Rim of Red Water

oie_2117355x9JBAV1v“Out across those open turbulent waters in the Aleutian Islands, among the last to be explored by Europeans, is where Christopher Columbus, if he could have sailed farther, might have taken his three ships right off the edge of the Earth, somewhere west of Kodiak.”

Writer Tim Jones (The Last Great Race, Race Across Alaska, Keep the Round Side Down) brings a new perspective to Alaskan History Magazine with an excerpt from a book he’s been working on for a few decades, paralleling the life and importance of sea otters with the growth and history of Alaska. Beginning with the first inhabitants of the windswept rocky islands of the Aleutian chain, Jones traces the story over centuries, exploring the lives of the first people, who lived in harmony with the land and the creatures of the sea and honored the friendly, funny sea otters, and then contrasting that harshly with the relentless mayhem wrought by the men who came seeking only the sleek rich fur of the sea otters.

Sea Otter color“But those early explorers and later the merchants, ever restless, ever reaching out, were relentless in their searches for new lands and new riches, and as exploration spread it reached closer to the Aleutian Islands. Many of the early explorations, though not actually touching the islands, had a bearing on their future. And the sea otters became the valued objects that drew the first Europeans to Aleutian and subsequently Alaskan shores.”

Tim Jones has uploaded the entire text of his still-unfinished book – with illustrations – to his blog, Alaska With Attitude, and the history he writes is a fascinating, surprising, and quite enjoyable romp through a part of our past which can be as mysterious and elusive as the fog-shrouded Aleutians where it take place.

The Sept-Oct issue, with this article and many others, including the story of the SS Nenana, the Last Lady of the River, by Fairbanks writer and historian Patricia De Nardo Schmidt, can be ordered from the Alaskan History Magazine website.

Aleut hunters etching

Aleutian Sea Otter Hunters, by Charles Melville Scammon in The Marine Mammals of the North-Western Coast of North America, Described and Illustrated; Together With an Account of the American Whale-Fishery (1874)

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