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THE GREELY EXPEDITION.
One of the great tragedies of the Arctic grew out of the expedition of Adolphus W. Greely, then a lieutenant of the United States army, and now a major-general, in 1881-4. All the horrors of which the frozen north is capable befell this party. Misfortune was their lot, and death overtook a majority of the travelers. Yet there is no page in the history of Arctic exploits more thrilling, for it showed, just as war does, the stuff of which American soldiers are made. The fortitude of Greely and his followers and the pluck with which they pursued the search for knowledge in the face of starvation and sickness, has served as an example to every polar explorer in later years.
Lieut. Greely, after gallant service in the civil war, had given his attention to the work of the signal corps, of which he was an officer. He had become an ardent student of the Arctic, and was eager to venture into the north. In 1880 came the opportunity, when congress appropriated funds for the establishment of polar stations, — half-way spots by which it was hoped the pole could be reached by easy stages. Greely's enthusiasm pushed him to the front, at this time, and to his delight he was given the command of the expedition. On the steamer Proteus he and his party sailed from St. John's N. F., July 7, 1881, and made a quick trip up Baffin's Bay, and into the regions where previous explorers had "staked out their claims." The destination was almost reached when a solid ice-pack delayed the vessel in the southwest part of Lady Franklin Bay. This ice, however, moved to the eastward in time to send the ship on her way after a week, and Discovery Harbor was attained. At this point Lieut. Greely established his settlement, and named it Fort Conger, a name destined to be surrounded with suggestions of tragedy for all time. After the party had built a substantial house, and landed large stores of provisions and coal the Proteus returned to America, leaving the explorers to their investigations.
From August 1, 1882, for a year, the scientific work proceeded without misadventure. Enough was accomplished in this period to give the trip fame on this account alone. There was then no thought of the bitter future. Besides performing the studies in meteorology, astronomy, and magnetism, which was the prime object of the trip, there was time for trips of a purely exploratory nature, and these were notably successful. Greely had the satisfaction of having one of his men (one who never lived to see his native land again) achieve the farthest north record. Of this Greely's official dispatches had this to say:
"For the first time in three centuries England yields the honor of the furthest north. Lieutenant Lockwood and Sergeant Brainerd, May 13, reached Lockwood Island, latitude 83° 24' north, longitude 44° 5' west. They saw from 2,000 feet elevation no land north, or northwest, but to northeast Greenland, Cape Robert Lincoln, latitude 83° 35', longitude 38°. Lieutenant Lockwood was turned back in 1883 by open water on North Greenland shore, the party barely escaping drift into the Polar Ocean. Dr. Pavy, in 1882, who followed Markham's route, was adrift one day in the Polar Ocean north of Cape Joseph Henry, and escaped to land, abandoning nearly everything.
"In 1882 I made a spring and later summer trip into the interior of Grinnell Land, discovering Lake Hazen, some sixty by ten miles in extent, which fed by ice-caps of North Grinnell Land, drains Ruggles River and Weyprecht Fiord into Conybeare Bay and Archer Fiord. From the summit of Mount Arthur, 5,000 feet, the contour of land west of the Conger Mountains convinced me that Grinnell Land travels directly south from Lieutenant Aldrich's furthest in 1876.
"In 1883 Lieutenant Lockwood and Sergeant Brainerd succeeded in crossing Grinnell Land, and ninety miles from Beatrix Bay, the head of Archer Fiord, struck the head of a fiord from the western sea, temporarily named by Lockwood the Greely Fiord. From the center of the fiord, in latitude 80° 30', longitude 78° 30' Lieutenant Lockwood saw the northern shore termination, some twenty miles west, the southern shore extending some fifty miles, with Cape Lockwood some seventy miles distant — apparently a separate land from Grinnell Land. Have named the new land Arthur Land. Lieutenant Lockwood followed, going and returning, on an ice cape averaging about one hundred and fifty feet perpendicular face. It follows that the Grinnell Land interior is ice-capped, with a belt of country some sixty miles wide between the northern and southern ice-capes.
"In March, 1884, Sergeant Long, while hunting from the northwest side of Mount Carey to Hayes Sound, saw on the northern coast three capes westward of the furthest seen by Nares in 1876. The sound extends some twenty miles further west than is shown by the English chart, but is possibly shut in by land which showed up across the western end.
"The two years' station duties, observations, all explorations, and the retreat to Cape Sabine, were accomplished without loss of life, disease, serious accident, or even severe frostbites."
Although the attainment of the latitude Lockwood reached meant an advance of only four miles toward the pole, it lives in history with the records of Kane, who reached latitude 80 degrees, 30 minutes in 1854; of Hall, who attained 82 degrees, 16 minutes in 1871, and Nares, who five years later got as far as 83 degrees, 30 minutes. These, of course, do not take into the account the later marks of Peary and of Nansen.
The life of the explorers there in the cold and lonely land was not unpleasant at that time. They were under military discipline, and their habits were prescribed with an especial view to their health and comfort. There was plenty of good food then, and everything seemed to point to a triumphant return.
Then came the chapters of misfortune. Greely had orders from the War Department based upon the theory that relief would be sent him, and he would be taken off from Fort Conger. These orders, however, did not cover the possibility of ships being unable to get through to the party. These were the orders:
"In case no vessel reaches the permanent station in 1882, a vessel sent In 1883 will remain in Smith's Sound until there is danger of closing by ice, and on leaving will land all her supplies and a party at Littleton Island, which party will be prepared for a winter's stay, and will be instructed to send sledge parties up the east side of Grinnell Land to meet this party. If not visited in 1882, Lieutenant Greely will abandon his station not later than September 1, 1883, and will retreat southward by boat, following closely the east coast of Grinnell Land until the relieving vessel is met or Littleton Island is reached."
It is the part of army men to obey orders; and on August 9, 1883, Greely and his men left Fort Conger, and journeyed to Cape Sabine by boats. This trip took two months, and was attended by great privation. At one time the party was adrift for thirty days on an ice-floe, but they were driven upon Cape Sabine, and made camp there. Now they learned of the destruction of the good old Proteus, which had been hastening to their relief. They had no ship to take them home. They faced a long winter, with only the food — a comparatively scant supply — brought from Fort Conger.
At this point the health of the men began to weaken. Rations were shortened up. Four ounces of meat was allowed each man a day. Game swam, or flew before them, but could not be secured, there by the open sea, without boats; — and the boats had been lost. Starvation stared the party in the face.
Some of the feelings of the men in this situation are gleaned from the diary of Lieut. Lockwood, the officer who planted the flag farthest north.
On September 26 of that year he wrote: "The northwest gale at this hour (about 4:30 p. m.) still continues. We are apparently immovable just now; are probably packed and jammed in ice somewhat. God knows what the end of all this will be, I see nothing but starvation and death. The spirits of the party, however, are remarkably good."
Later entries in Lockwood's journal are these:
"October 21. Tonight we have coffee. We are now in our hut; but it is not yet finished, and is cold and uncomfortable. Our constant talk is about something to eat, and the different dishes we have enjoyed. How often our thoughts turn toward home and the dear ones there.
"We have found out some scraps of news from slips of papers wrapped around the lemons.
"December 3. Breakfast this morning consisted of chocolate and a few scraps of butter — no bread, for I ate all my bread last night. Many of us eat all our bread at night, and many try to save and manipulate their dole of food in a dozen ways to make the mite of food seem more filling. I have saved from yesterday some scraps of sealskin * * * I ate them hair and all.
"December 24. Tonight is Christmas eve, and my thoughts are turned toward home. God preserve me to see this day next year, and enjoy it at home with those I love."
But God willed it otherwise. The man who so prayed to be once more with his loved ones succumbed April 9, of the following year. His mind had weakened, and his diary began to contain pitiful entries in which he described dainties of the table.
"Memorandum: Roast turkey," he would write while he was dining off the frozen foot of a fox. With a constitution shattered by lack of food, and with his reason all but gone, he died.
One of the most tragic incidents of this part of the terrible story was the attempt of Corporal Joseph Elison and three other men to reach a cache of meat that had been buried by Sir George Nares, an English explorer, in 1875. The goal was only thirty miles from the Greely camp, yet its attainment under the conditions and with the men half dead, proved disastrous. The meat was not found, and on the return journey Elison froze his hands, feet and face. His comrades stopped to do for him what they could and would have lost their own lives had not one of them, Sergeant Rice, walked the thirty miles back to the camp to take word of Elison's plight. He went the distance without food, and when he staggered into camp he was scarcely able to gasp out what had befallen. As soon as he made it known, however, Sergeant Brainerd and a party were sent to rescue Elison. Sergeant Brainerd's diary, preserved in Greely's report to the government, tells the story as follows:
"The darkness was intense when we started, and Christiansen (Brainerd's sole companion) and myself floundered about among the hummocks and through the deep snow for some time without advancing very far. We stumbled frequently, and often fell on the rubble, receiving serious bruises. The monotony of the tramp was sometimes broken by my companion, who uttered half suppressed oaths whenever he fell over a projecting point of ice. About noon we reached the bay and found our three brave comrades huddled together in the one sleeping bag in a semi-frozen state. Elison was still alive and somewhat better than when Rice had left him. Elison repeatedly implored^ me to kill him that the others might be saved. I tried to cheer him with the assurance that we would all escape from these hospitable shores and return to our homes together, but, shaking his head sadly, he would repeat in a low, pleading tone, 'Please kill me, wont you.' "
Brainerd did what he could to cheer the sufferer, and camped near by to await the morning. He returned early to make a second attempt at rescue. He says:
"The poor fellows had not slept in my absence and when I reached them they were shivering with the cold. It is almost surprising that they survived the cold of last night. They were in a half-starved, half-frozen condition, and the merciless storm had been incessantly beating down on their unprotected covering of buffalo-skin.
"I stopped for a moment to contemplate the scene. Nothing could be more utterly desolate, dreary and forsaken than the spot on which these brave fellows were lying. Without shelter except such as was afforded by a small tent-fly, their bag was lying on a narrow terrace only a few feet above the ice-foot and the tide, where it was fully exposed to the fury of the winds."
In spite of the exposure and hunger, Elison did not die — not then. Some months later, after a brave fight for life, he succumbed.
As a sharp contrast with the courage shown by these men was the case of Private Charles Henry, who was proved to have stolen food from the general stores. When first caught, he promised to reform, and for a long time Greely restrained the talk of harsh measures. At last, when it was seen Henry could not withstand the temptation, and his stealings were endangering the lives of the others, Greely ordered him shot, and this was done. The commander of the expedition made a formal report of the incident to the war department, and his action was fully upheld.
It is almost impossible not to feel pity for Henry, in spite of the despicable nature of his act. He was starving. Yet in the far north, even more strikingly than elsewhere, the law of the survival of the fittest prevails, — and Henry was not one of the fit.
Rather turn again to the diary of brave Brainerd, who was one of the few who got back to America. He tells with great pathos of the joy caused by the killing of a bear. Says he:
"What words are adequate to express the rejoicing in our little party tonight? There are none. * * * Life had seemed something in the misty distance, which was beyond our power to retain or control. Life now seems ten times sweeter than at any former period of our existence."
This same Brainerd wrote, on June 19 of that year:
"The party is now yielding slowly but surely to the inevitable approach of death."
But even then relief was at hand. Providence did not mean that brave Greely should perish.