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Discovery of the North Pole
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While all the world knows of the discovery of the north pole, not one person in 10,000, it is safe to say, knows that in 1899 a young American army officer, acting under orders of the Secretary of War, proceeded to Alaska, where he made a tour of exploration that resulted in the discovery of a safe overland route from the Pacific Ocean to the golden-laden fields of the Nome country.

Not only did this officer discover the wonderful natural roadway through the Alaskan Mountains known as Simpson Pass, but he also discovered the second highest peak in Alaska, and he brought back to Washington the best description of the Alaskan country and some of the finest maps ever made of that far northern country.

The man who did all this and the record of whose achievements have been filed away in the archives of the War Department all these years is Captain Joseph H. Herron of the Second United States Cavalry, now adjutant of the United States Military Academy at West Point.


Captain Herron, who was a young lieutenant not long out of West Point when he made his wonderful journey of exploration, never refers to his achievements in Alaska, and were it not for the fact that a few copies of the report were ordered printed for the use of the United States Senate, this story could not be told, for Herron would never tell it at least for publication.

The route to the Yukon and Nome countries explored and mapped out by Captain Herron is officially recorded in the War Department as the "All American Overland Route From Cook Inlet, Pacific Ocean, to the Yukon."

The route follows the Yentna and Keechatno rivers, and breaks through the To-Toy-Lon Mountains in the Fleischmann glacier region of the Tateno River country. This break is known as Simpson Pass, and is the gateway that leads to the gold fields beyond.

"This report," Captain Herron said in his official report of his expedition, "represents the earnest efforts of a small party in unknown regions, against extraordinary obstacles, deserted by guides, caught by winter, deprived of transportation, and hampered by scarcity of food.


"I take pleasure in commending to the adjutant general the men of my expedition. Acting Assistant Surgeon Henry R. Carter, U. S. A., a young physician of ability and attainments, who, in addition to conscientious professional work, did duty at all other tasks assigned to him with pluck, zeal and energy, and contributed much to the success of the expedition. Privates Sam L. Jones and Gilbert Dillinger, Fourteenth United States Infantry, proved themselves on every occasion magnificent soldiers in every respect. Packers E. M. Webster and George Brown contributed greatly to the success of the expedition by their ability as horsemen and packers, as well as by their faithful, energetic and intrepid services throughout."

The explorations that were to result in the discovery of the overland route started at noon on June 30, 1899, at which time Captain Herron, in his report, says that "the steamboat left us, six white men and two red men, camped in a fringe of alder and spruce timber on the north bank of the Keechatno River. The fifteen pack horses were fed their last ration of oats, and over 3,000 pounds of our rations and impedimenta were piled up on the ground."


The country where the route begins Captain Herron describes as wild and overgrown; one that exacted from those in the expedition extraordinary labor at every step.

During the summer months. Captain Herron briefly recites, the daily routine of his command was "a reconnoissance for the best route for the day's march; a search for fords, crossings, detours around or passages through ravines, swamps and other obstacles; the construction of a pack-train trail by chopping out timber and brush in dense forests, blazing in open forests and corduroying in soft mud and tundras; fording or swimming the pack train over the rivers; the building of spar bridges where mud-bottom creeks interposed which were too shallow to swim, too deep to corduroy, too soft-bottomed to ford and too wide to jump; investigation for wood, water, grass, and, if possible, a breezy location for camp, wind, as an additional requisite, minimizing the mosquitoes, gnats, horseflies and mooseflies."

"The first object," the Herron official report states, "was to get through the Alaskan Range, a mass of enormous peaks and glaciers about seventy miles wide, extending across Alaska and constituting the chief barrier to the interior. I consumed the month of July exploring through these mountains.


"The first day's march forty-three miles was through dense timber and over soft ground. The packs were heavy, the lash ropes stiff, and the horses frolicsome. The transportation stampeded back on the trail at every opportunity, raced through the woods, knocked off packs, plunged into mud holes, bogged down, and it required eleven hours of patient toil to make that short, march."

After this day's march and until July lo. Captain Herron reported good luck. He was then nearing the To-Toy-Lon Mountains, and though he did not then know it, Simpson Pass, was not far away. The Indian guides, who were later to desert him, told him on that day that it would be impossible to get his horse over the mountains, that the pass was over vertical rock cliffs, and that when the Indians crossed they had to use their hands in climbing over. In the six days that followed Captain Herron discovered the entrance to the pass.

"During the following six days," he writes, "the Indians informed me that they 'saveyed' (knew) the country no further. I proposed climbing to the top of the mountains for a reconnoissance, and devoted the afternoon of the 16th to doing so. The Indians still wanted to go back, repeatedly warned me 'one month snow,' and made efforts each day to persuade me to abandon the trip.


"July 17 I went into camp after a short day's march to make a fire and warm up Carter, who, in fording the Keechatno River, was knocked down, carried off and pounded on the rocks by the swift current. The Indian Stepan rescued him from a disagreeable situation. We were nearing the head waters of the Keechatno when, on the 19th, the monotony was relieved by the discovery of the pass over the divide.

"The formation, locality and game trails of antiquity all indicated that I had found the pass I sought. I asked my Indians for their opinion, but I received a reply of 'No savey.' I camped in the last clump of trees, our elevation now being at the timber line, and prepared to reconnoiter the pass.

"Stepan shot, about a mile from this camp, a huge bull moose. The animal was not far from twenty hands high and very fat, the antlers in velvet state. The fresh meat was welcome after a diet of bacon. The Indians consider the soft outer edge of the horns a great delicacy, likewise the nose, the sole of the hoof, the intestines and the marrow of the bones.

"Leaving three men and the horses at camp, I took the Indians and Dillinger and explored the pass for nearly ten miles, found it wide throughout, of slight grade, safe from snow-slides, free from glaciers, the elevation on the crest taken with barometer and psychrometer 3,600 feet above sea level, and practicable for trails, roads or railroads. There was no need for the pick or shovels.


"While in this pass I came upon two enormous brown bears, asleep (sometimes called the glacier bear, or the grizzly). Led by the Indian Slinkta, I crawled around to the leeward and then approached them, too near, I thought to myself, as I had a poor gun, only a few cartridges, and the nearest tree was five miles away. Slinkta whistled and awoke the bears, while I fired and shot the larger one in the head, but only staggered him. He arose and passed a swinging right hander at the other bear, but missed him. They got away.

"The same day Jones and Webster were chased by a brown bear, near the glacier at the head of the Keechatno. Four or five shots in the bear turned him, but did not kill him. He took to the brush.

"The 22d of July I crossed the crest of the divide and started down the other side of the watershed. East of the divide the drainage is into the Pacific Ocean; west of it into the Bering Sea. Bering Sea is closed by ice in winter, while the Pacific Ocean is open. Hence routes into the interior must connect with the latter.

"In the vicinity of camp, July 23, on the Tateno. were hundreds of mountain sheep, high up near the summits. Jones, Carter and Slinkta climbed the mountains and shot two. An enormous moose trotted by this camp, but we were already loaded down with meat and let him go. July 26 Carter and I met a black bear and cub; wounded the old one and caught the cub, but we turned the little fellow loose the next day."


On July 28, Slinkta and Stepan, Herron's Indian guides, deserted him, and from that time on the exploration of the overland route was made without guides, the explorers traveling by compass and the sun.

For the first two weeks in August the expedition had a hard time. Captain Herron himself during that time was injured when a pack horse jumped and fell on him in a mudhole, but he kept on. On August 25 two of his horses were accidentally killed, both by snagging, while on September 3 a severe earthquake further upset his plans.

From the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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