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Message to Congress

January 17, 1899

To the Senate and House of Representatives:

It will be remembered that in the month of October, 1897, reports were received here of the probable loss of the whaling fleet in the Arctic regions, and of the likelihood that nearly 300 men, composing the officers and crews of the fleet, would perish from hunger unless succor could reach them early in the spring.

The revenue cutter Bear was known to be en route from the Arctic Ocean to Puget Sound, Washington. Her arrival was anxiously awaited, as no other suitable Government vessel could be made available for Arctic work. That ship arrived at Seattle, Wash., on the 6th of November, after a six-months' cruise in the Arctic, and I at once ordered an expedition prepared for the relief of the imperiled whalemen.

The preparation of the Bear was commenced on the 11th of November, under the direction of the Secretary of the Treasury. Her officers and men of the Revenue-Cutter Service all volunteered for the perilous work, and the ship was completely fitted out, and, under the command of Capt. Francis Tuttle, of the Revenue-Cutter Service, sailed on her errand of mercy November 29, 1897, within nineteen days from the inception of the movement.

The plan of the expedition was briefly as follows:

The ship was to be fully provided with rations for the ice-imperiled whalemen, which were to be conveyed to them as soon as the ice conditions in Bering Strait would permit the passage through. An overland expedition was to be landed from the Bear as soon as practicable, at some point on the coast of Alaska, in Bering Sea, to be determined upon by Captain Tuttle. The problem of getting food to the imperiled people at the earliest time possible was the all-important consideration, for it was fully understood that the Bear could not, under the most favorable conditions of ice navigation in that region, reach their neighborhood before the following July or August. The utter lack of transportation of any kind in this far-off land suggested the idea, which was adopted as the only possible plan, of driving reindeer overland, to be slaughtered on arrival, for food to last until the arrival of the Bear with supplies the following summer. The reindeer were to be collected by the overland expedition from several points in Alaska, notably Cape Prince of Wales and Point Rodney, and, with such aid as could be procured from natives and others, driven to Point Barrow.

The overland expedition was formed, and consisted of First Lieut. David H. Jarvis, Revenue-Cutter Service, commanding; Second Lieut. Ellsworth P. Bertholf, Revenue-Cutter Service, and Dr. Samuel J. Call, surgeon of the Bear, all volunteers. This overland expedition was landed from the Bear at Cape Vancouver, in Bering Sea, Alaska, on the 16th of December, 1897, and commenced its toilsome and dreary journey through an arctic night to Point Barrow, Captain Tuttle returning with his command to winter at Dutch Harbor, Alaska, and from there to take advantage of the first opportunity in the early summer of 1898 to get north.

The overland expedition worked its way to the reindeer stations named, and succeeded in getting together about 450 deer. They were materially aided by Mr. W.T. Lopp, agent of the American Missionary Society at Cape Prince of Wales, and Artisarlook, a native of that region, both of whom, at great personal sacrifice, left their families and accompanied the reindeer herd to Point Barrow.

The overland expedition, after a difficult and hazardous journey of nearly 2,000 miles through the storms and bitter cold of an arctic winter, reached Point Barrow with the herd on the 29th of March, 1898, three months and twelve days from their landing from the Bear at Cape Vancouver, Alaskan coast of Bering Sea. They arrived none too soon. From the lack of an authoritative head, supplemented by bad sanitary conditions and want of proper food, the men from the whale ships quartered there were found upon the verge of great suffering, while sickness had broken out among them. Lieutenant Jarvis, under the instructions given him by the Secretary of the Treasury, at once assumed charge, in the name of the Government, of the camp and locality of Point Barrow, and he and Dr. Call devoted themselves with intelligent energy to correcting the wretched conditions found to exist. Order was at once inaugurated. Fresh meat from the reindeer herd was supplied, the sanitary conditions were improved, and the general health and comfort of the whalemen received immediate attention. Lieutenant Jarvis and Dr. Call remained at Point Barrow in charge until the arrival of the Bear, July 28, 1898, a period of four months. As soon as the Bear arrived Captain Tuttle began the distribution of ample supplies to the whalemen on shipboard and on shore. Having supplied all demands generously, succored the needy to the number of 275 between Point Barrow and Kotzebue Sound, taking on board the Bear 146 whalemen, 91 of whom were brought to the Pacific coast (the remainder having of their own volition left the ship en route), the vessel arrived back at Seattle on the 13th of September, after an absence in the bleak and dreary regions of Bering Sea and the Arctic Ocean of about seventeen months.

The hardships and perils encountered by the members of the overland expedition in their great journey through an almost uninhabited region, a barren waste of ice and snow, facing death itself every day for nearly four months, over a route never before traveled by white men, with no refuge but at the end of the journey, carrying relief and cheer to 275 distressed citizens of our country, all make another glorious page in the history of American seamen. They reflect by their heroic and gallant struggles the highest credit upon themselves and the Government which they faithfully served. I commend this heroic crew to the grateful consideration of Congress and the American people.

The year just closed has been fruitful of noble achievements in the field of war; and while I have commended to your consideration the names of heroes who have shed luster upon the American name in valorous contests and battles by land and sea, it is no less my pleasure to invite your attention to a victory of peace the results of which cannot well be magnified, and the dauntless courage of the men engaged stamps them as true heroes, whose services cannot pass unrecognized.

I have therefore the honor to submit the following recommendations and to ask your favorable action thereon:

1. That the thanks of Congress be voted to Capt. Francis Tuttle, Revenue-Cutter Service, and the officers and enlisted men composing his command for their able and gallant services.

2. That the thanks of Congress be extended to the members of the overland expedition; First Lieut. David H. Jarvis, Revenue-Cutter Service, commanding the overland expedition; to Second Lieut. Ellsworth P. Bertholf, Revenue-Cutter Service, and to Dr. Samuel J. Call, Surgeon.

3. That gold medals of honor of appropriate design, to be approved by the Secretary of the Treasury, be awarded to Lieutenants Jarvis and Bertholf and Dr. Call, commemorative of their heroic struggles in aid of suffering fellow-men.

4. That the sum of $2,500 be appropriated to be disbursed by the Secretary of the Treasury in bestowing rewards upon W.T. Lopp, Artisarlook, and native herders, who rendered material aid to the relief expedition.


William McKinley, Message to Congress Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/268326

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