“Tell us about the reindeer farms, daddy. Have they always been here?” demanded Ted, as they tramped over the tundra, covered with moss, grass, and flowers.
“No,” said his father. “They are quite recent arrivals in Alaska. The Esquimos used to live entirely upon the game they killed before the whites came. There were many walruses, which they used for many things; whales, too, they could easily capture before the whalers drove them north, and then they hunted the wild reindeer, until now there are scarcely any left. There was little left for them to eat but small fish, for you see the whites had taken away or destroyed their food supplies.
“One day, in 1891, an American vessel discovered an entire village of Esquimos starving, being reduced to eating their dogs, and it was thought quite time that the government did something for these people whose land they had bought. Finding that people of the same race in Siberia were prosperous and healthy, they sent to investigate conditions, and found that the Siberian Esquimos lived entirely by means of the reindeer. The government decided to start a reindeer farm and see if it would not benefit the natives.”
“How does it work?” asked Ted.
“Very well indeed,” said his father. “At first about two hundred animals were brought over, and they increased about fifty per cent, the first year. Everywhere in the arctic region the tundra gives the reindeer the moss he lives on. It is never dry in summer because the frost prevents any underground drainage, and even in winter the animals feed upon it and thrive. There are, it is said, hundreds of thousands of square miles of reindeer moss in Alaska, and reindeer stations have been established in many places, and, as the natives are the only ones allowed to raise them, it seems as if this might be the way found to help the industrious Esquimos to help themselves.”
“But if it all belongs to the government, how can it help the natives?” asked Ted.
“Of course they have to be taught the business,” said Mr. Strong. “The government brought over some Lapps and Finlanders to care for the deer at first, and these took young Esquimos to train. Each one serves five years as herder, having a certain number of deer set apart for him each year, and at the end of his service goes into business for himself.”
“Why, I think that’s fine,” cried Ted. “Oh, Daddy, what is that? It looks like a queer, tangled up forest, all bare branches in the summer.”
“That’s a reindeer herd lying down for their noonday rest. What you see are their antlers. How would you like to be in the midst of that forest of branches?” asked Mr. Strong.
“No, thank you,” said Teddy, but Kalitan said:
“Reindeer very gentle; they will not hurt unless very much frightened.”
“What queer-looking animals they are,” said Ted, as they approached nearer. “A sort of a cross between a deer and a cow.”