HENSON & PEARY REACH THE POLE?
Yes - with dogs and teamwork!
by Bradley Robinson, 1997, and 2000
were the only team in the world who could do it.
Over an 18 year period Henson and Peary had explored the Arctic, mapped the tip of Northern Greenland, set up bases and searched for a possible land mass that went to the Pole. There was no such land bridge—Peary proved that. He also discovered where Greenland ended. No one had known this. In fact, did you know the United States later traded the tip of Greenland which Peary discovered for the Virgin Islands?
Henson, Peary and their Eskimos friends had worked together for many years in the Arctic. They had lived with the Eskimos learning their survival skills, hunting, training to drive dog sleds. They knew precisely what they were doing and how to make it happen. They did what no one else in the world at that time was physically or logistically capable of achieving. The details of the trip show Peary's great strategic planning - it was a complex assault with multiple teams of men, supplies and dogs breaking the trail, setting up igloos with food to support the elite team comprised of the best Eskimo dog sled drivers, the best dogs and Matt Henson.
The Eskimos, Henson and Peary were honorable men risking their lives to reach the Pole. They proved that there is no land up there - only shifting ice masses; they took soundings of the ocean's depth. For this they deserve to be honored in history as the first people to ever reach the north axis of the Earth. That is all. Let them have the reward they earned with their actions.
Why was there a controversy about the 1909 Henson & Peary trip
to the North Pole
They were at the Pole within the limits of accuracy of the instruments they used - about +/- 5 miles. Henson and Peary spent 30 hours there taking sextant readings, making ocean floor depth measurements and took several clear photographs. Peary was a skillful navigator, a civil engineer for the Navy who had surveyed a proposed Nicaragua Canal route. His 17 years of Arctic exploration are well documented. He marched in various directions from the North Pole base camp taking readings. He literally crossed over the pole somewhere in this diligent effort to pinpoint it. Even today with a Global Positioning Satellite system one can't find the pole any closer than 100 feet
The National Geographic Society awarded the discovery of the North Pole to Henson and Peary. But the public had soured over the affair, wanting to hear no more about Peary and his "colored assistant."In fact the public wondered why Peary had not taken a "white man" with him. Thoughtless, ignorant people thought this was proof that Peary faked going to the Pole. It was rumored Peary took Eskimo's and a Negro to the Pole so he could say he was at the Pole and they wouldn't know the difference. Aren't people cruel?
thought there was recent "proof" Peary did not reach the
Another man thought they missed the Pole. He was also proved wrong - but not until after the damage had been done. Now you find his mistaken theories showing up as fact in encyclopedias! Isn't that terrible? The man is author Wally Herbert. He theorized Peary was near the North Pole, but West of it.
His article about this appeared in the September, 1988 issue of the National Geographic (Vol. 174, NO.3, P. 387). The Herbert "theory" first requires that you assume Matt Henson was not a "reliable witness"... watch out for the turn of the century version of racism where it was assumed that a "Negro" was not "temperamentally" capable of doing what white men could do. So the Herbert "theory" builds like a crime novel in which he reveals his "shock" at Robert Peary's diary, his romantic feelings for his wife, his determination to reach the Pole - each of these is held up for criticism, in my opinion to build some kind of strange plot in which Peary was lost and the dumb Negro didn't know where they were. Don't believe what these authors say. If you think this is racism, you may be right!
Obviously novelists dramatize this sort of drivel to make you think there is something to it. After all, if they can't sell books they can't get published, right? So the "Herbert theory" essentially was that he thought they drifted West maybe 30 - 60 miles, Peary knew this and tried to hide the truth. Nonsense! The two greatest Arctic explorers were lost? No way! Henson and Peary were not a pair of bozos. But was Herbert right? No! Not at all. He has been proved wrong for at least one amazing reason; the ocean depth Peary recorded. Check this page for the details - it's kind of interesting.
In fact, the same technique was applied to Peary's 1906 expedition photographs. His claim that he reached 87' 06" was similarly proven. He was where his sextant and his notes said he was on that expedition also. The technique was also applied to photos of the Will Steger's team at the Pole in 1986. Again it worked. Photogrammetric rectification proved they were right at the Pole (+/- 5 miles).
What Henson & Peary discovered was the fact that there is no North Pole. No land is anywhere near it. This was probably a great disappointment to Peary who, as Commander, would have the right to name any land they found. But it was just ice. A frozen ocean which cracks apart frequently - a dangerous place to be. They could not even measure how deep the ocean was at the Pole because the instrument they had ran out of wire at 9,000 ft. This was unexpected as it was thought the Polar ocean was not deep. What Peary had recorded was the very deep trench which in fact runs under the Pole. And don't forget Matt Henson! Matt had gone to sea at age 12; Captain Childs personally trained Matt in navigation, math, etc. Matt was so good at what was called "dead reckoning" that he once won an astounding bet with his friend Peary; Matt kept track of his estimated distance to himself while he and Peary explored the coast of Greenland in 1902, Peary was recording sextant readings as he mapped the journey. His records showed the actual distance traveled from longitude & Latitude records. As incredible as it sounds, Matt was accurate to within about 20 miles over the course of 1,000 miles! And Matt proved his skill again in 1909 when he stopped to make camp at what he thought was the North Pole. When Peary checked his sextant Matt was correct to within 3 miles! Now that is about as close as you can get with the navigation equipment they had. This indicates a skill, an inner knowing, that no librarian turned theorist will ever understand.
My father was profoundly changed by his association with Matt Henson. My mother always added that Matt was "a great spirit" when he was discussed in our family. It was my fathers privilege to write Matt's biography with him. Matt knew perfectly well he had reached the North Pole. In fact, it wasn't until after my father died in 1984 that these derogatory books began to appear. Without Matt or his biographer alive to defend their achievement these new authors package their version of opinions which they call truth. But they all have to hinge on the same false statement! When Peary and Matt sent Captain Bartlett back at his farthest North camp, as had been planned, the writers will slip this phrase out to you - "His last reliable witness (Bartlett) was sent back". In other words, Matt was a Negro. Matt was some lowly servant of Peary's several rungs down on the evolutionary ladder from great men like Bartlett. With this bit of racism put over on the reader the author then builds the case that they got lost and Matt didn't know where they were. Oh really? What nonsense! What racism!