Guest Post: A Quick History of the Russia Conspiracy Hysteria

EvX: Today we have an Anonymous Guest Post on the History of the Russia Conspiracy Hysteria. (Your normally scheduled anthropology will resume next Friday):

2011: Liberals get excited about Arab Spring. They love the idea of overthrowing dictators and replacing governments across the Middle East with democracies. They largely don’t realize that these democracies will be fundamentalist Islamic states.

Official US government policy supports and assists rebels in Syria against Assad. Leaked emails show how the US supported al Qaeda forces. See Step by Step: How Hillary and Obama Incubated ISIS.

Note that ISIS is also fighting against Assad, putting the US effectively on the ISIS side here. US support flowed to Syrian rebel forces, which may have included ISIS. ISIS is on the side of democracy and multiculturalism, after all.

Russia, meanwhile, is becoming more of a problem for the US Middle East agenda because of its support for Assad. In 2013, this comes to a head with the alleged Assad chemical weapons attack. Everyone gets very upset about chemical weapons and mad at the Russians for supporting Assad. Many calls for regime change in Syria were made. ISIS is also gaining power, and Russia is intervening directly against them. We can’t have Russia bombing ISIS, can we?

As a result, around 2013 Russia started to gain much more prominence as “our” enemy. This is about when I started to see the “Wikileaks is a Russian operation” and “ZeroHedge is Russian propaganda” memes, although there are archives of this theory from as early as 2011–Streetwise Professor: Peas in a PoD: Occupy, RT, and Zero Hedge.

There is, of course, negligible evidence for either of these theories, but that didn’t stop them from spreading. Many hackers have come from Russia over the years, and Russia was surely happy about many of Wikileaks’ releases, but that does not mean that they’re receiving money or orders from Russia.

In 2014, Russia held the Olympics, and around that time there was a lot of publicity about how Russia does not allow gay marriage. Surely only an evil country could prohibit it. Needless to say, I saw little said about Saudi Arabia’s position on gay marriage.

Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, and sanctions were introduced against Russia. Most likely the annexation was opposed because this would mean that Crimean gays would not be able to get married any time soon.

[EvX: I think Anon is being sarcastic here and does actually understand geostrategy.]

The combination of Russian interference in opposition to ISIS plus the annexation of Crimea was just too much for liberals and cuckservatives still opposed to “Soviet” influence, and various aggressive statements toward Russia began to come from Hillary and members of Congress.

Trump enters the presidential race in 2015, and he wonders why we’re opposing Russian actions against ISIS. Why are we taking agressive stands that could lead to war with Russia? What’s in it for Americans?

Obviously could only mean that Trump was a Russian agent. And who would a Russian agent work with but Russian hackers and the Russian Wikileaks agency?

Wikileaks released the DNC emails in July 2016, and they released the Podesta emails shortly before the election. Since Americans were known to not have any access to any of the leaked information, it could only have come from Russian government hackers.

Liberals have assumed that any contacts between the Trump team and Russian diplomats prior to the election were related to illegal coordination to influence or “hack” the election. Never mind that communication between presidential campaigns and foreign diplomats is not uncommon–CNN Politics: Obama Takes Campaign Trail Overseas.

Following the election, Trump associate Flynn might have said to the Russians that the sanctions could possibly be reexamined at some point, thus obviously severely interfering with US diplomatic relations. Of course this statement has been worthy of an extensive FBI investigation.

Most recently we have the “leak” of classified information from Trump to Russia, in which Trump told the Russians to be on the lookout for ISIS bombs smuggled onto planes in laptops. Apparently this is very bad because it’s important for ISIS to successfully bomb Russian civilian planes if they feel like it.


Let’s sum up this logic:
Russia is bad because they oppose US efforts to install Islamic fundamentalist governments in the Middle East, because they oppose gay marriage, and because taking Crimea is basically the same as Hitler’s invasion of Poland.

Russia is full of hackers. Assange is a Russian agent since he publishes information leaked from the US. Trump is a Russian agent since he opposes war with Russia.

Russians hacked the DNC and Podesta at Trump’s request and gave the information to Wikileaks. Flynn interfered with US diplomacy. Trump is giving US secrets to Russia.


Note the strength of this narrative despite its very flimsy evidence. Investigations into Trump’s “Russian connections” can continue endlessly so long as people believe in them.

Wed Open Thread

CIA Analyst Who Interrogated Saddam Hussein Just Blew the Lid Off the US ‘Official Story’:

Writing on his book, Debriefing The President: The Interrogation Of Saddam Hussein, for the Daily Mail, Nixon offered acrid criticism regarding Bush’s leadership, saying the former president heard “only what he wanted to hear” — including that Iraq had somehow been responsible for the attacks of September 11, 2001.

“Look at who was involved,” Nixon recalled the Iraqi leader telling the interrogators. “What countries did they come from? Saudi Arabia. And this [ringleader] Muhammad Atta, was he an Iraqi? No. He was Egyptian. Why do you think I was involved in the attacks?”

In fact, Nixon noted, “Saddam had actually believed 9/11 would bring Iraq and America closer because Washington would need his secular government to help fight fundamentalism. How woefully wrong he had been.”

I don’t know this website, so I can’t vouch for its veracity, and these days, everything seems a little questionable (wow that is an awfully artistically staged photo of that Russian ambassador’s assassination.)

I think we define “violent” differently.

Of course, we know that Iraq had no WMDs to speak of and we know the country descended into chaos and anarchy and ISIS crap. We know that thousands of people died so Americans could vent their hate at *someone* who looked vaguely like their enemies.

I woke up at 9 am on 9-11 to my alarm clock radio telling me that the Twin Towers had just been hit, and honestly, my first thought was, “some poor unrelated country is going to get bombed.” I figured Iraq was highly likely.

The attack on Afghanistan I can understand, but Iraq was unjustified and I was against the war even then, including participation in anti-war protests. I did not want to see Americans or Iraqis dying.

I have no respect for the fuckers who led us into that war, and no respect for the fuckers trying to start shit with Russia now.

The grand lie of weapons of mass destruction — and Judith Miller’s utterly false reports in the New York Times suggesting stockpiles of chemical weapons — are arguably the most deadly ‘fake news’ gaffe in U.S. media history. …

Nixon emphasized it wasn’t as if Saddam Hussein were a saint, but the profound mischaracterization of the Iraqi leader had appalling consequences.

“I do not wish to imply that Saddam was innocent,” Nixon writes. “He was a ruthless dictator who plunged his region into chaos and bloodshed. But in hindsight, the thought of having an ageing and disengaged Saddam in power seems almost comforting in comparison with the wasted effort of our brave men and women in uniform and the rise of Islamic State, not to mention the £2.5 trillion spent to build a new Iraq.”

So, what do you guys think of the assassination of the Russian diplomat in Turkey? What’s going to happen? Will there be open hostilities against Turkey? Will Russia and the US team up?

spread of spoke-wheeled chariots
spread of spoke-wheeled chariots, in years ago

I also enjoyed Physical Anthropology in 1950.

Now, you guys have left so many excellent comments, it’s getting tough to look back through them all, much less pick the best. Iffen and Unknown128 have been having an interesting discussion of Russian history over on the Classics post; With The Thoughts You’d Be Thinkin left a link to a very interesting documentary/footage of first contact between whites and people living in the interior of Papua New Guinea:

Figured this might interest you, a documentary about Michael “Mick” Leahy and his brothers, gold prospectors and explorers who made first contact with the Highland tribes of Papua New Guinea in the 1930. The full documentary includes footage of the first encounters and interviews with the tribesmen and the surviving Leahy brothers decades later.



So, do you guys think I should read Audre Lorde for next Cathedral Round-Up, to see if she is a fitting replacement for Shakespeare?

Exploration Friday: Russian in the New World, pt. 4/4

I only approve of wearing non-cute animals
I only approve of wearing non-cute animals

When we left off last week with Caughey’s History of the Pacific Coast, Vitus Bering and his men had heroically crossed Siberia twice, spent about 10 hours in Alaska, gotten stranded over winter in the Aleutian Islands, a bunch of them (including Bering himself) died of scurvy, and finally a few of them struggled back to Moscow. The result of all this human effort and travail was a rush to kill every last sea otter for their super soft and cuddly pelts.

As usual, I’m using “” instead of blockquotes for readability.

“Without waiting for authorization from the czar, traders scurried from Kamchatka to the Commander and Aleutian Islands. They sailed in most unseaworthy craft, small and crude, built usually of green timber, without iron, and consisting merely of a log frame covered with planks that were fastened with deer thongs and wooden peg and calked with moss and tallow for lack of pitch. … the willingness and eagerness of these adventurers to sail n such crazy craft over the stormy waters off Kamchatka testifies as to the profits in promise for successful voyages. …

“they went chiefly to the Aleutian Island, and did not visit the Alaskan mainland again until 1761. Shipwrecks occurred frequently, the estimate being one out of three… This was the period of unregulated hunting, characterized by the vilest outrages against the Aleuts, who suffered almost as much damage as the sea-otters.

Mikhail Tikhanov, Aleut in Festival Dress in Alaska, 1818
Mikhail Tikhanov, Aleut in Festival Dress in Alaska, 1818

“The Aleuts were depended upon for the actual hunting. The Russians hunted occasionally by long distance rifle shooting, but it was more convenient to utilize the natives. In calm weather they went out in kayaks and harpooned the sea-otters as they came up to breathe. Storm hunting on the kelp beds was more customary. In this wild work some of the Aleuts pursued the sea-otter in kayaks while others clubbed them as they came ashore. The danger was great, both in the fragile kayaks and on the slipper rocks. …

“the women of a village were seized as hostages and held until a satisfactory number of sea-otter pelts was brought in. This device lent itself to abuse and there were outrageous wrongs. The most spectacular concerned a ship which was blown back to Kamchatka with twenty-five hostages still on board. Rather than come into port with such incriminating evidence, the Russians unceremoniously dumped these women overboard to drown.”

Wikipedia has an interesting account of the far-reaching effects of this coercion:

Google maps would not give me driving directions for the route from the Aleutians to San Nicolas Island
Google maps would not give me driving directions for the route from the Aleutians to San Nicolas Island

There was high demand for the furs that the Aleut provided from hunting. In 1811, in order to obtain more of the commercially valuable otter pelts, a party of Aleut hunters traveled to the coastal island of San Nicolas, near the Alta California-Baja California border. The locally resident Nicoleño nation sought a payment from the Aleut hunters for the large number of otters being killed in the area. Disagreement arose, turning violent; in the ensuing battle, the Aleut killed nearly all the Nicoleño men. Together with high fatalities from European diseases, the Nicoleños suffered so much from the loss of their men that by 1853, only one living Nicoleña person remained. (See Juana Maria, The Lone Woman of San Nicolas, also known as Karana)

Back to Caughey: “By the middle 1760’s the Aleuts were aroused by these repeated atrocities to measures of retaliation. They met treachery with deceit and murder with assassination, and Russian blood flowed to atone for the slaughters of the Aleuts. This new sort of disturbance brought the region to the attention of the czar… A governor was sent out for the express purpose regulating this fur trade. … The Aleuts received but meager protection, and the czar’s revenues were not augmented to the extent anticipated. But during the period of government regulation there as an expansion of Russian fur hunting to Alaska proper. Kodiak was settled in 1783, and Shelikoff advanced to the Sitka neighborhood soon after.

“Toward the end of the century government regulation was abandoned in favor of control through a trading company modeled after those  of the English. … Under the company conditions did improve. Missions were but slightly encouraged, but the natives received some safeguarding for the very practical reason that their perpetuation was vital to the continued profits of the fur trade.”

Saint Peter the Aleut
Saint Peter the Aleut

EvX: See my post on Kabloona, Religion and the Far Reaches of the World for more on Russian Orthodox missionaries to the Alaskan natives. Wikipedia notes:

After the arrival of Russian Orthodox missionaries in the late 18th century, many Aleuts became Christian. Of the numerous Russian Orthodox congregations in Alaska, most are majority Alaska Native in ethnicity. One of the earliest Christian martyrs in North America was Saint Peter the Aleut.

Continuing with Caughey, “Following an uprising of the natives, [Baranof] reestablished Sitka in 1803 and made it the capital of Russian America. Shipbuilding was one of his principal innovations; some fourteen vessels being launched in Alaska during his regime, 1799 to 1818. …

“Russian America’s insecurity was well revealed during the course of the inspection by Nikolai Rezanof in 1805-1806. … He found Sitka threatened with starvation because one of the supply ships from Siberia had not arrived. Scurvy had broken out, causing several deaths, and no prospect of securing supplies was apparent. He gave temporary respite by purchasing the American ship Juno with its cargo of supplies, but to develop a permanent source of supplies for Russian Alaska he decided to make a voyage to Spanish California. …

“Rezanof soon discovered that Spanish law forbade any traffic with foreigners and that the California official were not inclined to countenance trade with him. A battle of wits ensued in which he endeavored to conceal the dire straits at Sitka, …

EvX: Rezanof got engaged to the daughter of the Spanish commander of San Francisco, who convinced her father to convince the governor to let Rezanof trade for a shipload of food for the Russian colony. Rezanof set off for Moscow to report back to the Czar, but died on the way. His fiance, ever faithful, became a nun and waited thirty-five years for news of his fate.

“Besides the cargo of supplies, Rezanof carried to Alaska a very enthusiastic description of California. … Three years later [Kuskoff] returned to poach twelve hundred sea-otter skins from San Francisco Bay and to purchase from the natives enough land for a post. The price was “three blankets, two axes, three hoes, and a miscellaneous assortment of beads.”

“Kuskoff came again in 1812 with one hundred Russians and eighty Aleuts and established Fort Ross, a short distance north of Bodega Bay. … Agriculture and stock raising flourished. Eventually two hundred cows were milked, and butter and cheese could be sent to Sitka. …. Fort Ross served as headquarters for Russian fur hunting as far south as the Santa Barbara Channel.

The reconstructed Russian Orthodox chapel at Fort Ross, CA, photo by Introvert
The reconstructed Russian Orthodox chapel at Fort Ross, CA, photo by Introvert

“With the practical extermination of the sea-otter, Fort Ross’ value waned. …in 1841, the Russian American Fur Company was quite willing to dispose of the fort and its furnishings to Captain Johann Sutter, marking the termination of Russian control south of Alaska.”

EvX: The Russian presence in America, especially south of Sitka, was never more than a thread, thinly stretched, but it had a significant impact on the lives of the natives (and otters) they encountered. According to Wikipedia:

Prior to major influence from outside, there were approximately 25,000 Aleuts on the archipelago. Foreign diseases, harsh treatment and disruption of traditional society soon reduced the population to less than one-tenth this number. The 1910 Census count showed 1,491 Aleuts. In the 2000 Census, 11,941 people identified as being Aleut; nearly 17,000 said Aleuts were among their ancestors.[9] Alaskans generally recognize that the Russian occupation, while the colonists were limited in number, resulted in few full-blooded Aleuts today. Full-blooded Aleuts still exist and are growing in number, and there are also people who may be part Russian or other descent but solely identify as Aleut.

In 1942, during World War II, Japanese forces occupied Attu and Kiska Islands in the western Aleutians. They later transported captive Attu Islanders to Hokkaidō, where they were held as prisoners of war. The United States government evacuated hundreds more Aleuts from the western chain and the Pribilofs during WWII, placing them in internment camps in southeast Alaska, where many died. The Aleut Restitution Act of 1988 was an attempt by Congress to compensate the survivors.

It is often amazing just how small–on the grand scale–these first movements to reach around the globe really were. Even now, only 12 men have ever stepped foot on the moon.

It’s also amazing that anyone at all managed to survive in the Aleutian islands.

Exploration Friday: Russia in the New World, pt 3

Welcome back. Today we are continuing with Caughey’s History of the Pacific Coast, Chapter XI: Russian America. (Parts one and two are here.) When we left off, Vitus Bering and his crew had struggled (twice!) across the expanse of Siberia, built a boat, and set out in a futile quest to fin Joao-da-Gama-Land, which doesn’t even have its own Wikipedia page. Bering’s quest, however, does:

The Great Northern Expedition … was one of the largest organised exploration enterprises in history, resulting in mapping of the most of the Arctic coast of Siberia and some parts of the North America coastline, greatly reducing the “white areas” on the maps. The endeavour was initially conceived by Russian EmperorPeter I the Great and implemented in practice by Russian Empresses Anna and Elizabeth. …

With over 3,000 people directly and indirectly involved, the Second Kamchatka expedition was one of the largest expedition projects in history. The total cost of the undertaking, completely financed by the Russian state, reached the estimated sum of 1.5 million rubles, an enormous amount for the period. This corresponded to one sixth of the income of the Russian state for year 1724.[1]

“Shortly after they foreswore hopes of finding this mythical continent, a storm gave Chirikoff [commander of Bering’s second vessel] excuse to separate from the St. Peter. He sailed east and sighted land on July 15th, apparently just off Latuya Bay. … Chirikoff brought the St. Paul as close to shore as he dared. He saw timid natives in two canoes, but they refused to come near. His only alternative was to sail for Kamchatka. On the way he skirted the Aleutian Islands, anchoring at one of them on September 9th These natives were almost as timid as those seen along the mainland, though they did bring some skins of fresh water. Scarcity of water and supplies and the sickness of most of the men necessitated returning to Avatcha, whee anchor was dropped on October 10th.

1966 Soviet postage stamp commemorating Bering's second voyage and the discovery of the Commander Islands
1966 Soviet postage stamp commemorating Bering’s second voyage and the discovery of the Commander Islands

“Bering, in the meantime, had wasted time and energy in additional search for Chirikoff and for Gama Land. Then he set his course northeast and then north, sighting land on the fifteenth or sixteenth of July in the vicinity of Mt. St. Elias. One day was spent taking on fresh water at a nearby island, while Steller the naturalist made a hurried study of botanical and zoological specimens and deduced what he could of the human inhabitants by examining a shellheap,the remains of a fire with bones scattered about, and an abandoned habitation. The general irritability of the entire group showed itself int he cross purposes of Steller and Bering. The naturalist had the better of the repartee, remarking “that this long and expensive expedition had been planned in order to fetch American water to Asia, and that ten hours of exploration corresponded to the ten years of preparation,” but the commander had his way and the return voyage was begun forthwith.

“Wet and stormy weather with the winds usually contrary slowed their westward passage. They spent forty days going from Kayak to the Shumagin Islands. Over Steller’s protest the boat crew loaded brackish water here, though good was available, and consequently the scurvy became more virulent. Beyond the Shumagin Islands the weather was still worse, with veering and uncertain winds, interspersed with wild storms from the west. According to their reckonings they were almost to Avatcha when land was sighted early in November.”

800px-a_new_and_accvrat_map_of_the_worldEvX: Note that this voyage, begun in 1741, occurred before John Harrison perfected his Marine Chronometer in 1761, and so Bering and his men had no accurate way to measure their longitude at sea. “Reckoning” here is likely dead reckoning–that is, an estimation based on speed and direction. This is a very difficult way to reckon your position across hundreds or thousands of miles of stormy ocean with any accuracy, as many a drowned sailor has learned.

“For some time Bering had been so ill that he was not actually in command. He urged that they struggle on to Avatcha, but the other officers and the men insisted upon putting in at this bay, convinced that they could sail or walk to Avatcha after the sick had recuperated. …

“A short foray inland convinced Steller that this was an island and not Kamchatka,…. Not all of the scurvy victims improved, and by January 8th, thirty lives had been lost including that of the commander.

“Bering Island, on which they were wintering, was quite bleak and dismal. … in the spring they attacked with zest the task of constructing a smaller vessel out of the wreckage of the St. Peter. … with prayers to St. Peter the forty foot craft was launched on August 8th, and five days later the forty-six survivors embarked. …

“They sighted the Kamchatkan shore after three days’ sail, but contrary winds delayed them another ten days in reaching Avatcha. their arrival was the occasion for great rejoicings, and the icon of St. Peter in the church at Petropavlovsk was adorned with silver by some of the saved men. It has been insinuated, however, that those who had given Bering’s men up for lost and had appropriated their belongings were not so elated over their return. …

“the Russian government kept the reports of his explorations secret, and as late as 1750 a scholarly paper was read before the Academy at Paris to prove that he had not reached America. Not until considerably later did extravagant admirers come to call him a “Russian Columbus.” But an immediate sensation was created by the make-shift fur clothing worn by the returned castaways. Chinese merchants at Kamchatka offered what seemed fabulous prices for these sea-otter pelts, initiating thus an interest in this fur trade. For a century thenceforth the sea-otter was to be the magnet attracting Europeans to the North Pacific.”

EvX: And cue the fur rush.

Book on a Friday: the Russian Exploration of America (pt. 2)

Welcome! Today we are continuing with Caughey’s History of the Pacific Coast, Chapter XI: Russian America. (Part one is here.) We left off with the death of Yermak and defeat of his Cossack warriors at the hands of Kutchum Khan’s Tartar forces on the banks of the Irtysh, Siberia.

800px-ob_watershedAs usual, quotes are in “” rather than blockquotes.

“Tartar hostility checked southward expansion, but the rivers invited progress toward the north, while their interlocking tributaries facilitated eastward advance. In common with other frontiers this one advanced irregularly rather than phalanx-like. Around Lake Baikal, for example, Buriat resistance was so stubborn that progress was greatly retarded and Irkutsk was not founded until 1651. In the meantime an ostrog had been built on the Lena in 1632, and traders had pushed on to the waters of the Pacific at Okhotsk in 1639, to the Amur by 1643, and to the Anaduir by 1649. The Kamchatka peninsula was reached in 1650, but the hostility of the natives delayed its occupation for half a century. …

russia-far-eastern-region-map-1“The waves of the North Pacific wafted to Kamchatka some intimations of America: trunks of tall firs and other trees not to be found on the bleak Siberian coast, an occasional dugout canoe, whales with strange harpoon heads imbedded in their back. Land-birds came from the east and went away again. Among the Chukchi in the Anaduir district were a few peculiar women, wearing walrus ivory lip-plugs and speaking a foreign tongue.”

EvX: I believe the “Anaduir” district is now the Anadyrsky District. The Chukchi people live in one of the world’s coldest environments, and traditionally lived similarly to other arctic peoples, like the Sami (Lapps):

aleutsandrelativesdna eskimoandneighborsdnaThe Chukchi are traditionally divided into the Maritime Chukchi, who had settled homes on the coast and lived primarily from sea mammal hunting, and the Reindeer Chukchi, who lived as nomads in the inland tundra region, migrating seasonally with their herds of reindeer. The Russian name “Chukchi” is derived from the Chukchi word Chauchu (“rich in reindeer”), which was used by the ‘Reindeer Chukchi’ to distinguish themselves from the ‘Maritime Chukchi,’ called Anqallyt (“the sea people”).

The Chukchi of far north eastern Russia are closely related to the Eskimo people of Alaska. Their neighbors, like the Selkups and Evens, are more closely related to the Aleutian people.

Back to Caughey:

“Cartographers, in the meantime, exercised their speculative faculties in plotting an island of continental proportions in the North Pacific. They called it Terra de Jeso or Gama Land, and according to popular belief, it was rich in gold and silver. A companion idea, that of the Strait of Anian, caught the fancy of Peter the Great and impelled him, as one of his last official act, to send out an expedition in search of the Northeast Passage. From several who volunteered the czar selected Bering, a Danish sailor who had enlisted in the Russian navy in 1704 and had risen rapidly from the ranks because of his bravery, excellent seamanship, and experience in the East and West Indies.

mysterious, non-existent blob-land
Go explore the mysterious blob-land near Kamchatka!

“Peter’s instructions to Bering were to go to Kamchatka, to build one or two boats, to sail north to determine whether or not America was connected to Asia, to sail to some European settlement in America  or to speak to a European ship in those waters, to make a landing, to draw up an account and prepare a chart, and to bring them back to St. Petersburg.”

EvX: Wikipedia has nothing on specifically “Terra de Jeso” or “Gama Land,” but it does mention “Joao-da-Gama-Land,” which is clearly the same thing, on the page about Bering’s expeditions. Joao-da-Gama-Land, however, does not have its own page. (Go forth, my friends, and make one!)

Peter’s directions were much easier given than filled:

“The overland journey to Kamchatka was itself a stupendous task. Leaving St. Petersburg at the end of January, 1725, Bering traveled to Tobolsk, down the Irtysh, up the Ob, across a long portage to the Yenisei, and up the Tunguska and Ilima to Ilimsk where he had to tie up for the winter on September 29th. the next season’s journey began with a descent of the Lena to Yakutsk. Her Bering divided his force into several groups, the largest of which went overland by pack train to Okhotsk. Cold set in earlier than usual and all the horses were lost, and because they did not reach Okhotsk in time to provide food for their cattle, he had to butcher them. … The division under Spanberg had greater difficulty. These men attempted a part water route. When their boats froze in, they struggled on with hand sledges, often with no other provender than the carcases of Bering’s horses. Relief parties came back to their assistance early in 1727, but by no means all of the men or materials arrived at Okhotsk even then.

“During the winter Bering had built a boat…. he transported his party across the Okhotsk Sea to the mouth of the Bolshaya River on the inner side of the Kamchatka peninsula. But when ascent of this stream proved impossible for the small boats built for the purpose, sledges were resorted to for crossing of the peninsula. …

“For his stupendous achievement in crossing Russia and Siberia and constructing and equipping the St. Gabriel at Kamchatka, Being has received just encomiums of praise. But in connection with his voyage to Icy Cape he has been stigmatized as a common ship captain, devoid of the explorer’s instinct, and unfit to lead a scientific expedition into the Arctic. He went far enough to assure himself that Asia and America were not connected, but not far enough to acquire convincing proof. It was left for Captain Cook a half century later to clarify the question of the width of Bering Strait and for Baron Wrangell a century later to prove positively that the continents are separate.

“Four more winters passed before Bering reached St. Petersburg to make his report. The Empress was favorably impressed and ordered a second expedition to carry out the rest of the original instructions. This time Bering attacked the task with appreciably diminished enthusiasm…

“Not until 1741 could the actual voyage begin. On june 4th of that year the two vessels Bering had built at Okhotsk sailed from Petropavlovsk, Chirkoff and seventy-five men on the St. Paul, Bering with an identical number on the St. Peter. Their plan was to sail southeast to 46 degrees where they expected to find Gama Land, then to turn northeast to America, north to 66 degrees, the latitude of Icy Cape, then due west to determine the width of Bering Strait.”

To be continued…

History Friday: The Russian Exploration of America (pt 1)

I’ve wanted to learn more about the Russian exploration and colonization of the Americas for ages, and while rummaging around in the attic of a 120 year old house I serendipitously happened across Caughey‘s History of the Pacific Coast, published in 1933, which has an entire chapter devoted to the subject.

One of the interesting things about the exploration of the North Pacific is just how late it occurred–even in late 1700s, we basically had no idea what was up there. Before the construction of the Suez and Panama canals, the north Pacific between modern-day Russia and Alaska was about as far away from Europe as you could get. By sea you might circumnavigate Africa, which offered little in the way of good places to take on fresh food and water–the Dutch had to send their own people to raise cattle on the Cape of Good Hope because the local hunter-gatherer population simply didn’t have enough food to trade for–and then circumnavigate Asia, making your way through cannibal (and probably pirate) infested waters along the way. Just getting to the Indonesian spice islands and back left a great many men dead of scurvy. Alternatively, you could round South America and brave the tumultuous, Antarctic waters around Tierra del Fuego–if you had permission to land at Spanish ports along the way. Alternatively, you could go by land–by trekking across Siberia and then building a boat, or by crossing the Atlantic, Lewis and Clarking it, and then building a boat. No matter which direction you head, it’s a long trek and you’ll probably die–and the Russians did it first.

How they did it is a tale in itself.

As usual, I’ll be using “” instead of blockquotes.

“Up to the middle of the eighteenth century the Pacific Ocean had been a Spanish lake, with English and Dutch freebooters intruding only occasionally. From Panama to beyond San Francisco exploration and settlement had been y the Spaniards, unchallenged and unaided. The opening of the North Pacific, on the contrary, was the work of several nations. Russians led the way under Vitus Bering, the Dane Spain sent expeditions to investigate the Russian activities, to check British aggressions, and to substantiate her ancient claim to the entire northwest coast. British traders came overland and by sea, and Americans likewise used a two-fold approach…

“From our perspective the overrunning of Siberia was a preliminary to Russian expansion in America; from the Russian standpoint Siberia far outweighed Alaska. But whether regarded as the tail or the dog, the eastward movement across Asia must be recognized as an epic achievement, comparable to the American westward march to the Pacific. “A century sable hunt half round the world” labels it succinctly. It was a century more or less; from the Urals to Okhotsk the Russians were only sixty years, to Bering Strait a century and a half. Sables were the chief incentive, but salt works, escape from the czar’s rule and his justice, silver mines, mammoth ivory,and exploitable natives were supplementary attractions. Half round the world is only a mild exaggeration. …

Yermak Timofeyevich, born sometime between 1532 and 1542 – August 5 or 6, 1585
Yermak Timofeyevich, born sometime between 1532 and 1542 – August 5 or 6, 1585

“Stroganof’s salt mines in the Urals served as the point of departure, and Yermak, quondam tracker along the Volga and more recently a river pirate, actually initiated the movement. He came to the salt mines in 1578 with almost a thousand Cossacks, a fugitive from the justice of Ivan the Terrible. For years Trans-Ural tribesmen had been bringing in valuable furs to trade, and Stroganof used this as a lure to speed the departure of his guests. He provided guides to conduct Yermak to the Ob with its reputed riches in sables.

EvX: “Yermak” is sometimes spelled “Ermak.”

“The Tatars resisted courageously. But except that they had horses and fought customarily as cavalrymen, they were at a disadvantage as great as that of the Aztecs against Cortes. Field artillery, firearm, arquebuses, and suits of mail gave the Cossacks victories over forces ten or even thirty times their number. After several battles Yermak captured Sibir, a Tatar village whose name was to be extended over all Siberia. His position was insecure, however, and gift of foodstuffs from non-Tatar tribes were very welcome. A present of sables was sent to the czar, who thereupon forgave these erstwhile river pirates, commissioned Yermak his agent, and sent him reinforcements.

Surikov's "The Conquest of Siberia by Yermak"
Surikov’s “The Conquest of Siberia by Yermak”

EvX: According to Wikipedia:

The Khanate of Sibir, also historically called the Khanate of Turan,[1][2] was a Turco-MongolKhanate located in southwestern Siberia. Throughout its history, rule over the Khanate was often contested between members of the Shaybanid and Taibugid dynasties; both of these competing tribes were direct patrilineal descendants of Genghis Khan through his eldest son Jochi and his fifth son Shayban (Shiban). The Sibir Khanate was itself once an integral part of the Mongol Empire, and later the White Horde and the Golden Horde.

The Sibir Khanate had an ethnically diverse population of Khanty, Mansi, Nenets, Selkup and Siberian Tatar people. The Sibir Khanate was the northernmost Muslim state in recorded history.

EvX: “Muslim” probably misrepresents the extent of conversion away from traditional steppe shamanism. The Khanate of Sibir only lasted for about 100 years, from 1490-1580 (khanates come and go.) The last Khan of Sibir, a fellow by the name of Kutchum, (or Kuchum) sealed his own fate when he decided to raid Stroganov’s trading posts, resulting in Yermak’s expedition.

But back to Caughey:

800px-ob_watershed“Old blind Kutchum Khan, in spite of frequent reverses, was still in the field against the Russians. On a stormy August night in 1584 he sent his cavalry against Yermak’s camp on the Irtysh. Completely surprised, this group of fifty Cossacks was annihilated. Yermak fought his way to the river, and seeing no other chance, plunged in, attempting to swim to the boats. His heavy armor dragged him to the bottom, where the Tatars discovered his corpse a few days later. They are said to have inflicted great indignities upon it and then to have buried it with equally great honors.

“Yermak’s defeat and death disheartened the Cossacks. They voted to abandon Sibir and retreat to Russia. A reinforcement met them on the way and they faced about toward Sibir, but Tartar forces prevented its reoccupation, and instead, Tobolsk was founded (1587) as the capital of this frontier.”

EvX: For thousands of years, horsemen have boiled out of the steppes, overwhelming, massacring, and raping the farmers of Europe and Asia. Wave upon wave of Indo-Europeans, (aka Yamnaya,) Tatars, Turks, Mongols, Khazars, and others conquered everything from the shores of Spain and Britain to the coast of China, from the tip of India to the frozen north of Siberia. Genghis Khan and his Mongol hordes may have killed 40 million people in a single lifetime.

Finally the Russians conquered them back, and even–during the Soviet era–occupied Mongolia.

To be continued…