REINDEER (Historic Alaska Information)
The reindeer industry of Alaska was established by the United States Government primarily to furnish a means of livelihood for the natives, to supply in a measure a food to replace game, seal, and walrus which were being rapidly depleted.
Number imported by the U. S. Government, 1892-1902 – 1,280
Number of reindeer, May, 1920 – 180,000
Estimated number, June, 1921 – 220,000
Number of herds, June 30, 1917 – 98
On the Copper River & Northwestern Ry.
Wealth Produced by Introduction of Reindeer in Alaska
Valuation of 125,000 reindeer owned by natives in 1920 at $25 each – $3,125,000
Total income of natives from reindeer 1893-1920 – 965,807
Valuation of 55,000 reindeer owned by missions, Laplanders, and other whites, and Government, 1920 – 1,375,000
Total income of missions and Laplanders, and other whites from reindeer, 1893-1919 – 400,000
Total valuation and income – $5,865,807
Total government appropriations, 1893-1919 – 334,400
Gain 1654 per cent – $5.53l4°7
Ownership of Reindeer, June 30, 1919
United States Government – 5,000
Missions – 6,000
Laplanders – 4,000
Natives (1,293) – 125,000
Whites – 40,000
Total – 180,000
Income of natives, year ending June 30, 1919,, from reindeer industry, exclusive of meat and hides, used by the natives themselves, was $150,000 (est.).
This most important industry is under the direction of the Bureau of Education, Department of the Interior, which also has direction of the education and medical care of the natives. The immediate direction of this work is in charge of Mr. W. T. Lopp, offices, Smith Building, Seattle. Those desiring more detailed information are advised to address the Bureau of Education, Washington, D. C, or the Seattle office.
The reindeer are distributed among the natives under a system of apprenticeship, whereby each apprentice receives 6, 8, and 10 reindeer by the close of the first, second, and third years, respectively, and 10 more at the close of the fourth year, when, if he has demonstrated his ability, he assumes entire charge of his herd, and must, in turn, employ and similarly distribute reindeer among his apprentices.
Under the governmental regulations no native may dispose of female reindeer to the whites.
The Lapp herders who were responsible for the eaily training of the native herders were allowed a percentage of the increase of their respective herds. As shown above, the herds of these Lapps now total 23,443 head. The Lapps are not so restricted in the sale of female reindeer to the whites as are the natives, and from the herds of these Lapps an incorporated company of Nome citizens, organized to carry on this industry, have acquired about 23,000 reindeer. Their intention is to place it on a commercial basis and annually ship reindeer meat to the States.
The reindeer is essentially an inhabitant of snowy countries, feeding on lichens or moss, mushrooms, grass, and willow sprouts, which grow even on the poorest soils, and furnishes the natives with food and clothing and many little things which contribute to their comfort. Its commercial possibilities may be judged from the following extracts from official documents relating to Norway and Sweden, 'the northern portions of which, known as Lapland, are climatically similar to the northern portions of Alaska.
"Through Norway and Sweden smoked reindeer meat and smoked reindeer tongues are everywhere found for sale in their markets, the hams being worth 10 cents a pound and the tongues 10 cents apiece. There are wealthy merchants in Stockholm whose specialty and entire trade is in these Lapland products.
"Reindeer skins are marketed all over Europe, being worth in their raw condition from $1.50 to $1.75 apiece. The tanned skins (soft with a beautiful yellow color) find a ready sale at from-$2.oo to $2.75 each. Reindeer skins are used for gloves, military riding trousers, and binding of books.
"Reindeer hair is in great demand for the filling of life-saving apparatus, and from the horns is made the best existing glue. Two great articles, smoked reindeer tongues and tanned skins, are among the principal products of the great annual fair at Nischnij-Novgorod, Russia.
Columbia Glacier, Alaska, from Heather Island
"In Lapland (on an area of 14,000 square miles) there are about 400,000 head of reindeer, sustaining in comfort some 26,000 people.
"There is no reason why Arctic and sub-Arctic Alaska should not sustain a population of 100,000 people with 2,000,000 head of reindeer."
Lapland sends to market about 22,000 head of reindeer a year, the surplus of her herds, which at an average weight per carcass, dressed, of about 150 pounds, is equal to 1,660 tons. As this is a surplus over and above the wants of the population, the value of this industry in the near future, as a source of meat supply from lands comparatively valueless for agricultural purposes, becomes apparent.
The present herds are nearly all located on the western coast from the Kuskokwim to Point Barrow, a distance of some 800 miles, but in the near future the industry will extend over the entire Alaska Peninsula.
Those best acquainted with surrounding conditions estimate that Alaska has grazing grounds, sufficient to support 10,000,000 to 20,000,000 head of stock.
The first important shipment was made in 1911—185 carcasses, 18,750 pounds. In October, 1920, Alaska exported 98,689 pounds, valued at $23,690.
The chief of the Biological Survey predicts, "A million reindeer grown by natives and white herders will soon convert Alaska into a vast meat-producing Territory."
Reindeer fairs are held at which discussions take place as to the best way of slaughtering and dressing, etc.
There are contests in lassoing deer, driving wild deer, pulling loads of various weights, in sled lashing, racing, and so on, and there are also exhibits of harness, sleds, and fur clothing.
With the meat of the reindeer for food, the skin for clothing, harness and leather, the sinew for thread, the horns for knife handles, and the hair for mattresses, the reindeer meets almost all the needs of the people.
Both the Boy Scouts and the Camp Fire Girls have branches among the natives.