The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Aleutian Islands
ALEUTIAN ISLANDS, a chain of islands situated between Alaska and Kamtchatka, and separating Behring sea from the North Pacific ocean, between lat. 51° and 56° N., and lon. 163° and 188° W. The origin of the name is unknown, but is believed to be Russian. Although the Aleutian chain is usually regarded as co-extensive with the Catharine archipelago, an appellation applied to all the islands of this region in honor of Catharine II. of Russia, some geographers do not include in it Behring island and Copper island, near the Asiatic coast. These are known as the Komandorski or Commander's islands, and are situated in about lon. 193° W.; the Russian explorer Behring died upon that which bears his name. Omitting them, the Aleutian islands consist of four groups, as follows: 1, the Nearer (Blizhni) or Sasignan islands, 5 in number, which lie W. of the 185th parallel of W. longitude, and derive their name from their proximity to Kamtchatka; 2, the Rat (Krisi) islands, of which there are 15, situated between lon. 185° and 180° W.; 3, the Andreanovski group, extending from lon. 180° to 172° W., and containing 30 islands, on one of which, Goreloi (Burnt) island, is a mountain 8,000 feet in height; and 4, the Fox (Lisi) islands, numbering 31, lying between lon. 172° W. and the shore of the American continent, and including Unimak and Unalashka. The entire area of the islands is 6,391 geog. sq. m. Ball estimates the native population at 1,500, though it probably was not less than 10,000 when the Russians first occupied the country. The half-breeds and resident Russians do not exceed 300 in number. Unimak is the largest island of the chain and the most mountainous. Unalashka contains the greatest number of inhabitants and the finest land for agricultural purposes, and also possesses the best anchorage and principal port, Iliuliuk or Captain's Harbor. Traces of the action of subterranean igneous forces are nearly everywhere apparent, and the whole archipelago is believed to be the result of volcanic upheaval. Hot springs are of frequent occurrence. Of the numerous mountains, several are upward of 5,000 ft. high, and many are volcanoes, some of which show slight signs of activity. A rolling country, with hills of moderate elevation, intervenes between the mountains and the coast, which on most of the islands is abrupt and accessible from the sea at comparatively few points. The soil in many districts is fertile, and produces turnips, carrots, parsnips, and cabbages of fair quality, as well as a few potatoes. There is a most luxuriant growth of wild grass suitable for cattle, of which, however, very few are kept, owing to the difficulty of housing them in winter from the scarcity of wood for building purposes. The islands are entirely destitute of timber. The climate is moist and equable, with an average annual temperature of from 36° to 40°. The Aleuts resemble the North American Indians in color and other respects, but are variously regarded as of American and Asiatic origin. An active and formerly a cheerful race, their character has acquired a degree of sombreness from the forced adoption of Russian manners, customs, and religion. Their principal occupations are hunting and fishing.—The Aleutian islands were discovered by Behring in 1741, and subsequently in the same, century were acquired and occupied by Russia, together with her possessions on the American mainland. In 1867 they were transferred with the latter to the United States, and now form a part of the territory of Alaska.