THE NORTHWEST PASSAGE (Historic Information)
The discovery of this continent, and breaking up of the narrow, bigoted, Aristotelian ideas was due to the search for a shorter route to the Orient. Thus at the same time was a new land, and more freedom of thought presented to those who had the courage to dare the sea or church.
Columbus. 1492; John Cabot, 1497; his son later, then Cortereal, then Frobisher. 1576; then Drake; after him Davis, 1585-8; then Hundon, 161710; Button, 1612; James Hall, 1612; and, 1615, Baffin; Fox, 1631; Ross and Parry, 1818-29 (Ross located the magnetic pole substantially as known now) ; then, overland from Hudson Bay and Central Canada, went Hearne, 1770; Franklin, Beechey, McKay, Hood, Mackenzie, Richardson, and others, and after these the lamentable Franklin expedition by sea, all seeking a waterway to the westward.
The prominent features of the land and sea bear the names of these explorers from Teller, Alaska, eastward, and that part of the world is but little better known now. What they failed to accomplish was successfully carried out by Amundsen, 1903-7, in the Gejoa, in that he brought his ship through the "Northwest Passage," and camped about two years within a hundred miles of the magnetic pole, and walked all around and perhaps over it. The fact that the pole bobs about a little and cannot be fixed at any one spot, and that the compass refuses to work, is nothing new, and but little knowledge of scientific value was added by his sojourn. Why not place a magnetic station at or near the north and south magnetic poles at the same time, to determine their relations, which would at least lend aid for the solution of other questions?
Leffingwell and Mikkelsen are now attempting to thoroughly explore and map the northeast coasts of Alaska. The former will leave Seattle some time this month (May, 1909) in the Argo, and Amundsen will also visit that country again. Only that part of the country immediately on the coast has been correctly mapped, and some of the large rivers have never been explored. When Heme, in 1770; Mackenzie, 1789; Franklin. 1819-27, and others first penetrated the unknown Arctic shores, they found the Indians, who had never seen white men, living in polygamy, adultery, incest and the lowest kinds of immorality; cases of infanticide, witchery, cannibalism and murder were reported. Instruments and weapons were of stone, bone, copper, ivory, and wood. Wives were taken and discarded at pleasure. It was common practice to engage in a friendly wrestling bout, the winner to take the woman. Their religion, if they had any. was vague, although they had stories of creation and the flood, somewhat similar to our own. handed down as very ancient traditions; likewise a tradition that their ancestors came from the westward.
Along the Arctic Ocean Esquimaux, well mixed with Mongolian blood, were found. They had never seen white men, and were as immoral as the Indians, but more charitable, good-natured, content, and friendly, although inclined to steal and lie. They belonged to the same stock as the Greenland, Labrador and Siberian natives, speaking dialects of the same parent language. Their snow igloos in winter and skin tupecks in summer were the same as of all exquimaux living in the treeless regions, and the same as the white man now makes when he goes into that country. The smallest piece of wood is rarely found beyond Herschell, where the last house of wood is seen. Implements for the house and chase were of ivory, stone, copper, horn, shell, and such material as nature afforded. Fire was made by rubbing wood together, and seal, whale, and walrus afforded not only the light, cooking fats, and fuel, but their bones made supports for houses and boats, implements for hunting and defense, ornaments and sleds. Their skins were useful as tent coverings, boats, boots, rope thongs, dog harness and the like; the intestines for oil and water bottles and waterproof clothing. Castaway bones, and skin boots and clothing were often required to sustain life when food could not be obtained. They faced death as stoically as their Mongolian ancestor, and their religion was a matter of philosophy much the same, scarcely arising to the observable status of a known belief, the most noticeable feature being the fear of evil spirits, ill-omen, the sick, dead, and the avoiding of certain locations believed to bring them ill luck or death. They erected special abodes for those abandoned to die, and never returned to them; those dying in their own houses were allowed to remain there unmolested until the wild beasts or summer sun destroyed them. At Herschell they place the dead in a box, which sits on top of the frozen ground. The men, particularly on the Siberian side, wore glass beads in their ears, and the women were tatooed. Labrettes or metal and stone or ivory ornaments were sometimes worn in the lips, similar to the Siwash Indians on the Pacific Coast. Meat was sometimes cooked slightly, but more often eaten raw; also other foods. The difficulty of heating stones with the moss and heather fires, or seal oil, for the purpose of throwing them in skins of water to boil food, or upon which to roast meat, was so difficult that it was necessary to have epicurean tastes that would conform to the conveniences of the land. At the present time some articles of clothing, food, cooking utensils and firearms are obtained from the whites, and occasionally lumber and tents are used for dwellings, and a school teacher or missionary injects a little education, and a miner or whaler a little more bad whisky, but on the whole the natives north of Teller are but little changed since the first visit of white men.
Hearne came down the Copper Mine River to the ocean, 1770, and took possession for the Hudson Bay Company (England), and Alexander Mackenzie down the river that bears his name to the ocean, 1789, but neither explored the shores. After them came Franklin and Beechey, who made the first notes on these shores, but the notes of Franklin, made 1825, were checked over by Thomas Simpson, of the Hudson Bay Company, 1836-9, from Boat Extension to Return Reef and from Return Reef to the Mackenzie, and it was he that named all the capes, rivers, bays, etc., between Return Reef and Point Barrow; he also named the Franklinand Pelly Mountains, Jones Islands. Coleville, Gary, and Smith Rivers. St. Clair and McKay Rivers are named for two of his guides; Cape Simpson is in honor of his uncle, the Governor. Dease Inlet was named in honor of Mr. Dease, his companion, and McKenzie Bay in honor of a member of the fur company (not the explorer.) Fie took possession of Point Barrow and raised the British flag in the name of the king. These explorations completed the link between the two oceans along the Northwest Passage, uniting with those of Cook and Clark and Kotzbue from the Pacific. De Fuca lead the search for the Northwest Passage from the Pacific side in 1592. (The stories of Maldonado, 1588, are said to be pure fabrications. See "A Chronology of History of Voyages Into the Arctic Regions for the Purpose of Discovery of Northwest Passage, by John Barrow, of London, 1818.") Many other navigators followed, but to James Cook is due the credit of exploration to Icy Cape, followed later by Clark and Kot/ebue from the west. August 9th. 1779, Cook arrived at and named Cap Prince of Wales; then he crossed to Siberia, where the natives politely made low. sweeping bows to him; then back to Alaska at Pt. Mulgrave and from there to Icy Cape; then back to Cape Lisburne; then across to Cape North, on the Siberian side, and returning to Norton Sound (all of which points he named) ; thence southward to the Sandwich Islands, where his useful life was shortly afterward taken by the natives.
The Siberian Esquimaux, or Chuckchees, had trade relations and wars with the natives of Alaska, the beginning of which is not known, and the news of the new world had found its way to St. Petersburg long before Alaska was discovered. Perhaps a Polish seaman, Dejenev, should have the honor of discovering first the Arctic shores of Alaska, 1648. However, historians seem to have omitted him. But Peter the Great had acquired Kamtchatka and desired a northern waterway along the north coast of Asia to his possession, to find which repeated efforts were made from the northern rivers and seas of Asia, all of which failed. Then Bering was instructed, 1728, to attempt the discovery of such passage from the west, and, although he passed through Bering Straits and must have been close to Alaska, he made no report of it.
For three hundred and fifty years the maritime powers of the earth sought the Northwest Passage. Fortunes were spent, hundreds of men perished, and numerous ships were lost, but the most pathetic story is the loss of Sir John Franklin.
His overland trip and the death of Hood has no parallel on land; neither does his voyage at sea. In 1828 he married a second wife, Jane Griffin; the next year he was knighted by King George the Fourth; then he saw valuable service in the British navy; he was then made Governor of Van Diemans Land; returning in 1845, he headed an expedition in the Erebus and Terror to discover the Northwest Passage, although sixty years old. Captain Crozier was second in command; 134 men made up the party; they carried both sails and coal, and modern equipment for the time. They were seen in Melville Bay, July 26th, by a whaler, for the last time, frozen fast in the ice. The vessels ultimately pushed through to Beechey Island, on the north side of which they wintered, 1845-6. For two years following nothing was heard, and many expeditions were in search for them from England, Canada and the United States, and fifteen more followed in the next six years. McClure entered the Arctic from the west, was shipwrecked, and rescued by an expedition from the east, and was the first to cross from ocean to ocean in the Arctics, receiving a reward of ten thousand pounds. Lady Franklin, at her own expense, equipped an expedition headed by Forsyth, who returned and reported that Franklin had wintered on Beechey Island, which aroused fresh hopes, and she followed it up unsuccessfully with a second and third expedition. Then the English government sent a big expedition under Kellet, McClintock, and Osborn, which was lost, but the crew was saved. Then Kane tried it, and others. But Dr. John Rae, 1854, overland from Canada, obtained information that about forty of the Franklin expedition had been seen by Pelly Bay Esquimaux, and a renewed effort, with more hopes, was made by the widow and friends, headed by McClintock, 1857. In 1859, in Bootha Feelix Land, he obtained relics and information to prove the death of all the men. A record was found near Cape Herschell, on King William Land, telling of a sledge trip of seven of the men, and of the wintering on Beechey Island; it was dated May 28th, 1847. This record was later supplemented, April, 1848, by others of the party, saying that the ships had been abandoned on the 22nd, having been in the ice since September 12th, 1846; that 105 of the crew were alive, under Crozier; that Franklin had died June 11 th, 1847, and that they would start for Backs Fish River April 26th, 1848. Subsequently from time to time remnants of the wreck have been found. In 1906 the Esquimaux informed Amundsen of the location of one of the boats, or where it was destroyed. Lady Franklin herself went as far as Sitka. Stories of her sorrow are still told, and the old Russian furniture, pegged together with wood, in the rooms where she lived, are now in use, or at least we were informed last year that we were sleeping in Lady Franklin's bed.