I woke to the sound of sea otters splashing near the boat. Where gold lured the Americans north, it was the endearing sea otter that had the Russians singing "East to Alaska. East, the rush is on!" A sea-otter pelt boasts an amazing 1 million hairs per square inch, which once made it the finest and most sought-after fur on Earth.
During his expedition of 1741 and 1742, Vitus Bering, a Dane sailing under the Russian flag, "discovered" the Aleutian Islands and mainland Alaska. On his return voyage to Russia, he was shipwrecked and perished on the island of Komandorskiye, near Attu. However, his surviving crew returned to Kamchatka with wild stories of land and loot for the taking. Russian adventurers and entrepreneurs, called promyshlenniki flooded east in a wave of brutal exploitation. They quickly subdued the sparse population of indigenous Aleuts. By kidnapping the native women and children and holding them as collateral, the Russians forced the skilled Aleut hunters to scour the seas in an endless search for more and yet more otter pelts.