The Overland Relief Expedition–Saving Wh

The Overland Relief Expedition–Saving Wh

Revenue Cutter Service officer David Henry Jarvis wrote the above quote in his diary of the Overland Relief Expedition,

considered one of the most spectacular rescues in the history of the Arctic.

As leader of the heroic expedition, Jarvis became one of the service’s best-known officers to serve in the Alaskan maritime frontier.

As the summer of 1897 drew to a close, a sudden change in the weather pushed a massive sheet of Arctic ice down into the Beaufort Sea,

Trapping eight whaling ships in the pack ice near Point Barrow,

Alaska. Concerned that the 265 men who crewed the ships would starve to death over the winter months,

the whaling companies appealed to the federal government to send a relief expedition.

Just off her annual Bering Sea patrol,

the US Revenue Cutter Bear, a 198-foot barquentine with auxiliary steam power, was ready to deploy.

She had led the US Navy’s relief mission in 1884 that saved some of the starving men of the Arctic scientific expedition led by Army lieutenant Adolphus Greeley.

Under orders direct from President William McKinley, Bear would now lead a second major rescue mission into the Arctic.

In November, Bear took on supplies at Port Townsend, Washington, to return to the Alaskan coast.

This would be the largest of several mass rescues of American whalers undertaken by Bear during the heyday of Arctic whaling.

Moreover, it was the first time before modern icebreakers that a ship risked sailing above the Arctic Circle during the harsh Alaskan winter.

For this particularly dangerous journey, Bear’s captain, Francis Tuttle, took on only volunteer officers and men.

To lead the Overland Relief Expedition, Captain Tuttle placed executive officer.

Jarvis in charge of the rescue team that included Second Lieutenant Ellsworth Bertholf, US Public Health Service surgeon Samuel Call, and three enlisted men.

With no chance of pushing the wooden cutter through the thick ice to Point Barrow,

Captain Tuttle put the party ashore at Cape Vancouver, Alaska.

He tasked the men with driving to the whaling ships a herd of reindeer, newly introduced to Alaska.

Using sleds pulled by dogs and the reindeer, the men set out on snowshoes on Thursday, 16 December 1897,

Embarking on a rescue effort unique in the annals of American history.

The relief party had to cover 1,500 miles in the middle of winter over terrain completely alien to life-long mariners—snow, ice, and tundra.

On Tuesday, 29 March 1898, after 99 days of relentless struggle against the elements, the relief party completed the journey.

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