Arctic Adventure – A Wittenberg Magazine Special Feature
June 21, 2012
Filed in Featured
Thanks to one professor, three Wittenberg juniors took a trip of a lifetime in 1926. The following chronicles their adventure as described through the writings of Harold “Stally” Stallsmith.
On June 7, Erhardt “Duke” Kunde Orville “Bud” Myers and Harold “Stally” Stallsmith left Springfield, Ohio, in a Model-T with a statio
n wagon body (auto truck) and a 3’ x 2’ x 2’ locker packed with food. The vehicle was equipped with a special axle that allowed higher speeds on flat roads. They journeyed in this vehicle to Edmonton, Canada.
“Our trip brought us through Indiana to Chicago,” Stallsmith wrote. “Passing through Indiana, the outstanding thing was the sand dunes. In some places a large field of corn would be broken by a dune. Here was a struggle of plants against this barrier of sand. Our first night was spent on the shore of one of the numerous lakes of Indiana.”They passed Northwestern University north of Chicago, which they drove through non-stop to the University of Wisconsin at Madison and through to Baraboo, Wis., then home of the Ringling Brothers.
“We were passing through a fine farming country in this grassland transition section. Here was a section of coniferous forest reaching down from the north,” he explained as they entered the Mississippi Valley with its level land stretching for miles.On to Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., where he declared “Canada has nothing better to offer in lakes than Minnesota, nor did I see any lake more beautiful than Mille Lac.”
Describing the change of plant life from a deciduous forest to a large coniferous forest, he described the animals they expected, but did not see – deer, moose and timber wolf, although they did see many carcasses of rabbits left by the wolves.
Nearly a week had passed, and the travelers were dusty from the gravel roads (“not a paved road in sight”) and in desperate need of baths. They made camp on the shores of Black Thunder Lake.“First thing we did, even before eating, was to put on our bathing suits and with towel in one hand and a cake of soap in the other, made tracks for the lake,” Stallsmith wrote. “Jumping in the lake we soon cooled off. The water seemed to be about 10 degrees colder than ice.”
The next day they came to the prairies and journeyed on to Grand Forks, N.D., where they were captivated by the prairie dogs, one of which they captured to photograph before turning loose.
“There are practically no trees,” he explained, “except those planted to act as wind brakes. These were generally box elder and white ash.”
Having traveled one week, they then entered Montana, where the landscape became more rolling, and they saw many horses in fields with no fences as they drove along roads that were little more than ruts crisscrossing at various intervals. They journeyed to Wolf Point, where they saw many Native Americans.
As they moved into Montana, Stallsmith noted that the birds were brighter than those at home in Ohio. The group into the Milk River Valley, named for the large number of cattle grazing there, and he noted the irrigation ditches.
“One thing that was found in Montana and which stayed with us in more ways than one, during our trip through this state, was the gumbo mud,” Stallsmith said. “Of all the kinds and grades of mud, in the country, the species found here will take a prize for the stickiest and clinging mud to be found on the highway.”
Montana held other important firsts for the travelers.
“…it is impossible to narrate and describe that feeling which one has when he views for the first time the ‘Rockies’ of Glacier National Park.” The group was there prior to tourist season and spent one day climbing Mr. Logan at Cut Bank Pass and camping at Upper Two Medicine Lake. On the second night, a four-inch snowfall added to their experiences.
The park connected with another preserve protected by the Canadian Government where they crossed the border near a small Canadian town named Babb, about 16 miles from the town of Cardson. According to Stallsmith, a large reservation of Blood Indians is located a few miles from town, and he added that they were very resourceful in the ideal farming community and had the best farms that were very profitable.
After a stop for dinner in Calgary, the automobile journey was completed in Edmonton, where they spent a week before continuing north. Their canoes and supplies were sent by freight to the Waterways at the end of the railroad.
During their stay in Edmonton, Stallsmith described the modern plan of the city, its “broad streets, boulevard lighting system, fine buildings and street cars of the type that you will find in any of our large cities.” He also talks about visiting the barracks and becoming acquainted with many men of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police – learning how they were picked and given extensive training at Regina to become “expert with rifle and pistol, horsemanship, wrestling and the other things that go into the making of the wearers of the scarlet coat.”
He describes their time in Edmonton as “…full of joy and excitement. We were busy seeing, hearing and learning. Everyone seemed to take an active interest in our stay. Visited the Board of Trades, receiving information concerning the north and also learned about the tar sands, which come from the territory. These sands have an asphalt base and are used in Edmonton for paving.”
He then describes the 314 miles they will travel on the Alberta and Great Waterways railroad for Waterways – “a train that leaves every Tuesday and arrives at Waterways the following day. All passengers and freight for the country north to the Arctic Circle is carried by this train.”
It included a flat car with a tar machine to render the tar sands, another carried a large sail boat consigned to the Arctic Red River, a cattle car with horses and cows destined to Fort Fitzgerald and seven cars with 257 head of buffalo, part of a surplus of 2,000 on the Wainwright Preserve, to be transported to the preserve on Slave River. In order to further reduce the herds, hundreds were killed and sold on market similar to beef. Buffalo meat was also made into pemmican, which was dried, pounded and pressed into cakes.
Passenger cars pulled behind the freight carried Royal Canadian Mounted Police and their wives returning to their posts in the Northwest Territories along with trappers and traders as well as the herders responsible for the cattle and buffalo. Languages heard on the trip included French, Cree and Chipewyan Indian, and the Wittenberg contingent enjoyed the experience, especially stopping a Lac la Biche to change engines and enjoy “the best steak we had ever eaten” at a little restaurant run by a Chinese gentleman. Through it all, Stallsmith reported that the train traveled so slowly they could step off and wait for the end to come to them rather than walking back.
They reached Fort McMurray and the beginning of their water journey on July 1, 1926. A few days later, Stallsmith noted that they had not yet had any duck to eat, that the only meat they had was bacon.
“So it was decided that I should strip and with shot gun in hand cross over to the island.” He shot his duck and swam out to retrieve it before starting back to get his clothes.
“From this time until I was dressed was a time of torture, which I will never forget and hope never to endure again. I had just returned to the bank of the lagoon and was running down to the end where I had crossed over from the mainland when I was attacked by black flies.”
With the shot gun in one hand and the duck in the other, the flies had full access to his face until he could stand it no longer, and when he reached the river, he dove under, gun and all, only to come up “to have those pesky things waiting for me.” When he reached the others, they helped keep the flies off him while he dressed.
“Every place that those flies had bitten there would be a small piece of flesh gone and blood in their places.”
The next day the group sighted its first moose.
“We had brought the rifle along and had plenty of time in which to shoot but as this was not permitted by Prof. Raup, we just remained in a kneeling position on the sand wondering how near the animal would come…finally it disappeared into the woods…”
On July 7, they met a small barge, a fireboat with two rangers, a small portable gas motor to pump water from the river to use against fires that reached the bank of the river or navigable streams. The pump was capable of throwing a two-inch stream to combat ‘top fires,” those running through and over the tops of trees and impossible to control by back firing or cutting the trees in the fire’s path. They learned that the fire-team managed about one trip each month along the whole territory with no means of communication while away from headquarters at Fort McMurray.
“That night we camped at Popular Point having been in tow with the fireboat to that place,” Stallsmith wrote. The next morning, the rangers left to continue their patrol after advising the students where they would leave the Athabasca River and follow the Embarress Channel to Athabasca Lake.
“In the afternoon we encountered strong head winds that turned up waves about two feet in height, Stallsmith wrote. “This made paddling extremely hard and was difficult to keep a straight course down the river.”
Cold rain soon chilled the travelers, and they spotted a cabin on the opposite side of the river. Although they found the cabin locked, they managed to find shelter, build a fire and dry their clothing before moving on. Soon another cabin was seen and they again sought warmth and dried their clothing before continuing their journey. Both cabins were the property of Cree Indians.
“Prof. Raup and his wife arrived later and although they were attired in raincoats, the water by this time had seeped through in places, and they now could appreciate a warm place. They soon dried and continued on in the rain. We remained for some time, drying and warming ourselves although we would soon be just as wet and cold,” Stallsmith wrote.
Days later they reached their destination, Fort Chipewyan, where they ordered supplies from the Hudson Bay Company and enjoyed visits with the people they met learning about the dog teams and the life of the mounties.
On Tuesday, July 13, the left Chipewyan and traveled about eight miles.
“Finding a place to camp looked almost hopeless. In some places there were small rocky beaches at the foot of those walls of rock,” Stallsmith wrote. “Such a place was finally found and the canoes were carefully landed and unloaded.” They then carried their sleeping equipment and tent to the top of the 20-foot rock and made camp in the “mosquito-infested air.
“Head nets were absolutely essential in order to afford some protection from these insects.”
They traveled about 12 miles the next day to the first camp site in a cove named Shelter Point where they stayed the remainder of their time.
“According to my notes, the first few days were used in becoming acquainted with the muskeg country, which covered the greater portion of the territory to the north,” Stallsmith explained. “After these trips, a day was spent in writing notes and taking care of blisters and mosquito bites received in these inland trips. Although I was well protected from these insects by wearing a head net and gloves, my shoulders suffered the most. Clothing was easily penetrated, and the shoulders were left as a vulnerable spot.”
Collections of plants were made on each field trip and placed in the plant press. Fungi was dried and labeled. Insects were either pinned to insect boxes or preserved in a solution of formalin.
On Wednesday, Aug. 4, everything was packed and loaded into the canoes for the trip back to Fort Chipewyan.
“Our next four days will be long remembered since they were spent among the people of the Fort,” Stallsmith wrote. On Sunday morning the steamer arrived, and the group was headed back to Edmonton to begin the long journey home.
“Upon arrival at Edmonton, we climb aboard our own truck (Henry Ford) and head direct for the U.S. A. and Wittenberg,” Stallsmith concluded.