Alaska, a territory belonging to the United States, formerly known as Russian America. It comprises all that portion of the North American continent lying W. of the 141st parallel of W. longitude, together with a narrow strip of land between the Pacific ocean and the British dominions, separated from the latter by a line drawn as follows: beginning at the southernmost point of Prince of Wales island, in lat.
54° 40' N., running thence N. along Portland channel to the point of the mainland where it strikes lat. 56° N., and from this point along the summits of the mountain range parallel to the coast, except where the distance of such summits from the ocean exceeds 10 marine leagues, to its intersection with the 141st meridian. Wherever the peaks are situated further inland than the distance specified, the line is drawn, parallel to the winding of the coast, at that distance from it. The territory also includes all the islands near the coast, and the whole of the Aleutian archipelago except Behring island and Copper island on the coast of Kamtchatka. In the dialect of the natives first encountered by the Russian explorers, the peninsula now known as Alias-ka was called Al-ay-es-ka, the name having become changed through Alaksa and Alashka to its present form, from which last is derived the general territorial designation Alaska, which Dall asserts to be an English corruption never used by the Russians. The area of Alaska, including the islands, is 580,107 sq. m.; pop. in 1870, 29,097, of whom 2G,843 were natives of the territory, 1,421 were half-breeds, 483 were Russians, and 350 were natives of the United States and foreigners not Russians. There are not more than 1,300 completely civilized inhabitants. - Sitka, or New Archangel, the capital of the territory and its only considerable town, is situated on a small but commodious harbor on Baranov island, in lat. 57° 3' N., lon. 135° 17' W. It was long the headquarters of the Russian-American fur company, though the natural centre of the fur trade is the island of Kadiak, S. of the Aliaska peninsula.
At the time of the transfer of the territory to the United States in 1807, Sitka, although founded in the last century, was little better than a collection of log huts, about 100 in number, with a few superior buildings occupied by government officers. St. Paul, the principal settlement on Kadiak island, is the main depot of the seal fisheries, and is surrounded by the finest farming land in the territory. Next in importance as a settlement is Captain's Harbor, on the island of Unalaslika, where is found the best anchorage in the Aleutian group. The remaining civilized places in Alaska consist for the most part of small trading posts scattered throughout the country, the principal of them being Fort Yukon, approximately in lat. (66° N., the most northerly station of the Hudson Bay company, which for some years paid the Russian-American fur company a royalty tor the privilege of thus trading in their territory. Michaelovski, a station of the Russian company on Norton sound, in lat. 63° 28' N., and lon.161° 44' W., is of considerable importance as affording the best harbor on the coast from which to forward goods into the Yukon valley. - The interior of Alaska has been but slightly explored, and our knowledge of the country is confined mainly to the islands, the coasts, and a few of the larger rivers.
The entire coast line of the territory, without taking into account the smaller indentations, measures about 4,000 m. in length, and is bordered by three seas: the Arctic ocean on the N., Beh-ring sea on the W., and the North Pacific on the S. The coast formation along the North Pacific differs entirely from that N. of the Aliaska peninsula. Point Barrow, a long arm of low sandy land projecting into the Arctic ocean, forms the most northerly cape in the territory. Between this point and Behring strait, the only considerable indentation of the coast is Kotzebue sound, with a maximum depth of 14 fathoms, and the shore is low and swampy except at Cape Lisburne, where the limestone rock rises to the height of 850 feet above the sea. Cape Prince of Wales, the E. boundary of Behring strait, is the most western land on the American continent, being situated in lat, 65° 83' N., lon. 167° 59' W., only 54 m. from East cape, the nearest part of Asia. It is a rocky and precipitous promontory. The nearest harbor is Port Clarence, a short distance S., where there is a safe anchorage in 10 fathoms of water, with a bottom of soft mud.
Below this inlet the country becomes low and rolling, and is not very accessible from the ocean, even in the larger bays, on account of the shoals formed of alluvium brought down by the rivers, which is retained in Behring sea by the rocky barrier of the Aliaska peninsula. Norton sound is so shallow that vessels have been known to run aground there at the distance of a mile from the shore; but it affords a few harbors, as also does Bristol bay, which opens into the region N. of the same rugged and barren peninsula from which the name of the territory is derived. Stretching westward toward Kamtchatka lie the Aleutian islands, so called from the name Aleuts applied to their inhabitants by the Russians. Unimak is the largest of these, and Unalaslika of the greatest commercial importance. The celebrated fur seal group, named after Pribyloff, its discoverer, is situated in Behring sea, lat. 57° N., lon. 169° 30' W., and consists of four small islands called respectively Walrus, Beaver, St. George, and St. Paul. Below Aliaska the coast becomes mountainous, with dee]) soundings close in shore. Between lon. 151° and 158° W. lies the Kadiak archipelago, including the large island of that name.
Cook's inlet and Prince William sound, or Chugach gulf, are the principal arms of the sea on the North Pacific coast of the territory, until we reach the narrow strip of mainland S. of Mt. St. Elias, which is protected from the sea by the 1,100 islands of the Alexander archipelago, situated between Cross sound and Dixon's entrance. The almost innumerable channels between the islands of this vast series afford the finest inland navigation. Prince of Wales island is the largest member of the group, which also contains Baranov island, the site of Sitka. - The great river of Alaska is the Yukon, or Kwick-pak, as it has erroneously been called by the Russians, from the name of one of its mouths. It rises in British Columbia, enters Alaska near the Arctic circle, and flows, with a general 8. W. trend, across the entire width of the territory into Behring sea. Its length is more than 1,800 m., and it is over a mile broad at a point 6OO m. above its delta. Its current varies in rapidity from 3 to 7 m. per hour, and in summer the river is navigable for light-draught steamers throughout three fourths of its length.