This was the crucial expedition in finding the fate of DeLong and the Jeannette.
p. 149: This was the close of October 30th, 1881. A memorable day, for about one hundred miles distant from Tamoose it sealed the sad fate of De Long and his comrades; and five months later, when I found their bodies, turning to the last written page of De Long’s note-book, or “ice-journal,” as it is now known to history, I read the last pitiful entry, evidently written in the morning,—
“Oct. 30th, Sunday.—One hundred and fortieth day. Boyd and Görtz died during the night. Mr. Collins dying.”
So the close of the day that saw me finish and pack my sled at Tamoose doubtless closed the eyes and earthly career of the commander and remainder of as gallant a band of men as ever struggled against fate, or its cruel emissaries, ice, snow, hunger, and cold.
p. 245-46, the Dec. 7, 1881, suggestions to the Russians on looking for DeLong and his records and papers: I have already traveled over this ground, but followed the river bank; therefore it is necessary that a more careful search be made on the high ground back from the river for a short distance as well as along the river bank. I examined many huts and small houses but could not possibly examine all of them; therefore it is necessary that all—every house and hut, large and small, must be examined for books, papers, or the persons of the party. Men without food and but little clothing would naturally seek shelter in huts along the line of their march, and if exhausted might die in one of them. They would leave their books and papers in a hut if unable to carry them farther. If they carried their books and papers south of that section of country between Mat Vay and Bulcour, their books and papers will be found piled up in a heap, and some prominent object erected near them to attract the attention of searching parties; a mast of wood or a pile of wood would be erected near them if not on them. In case books or papers are found, they are to be sent to the American minister resident at St. Petersburg. If they are found and can be forwarded to me before I leave Russia, I will take them to America with me.
If the persons of my comrades are found dead I desire that all books and papers be taken from their clothing and forwarded to the American minister at St. Petersburg, or to me if in time to reach me before leaving Russia.
p. 248-49: In the hut I found four other young men, Messrs. Loung, Zack, Artzibucheff, and Tzarensky, all political exiles; the oldest twenty-seven, and the youngest eighteen years of age. They were all professional men, and spoke French fluently; some, German, too, and others a little English. All were earnest Nihilists, though several said they had not been so until after their banishment. Each had his sad and sorry story to tell, and all looked upon me as a most curious phenomenon. They came from different parts of the empire, had known the interior of Russian prisons all the way from Archangel to the Crimea, and were finally sent to the frontier to insure their safety. They were eager questioners in regard to the navigation of the Siberian coast, having in their possession a number of charts and maps, and they had often talked and dreamed, they said, of attempting an escape, but two thousand miles of coastline and more than one thousand miles of river navigation had seemed an impossible feat until we had accomplished it, and risen before them like a pillar of hope.
With Kasharofski’s permission, I visited them daily while awaiting the arrival of my men from Belun. In the evenings several little parties were given, where I met the élite of Verkeransk. At these affairs the people sang, played, ate, and everybody seemed to gamble, drink, and smoke. The women had separate apartments wherein they did all these things; and I dumfounded the assemblies by telling them that I never played cards, not even in my own country. Leon, who was present, said: “They will suspect you of some evil, for they argue thus: This is a queer man who neither gambles nor drinks: he must be always thinking, and a man who thinks much must have some evil thoughts—so banish him at once!”
But this was the speech of a poor exile, whose life was ruined because by reading and reflecting he had learned to speak the truths of moral and political science, yet had unwisely spoken them too loud, and so convicted himself as a corrupter of the truth. He was fully acquainted with the works of our modern philosophers and political economists, John Stuart Mill, Richard Cobden, Herbert Spencer, etc., and longed for a supply of English books; for at the hut, though they had French, German, and English dictionaries, they had no reading matter of any kind in our language, and so implored me to give them the Bible or any other English print I had in the navigation box; but as these were relics of the expedition, I, of course, could not part with them.
p. 331: I identified De Long at a glance by his coat. He lay on his right side, with his right hand under his cheek, his head pointing north, and his face turned to the west. His feet were drawn slightly up as though he were sleeping; his left arm was raised with the elbow bent, and his hand, thus horizontally lifted, was bare. About four feet back of him, or toward the east, I found his small note-book or ice-journal, where he had tossed it with his left hand, which looked as though it had never recovered from the act, but had frozen as I found it, upraised.
p. 332-33: One after another died until only three were left, and then De Long perceived that unless the books and papers and the bodies of his comrades were removed from the low bed of the river, the spring floods would sweep them all out to sea. So the surviving three had tried to carry
the records to the high ground for safety, together with a cake of river ice for water, the kettle, a hatchet, and a piece of their tent-cloth, but their little remaining strength was not even equal to the task of lifting the cases of records up the steep bank, so they sank down from the effort, after securing the chart-case and other small articles, leaving the records to their fate. At the root of a large drift tree that had lodged on the bank some twenty-five or thirty feet above the river, they built a fire and brewed some willow tea; and the kettle when I found it was one quarter full of ice and willow shoots. The tent-cloth they set up to the southward of them to protect their fire, but the winter winds had blown it down, and it now partly covered Ah Sam, who lay flat upon his back, with his feet towards the fire and his hands crossed upon his breast; a position in which the last two survivors had evidently placed him. De Long had crawled off to the northward and about ten feet from Ah Sam, while Doctor Ambler was stretched out between,—his feet nearly touching the latter, and his head resting on a line with De Long’s knees. He lay almost prone on his face, with his right arm extended under him, and his left hand raised to his mouth. In the agony of death he had bitten deep into the flesh between his thumb and forefinger, and around his head the snow was stained with blood. None of the three had boots or mittens on, their legs and feet being covered with strips of woolen blanket and pieces of the tent- cloth, bound around to the knees with bits of rope and the waist-belts of their comrades. Ah Sam had on a pair of red knit San Francisco socks, the heels and toes of which were entirely worn away.
p. 335-36, discovering the bodies: When the bodies were searched, I rolled them, with the aid of the natives, in a piece of tent-cloth, and then covered them with snow, for I could not as yet haul them to Mat Vay. The faces of the dead were remarkably well-preserved; they had all the appearance of marble, with the blush frozen in their cheeks. Their faces were full, for the process of freezing had slightly puffed them; yet this was not true of their limbs, which were pitifully emaciated, or of their stomachs, which had shrunk into great cavities. Dr. Ambler, ostensibly to ease the gnawing pangs of hunger, had wrapped his little pocket diary in his long woolen muffler, and then thrust this great wad under the waistband of his trousers.
From the reading of the journal I now expected to find the balance of the party near the myach, or where I had sighted the tent-poles. I therefore started the natives to digging, telling them that the bumagas and kinneagas (papers and books) were there. Exerting themselves then to their utmost, they soon came upon the wood and ashes of the fire-place, when, digging around the base of the cone-shaped pit, they presently exhumed, much to their delight, a tin drinking-pot, some old scraps of clothing, a woolen mitten, and two tin cases of books and papers.
Suddenly the two men scrambled out of the pit as though the arch-fiend himself was at their heels, gasping, as soon as they could,—
" Pomree, pomree, dwee pomree " (the dead, the dead, two deads).
Dropping into the hole I saw the head of one corpse partly exposed, and the feet of another ; and then ordered the natives to continue their labors. They obeyed, and finally disclosed the back and shoulders of a third. It was now dark and the snow was drifting wildly, so I concluded to return to Mat Vay for the night, and send instant word to Cass Carta for the rest of my party to join me here and assist in excavating the bodies.
p. 250-52, continued: My coming filled them with the wildest hopes, for heretofore it had been considered as impossible to effect an escape by the ice of the Arctic Ocean as to cross a living sea of fire; and doubtless for them it would be, as there was not a sea-faring man in their number, or one, I suspect, who had ever seen the rolling ocean. Yet before I left they told me that they intended to make the attempt, and I ardently hoped that it might be crowned with success. For here I saw youth, intelligence, and refinement immured for life in an Arctic desert, with no companionship of books or cultivated society, surrounded by filthy and disgusting Yakuts, who were partly their keepers. For the natives are held strictly accountable, under penalty of the dreaded knout and imprisonment, for the escape of an exile, since it is utterly out of the question for any one to travel a great distance into the country without their aid or knowledge. As a guest of the nation and a continuing recipient of its succor and hospitality, I could not honorably abet the exiles in their plans for escape; yet as a Republican I am free to say that all my sympathies were with them,—the oppressed for speech sake. For it was one of these young men who told me that all they asked and strove for was a constitutional form of government, let the constitution be what it might. They only wanted the privilege of being imprisoned, and hanged, if needs be, under a Russian law and constitution; and not driven like a herd of sheep by the police master of a town or city into prison or exile, without the benefit of trial before any tribunal, or if a mock hearing could be had, as in Leon’s case, yet not before such an administrator, who on his very commitment papers would record himself a judicial ass.
Still, Leon, in his character of interpreter, obtained for himself and companions the full benefit of my recountal to Kasharofski of the Jeannette’s cruise and equipment; our retreat, supplies, clothing, and line of march. The youngest of the exiles, called the “Little Blacksmith,” had been a polytechnic scholar, and seemed to be the physicist in general of the party. He gazed fondly on the sextant in my possession; for with it he could find his way across the tundra and the ocean. They had watches and compasses, but no means of determining latitude, or tables for computing longitude. So this earnest young Nihilist began the construction of a sextant, and had already his navigation tables in course of preparation, using a Russian almanac to find the sun’s declinations, etc. It was their intention to build a boat on the Jana River, near Verkeransk, and attempt a passage of one thousand miles to the sea-board, and then a voyage of nearly two thousand miles along the coast of Siberia to East Cape or Behring Strait.
I afterwards learned with regret that they had indeed essayed, but unsuccessfully, to carry their bold project into effect. Eluding their pursuers, they succeeded, after many difficulties, in working their way down the Jana, past a large village near its mouth, to within sight of the sea, and could then have accomplished their escape with comparative ease; but the rolling waves paralyzed them with terror and tumbled into the boat, which was over laden with its freight of thirteen exiles; and when they ran ashore it swamped and soaked their provisions. One of their number was a young woman, of whom more anon; but even she was made of sterner stuff than the two others who, frightened at their situation, straightway surrendered themselves to the authorities at Oceansk, who soon after captured the rest and sent them all into worse exile, if possible, than before. Leon was forwarded to the river Kolyma, and others were removed from the settled districts, and placed among the Yakuts. And what else could I do but admire them and their pluck, whose greatest offenses had been boyish indiscretions, rows in the streets, for none of them had yet become master of his profession? And so, in the eyes of every American, born to believe that free speech and a free press are absolute and indefeasible rights, must the overwhelming and horrible punishment meted out to these exiled youth appear shamefully despotic and cruel.
p. 367-68, the final search: I AT once interrogated Bartlett concerning the where-abouts of Mr. Gilder, the correspondent, and learned that he had departed the day before for Tamoose.
From one of the many letters which Mr. Gilder sent to me, I gleaned that he belonged to the relief ship Rodgers, commanded by Lieutenant Robert M. Berry, U. S. N., and that, after making an extended cruise in the Arctic Ocean, and visiting the islands of Herald and Wrangel, the Rodgers was finally burned at St. Lawrence Bay, south of East Cape, in Eastern Siberia; that after the destruction of the vessel, Lieutenant Berry ordered Gilder to proceed along the coast to Nijni Kolymsk, on the Kolyma River, and thence to Irkutsk, the terminus of the telegraph line, there to communicate the news of the Rodgers’ loss to the Navy Department, and then follow the telegram to the United States as a bearer of dispatches. But upon his arrival at the Kolyma he met my old friend Kasharofoski, the ex-espravnick of Verkeransk, who told him of the Jeannette’s fate and of was posting to Yakutsk with my sealed dispatches to General Tschernaieff and the Navy Department. The Cossack, who had heard the news at Verkeransk, told Gilder of the contents of the sealed packet, which that spirited journalist straightway induced the derelict courier to surrender into his hands, and coolly broke open. He abstracted the desired particulars, and then forwarded the packet to General Tschernaieff, sending, however, in advance to the “Herald” an account, taken from my report, of the finding of the bodies of De Long and comrades. He here turned over to his traveling companion, the ex-espravnick of Kolyma, Lieutenant Berry’s dispatches to the Secretary of the Navy, directing him to mail them to the United States, and likewise to forward his telegram to the “Herald.” It is needless to state that General Tschernaieff expressed great surprise to me at the very questionable liberties taken by Mr. Gilder, but dropped the subject at length with the remark that he supposed the breaking of a seal was a matter of little or no consequence in a free country like the United States, but in Russia it was a penal and serious offense, and he assured me that the Cossack would not go unpunished for his part in the transaction.
p. 369-70, on US newspaper coverage of the discovery of De Long: When, at last, I was on the eve of starting for the Jana, I received a message from Tamoose informing me that two Americans were there, at the hut of Kusma. Thither I drove on a sled, thinking that I was about to meet the naval officers of whom I had heard, but picture my surprise when, instead, I beheld Noros, who had set out for home in January with Mr. Danenhower. He was accompanied by a Mr. John P. Jackson, correspondent of the “New York Herald,” who, journeying to the Delta to “write up” the Jeannette disaster, had met the Danenhower party at Irkutsk, and telegraphed their stories to his journal. He had then secured permission from the Secretary of the Navy to take Noros along with him to the Delta as companion and aide, and here they were with all the paraphernalia of Oriental travelers. Noros had shed his deer-skin rags, and was clothed in purple and fine linen, so to speak. Jackson had a Cossack escort and two covered sleds filled with toothsome foods and other good things.
I invited him over to Jamaveloch, where he learned from Bartlett and Nindemann the details of the search, and how and where we buried the dead. And now a Mr. Larsen, artist and correspondent of the “Illustrated London News,” appeared on the scene. He and Mr. Jackson had been fellow-travelers as far as Yakutsk, and now joined company, and wished to visit together the places of interest on our recent search. Mr. Jackson desired that I would detail either Nindemann or Bartlett to accompany him; but, as I had no authority to detach any of my party for such service, I declined to do so, greatly to the displeasure of Mr. Jackson, who seemed to imagine that he had only to order in the name of his master, and I would obey. The egregious egotism of this kind of person is amusing in the extreme. At our first meeting he told me, with a great show of importance, that he would be obliged to me if I would turn over to him for his perusal and inspection the log-books and journals of Lieutenant De Long and Mr. Collins; that Mr. Bennett had so ordered, etc.; that if there was anything I wished to have done, he would be pleased to forward all my projects, etc.; or if I wanted any money he was empowered to draw on Mr. Bennett, etc., etc. In short, he was prepared to take me in charge and complete in a proper manner the work I had almost finished.
Very much to his astonishment, I was in need of no assistance, and not at all inclined either to surrender myself into his keeping, or to be captured by force. Had I supposed it was the intention of this ghoul-like party to break open the cairn-tomb, I would certainly have accompanied them, and prevented such a desecration. But I never dreamed that a person born in a Christian land would so far forget the respect due to our honored dead as to violate their sacred resting-place for the purpose of concocting a sensational story, and making sketches, or out of idle curiosity. Yet this, I afterwards learned, was done; and the timbers were sawn off and tumbled down, and the structure left so weakened that it no longer served the purpose for which it was intended.
p. 455, on the rescue of the Greely party at Camp Clay: Further up the hill lay the summer camp or tent, black with smoke and partly blown down, the flaps flying in the wind, which was blowing loose papers, leaves of books, and old clothing hither and thither; and on their backs within this half-open inclosure lay the poor creatures whom we had come to rescue, now more dead than alive.
p. 459: Greely, in his sleeping-bag, and resting on his hands and knees, was peering out through the open door-way; his hair and beard black, long, and. matted, his hands and face begrimed with the soot of months, and his eyes glittering with an intense excitement. For what terrible days of agony had been swept into oblivion by this supreme moment of joy. Succor had come at last! And yet he scarcely seemed to realize it. Mr. Norman told him who I was, and he said he was glad to see one of the people of the Jeannette, for he had learned a great deal of the history of our expedition from scraps of newspapers that had been wrapped around some lemons left by the Garlington party.