Alaska, a territory of the United States, occupying the NW. portion of the North American continent, together with a great number of islands, mostly in the Pacific Ocean. It is bounded N. by the Arctic Ocean, E. by the North-west Territories of Canada and by British Columbia; SW. by the Pacific Ocean, and W. by Behring Sea and the Arctic Ocean. Its land area is estimated at 581,400 sq. m., or about as large as Great Britain, Ireland, France, and Spain combined. The northern portion of Alaska, containing five-sixths of its area, consists essentially of a vast expanse of moor or tundra, broken here and there by mountain-spurs (an especially marked feature in the south), and varied by countless lakes, water-courses, and swamps. About one-third of this region lies within the Arctic Circle. The winter climate is here terribly severe, and the short summers are rendered almost unendurable by clouds of mosquitoes or gnats. This region is traversed by the great river Yukon, about 2000 miles long, the Kuskoquim, and other large streams. Its population is Innuit or Eskimo, in the north and on the coast, but Athabascan or Tinneh (Red Indian) elsewhere. The fisheries and the fur-trade afford subsistence to the scanty population. A second section comprises the Aleutian Islands (q.v.), and a great part of the peninsula of Aliaska. This division is mountainous, and actively volcanic. It is very thinly peopled by the Aleuts. The Pribylof Islands, in Behring Sea, are the main seat of the capture of the fur-seal. South-eastern Alaska consists of a narrow strip of continental land, together with the Alexander Archipelago, lying near the mainland. This region is extremely mountainous, and has many great glaciers nearly reaching the sea. The climate on the tide-level is singularly mild for the latitude, but almost incessant rains prevail. The country is well timbered, and the waters abound in valuable fish. The natives are Indians of the Haida and Thlinket races. Alaska has a very small English-speaking white population, and a few semi-Russian natives. Gold is mined in the Yukon valley, at Cape Nome, and elsewhere. Coal, mostly of poor quality, is common.
A few cattle are kept near the settlements, but the climate is so wet that sheep cannot do well. Some potatoes and a few garden vegetables are grown. The native animals include the reindeer, the moose, the Rocky Mountain sheep, bears, wolves, and foxes; the muskrat, ermine, mink, sable, lynx, beaver, wolverene, squirrel, hare, porcupine, and marmot; the sea and river otter; fur, hair, and other seals, and the walrus. The fisheries are very important. Among the valuable food fishes are the cod, herring, halibut, and salmon of several species. The principal towns of the territory are all small, and most of them are on the coast. Among them are Sitka, the capital; Fort Wrangel; and Belkofsky, the chief depdt of the trade in seal-otter furs; Juneau is a gold-mining town; and Skagway is the port for the access to Klondike by the White Pass. Illoolook is on Oonalashka Island. Alaska, formerly called Russian America, was first visited by the Russians under Vitus Behring in 1741. In 1799 the whole country passed under control of the Russian American Company. In 1867 the United States purchased the entire territory from Russia for $7,200,000 in gold. Pop. (1900) 80,600 whites, and 30,000 Eskimos and Indians.
See Wardman, A Trip to Alaska (1885); Elliott, Our Arctic Province (1886); H. W. Seton Karr, The Shores and Alps of Alaska (1887); Halleck, Our New Alaska (1886); The Alaska Coast Pilot; Woolman, Picturesque Alaska (1890); Emmons, Alaska and its Mineral Resources (1898); reports of the geological survey (1900, etc.) and of the Harriman Expedition (1901-4).