Wrangel Island

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CHAPTER V

The Planning of the Expedition

The sailing of our expedition for Wrangell Island in September, 1921, was due to the strong conviction that the world is at the dawn of a revolution in transportation ideas similar to that initiated heralded by Copernicus and Columbus. When the nations of Europe discovered four hundred years ago that the earth was round, they found it necessary to modify not only their intellectual concepts but also their diplomacy, their foreign policy and their commercial endeavors. It appeared to us that a similar, if less conspicuous, change would come when the nations realized that the earth is round from north to south from the point of view of the transportation engineer as well as from that of the astronomer and geodecist. Nations that had been far from each other as measured from east to west were about to become neighbours across the northern sea.

On a Mercator's map the Arctic looks like an area of vast extent, and seems to be located between continents on the south and nothingness on the north. But on a map which has the equator for circumference and the North Pole for center, the Arctic looks like a small hub from which the land masses radiate like the spokes of a great wheel. It may be said taht on a spherical world any point is central if we choose to consider it so. Mathematically that is right, but from the human point of view it That is specious reasoning, because for we inhabit the land and not the sea. It is possible to determine the center of distribution of the land masses. While this does not coincide with the Arctic, it does fall so near the Arctic that the validity of our figure remains undisturbed. The polar sea does hold a position analogous to that of the hub as related to the rest of a wheel.

There must have been a time, before navigation began, when from the practical point of view the Mediterranean was a barrier between, the peoples of Afica and Europe. But navigation developed through centuries. We cannot say in which

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century it first became easier to carry a hundred-weight across a hundred miles of sea than to transport it over an equivalent stretch of land. That time did come earlier than the with the Phoenicians earlier even than the Minoaus; if not earlier and since then we have thought of the Mediterranean as connecting the continents even more than it divides them.

The difficulties of crossing the Arctic may seem formidable to-day, but the crossing of the Mediterranean must have appeared for even more formidable to the earliest experimental navigators who paddled fearfully along its shores; dreading the very breezes which centuries later were destined to become the best friends of more skilful navigators. It has been It took the Europeans and Africans a long time since the Phoenicians to conquered the Mediterranean; butthose who say that the Arctic will "forever" remain unconquered should remember that forever is a longer time than all of recorded history. We are Some practical and well-informed people are a1ready beginning to say that the crossing of the Arctic by airplane and airship is a certainty of the next few years. Those who know the polar ocean in the sense in which a sailor knows the Atlantic think equally well of the submarine, and it may not be many years between the first crossing of the Arctic through the air above the ice and the first crossing through the water below the ice. Whenever the Arctic shall become as crossable to us as the Mediterranean was to the Phoenicians, it will become more of a connecting link between the continents than a barrier. The fact of its central location with regard to the lands will then be of paramount importance. The roads between various suburbs tend to run through the center of a city, and so will the roads between the lands have a tendency to meet and cross in or near the Arctic because it is near the center of the land masses. This tendency will become constantly more marked with our growing mastery of the air and with the northward spread crawling of civilization in into Alaska, Canada and Siberia.

While the Wrangell Island expedition was based upon the north and south roundness of the earth from the transportation point of view, upon the smallness of the Arctic, its crossability by airship and airplane, and its central

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in the Canadian Government; a virtual deadlock was produced. Eventually the supporters of one candidate seem to have proposed to the supporters of the other that, since they could not agree on what to do, they had better agree to do nothing. A telegram announcing this decision reached me in Reno, Nevada, on the summer of 1921 and broke my heart for the time being.

We have dwelt in previous chapters upon the theoretical considerations behind our belief in a coming new era and our plans for extensive and continuous northern exploration. But I had also been under constant pressure of another sort. The tropical explorer becomes infatuated with the tropics and either returns to them or eats out his heart deploring the circumstances that keep him away. Is is so withThe like is true of the arctic traveler. There are few who once go north who do not go alsowithout desiring to return therea second and a third time.or at least whine and complaineat out their heart with vain desire because they cannot go. On my expedition of 1913-18 I had had with me a number of men who had fallen in love with the North and who were pining to get back, there. I had told them about the indefinite plans of the Canadian Government, promising that if these materialized I would try to get them an opportunity to go along. My files are filled with correspondence begging for such chances. Two of my men, Knight and Maurer, had been specially urgent and I had promised them the first opportunities.

E. Lorne Knight was had been a Seattle high school boy who had servered capablywhen he began in 1915 forcapable three year service on my last expedition. He was fitted for pioneer work by physique and temperament and washas been popular with his companions. I liked him especially. In 1917 he accompanied me on the longest sledge trip I ever made, and in 1918, when I was ill with fevertyphoid he accompanied my second-in-command, Storker Storkerson, on one of the most remarkable of polar adventures. On that journey Storkersbn and his four companions traveled in midwinter by sledge north from Alaska about two hundred miles into the unexplored ocean, selected a substantial ice floe and camped upon it for more than six months while it drifted four hundred and fifty

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*See the appendix, post, for an abbreviation of Storkerson's own story of this remarkable adventure. 52

miles, living by hunting the while and trying especially to determine the direction of ice movement in that part of the ocean. During the seventh month Storkerson, the leader, became ill. It was October, the worst part of the year for travel over moving sea ice, and they were then three more than two hundred miles away from land. But because they were complete masters of the technique of winter travel over moving sea ice floes, they got ashore without trouble. The thrilling story of the seven-month drift and the five hundred miles of sledge travel over broken see ice in going forward and back between the composite floe and Alaska is told in the appendix written by Storkerson for my "The Friendly Arctic." With the exception of Storkerson and myself, there was no man living in 1921 not even Nanseu who traveled as many miles on over moving sea ice or who had spent as many days upon it away from a ship as had Knight. Of the great explorers of the past, Perry was the only one who had excelled Knight's record.At twenty-eight he was in age, experience, physical strength an tempermental adaptability are ideal [mau] for the work he so passonately desired to undertake.

Frederick Maurer I saw first in 1912 when he was on a whaling ship wintering in the Arctic north of Canada; in 1913 he became a member of the crew of our Karluk. He was with that ship when it sank some eighty miles north east of Wrangell Island and was one of the men who spent more than six months on Wrangell Island in 1914 after the shipwrecked men landed there. It was he (as we have told in a previous article chapter) who raised the flag at the time British rights to the island ware reaffirmed on July first 1st 1914. Maurer was eager to get back to any part of the Arctic but particularly eager to get back to Wrangell Island, for his knowledge of various other parts of the North led him to consider that as one of the richest and most desirable islands. Like Knight he was at the ideal age of twenty-eight and qualified by experience, temperment, and physical strength. Shortly before I received the telegram from Ottawa saying that the projected expedition had been postponed for at least a year, I had received another wistful letter from Knight in which he said pathetically wistfully: "I have been away from the Arctic nearly two years now, and it has been quite a long two years.”

We have told ina previous chapter that In 1921 it was reported in the press that the Japanese were

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believed to be penetrating eastern Siberia with a view to wresting it permanently from the Soviet government of Russia. Some friends of mine who had returned from northeastern Siberia confirmed the actual Japanese penetration at the time and believed in its permanence. With my great admiration for the Japanese, I took it for certain that within a year or two they would realize the coming importance of Wrangell Island and would occupy it. Since they were at that time the allies of Great Britain, it would have been all the more awkward to ask them to leave the island. The most Britain could have done would have been to suggest international arbitration, whereupon it might have been decided that, in spite of original British discovery, an actual Japanese occupation in 1921 or 1922 had more force than a half year of British occupation in 1914.

By a curious accident an old friend, Mr. Alfred J. T. Taylor, of Vancouver, turned up in Reno the day I received the heartbreaking telegram from Ottawa. I was worrying over what appeared to me the shortsightedness of our statesmen and worrying also because it seemed I was going to be unable after all to provide Knight and Maurer with a chance to go north. The appearance of Taylor cheered me, and in an hour my wrecked hopes had been replaced by a plan we thought we could carry through.

Since Wrangell Island was already British, we could keep it British by merely occupying it. As we understood international law, it would make no difference whether such an occupation had been specially ordered by any government so long as the government in question eventually confirmed it. I wired Knight and Maurer to ask whether they would go to Wrangell Island secretly and whether they would exchange their American for Canadian citizenship in order to make the occupation legally effective. Both replied eagerly in the affirmative. Since I was just then engaged under contract on a piece of work that did not allow me a day’s vacation until September, I got Taylor to undertake the actual organization of the expedition. Because the Canadian Government had decided to do

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nothing for a year, we could not take even them into our confidence. We confided in no one except that Taylor had to place the facts before his private attorney to get qn opinion of the legal aspects of the case. The attorney told us that an application for Canadian citizenship by Knight and Maurer would not turn them forthwith British in the sense needed to make an expedition British which was led by one of them. He advised the organization of a limited liability company under the laws of Canada. This company would employ all the men who were on the expedition, and that would make the enterprise indubitably British. Later he revised this opinion, coming to the conclusion that we could not feel the undertaking safely British unless a British subject were at the head of it.in command. This led to the employment of Allan R Crawford, the son of Professor J. T. Crawford of Toronto, Canada, to be in formal command. We had previously corresponded about his possibly going north and I now telegraphed him to join me on the Pacific Coast.

Because of later tragic developments, it is important to explain here how Allan Crawford came to be selected for the Wrangell Island expedition. During the winter 1920-21 several of us had been carrying on an energetic campaign in Ottawa to interest the Government in the beforementioned large plans of polar exploration. One of the most enthusiastic was Mr. J. B. Harkin, Commissioner of Dominion Parks and at that time officially interested in the welfare of northern Canada since the game laws, which now havesince been transferred to the Northwest Territories Branch, were then under his administration. Spring drew on apace and we were eager that the expedition should sail that summer. We were, therefore, trying to get everything ready so that the moment we received approval and money from the Government we could push ahead along various lines. Our most definite success had been that money had beenWe were temporarily optimistic through having succeeded in getting money set aside for the refitting of the Canadian Government's old exploratory ship, the Arctic, and this work was actually going on in secret to the extent that the purpose of the

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refitting and the destination of the proposed voyage were kept hiddensecret. So far so good, but it was almost equally important that we should have a staff of men ready, Mr. Harkin and I, therefore, agreed on writing a tentative stereotyped letter to the presidents of most of the Canadian universities, asking them to nominate young men trained in the sciences and recently graduated from college with whom we might confer to make up our minds whether they might be eligible for polar service.

Eventually we received replies from most of the presidents; but the only correspondence that concerns us here is that with the University of Toronto. We need not copy the whole correspondence, for its essential points are summarized in the first letter written to me by Allan Crawford.

"168 Walmer Road, Toronto, Apr. 11th 1921.

Mr. Vilhjalmur Stefansson, Harvard Club, New York City,

Dear Sir:

Your letter to Sir Robert Falconer, President of Toronto University asking him to nominate an assistant on your next expedition, has been referred to me by Dr. W. A. Parks, Prof, of Palaeontology. I understand that my name is being sent to you so I thought it might be wise to furnish some further particulars.

I am twenty years old (l/2/01), weigh 151 lbs. and am 5'10" high. I have never had any eye trouble and I believe my vision is above average. My circulation and heart action is OK and I have a good stomach. I have never had any serious contagious disease.

I was under age to go overseas but I was in the Officers’ Training Corps in Canada. I was employed by the Geological Survey of Canada last summer in Algoma and so have had some practical experience in Pre-Cambrian geology. In this matter I might refer you to Mr. Ellis Thomson, Dept. of Mineralogy at Toronto University or Dr. W. A. Collins, Director of the Survey.

I am writing my third year exams. at Toronto. My college work for the last two years has been chiefly geology, palaeontology, chemistry and mineralogy. I have had a good grounding in science and mathematics having taken the First Edward Blake Scholarship in Science at the Honour Matriculation examination at Toronto University in 1918.

Although I have not written for my degree I find in my course I am up against men much older and more experienced than myself. I feel I

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could acquit myself much more creditably if I had the opportunity such as you offer. My father. Prof. J. T. Crawford, is quite in accord with my ideas. If you are disposed to consider me, we might arrange an interview either in New York or wherever would be convenient to you.

Yours very sincerely,

(Signed) Allan R. Crawford.

My correspondence with the various applicants from the different universities gradually led me to the opinion that Allan Crawford was the most promising. He was eager for a decision and so was I, but we could not get definite action from the Government. Once we thought we had it, for we received the following letter from the Prime Minister:

Prime Minister's Office

Canada

Ottawa, Ontario,

February the 19th, 1921.

Dear Mr. Stefansson:

I have discussed the matters which you laid before me to-day and desire to advise you that this Government purposes to assert the right of Canada to Wrangel Island, based upon the discoveries and explorations of your expedition.

I believe this is all that is necessary for your purposes now.

Faithfully yours,

(Signed) Arthur Meighen.

This letter made Mr. Harkin and the rest of us happy for a day. But a day was all, for we received notice that, while the Government had not exactly reversed their decision to hold Wrangell Island, they had placed the matter again under discussion, asking us to do nothing further until we heard from them a second time. We never did hear favorably except as already indicated when the Government informed us in general terms that, while the proposed expeditions would not be authorized in 1921, they were likely to be authorized in 1922.

But the future was dark with uncertainties of a new sort. Mr.

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Meighen seemed converted to our point of view and the like was true of several members of his government cabinet, but an election was looming and it was by no means certain that Mr. Meighen’s government would be in the saddle when the promised "next year" arrived.returned.

I had been anxious for a personal conference with Allan Crawford but I was working in the western United States at a job that occupied me seven days in the week, and the expense of fetching him so far west was considerable. But an opportunity came when the University of Michigan offered me an honorary doctorate and refused to confer it with without my actually appearing in Ann Arbor on Commencement Day. It was my first doctor's degree and I was correspondingly eager to get it. I put all the pressure I could upon my employer, who eventually permitted me an eight-day leave. Other reasons for my keen desire to go to Ann Arbor were that I could then without much expense arrange a talk conference with Allan Crawford and that I could at the same time get a good opportunity to take talk with the British Ambassador to the United States, Sir Auckland Geddes, who was also coming to the university Michigan to receive a doctorate.

As soon as the leave had been definitely arranged, I wrote Crawford as follows:

"Elko, Nevada, June 11, 1921.

Dear Mr. Crawford:

I am not sure I can offer you this year anything attractive in the way of northern exploration, but can you meet me at Ann Arbor, Michigan, June 30 - arriving there June 29 to be ready?. I am unfortunately tied on a western lecture tour by a contract but am getting leave to come east for that one day to get an LL.D. degree from Michigan.

It will be but a brief conversation. But on the chance of its coming to something I shall pay your expenses if you will risk the time. Please reply by night letter collect.

(Signed) V. Stefansson."

In a few days I received the following telegraphic reply:

"Windermere, Ont, Jun. 18, 1921.

"Will be Ann Arbor June 29 and 30

Allan Crawford."

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Later I received his manuscript reply:

"Muskoka Assembly, Lake Rosseau, Muskoka, Ontario. June 19,/1921.

Vilhjalmur Stefansson, Jerome, Idaho. Dear Mr. Stefansson:

I am in receipt of your letter of June 11th and wired you at Ashton, Idaho, yesterday. I will be at Ann Arbor on June 29th and 30th as you advise. This letter is just to let you know in case the telegram did not reach you to-day at Ashton.

Sincerely, (Signed) Allan R. Crawford

At Ann Arbor my conversation with Sir Auckland Geddes was satisfactory. As an official he was diplomatically careful. But I inferred a good deal of personal enthusiasm from his insisting that we should discuss Wrangell Island under its original and rightful name of Kellett’s Land. He assured me also that the temper of the British people is such that they would be in general in hearty sympathy with us if they understood our views and proposed actions. I was then discussion with then asked him whether he thought the British Government might back us in case the Canadians did not. On this he did not commit himself at all. I also discussed the possibility, then only vaguely in my mind, that I might organize a private expedition in case the both governments failed to act the summer 1921. In that relation Sir Auckland promised only friendly co-operation in getting me introduced to the Premier and Cabinet of Great Britain in case I sent out an expedition in the summer of 1921 and wanted to go to England that autumn to present my case and get support for continued work in 1922.

My talk with Allan Crawford was even more satisfactory. During a day of intermittent contact I talked spent with him in the aggregate several hours and formed the high opinion which was intensified later when he joined me on the

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