Sitka: The Alaskan Publishing Company, 1885-1886. Three folio newspapers, 4pp. each. Small stab holes in inner margin of each issue from prior binding, old folds and minor splitting. General edge wear and small closed tears, heavier in first and second issues, just into edge of text on first leaf of second issue. Occasional contemporary underlining in red ink. Overall very good, printed on fragile paper to begin with. Item #WRCAM58810

Three early issues, including the first and second, of one of the first newspapers published in the District of Alaska and by far the most enduring of those early printing efforts. Preceded only by the short-lived Sitka Times and Sitka Post in the 1870s, The Alaskan ran from this first issue in November of 1885 until 1908. Though preceding the Klondike gold rush proper by over a decade, these issues discuss much related to prospecting and mining in addition to local events and politics.

From the outset, The Alaskan purported to be a strictly non-partisan paper with the admirable goal of "advocacy and defense [for] the best interests of Alaska and its people." In pursuit of this goal, the paper sought circulation stateside and made considerable efforts to impress outsiders, correct misconceptions about the territory, and to vociferously argue for self-government. Since 1884, Alaska was administered as a District, meaning that the governor and most officials were appointed directly by the President. Alaskan citizens were well aware that they had little to no capacity for "home rule," let alone representation in Congress, and a number of articles in these issues revolve around that discontent. An article in the second issue, for example, laments that as there are no counties in Alaska, and therefore no elected County Superintendents to administer public schools – everything instead is managed by the directly-appointed Agent of Education.

A number of articles reference the native population of Sitka, both directly and indirectly. The printer's devil for the Alaskan Publishing Company was apparently a Sitka boy, one article praises the cleanliness and infrastructure of the "Indian village," and others describe the industriousness of the "Indian police" and fire brigade, local figures or guides, and more.

Still, the search for gold fills much of the space on these pages. Articles wish luck and promise updates on prospecting parties setting out, and report on the success or (more often) failure of others. The lion's share of the mining content, however, is thanks to the contributions of Nicholas Haley, an experienced miner and very early prospector, who came to Alaska to hunt for ore in 1872. Hayley's richly detailed and effusive descriptions of gold veins and ledges in the Silver Bay region populate several columns of each issue, though reader beware: Haley's experience also taught him how to make the most out of even the worst claims – by courting stateside investors sight-unseen. Haley's outrageously exaggerated articles about the richness of his claims, printed with The Alaskan's tacit consent for years, convinced many an unsuspecting victim, including Governor Swineford himself, to spend generously on these largely barren mines.

Other articles of note in these issues include a detailed history of Treadwell's Mill in Juneau, several lengthy essays give a history of the Presbyterian Mission in Alaska, and others discuss the controversies surrounding Alaska's impressive run of short-termed and corrupt early judges. There are also articles that briefly reference the Chinese Problem (criticizing Californian alarmism) and the Fitz John Porter case's near-conclusion, and describe the challenges of getting a printing house up and running in the far north. Advertisements are present in each issue for a variety of products and services, including a "billiard saloon" and one advertisement for "PURE BEER," rather daringly printed immediately adjacent to a report of smuggled alcohol seized by customs. The beer is of course offered "EXPRESSLY and EXCLUSIVELY for MEDICINAL, MECHANICAL, AND SCIENTIFIC PURPOSES."

A valuable collection of early Alaska printing and news, including considerable details on mining as well as the social and political concerns in pre-Gold Rush Sitka. Matthew Hunter, Making Claims: How 19th Century Sitkans Worked the Gold-Mining Business. 2006 (online).

Price: $2,250.00