Saturday, November 25, 2017

Greely Expedition: David L. Brainard's Books

The visit to the Explorers Club headquarters in New York made me more interested in my husband's relative, David L. Brainard, one of six survivors of the Greely Expedition of 1881-1884.
Brainard had co-founded the Explorers Club and is quite famous in the exploration-scientific world.

I decided to buy David Brainard's two books, the 1929 The Outpost of the Lost (Bobbs-Merrill Company), which includes the last part of  Brainard's journals of the ill-fated expedition.  Six Came Back also published by Bobbs-Merrill in 1940 includes all journal entries from the beginning until the end of the Greely Expedition.

I started with the 1940 edition, which I'm enjoying.  First, despite the fact that the book was edited and no doubt changed, I'm picking up the voice of the 25-year old Brainard: factual, observant, with dry wit. I'm learning new words such as "hummocky" and "cairn."  I'm able to follow the expedition pretty well, although I do have to check the map and look up where harbors and places are.  

I've had to research "exploration" references, for example, the steamer Jeannette. Brainard writes about members of his party setting out to find traces of the Jeannette. His party found nothing, Brainard reports. A footnote mentions that the Jeannette had been an arctic expedition led by George W. De Long in 1879. At the time of his writing, Brainard did not know the fate of the Jeannette.

Two months after sailing, it had got caught in ice floes, which crushed and sank the steamer. The survivors headed for the mainland which was several hundred miles away. They were in three boats and they tried to stay together through the bergs but a gale separated them. One boat reached the safety of a Russian village. De Long's party made shore but perished from exhaustion and lack of food. This news came out in 1882, and so in 1881 Brainard's group was still trying to find survivors or traces of De Long's expedition.

Summarizing events as I just did in the last paragraph over-simplifies matters so. The fact is that these men struggled to survive; they fought for their lives. 

Brainard's and his companions' stories will also get complicated. Right now I'm reading his descriptions of auroras, winter darkness, temperature of minus-67 degrees, and activities to keep their morale up.  I know matters will eventually get bad, but I'm still curious and will continue reading Brainard's account of this Arctic adventure.

Here's information from Darthmouth College Library, which has David L. Brainard's papers including his diary: 

The papers of David Legge Brainard in the Dartmouth College Library are concerned primarily with his participation in the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition, 1881-1884. This expedition, commanded by Lieutenant Adolphus W. Greely and commonly known as the Greely (Arctic) Expedition, was dispatched by the United States Army to establish one of the circumpolar weather stations planned by the International Polar Conferences of 1879 and 1880. Greely's station was located at Fort Conger in Grinnell Land, a northern section of Ellsmere Island. Brainard served as first sergeant and supply chief and proved to be one of Greely's most trusted and dependable men. The expedition was successful in the gathering of meteorological and other scientific data and in the exploration and mapping of a large unknown area. Brainard, along with Lieutenant James B. Lockwood and Frederik T. Christiansen, reached latitude 83° 24' North, breaking the record for “Farthest North,” which had been held by a succession of British explorers for nearly three hundred years. The expedition ended in disaster, however, because relief ships were unable to reach the party during the summers of 1882 and 1883. Greely led his men south in the fall of 1883 to Cape Sabine, where they established camp to await a ship in 1884, but before relief came, eighteen were dead, most from starvation. That any survived was largely due to the fortitude and industry of Brainard, Francis Long, and George W. Rice. Brainard was one of the seven men rescued by Commander W. S. Schley in June, 1884, and he was later commissioned second lieutenant for his “gallant and meritorious services” in the expedition.
The story of the terrible last months of the expedition is told in Brainard's manuscript diary for March 1 - June 21, 1884, the most important part of this collection. The diary is written in pencil in a small notebook along with his record of stores issued during the last winter of the expedition. Brainard kept his diary faithfully throughout the years of the expedition and much later published two books from it: The Outpost of the Lost (1929), which covers the last ten months of the expedition; and Six Came Back (1940), covering the period July 7, 1881 - June 21, 1884. In both these books, however, the portion of the diary included in this collection has been expurgated by omitting details and changing Brainard's language. The supply record has never been published.
Except for the photographs, most of the other papers in this collection are concerned in one way or another with Brainard's three years of service in the Arctic. There is little about the rest of his long military career or his family life. He fought in the Indian Wars before he went to the Arctic and served in the U.S. Army for thirty-five years after his return, retiring as a brigadier general. Brainard married twice, and the correspondence indicates a separation from his first wife but nothing about how the marriage ended. He had no children but left a stepdaughter from his second marriage, Elinor Guthrie (Mrs. Donald L. McVickar). Correspondence of hers included here deals with Brainard's works and possessions and with A. L. Todd's research for Abandoned, a good account of the Greely Expedition
Of the more than 270 photographs in this collection, dating from 1870 to 1945, about half are mounted in an album for the years 1918-1919, when Brainard served as U.S. Military Attache in Portugal. Many of the others are portraits of Brainard and his acquaintances, including one of George W. Rice taken not long before he joined the Greely Expedition as photographer. This picture, as well as some others in the collection, was taken in the Rice studio in Washington, D.C., where George worked with his brother, Moses P. Rice.
The Brainard papers were purchased in 1984 by the Stefansson Fund. The collection is contained in three small boxes, and there are no restrictions on its use.

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