Index  Previous  Next 



We now come to the many and valuable observations made by General A. W. Greely, who as a young lieutenant in 1881 began his "Three Years of Arctic Service" (as he calls his book) by setting off on the "Lady Franklin Bay Expedition" one of the objects of which was to attain the old goal "farthest north".


In the preface to this book in which he recounts his experiences, General Greely tells us that the wonders of the Arctic regions are so great that he modified his actual notes made at the time, and understated them rather than lay himself open to the suspicion of exaggerating. That the Arctic regions are so full of life and strange evidences of a life further north that an explorer cannot tell them all without being accused of exaggeration is surely a very strange thing if those regions only lead to a barren pole of everlasting ice.

But let us see what those actual wonders are. Let us take Greely's own account of them noticing how perfectly it agrees with the accounts of earlier explorers. He proceeded along the coast of Greenland to Melville Bay.

p. 139


By August first he had reached a point near the Petowik glacier which lies just northward of the "Crimson Cliffs" of Sir John Ross. This is so called from the fact that on the snow-clad cliffs and glacier surfaces at this point Sir John Ross, in 1818, discovered a red deposit which had fallen about and mixed with the snow, giving it a reddish color which was pretty widely distributed. What was it? For a long time this was a mystery, but it was at last proven to be of vegetable origin: now, the point--to be taken up in detail later is simply this: where could any vegetable matter, either a pollen from larger plants or a very humble sort of red mossy or spore like growth, come from? There is no other case in the whole realm of botany that would justify us in assuming that a plant can grow on ice-bergs or on snow. A plant requires certain elements and certain temperatures. Evidently, somewhere those factors must be in existence. Where, we shall see later.


Greely's next observation of interest to us is that any errors in the reporting of arctic temperatures are likely to be on the side of making them too low. So that in case any readers have doubted the accuracy of previous explorers they may set their minds at rest.

When part of Greely's party had gone almost as

p. 140

far north on the Greenland coast as Newman's Bay, Sergeant Brainard made this rather remarkable discovery:


"Just before going into camp, Sergeant Brainard discovered on that winter's snow the dung of a musk-ox, which he thought could scarcely be a week dropped. He well says: 'This should be positive proof that the animal does not migrate south with the sun and return the following year as the sun advances, as many assume to be his habit, but remains in some well sheltered valley or ravine during the winter darkness, subsisting on whatever comes his way.' This incident (Greely adds) and my personal experience, as well as that of the British expedition, leaves no doubt that the musk-ox is a regular inhabitant of Grinnell Land and Northern Greenland the entire year.

We admit the above proves that the ox does not migrate to the south. For we have seen already other instances where the trend of animal and bird migration was not to the south. But in our other cases there was a migration. But it was to the north. It is absurd to suppose that the musk-ox, which is certainly not an eater of birds or a hunter of fishes, could live on "what came its way" in ravines, even sheltered ones during the Arctic winter. What would be wandering about the ravines or valleys of the bleak lands here mentioned, during

p. 141

the long Arctic night, anyway? No, the musk-ox goes for his winter where he can find food in abundance. And that is north--over the lip of the polar orifice.


One of Greely's assistants, Lieutenant Lockwood, explored the Greenland coast to a point ninety-five miles beyond the farthest ever seen by his predecessors. Among the results of his journey were observations of tidal and ice effects which convinced him that "open water spaces exist in the Polar Ocean, and its main ice moves the whole winter." This main ice, it will be remembered is the ice that forms the barrier to further sledge travel toward the north. That it is moving all the time proves conclusively that there is warmer open water to the north of it which is constantly breaking it up and keeping it from encroaching any further north. In this observation of his assistant General Greely concurs fully, and he gives additional data to prove that the polar pack ice is not unified and continuous "even in the early spring when the floe-ice is most solid".

General Greely also says that the depth of the sea at this high point augurs the inconsiderable extension of Greenland to the northward. He thinks it may extend to the eighty-fifth parallel and that deep sea will be found after that. That would certainly indicate that any land suitable for animal breeding and feeding--such as we have seen there must be--is

p. 142

still farther north, on the other side of that deep sea, in other words, over the lip of the polar orifice.


Greely then; gives us an account of some of his own explorations in Grinnell Land in the summer--Fort Conger being his base. Among his interesting discoveries were two complete coniferous trees in a ravine near Lake Heintzelman, embedded for two thirds of their length in the ground. "It seemed evident from their position that they must have been brought there as driftwood, and gradually covered up by the earth washing down from the adjacent hill side". Now the only explanation Greely could make of their drifting to that spot--it was twenty feet above the level of the nearby lake--was that "within a tolerably recent period this valley has been an arm of the sea". But that explanation hardly holds water. The trees were not fossilized and were partly ex-posed to air which, as Greely goes on to tell us--but without seeing how it invalidates his idea--was quite warm. Now in such circumstances the wood of the trees would soon rot away. Certainly warming and wetting and freezing and warming again due to being exposed in such a climate would soon finish any wood--much sooner than the time required for the valley once near the sea to be left many miles away from it. No, it would seem as if those trees must have been carried from some other source.

p. 143

[paragraph continues] And to regard them as carried by some glacial movement from the northern orifice would seem a much simpler explanation. It is interesting to note that this whole valley, by the way, was free from snow and covered with luxuriant vegetation. And, as was indeed the case generally in these explorations, there was an abundance of animal life observed.


A little later Greely passed to the other side of this valley and found that he had reached the water shed of this part of Grinnell Land, the other side of the ridge draining into Lake Hazen. Here he did actually see a glazier on the north side of that lake--which ought to have given him a hint about the two trees he had so recently discovered. He also caught, at that point, a butterfly, and saw three shuas, two bumble bees and many flies. A little later a member of his party saw two tern and a long-tailed duck. What was even more remarkable, they next came across a flock of twelve to fifteen birds which resembled snipe but were unlike any actual species of that bird he had ever seen or read of. Other ducks were also seen and nine musk-oxen. Incident-ally, a few nights the party were unable to obtain much sleep owing to the large number of flies which bothered them incessantly. The temperature was as high as 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and never went below 47 degrees and there was always enough dead willow

p. 144

around for fuel. As the days went on, more musk-oxen were seen, a great variety of birds, and quite a little reindeer moss--although it was considered that it never grew as far north as Discovery Harbor. Near Lake Hazen a deserted Eskimo encampment was found, its surroundings "marked by luxuriant vegetation of grass, sorrel, poppies, and other plants. Some specimens of the sorrel in this locality must have been eight to ten inches in height, and they grew in such quantities that we plucked them by the handful.

"A short distance beyond the encampment the party were enlivened by the appearance of a young hare, which we concluded to catch. . . .These exertions caused profuse perspiration which saturated our clothing." At the junction of Lake Hazen and Ruggles River, the air was so balmy, the sky so blue--flecked with true cumulus clouds so rare in the Arctic, and the poppies and other flowers so gaily blooming that Greely said he could well imagine himself in the "roaring forties" instead of in this high latitude--eight degrees from the pole. He goes on:

"I examined carefully the surroundings of the camp. The flora appeared to be the same as that existing in the vicinity of Discovery Harbor, with the exception of two flowers which were different from any others I had seen. Specimens were procured and carefully arranged, but unfortunately

p. 145

were spoiled during my trip by being soaked beyond recognition while fording the many streams."


"It is to be regretted that I paid but little attention to the Arctic flora, and in the press of other matters neglected to make a description of these plants. Another plant, of the heath family, was found in large quantities, one or two specimens of which were sent back to Conger."

Yes, we regret too, that that plant, so strange that Greely could not even approximately place its family, was not preserved. It might have shown us that there are other places from which plants may come as well as those regions which we know so well that all the plants that grow in them are identified and classified.


The next interesting discovery was of Eskimo inhabitants in which the explorers found a variety of articles including "several articles of worked bone whose use I could not surmise, and the character of which were unknown to our own Eskimo. The bone articles were of walrus, narwhal, and whale-bone, the first being the predominating material, from which small articles had been made."

That is a very interesting point, for this reason. The same tribes living under the same circumstances would naturally have the same tools. The fact that

p. 146

these long departed people whose habitations were now being explored had tools the use of which could not be guessed by the Eskimo with the party shows that they were a tribe who had not been in communication with any of the Eskimo tribes we know, but who had developed along their own lines and made their own tools for their own purposes. Is it not quite possible that they had come up from the land the other side of the orifice at some time long past?

This supposition is strengthened by the fact that their houses showed no sign either of having been covered with stones or of having stones around them to secure the skin coverings as they are secured by the Greenland Eskimos. Either they covered their houses in some way peculiar to themselves or they never covered them at all. In any event here was a peculiarity which set them off from the ordinary Eskimos. The explorers searched diligently to see if the remains of any of these people were to be found. They had left so much apparently valuable material that it looked as if they might have died there. But with the most diligent searching, not a bone could be found--and Greely adds that not even the bone of a dog was visible although the camp looked as if the people had lived there for at least two years. He adds, by the way that bones of musk-oxen or other animals are very rarely found in Grinnell

p. 147

[paragraph continues] Land. And that can surely only mean that there is some way by which these animals can leave Grinnell Land.


At about this time, by the way, the temperature had gone up to 74 degrees Fahrenheit--a very high summer temperature which made marching uncomfortable. And even on hills two thousand feet high there was not a trace of snow.


Greely ends the account of these summer explorations by telling the general results obtained by himself and his party. He says he has ascertained beyond any doubt that the interior of North Grinnell Land is not what it had always been supposed, but was a fertile land, filled with rich pasturage for musk-oxen, and that, like it, Greenland, was also only an ice-girt and not an ice-covered land; that in conjunction with other explorers' observations--it was safe to say that in north Greenland also there was abundant pasturage and fertility. Such fertility, he adds, Nordenskiold had looked for, but he had looked seven hundred miles too far south. In other words Nordenskiold found only the icy desolation which is usually thought to characterize the poles, but he found it not because he got too near the pole but because he was not near enough.

p. 148


So ends the first volume of Greely's account of his three years in the Arctic regions. The second volume opens with his account of his second winter there. Throughout that period there was plenty of hunting, birds of many species being shot and owls caught and kept in captivity, as well as a white fox. Before proceeding to describe his further explorations Greely sums up his ideas regarding physical conditions to the north of Greenland. Of course he believed in a polar area which was not open to the interior--but all the same he is sure that that supposed area is "washed by a sea which, from its size and consequent high temperature. . . . can never be entirely ice-clad". He also states that Nordenskiold believes the polar sea to be open. That ships in the ice during Arctic winters nevertheless drifted--along with the ice--to the northward he thinks is confirmatory evidence of such an open sea. And yet he hesitates to say much about the matter himself as he thinks that the ice-belt which cuts off the far northern regions may be very thick and hard to get through. This makes him think that "the water space to the northward can only be entered in extremely favorable years by the Spitzbergen route." But the great point is that Greely admits there is a water space to the north.

We now pass on to the observations in ethnology and natural history which Greely made during these

p. 149

explorations. How far north did he find evidence of human life? He quotes the explorers in the British Polar expedition of 1875 as finding such evidences in 80 degrees, 25 minutes north, and proceeds:


"Our own discoveries of Eskimo remains to the northward of the eighty-first parallel were numerous and interesting. Evidences of temporary or permanent occupation noted at Cape Baird, at the head of Ella Bay, at numerous points in the vicinity of Fort Conger, in Black Rock Vale, on the shores of Sun Bay, on both sides of Chandler Fiord, and in the valleys in the south side of Lake Hazen. Many of these remains were in the interior of Grinnell Land at distances from the sea varying from fifty to one hundred miles by the route necessarily followed."

The reader will remember the detailed description of one of these discoveries which we have already quoted. He goes on:

"The remains indicate that these natives possessed dogs, sledges, coniferous wood in considerable quantity, stone lamps, iron in small quantities, the bone of the narwhal and walrus. The presence of combs proves that they were accompanied by women. The ornamentation of the combs, and an elaborately worked ivory cap for the top of an upstander, show that these people were above the lowest levels of savage life."

p. 150

'We have already noted the fact that some of these houses indicated permanent residence but that there were no graves, showing that the Eskimos had access to some unknown localities. And here is some more evidence bearing upon that very interesting point:


"Much as I could have wished to find evidences of long continued occupancy of these lands by the Eskimo, yet I was forced to a contrary conclusion. The lack of graves only is quite conclusive on this point. I opine that favorable years and the migration of the reindeer and musk-oxen gradually led these natives northward along the coast of Grinnell Land, and later into its interior. Of the many abandoned encampments in Grinnell Land only two evidenced other than temporary occupancy, and these, judging from the surroundings, of but few years."

Seeing, however, that these discoveries were made so far north it immediately occurs to us to wonder why Greely supposes that these Eskimos must have come up from the south and then disappeared into the north. If the northern lands past the ice-barrier are so fertile that these Eskimos were gradually led to explore them and settle there for we have no evidence of their ever retracing their steps is it not just as sensible to suppose that they came from there in the first place, and that the encampments Greely saw represented these people's "furthest

p. 151

south" rather than a northern adventure. And the fact that they differed so much from the Eskimos with whom Greely was acquainted the reader will remember the tools whose uses he could not make out--certainly strengthens this view. In fact Greely admits that one other explorer, Fielden of the British expedition, who thinks that a section of the Eskimo race known as the Arctic Highlanders did come from the north.


Now as to natural history notes. Greely saw the white whale in Smith Sound as far north as 81 degrees, thirty-five minutes, and a school of narwhal was seen at the same time. Perry, he says, in 1827 saw a white whale five minutes further on. He makes further notes on the presence of the narwhal and says that there is evidence to show that this creature "reaches even the polar sea to the north of Grinnell Land, as a horn was picked up near Floeberg Beach in 82 degrees, 27 minutes, by Lieutenant Parr."

We now turn to the musk-ox. We have already seen traces of this animal described by Greely. In these notes he tells us some very remarkable things about their distribution. It seems that there was hardly an island among those he visited in the far north where there were not traces of musk-oxen. He thinks they must have crossed Smith Sound at one

p. 152

time, as their skulls have been found in Inglefield Land north of the seventy-eighth parallel. Members of his party discovered them as far north as 83 degrees, 3 minutes north. Where did they come from? While Greely does not know he makes one valuable statement. He found out by actual trial that the musk-ox will not travel over ice: "both from observation of our musk-calves who could not be driven on it, and from the tracks of adults, which followed carefully in places the rough, rugged shore of Ruggles River rather than cross snow-covered ice by a shorter route."

So it is obvious that these animals must have some permanent and all year round northern habitat from which they emerge at times for breeding purposes, and this habitat can hardly be other than the comparatively warm polar area which communicates with both the outer and the inner surfaces of the earth.

Coming to smaller animals we find that the ringed lemming, a member of the rat family, is found in great numbers in the extreme north of Grinnell Land and in Greenland as far as 84 degrees, 24 minutes north, and although the animal loves to wander but hates to travel on ice, it is not found further to the south--showing that all its freedom of movement is toward the north. The polar hare has also been found in latitude 83 degrees, ten minutes, and both in Greenland and Grinnell Land. Also it has been

p. 153

proved, by Greely and others that the lemming and hare do not hibernate in these latitudes.

In connection with the polar bear Greely makes these interesting statements:


"Lieutenant Lockwood, in May, 1882, noticed bear tracks (going northeast) on the north coast of Greenland, near Cape Benet in 83 degrees, 3 minutes, the highest latitude in which the animal has ever been known. . . . Fresh bear tracks were seen in September and October, 1883, near Cape Sabine, coming from and returning in the direction of Bache Island. . . .

"With Feilden I cannot understand why the bear ever leaves the rich hunting-field of the 'North Water' (the name of a land or district) for the desolate shores of the northward. Nordenskiold has pointed out that the bear is sometimes a herbivorous animal, but vegetation and animal life are equally scanty to the northward from Cape Sabine."

Had Greely been in possession of the facts laid bare in this book he would not have wondered. Naturally he and the other explorers mentioned above were considerably astonished when they saw that bears went away off north apparently to no-where, but the bears must certainly have known where they were going.

Greely then goes on to give instance after instance

p. 154

of the appearance of the fox in these latitudes, as well as of the wolf and the ermine. He next takes up the ornithology of the region. After mentioning a number of other birds seen in latitudes above 80, he has this very remarkable observation:


"Ross' Gull. . . The observations of Murdoch at Point Barrow show that this bird, in thousands, passes over that point to the northeast in October, none of which were seen to return. He says, 'They appeared to come in from the sea to the west or north-west, and travel along the coast to the northeast.'"

If these birds never returned south, where did they go? Our theory supplies the only possible answer.

We will leave Greely's observations on the Aurora Borealis--which can only be fully explained by our theory--for a separate chapter.


After Greely had been rescued and brought back to civilization there was naturally a great deal of discussion as to the extent and value of his observations. Perhaps the most important announcement that Greely himself made--although it might not have been considered so at the time, for it was not understood was that before the British Association for the Advancement of Science. That body met in Montreal in 1884, and Greely addressed them. Here

p. 155

is part of what he had to say, taken from a report of the meeting printed at the time in "The Scientific American" and which was reprinted in many places.

Greely remarked that one of the, surprises of the journey was his discovery that the further north he went the greater was the depth to which the ground thawed. While Lieutenant Ray took observations at the point where his station was established--where he waited while Greely went on to the north--Greely took similar observations ten degrees further north than Ray, and he found that at almost his northernmost point the ground thawed for a depth of twenty to thirty feet. On the other hand, Ray did not find the thaw extending to anything like that depth--at ten degrees further south.


Now that is proof positive that the further north, after a certain point one goes, the warmer it becomes. Other evidences of warmth at the Arctic have been derived from observations of the temperature of water and air currents, but it is very interesting to have this additional testimony based on the temperature of the earth itself.


But that was not the most startling thing Greely had to say. The report from which we quote goes on: "In a subsequent speech he (Greely) took occasion

p. 156

to say that a fact had surprised him. It was the discovery that when the tide was flowing from the north pole it was found by his observations that the water was warmer than when flowing in the opposite direction. He took the trouble to have prepared an elaborate set of observations showing this wonderful phenomenon, which would eventually be published. To him these peculiarities were unexplainable, and he hoped that the observations would be studied by his hosts, and some explanation found in regard to the thermometric observations of the expedition."

About the same time as the above meeting took place, Mr. George Kennan of Washington, D. C., who took a prominent part in the relief of Greely's expedition, was asked about the importance of his discoveries. (See Dieck's Wonders of the Polar World). Mr. Kennan said:

"Lieutenant Greely has not only taken away from Commander Markham of the British Navy the 'blue ribbon of Arctic discovery' for the highest latitude ever attained in any part of the world, but he has greatly extended the limits of the Nares explorations both in Greenland and Grinnell Land, and has given a severe blow to Captain Nares' palaeocrystic ice, and the theories which the latter founded upon it. The fact that two of Greely's sledge parties were stopped by open water in the polar basin, and that both were at times adrift in strong currents which

p. 157

threatened to carry them helplessly away northward, would seem to show that the polar basin is not the solid sea of ancient, immovable ice which Nares described, and which he declared was 'never navigable.'"


Now there is testimony of the most unimpeachable character and it is as plain as it is unimpeachable. There is no misunderstanding it. We find Greely ten degrees farther north than Lieutenant Ray, finding not merely that the winds and waters were warmer than further south but that this warmth was so constant that the ground thawed to a depth of thirty feet. We find that whenever water flowed from the north pole it was warmer than when it flowed from the south. We find that there is no sea of "ancient ice" as Nares and explorers before him thought but that there is an open polar basin with strong currents. Now if that open water that stopped Greely were only a small sea that did not extend very far, there would be no such currents in it as are described above. Those currents testify to the fact that here is a sea which does extend to the northern regions. Of course Greely could not imagine how those warm currents could come from the north and he could not account for the strong currents in the sea. But our reader, who remembers the conformation of the polar regions, can easily see how these things would be. The water inside the polar orifices,

p. 158

warmed by the inner sun, would naturally form a very strong current as it met the cooler waters of the outside polar regions. Quite as naturally that water would keep clear from ice the great polar sea. Ice from the south could only come up to a certain point--the point where Greely and other discoverers found "open water"--and after that the sea would get warmer and warmer. It is interesting to note that one of the people interviewed in regard to the Greely discoveries at the same time as the other speeches and interviews were made, which we have quoted, said that further Arctic exploration had better be postponed until air ships could be built with which to undertake it. Well, at the time that may not have sounded like a practical suggestion, but it is now a thing of the very near future. And we shall see then just what one would expect from the observations made by Greely. For there is only one possible explanation for them and that is the explanation given in this book.

Next: Chapter VII. Nordenskiold's Voyages