This section is from "The American Cyclopaedia", by George Ripley And Charles A. Dana. Also available from Amazon: The New American Cyclopędia. 16 volumes complete..
Altai, a mountain range on the boundary between Russia and China, divided into various groups. The mountains were long designated as the Great and the Little Altai, and the name Altai is still occasionally applied to the vast network of ranges, chiefly in Chinese and partly in Russian territory, and extending, with irregular branches, from Siberia and China to the N. Pacific, diverging in many directions, intersected by numerous lakes and rivers, and including the Aldan and other mountains. The Altai range in a narrower sense extends from the vicinity of Tomsk, lat. 50° N., to the junction of the Bukhtarma and the Irtish near Bukhtarminsk, lat. 50° N., and from the Koly-van mountain on the west, lon. 82° E., to the Sayan chain on the east. The region embraced within these limits includes an area of about 40,000 sq. m., comprised in the Russian governments of Tomsk and Yeniseisk, principally in the former. The Altai system proper, sometimes called the Ore Altai on account of its mineral wealth, consists of several ridges extending from the banks of the Irtish in a direction generally E. N. E. At their western extremity they rise above the valley of the Irtish in hills about 500 or 600 ft. high, and within a distance of 15 or 20 m. attain a height of 3,000 or 5,000 ft.; this may be considered the average elevation of the greater part of the ranges, until they approach Lake Teletzkoi. Here they rise above the limit of perpetual snow, many of the peaks reaching an elevation of 10,000 ft., and are known as the Altai Bieli. Beyond Lake Teletzkoi there are two well defined ranges, the principal of which, called the Tangnu Oola, is within the Chinese boundary, and is imperfectly known.
The other is pierced by the river Yenisei, which divides it into the Sayanian range and the Ergik Targak Taiga. Eastward of this point the mountains stretch away into the independent chains running E. and N. E. as far as the sea of Okhotsk, and formerly included in the general appellation of the Altai system. Geologically the mountains have been described as a rocky promontory jutting out from the mainland of primitive rocks which forms the table land of Chinese Tartary on the S. into the ocean of diluvial deposits which forms the great Siberian plain. The geological formations, however, have not been carefully studied. Stratified rocks not yet classified form the greater portion of the Altai range. Clay slate, chlorite slate, and mica slate abound in the upper districts; and through these granite, gneiss, syenite, porphyry, and greenstone have forced their way. Limestone, carboniferous limestone, and sandstones especially rich in fossil remains, are also found. The metals are gold, silver, copper, and lead, mines of which at some unknown re-mote period were worked to a great extent by some unknown people.
They were reopened by the Russians in the last century at the W. end of the range; but of late attention has been given almost wholly to the washing of detritus brought down by the Irtish, Obi, Yeni-sei, and other rivers, whose sands are rich in gold. The product of the other ores is notim-portant. The diminished production of silver being ascribed to the exhaustion of the mines, investigations were instituted by Professor B. von Cotta at the instance of the czar (1858), and resulted in the publication of his geological and mineralogical work on the Altai (Leipsic, 1871). The scenery is grand, especially among the stupendous rocks and glaciers in the heart of the mountains, on the banks of the Katun-ya. The two pillars of the Katunya are the highest peaks of the Altai, rising to nearly 13,000 ft. The short summer is excessively hot. The extreme cold of the winter is made salutary by the clearness of the atmosphere. In the forests are birch, alder, aspen, acacia, willow, larch, fir, and Siberian stone pine trees. The dried leaves of the saxifraga crassifolia, used as a substitute for tea, are gathered in the Tchernaya mountain. The animals of the Al-tai region are bears, wolves, foxes, lynxes, mountain hares, wild sheep and boars, wild goats, musimons, and occasionally tigers.
Yen-omous serpents are found in the valleys. The best furs are obtained from black-skinned sables, as well as from martens and from the kulonok (mustela Sibirica). A marmot pecu-liar to the Altai haunts the snow. There are otters, beavers, musk deer, numerous elks, large stags, and red deer. The most remarkable bird is the mountain swallow (hirundo alpestris or Daurica). Among the fishes are red and other salmon, eel pouts, pike, sterlet, and i sturgeons; great numbers of the last are used for the manufacture of isinglass and caviare. There are excellent horses, fat-tailed sheep, and a few camels. Game, poultry, and bees abound. Mosquitoes are numerous in summer, especially in the lowlands. Most of the cereals are successfully cultivated, and even melons in the W. part. - The inhabitants of the Altai consist chiefly of white Kalmucks or Teleuts in the east, near Lake Teletzkoi, and the nomadic mountaineer Kalmucks in the southeast. They are governed by native chiefs, the Russian govern-ment interfering little with them excepting for the collection of the tribute of furs, to which even some of the tribes living beyond Rus-sian jurisdiction are made amenable.
Except-ing the peasantry on the north and northwest, chiefly descendants of fugitive Russian serfs, who belong to the orthodox church, and a few tribes of Mohammedan descent, the great bulk of the Altai population are pagans worshipping in temples. Carsten's "Ethnological Lectures on the Altai" (St. Petersburg, 1851) divides the Altai nationalities and languages into Tungusian, Mongolian, Tartar, Finnish, and Samoyed groups, subdivided into various branches, with different vernaculars. Peddlers from the provinces of Moscow and Vladimir periodically visit the Altai, and the great route of travel between St. Petersburg and Peking crosses the range near Lake Baikal, Kiakhta being the Russian frontier town and Maimatchin the Chinese. The Chinese Altai territory, which is little known, is chiefly situated east of the upper Bukhtarme and Lake Dzaizang. The settled Russian Altai region is mainly comprised in the district of Kolyvan Voskresenski, the Russian designation of the mining region of the province of Tomsk, western Siberia, and which includes, besides the S. part of a district of the same name, the districts of Kolyvan, Barnaul, Kuznetzk, and Biisk; area, over 13,000 sq. m.; pop. 350,000.