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Short Sketches from Oldest America   By: (1854-)

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Transcriber's Note: The letters "a" and "e" with a macron are rendered as [= ] in this text.







Copyright, 1905, by GEORGE W. JACOBS & COMPANY Published July, 1905

Publishers' Preface

From the small size of this volume, one would hardly realize, perhaps, what an immense amount of labor and patient research its writing must necessarily represent. The author, who was first sent to northwestern Alaska in the summer of 1890, and who, by the bye, has, with the exception of two vacations of a year each, been constantly at his post in that bleak country ever since, found himself one day landed, with his possessions, upon the inhospitable sea beach of the Point Hope peninsula, where for weeks he was compelled to shelter himself from wind and rain, as best he could, in an improvised tent made of barrels and boxes with canvas thrown over them. Finally, the carpenters of some of the whaling ships were got together and a house, which had been framed in distant San Francisco, was put up for him, a few hundred yards from the water's edge.

A mile or so away lay a large native village, the inhabitants of which naturally regarded him as a great curiosity. But he found himself quite unable to communicate with them otherwise than by signs, as the printed vocabularies and grammars, with which he had been supplied, proved to be inaccurate and practically valueless.

His house finished and no scholars being forthcoming, he proceeded one day to capture a native lad whom he found on the beach, and, leading him home, taught him several letters of the alphabet and then baked him a cake. This system of rewarding attendance with something to eat rapidly brought other scholars. Older visitors followed, and he soon had a school in active operation and then a lecture room.

Prior to Dr. Driggs's arrival, the experiences which the natives had had with the whites had not been universally satisfactory. Outside of rare meetings with the officers and crews of the government's revenue cutters, their white acquaintances had been pretty much confined to the class known as "beach combers," or deserters from the steam whaling fleet. These are described as a rough, unscrupulous set of fellows, too worthless to obtain better employment in San Francisco, where they are enlisted. Some of these undesirable visitors had already appeared at Point Hope and had outrageously abused the peaceful inhabitants before our author's arrival there.

In contrast with such men as these, Dr. Driggs proved himself a friend indeed to the poor natives, and succeeded in due time in winning the affection and confidence of their entire tribe. Little by little he mastered their language, until he has become so proficient in it that he is now planning to write a grammar.

During the summer months many of the Point Hope natives are away from home for long intervals in quest of game or on fishing expeditions, and the doctor would frequently follow their example, making long excursions along the coast, as far north as Icy Cape, if not further; and southward, along the shores of Kotzebue Sound. Similarly for many winters, wearied with confinement to the house during the long night, he was wont to set out, accompanied by some native guide and wife with dog team and sledge, to make trips of several hundred miles over ice and snow, exposed to blizzards such as we have no conception of, camping out when weary in an improvised snow house, or sleeping, perhaps, in some native settlement, where the only fare would be uninviting frozen fish. These last excursions, however, he has been obliged to discontinue in consequence of having frozen one of his feet, several years since, when he fell from an ice floe into the ocean, and was with difficulty dragged out by his companions... Continue reading book >>

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