Sunday, August 10, 2014

Hiram Sibley and Count Tolsto’i: The Story of the Russian Overland Telegraph

Here is the article, plus a few inserted tidbits, that I found so interesting the other day when researching Hiram Sibley, who I thought was primarily a very successful seedsman at the time.   The books by the other adventurers mentioned in the article look to have promise as well, especially Whymper's and Dall's.  

“If the Russian government will meet us at Behring Straits, and give us the right of way through the territory on the Pacific, we will complete the line in two years, probably in one.   The whole thing is entirely practicable. No work was ever accomplished by man that will be so important in its results. The benefit to the world will pay its entire cost every year after its completion.”                                                                                        Hiram Sibley





power of the two undertakings, “going it alone" to use his own phraseology, until confidence had been gained for his projects. Hiram Sibley, more than almost any man, deserves the honor of laying broad and deep the foundations of the telegraphic interests of the country.

But a magnetic telegraph that could not speak from continent to continent was inadequate to the demands of the time. How to make the electric girdle reach around the globe was the important question. The notable failures of Atlantic cables prior to 1864 had consigned long sea-cables to the fishes, for whom they had been largely manufactured.  Enthusiasm over Atlantic cables was chilled, — had about expired. 


And yet there were men like Cyrus W. Field, whose faith in submarines knew no shadow of turning; not even the snapping of his last venture (1865), whereby twelve hundred miles more of cable had been sunk for naught two miles deep in the sea, seemed to dampen his zeal in the least. True, there were several long cables in successful operation, but they were nothing like what was demanded for the stretch between Newfoundland and Ireland. The Red Sea cable had just “died in its bed,” and Great Britain had invested one million pounds sterling on that Red Sea cable. It seemed fitting to regard any one who would invest in Atlantic cables as needing a guardian.


Now the Western Union directors had no faith in Atlantic cables. They claimed to be business men, not scientists. They wanted an Atlantic cable, if such a thing were to be had, but their study of the subject left them decidedly disinclined to invest in any scheme for laying one. There was a project however, for connecting the telegraphic system of the Old and the New World, which had naturally been submitted to Hiram Sibley by the father of the enterprise.
Mr. Sibley believed the project was practicable, and his faith in it resulted in the undertaking of the “Russian Overland Telegraph Line,” or the “ Collins Line,” by the Western Union in 1864.  We find Hiram Sibley writing to Collins, October 16, 1861, before the enterprise had been officially undertaken by the Western Union :
“If the Russian government will meet us at Behring Straits, and give us the right of way through the territory on the Pacific, we will complete the line in two years, probably in one. The whole thing is entirely practicable. No work was ever accomplished by man that will be so important in its results. The benefit to the world will pay its entire cost every year after its completion.”

William H. Seward, as Secretary of State, advocated the project with enthusiasm. “ It seems impossible to overestimate the direct effect of this new application of the natural energy in producing a rapid and yet permanent development of the agricultural, forest, mineral, and marine resources of the United States. The Atlantic States by their inter-marriage with those of the Pacific have come under an obligation to favor this great development.”

The eloquent advocacy of the international overland telegraph by Senator Latham of California did much to launch it upon the high tide of popularity. $50,000 was appropriated by the United States government for the survey of the proposed route.



The junction of the Russian and Western Union lines was to be at the mouth of the Amoor, the Siberian post of the North Pacific. Perry McDonough Collins, a citizen of San Francisco, had thoroughly studied the proposed route by going over it. He had made the journey from Moscow to the mouth of the Amoor, a distance of some seven thousand miles, and had given the world a delightful book, “A Voyage down the Amoor."  At the time he laid out his telegraph route the telegraph lines in the United States did not extend west of St. Louis, while those of Russia reached no farther east than Moscow. The connecting link between the American and Russian systems would be about twenty-eight hundred miles; it would cost about three hundred dollars a mile.

A voyage down the Amoor: with a land journey through Siberia, and 

incidental notices of Manchooria, Kamschatka, and Japan - 1860   
Google book!    

Seeming obstacles to the “ Russian Overland " were dispelled like mist by its enthusiastic advocates. Even the matter of a submarine cable across Behring Straits did not make them faint-hearted. The cable landings would be in deep, safe harbors. Arctic temperature was favorable to insulation. The timberless steppe, five hundred miles on either side of the strait, could be furnished with poles from the forest-covered shores of the nearest navigable rivers. The route did not begin to have the difficulties of the Pacific line. What was considered the great “bug-bear” of the scheme, the falling of the trees in the great wilderness of Alaska and Columbia upon the wires, was removed by showing how the clearing of a wide tract on either side would remove that danger. Reindeers and dog sledges would make superintending the lines comparatively easy. The entire route would be a fruitful field for science. As to the cost, five millions of dollars would cover the expense, and what was five million dollars to the Western Union in comparison with the gains of the enterprise?

A China line was to one of the many evolutions of the project, and the one making the acquisition of the rights of the Russian-American Fur Company of paramount importance. To negotiate for those rights and to secure a sound contract between the Russian government and the Western Union, Sibley and Collins went to St. Petersburg in the winter of 1864/1865.
Russian stock was booming, in demand at from thirty to sixty per cent above par.
Hiram Sibley carried with him an important paper ; a statement of the financial condition of the Western Union and its relation to the Russian Extension. This paper was signed by the President and Secretary of the Western Union Extension, with a certificate of endorsement signed by the governor of the State of New York, and leading bankers of New York City. Upon this paper Sibley obtained in London a letter of credit for $750,000, with which and his credentials he was amply prepared for any emergency.

A disagreement arose regarding the interpretation of an important clause of the contract, the rebate clause. Russia claimed that the forty per cent rebate allowed was upon commercial and government dispatches.  Sibley claimed the rebate on all dispatches. After a prolonged discussion, neither party inclined to yield, Sibley announced that he should leave for Washington the next day; Russia might get an international telegraph as best she could. Count Tolsto’i, Minister of Posts and Telegraphs, urged his remaining longer, holding out a hope that compromise was possible; but Sibley had no intention of compromising, and left for Berlin in the special coach provided by the Russian government.
illustration from Whymper

Not twenty-four hours after his arrival in Berlin, Count Tolsto'i rejoined him and signed the protocol, granting all that was demanded by “the distinguished American citizen.”
The other matter was quite as difficult to settle, the obtaining of a perpetual lease to the Russian territory through which the telegraph must be built.
The rights of the Russian-American Company could be bought, providing the affairs of the company were not transferred to the government, or to the Hudson Bay Company. Even then there was a way out for a power like the Western Union. That the great American monopoly might finally hold the perpetual lease to the best of Alaska was not considered improbable ; although it was not known that overtures tending to such a result had been made by either party.

“ Hiram Sibley,” writes Hon. Cassius M. Clay, our minister to the court of St. Petersburg at the time, “ was the first to talk of buying a part of Alaska for the placing and management of the telegraph line and plant. Under his instruction I was sounding the Russian government. The Western Union Extension was first in suggesting to the Russian government the sale of the province of Alaska, and the possession of the land for telegraph purposes in perpetuity.”

“Why pay $750,000 for the rights of the Russian-American Company,” asked Prince Gortschacoff of Sibley, “when for that sum you can get the fee simple to the tract you want? ”
The specified tract was a strip extending from the coast inland from one hundred and fifty to three hundred miles. The acquisition of the control of the coast and territory of the route was a matter of importance, else there was an ominous outlook for trouble between traders and natives, and telegraph “ boys."

BUT the public, eager for the completion of the international overland telegraph, was far more interested in the expedition that was forming for the exploring of the route and the stretching of the wires through the wilderness, than in negotiations and rebates.
illustration from Whymper
The sailing of the Expedition from San Francisco in the summer of 1865 was with every prophecy of success. All that was left of “ the last Atlantic cable " lay coiled in the capacious hold of the “ Great Eastern,” and who, saving a few lunatics, had faith in Atlantic cables and the new scheme for under running the last loss, and saving it with the laying of a new cable?  It was a grand race and an unequal one. The “Russian” was young and vigorous, and its financial sinews herculean : the “Atlantic ” was broken with repeated failure; its record was against it.
“ I would give fifty thousand dollars,” said the president of the Western Union to the president of the Atlantic Cable when they met in London, “to know if you are ever going to succeed. I hope you will; but I would like to know for certain before we spend any more in Russian.”
The president of the Atlantic was by no means jubilant.
“I can get you all the Atlantic stock you will take, Sibley,” he replied, “for one and a half per cent.”
It was no temptation, — not the slightest. The “actual lunacy” of that cable company was simply inexplicable.

The fleet of “the Russian” was quite a navy. There were steamers and sailing vessels‘; coast steamers and river steamers, some thirty in all; with the Saginaw of the United States Navy, and a vessel or two of the Russian Imperial Squadron, and smaller barks; while England had been asked to contribute at least one ship of the line. The number of men enlisted was about one hundred and twenty. Thousands of tons of wire, two cables,— one for Behring Straits, r 78 miles long, and one for the Bay of Anadyr, 209 miles long—insulators, brackets, instruments, wagons built specially for the work, etc., were duly shipped for the headquarters of the four divisions of the Expedition,-— British Columbia, the Yukon, Siberia, and the Anadyr. 

illustration from Whymper
The Expedition was admirably systematized, and divided into parties of construction, engineer corps, and scientific corps. Each was under a chief and military discipline. Colonel Charles S. Bulkeley was engineer in chief. Colonel Bulkeley had won honorable distinction during the war, as superintendent of the military telegraph system of the Northwest. His staff was largely composed of army men of superior ability and peculiar fitness for their new field. A glance at the roll of officers and men discovers names of famous contributors to the bibliography of exploration and discovery. Chief among them, George Kennan, whose name has since been associated with Russia, and who made his first contribution to the subject in his story of his experience in building telegraph, “Tent Life in Siberia.”

Tent Life in Siberia: A New Account of an Old Undertaking; Adventures Among the Koraks and Other Tribes in Kamchatka and Northern Asia

Frederick Whymper was one of the Expedition, author of “Travels in Alaska and the Yukon”, also H. W. Elliott, who has recently published “ Our Arctic Province ” ; Thomas W. Knox of the “Boy Travelers”; Richard  Bush of “Reindeers, Dogs, and Snow Shoes”; and William H. Dall, whose “Alaska and its Resources ” is standard authority upon the subject.

They tell of a poor student of the Smithsonian, a zealous scientist, who knowing that there was a rare, a very rare bug to be found somewhere up near the Straits, begged to go with the Expedition. He was taken under their wing, and became a valuable member of the scientific corps, and no doubt the rare bug was sent back to the Smithsonian, but the poor fellow died in the Arctic regions.

The four main parties were subdivided. Detachments were left at Plover Bay, Grantly Harbor, Anadyr Bay, and other points. Many of the men did not hear from home for more than two years.
The Anson Stager, a little river steamer of the Expedition, was the first craft of the white man to ascend the Yukon from the Pacific coast.

“ Where under the sun did you come from?” cried out the traders at Fort Yukon. They had always believed that the river emptied into the Arctic Ocean, and were ‘slow to be convinced to the contrary.

illustration from one of these books :-)

Hiram Sibley tells of the dispute he had upon the subject in the office of the Hudson Bay Company in London. They laughed at the idea of the Yukon emptying into the Pacific. They knew better. There was the map before their eyes; the Yukon flowing into the Arctic Ocean. When they believed that story of the Anson Stager they would study geography again. Furthermore, there was a man in the office who was born on the Yukon. He ought to know,— he should testify for Mr. Sibley’s benefit. The Yukonite came forward and testified that everybody on
the Yukon believed that the river emptied into the Arctic Ocean. The Hudson Bay officials said that it did; the maps showed that it did; and he should so believe, although he had never seen any one who had followed the river to its source.

Mr. Sibley stood doggedly by his telegraph boys. Something like a year after he met the Yukonite returning from his native wilds. He said the story of the Anson Stager was correct. For all that, the foremost globemaker in England did not correct the course of the river on his maps as late as 1883. Russian maps had shown the Yukon emptying into the Arctic as early as 1785.
Dall tells us that the exploration of the sources of the Yukon was first accomplished by the employees of the overland telegraph company. 

The standard map of the Yukon was drawn from surveys made by the scientific corps. This map shows the length, various tributaries, posts, villages, and obstructions to navigators. “We are the only party,” says Dall, “ who up to 1866 have descended from the upper Yukon to the sea by river.”
The first telegraph pole in the Yukon valley, — though it may be the last, — was raised near Nulato Bay, New Year’s Day, 1866, with a salute of thirty-two guns, the display of the stars and stripes, and the explosion of an old Russian blunderbuss.

Never was traveler’s tale more fascinatingly told than Kennan’s “ Tent Life in Siberia.” We follow the Siberian party across the Kamchatcan mountains on snow sledges, over the dreary Korak plains; along desolate Arctic shores, and through fearful ravines. It had been a costly girdle, this one of “the Overland,” even if it had repaid its cost ten times over;  but when we think of all the 
heroism and endurance that was undergone, and that months after the success of the cable had made that heroism and endurance a profitless expenditure, we can but think that the world has never recognized the achievement of what it has called the grand failure of the century. 


Where in the records of exploration do we read a more thrilling story than that Kennan tells us of the journey he made with a few companions from Geezhega to Gamsk, along the shore of the Okhotsk Sea, — that fearful crossing of the “ River of the Lost,” when they camped on an icy drift sloping to the black waters, — “ a breeze might send the waves to undermine it before morning.”   On they go, and are lost in a blinding snowstorm on the great steppe thirty miles from Gamsk; no wood, no food, yet stop they must, lest in the darkness they drive over the icy precipice into the sea. They creep under their sledges, to be so buried in snow they must cut their way out or suffocate. “Drawing our heads and arms into the bodies of our fur coats, we squatted down upon the snow to wait for daylight. In a moment I heard Leet shout down into the neck-hole of my fur coat, ‘ What would our mothers say if they could see us now?’ and he went away somewhere in the darkness, and squatted alone upon the snow. For more than ten hours we sat on that desolate storm swept plain, without fire or sleep. . . . It seemed as if daylight would never come.” That is but one picture of a series of similar ones. Seeking a chain of wooded rivers in the unbroken wilderness, — routes for the transportation of telegraph poles, etc., was something more than a pleasure excursion. Cutting poles on snow-shoes, digging post holes in soil frozen hard as rock, sharing the provender and tents of the natives, — all this and other features of the work was a hard test of physical and mental fiber, and we can hardly wonder that “ poor Leet ” committed suicide at a lonely Siberian settlement on the Okhotsk Sea; while ‘we realize the value of spirits like Kennan’s in such fearful straits.

The report of the Siberian party upon the occasion of their meeting once more at Geezhega, April, 1866, shows the good right of the Expedition on the catalogue of famous explorations. Some of them had just returned from a forced sojourn among the wandering Chookchees, where they had lived on reindeer entrails and tallow.
“Some of us had come from Kamchatca ; some from the frontier of China ; and some from Behring Straits. We congratulated ourselves upon the successful exploration of the whole line from Anadyr Bay to the Amoor River. In seven months we had traveled in the aggregate almost ten thousand miles.


Almost simultaneously with the reunion of the Siberian party, ‘the world was reading the latest news from the Russian Overland Expedition.
“The entire route is explored.” So ran the telegram dated Okhotsk', January 8, 1866, which was sent by post to Irkoutsk, and thence by wire to St. Petersburg, four thousand miles.
Having sent that triumphant message to the civilized world, the heroes of the expedition were quite unprepared for the next news they heard from home ; very old news, too, it was, before it reached many of them, more than two years old :
“The Atlantic Cable is a success!”

The party in British Columbia heard the news first of all.Major Pope, the chief of that division, was just starting off for Kamchatca. Fortunately the vessel was delayed. He knew what the success of the cable meant to the Overland, and so sent in his resignation at once. “I did not want to be banished to the ends of the earth, if nothing was to come of it.”

Nearly a year after, not until June, 1867, did the party on the upper Yukon get the news.
Whymper tells us that he was returning to St. Michaels from a long voyage down the river. The men had had a, hard winter building the telegraph; the ground frozen like rock five feet beneath the snow. Six holes a day had been considered good work, and lucky were the diggers if they did not fall into the snow-covered pits. At the order for retreat the boys at Norton’s Sound hung the poles with what black cloth they could spare, and then turned their backs upon the weird monuments of a lost cause.

The Siberian party received their news a little earlier and in advance of official notification.
The ice had broken in the Gulf of Geezhega, and the first of June brought an American whaler off Malooga Island. The homesick exiles, who had long watched for a sail, were not slow in boarding the vessel. In a copy of a San Francisco paper they read what took away their breath. One year before, August, 1866, the Atlantic Cable had won the race!  “The Russian Overland is abandoned.”

“It seemed hard,” wrote Kennan, “to give up the object for which we had devoted three years of our lives, and for whose attainment we had suffered all possible hardships.
We had prepared about fifteen thousand telegraph poles, built between forty and fifty station houses and magazines, and cut nearly fifty miles of road through the forests. Besides seventy-five Americans, we had a force of one hundred and fifty natives already at work, and six hundred more were on their way from Yakootsk. Our facilities for transportation another year would have been unlimited. We had a small steamer on the Anadyr River, and had ordered another for the Penzhina. We owned one hundred and fifty dogs and several hundred reindeer. By the first of September we should have been able to take the field with nearly one thousand men.”

“ It is a proof of the strength of the Western Union Company at that period,” writes Reid in his “Telegraph in America,” “that it footed the bill of the Russian Expedition, three millions of dollars, without a shiver, and without at all reducing the market value of its stock.”
The shareholders of “the Russian " were in the main Western Union men, and they received one-third of their paid assessments. So quietly did the undertaking disappear in the magnificent success of its rival, it was sooner forgotten in the United States than on the barren steppes of Siberia, where the wandering Koraks made their camp-fires long after with thanksgiving, let us hope, for the heaps of telegraph poles the pale-faces had piled up so carefully, as they must have thought, for their benefit.

“I have no doubt," wrote Kennan, “that years from hence, when Macaulay’s New Zealander shall have finished sketching the ruins of St. Paul's, and shall have gone to Siberia to complete his education, he will be entertained by stories of how crazy Americans once tried to build an elevated railroad from the Okhotsk Sea to Behring Straits.”
Steamers of the expedition were sent in due time to collect the men from the headquarters on the Anadyr, Grantly Harbor, and St. Michaels.

A year after the collapse of the enterprise one hundred and twenty men were encamped at Plover Bay, waiting for the Nightingale to come and take them home. Rude huts of sails, poles and planks lined the shores of the Arctic harbor. A few of the Siberian party returned by way of Europe, among whom was Kennan. Only four or five of the expedition were numbered with the dead ; among these was “poor Kennicott”,  a great favorite among his companions, to whom Dall dedicates his “Alaska and its Resources.” It is said that Kennicott was the student “who went for the bug "; that seems hardly probable, as he was Chief of Explorations.
It took time to dispose of the great accumulation of stores. Russian traders and the natives were the purchasers, saving the cables, for which they had no use. These were sold to Henly, the maker, for about one hundred thousand dollars. They cost three times that, and had been “ round the Horn" three times before they made their final voyage. Dividing and elongating them had been found necessary owing to a change in the proposed route. Where these hundreds of miles of cable finally found rest, Henly alone can tell.

The wreck of the steamer Golden Gate, belonging to the expedition, was one of the notable disasters, which all in all were exceptionally few. The loss of the Golden Gate in the Anadyr River was a bitter misfortune to her crew, who had to spend a terrible winter in their huts on the diet of the wild Chookchees. So fierce were the gales, and so blinding the snow-storms, that guiding ropes were necessary for safe passage from one hut to another.
While waiting for the Nightingale the scientists sustained a loss in a valuable collection of lizards, snakes, and fish; a prowler in the camp not only drank the alcohol, but ate up the specimens. Whymper tells us that science was avenged in the result.

Late in September the Nightingale arrived. If ever a ship had welcome, that one did. There was no grand reception given “the boys ” when they reached home,—such a one as they would have had but for the victory of the cable; and yet they were deserving of their country's gratitude. If they had not won the girdle, they had done their duty every whit.  

Was there ever a more successful exploring expedition than that of the Russian Overland Telegraph?   Its route of more than six thousand miles was passed over but once by its men, but they made a prolonged sojourn in many localities. The peculiar relations of the company to the natives, and its generous support of the scientific corps were favorable to ethnological research, as the literature of the expedition verifies. 

The purchase of Alaska twelve years after Mr. Sibley’s negotiations for a perpetual lease of a route through the province was the direct evolution of those negotiations. The West-

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Another piece by Jane Marsh Parker from New Outlook, Volume 57, 1897
(She also wrote, among many other books, Thomas A. Edison and Samuel F. B. Morse


 The Exploration of the Yukon in 1866

By Jane Marsh Parker
NOW that everything pertaining to the great river Yukon is of paramount interest, that well-nigh forgotten gigantic failure of the century, the Russian or Collins Telegraph (an extension of the Western Union), is once more brought to mind. This line was to connectthe telegraph system of the United States with that of Russia, via British America, Russian America (Alaska), Behring Straits, across thesteppes of Arctic Siberia to the mouth of the Amoor. It was a project which, but for its defeat after its route of more than six thousand miles had been fully explored, thousands of telegraph poles cut and transported where needed, station-houses and magazines built, roads cut at immense labor and cost, would have made the Western Union virtually the owner of the best part of Alaska; for at the time when the news came that the Atlantic cable was a success, it had been decided by Hiram Sibley, President of the Western Union, who had negotiated the matter with the Russian Government with authority to act, that the Company should pay $750,000 for a perpetual lease to a tract from one hundred and fifty to three hundred miles in width, extending inland from the coast—the best of the barren territory. It was thought a narrow escape for the Western Union that the purchase had not been completed when the click of the Atlantic cable came as the death-blow of the Overland (August 26, 1866).
The four divisions of the expedition—British Columbia, the Yukon, Siberia, and the Anadyr—did not hear the news of the cable's success for months after. "How the bad
news came to Siberia" is told by George Kennan in the "St. Nicholas," November, 1896.
When the fleet of the Overland sailed from San Francisco in the summer of 1865, great and widespread was the public rejoicing. "Russian" stock was booming; "Adantic" was down to one and half; only "lunatics like Field " were buying " Atlantic." The fleet was quite a navy—some thirty steamers and sailing vessels—the Saginaw, of the United States Navy; ships of the Imperial Squadron ofRussia; and a British ship of the line to follow in time. One hundred and twenty men were enlisted in various capacities—George Kennan among them, who wrote his first book as one result of this expedition, "Tent Life in Siberia;" Frederick Whymper, afterwards author of "Our Arctic Province;" H. W. Elliott, of " Travels in Alaska and the Yukon;" Thomas Knox, who wrote " The Boy Travelers j" Richard J. Bush, of " Reindeer, Dogs, and Snow-Shoes;" and William H. Dall, the authority upon "Alaska and Its Resources"—names telling much for the character of the employees of the Company.
Two cables were a part of the cargo—one for Behring Straits, the other for the Bay of Anadyr.
The Yukon branch of the expedition is of most interest at present; its little steamer, the Anson Stager, was the first craft of the white man to enter the mouth of the Yukon and go sailing up its wide waters.
"Where under the sun did you come from?" cried out the traders at Fort Yukon. Up to that moment they had believed what the maps taught, that the Yukon emptied into the Arctic Ocean. "We are the only party," wrote Dall, "who up to 1866 have descended from theUpper Yukon to the sea by river." The standard map of the Yukon was drawn from surveys made by the scientific corps of theOverland.

When the telegraph to the Klondike is completed, let it not be forgotten that on New Year's Day, 1866, the first telegraph pole in theYukon Valley was erected, near Nulato Bay—the telegraph boys making of it a flagstaff for the Stars and Stripes, and giving it a grand salute of thirty-two guns, to which was added the explosion of an old Russian blunderbuss. No doubt they sang what they were much given to singing:
In eighteen hundred and sixty-eight—
Hurrah! Hurrah!
The cable will be in a miserable state,
And we'll all feel gay
When they use it to fish for whales.
In eighteen hundred and sixty-nine—
Hurrah! Hurrah I
We're going to finish this overland line;
And well all feel gay
When it brings us good news from home.
Whymper tells how the bad news came to St. Michael's. The "boys" had had a hard winter digging post-holes on snow-shoes— six holes a big day's work. Nor did they enjoy living in the huts of the natives on a fare composed largely of reindeer entrails and tallow. They had not received orders to start for home, but they knew it would be folly to wait longer than was necessary. Not until June, 1867, did the party on the Upper Yukon hear the great, and to them depressing, news, and nearly a year after the Overland had been abandoned the poor fellows were digging post-holes, surveying and exploring, and heroically enduring terrible hardships. When they did hear the news, they hung the poles that had been erected with all the black cloth they could spare—weird monuments of a defeated success. Their abandoned stores were left to the natives—not the cables; those went back to Henly, the maker of them. The Indians were overjoyed, of course, at the bountiful supply of firewood left for them in the poles stacked in great piles along the route.
If the Western Union had bought a perpetual lease to Alaska before the sale of the whole territory to the United States; if the telegraph boys in digging post-holes had discovered gold, how different the story, of the Western Union Extension, or Russian Collins Overland Telegraph!
"I have no doubt," wrote Kennan, "that years from hence, when Macaulay's New Zealander shall have finished sketching the ruins of St. Paul's and shall have gone to Siberia to complete his education, he will be entertained by stories of how crazy Americans once tried to build an elevated railroad from the Okhotsk Sea to Behring Straits."
The purchase of Alaska by the United States not long after Hiram Sibley's negotiations for a perpetual lease of a route through the province was the result of those negotiations. The rebate clause of the contract, for which Hiram Sibley stood so doggedly— exacting a rebate on all Western Union dispatches—had been signed by Count Tolstoi', and his Majesty the Emperor had sanctioned the same, when the success of the cable (chiefly that of under running the lost cable of 1865, giving "the Atlantic" two cables at once), made it most expedient for "the Russian" to withdraw from the race for the earth's electric girdle, and to give up securing a lease of the best of Russian America. "It is a proof of the strength of the Western Union Company at that period," writes Reid in his "Telegraph in America," "that it footed the bill of the Russian expedition, three millions of dollars, without a shiver, and without at all reducing the market value of its stock."

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About Kennan (Taken from an ebay listing of a page from Century magazine about Tolstoy):

George Kennan (February 16, 1845 – 1924) was an American explorer noted for his travels in the Kamchatka and Caucasus regions of Russia. He was diplomat and historian, George F. Kennan's cousin twice removed, with whom he shared his birthday. Kennan was born in Norwalk, Ohio, and was keenly interested in travel from an early age. However, family finances dictated that he begin work at the Cleveland and Toledo Railroad Company telegraph office at age twelve. 

In 1864, he secured employment with the Russian American Telegraph Company to survey a route for a proposed overland telegraph line through Siberia and across the Bering Strait. Having spent two years in the wilds of Kamchatka, he returned to Ohio via St. Petersburg and soon became well-known through his lectures, articles and book about his travels. He provided ethnographies, histories and descriptions of many native peoples in Siberia, that are still important for researchers today. They include stories about the Koraks (Koryak language), Kamchatdal (Itelmens), Chookchees, Yookaghirs, Chooances, Yakoots and Gakouts. In 1870, he returned to St. Petersburg and travelled to Dagestan, a northern area of the Caucasus region taken over by Russia only ten years previously. There he became the first American to explore its highlands, a remote Muslim region of herders, silversmiths, carpet-weavers and other craftsmen. He travelled on through the northern Caucasus area, stopping in Samashki and Grozny, before returning once more to America in 1871. In 1878, he became an Associated Press reporter based in Washington, D.C.
In May 1885, Kennan began another voyage in Russia, this time across Siberia. He had been supportive of the Tsarist Russian government and its policies, but his meetings with exiled dissidents during his travel changed his mind. On his return to America in August 1886, he began to espouse the cause of revolution. He had been particularly impressed by Catherine Breshkovskaia, the populist "little grandmother of the Russian Revolution". She had bidden him farewell in the small Transbaikal village to which she was confined by saying "We may die in exile and our grand children may die in exile, but something will come of it at last." Kennan devoted much of the next twenty years to promoting the cause of Russian revolution, mainly through lecturing. In addition to Catherine Breshkovskaia, he befriended other émigrés such as Peter Kropotkin and Sergei Kravchinskii. He became the most prominent member of the Society of American Friends of Russian Freedom – whose membership included Mark Twain and Julia Ward Howe – and also helped found Free Russia, the first English-language journal to oppose Tsarist Russia. In 1891 the Russian government responded by banishing him from Russia. Kennan's campaigning on behalf of Russian political prisoners was later expanded to include persecuted minorities in the Russian empire, in particular the Jews and, following the Russo-Japanese War, the Japanese. Kennan also assisted a little-known campaign to educate and politically motivate Russian POWs held in Japan. Kennan was one of the most prolific lecturers of the late nineteenth century. He spoke before a million or so people during the 1890s, including two hundred consecutive evening appearances in 1890-91 (excepting Sundays) before crowds of as many as two thousand people.