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RESCUE OF THE GREELY PARTY.
Two days after Brainerd sent up that desperate cry a party of American seamen, sent by the government, saved the perishing members of Greely's ill-fated expedition.
The rescuers were headed by Winfield Scott Schley, then a captain in the navy; years later a hero of the Spanish-American war. Schley had been chosen to find Greely and bring him home, if alive. The commander headed a squadron of three vessels, one of which, the Alert, was furnished by the British government. These three boats sailed north in April, 1884, and in June passed into the polar sea, anchoring finally at Cape Sabine. Parties were sent out from this point over the ice to seek traces of the lost.
On June 21, after the searchers had been busy for three days, a seaman rushed up to the ship and delivered to Commander Schley a faded paper. It was one of several records left by Greely where it might be found by searchers. Under date of October, 1883, it read: "My party is now permanently in camp on the west side of a small neck of land which connects the wrecked cache cove, and the one to its west, distant about equally from Cape Sabine and Cocked Hat Island. All well." The last words had a terrible irony in view of what Schley and his men found. They proceeded with all speed to the point described, and there found the Greely party in a terrible plight. It is vividly described in Schley's official report, from which the following is taken:
"Lieutenant Greely was found in his sleeping bag, his body inclined forward and head resting upon his left hand. The Book of Common Prayer was open and held in his right hand. He appeared to be reading prayers to Private Connell, whose condition was most desperate and critical. He was cold to the waist; all sensation of hunger gone; was speechless and almost breathless; his eyes were fixed and glassy. Indeed, his weakness was such that it was with difficulty he swallowed the stimulants given him by Drs. Green and Ames; his jaws had dropped, his heart was barely pulsating, and his body temperature very low.
"This tender scene of a helpless, almost famished, officer consoling a dying companion, was in itself one that brought tears to the eyes of the strongest and stoutest of those who stood about them on the merciful errand of relief,
"Sergeants Brainerd and Fredericks and Hospital-Steward Bierderbick were extremely weak and hardly able to stand; they were no longer able to venture away from their camp to seek food, nor to prepare the simple diet of boiled seal-skin, nor to collect lichens, nor to catch shrimps, upon which they had to depend to a great extent to sustain life. Their faces, hands, and limbs were swollen to such an extent that they could not be recognized. This indicated that the entire party had but a short lease of life — probably not more than forty-eight hours at most. This fact was recognized by them all, and had come to them from their experience during that long and desolate winter in watching their dying companions, as one after another passed away from among them forever.
"Poor Sergeant Elison was found in his sleeping bag, where he had lain helpless and hopeless for months, with hands and feet frozen off. Strapped to one of the stumps was found a spoon, which some companion had secured there to enable him to feed himself. His physical condition otherwise appeared to be the best of any of the survivors, and this may be attributed to the fact that each of his companions had doled out to him from their small allowance of food something to help him, on account of his complete helplessness to add anything to his own by hunting about the rocks for lichens or shrimps. He suffered no waste of strength by exertion incident thereto. This care of Elison was such as only brave and generous men, suffering with each other under the most desperate circumstances, could think of.
"Sergeant Long was very much reduced, though in somewhat better condition than some of the others. His office of hunter for the starving party had made it necessary to increase slightly his pittance of food to maintain his strength, that he might continue the battle for food and life to the helpless. In his case, however, the effect of this continued effort had told its story in his wasted form. Shorter and shorter journeys were made in good weather, while in the frequent bad weather of that region his strength was so much impaired that when the joyful signal whistle was heard he had only enough left to stagger out to the rocks overlooking the water to see if the signal had proceeded from ships in sight. His first visit was a bitter disappointment, as he saw nothing. A second visit, fifteen minutes later, brought him within fifty yards of the Bear's steam-cutter and in view of the relief ships coming around Cape Sabine. When the steam-cutter ran into the beach where Long was seen he rolled down the ice-covered cliff and was taken into the cutter. He informed Lieutenant Colwell that the location of the camp was just over the cliff.
"In the case of Sergeant Elison the medical officers were fearful from the first that his chances of life were very small. As soon as proper food was available and the digestive functions should be re-established fully, the healthful round of blood circulation would begin its distribution of new life to the injured parts, and inflammation would naturally occur. If Elison's strength should increase more rapidly than the inflammation, amputation of the injured parts would perhaps save his life. Several days after his rescue, June 28, Dr. Green reported that Elison was threatened with congestion of the brain. The symptoms increased rapidly until the poor fellow lost his reason. At Godhaven his condition was so critical that the surgeon of the expedition, after consultation, determined to amputate both feet above the ankle as the only chance of life left the sufferer. Disease, however, triumphed, and amid the bleak scenes that had surrounded him for three years in his heroic sacrifice, and within the desolate solitude of that region of everlasting ice and snow, surrounded by his sorrowing comrades, he passed away about 3 a. m. of July 7, three days after the amputation.
"Lieutenant Greely was physically the weakest, but mentally the most vigorous of his party. He had lain in his sleeping bag for weeks on account of his gradually failing strength. He was unable to stand alone for any length of time, and was almost helpless except in a sitting posture; all pangs of hunger had ceased; his appearance was wild; his hair was long and unkempt; his face and hands were covered with sooty black dirt; his body was scantily covered with worn-out clothes; his form was wasted, his joints were swollen, and his eyes were sunken.
"His first inquiry was if they were not Englishmen, but when he was told that we were his own countrymen, he paused for a moment as if reflecting, then said, 'And I am glad to see you.'
"The condition of his camp was in keeping with the scene inside the tent, desperate and desolate; the bleak barrenness of the spot, over which the wild Arctic bird would not fly, the row of graves on a little ridge, one hundred feet away, with the protruding heads and feet of those lately buried, a sad but silent witness to the daily increasing weakness of the little band of survivors; the deserted winter quarters in the hollow below, with its broken wall invaded by the water from the melting snow and ice above it; the dead bodies of two companions stretched on the ice-foot that remained; the wretched apology for cooking utensils improvised by them in their sore distress, hardly deserving the name; the scattered and worn-out clothes and sleeping bags of the dead; the absence of all food save a few cupfuls of boiled seal-skin scraps; the wild and weird scene of snow, ice, and glaciers overlooking and overhanging this desolate camp, completed a picture as startling as it was impressive. I hope never again in my life to look upon such wretchedness and such destitution. The picture was more startling and more deeply pathetic than I had ever dreamed could be possible. In beholding it I stood for a moment almost unmanned, and then realized that if the expedition had demonstrated any one thing more than another it was that an hour had its value to at least one of that party. Stouter hearts than mine felt full of sorrow. Eyes that had not wept for years were moistened with tears in the solemnity of that precious hour in the lives of that heroic little band of sufferers, until this moment so hopeless and helpless.
"In preparing the bodies of the dead for transportation in alcohol to St. John's, it was found that six of them — Lieutenant Kislingbury, Sergeants Jewell and Ralston, Privates Whistler, Henry, and Ellis — had been cut, and the fleshy parts removed to a greater or less extent. All other bodies were found intact. When the bodies of the dead were exposed in preparing them the identification was found complete. Some of them could be recognized by aid of a picture taken with us from home; others, whose features had decayed, were identified by other characteristics. I am therefore satisfied that no mistake was made in this important matter, which so impressed us from the beginning."
The ships reached St. John's, N. R, July 17. From that point Schley telegraphed the Secretary of the Navy of his success, and told other details of the voyage as follows:
"The channel between Cape Sabine and Littleton Island did not close, on account of violent gales, all winter, so that 240 rations at the latter point could not be reached. All of Greely's records and all the instruments brought by him from Fort Conger are recovered and are on board. From Hare Island to Smith's Sound I had a constant and furious struggle with ice in impassable floes. The solid barriers were overcome by watchfulness and patience. No opportunity to advance a mile escaped me, and for several hundred miles the ships were forced to ram their way from lead to lead, through ice varying in thickness from three to six feet, and when rafted much greater.
"The Thetis and the Bear reached Cape York, June 18, after a passage of twenty-one days in Melville Bay, and two advance ships of a Dundee whaling fleet, and continued to Cape Sabine. Returning seven days later, we fell in with seven others of this fleet off Wostenholme Island, and announced Greely's rescue to them, that they might not be delayed from their fishing grounds nor be tempted into the dangerous Smith's Sound in view of the reward of $25,000 offered by Congress. Returning across Melville Bay we fall in with the Alert and Loch Garry off Devil's Thumb, struggling through the ice. Commander Coffin did admirably to get along so far with the transport so early in the season before the opening had occurred. Lieutenant Emory, with the Bear, has supported me throughout with great skillfulness and unflinching readiness in accomplishing the great duty of relieving Lieutenant Greely. The Greely party are. very much improved since the rescue, but were critical in the extreme when found and for several days after. Forty-eight hours' delay in reaching them would have been fatal to all now living. The season north is late and the coolest for years. Smith's Sound was not open when I left Cape Sabine. The winter about Melville Bay was the most severe for twenty years. This great result is entirely due to the unwearied energy of yourself and the Secretary of War in fitting out this expedition for the work it has the honor of accomplishing.
"W. S. SCHLEY, Commander."
The return voyage consumed, all told, almost six weeks. On August 1 the squadron arrived in Portsmouth harbor with six living and twelve dead members of the Greely party on board. Warships were drawn up to give a welcome, and the yards were manned, and bands played. Then, in the cabin of Schley's ship, Lieut. Greely was reunited with his wife and his mother. On the following Monday there was a great demonstration on land. A parade of all the naval forces available was held in the streets of Portsmouth, and as the men in blue passed in all their strength, the shattered, haggard survivors looked on from the balcony of a hotel.
One of the most interesting features of Peary's pole-finding expedition was the discovery of relics of the Greely party. The finder was Prof. Donald McMillan.
He told of wearing army coats and picking up scraps of letters and messages of love that were lying around the ground in perfect condition after almost thirty years; of finding letters — veritable messages of the dead — and leaves from books that had carried words of love and solicitation to the doomed explorers from relatives far away.
THE 'BRADLEY', LANDING SUPPLIES FOR DR. COOK'S POLAR DASH.
LIEUTENANT SHACKLETON'S EXPLORING PARTY.
COMMANDER PEARY AND ESKIMO DOGS ON THE "ROOSEVELT."
He also came upon remnants of Hall's camp and a cairn left by Lockwood and Brainerd.
"While I was at Cape Sheridan," he said, "I wanted to make several trips out into the desolate country to see what I could learn about the geology of the territory and the habits, customs and religion of the people. On one of my first trips I took a sledge and Eskimos and started, skirting the east coast of Grant Land and Grinnell Land. I slowly made my way down to Fort Conger, about sixty-five miles from the Roosevelt, and ran upon the last camp of the Greely expedition of 1881-1884.
"Here I found relics, all of which were in the same condition as when they were discarded by the ill-fated members of that expedition. I found coffee, hominy, canned rhubarb, canned potatoes, breakfast food and all sorts of supplies. They were just as good as ever, and I practically subsisted on them all the time I was there.
"General Greely's military overcoat, with the buttons on it, was about the first thing I discovered. I wore the coat, and while I stayed there I presume I must have had on at one time or another the clothing of all the men in the expedition. On the ground I also found the trunk that had been carried by Sergeant David L. Brainard. It was as good as new and I used it as a shelter from the winds.
"Here were records that had been made of the caches of provisions which had been stored along the route and showed that vast quantities of wood had been left there when the men started south to Cape Sabine, where seventeen of the twenty-five members perished.
'The men had been taken to Fort Conger by the Proteus and had been told to await her arrival the next year. During the interim the steamship tried to get through, but was crushed in the ice.
"Orders had been issued to the party that if the relief ship did not arrive the party was to make its way to the south and reach Cape Sabine. When the Proteus failed to arrive the party started.
"The men were told to discard all baggage except nine pounds, and in order to lighten their loads to that extent these goods, stores and personal belongings were left behind. It was these that I had found after a lapse of almost thirty years. Nothing had been destroyed. Everything was in an excellent state of preservation. Those members of the party who did not perish at Sabine were rescued by Commodore (afterward Rear Admiral) Winfield S. Schley on his relief expedition sent out for the purpose of rescue.
"Fluttering about the camp was a slip of paper that had been taken from the flyleaf of a notebook. It was a voice from the dead. Written as the introduction to a speech at a banquet that the expedition had evidently arranged to kill the monotony of the long winter, the words were in the nature of a chaffing of the various members of the party. The author little knew at the time that he penciled his words that they would be found almost a generation afterward, the simple story of a tragedy of the Arctic.
"Here I also found other papers and magazines. Carefully placed between the pages of a magazine were several photographic plates that had been taken by George W. Rice, who was the official photographer of the expedition. The magazine was still readable, despite the fact that it had been the plaything of the elements there for twenty-eight years. The plates, however, were ruined, and I was unable to discover to just what extent the expedition had penetrated into the Arctic.
"One of the treasures concealed by the leaves of the magazine was a photograph of General Greely. The features were still distinct. One of the relics was the fly leaf of a book. It had written upon it: 'Lieutenant Frederick Kisslingbury. To my dear father, from his affectionate son, Harry Kisslingbury. May God be with you and return you safely to us.'
"The fly leaf had been torn from a textbook that had evidently been passed from one student to another. The names of several persons, evidently students, had been written, but a pencil mark had been drawn through them. The first name at the top of the page was Henry Satreau. Underneath was Victor Cloutier, Assumption College. These had been scratched out and under them written 'Harry Kisslingbury, Fort Custer, Mont., now at Assumption College, Sandwich, Ontario, Jan. 15, 1881.'
"The fate of Kisslingbury is tragic. He had become estranged from General Greely at Fort Conger and resigned his position in the army. He ran for the shore to board the Proteus, intending to return to America, but just as he reached there he saw the smoke of the steamer in the distance. He had arrived too late.
"Kisslingbury returned to camp, did not ask for reinstatement, and lived with the expedition as a private citizen. He was among those who perished later.
"Another of Kisslingbury's possessions which I found was a temperance hymn book on the fly leaf of which was written: To Lieutenant Kisslingbury, U. S. A., from his old friend and well wisher, the author, George W. Clark, Detroit, Mich., 1861.' Lying in the stores was an ocarina, a musical instrument, which was still good. Carved on it rudely with a knife was the latitude at which Fort Conger had been established.
"Stickpins and other articles of jewelry I found scattered around. It was surprising to find the stores in such excellent condition. It only goes to show the wonderful preservative qualities of the Arctic climate. Coffee I made often from the abandoned Greely stores. One of the most striking relics I found here, and one that showed the proclivities of the owner, was a record of all the horse trotting events of the time in America. It had been written in the owner's hand, and embodied a description and record of all the trotters and trotting marks in the history of the turf.
"It seemed that I was to be fortunate in discovering the abandoned camps of previous expeditions. I went farther a little later and came across the camp that had been established by Commodore Hall in 1881. This party had been brought north by the United States steamship Polaris. Like the Greely steamer, the Polaris was also crushed in the ice at Littleton Island.
"Here I found a wooden house, 16 feet by 35, which had been erected as a winter quarters. The house was still standing.
"After the Polaris had been crushed, nineteen of the party took to the ice cakes and tried to drift to safety. They were picked up by the Tigress off Newfoundland after they had floated to the coast of Labrador, not a hundred miles from here. The other members were rescued by the Ravenscrag of Dundee, Scotland. I found all the ropes, sails and clothing that had been abandoned in most excellent shape. The sails were like new.
"On another sledging trip I ran across the headquarters of Sir George Nares and Markham, who made an expedition in 1875 and 1876. I found crockery, coal bags, wood and cartridges, some of which were loaded.
"A peculiar thing about my discovery here was that I ran across a hand push cart that this expedition used to carry their supplies from the ship to the camp. The tracks of the cart still remained in the sand as sharply defined as when they were first made. I took photographs of these tracks and have the plates now.
"The strangest part of all this Arctic work is the way the health of the men is benefited. Instead of going into a regular course of athletic training, there is a system of preparing a man for the dash by hunting in the moonlight and sledging. It is only a question of time when the men become so hardened and acclimated that they are in perfect physical condition for the work."