“Perhaps they are more useful than handsome, but I think there is something picturesque about them, especially when hitched to sleds and skimming over the frozen ground.”
The farm at Teller was certainly an interesting spot. Teddy saw the deer fed and milked, the Lapland women being experts in that line, and found the herders, in their quaint parkas tied around the waist, and conical caps, scarcely less interesting than the deer. Two funny little Lapp babies he took to ride on a large reindeer, which proceeding did not frighten the babies half so much as did the white boy who put them on the deer. A reindeer was to them an everyday occurrence, but a Boston boy was quite another matter.
Better than the reindeer, however, Teddy and Kalitan liked the draught dogs who hauled the water at the station. A great cask on wheels was pulled by five magnificent dogs, beautiful fellows with bright alert faces.
“They are the most faithful creatures in the world,” said Mr. Strong, “devoted to their masters, even though the masters are cruel to them. Reindeer can work all day without a mouthful to eat, living on one meal at night of seven pounds of corn-meal mush, with a pound or so of dried fish cooked into it. On long journeys they can live on dried fish and snow, and five dogs will haul four hundred pounds thirty-five miles a day. They carry the United States mails all over Alaska.”
“I should think the dog would be worth more than the reindeer,” said Ted.
“Many Alaskan travellers say he is by far the best for travelling, but he cannot feed himself on the tundra, nor can he be eaten himself if necessary. The Jarvis expedition proved the value of the reindeer,” said Mr. Strong.
“What was that?” asked Ted.
“Some years ago a whale fleet was caught in the ice near Point Barrow, and in danger of starving to death, and word of this was sent to the government. The President ordered the revenue cutter Bear to go as far north as possible and send a relief party over the ice by sledge with provisions. When the Bear could go no farther, her commander landed Lieutenant Jarvis, who was familiar with the region, and a relief party. They were to seek the nearest reindeer station and drive a reindeer herd to the relief of the starving people. The party reached Cape Nome and secured some deer, and the rescue was made, but under such difficulties that it is one of the most heroic stories of the age. These men drove four hundred reindeer over two thousand miles north of the Arctic Circle, over frozen seas and snow-covered mountains, and found the starving sailors, who ate the fresh reindeer meat, which lasted until the ice melted in the spring and set them free.”
“I think that was fine,” said Ted. “But it seems a little hard on the reindeer, doesn’t it, to tramp all that distance just to be eaten?”
“Animals made for man,” said Kalitan, briefly.