CHAPTER XXVI. ANADYRSK - AN ARCTIC OUTPOST - SEVERE CLIMATE CHRISTMAS SERVICES AND CAROLS - A SIBERIAN BALL - MUSIC AND REFRESHMENTS - EXCITED DANCING HOLIDAY AMUSEMENTS

The four little Russian and native villages, just south of the Arctic Circle, which are collectively known as Anadyrsk, form the last link in the great chain of settlements which extends in one almost unbroken line from the Ural Mountains to Bering Strait. Owing to their peculiarly isolated situation, and the difficulties and hardships of travel during the only season in which they are accessible, they had never, previous to our arrival, been visited by any foreigner, with the single exception of a Swedish officer in the Russian service, who led an exploring party from Anadyrsk toward Bering Strait in the winter of 1859-60. Cut off, during half the year, from all the rest of the world, and visited only at long intervals by a few half-civilised traders, this little quadruple village was almost as independent and self-sustained as if it were situated on an island in the midst of the Arctic Ocean. Even its existence, to those who had no dealings with it, was a matter of question. It was founded early in the eighteenth century, by a band of roving, adventurous Cossacks, who, having conquered nearly all the rest of Siberia, pushed through the mountains from Kolyma to the Anadyr, drove out the Chukchis, who resisted their advance, and established a military post on the river, a few versts above the site of the present settlement. A desultory warfare then began between the Chukchis and the Russian invaders, which lasted, with varying success, for many years. During a considerable part of the time Anadyrsk was garrisoned by a force of six hundred men and a battery of artillery; but after the discovery and settlement of Kamchatka it sank into comparative unimportance, the troops were mostly withdrawn, and it was finally captured by the Chukchis and burned. During the war which resulted in the destruction of Anadyrsk, two native tribes, Chuances and Yukagirs, who had taken sides with the Russians, were almost annihilated by the Chukchis, and were never able afterward to regain their distinct tribal individuality. The few who were left lost all their reindeer and camp-equipage, and were compelled to settle down with their Russian allies and gain a livelihood by hunting and fishing. They have gradually adopted Russian customs and lost all their distinctive traits of character; and in a few years not a single living soul will speak the languages of those once powerful tribes. By the Russians, Chuances, and Yukagirs, Anadyrsk was finally rebuilt, and became in time a trading-post of considerable importance. Tobacco, which had been introduced by the Russians, soon acquired great popularity with the Chukchis; and for the sake of obtaining this highly prized luxury they ceased hostilities, and began making yearly visits to Anadyrsk for the purpose of trade. They never entirely lost, however, a certain feeling of enmity toward the Russians who had invaded their territory, and for many years would have no dealings with them except at the end of a spear. They would hang a bundle of furs or a choice walrus tooth upon the sharp polished blade of a long Chukchi lance, and if a Russian trader chose to take it off and suspend in its place a fair equivalent in the shape of tobacco, well and good; if not, there was no trade. This plan guaranteed absolute security against fraud, for there was not a Russian in all Siberia who dared to cheat one of these fierce savages, with the blade of a long lance ten inches from his breast bone. Honesty was emphatically the best policy, and the moral suasion of a Chukchi spear developed the most disinterested benevolence in the breast of the man who stood at the sharp end. The trade which was thus established still continues to be a source of considerable profit to the inhabitants of Anadyrsk, and to the Russian merchants who come there every year from Gizhiga.