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1909 "George Borup's letter to his father" - Enthusiastic account of the Peary's expedition
1909 "Peary's Negro Lieutenant..." - Miscellaneous newspaper clips
1910 "Matt Henson Tells The Real Story..." Boston American newspaper
1910 "Testimony From Matt Henson" - letter published in Hampton's Magazine
1910 "The Negro At The North Pole" - The World's Work magazine, Henson's first publication
1912 Book Reviews of A Negro Explorer at The North Pole - The New York Times & The Nation
1932 "Veteran Explorer Finds Radio Enlivens..." - New York Times
1939 "Discovery of the Unsung Hero..." - Ken Magazine
1939 "First at The Pole" - Lowell Thomas interview (text version)
1939 "First at The Pole" - Lowell Thomas interviews Henson - with PDF download
Restored newspaper & magazine articles
These are links to my restored media articles written about Matt Henson, available for your research and enlightenment. I highly recommend the 1909 George Borup letter to his father that was subsequently published in the New York Times. It's a remarkable view of the Peary expedition from one of it's most enthusiastic members. Borup captured the essential details of arctic travel, hunting, and survival.

The 1910 Boston American story
is the first, and possibly the only, time Henson spoke of any discord with Peary. Yet it is not fully reliable since Henson refutes the tone of words attributed to him brilliantly in a letter to Hampton's Magazine. As Henson said - "That is all newspaper talk" - true then as it is today. What seems to have occurred was that Peary intended to camp near the Pole but only go forward to it without Henson; accompanied by his 2 Eskimos.

Henson, who broke trail, had 18 years of practice playing the favorite game of expeditions- "How far did we travel today?" He was exceptionally keen at this since: 1) he broke trail, 2) he had regular feedback of distance along the way from the team's sextant readings, 3) the final stretch to the Pole was flat and smooth. When he left Bartlett's farthest approach Henson knew it was some exactly 133 miles to the Pole. By keeping track of each march from there, he knew when it was time to stop.

Apparently Henson learned from the Eskimos (Boston American, 1910) that Peary was going to stop short of the Pole, then go on ahead without Henson. This advantaged Peary since he would not have to share the polar achievement with another American. But Matt outwitted him, as told to Lowell Thomas in the 1939 interview. Matt stopped to make camp so close to the Pole that when Peary sledged ahead with his 2 helpers his sextant readings proved that the Pole was located back where Matt was camped.

Only Peary & Henson knew precisely what happened, but the story that emerged was that Henson broke trail straight to the Pole within the limits of accuracy of a sextant. He got there first, he was forever the co-discovered of the North Pole.

Peary had shouldered an enormous burden of responsibility for the expedition; he was a veritable one-man band leader who did everything from raising funds to designing the ship Roosevelt that made his goal possible. One has to read his last work Secrets of Polar Travel, 1917, to appreciate the span and depth of his engineer's mind. Peary was a man of singular brilliance who combined the skills of a mechanical engineer, an athlete, and an iron fisted leader. There has never been another arctic explorer on a par with him.

The 1909 expedition was the masterful coordination of talents & skills combining Capt. Bartlett, Matt Henson, Donald MacMillan, Peary, and an entire village of Eskimos with huskies that would pull a sledge until they died of exhaustion. There has never been anything to equal their accomplishment. In fact, in the 1960s a group thought they could better Peary by cruising to the Pole on snowmobiles. Their disastrous attempt made but 100 miles over the arctic ocean before they were beaten - declaring that what Peary had done was impossible.

Such naive first attempts serve to make us appreciate why Peary needed 18 years for his long learning curve to find a solution to the Polar problem. He had to design and build a special ship, develop equipment, learn the food & fuel requirements, etc. In the end it took a small private army to blaze the trail over a deadly frozen ocean. It required man and dog to exhaust themselves traveling in wind-chills (a term not yet invented in 1909) of 100 degrees below zero, traveling over ice not fully frozen that felt like a sheet of rubber, and gradually starving as they expended more energy than could be replaced with food. Thus when Peary reached his goal on April 6 he was exhausted from the marathon physical effort, the strain of responsibility, as well as from the mental energies he had focused for so long.

Henson & Peary will forever be credited with being the first humans to reach an axis of the Earth. Their Inuit descendants are proud of this great link to the past. Henson & Peary Inuit families still hunt, still dog sledge in Greenland. Their legend lives on.



V.R. March, 2009