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The Greely Expedition | Primary Source

Journal: Sgt Brainard

Greely Brainard.jpg
Sergeant David Brainard. National Archives.

First Sergeant David Brainard is known for capturing the title of "Farthest North" in April of 1882 while a member of the Lady Franklin Bay scientific expedition in the Arctic. Brainard writes diligently in his journal— excerpts of which have been assembled from various locations from around the country -- about the construction of their Arctic home, hunting for food, and the variations in the weather. Brainard empathetically comments often on the spirits of the men around him, and he demonstrates a rising panic in summer of 1883 when the relief ship fails to arrive.

In charge of meting out the crew's last rations, Brainard describes the misery of the fated men: "We speak freely of death, but it is more in a spirit of a business matter than with dread of its approach. I think that all feel resigned to the inevitable, and I am sure that none fear death, even in its worse form."

Brainard would be one of six to survive the expedition and he went on to have a successful military career.

Thursday, July 7, 1881
The Hibernian came in about 930 last night and as our mail had been kindly promised, Lieut. Kislingbury was sent ashore for it. I laid down at 11 PM, with orders to be called when the mail arrived. It came about 1130, a large mail of probably 50 letters for me, including five from Mrs. Greely. Arrangements had been made for handling the freight for which we were waiting in the early morning, so they all had to be answered if it all last night.

Only the briefest answers to the most important letters could of course be attempted, and as such in most cases were made on postal cards which being at hand offered the speediest method. Lieut. Kislingbury was sent ashore at 6 AM to arrange about the freight would respond we delivered alongside the ship by 8 AM -- just at breakfast time when the ship's men are [illegible]. It seemed a vexatious delay but had its compensations for the "Armenia" of the Cornwall line coming in at early dawn had several packages and the small mail -- one letter from Mrs. Greely -- her last letter for the year. Lieut. Kislingbury was again sent on shore and the packages were brought off together with an express package about 11 AM. Anchor was at once hove up, and about that time vice Consul Mr. Molloy came on board. At 12:15 PM, St. John's time, the engines commenced working and our voyage commenced.

We started off under the brightest of skies, with the finest of weather. Running slowly through the Narrows we discharged our pilot at 130, receiving from him and his men a round of applause to which we responded.

There was not the slightest interest manifested in the expedition at St. John's at our departure, and except by the consuls family and by Mrs. O. Shea, none at all by any other parties excepting such as are personally concerned.

Telegrams were sent back by the pilot to be forwarded to Gen. Hazen and Mrs. Greely. Passed Cape Bonvista about 8:30 PM, [illegible] enough to be seen, and from which we hope to be reported.

Friday, July 8, 1881
High and blowing strongly from the southwest at daylight. Sea very rough and boat plunging badly, which caused nearly all to seek relief at the ship's side. A few still present a solid front and refuse to succumb to the seasickness. Two icebergs, the first of the season, were seen this morning, the first at 738 was discovered by Sgt. Jewell. The other about an hour after was discovered by myself.

Lieutenant Greely is deathly sick. He did not make his appearance until sometime during this afternoon.

During the afternoon wind gradually die down until at five o'clock the sea was quite smooth.

An average of 8 1/2 kn. per hour has been made during the last 12 hours. Our general direction as the Northeast since early morning.

July 8, 1881
Wind high and blowing strongly from Southwest at daybreak. Two icebergs sighted to the westward over the Labrador coast at 7:45 AM. I can ship plunging recklessly about. Seasickness claims nearly all the expeditionary force for its victims. A few, however, still present a solid front but the present indications are that they will succumb presently. Wind fell towards evening and she became quite smooth. An average of 8 1/2 kn per hour was made during the last 12 hours.

General direction since morning Northeast.

Saturday, July 9, 1881
At 4 AM plugs of anchor or chain hole were washed out by heavy seas and our sleeping apartment was literally deluged by seawater. Trunks, valises, boots, shoes, hats, bread boxes, tin pans etc. were floating about in the flood. A couple of sailors came to our rescue and stopped up the hole, picked up the floating articles and set things to rights. Sea very high and rough, wind blowing a perfect gale -- the two combined has caused considerable seasickness among several of the members of the party. Ellis, Whistler, Henry, and Beiderbecke in particular are in almost a hopeless condition -- all hope of a brighter future has fled from them and they are ready to give up the ghost. The sea was at its highest about two o'clock but the wind went down gradually with the sun and left the sea rolling in long even, steady swells at 9:00 PM. Thermometer stood at 41° above zero.

Sunday, July 10, 1881
The vessel was riding in the trough of the sea and rolling heavily during the greater part of the night. I was thrown from one side to the other of my bunk by the rolling and plunging of the ship. The long, even swells proved very inconvenient to most of us as the vessel often tipped water first over one bulwark and then the other. Icebergs were seen all around us from midnight till 1:00 PM. One in particular was noticeable for its peculiar shape and formation. Its length was about 600 feet and the main body rose about 90 feet in the air while at each end rose a tower or pinnacle having the form of a dome to the height of about 100 feet.

Sales were unfurled at 8:30 AM and the brisk breeze drove the vessel at a rate of 10 kn. per hour. Wind blew from the southwest during the entire day.

Thermometer registered 39° above zero noon today.

General direction steered northwest, but occasionally a change of direction was made in order to favor the use of sails. The sick were all assisted to the deck this morning and now feel considerably better after taking the fresh bracing sea breeze for a few hours.

Tuesday, July 12, 1881
Day opened very fine — but the sun soon disappeared in the sky clouded up and it's rained slightly for a few moments. Sea grew quite rough and high waves dashed over the ship's sides to the inconvenience of all on board.

No icebergs so far since last week.

Past the 60th degree of latitude this morning and we are now steaming up Davis Strait. No land in sight yet. Day cold and raw -- thermometer indicates 36° above zero at 9 PM.

10:00 PM. Ice in sight once more -- but whether in large or small quantities can not yet be ascertained.

General direction for the day was east of North.

For the last two hours that she has been as smooth as glass -- owing I supposed to the proximity of the icefield.

No observation has been taken for two or three days but according to the reckoning we are about 140 miles from land on the Greenland side. The nights are very light. It does not get dark before 12 o'clock.

Wednesday, July 13, 1881
Cloudy with occasional slight shower, and during the afternoon and evening heavy fog. Met another large field of the floe ice at 2:10 PM today and went through without any difficulties. Wind blowing strongly from the Northwest during the greater part of the day. The thermometer registered 38° at sundown.

No observations have been taken for several days going to the non-appearance of the sun. All is done by dead reckoning. We are now as near as can be determined upon and 63° 30'.

Expect to see lands tomorrow morning if we continue on our present course during the night. All victims of seasickness are now convalescent.

Thursday, July 14, 1881
They opened with warm sunshine and continued at intervals during the entire day. Heavy fog obscured our vision for another glimpse at land till about 4:00 PM, when it gradually fled and disclosed to our eager gaze Greenland's icy mountains in the distance. Instantly all hands were on deck and taking in the grand scenery about 25 miles away.

The mountains were lofty, rugged and covered with considerable snow. There appeared to be a large quantity of stunted pines or evergreen timber of some sort on the mountain sides. Saw several large whales and numerous sea fowl today. Sunset at 11:15 PM. Daylight continues to drain the entire night -- darkness is now unknown to us and will be for several months to come. Thermometer registered 40° above zero at 10:30 AM. Victims of seasickness nearly recovered.

Friday, July 15, 1881
Morning somewhat foggy, but sun coming out brightly, fog gradually lifted except on the coast. At 1030 crossed the Arctic Circle (latitude 66 1/2°) and at noon were in latitude 66° 41'.

Toward evening wind rose and a high sea tossed the vessel about so as to cause a relapse among those recovering from seasickness. An observation was taken at noon at our latitude ascertained with certainty. Waterfowl are numerous. No ice since yesterday, except one or two bergs.

Saturday, July 16, 1881
Heavy fog during the entire night and day until about six o'clock, when the fog lifted and disclosed to our view the island of Disco about 2 miles to our right. The ship was instantly headed for the shore, but some difficulty experienced in finding entrance to bay -- so the gun was fired and a pilot came to our relief and took us in and we anchored near the settlement of Disco. Several Eskimos came aboard in their kayaks to trade or sell goods of their own manufacture. Lieutenants Greely, Lockwood, and Kislingbury went ashore to pay their respects to the inspector and governor of the island of Greenland. Dr. Pavy And Mr. Clay are at present at Rittenband, but will return in three days.

We gave a salute from the big gun when we arrived in the harbor which was returned by the inspector's gun as we dropped anchor. Thermometer registered 45° above zero at 11:45 PM

Disco is but a small island and the inhabitants principally Eskimo's. However, a few Dane reside here to trade with the natives and represent their country. The governor is also the traitor. The immediate control of the island is under the inspector, appointed by Denmark. The settlement on the island is called Lievely, the bay Godhaven. The inhabitants number about 200.

Sunday, July 17, 1881
Wrote letters until noon and then took a shotgun and in company with Bender, Gardiner, and Ralston crossed to the opposite side of the bay and went along the seashore and ascended to the hills where we found many varieties of flowers peculiar to this country. Mosses and lichens were found in abundance. A waterfall and cascade was found and was a very pretty sight indeed. On a tributary of the stream was found a canyon -- deep, narrow, steep, and dark. We rolled several stones down into its dark depths below and could hear the rumbling and grinding as it rolls down the stream below. Came home at five o'clock, having met with indifferent success -- in fact we shot nothing except a few slow birds.

In the evening went down the bay on a duck shooting excursion, but returned having met with no success. The governor gave us a ball this evening and we danced with the Eskimos until about 10:00 PM, when the ball broke up and we returned to ship.

The dress of the females his peculiar and to not unlike that of the males. They wear no dress or skirt but instead trousers which reach only to the knees -- though a pair of boots reached nearly to the knee -- the space between the top of the boot and bottom of trousers this covered by linen made for the purpose, to fit neatly. The body is covered by a loose cotton frock which reaches only far enough to cover the top of the trousers.

Many of the females are very good-looking, some are nearly white. English half breeds reports say. We are in doubt about what is going to be done tomorrow by the party. Dr. Pavy Has not yet returned, but is expected in two or three days time. They opened very bright and clear. Sun shone brilliantly during the entire day and at times was warm enough to dispense with a coat.

Thermometer registered 46° above zero. The natives are very expert in the use of a small boat called the kayak, with which they paddle with a double bladed oar, or an oar with a blade on each end of it.

Monday, July 18, 1881
They opened warm and pleasant. Shone dimly during the greater part of the day. Went to the whale oil manufactory across the bay and removed the lumber left there by Lieut. Doane last year when the Howgate Expedition was abandoned. In the afternoon lumber was rafted over, and fastened to the boat. Was sent by Lieut. Greely to the bluffs across the bay together a quantity of the red snow found in a ravine yesterday. Accounts from explorers of the Arctic regions further north reports no red as blood and account for the same as animal life or vegetation which can be brought out only under a microscope. Succeeded in finding the snow, but discovered that the cover was owing to clay or red earth, a bank of which was just above it and was blown across the snow by the wind.

Shot a kind of partridge called Ptarmigan on the bluffs across the bay.

Trading for Eskimo costumes receive considerable attention among the members of the party. Sealskin suits, boots, mouse, etc. are the principal articles of trade. Thermometer registers 41° above zero at 10:30 PM. Greely and officers attended a dress party in full uniform this afternoon given by the inspectors family.

Wednesday, August 10, 1881
Commenced snowing during the early morning, and at 7 AM was falling rapidly. It continued at intervals during the entire day, making the decks very wet and unpleasant for those who preferred its discomforts to the low, smoky, filthy forecastle where the crowd congregates on rainy days. Drifting slowly down the sound. Past "Hans Island" during the day, and changed positions twice, tying up each time. Was ordered to place myself under the instruction of one of the signal observers for the purpose of reading the scientific instruments.

Thursday, August 11, 1881
Morning cold and disagreeable, and made still more uncomfortable by a strong raw wind. Changed our position twice during the night, gaining about a mile to the northwest and tied up to the flow. A favorable lead being opened it was taken advantage of as soon as observed the line passed off as ship headed up the channel under a good head of steam finding a very good route to the rapidly scattering floe ice. At 1:00 PM entered Lady Franklin Bay against a strong head wind which caused a very rough sea. But perhaps this is providential and will cause the ice to be broken up, which we can see ahead of us in discovery Harbour. Upon our arrival in the harbor found the ice still quite firm but thawing rapidly. Can take, with his usual impetuosity began bashing the ice and forcing his way toward the place where "the discovery" wintered, and can now plainly see, with glasses, I cared on the beach not far from where the vessel lay during the winter. The muskox seen under the cliffs near the shore of the harbor, and was shortly afterward killed by a party sent off for that purpose. Several other parties left the ship at the same time. The tenant Lockwood, Mr. Clay and Ryan, to look for the coal mines near watercourse Bay, which was discovered by the English Lieut. Greeley to visit Karen where it is supposed our station will be corrected, and several more also went ashore to assist in the destruction of the unfortunate and defenseless muskox. Lieut. Lockwood in party returned early, having succeeded in killing two musk oxen not more than a mile away from camp. Seven or eight of our party immediately went up, skinned and quartered the entire lot and brought down for the same. Lieut. Lockwood and small party went out again to continue search for coal mine and succeeded in finding where it was located. They shot for more wall returning home, making 15 oxen shot during our first day in Grinnell Land. The vessel is making good progress through the ice and it is confidently expected that she will yet make a passage through the ice to where we desire to land the stores and establish our permanent station.

Friday, August 12, 1881
The Proteus began fighting for a passage through the ice at 6 AM and succeeded so far in accomplishing what was most desired by the entire party that she dropped anchor in the bay in front of the site selected for our residents at 3:00 PM. The force was divided into two working parties under lieutenants Lockwood and Kislingbury In working for hours each. Lieut. Kislingbury's party went to work at once beginning at the lumber which was stored on deck. Rats were constructed with the heaviest sticks and the others piled on promiscuously and floated over to assure. As daylight is now constant no time is lost -- the parties working four hours and then resting four hours, relieving each other.

Saturday, August 13, 1881
The cargo is being discharged rapidly. Capt. Pike speaks highly of the working qualities of the party and says that he never saw a cargo to discharged faster than this one is being discharged. Lumber and the contents of main hatch are ashore. This evening commenced on fore peak. The boats are very troublesome, especially at low tide when they frequently get grounded and require considerable exertion to push over mud and sand to get afloat again.

Sunday, August 14, 1881
Went on watch at 4:00 AM, feeling very sore and lame -- but am getting accustomed to rolling about barrels and boxes and expects to work off the lameness by tomorrow morning.

Everything out of forepeak and lower forecastle. Steam launch was put over afternoon. Went to work immediately after at "after" hold. Whistler and Ellison went to work framing the building soon after landing the lumber, and it is now progressing finely. Lieut. Greeley has named the place for Fort Conger in honor of Sen. Conger from Michigan, who was of material assistance in pushing through the bill authorizing the expedition.

Monday, August 15, 1881
Watches worked alternately during the day until 6:00 PM when we knocked off by order of our commander until tomorrow morning. Boatswain killed a muskox not far from camp this afternoon. Brian started out at the same time, going to some misunderstanding got lost and did not turn up until about midnight. Commenced unloading coal at 4:00 AM -- transferred it from boat to top of bank in wheelbarrows. House is assuming the appearance of a human habitation. The men are working under difficult peace -- the majority are unaccustomed to hard work, but are nevertheless doing very well.

Tuesday, August 16, 1881
Knocked off work at 6:00 PM last evening and did not resume until this morning at six o'clock, when the whole party went to work together at the core. Commenced snowing at 11 AM, and continued at intervals till 7:30 PM, when it changed to rain. How is progressing rapidly. Capt. Pike getting very anxious about getting out of the Arctic regions of the summer. He considers the condition of the Straits very unfavorable for his departure this fall.

Wednesday, August 17, 1881
Party resumed work unloading coal at 6 AM. Two of the ships crew became slightly inebriated before breakfast. It is supposed that they paid stolen visits to the rum barrels ashore and their greediness or love for strong drink overcame their good sense, and they drank to excess, so that when all hands were called after breakfast they were found to be in an almost hopeless condition, and totally unfit for work of any kind. This is very much regretted by the entire party as this is the first instance in which anything in liquid form has been taken by anyone except by express authority of the commanding officer and it is feared that this breach of discipline on the part of the crew will cause our own officers to be suspicious and place less confidence in us in the future. Mr. Clay, Sgt. Israel, and Connell went to coal mine discovered by the English near watercourse Bay for the purpose of obtaining specimens to send back to Washington by the returning vessel.

Everyone, when off-duty, is busily engaged in writing letters to friends in the civilized world to be sent back by the Proteus.

Thursday, August 18, 1881
Resumed work at the usual hour unloading coal. Much to our relief this tiresome employment was completed at 430 this afternoon. The amount was estimated at 130 tons, but perhaps this is rather too high an estimate as we were most likely judging of war by the exhausted condition of our own frames than by the size of the heap of coal. Transferred from vessel to shore this evening where tents had been erected for our occupation during the afternoon. All unloading is now completed. The young ice has formed during the night to a considerable thickness making it rather difficult for a boat to force its way through from ship.

Starr was notified that he would be sent back with the Proteus on account of the asthma. This is very unsatisfactory to the remainder of the party, as Starr, also rough in matters, was good company and a general favorite with all, as well as a good worker.

Friday, August 19, 1881
First day at Fort Conger a snowstorm which continued during the entire day, making it very unpleasant for everyone working outside. Steamer Proteus left us at 5:00 AM, but was compelled to anchor near Dutch island going to the channel between Dutch island and Bellot Island being filled with ice so that it was impossible to force a passage through the compact mass. The crew was at once set to work taking in ballast. The good natured and jovial this positioned Starr is very much missed by all.

Saturday, August 20, 1881
Snowed slightly nearly the whole day. Entire party working on the house. Lieut. Greeley is working almost constantly and is considered one of the best workers on the building. Worked until 10:30 PM. Enclosed roof this evening.

Sunday, August 21, 1881
Day opened with snow. Range for cooking erected in house this evening and the cook has transferred his cooking apparatus from the shelter of the tent to fly to the building began work on window frames.

Monday, August 22, 1881
Work on house going forward as usual. Moss is being collected to be placed between the walls of the building as high as the Windows can be and stove corrected in officer's room. Ryan has an epileptic fit while working on house this morning, and lay in an unconscious state for a long time. He freely admitted that he was subject to these attacks and requested to be sent back to the United States by the Proteus -- which was yet anchored off the Dutch island. Lieut. Greeley decided that it would be unsafe for him to remain in this country while in this condition, and concluded that he would return him to Washington. Accordingly this order was made out, a check for two dollars presented by Lieut. Greeley, his traps got together and the doctor and myself went down to the vessel with him. Starr was overjoyed when Ryan came aboard, and he was informed that he was to have a companion during the homeward journey. Lime juice issued this evening for the first time.

Tuesday, August 23, 1881
Snowed slightly at intervals during the day. Work progressing in a very satisfactory manner on house. It is so near completion that several men moved into quarters with their bunks. The steamer Proteus still remains at anchor in the same place. The ice does not change its appearance, but remains firmly closed thus preventing her from making her escape.

Wednesday, August 24, 1881
The men are all engaged in working on house. "Proteus" still in sight. Nothing unusual happened at the ranch today, and to meet Arctic life is becoming rather monotonous. I long for a change of some kind.

Thursday, August 25, 1881
Day opened cloudy. Work continued on house. Tents erected in rear of house for mechanics. Snowed slightly. Then the owning small amount of betting moved in-house. Frederick and myself changed our sleeping apartment among the barrels of dog food to his workshop on saddlers tent.

Friday, August 26, 1881
Lieut. Kislingbury, at his own request, was relieved from duty with expedition, and immediately made preparations to take passage home in the "Proteus". But before he could convey his baggage and supplies over the ice to the vessel, the lead had been discovered to the open water outside of the island by the lookout, anchor raised, and the "Proteus" steaming toward Cape Leiber. Lieut. Kislingbury Of course returned much disappointed. It is supposed that she made her escape from the ice and will reach St. John's in safety. We all watched anxiously from the station and two men went to the top of Karen Hill in order to get the last glimpse of the retreating vessel — the only remaining link connecting us with the civilized world.

Saturday, August 27, 1881
House is rapidly nearing completion. A shed or "lean to" build on north end of building. The remainder of the men transferred their bunks to the quarters–the tents having become rather cold and cheerless in the absence of fires. Snowed 2 1/2 inches during the last few hours. House is 21' x 65' -- in the clear, and 14 feet high. Walls are doubled. Three rooms -- officers, man's, and kitchen.

Sunday, August 28, 1881
Morning clear and pleasant–sun shining brightly, causing the newly formed ice on the harbor to assume the appearance of a huge mirror, reflecting the mountains along the coast most distinctly. Work suspended for the day and entire party assembled in men's quarters to listen to the reading of a chapter from the Bible by the commanding officer. This is the beginning of a regular series of Sunday services. All games for pleasure or money are strictly prohibited on the Sabbath. However, the necessary work, or hunting, there is no objection.

Monday, August 29, 1881
Sgt. Cross and myself were directed by the commanding officer to accompany Lieut. Lockwood to the head of St. Patrick's Day for the purpose of looking out a practicable sledge root toward the north. Left Fort Conger 8:45 AM and arrived at the Bay or rather the cliff overlooking it at 1:15 PM. The lieutenant was not certain that it was the correct one on account of its appearing so much smaller than the one mapped by the English.

Friday, September 30, 1881
We're getting settled in comfortably in recorders now and everything for comfort and convenience is being done by our commander. Good "student lamps" and bright covers for the tables during the evening make the room look very cheerful and homelike.

Wednesday, October 12, 1881
Several days ago Lieut. Greeley notified me that men would be required to wash clothes for the officers and if anyone would volunteer for that purpose. This morning he wished to know if any had volunteered and upon receiving a reply in the negative ordered me to detail a private for that purpose. Connell was detailed and said that he would do it only under protest. A long talk was given to the crowd of angry and excited man by Lieut. Greeley, who said that he was not a man to be trifled with and in case of necessity he would not stop at the loss of human lives to restore order. It was finally settled by Cross volunteering to perform the disagreeable duty.

Saturday October 15, 1881
The days are very short now. A lamp has to be kept lighted almost constantly. Sun was seen shining on the hill tops but the orb itself could not be seen owing to intervening mountains. The bathtub is completed and now everyone is happy. A skating rink is to be made on the ice in a few days.

Sunday, October 16, 1881
Records show a registry of 25° below zero today. A beautiful or aurora borealis was observed this evening but did not remain long for us to look at Sun is now gone for good behind the distant hills and this will not again showed his face for five long months. Days are getting so very dark but it has become necessary to burn the lamp nearly all day.

January 1882
A Happy New Year! We stayed up until 3 A.M. for the passing of the Old Year. Sand and danced and at midnight honored New Year with several volleys from the post arsenal; also with music from a tin pan orchestra. It was a lively celebration, with the added luxury of cigars, the gift of Lieut. Kislingbury.

The revelry proved too much for Sgts. Linn and Ralston who early this morning were ordered to Mount Campbell to read the instruments. They tramped for several hours about the island and then returned to the station without having located the instruments -- or the mountain, for that matter.

December 5, 1882
The monotonous routine of our life is felt more keenly every day... Our time, after the usual hour's work in the morning, is spent in reading, writing, or discussion… Nothing seem to hurry the flight of time… Everything annoys and aggravates us. We give way readily in any situation with a burst of unreasonableness, rather then bolster up our will-power.

July 4, 1883
We no longer have the imagination necessary to provide entertainment for these holiday occasions. Our lone ceremony was the unfurling of the flag. Lieut. Kislingsbury caused a little excitement when he presented the only cigars remaining in Grinnell Land to be contended for in a shooting match. Ellis won. We had a game of baseball afterward with Lieut. Kislingsbury and Sergt. Gardiner the captains. Gardiner's team won by a run; score, 32-31. The natives participated, causing much laughter.

August 1883
What a fine spring retreat could be made from Ft. Conger with sledges & how much less our sufferings would be compared with what they are now and will be one or two weeks from now.

Suppose the ship did not succeed in passing through the Melville Bay pack? What would this party of poor shivering wretches do on arrival at Littleton Island at the beginning of winter with nothing to subsist on, when by a retreat judiciously conducted we would defy cold, hunger and the specter of death which dogs the footsteps of the unwary traveler in the Arctic?

We have crossed the Rubicon and to turn back now is out of the question. We must advance, although I am fearful it will result in another Franklin disaster... We are watching anxiously for a ship, our only salvation.

Mid September 1883
The roar of the moving and grinding pack east of us in the axis of the channel is something so terrible that even the bravest cannot appear unconcerned. To add to this scene of desolation, dark, portentous clouds hang over the horizon to remind us that our floe is not connected with the land, but drifting helplessly in the Kane Sea.

September 19, 1883
Misfortune and calamity, hand in hand, have clung to us along the entire line of this retreat… To cross the floes over this distance seems a hopeless undertaking when we can average only a mile and a quarter per day. And now we have been shown what child’s play the wind can make of our struggles. How can we put our heart and soul into hauling the sledges!

September 20, 1883
Lt. Greely favors an attempt to reach the Greenland coast by abandoning everything except 20 days' provisions, records, boat and sledge. Madness!

Early October 1883
The suffering will be extreme on this greatly reduced diet in this low temperature where a man requires from two to three times the normal diet. Also we have some very hard labor ahead of us incident to the building of winter quarters. Fifty more days will bring us to November 15, and at that time we should either be on the Greenland side or else in Baffin Bay. Lieut. Greely insists that when only ten days' provisions remain he will attempt to cross the sound to Littleton Island no matter what the consequences.

October 8, 1883
Rice has not yet returned. He is probably detained by new ice or a storm. God grant that comes back to us in safety. We cannot spare such a noble soul from our party. Bender made me a pair scales which, though crude, will greatly assist in weighing out the scanty allowance of food.

A mischievous fox visited the camp last night and succeeded in stealing three quarters of a pound of meat. Frederick shot two seals but both sank before he could squeeze himself into his kayak and secure them. It is heart-rending to see this food which is our very life disappear before our very eyes.

Early October 1883
The finding of these records has dissipated all the daydreams of rescue which we have been fostering, and brought us face to face with our situation as it really is. It could hardly be much worse. There are little more than 1,000 rations at Cape Sabine and these will not go far toward feeding twenty-five men. Little time remains to hunt and besides game has become noticeably scarce.

October 27, 1883
The commissary was broken into last night and a small quantity of hard bread taken. While one can sympathize with the hunger which drives a member of our party to commit such a despicable act, still the culprit will have to be brought to light and punished.

November 2, 1883
They are all brave fellows and the entire party feels that if there is a chance of bringing the meat to Camp Clay they will do it. God grant that they will all come through safely. I have issued them provisions for eight days.

November 4, 1883
A huge hard bread pudding for breakfast made us all feel very happy for a few hours. Sunday, the commanding officer has decreed, is always to be a feast day with some rare delicacy to look forward to. We also have an excellent stew made from fox carcasses.

The sense of repletion to the stomach after eating belongs to our pleasures of the dim past. The constant gnawing of hunger almost drives us mad... Long saw the tracks of two bears yesterday while returning to Camp Clay. A good-sized bear is just what this party needs to cheer it up...

Although this is the Sabbath, we began work on the new commissary storehouse. Someone again has been purloining provisions from the storehouse. It is well we are preparing to lock up what food remains.

November 9, 1883
Matters are growing worse. Lieut. Lockwood discovered a can of milk in the commissary storehouse, carefully covered by a block of snow. An attempt had been made to open it with a blunt-pointed knife but the contents fortunately were intact. Marks and scratches made in the hurry of opening corresponded perfectly with the saw-like edge of Schneider's knife. But the knife had been loaned to Henry and was in his possession! We do not know whom to trust in this dire extremity, consequently none in the future will be trusted.

No foxes have been seen for several days. Our dirty faces and disreputable clothing must have frightened them. No one ever thinks of wasting what energy he has in cleaning his person, or fussing with his ragged garments.

November 20, 1883
Inside the hut the temperature ranges from fourteen to twenty five degrees; sometimes it rises above freezing when the fire is lighted but falls immediately when it is extinguished. We experience the greatest discomfort from the cold and find it necessary at times to exert ourselves by knocking the feet together in a most frantic manner to prevent them from freezing. Our bags are frozen firmly to the ground, and the hair inside is filled with frost, and the moisture thus produced is absorbed by our garments, which are usually saturated before morning.

December 1883
Another stew served this evening was thickened with rotten dog biscuit. I believe that the hungriest cur on the streets would refuse this wretched apology for food...

A bounteous repast was served this morning, with which everyone was well pleased. It consisted of seal-skin and fox intestines, together with moldy dog-biscuit. Nothing approaching food is ever wasted with us, and it is a notorious fact that the cooks are not over careful in cleansing the fox intestines.

December 19, 1883
…black, shrunken and lifeless; his ankles especially are a horrible sight. The flesh has sloughed away, leaving the bones entirely devoid of covering. He suffers much, but is very patient and bears his troubles with manly and heroic fortitude.

January 4, 1884
I think the depradator is one of two men whom I have been watching closely for some days. I gave notice this morning that I had set a spring-gun in the storehouse, and that any man who entered or interfered with the house in any way did so at his peril. I found so much trouble in setting the gun that I finally abandoned the attempt. Of this fact, however, the party, except Lieutenant Greely, remained in ignorance.

January 18, 1884
The body was covered in the stars and stripes, and borne to its last resting place on the small sledge which already has a history in connection with the Elison disaster of last autumn. We ranged a circle of stones carefully about the grave of our lost companion, it being the only attention that we could bestow on him now.

One cannot conceive of anything more unearthly, more weird, this ghostly procession of emaciated and half-starved men moving slowly and silently away from their wretched ice-prison in the dim and uncertain light of an Arctic night, having in their midst a dead comrade who was about to be laid away in the frozen ground forever. It was a scene that one can never forget.

Early February 1884
While at breakfast everyone appeared in the best of spirits and each one endeavored to imbue Rice with his own bright view of the future. But to a close observer, this appearance of cheerfulness was all forced and superficial, to give courage and strength to the brave souls who were about to do battle with the elements and face every danger known to the Arctic regions, for us who remain inactive here, powerless to assist. There lurked, deep down in the heart of every man, a feeling of dread of the future -- a presentiment of impending evil... A tremulous "God bless you," a hasty pressure of their hands, and we turned away in tears from those brave men who were daring and about to endure so much for our sakes. We waited until their receding forms were lost to view in the bewildering confusion of the ice-fields, and then slowly retraced our steps to the hut. While watching their progress I distinctly heard the hoarse grinding of the moving pack not far away... It is my opinion that Rice will be turned back by open water and his heroic efforts in our behalf thus rendered fruitless.

February 18, 1884
I think that we now longer need delude ourselves into believing that we will escape alive; but however horrible the end, all are prepared to face it like men. One, however, (Bender) would rather devour all the provisions now and die at once than to prolong them as far as possible with the hope of ultimate rescue. This person has done very little this winter towards the regular routine of duty, and has made many unreasonable complaints which have gained him the contempt of his companions. Today he complained bitterly that his bread was not up to the standard weight, and although he admitted that no partiality had been shown, and that he had the same quantity as the others, and that no injustice had been done, still for the sake of grumbling he felt that he must do something. Assuming that this attack was directed towards me, I at once requested to be relieved from the duty of issuing provisions, but the commanding officer would not listen to my appeal.

March 1, 1884
Long tells me the following little episode, which he considers a very good joke. On the evening of Henry's birthday, Jan. 27, he (Long) neglected to add the allowance of tea while preparing dinner, and did not discover his mistake until after he had issued a cup of hot water to each person. As no one detected the absence of tea, Long of course did not care to acknowledge the omission, and has said nothing about the matter until today, when he related it to me in confidence.

March 3, 1884
Temperature at 7 a.m., -27.5º. A high westerly wind which amounted at times to a moderate gale. The commanding officer has made calculations for the future, and says that on the present ration we can live until the first week in April. If no opportunity occurs for crossing the sound to Littleton Island before the 16th instant, all hope of leaving this place must be abandoned; and if we do not succeed in securing game, our end will not be far distant on April 15.

On my recommendations, the commanding officer appointed Frederick a sergeant in the general service, vice Cross, deceased. This is a fitting recognition, at this time, for his excellent services this winter. Biederbick has been very ill with cramps, but he has now improved to such an extent that he is again enabled to perform his duties as nurse and hospital steward... Bender's inventive genius appears to be limitless; he has designed and constructed several candlesticks of an entirely new and original pattern, which may be used for a double purpose. Schneider is making stearine candles, and Frederick is still working on the sleeping-stockings intended for our journey.

March 5, 1884
Cloudy and stormy weather; temperature at 7 a.m. -22º. The wind is blowing with persistent and relentless fury...I issued the last of the corn, soup, tomatoes and English evaporated potatoes... Bacon stews, with a large proportion of rancid tallow added, are generally liked. The strong rancid flavor is something that a delicate stomach would at once rebel against, but to us it is agreeable and palatable; it affords a welcome change from the ordinary routine by having a peculiar flavor which is both distinct and pronounced in its nature.

March 7, 1884
Bender has been very aggressive in his conduct today; he flatly contradicted Lieutenant Greely and in addition made a very extravagant and reckless use of profanity.

March 8, 1884
For the first time this winter, hair-cutting was extensively indulged in. The style of the cut was comfortable but scarcely artistic. Those wishing to reduce the length of their hair crawled on their hands and knees to the foot of their respective sleeping bags and held their heads in the passage, while the tonsorial artist passed along the line armed with a huge pair of shears, and about ten seconds were devoted to the removal of the superfluous burden of matted hair on each head. Mine was over six inches in length.

March 14, 1884
No portion of these birds except the feathers was wasted. Everything else -- feet, heads, legs and intestines -- was thrown into our stew and devoured without the slightest feeling or repugnance.

March 22, 1884
We can live about twenty days more -- then what?

March 24, 1884
He will never be acknowledged by the remaining of us if we succeed in getting out of this scrape and will be at once ostracized when we reach a place of safety... I will never forget this horrible day. Death so near to visiting us all, and when he did not know but his comrades were dying this fiend thought only of feeding his inordinate appetite.

March 27, 1884
Long and Jens went out to the open water this morning accompanied by Salor, who carried the kayak [Brainard wrote]. The latter returned in about two hours with fifteen dovekies which Long had shot, and which Jens secured with the aid of his kayak. Lieutenant Kislingbury and Connell at once went out with more ammunition, and soon returned with eighteen more birds. Long was the hero of the hour, and probably the proudest moment of his life was when he threw these birds at the feet of Lieutenant Greely as a birthday offering. Cheer after cheer was given the hunters, and general good feeling prevailed. In value, each dovekie is equal to about a pound of meat. This appears to be the turning point in our fortunes...

Henry asked Lieutenant Greely to be allowed to perform some share of the daily of the daily routine in the hut, and on being refused said: "You will kill me with injustice if you do not." Crocodile tears to create sympathy came at his bidding, and flowed freely from the eyes which, a few days ago, looked on the wretched condition of his companions without remorse or pity. He has been socially ostracized...

Ellis was again detected in the act of eating stearine, and to prevent a repitition of this violation of orders he was placed under guard. His entreaties and promises were made with so much earnestness and sincerity that he was finally released... Israel tells me that he detected the Doctor in the act of stealing bread from Elison's store.

March 29, 1884
Our breakfast consisted of 4 1/2 ounces of bread, 1 ounce of bacon and 6 ounces of shrimps to each man... For dinner we had each 1 1/3 ounces of dovekie, an ounce of bacon, 2 1/2 ounces of bread and 11 ounces of shrimps. This made a most delightful stew, and its solid contents were rather more than we had been accustomed to eat for both meals… We are already beginning to note a favorable change in our condition.

April 1, 1884
The gale subsided at 4:00 am… This is one of the worst days I have passed in this place…[weak, unable to move…] southern horizon in hope of succor. Will it ever come to us?

April 2, 1884
Notwithstanding the fact that 3 ounces of dovekie, 2 ounces of bacon, 2 1/2 ounces of bread and about 12 to 15 ounces of shrimps are being consumed daily by each member to the expedition everybody is ravenously hungry, and all are growing daily weaker. The shrimps are of very little benefit; they possess little or no nutriment, and in fact they serve only to fill the stomach. In no case have they ever alleviated the pangs of hunger. We are all longing for a thick, rich stew of the flesh and blood of a seal, to strengthen and restore our reduced and emaciated bodies to their former vigorous condition

Food! Food! -- is the constant cry of the hungry, the continual topic of conversation among us! This gnawing hunger has driven from our minds all other thoughts and feeling; and, like animals, we have little left except the instinct for eating. Even the passions peculiar to men in vigorous health are dormant and forgotten in our weakness and craving for food.

April 5, 1884
Jens did not display the stoicism usually attributed to the people of his race, but exhibited signs of deep and heartfelt emotion …

April 6, 1884
Death in our midst has ceased to rouse our emotions. How indifferently we look at anything of the kind now! After Linn's death, Rice and Ralston slept soundly in the same bag with the corpse which we hope to have strength enough to prepare for burial in the morning.

April 6, 1884
How indifferently we regard anything of this nature now; what stoicisim is shown when the skeleton hand of Death removes from our midst one of our intimate companions. But could it be otherwise? Our own condition is wretched, so palpably miserable, that death would be welcomed rather than feared…

As contemplated, Rice and Frederick departed on their hazardous mission at 9:15 P.M. Farewells were uttered in husky voices and tremulous lips; the silent prayers of those who remained went with them, and eyes to which tears were strangers now became dimmed from emotion.

Emaciated, weak, and despondent, they take their lives in their hands and go out alone in the bleak, dreary wastes of an Arctic desert to suffer mental tortures indescribable, and to endure famine and to face the frosts of winter to save or prolong the lives of their comrades.

April 6, 1884
We had been companions during long and eventful excursions toward the north and west, and my feelings toward him were akin to that of a brother. Biederbick and myself straightened his limps and prepared his remains for burial. It was the saddest duty that I have ever been called up to perform, and I trust I may never experience the like again.

April 11, 1884
The open waters was reached at midnight, and with considerable difficulty the animal was loaded on the sledge and securely fastened. The blood which had flowed over the ice from the bullet wounds was chopped out with a hatchet and saved. This is Good Friday, so I am told, and it is also the last "fasting" day that we are likely to experience in these regions…

Saturday, April 12, 1884
Clear, calm; temperature -- 24 degrees. We reached the hut at 2:20 A.M.… With feeble cheers our still more feeble men hauled this glorious prize, the bear, through the passage to the middle of the room, where he was turned over to Bender and Biederbick to be skinned and dressed. Everything connected with this animal will be utilized -- intestines, lungs, heart, head, &c. will each be used in time. The liver, wind-pipe, feet and the stomach (which is nearly empty) will be used by me for shrimp bait. The blood will be used for thickening stew.

We look on this fellow as the means of our salvation; without him, in two weeks Eillis, Connell, Bender, Biederbick, Israel, Gardiner, Salor and Kislingbury would be in their graves; as it is they are just snatched from its brink. What words are adequate to express the rejoicing manifested in our little part tonight? There are none… For days and weeks we have been expecting death at any time and its approach has been robbed of all its terrors by our sufferings. Life has seemed to us a vague something in the misty distance, which was beyond our power to retain or control. The knowledge that it is now restored to us, and that ere many months we will have returned safely to our homes, is sufficient cause for tears among the weaker of our party. Life now seems ten times sweeter.

April 20, 1884
The stew for this meal was composed of the trimmings of the bear and the seal heads, their heart, lungs, kidneys, &c. and a large quantity of the blood which flowed from the bear when he fell dying on the floe. Every ounce of this blood had been chopped from the ice and saved for this purpose. It enriched the stew beyond the conception anyone unacquainted with its use; it supplied with a thick, delicious gravy and imparted a delicacy of flavor which proclaimed it superior to anything that we have eaten for months.

Late April 1884
Jens, who is a faithful and indefatigable worker, and who is greatly reduced in strength, said in his honest pathetic way: "Eskimo, no good." We are struggling bravely for life -- how bravely the world will probably never know, as none are likely to live to tell the tale of our trials and sufferings. Words written in these journals are inadequate to express or describe the horrors of our situation, and I doubt if any intellect is equal to a full comprehension of our circumstances unless having passed through a similar experience. At the present time, with the exception of the one who is branded with the title of thief, all are doing their best to prolong life and to live harmoniously together.

May 1, 1884
Will this sad blow, the death of Jens, which has robbed us of the means of securing game, prove fatal to us? Something tells me it will not… After three years of incessant toil and arduous experiences in these regions, how can we die this horrible death by starvation without first telling the world of the results of our really magnificent work, and enjoy for a brief period the fruits of our dearly-bough success?…

Lieutenant Kislingbury's mind is almost completely gone. Poor fellow! It is only a few days ago that he spoke so hopefully of the future, and the happiness he anticipated meeting his young sons on his return. Yesterday I saw him lying on the small sledge outside weeping like a child. Turning to me he said with a half-smothered groan: "It is hopeless. I cannot fight this starvation longer; I am doomed to die here!"

Mid May 1884
The issue consisted of twelve and one-half ounces of tallow and bacon to each man… Six ounces of tallow for each man have been reserved for use in our shrimp stews during the next six meals. The extra rations for the hunters and shrimper extend only to tomorrow. Heaven only knows what we will do now. The present circumstances indicate that we can do nothing but die…

We speak freely of death, but it is more in a spirit of a business matter than with dread of its approach. I think that all feel resigned to the inevitable, and I am sure that none fear death, even in its worse form.

June 3, 1884
We were lying together in the same bag at the time, and having neither the strength to remove the remains nor the inclination to get up myself I slept quietly until 9 o'clock.

June 15, 1884
Connell who is now the strongest man amongst our number declared this morning that he intended to abandon the party and live by himself depending on his own resources for a living -- this is the height of selfishness. He has done nothing during the winter & spring, has saved his strength & allowed himself to be provided for by his comrades & now wishes when they are all weak to abandon them.


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