather, they lumped all behavior they considered undesirable into a single category of punishable crime. They punished behavior as seemingly trivial as sauciness.

Mr. Redpath (company manager) reported that Peter Krukoff was saucy to him. Peter was ordered to do some work and report to me.51


Complaint made about Widow Popoff being saucy to a passerby. I sent word to keep her mouth closed or I would let her live in some other part of town more out of the way. 52

Alleged immorality was a constant concern of agents:

Shortly after I got there . . . I called up the priest and the men and told them the state of affairs was very bad and they must correct it or that the government would send them to the Aleutian Islands to live on codfish; that this government could not afford to have such a black spot in existence.53
. . . I called his wife and she acknowledged she was bad and that he (husband) had told the truth and I got her to understand that she had got to do better if she remained upon this island, that this made three times her name appeared on the books. . . She laughed at me. I reached for the handcuffs and told her unless she was civil, I would iron her at once. . . I told her . . . and from now on until steamer St. Paul arrives she must be at her home at 8 p.m. every night and remain unless it was necessary to see the Doc that if she wanted to go and stay with neighbors, she must come with Metrofan and ask me. I have her to understand that she must obey me if she lives upon this island.54
Agents considered the manufacture and drinking of quass (home[ brewed beer and wine) the most stubborn and frequent Aleut misbehavior. Although alcohol was unknown in the Aleutians before the Russians introduced it, Aleuts readily adopted its use. The Russian fur hunters, themselves |topers, appeared to take no offense at Aleut drinking, nor did the priests; rather, Veniaminov was impressed that Aleut drinking was virtually never associated with crime or violence.
Over the period of ten years which I spent in Unalaska (the Unalaska District included the Pribilofs), there was not a single case of homicide or criminal assault among the Aleuts, not even any brawl or significant quarrel despite the fact that many of them were often in an intoxicated condition.55
It was a different story when the Americans came. Drunken Indians were not to be tolerated - on this issue the Department was unequivocal. Proahibition of the sale or gift of liquor to Aleuts was a lease condition and one of the few clearly specified instructions to agents. At first, agents lectured Aleuts about the evils of drinking. Later they used more stringent measures. They conducted investigations.
Mr. Gavitt (St. George agent) himself explained to me that he found the story of quass under the floor (of Aleuts' homes) was not true, by going to the houses and tearing up the carpet and opening the trap-door where it was supposed to be stored, and he found none secreted there.56
They assigned work as punishment. The first disturbance that my attention has been called to on this island came this morning. Aga Kushing complained that Matfay Popoff came to his residence . .drunk . . . and demanded of Kushing's wife some quass. She told him they had none, whereupon he struck her or at her, he then passed into the other room where Aga lay asleep. . . During the mellee they broke Aga's looking glass which cost $3.50. After hearing the case it was decided that Popof should pay for the looking glass . . . and in addition to that should bring ice from the lake to fill up the water (barrel) and tub at the Government house.57 They imposed fines.
There had been one occasion when three of them went aboard a vessel and got some (alcohol) from a cook. . . We had them up to the police court and tried and fined them $10 apiece.58
They used irons.
Kerric Tarakanoff on the street drunk. Called him to government house and put him in irons. . .59
They threatened and used exile.
In connection with this subject, I beg to refer . . . to the removal from the island June last of a young Russian named Nicholas Krukoff (Aleut from the Pribilofs). About that time a most disgraceful drunken debauche occurred on the island which was participated in by as many as thirty persons, which finally led to a severe affray among the party of young men, with whom appeared said Krukoff. . . He was accordingly placed on board the revenue cutter June 11, and subsequently landed at Unalaska, where the agent of the Alaska Commercial Company directed provision to be made for his support until such time as it might be deemed advisable to permit him to return to the islands.60
Punishments for drinking involved individuals as well as the entire community. The agent in 1881 instituted a village-wide ban on the sale of sugar, the chief ingredient of quass.61 Ten years later, there was also a communitywide prohibition against the sale of sugar; the agent pled for its removal because of the hardship it created for the families of drinkers.62

However severe the agents' punishments, the Aleuts refused to comply on this issue. It was as if they had to retain one area of life uncontaminated by agents' interference, one area where they could defy the encroaching power of agents. In recognition of the universality of this response among American Indians, anthropologist Nancy Lurie described Indian drinking as "the world's longest on-going protest demonstration."63

Like that of the Russian serf owners, agents' power was not limited to misbehavior and insubordination but extended to the Aleuts's private lives, to their very choice of marriage partners. The focus on promoting marriage sprang from Treasury administrators' concern about the rapidly declining population on the islands. From 1867 to 1889 the Pribilof Aleut population decreased by 28 percent. 64 Emigration was not a factor; there were twice as many moving to the community as leaving it in this period. The cause of the decline was the excess of deaths over births, not because the birth rate was low (it was considerably higher than that of the general population of the country) but because the death rate was alarmingly high, over three times the rate in Massachusetts (the only state that kept reliable death registration data at that time).65 One wonders why the high death rate in a period when the Aleuts were not impoverished and had access to medical care? Was it a response to agent totalitarianism with its accompanying demoralization? It is said that when Aleuts want to die, they simply do so. Was it a response to living for the first time in insufficiently heated houses? The barabaras were heated by small stone lamps burning seal oil, while the above-ground houses into which they were moved required coal or cordwood for heating, items that were often in short supply.66

Whatever the cause, management focused on marriage as the solution to the population decline. Believing that Church consanguinity regulations extending to the fourth and fifth degree of relationship reduced marriage chances on the islands, agents tried to convince the priest to liberalize these restrictions as one means of stimulating reproduction. In another effort agents, supported by the Washington office, induced men to go to other villages for wives, threatening punishments such as banishments if they refused to go. Listen to this entry in an agents' daily log.

Alex Galaktionoff . . . goes to St. George to find a wife and with the distinct understanding that he is to find one before returning. If he gets married he is to return next spring - if not he is to seal over there.67
Agent coercion reared its head in the education area too. Aleuts had no formal system of education until the Russian Orthodox church organized schools. In the 1830s Father Veniaminov started schools for both boys and girls in the Pribilofs, teaching the Russian language to aid his conversion goals and also teaching the Aleut language, for which task he codified the language and composed a grammar, dictionary, primers, and other books.68 Veniaminov admired the rapidity with which Aleuts became literate and bilingual. 69 They were quick learners in many areas. Some became noted as chess players, and some, educated in Russia, became doctors and navigators. Aleuts placed high value on the Russian Orthodox church, to which they converted en masse, and Russian education, both of which came to be vital symbols of their cultural identity. 70

In conformity with the lease, the company started American schools in both villages. 71 Bryant was impressed with the St. Paul Aleuts' enthusiastic response: "all manifested great interest in learning the English language, and made good progress." 72 The St. George agent made a similar observation: "They are making rapid progress and feel anxious to learn the English language. Even men who have advanced to the age of 30 and 40 attend school."73

This educational honeymoon was short-lived. By 1873 agents began to complain about increasing Aleut resistance to the American schools, stemming from parents' fear that "in learning English their children will forget their Russian and weaken their attachment to the church."74 Aleuts resisted not learning English per se but the low priority agents placed on Russian education. The priests were allowed to teach Russian school only after the eight-month American school session ended. By 1873 the school population had dwindled to just a few students.75

Education was one of the few areas of people management that commanded federal administrators' attention, even to the point of issuing explicit instructions to agents to compel Aleuts' school attendance. With this mandate, agents applied increasing pressure; they hit children and incarcerated both parents and children. An agents' daily log entry gives a vivid account of these pressures.

On the fourth day after, he, Mr. McIntyre (Treasury agent), took him (a father who refused to send his son to the American school) from his house, put handcuffs on, and lodged him in the cellar of the company's house, a very cold, damp place, and kept him four days on bread and water, and during all this time the son had been confined in a dark closet in the company's house and kept on bread and water.76
These punishments, as humiliating and intimidating as they were, did not by themselves effect the Aleuts' compliance but the imposition of fines did. Agents began to fine parents for every day a child was absent. Continued resistence by Aleuts threatened their very livelihood and they submitted, but covert resistance to the schools, manifested in a refusal to learn, continued for many years.

Compulsory education was a liberal nineteenth-century reform. The irony was that so many working-class groups resisted it - European immigrants as well as Aleuts and Indians, and probably for the same reasons. Education is always a process of teaching a culture, of transmitting a language, values, and world view. To culturally alien groups, to the Aleuts as well as the immigrants, American education wrenched children from the language and influence of their parents; it was a threat to family and community continuity and solidarity. Enforcing school attendance was not always an issue. In a recent book on early school reform, Katz argues that enforcement be came an issue in Massachusetts because industry needed a docile (immigrant) labor force.77 The same could be argued in the Pribilof case.

We asked at the outset of this chapter how agents achieved sovereign power over the Pribilof Aleuts. They had a chance for despotic rule and they took it, with the support of the Washington office. Top managers' complicity cannot be excused on the basis of ignorance; they had access to the daily logs, correspondence, and reports that revealed agents' activities. By action or inaction, by silence or approval, by covert or overt means, managers supported the development of a politically repressive system on the Pribilofs, reflecting their dominant interest in economic, not humanitarian, goals. Moreover, they faced virtually no pressure to protect Aleuts' welfare and rights. Legislators certainly exerted none, although they were also aware of human abuses on the islands, abuses that were repeatedly mentioned in the 1876 and 1888 Congressional hearings. In response to most such revelations, legislators often changed the subject or called a recess;78 they too seemed to consider the human condition peripheral to the Pribilof mission. Company managers also maintained silence about Treasury agents' excesses, probably because they did not want to hurt their chance for a lease renewal by offending government officials. Without counteracting pressure from any sources, agents, with the support of the federal government, could and did establish a form of totalitarian rule. It is important to underline that in a period of steamrolling exploitation of workers by private industry, it was the government, not the private company, that established the serf-like features of labor relations in the Pribilofs - restrictions on travel and forced labor; it was the government, not the private company, that promoted political domination of Aleuts; it was the government, not the private company, that supported and encouraged agent totalitarianism in the Pribilofs.


1. U.S. Congress, House, Fur Seal Fisheries of Alaska, H. Rpt. No. 3883,50th Cong., 2nd sess., 1889, p. 153.

2. Ibid., p. 86.

3. Ibid., pp. 18-19.

4.16 Stat. 180 (July 1, 1870).

5. Ibid.

6. Conservation regulations also prohibited the use of firearms, the taking of female seals, and the taking of male seals under one year of age.

7. U.S. Congress, House, Seal Fisheries of Alaska, H. Exec. Doc. No. 83, 44th Cong., 1st sess., 1875, pp. 21-22.

8. Ibid., p. 79.

9. Ibid., pp. 77-79.

10. Fur Seal Fisheries, H. Rpt. No. 3883, pp. 180-181.

11. Ibid., p. 227.

12. Ibid., p. 221.

13. Ibid., p. 42.

14. Ibid., p. 215.

15. Ibid., p. xxii.

16. Ibid., pp. xx, xxi.

17. Ibid., p. xxiii.

18. U.S. Congress, House, The Alaska Commercial Company, H. Rpt. No. 623, 44th Cong.,1st sess., 1876, p. 54.

19. William R. Rosengren, "The Careers of Clients and Organizations," in William R. Rosengren and Mark Lifton (eds.), Organizations and Clients: Essays in the Sociology of Service (Columbus, Ohio: Charles E. Merrill, 1970), pp.117-135.

20. References to the identity of the Treasury agents are scattered throughout Fur Seal Fisheries. H. Rpt. No. 3883.

21. Ibid., p. 223; Seal Fisheries, H. Exec. Doc. No. 83, p. 68.

22. George Rogers, An Economics Analysis of the Pribilof Islands, 1870-1946. Prepared for the Indian Claims Commission, Docket Nos. 352 and 369 (Fairbanks: University of Alaska, Institute of Social, Economic and Government Research, 1976), p. 181, Table A-3.

23. Treaty of Cession, Article II, March 30,1867. Copy appears in U.S. Con gress, House, Russian America, H. Exec. Doc. No. 177, 40th Cong., 2nd Sess.,1868,p. 5ff.

24. Vincent Colyer, Report of the Honorable Vincent Colyer, United States Special Indian Commissioner, on the Indian Tribes and Their Surroundings in Alaska Territory, from Personal Observation and Inspection 1869, H. Exec. Doc. No. 1414, 41st Cong., 2nd sess., 1869, p. 1032.

25. Seal Fisheries, H. Exec. Doc. No. 83, p. 40.

26 Ibid., pp.61.

27 Ibid., pp. 132-133; The Alaska Commercial Company, H. Rpt. No. 623, pp.101-103.

28. The Aleut barabaras housing single families, and yurts, housing several, were built close together. Around a shallow excavation, Aleuts built walls of stone or bone, banked on the outside with stones and matted grass. The yurts were entered through a hole in the top; and the barabaras, usually through a hole to one side. For warmth inside the dwellings, Aleuts stood or squatted over a small fire made of grass or over a bowl-shaped lamp in which the mossy wicks burned blubber. Ales Hrdlicka, The Aleutian and Commander Islands and their Inhabitants (Philadelphia: Wistar Institute, 1945), pp. 43-49.

29. Petr A. Tikhmenev, Historical Review of the Formation of the Russian-American Company and Its Activity up to the Present Time, Part I (St. Petersburg: St. Petersburg Printing Office of Edward Weimar, 1861), trans. Michael Dobrynin, p. 395. Available Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

30. Fur Seal Fisheries, H. Rpt. No. 3883, p. 5; Seal Fisheries, H. Exec. Doc. No. 83, pp. 62, 179; U.S. Treasury Department, Special Agents Division, Seal and Salmon Fisheries and General Resources of Alaska, 4 Vol. (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1898, vol. I. Reports on the Condition of Seal Life on the Pribilof Islands by Special Treasury Agents in Charge, and Others, From 1868 to 1895, Inclusive, p. 68.

31. Charles Bryant, "On the Fur Seal Islands, " The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, 39 (November 1889 to April 1890, Inclusive): 904.

32; Seal Fisheries, H. Exec. Doc. No. 83, pp. 62, 100.

33. The Alaska Commercial Company, H. Rpt. No. 623, p. 101.

34. "Mixed Fur Seal Records, Annual Reports, Pribilof Islands,1786-1960," Alaska Division, Record Group 22, Item 420, National Archives, Washington, D.C.

35. A large part of the company's financial records was lost in the San Francisco fire. Source for these estimates in Henry W. Elliott, July 29, 1910, published in U.S. Congress, House, Hearing before the Committee on Expenditures in the Department of Commerce and Labor, House of Representatives, on House Resolution No. 73 to Investigate the Fur Seal Industry of Alaska, No.14, 62nd Cong., 1st sess., 1911-1912, pp. 964-965.

36. Sources for these figures are: E.W. Sims, Report on Alaska Fur Seal Fisheries, H. Rpt. No. 251, 59th Cong., 2nd sess., 1906, p. 42; U.S. Congress, Senate, Fur-Seal Skin Sales, S. Doc. No. 213, 67th Cong., 2nd sess., April 20, 1922, p. 1; Fur Seal Fisheries, H. Rpt. No. 3883, p. 346; House Resolution No.73, May 31, June 2, 1911, p. 964.

37. Article in Harper's Monthly, November 1877, quoted in Ernest Gruening, The State of Alaska (New York: Random House, 1968), pp. 511-512.

38. Rogers, An Economic Analysis, pp. 35-36; Seal and Salmon Fisheries(vol. 1), pp. 118, 261.

39. Because of a regulation of prices on goods in the company store (a maximum mark up of 25 percent), there does not appear to be need to adjust the United States and Pribilof data to arrive at comparative prices or equal dollars. Rogers, An Economic Analysis, p. 47.

40. Henry W. Elliott, The Seal Islands of Alaska, Section IX, Monograph A, Tenth Census of the United States (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1881), p. 22.

41. Seal Fisheries, H. Exec. Doc. No. 83, p. 200.

42. Because of the decline in the Aleut population and work force and the company's need to secure a catch within the time allowed by law, the government imported workers from Unalaska to do work related to the seal har vest such as salting and loading the skins. The imported workers received no share of the Pribilof Aleuts' seal bonus. They were paid on a monthly rate ranging from $30 to $40 and received free board and room. Fur Seal Fisheries, H. Rpt. No. 3883, p. 156.

43. Ibid., pp. 22, 47, 253.

44. Ibid., p. xxvii.

45 Ibid., p. 47,282; Pribilof Islands Daily Log, St. Paul, October 25, 1887.

46. Pribilof Islands Daily Log, St. Paul, October 12,1888.

47. Fur Seal Fisheries, H. Rpt. No. 3883, p. 273.

48. Ibid., p. 410.

49. Pribilof Islands Daily Log, St. Paul, dune 10,1887.

50. Fur Seal Fisheries, H. Rpt. No. 3883, p. 335.

51. Pribilof Islands Daily Log, St. Paul, October 25,1888.

52. Ibid., October 21, 1888.

53. Fur Seal Fisheries, H. Rpt. No. 3883, p. 214.

54. Pribilof Islands Daily Log, St. Paul, February 8,1889.

55. Ivan E. Veniaminov, Notes on the Islands of the Unalaska District, Vol. 2 (St. Petersburg,1840), trans. B. Keen and Assye Kardinelowska, pp. 54-55.

56. Fur Seal Fisheries, H. Rpt. No. 3883, p. 287.

57. Pribilof Islands Daily Log, St. George, October 31, 1877.

58. Fur Seal Fisheries, H. Rpt. No. 3883, p. 21.

59. Pribilof Islands Daily Log, St. Paul, July 27,1889.

60. Seal and Salmon Fisheries, (Vol. 1), pp. 105-106.

61. Ibid., p. 147.

62. Ibid., p. 278.

63. Nancy O. Lurie, "The World's Longest On-Going Protest Demonstration," in Mac Marshall (ed.), Beliefs, Behaviors, Beverages: A Cross-Cultural Survey (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1979), pp. 127-144.

64. The population of the two communities was 422 in 1867 and 303 in 1889, a 28 percent decrease, and this in the face of a net migration gain of 53 persons. In 1887, a year death and birth figures are available, the crude birth rate for both villages was 49.3, while the crude death rate was 98.6. Dorothy Jones, A History of United States Administration in the Pribilof Islands, 1867-1946. Prepared for the Indian Claims Commission, Docket Nos. 352 and 369 (Fairbanks: University of Alaska, Institute of Social, Economic and Government Research, 1976), p. 47.

65. U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Census, Statistical History of the United States, Colonial Times to the Present, 1965, Series B-163. 66. Seal and Salmon Fisheries, (Vol. 1), pp. 92, 99, 293.

67. Pribilof Islands Daily Log, St. Paul, September 1, 1889.

68. Peter Tikhmenev, Historical Review, Part I, p. 374; Helen Shenitz, "Alaska's Good Father," in Morgan Sherwood, ed., Alaska and its History (Seattle: University of Washington Press,1967), pp. 39-41.

69. Veniaminov, Notes, trans., Richard Geogehan, p. 229.

70. Aleuts' attraction to the Russian Orthodox church appears to stem from several sources. Before 1788 when the Russians collected tribute from Aleuts, church membership exempted Aleuts from paying tribute for three years. Further, Aleuts found the rich ceremonial life of the church appealing. Finally, the success of the church may have been related to the church's adaptability to many Aleut customs and to conducting services in both Russian and Aleut. In 1825 Ivan Veniaminov established the first Russian Orthodox church school in the Aleutians at Unalaska. His jurisdiction included the Pribilofs where schools were also established early in the century (Russian Orthodox churches were built at St. Paul in 1819 and St. George in 1833). Veniaminov emphasized training in the skills needed by the company as well as traditional Aleut interests such as art and music.

71. The year before the lease, a special Treasury agent who came from Russia, opened a school on St. George. Seal Fisheries, H. Exec. Doc. No. 83, p. 40.

72. Ibid, p. 51.

73. Ibid., p. 50.

74. Ibid., pp. 98-99.

75. Ibid., pp. 49, 99; Seal and Salmon Fisheries, (Vol. 1) p. 49; Fur Seal Fisheries, H. Rpt. No. 3883, pp. 252-253.

76. Seal Fisheries, H. Exec. Doc. No. 83, p. 133.

77. Michael B. Katz, The Irony of Early School Reform: Educational Innovation in Mid-Nineteenth Century Massachusetts (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1968).

78. Illustrations are scattered throughout Fur Seal Fisheries, H. Rpt. No. 3883, for example, pp. 153, 204.

Chapter 3 - From Wage Earners to Wards, 1890-1909

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