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Description of Indian Life in Alaska

William Dall Diary, Indian Life - Oct 1866-May 1867 - Page 1

From William H. Dall Diary Dated October 1866 - May 1867

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[The women generally wear their] hair long, parted in the middle and in two hanging braids, adorned with beads or small strips of fur. The dress is composed of three articles the artegi or parkie (Russian), breeches and boots. These are generally of reindeer hide, sometimes of the fawn, sometimes the summer, winter or even the tame reindeer skins beautifully pied brown and white and only imported from the Asiatic side. The parki is distinctive between the different tribes, and the Mahlemut style is sketched on the other page. The hood is generally thrown back and only drawn over the head in very cold weather or when sleeping. In cold weather two parkies are worn one with the fur inside and the other as usual and no warmer clothing is used during the severest weather. The mens parkies are cut right around, the womens have a long flap before and behind. Both are bordered with long fur generally rossamorga? or wolf skin and a white strip of clipped reindeer hide both around sleeve and lower edge. 

William Dall Diary, Indian Life - Oct 1866-May 1867 - Page 2

Two pieces of the same kind are generally let into the throat and back of the hood. Both kinds are occasionally, the womens almost always decorated with strips of fur sewed on at one end but never with cloth or beads. Breeches, gloves, & mittens are all of the usual forms, the first without pockets and tied round the waist with a string. They are always made of deer skin and never ornamented. Parkies are sometimes made of the skins of the muskrat, ivrashka? or marmot, mink, sable and other small animals. For the border of fur around the hood, the Indian ransacked the county for rossamorga? or wolverine skins, failing to obtain which he uses the wolf or even when hard pressed the hear skin. But rossamorga, although as a fur, of no value, will buy many thing and Indian has, and is the most valuable of goods to a trader.

The winter boots are made of the reindeer skin, taken from the legs when 

William Dall Diary, Indian Life - Oct 1866-May 1867 - Page 3

the hair is sort and with soles made from seal skin called Maklok with the edges turned up and over and strongly sewed to the deer skin. The summer boots are made of another kind of sealskin, the black maklok, sometimes ornamented on the legs with strips of white maklok; and and they are quite water proof. The winter boots are proof against snow but not water, but are much warmer then the summer ones. They are always worn with straw inside to protect the foot & absorb moisture. The soles are sometimes made of deer hide with the hair inside which is very warm and needs no straw but soon wear out.

The Mahlemuts care little for beads or bright colored cloth and the only thing which they use for clothing besides deer skins, are strong cotton drill of which they sometimes make shirts and blankets, for nips.

The houses, which are of the same style all over the country are


William Dall Diary, Indian Life - Oct 1866-May 1867 - Page 4

built half under ground, of logs laid together or driven ha into the ground without a nail or pin in the whole structure. They usually have a double entrance the holes separated by a long passage; twenty to twelve feet, and both closed by a piece of bear or deer hide. The outer entrance generally has a small shed or protection built over it as a protection from snow and wind. This passage is from two to three feet high and one has to crawl on all fours to enter the house.

They always have a square or rectangular hole at the top to let out smoke, which when the fire is out is covered with a piece of gut skin shirt; that is, a shirt like a parki which is made of the guts of the seal or walrus slit longitudinally scraped, dried and sewed together; these are moderately waterproof and translucent. The Russians cover their windows with them when out of glass 

William Dall Diary, Indian Life - Oct 1866-May 1867 - Page 5

and as the Indian houses have no windows and the door is under ground, all the light comes through the top aperture. Summer houses are built on the same plan but above ground of lighter timber and covered with bark and moss, when the winter ones are rendered unfit to live in from water. Two logs are placed length wise of the house about six feet from and parallel with the wall between these the fire is built on the earth floor and on the other side of the logs they sit, work and sleep, with their heads to the fire. There are generally pegs and a shelf or two where cooking utensils are kept, food and extra supplies of all kind being cached in small houses raised on poles or below ground outside. The frozen fish, deer meat etc are there preserved in good condition for two thirds of the year. The houses are generally situated near water and wood and when the latter becomes scarce 

William Dall Diary, Indian Life - Oct 1866-May 1867 - Page 6

the houses are sometimes deserted or moved to a better locality, unless it be a large village.

The utensils used in cooking are few. Many of them buy small kettles from the traders but their own utensils are entirely of wood or bark.

The Mahlemuts cut out of the dry spruce neatly finished dishes of various sizes, quite shallow and of a form between an oval, and a square with the comero? rounder. When a deeper vessel is needed the green birch is cut thin and bent to the desired form and pegged on with small pegs. These dishes are surprisingly strong and serviceable.

Eating is done with the fingers solely, aided occasionally by the long sheath knife which they all wear. Small wooden dippers and ladles are used however in cooking. Meat and fish are generally roasted on a small short stick called a k'hotl', with a dipper so placed as to catch the grease. 

William Dall Diary, Indian Life - Oct 1866-May 1867 - Page 7

The food of the Mahlemuts & Kariaks is derived in great part from the seal and walrus. Fish which is caught on the sea coast principally a small kind of tom cod and herring; the Beluga or white whale, occasionally a hump back or bowhead whale, ducks & geese in their season, and berries of various kinds, gathered, and kept in a frozen state, for half the year and reindeer meat from the hills and plains near the sea, these all contribute to their nourishment. The consequence is that they are fat stout and greasy, and never appear to suffer for want of grub.

They are now mostly provided with guns from the traders and few ever use the bow and arrow for hunting deer. Their bows are made of successive strips of birch, thin and laid one over the other each a little longer than the one before and all tightly bounded with raw seal hide, making a bow of great power; it is generally used as a cross bow. The arrows 

William Dall Diary, Indian Life - Oct 1866-May 1867 - Page 8

are about tree feet long and finished with a three sided bone or ivory head bound on with remni? or fine cord of seal hide; the shaft of spruce and feathers as usual. Harpoons and lances, much the same as those of the Tchorkchus?.

The one and three holed bidand? and the bibark are common to the Tchorkchees. Mahlemuts, Kaviaks? and Aleut ski to Sitka. In these their hunting is done and the winter supply of oil for light & food, and purposes of traffic is laid in. Trapping forms but a small part of their livelihood. Their oil and remné are a never failing source of income. With them, they buy tame reindeer skins of the Tchookchus, ivory from the Kaviaks, fish such as salmon and trout from the Ingaluts?, and pelts and furs from all quarters. The Indians of the interior will travel five hundred miles to traffic with the Mahlemuts rather then sell their fur for the miserable pittance offered by the Rutm? Fur Co.