Polar Bears Summer Resort

This whimsical article, Polar Bears at St. Matthews, was unearthed from the Glennon Archives Centennial Collection Papers. It appeared in the Harper’s Weekly Journal of Civilization, New York, May 1, 1875, vol 19, #957.

Colorized Vintage Polar Bear engraving - Rag Rock Gallery

“Mr. H. W. Elliott, special agent of the government in Alaska, has kindly sent us the accompanying sketch, which he made during a voyage in Behring Sea last summer, and the following interesting note:

“We landed on St. Matthew Island early on a cold gray August morning, and judge our astonishment at finding hundreds of large polar bears roaming about on the little island, lazily sleeping in grassy hollows, or digging up grass and other roots, browsing like hogs, and hunting walrus or seal along the beaches and under the cliffs.

“At first landing, with sixteen of the bears directly in view, we felt some considerable excitement, mingle with a little nervous apprehension, for tales of the strength and ferocity of these animals came suddenly with disagreeable plains to the mind; but at the first volley from our breech-loading rifles one of the beasts fell and the other made off with astonishing rapidity, and during the five or six days we spent here we were never molested by then, although they were always in view on every side.

“They were very fat, and seemed to take the greatest delight in sprawling out in sleep or play upon the thick mats of circumpolar grasses and flowers which grow here in great profusion and beauty; they moved about like so many cattle, and strongly resembled them as they fed upon the herbage.”

St. Matthew, or Gore Island, as it is sometimes called, where the foregoing incident occurred, is situated in “Behring Sea”, about midway between America and Asia, and south of the larger island of St. Lawrence. It is about twenty-eight miles in length, and quite narrow. As may be gathered from Mr. Elliot’s curious experience, its inhabitants are chiefly seals, walruses, and polar bears. The latter make it a kind of summer resort where they can conveniently prey upon their weaker neighbors; but they seem to have a wholesome dread of fire-arms.”

Illuminated Newspaper Title - Rag Rock Gallery


Original black and white polar bear engravings, Centennial Papers Collection, Glennon Archives

Harper’s Weekly, Journal of Civilization Illuminated title, Centennial Papers Collection, Glennon Archives