Albert Lord Belden.

The fur trade of America and some of the men who made and maintain it, together with furs and fur bearers of other continents and countries and islands of the sea online

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Online LibraryAlbert Lord BeldenThe fur trade of America and some of the men who made and maintain it, together with furs and fur bearers of other continents and countries and islands of the sea → online text (page 8 of 34)
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term of twenty years from May i, 1870, as follows: —

S. E. Morgan & Co., of Norristown, Pennsyl-
vania, $75,000 per annum.

John H. Bradford, of New York City, $76,550 per

J. W. Raymond, of San Francisco, $96,000 per

C. M. Lockwood, of Portland, Oregon, $127,000
per annum.

Alaska Commercial Company, of San Francisco,
$65,000 per annum.

John Barnett, of Washington, $156,000 per

John M. Davidson, of Washington, $87,000 per

Louis C. Welton, of New York, $96,000 per

Sellman K. Hannigan, of Terre Haute, $73,000
per annum.

J. Adams & Son, of Philadelphia, $105,000 per

J. C. Hastings, of San Francisco, $163,000 per

Thomas W. Sweeney, of Philadelphia, $111,000
per annum.

Louis Goldstone, of San Francisco, for Finchel &
Company, Taylor & Bendel and the American-Rus-



sian Commercial Company, all of San Francisco,
$55,000 per annum for rental of islands, $2.00 per
skin and 62^/2 cents tax per skin for each skin shipped,
and 55 cents per gallon for all oil shipped from the
islands, the total amount of this bid, exclusive of oil
which could not be known in advance, was $317,500
per annum — the bid, and all others, being based on
a catch of one hundred thousand seals per annum.

The lease was awarded to the Alaska Commercial
Company on the terms of the bid by Louis Goldstone,
but just how the officials at Washington, the fearsome
deed; performed, Congressional, Senatorial and indi-
vidual investigations have never made clear.

Members of the Company were: U. S. Senator
John F. Miller, President; H. M. Hutchinson, Leo-
pold Boskowitz, Louis Sloss, Lewis Gerstle, John
Parrott, Ebenezer Morgan, C. A. Williams, William
Kohl, Samuel Willets, August Wasserman, Simon
Greenewald, Gustav Niebaum.

The Alaska Commercial Company had by far the
best of the fur seal skin business under American rule,
and understood the game as a revenue producer; in
their twenty years lordship they garnered nearly two
million large and small seal skins, and a profit of
something like eighteen million dollars — and wanted
a second lease of twenty years.

The bids for the second lease of the Alaska fur
sealing privilege were opened at Washington, May I,
1890, for the term of twenty years from May i, 1890,
as follows: —

American Fishing and Trading Company, a Cal-
ifornia corporation, $305,000, and additionally, $4.12


for each fur seal skin taken and shipped from the

North American Trading Company, a West Vir-
ginia corporation, $55,000 per annual as rental, $2.00
revenue tax, an additional $4.50 for each skin taken
and shipped — total estimated at $445,000 per annum.

The Pacific Steam Whaling Company, a Cali-
fornia corporation, $50,000 per annum rental, and $7.15
for each fur seal skin taken and shipped from the

Alaska Commercial Company, of San Francisco,
$50,000 rental per annum, a revenue tax of $2.00 and
$4.50 additional for each fur seal skin taken and
shipped from the islands.

Atlantic and Pacific Company, by Charles H.
Tenney, New York, $55,000 rental per annum, and
6.123/2 cents for each fur seal skin taken and shipped
from the islands.

North American Commercial Company, an Illi-
nois corporation, 56,000 rental per annum, revenue
tax of $2.00 and a bonus of $5.11 for each fur seal skin
taken and shipped.

North American Commercial Company, of San
Francisco, a California corporation, annual rental $57,-
100, revenue tax of $2.00 and $8.25 for each fur seal
skin taken and shipped from the islands.

The North American Commercial Company, of
San Francisco, was awarded the lease March 12, 1890.
Alaska fur seals were under the charge of the Sec-
retary of the Treasury from 1869 to 19 10, at which
time they were committed to the care of the Secretary


of Commerce and Labor, and at present the Secretary
of Commerce.


United States officials, seconded by the officious,
in 1890 unwisely broached the claim of absolute own-
ership in the fur seals, not only during the limited
period when the animals were upon the Pribilov Islands,
but all the time, and wheresoever the pinipeds might
be found.

The government finally became so insistent in an-
nouncing the claim that the entire matter was formally,
in 1893, submitted to arbitration before an international
board sitting at Paris, Baron de Courcel presiding; the
decision, handed down August 15, 1893, was adverse
to the United States. On the fifth point, the main con-
tention, the decision read: "We decide and determine
that the United States have no right to the protection
of or property in the seals frequenting the islands of
the United States in Bering Sea, when found outside
the ordinary three-mile limit."

'^^S: \^R

Fwr Seal.

Job, some thousands of years ago, the precise date
is not surely known, asked the profound question, "What
is man?" If he had been as well acquainted with the
"brutes that perish" as he unquestionably was familiar
with the remote and mighty stars and constellations, he
might have asked a second and equally unanswerable
question, by adding, and what is the fur seal? for it is
a surpassingly strange creature involved in manifold
mystery which man, notwithstanding his ability to
"solve doubts," has hitherto been unable to unravel.

Whither it cometh and whence it goeth; the pur-
pose of its being; its return to and departure from cer-
tain places, year after year at almost exactly the same
dates, apparently for the sole purpose of bringing forth
and nurturing its young to perpetuate the species ; why
they did not nearly fill the seas long since, the increase
at the time of discovery being about a million a year,
and their food supply being practically inexhaustible —
these are parts of an interesting problem for which there
is no solution.

During the breeding season the fur seal makes its



home on rocky, barren islands, large or small, with grad-
ually rising shores over which it can move with moderate
effort, and where a foggy condition prevails ; the animal
having flippers instead of feet is an indifferent traveler
on land and progresses by a series of short jumps inter-
rupted by frequent halts for rest ; these resorts are also
apparently selected with reference to the average tem-
perature, as the fur seal prefers a moderately cool
climate, and is manifestly unpleasantly affected by a
temperature above fifty degrees.

Fur seals are annually first seen at sea in April
off the northern shore of Vancouver Island, and the
northwestern coast of the State of Washington, pro-
ceeding southward along the Pacific Coast of the United
States on their way to their several breeding stations
or rookeries.

Leaders of the herd, old male seals, begin to arrive
at the islands of Saint Paul and Saint George, Bering
Sea, about the first of May, some two or three weeks
in advance of the females and younger males. Though
preferring a low or moderate temperature, fur seals
never "haul up" on ice, and if ice remains along the
shore at the time of their arrival, they remain in the
water until it disappears, and then draw out on the land,
select their rookeries and await the coming of their
mates. Many fierce battles are fought by the old bulls
in their struggle to maintain possession of selected posi-
tions, called rookeries, upon which, when fully secured,
they remain continuously for more than three months
without food or drink.

The color of the males when they emerge from the
water is a dull brown sprinkled with grey; when dry


the fur is much lighter on all parts of the body ; females
are not so dark as the males, the fur upon the back of
the head, neck and down the spine being a bright steely
blue, modulating into lighter shades, approaching white,
on the sides and abdomen.

Bachelor seals, or yearlings, herd apart in large
numbers far from the breeding stations, as the old bulls
will not permit them to approach the rookeries ; the seals
killed for their pelts on St. Paul and St. George Islands
are selected from the bachelors.



Seals at the time of birth, and until one year old,
are called pups; when born they are black, and are
known as black pups; as they advance in age the color
changes to lighter hues, and they are designated as
silvery or grey pups.

The territory now known as Alaska, which em-
braces the Pribilov Islands, was purchased from Russia
by the United States in 1867 for $7,200,000, which ought
to be considered a nominal price as it amounted to little
more than one dollar per seal, not to mention land,
timber, salmon and gold, each individually of still greater
value than the seals at a dollar a head, as even that small
amount could not be realized, cash or credit, until they
were caught; before November they spread their flip-
pers and flee from United States territory.

In mid-autumn, surely before November, all the
seals, "every blessed one," mobilize and depart from
their summer island homes, pass out into the Atlantic
and speed away southward into the Pacific Ocean and
in a few days completely disappear; this is their in-
variable annual custom. The land or sea to which they
wend their way is wholly unknown to man, is one of the
great mysteries of the ages; their preference for a
moderately cool climate and ice-free water, impresses
the conviction that the fur seals are acquainted with a
large area in which millions of seals may remain un-
observed for five months or more out of each year, a
glorious sea, where rocky isles and g^eat schools of fish
abound, a wondrous retreat somewhere in the Southern
Hemisphere perfectly adapted to the welfare of seals
of all ages, and particularly little fellows only six
months old.


In the summer of 1868, the year following the pur-
chase of Alaska by the United States, good American
seal seekers made a raid on the islands of St. Paul and
St. George for the purpose of gathering in the entire
herd, and they were fairly successful, known sales and
shipments of skins showing that upwards of four hun-
dred thousand seals were killed; the slaughter would
doubtless have exceeded a million except for lack of
labor, salt and shipping facilities.

To prevent the extermination of the animals in a
very few years the government took charge of the
islands early in 1869, and prohibited all persons from
landing upon or approaching the shore within a specified

Numerous methods of regulating the catch were
considered by the authorities in control without result,
and finally the entire matter was referred to the Con-
gress and that body decided that the government should
lease the privilege of taking fur seals, one hundred thou-
sand skins per annum, for twenty years, to the person
or persons making the most favorable offer.

The Alaska Commercial Company, of San Fran-
cisco, of which Senator Miller of California was presi-
dent, was awarded the lease in July, 1870, for a term
of twenty years, and" at once took formal possession
and began operations ; comprehensive laws were passed
prohibiting any one else from killing any seals on the
islands, except the natives who were allowed to kill a
certain number for food, a privilege which they continue
to enjoy.

The Alaska Commercial Company had a "good
thing," and knew it, as the record shows.


The total catch of seal skins from 1870 to 1889,
both years inclusive, was 1,856,240; annual average,
92,812 skins.

The cost to the Alaska Commercial Company was :
Rental of islands, $55,000 per annum, paid to govern-
ment regardless of number of seals taken; royalty to
government, $2.62 per skin; aleuts for killing, skinning
and handling, 40 cents per skin ; shipping expenses, about
37/^ cents per skin; totals, average and gross, as
follows :

Royalty, average per annum, $242,631.50.
Rental, average per annum, 55,000.00
Aleuts, average per annum, 37,124.80
Shipping, average per annum, 34,804.50

Gross totals for twenty years, term of lease:

Royalty to government $4,872,630

Rental to government 1,100,000

Aleuts for killing, etc 742,496

Shipping expenses 696,090

Grand total $7,41 1.216

The average cost per skin to the company is thus
shown to be $3.95.

The company under the terms of the lease was per-
mitted to take one hundred thousand skins per annum,
and aimed to do so, except in 1883, when only seventy-
five thousand seals were slaughtered; in each of the
other years some of the skins were rejected as below

The average price realized for the skins by the



company at public sale in London was several times
$3.95, it being of record that their profits for the twenty
years amounted to $18,753,911, or nearly $i,400,cx)0 for
each of the fourteen shares comprising the capital stock
of the concern; in 1882, it is asserted, a dividend of
$75,000 per share was realized.

The government received during the twenty years,
net, $5,264,230.

During the term of the first lease the proportion
of seals killed on the two islands was, St. Paul, 80,000;
St. George, 20,000; all the killing and skinning was,
and is, done by Aleuts, the work usually being conducted
during the first three weeks of July.




Early in the morning the men who are to do the
killing run along the beach between the water and the
bachelor seals that have hauled up on land, and loudly
shouting and jumping hither and thither frighten the
seals and cause them to move forward inland toward
the killing station, about three miles in the rear of the
rookeries ; this interior point is chosen to avoid alarming
the breeding and other seals, which would probably
leave the islands at once, or fail to revisit them, if the
killing were done near shore; the drive is conducted
slowly and with frequent pauses, as the unusual exertion
of land travel causes the seals to become overheated, a
condition fatal to the animals and detrimental to the fur.
On arriving at the killing ground the seals are allowed
to rest and cool off, and the Aleuts effect the killing by
striking the animals on the head with a short stout club ;
when about fifty are killed the skins are taken off, and
removed to the salting houses and salted — the skins
are laid flat and the leather side is covered with about
two pounds of salt ; after salting the skins are piled one



Upon another and left thus for from ten to twenty days
to cure, and are then tied in bundles of two skins each,
fur side out. These bundles are packed in casks and
shipped to San Francisco, thence by rail to New York,
and then by steamer to London for sale at auction — this
was the procedure down to 191 3, in which year the gov-
ernment arranged to sell the skins in the United States
instead of London ; but near the announced date of sale
withdrew part of the collection.

The fur of the seal, now held at high figures in con-
sequence of comparative scarcity, and checked from go-
ing much higher on account of the fact that for some
years past it has been an exclusive rather than a fash-
ionable article, owes its rise in favor and value wholly
to the effective manipulation of modern dressers and
dyers, and more definitely to the radical improvement
wrought in its appearance by a simple machine which
perfectly unhairs the skins, or clips out all the coarse,
"water-hairs," leaving only the soft, rich fur. Follow-
ing the perfecting of this transforming process, seal
skin, which formerly was used only in limited amount
in the manufacture of cheap articles, became very popu-
lar in Europe and America, greatly advanced in price,
and the very large annual collection was readily con-


For two or three seasons as a means of proving that
the fur seals were the property of the United States,
g^eat official minds conceived and put into execution at
St. Paul Island the brilliant (blazing) scheme of brand-
ing tender young seals with hot irons; it was assumed


that these burned seals would be gathered in by pelagic
sealers a year later, that the brand would constitute a
damage to the skin sufficiently serious to cause pelagic
sealers to cease operations — but "the villains still pur-
sued 'em." The baby seals that survived the barbarous
branding may have been lost at sea, or they may have
selected rookeries known only to themselves ; the scorch-
ing idea, however, was a marvel in the estimation of the
mind maturing it — a "burning shame" in the opinion
of others.


Immediately after the act prohibiting American
citizens from killing seals in the north Pacific Ocean and
Bering Sea became law on December 29, 1897, it was
discovered that only Alaska seal skins, and articles made
thereof, could be imported into the United States; and
that all other fur seal skins, or manufactures of other
than Alaska fur seal skins, imported into the United
States should be seized and destroyed. Fur merchants
who had in the regular course of business purchased
valuable lots of pelagic fur seal skins long before this
law was passed — it was never discussed — had to humbly
plead for special dispensations to obtain possessions of
their property which was in London for dressing and
dyeing, under the same conditions as during each of the
preceding forty years ; but an American citizen return-
ing from abroad, though bringing in only a seal skin
cap had to suffer confiscation of the article, tmless he
was able to prove that the cap was made of skins taken
on the Pribilov Islands.

This act, known as the "Davis Law," was in itself


fairly harmless, but the departmental regulations under
which it was administered were fearsome, so very vicious
and unlike the law that they had to be changed a number
of times in order to wriggle through conflicting condi-
tions and perverse interpretations.

This worse than foolish act, rushed through the
Congress and administered adlihitum by one department
of the government, was seemingly meant to spite Can-
adian sealers for not abandoning a profitable industry
to others, it being assumed that as about seventy-five per
cent of the annual catch of seal skins was required for
consumption in the United States, the exclusion from
that market of all seal skins except Alaskas, would make
it difficult for the Canadians to market their catch even
at reduced figures, and that the Alaskas, owing to in-
creased competition, would materially advance in price.
It did not work out that way; the entire collection of
Alaskas, the demand exceeding the supply, was taken
for the United States ; and as seal skin was fashionable
in Europe the Canadian sealers had that market to them-
selves, and readily sold all their skins at satisfactory


An agreement was entered into between the United
States and Great Britain in 1893 defining the area at
sea, and the time, in which pelagic sealing might law-
fully be conducted.

Four years later a law was enacted by Congress
prohibiting American citizens from taking any fur seals
in the waters of the Pacific Ocean, north of thirty-five
degrees of north latitude, and including Bering Sea.


To render agreements, enactments and monopoly
effective during all the years of inefficient rule, the gov-
ernment had to incur the expense of patroling Bering
Sea with gunboats and revenue cutters (appropriately
named vessels) and as the years passed the seals con-
tinuously decreased in number.

Under the masterful muddle of government con-
trol, from the date of purchase in 1867 to the present
moment, the fur seal has been the cause of countless
controversies — local, territorial, national, international,
petty, personal, unbusinesslike, undiplomatic, perpetual;
and the end is not yet.

Previously friendly relations between the United
States, England and Canada have been sadly strained;
and upon occasion Japan has shared in the same kindly
attentions. American citizens have been prohibited by
law from touching an American seal on land or sea
under penalty of two hundred dollars fine or six months
imprisonment, and loss of property for each touch ; and
further have been forbidden to buy, use or have in pos-
session ^ny pelagic seal skin, even the smallest visible
piece, under terror of confiscation. Tons of pure paper
and many pounds of ink, paid for by a subject people,
have been wantonly wasted at Washington in printing
reports, speeches, views and other diflFuse words on the
seal as a wild animal, exclusive American property, and
many other things no better understood than the habits
of builders of Martian canals.

The poor seal has been cruelly branded, indifferently
slaughtered on land, transferred from one monopoly to
another, and otherwise handled without gloves or com-
mon sense, for the avowed purpose of perpetuating it as


an asset of great value — to the lessees. It is not strange,
in view of the facts that so few seals survive, but that
any linger is a wonder indeed. In 1867, when the gov-
ernment took possession by virtue of purchase, it was
estimated that about 4,700,000 fur seals were enjoying
good health on the islands, and the number was
practically the same when the government leased the
privilege of killing 100,000 seals a year for twenty years
from May i, 1870; twenty years later another careful
estimate placed the number on the islands at 1,000,000
seals — a marvel, surely, as only 2,000,000 had been
killed, and there should have been a natural increase of
about 300,000 seals per annum for the period of twenty
years. On the expiration of the second lease, in 19 10,
it was officially reported that the number of seals on the
islands did not exceed 133,000, though the lessees had
killed, officially, only 345,449 seals.

The count for 191 5 placed the total at about 300,-
000, including old and young ; 88,000 seals were born on
the island during the season.


The counted skins shipped from the islands of St.
Paul and St. George do not show the number of seals
killed, as many skins are cut and otherwise damaged in
skinning, others are injured by overheating and from
other causes, and all such skins are rejected; during the
twenty years of the first lease 2,269 skins were rejected
on St. George Island, and 18,124 on St. Paul Island as
damaged and 15,705 as destroyed in taking the catch.
The highest average price realized by the lessees in a
single season was $22.25 P^^ skin, lowest $8.75, and the


average for the twenty years $14.02 — which means a
total of a little more than $27,000,000.

Under the second lease for twenty years 345,449
skins were shipped, an annual average of 17,272; the
highest average price realized was $37; the concern is
credited with making a profit of $5,000,000.

The catch of pelagic seals for forty years, 1873 to
191 2, reached a total of 968,586, an average of 24,212.
Copper Island seal skins to the number of 288,732 have
been marketed since 1891 ; during the same period the
supply from other and less important rookeries has ap-
proximated half a million skins.

A summary of fur seal slaughter for the past forty-
five years follows :

Alaskas, 1871-1889 1,990,062

Alaskas, 1890-1909 345,449

Alaskas, 1910-1915 45,ooo

Copper Islands, 1891-1910. . . . 288,732

Pelagic, 1873-1912 968,586

Scattering, 1873-1912 500,000

Total 4,137,829

Under international agreement between the United
States, England, Russia, Japan and Canada, no fur seal
may be hunted or killed anywhere in the open sea for a
period of seven years from May, 191 1.

In 191 7 seal skins were shipped from Alaska to
the United States, to the number of 7,061, estimated
average value $30. Probably 15,000 skins will be pro-
cured in 19 18.

Natives residing upon the seal islands, Saint Paul
and Saint George, are cared for by the government, but
make their living by killing, skinning and salting the
seals and their skins, and capturing the blue and white
foxes permitted to be killed each season; they receive
$2.90 for each seal skin taken, $5.00 for each blue and
$1.00 for each white fox skin — these amounts constitute
their allowance or wages for work performed. Many of
the natives have saving accounts in the Union Trust
Company, San Francisco, upon which they draw interest

Online LibraryAlbert Lord BeldenThe fur trade of America and some of the men who made and maintain it, together with furs and fur bearers of other continents and countries and islands of the sea → online text (page 8 of 34)