It’s well established that reindeer only fly in a metaphorical sense, such as when bounding across the snowy tundra. In the 1890s, however, at the behest of the U.S. Department of Education large numbers of reindeer traveled by boat across the Bering Strait from Siberia, or by boat, rail, and boat again from Finland to what was then known as Alaska Department, or District. The following letter from Commissioner of Education William T. Harris in Readex’s Territorial Papers of the United Statesdescribes how that came to pass:
In 1890, Doctor Sheldon Jackson, General Agent of Education in Alaska, reported to me that owing to the rapid killing off of the whale and walrus in the Arctic waters of Alaska and the destruction of the fur-bearing animals of the land, the Eskimo of that region were on the verge of starvation.
With the approval of the Secretary of the Interior, Congress was asked to make a small appropriation for the introduction of the domesticated reindeer of Siberia into Alaska as a permanent food supply.
The Near Islands’ name seems like a misnomer. At the westernmost point of the Aleutian Islands, they’re not really near much of anything except each other and Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula. But their place in history is assured as the site of the only land battle during World War II to take place on U.S. soil.
On June 7, 1942, a Japanese force occupied Attu Island, capturing 45 Aleut natives and two non-indigenous citizens. The prisoners were relocated to Hokkaido, Japan. The Japanese would remain on Attu and nearby Kiska Island for about a year, until they were defeated by U.S. and Allied forces in late May of 1943.
Despite their remote location, Attu and Kiska were strategic in relation to Pacific shipping lanes and as bases for air attacks against the West Coast of the United States. The battle for Attu was by no means an insignificant engagement, as thousands of soldiers were killed and injured on both sides.
There’s general agreement that as recently as 11,000 years ago the Asian and North American continents were connected by a land bridge over which hominids and other animals crossed. Today, the Bering Strait is only about 50 miles wide at its narrowest point, and less than 200 feet deep.
Two small islands are situated midway between the continental land masses. Big Diomede Island belongs to Russia; Little Diomede Island belongs to the United States. The islands are separated by approximately two miles—and the International Date Line.
For reference, the English Channel, between the United Kingdom and France, is about 20 miles wide and similar in depth to the Bering Strait. An undersea tunnel was proposed there during the 19th century, and has since been completed. The Suez Canal, linking the Mediterranean Sea with the Indian Ocean, was built in 1869. The Panama Canal was completed in 1914. In keeping with these ambitious projects, some structure across or beneath the Bering Strait has long been suggested as both practical and possible.