I cannot remember any journey in my whole life which gave me more enjoyment at the time, or which is more pleasant in recollection, than our first horseback ride of 275 versts over the flowery hills and through the green valleys of southern Kamchatka. Surrounded as we continually were by the wildest and most beautiful scenery in all northern Asia, experiencing for the first time the novelty and adventurous excitement of camp life, and rejoicing in a newly found sense of freedom and perfect independence, we turned our backs gaily on civilisation, and rode away with light hearts into the wilderness, making the hills ring to the music of our songs and halloos.

Our party, aside from drivers and guides, consisted of four men - Major Abaza, chief of Asiatic exploration, Dodd the young American, whom we had engaged in Petropavlovsk, Viushin (view'-shin) a Cossack orderly, and myself. The biting sarcasm directed by Mithridates at the army of Lucullus - that if they came as ambassadors they were too many, if as soldiers too few - would have applied with equal force to our small party made up as it was of only four men; but strength is not always to be measured by numbers, and we had no fears that we should not be able to cope with any obstacles which might lie in our way. We could certainly find subsistence where a larger party might starve.

On Sunday, September 3d, our horses were loaded and despatched in advance to a small village on the opposite side of the bay, where we intended to meet them with a whale-boat. On Monday the 4th, we made our farewell calls upon the Russian authorities, drank an inordinate quantity of champagne to our own health and success, and set out in two whale-boats for Avacha, accompanied by the whole American population of Petropavlovsk. Crossing the bay under spritsail and jib, with a slashing breeze from the south-west, we ran swiftly into the mouth of the Avacha River, and landed at the village to refresh ourselves for the fifteenth time with "fifteen drops," and take leave of our American friends, Pierce, Hunter, and Fronefield. Copious libations were poured out to the tutelary saint of Kamchatkan explorers, and giving and receiving three hearty cheers we pushed off and began to make our way slowly up the river with poles and paddles toward the Kamchadal settlement of Okuta (o-koo'-tah).

Our native crew, sharing in the universal dissipation which had attended our departure, and wholly unaccustomed to such reckless drinking, were reduced by this time to a comical state of happy imbecility, in which they sang Kamchadal songs, blessed the Americans, and fell overboard alternately, without contributing in any marked degree to the successful navigation of our heavy whale-boat. Viushin, however, with characteristic energy, hauled the drowning wretches in by their hair, rapped them over the head with a paddle to restore consciousness, pushed the boat off sand-bars, kept its head up stream, poled, rowed, jumped into the water, shouted, swore, and proved himself fully equal to any emergency.

It was considerably after noon when we left Petropavlovsk, and owing to the incompetency of our Kamchadal crew, and the frequency of sand-bars, night overtook us on the river some distance below Okuta. Selecting a place where the bank was dry and accessible, we beached our whale-boat and prepared for our first bivouac in the open air. Beating down the high wet grass, Viushin pitched our little cotton tent, carpeted it with warm, dry bearskins, improvised a table and a cloth out of an empty candle-box and a clean towel, built a fire, boiled tea, and in twenty minutes set before us a hot supper which would not have done discredit to the culinary skill of Soyer himself. After supper we sat by the fire smoking and talking until the long twilight died away in the west, and then, rolling ourselves up in heavy blankets, we lay down on our bearskins and listened to the low quacking of a half-awakened duck in the sedges, and the lonely cries of night birds on the river until at last we fell asleep.

Day was just breaking in the east when I awoke. The mist, which for a week had hung in grey clouds around the mountains, had now vanished, and the first object which met my eyes through the open door of the tent was the great white cone of Villuchinski gleaming spectrally through the greyness of the dawn. As the red flush in the east deepened, all nature seemed to awake. Ducks and geese quacked from every bunch of reeds along the shore; the strange wailing cries of sea-gulls could be heard from the neighbouring coast; and from the clear, blue sky came down the melodious trumpeting of wild swans, as they flew inland to their feeding-places. I washed my face in the clear, cold water of the river, and waked Dodd to see the mountains. Directly behind our tent, in one unbroken sheet of snow, rose the colossal peak of Koratskoi (ko-rat'-skoi), ten thousand five hundred feet in height, its sharp white summit already crimsoning with the rays of the rising sun, while the morning star yet throbbed faintly over the cool purple of its eastern slope. A little to the right was the huge volcano of Avacha, with a long banner of golden smoke hung out from its broken summit, and the Raselskoi (rah'-sel-skoi) volcano puffing out dark vapour from three craters. Far down the coast, thirty miles away, stood the sharp peak of Villuchinski, with the watch-fires of morning already burning upon its summit, and beyond it the hazy blue outlines of the coast range. Shreds of fleecy mist here and there floated up the mountain sides, and vanished like the spirits of the night dews rising from earth to heaven in bright resurrection. Steadily the warm, rosy flush of sunrise crept down the snowy slopes of the mountains, until at last, with a quick sudden burst, it poured a flood of light into the valley, tinging our little white tent with a delicate pink, like that of a wild-rose petal, turning every pendent dewdrop into a twinkling brilliant, and lighting up the still water of the river, until it became a quivering, flashing mass of liquid silver.

  "I'm not romantic, but, upon my word, 
  There are some moments when one can't help feeling 
  As if his heart's chords were so strongly stirred 
  By things around him, that 'tis vain concealing 
  A little music in his soul still lingers, 
  Whene'er the keys are touched by Nature's fingers."

I was just delivering the above quotation in impassioned style, when Dodd, who never allowed his enthusiasm for the beauties of nature to interfere with a proper regard for the welfare of his stomach, emerged from the tent, and, with a mock solemn apology for interrupting my soliloquy, said that if I could bring my mind down to the contemplation of material things he would inform me that breakfast was ready, and begged to suggest that the little music in my soul be allowed to "linger," since it could do so with less detriment than the said breakfast. The force of this suggestion, seconded as it was by a savoury odour from the interior of the tent, could not be denied. I went, but still continued between the spoonfuls of hot soup to "rave," as Dodd expressed it, about the scenery. After breakfast the tent was struck, camp equipage packed up, and taking seats in the stern-sheets of our whale-boat we pushed off and resumed our slow ascent of the river.

The vegetation everywhere, untouched as yet by the autumn frosts, seemed to have an almost tropical luxuriance. High wild grass, mingled with varicoloured flowers, extended to the very river's brink; Alpine roses and cinquefoil grew in dense thickets along the bank, and dropped their pink and yellow petals like fairy boats upon the surface of the clear still water; yellow columbine drooped low over the river, to see its graceful image mirrored beside that of the majestic volcano; and strange black Kamchatkan lilies, with downcast looks, stood here and there in sad loneliness, mourning in funeral garb some unknown flowery bereavement.

Nor was animal life wanting to complete the picture. Wild ducks, with long outstretched necks, shot past us, continually in their swift level flight, uttering hoarse quacks of curiosity and apprehension; the honking of geese came to us, softened by distance, from the higher slopes of the mountains; and now and then a magnificent eagle, startled from his solitary watch on some jutting rock, expanded his broad-barred wings, launched himself into air, and soared upward in ever-widening circles until he became a mere moving speck against the white snowy crater of the Avachinski volcano. Never had I seen a picture of such wild primitive loneliness as that presented by this beautiful fertile valley, encircled by smoking volcanoes and snow-covered mountains, yet green as the Vale of Tempe, teeming with animal and vegetable life, yet solitary, uninhabited by man, and apparently unknown. About noon the barking of dogs announced our approach to a settlement, and turning an abrupt bend in the river we came in sight of the Kamchadal village of Okuta (o-koo'-tah).

A Kamchadal village differs in some respects so widely from an American frontier settlement, that it is worthy, perhaps, of a brief description. It is situated generally on a little elevation near the bank of some river or stream, surrounded by scattered clumps of poplar and yellow birch, and protected by high hills from the cold northern winds. Its houses, which are clustered irregularly together near the beach, are very low, and are made of logs squared and notched at the ends, and chinked with masses of dry moss. The roofs are covered with a rough thatch of long coarse grass or with overlapping strips of tamarack bark, and project at the ends and sides into wide overhanging eaves. The window-frames, although occasionally glazed, are more frequently covered with an irregular patchwork of translucent fish bladders, sewn together with thread made of the dried and pounded sinews of the reindeer. The doors are almost square, and the chimneys are nothing but long straight poles, arranged in a circle and plastered over thickly with clay. Here and there between the houses stand half a dozen curious architectural quadrupeds called "balagans" (bah-lah-gans'), or fish storehouses. They are simply conical log tents, elevated from the ground on four posts to secure their contents from the dogs, and resemble as much as anything small haystacks trying to walk away on four legs. High square frames of horizontal poles stand beside every house, filled with thousands of drying salmon; and "an ancient and fish-like smell," which pervades the whole atmosphere, betrays the nature of the Kamchadals' occupation and of the food upon which they live. Half a dozen dugout canoes lie bottom upward on the sandy shelving beach, covered with large neatly tied seines; two or three long, narrow dog-sledges stand up on their ends against every house, and a hundred or more sharp-eared wolfish dogs, tied at intervals to long heavy poles, lie panting in the sun, snapping viciously at the flies and mosquitoes which disturb their rest. In the centre of the village, facing the west, stands, in all the glory of Kamchatko-Byzantine architecture, red paint, and glittering domes, the omnipresent Greek church, contrasting strangely with the rude log houses and conical balagans over which it extends the spiritual protection of its resplendent golden cross. It is built generally of carefully hewn logs, painted a deep brick-red, covered with a green sheet-iron roof, and surmounted by two onion-shaped domes of tin which are sometimes coloured sky-blue and spangled with golden stars. Standing with all its glaring contrasts of colour among a few unpainted log houses in a primitive wilderness, it has a strange picturesque appearance not easily described. If you can imagine a rough American backwoods settlement of low log houses clustered round a gaily coloured Turkish mosque, half a dozen small haystacks mounted on high vertical posts, fifteen or twenty Titanic wooden gridirons similarly elevated and hung full of drying fish, a few dog-sledges and canoes lying carelessly around, and a hundred or more grey wolves tied here and there between the houses to long heavy poles, you will have a general but tolerably accurate idea of a Kamchadal settlement of the better class. They differ somewhat in respect to their size and their churches; but the grey log houses, conical balagans drying fish, wolfish dogs, canoes, sledges, and fishy odours are all invariable features.

The inhabitants of these native settlements in southern Kamchatka are a dark swarthy race, considerably below the average stature of Siberian natives, and are very different in all their characteristics from the wandering tribes of Koraks and Chukchis who live farther north. The men average perhaps five feet three or four inches in height, have broad flat faces, prominent cheek bones, small and rather sunken eyes, no beards, long, lank, black hair, small hands and feet, very slender limbs, and a tendency to enlargement and protrusion of the abdomen. They are probably of central Asiatic origin, but they certainly have had no very recent connection with any other Siberian tribe with which I am acquainted, and are not at all like the Chukchis, Koraks, Yakuts (yah-koots'), or Tunguses (toon-goo'-ses). From the fact of their living a settled instead of a wandering life they were brought under Russian subjection much more easily than their nomadic neighbours, and have since experienced in a greater degree the civilising influences of Russian intercourse. They have adopted almost universally the religion, customs, and habits of their conquerors, and their own language, which is a very curious one, is already falling into disuse. It would be easy to describe their character by negatives. They are not independent, self-reliant, or of a combative disposition like the northern Chukchis and Koraks; they are not avaricious or dishonest, except where those traits are the results of Russian education; they are not suspicious or distrustful, but rather the contrary; and for generosity, hospitality, simple good faith, and easy, equable good-nature under all circumstances, I have never met their equals. As a race they are undoubtedly becoming extinct. Since 1780, they have diminished in numbers more than one half, and frequently recurring epidemics and famines will soon reduce them to a comparatively weak and unimportant tribe, which will finally be absorbed in the growing Russian population of the peninsula. They have already lost most of their distinctive customs and superstitions, and only an occasional sacrifice of a dog to some malignant spirit of storm or disease enables the modern traveller to catch a glimpse of their original paganism. They depend mainly for subsistence upon the salmon, which every summer run into these northern rivers in immense numbers to spawn, and are speared, caught in seines, and trapped in weirs by thousands. These fish, dried without salt in the open air, are the food of the Kamchadals and of their dogs throughout the long, cold northern winter. During the summer, however, their bill of fare is more varied. The climate and soil of the river bottoms in southern Kamchatka admit of the cultivation of rye, potatoes, and turnips, and the whole peninsula abounds in animal life. Reindeer and black and brown bears roam everywhere over the mossy plains and through the grassy valleys; wild sheep and a species of ibex are not unfrequently found in the mountains; and millions upon millions of ducks, geese, and swans, in almost endless variety, swarm about every river and little marshy lake throughout the country. These aquatic fowls are captured in great multitudes while moulting by organised "drives" of fifty or seventy-five men in canoes, who chase the birds in one great flock up some narrow stream, at the end of which a huge net is arranged for their reception. They are then killed with clubs, cleaned, and salted for winter use. Tea and sugar have been introduced by the Russians, and have been received with great favour, the annual consumption now being more than 20,000 pounds of each in the Kamchatkan peninsula alone. Bread is now made of rye, which the Kamchadals raise and grind for themselves; but previous to the settlement of the country by the Russians, the only native substitute for bread was a sort of baked paste, consisting chiefly of the grated tubers of the purple Kamchatkan lily. [Footnote: A species of fritillaria.] The only fruits in the country are berries and a species of wild cherry. Of the berries, however, there are fifteen or twenty different kinds, of which the most important are blueberries, "maroshkas" (mah-ro'-shkas), or yellow cloud-berries, and dwarf cranberries. These the natives pick late in the fall, and freeze for winter consumption. Cows are kept in nearly all the Kamchadal settlements, and milk is always plenty. A curious native dish of sour milk, baked curds, and sweet cream, covered with powdered sugar and cinnamon, is worthy of being placed upon a civilised table.

It will thus be seen that life in a Kamchatkan settlement, gastronomically considered, is not altogether so disagreeable as we have been led to believe. I have seen natives in the valley of the Kamchatka as pleasantly situated, and enjoying as much comfort and almost as many luxuries, as nine tenths of the settlers upon the frontiers of our western States and Territories.