FOURTH WRANGELL ISLAND ARTICLE
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Except for a few fragments of loose papers, the diary of Lorne Knight is the only document we were able to recover from which to piece out the story of the first two years of the second Wrangell Island occupation. The diary entries themselves are fragmentary and it is necessary to read a good deal between the lines if we are to form a continuous and vivid picture. Fortunately that task is easier for me than it would be for most. I had known Knight for three years in the North and also as a traveling companion during several months when I was lecturing in the United States on the work of the expedition of which he had been a member, and when he had assisted not only by operating the stereopticon but also occasionally by giving brief sppeches when I was otherwise occupied or by talking to newspaper men and others who wanted to know about our northern work when I was either too tired or busy to talk to them. Such intimate intercourse had, naturally, familiarized me with his ideas and with how his mind worked. Eleven years in the arctic regions have made me familiar with the conditions there and the methods that should be used in dealing with them.
The whole party evidently landed in high spirits. To Crawford and Galle it was a wonderful new adventure with a haze of romance over the land and over the coming winter. To Knight it was a homecoming to the Arctic which, as he was never tired of explaining to his city friends, was the only place of which he never got tired and where he localized all his plans and dreams for the future. To Maurer it was even more of a homecoming, for on this very island he had spent six strenuous months. Those had been tragic and difficult months, but those who think that such experiences as Maurer then went through would deter him from going back, know little of
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human nature and certainly less of the history of arctic exploration. Apart from a few unrelieved tragedies, as that of the Greely expedition, for instance, the most difficult arctic experiences have seldom diminished the enthusiasm of those who took part in them. For one thing, they could always see afterwards how easily the difficulties might have been avoided and were eager to try again, feeling that their improved knowledge would enable them to meet easily what had previously been insoluble difficulties.
Immediately on landing, the party did a very neutral thing but one that was politically unwise. They erected a flagpole, hoisted the Union Jack, and ceremonially reaffirmed possession to Wrangell Island while Captain Hamar and his schooner were lying at anchor. This ceremony, of course, had no legal importance, the whole legal force being in the character and permanence of the occupation itself.
But Captain Hamar and his crew got very excited about it. To them the action was symbolical. They realized now how Wrangell Island had been lying for decades under the very eyes of the Alaskans who understood more or less of its potential value but who had never done anything about it. Now they felt outwitted and that feeling spread rapidly over western Alaska when the Silver Wave returned to Nome. eventually it got to Washington in the form of some sort of protest to the Government. This again would have done no harm but for the ensuing newspaper publicity. Of course, the Washington Government knew very well that the flag raising had no significance but it was something about which the yellow journals could easily excite the newspaper public. The British claim to Wrangell Island might be ever so clear but the garrulous newspaper editors, who really or ostensibly thought it was an American island, managed to stir up a good deal of hard feeling, not between the government of the two countries but between certain of the citizens of both.
Knight’s first entries show the greatest satisfaction with Wrangell Island. They had finished landing their outfit from the schooner the evening of September 15th. On the 16th Kn
gight for the first sat on the land while he wrote up the day's entry: "After unloading we slept on the ship but the wind arose from the south and we were called at 3 A.M. We had time to get our personal stuff ashore and the Silver Ware departed with three whistles and a great deal of flag dipping, leaving us to our own resources. We have a good outfit and the fox tracks look promising, so we should have a successful winter. The surprising thing to me is the weather, nice gentle winds with an uncommon amount of sunshine for this time of year and not an ice cake in sight. We see an occasional seal some distance out but if they were killed it is doubtful if we could get them (for they would doubtless sink). We have a dory but the surf is unceasing, so it is difficult to launch it. I had a shot at a large walrus but missed. ..... We have an Eskimo woman with us who is busy sewing clothing and she is doing very nicely. We are now busy stacking firewood and getting quarters ready for the winter.
"September 17. ...... Crawford took a long walk inland. Maurer and I went about three miles to the westward and found great quantities of driftwood. This is a good place for fuel. A large number of things I ordered in Seattle did not arrive and a box of prunes opened to-day were found to be maggoty. Rather a poor thing to do to a party going north.
"September 18. A beautiful day. Maurer, Galle and I cut and stacked wood all day in preparation for hauling on the arrival of snow. Saw a seal and dozens of seagulls and terns. ....no ice in sight. A great number of white owls about and a few ravens but we have not seen a sign of ptarmigan.
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September 19. Everybody busy. Galle making a tool chest, Maurer putting supplies in shape, Crawford getting out meteorologial instruments and myself repairing sledge and dog harness." "Everybody busy" followed by such details as there is a typical entry in Knight's diary and we shall not repeat them. All hands seem to have worked amiably and energetically in getting things ready for Winter.
"September 20. All hands busy digging out the side of a cut bank for space to pitch our winter quarters. We can use one side of the bank for a side of the house and the roof will be sod. The two ends will be built of snow blocks. We will pitch the 10x12 and the 8x10 tents end to end (inside the house) and will use the small tent for a kitchen and the large tent for living quarters. ... There is no snow or ice and the prospect for seals looks rather gloomy until the ice does come. There are a few seals about but they stay a long distance from shore, the surf is so heavy and the dory so hard to pull out that it is not advisable to go after them." This entry goes on to explain Knight's belief (undoubtedly correct) that seals shot in open water at this time of year would probably sink before they could be recovered.
Like many other entries in Knight's diary, this description of the proposed winter quarters is lucid and complete to those who know the style of dwelling he had in mind, but meaningless to others. Evidently Knight and Maurer in planning this house were drawing on their experience in northern Alaska. In writing his newspaper story from this diary, Noice implies his surprise that so unsuitable a dwelling should have been employed, giving this as one of the instances of what he considered mismanagement. That Noice makes this criticism in perfectly good faith is evident not only from what he says but also from a knowledge of the geographic limitations of his experience upon which he bases the criticism. Noice had been a member of my expedition for two
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years in a country where driftwood is absent and we had never used a dwelling of the kind here indicated by Knight. After leaving my expedition Noice had spent four years in Coronation Gulf among Eskimos to whom this type of dwelling is unknown. But Maurer had spent a year at Herschel Island and Knight had spent a year on the north coast of Alaska. In both these localities the Eskimos and the white trappers alike are in the habit of using the sort of dwelling which Knight indicated and which we shall now describe.
The first step is the erection of the two uprights upon which is placed a rudge pole. The ends and side walls of the house may then be built in one of many ways. The Wrangell Island part used the side of a steep hill for one end and snow blocks for the other three walls. Next, rafters are put up with one end xxxxxxx of each rafter resting on the side wall and the other on the ridge pole. If the tent to be pitched inside this house is seven feet high the house would be nine or ten feet from the floor to ridge pole, and if the tent is ten feet wide and fourteen feet long the house would be at least fourteen feet wide and eighteen long. Since the Wrangell party pitched two tents end to end, the house which covered themmust have had dimensions at least fourteen feet in width and twenty-six feet in length.
When the wood-burning stoves were put up in the two tents the stovepipes would be long enough according to this system to reach up through the roof of the house built outside the tents and high enough above to clear the ridge pole by one or two feet so as to prevent wind from eddying over the ridge and blowing down into the stovepipe.
Through many years I have had many friends, both white and Eskimo, living in such winter campe on the north coast of Alaska, and they have sometimes been put up by my own parties. There is the theoretical objection to them that they shut out completley the sun's light, but this is