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THE BATTLE OF THE HEROES.
The battle of brawn was destined to be followed by a battle of brains.
Such an achievement as the pole discovery is always likely to bring a host of unpleasant developments in its wake; and it is sometimes followed by a quarrel. Damage suits and fights with deadly weapons have attended the great discoveries of riches. The heroism of American sailors in the war with Spain had, unfortunately to be followed by the Sampson-Schley controversy. And in the case of the North Pole discovery a quarrel was even more inevitable than in similar circumstances in the past. It was not in human nature that two men should stand at once on the pinnacle of fame.
This chapter does not aim to plead the cause of either Cook or Peary. It is included simply because the controversy, and the developments thereof, are vital parts of the history of the great polar discovery.
The trouble started promptly on the arrival of Peary at Indian Harbor, Labrador, the first port he touched on his return journey. One may readily understand the bitter, the almost unbearable disappointment of Commander Peary when there was brought to him, as almost the first news from his native land, the announcement that Cook had outstripped him by a year. It meant that he had fulfilled an ambition that had, inspired him from boyhood, only to -find himself outdistanced in the final stretch. Under this torturing sensation Peary rushed two telegrams to America before he had seen or talked with a relative or an adviser. The first telegram was to his wife, the other to the Associated Press. Said the former message:
"Delayed by gale. Don't worry about Cook. Eskimos say Cook never left sight of land. Tribe confirms.
The dispatch to the Associated Press read:
"Indian Harbor, Labrador (By Wireless Via Cape Ray, N. F.), Sept. 7. — To Associated Press, New York: I have nailed the stars and stripes to the North Pole. This is authoritative and correct.
"Cook's story should not be taken too seriously. The two Eskimos who accompanied him say he went no distance north, and not out of sight of land. Other members of the tribe corroborate their story.
ROBERT E. PEARY."
Later he sent the following to New York:
"Do not trouble about Cook's story or attempt to explain any discrepancies in his statements. The affair will settle itself.
"He has not been at the pole on April 21, 1908, or at any other time. He has simply handed the public a gold brick.
"These statements are made advisedly, and I have proof of them. When he makes a full statement of his journey over his signature to some geographical society or other reputable body, if that statement contains the claim that he has reached the pole, I shall be in a position to furnish material that may prove distinctly interesting reading for the public.
"ROBERT E. PEARY."
It was like a bombshell — this unequivocal charge that Cook had falsified. But the least excited man in the world was Dr. Cook, the physician, who at that moment was being cheered in Denmark as the conquerer of the Arctic.
Dr. Cook was at a banquet in his honor in Copenhagen when Commander Peary's dispatch to The Associated Press was read to him. Dr. Cook lost little time in sending to New York a number of cablegrams, in all of which he expressed his gratification that Peary had also reached the pole and announced his belief that Peary's observations would amply verify his own claim that he had been to the furthermost point of the compass. Dr. Cook was particularly joyous that, with Commander Peary's success, which he did not in the least doubt, all the honor for the achievement was surely American. In one cablegram to New York Dr. Cook declared that the science of exploration would benefit immeasurably through the fact that Peary reached the pole by a route different from his, thus covering another large unknown space and, with the Cook observations, clearing a mystery which had perplexed geographers for many centuries.
To a newspaper correspondent Dr. Cook said: "By going much farther to the east than I did Commander Peary has cut out of the unknown an enormous space which, of course, will be vastly useful and scientifically interesting."
Then he added, with evident sincerity: "I am the first to shout 'Hurrah for Peary!' Since he has telegraphed an announcement that he has reached the pole then it is true, and I congratulate him."
Asked whether Commander Peary was likely to have found traces of his progress over the polar seas, Dr. Cook replied: "No he scarcely would have come across my tracks."
Dr. Cook then said: "I understand that a rumor is current about my having taken some of Peary's provisions at Etah; this is founded on Eskimo gossip and misunderstanding. I desire no controversy. I simply say in reply to any such assertion, *No.' Commander Peary is a friend of mine."
Cook's hearty congratulations did not check Peary's charges. On September 14 he was interviewed under picturesque circumstances on the deck of the Roosevelt off Battle Harbor, Labrador. On this occasion he said: "I am the only white man who has ever reached the North Pole and I am prepared to prove it."
The Associated Press tug Douglas Thomas, after a stormy passage up the west coast of Newfoundland and through the Strait of Belle Isle from Sydney, arrived at the lonely whaling and mission settlement at noon September 14. A squall of rain was sweeping over the harbor as the Thomas steamed in, but with glasses it was possible to make out the mast and hull of the Arctic steamer Roosevelt moored in the inner bay. The Thomas broke out the "North Pole" flag, the same emblem that was flying from the mizzenmast of the Roosevelt, and signaled "The Associated Press congratulates you."
The Roosevelt then signaled the thanks of Commander Peary for this message, whereupon the Thomas gave three loud blasts of her whistle. In response there came from the Roosevelt a chorus of barking and yelping from the Eskimo dogs on board, that echoed back from the surrounding hills.
The Thomas drew near to the Roosevelt. The steamer looked little the worse for her second trip to the polar regions. Along the rail were gathered, the members of her famous crew, among them the redoubtable Capt. Robert Bartlett, who was at once recognized.
Capt. Bartlett invited the Thomas to tie alongside and the correspondent to come on board without delay. The correspondent clambered over the weather-beaten bulwarks and proceeded direct to the cabin to meet the man who has stood upon the apex of the world.
Peary said: "I have already stated publicly that Cook has not been to the pole. This I reaffirm, and I will stand by it, but I decline to discuss the details of the matter. These will come out later.
"I have said that Dr. Cook's statement that he reached the pole should not be taken seriously, and that I 'have him nailed' by concrete proofs to support my statement."
More and more bitterly raged the controversy, until the two explorers stood in the position of calling each other thieves as well as liars. Each charged the other with making use of supplies intended for the use of one man only. This arose from the fact that both made Etah, Greenland, a base of operations; and their tracks crossed a number of times. One assertion made by Cook's friends was that Peary opened Cook's letters; but this was indignantly denied by Peary and not proven by Cook.
One interesting story grew out of the matter of supplies. In this connection a Danish physician wrote a letter which made sensational reading for those watching the argument. This letter said:
"Now that Dr. Cook has gone (from Greenland), I am no longer under any obligation to keep silent, and will exercise my right to publish the story about the house in Annatok, a story which Dr. Cook himself had too much delicacy to relate to the world. I write it according to my memory, in the same manner that Cook in Egedesminde told it to me, and I am fully convinced that in no details are my recollections wrong.
"Dr. Cook had built his house for stores in Annatok, north of Etah, and it was this depot which he started to reach in February, 1909, crossing Smith Sound. It was a pretty large house, the walls being built of heavily filled provision boxes, so that Dr. Cook knew when this important point was reached everything was safe. He had, before the start, arranged with a wealthy young friend named Harry Whitney that he have the right to use the house while hunting musk oxen for sport in the winter of 1908-'09.
"When Dr. Cook and his two Eskimos, exhausted and half starved, came within a shot's distance of the house in Annatok young Whitney came out to bid him welcome, but inside the house was a stranger, a giant Newfoundland boatswain, on watch. This man had been placed in Dr. Cook's house by Peary when the latter passed Etah with his ship bound north.
"Peary had given the boatswain a written order, which commenced with the following words: 'This house belongs to Dr. Frederick A. Cook, but Dr. Cook is long ago dead and there is no use to search after him. Therefore I, Commander Robert E. Peary, install my boatswain in this deserted house.'
"This paper the boatswain, who could neither read nor write, exhibited to Dr. Cook and the latter took a copy of this wonderful document.
"Dr. Cook gave me a lively account of how the young millionaire, Mr. Whitney, during the whole winter was treated like a dog by the giant boatswain, and how he had calmly witnessed the sailor bartering Dr. Cook's provisions for fox and bear skins for himself.
'*Dr. Cook also had to put a good face on the unpleasant situation. He had to beg to get into his own house, and had to make a compromise with the boatswain with strong fists.
"Dr. Cook made a present of the house with all its contents to his two faithful Eskimos, with the provision that Whitney was to have the use of the house as long as his hunting trip lasted, but he was compelled to let the Newfoundland boatswain continue his watch. The boatswain, however, received strict orders not to exchange any more of the provisions or guns."
The other side of this argument was presented by Herbert L. Bridgman, who said:
"A false light has been put on the account of taking Dr. Cook's stores. I have received documents from Commander Peary which prove that his taking those abandoned stores was right.
"Rudolph Francke of the Cook expedition came down, Peary took care of him. Peary found at various stations letters from Francke, the most imploring letters filled with wild appeals for aid.
"Commander Peary took Francke with him to his doctor at Etah. The doctor himself has written me to that effect. He found Francke suffering from scurvy. He had him cared for.
"Then Peary pushed along to the points where he found Cook's stores that he established the year before. He guarded these from bears and gave aid to members of the party. He even offered to send scouts to endeavor to locate Dr. Cook. Nothing more could have been done by mortal man than Peary did,
"When he found abandoned stores he took them. As an officer of the United States navy he had a right to these. It is quite the common practice among explorers to take all abandoned stores. By his action Peary simply followed custom. All his letters, written long before this controversy arose, prove conclusively that Peary was guilty of no offense against Dr. Cook."
Still another, from the Peary camp, was that the instruments Dr. Cook had with him were borrowed from Commander Peary for another purpose. This man, who has been among the leaders of those who have insisted that Dr. Cook must submit incontrovertible proof, declares the Brooklyn physician borrowed the astronomical instruments for the purpose of making observations "while on a fishing and hunting trip along the Labrador coast."
Members of the Peary club also declared the Eskimos used by Dr. Cook belonged to Commander Peary and that he had no permission to seek their assistance.
Cook's statement on this point was this:
"I will not enter into any controversy over the subject with Commander Peary further than to say that if he says I have taken his Eskimos my reply is that Eskimos are nomads. They are owned by nobody, and are not the private property of either Commander Peary or myself. The Eskimos engaged by me were paid ten times what they demanded to accompany me.
"As to the story that Commander Peary says I took provisions stored by him, my reply is that Peary took my provisions, obtaining them from the custodian on the plea that I had been so long absent that he was to organize relief stations for me in case I should be alive. Of this I have documentary proof."
The above gives a fair idea of the counter-charges brought by the rival explorers and their friends. The more vital accusations, affecting the veracity of the two men, remained to be settled before a "jury of their peers," — the men of science, doubters by profession, who were to determine what the world gained in knowledge by the two dashes northward. Of this no account can be given here. The controversy was evidently one of those never to be settled by a verdict even of so formidable a jury as that described. The true verdict will be that of posterity. And it is not very venturesome to suggest that the plain citizen of years to come will accord equal honor to the men who risked all that they might stand on the earth's axis.
Admiral Schley, made just by the fury of his experience in the Sampson matter, said when he heard of Peary's triumph:
"I am as fully delighted with the news that Commander Peary has been successful as I was when word was received from Dr. Cook. He will share the great honors for although Dr. Cook was the first to be successful in the quest, Peary comes in for equal honors as his feat is no less wonderful than that of the doctor.
"There is no question in my mind as to the veracity of Peary's statement as I know him to be a man of the highest integrity and he probably has ample records and proofs to back up his contentions that he has reached the point of highest latitude."^ The announcement that he has succeeded will do much to dispel the skepticism manifest in certain quarters as to the ability of any human being to penetrate to the pole.
"This country has much to be proud of because of the fact that two of its representatives have brought such a great honor home. It is a wonderful triumph for American determination, grit, and physical endurance and skill.
"It would be just as impossible for Peary to forge records and data as it would for Dr. Cook. There should be no skepticism because the men report their success with such a short interval between. Each was determined to do or die in the last expedition and Peary deserves as much credit for succeeding as does Cook.
"All hail to the gallant commander, again I say. I rejoice over his success and that it is to the credit of this nation that two of our intrepid explorers have been the only ones to reach the long sought for goal."
PEARY CORROBORATES COOK.
The question whether Cook or Peary discovered the North Pole may never be settled. It bids fair to become one of history's conundrums and to remain a matter of one man's word against another's.
Peary has now told the detailed story of his dash to the pole. In reading it one can not escape the surprising fact that it tends to corroborate Cook's narrative in several particulars.
The Arctic sharps and wiseacres doubted Cook when he said he covered fifteen miles a day. They doubted him when he spoke of "purple snows" and "milling ice." They doubted him because he took no soundings of the sub-polar sea. They doubted him because he said he had pressed toward the pole in winter. They doubted him because there was no white man with him — only two Eskimos who knew nothing of latitude and longitude. They doubted him because he brought out only the records of his own observations and reckonings to prove his word.
So much for Cook. Now what of Peary?
Peary was the only white man of his party to reach the pole. He was accompanied by four Eskimos and Matt Henson, his negro body servant. He alone made observations and reckonings at the pole. None of the men with him knew anything about determining latitude or longitude. They could not have known they had reached the pole unless Peary had told them. Like Cook, Peary brought back practically his own word alone to support his claim that he had attained the earth's apex.
When we come to rate travel. Cook's fifteen miles a day seems modest in comparison with the distance Peary covered. When near the eighty-eighth parallel Peary decided to attempt to reach the pole in five days' marches. According to his story, he made twenty-five miles on the first day, twenty on the second, twenty on the third, twenty-five on the fourth and forty — yes forty! — on the fifth. On these last five days he traveled at an average rate of twenty-six miles a day.
From the Philadelphia Record.
And on the return trip from the pole to Cape Columbia he made even better time. He tried, he says, on his return trip to make double the distance he covered on his dash to the pole. "As a matter of fact," he declares, "we nearly did this, covering regularly on our return journey five outward marches in three return marches."
It is easy to figure out the average rate of speed he made on his return trip. He started back from the pole, he says, on April 7 and reached Cape Columbia on April 23, covering the 450 miles in sixteen days. This is a daily rate of 28.12 miles a day.
Will the Arctic experts who declared it impossible for Cook to make fifteen miles a day charge Peary with falsehood when he says he made forty?
In the matter of soundings what did Peary do? Five miles from the pole, he says, he made a hole in some new ice and took soundings. All his wire, 1,500 fathoms, he says, was sent down without finding bottom. In pulling it up the wire parted and lead and wire were lost. Peary threw the rest of his sounding apparatus away.
We learn from Peary's story that he started for the pole earlier in the season than Cook. He started in February, Cook in March. He reached the pole fifteen days earlier in the season — Cook fixes the date as April 21 and Peary as April 6. This would seem to dispel all doubt about Cook's ability to travel in what is winter weather in the Arctic.
Cook's references to "milling ice" and "purple snows" would seem unimportant, except that the doubting Thomases have seized upon it. Peary says that as he approached the pole he found the ice in motion that was both visible and audible. And, though he says nothing of "purple snows," he describes the surface of the old floes as being "dotted with the sapphire ice of the previous summer's lakes."
So if we doubt Cook, why should we not doubt Peary? And if we believe Peary, why should we not believe Cook? Peary's is the unemotional, detailed, matter-of-fact story of a scientist. Cook's is the breathless and exultant tale of a triumphant adventurer.
If both Peary and Cook reached the pole — and there is, on the face of things, no more reason to doubt one than to doubt the other — their expeditions must remain distinct in purpose and character. The one was a scientific achievement, the other a heroic adventure.