*This Day in Revisionist History: A new feature where Jake talks about something that could be cool or whatever if it happened in history.
(Editor’s note: In case you missed our historic introduction of Jake earlier today, this is a classic from Jake’s archive. Tune in next week for the current edition!)
“Wait, was that a bear? No dude, I’m not kidding, I think I just saw a f*cking grizzly bear!”
–General Lovell Rousseau on the morning of October 18, 1867, shortly after accepting the transfer of the Alaskan territory from Russia on behalf of the United States.
Nowadays almost everyone knows Alaska has bears, but as they say: Hindsight is 20/20. Now granted, this doesn’t make sense, because 20/20 is just the de facto standard; recent studies have suggested that optimal visual acuity occurs at about 20/8. But hey, when they came up with that expression, they didn’t have the benefit of…okay, you see where I’m going with this (and that’s called foresight, which strangely enough no one measures, not even metaphorically).
In any case, William Seward certainly didn’t know that the winter wonderland he had purchased in the spring of that year was overflowing with more bears than present day New York City has people, and so it was with great confidence that he signed the treaty with Russia’s minister to the United States, Baron Edouard de Stoeckl, who had risen to prominence in Russia despite his Turkish birth after developing what many industry experts now recognize as the most approximate precursor to the toaster strudel. While the two men shared a grand vision of Alaska, the final product would not be as well received as perhaps it deserved, not unlike the rich, fig-flavored “toaster stoeckl.”
Fortunately for Seward, the American people had a remarkable fascination with the bears, which became inextricably linked with the existing preoccupation with gold—a phenomenon that would have seemed coincidental to the American scholar, but one which to some foreign etymologists would have likely been predictable, with the Spanish word for bear being “oso” and the Spanish word for gold being “oro,” both believed to have been derived from the Latin “osurus,” meaning “a solid gold bear.” The subsequent exodus from the lower 48 saw hordes of American teenagers migrating to the new land, Holden Caulfields and Arlo Guthries alike, traveling together as if eager children in one big “fambly” to see these wondrous, dog-like creatures who, upon further examination, bore far less resemblance to dogs than the earliest accounts suggested. The newly vacated plains became overrun with small game and vegetation, with the human population having departed so abruptly, and so it was quite seamlessly that nearly two-thirds of the Alaskan bear population made their way into the states, where by keeping quiet about their origins many of them managed to successfully assimilate with the small human population that remained, and in time many generations of interbreeding depleted the excess of bears.
Of course, despite the mutually beneficial exchange of land, between both the Americans and the Russians officially and between the Americans and the bears unofficially, it would long be known as “Seward’s Folly,” if only because, at the time of the signing, he had at first accidentally written “Alaksa” on the treaty.
History may repeat itself, but that doesn’t mean I have to. Tune in next week for an all-new “This Day in Revisionist History”!