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The "Blonde Eskimo"

Arctic Explorations

Vilhjalmur Stefansson discovers a new race of Arctic people

The Daily Alaskan, August 29, 1913


    EDMONTON, Aug. 29 -- The noted trapper Deschambeault arrived here this morning from the arctic regions. He claims to be the original discoverer of the blonde Eskimo, and says it was he that sent word to Stefannson regarding their existence.
    Deschambeault sent word to Stefannson immediately upon his discovery of the white race, and now claims that the latter claimed the discovery for his own, thus robbing the trapper of the glory connected with his find. He denounces the explorer as a fraud.

The Weekly Star (Whitehorse, Yukon Territory), Friday, January 16, 1920

Story of Blonde Eskimos Is Discredited by James R. Crawford, Who was a Member of the Stefansson Exploration Expedition Into the Arctic Regions

    Seattle - James R. Crawford, Arctic hunter and trapper and member of the second Stefansson expedition, is out of the frozen north for the first time in fifteen years and expresses surprise that the existence of a lost tribe of natives in the Arctic known generally as Stefansson's blonde Eskimos, is generally believed.

    The blonde Eskimos discovered by Stefansson, he says - and he declares that Stefansson does not disagree with him - are nothing more than a "throwback," as he terms it, of the first white explorers that went into the North. Crawford was with Stefansson when he came across the blondes and had an opportunity to study them and discuss them with the great explorer.

    Mr. Stefannson himself will tell you that there is little probability of these natives being descendants of Eric the Red or any other of the ancient Vikings," Mr. Crawford said last night. "On Victoria Land there are probably three tribes or villages, comprising several hundred natives altogether, in which these quaint Eskimos are to be found, but there are fewer than a dozen so far as we were able to learn in the whole land. They had gray eyes, light eye-brows, reddish brown hair and their skin was slightly lighter than that of their brethren. The skin color would not be noticed at first, it is so like the color of the other natives.

    "The natives made it known that they had never seen white men before, and it is very probable that they had not, as Mr. Stefansson's party was the first in that part of the world. Their ancestors, however, did see white men, probably men looking for new land, who never lived to get back to civilization. Such parties are not infrequent in the history of the North. The recurrence of the features of the whites in different villares is rare. There was one little girl who possessed the most pronounced marking of blondness of all. She was the daughter of two old natives who were as dusky as any of the northern natives, whose hair was black and who had beady black eyes. The parents know of no reason, they said, for the reddish hair, gray eyes and thin lips of their offspring. I saw only three of the so-called blonde Eskimos in the time I was in the North, but I understand there are nearly a dozen among the several hundred natives of Victoria Land.

    Mr. Crawford said that Mr. Stefansson told him that he merely mentioned the fact that there were a few natives with red hair on Victoria Land to some newspaper men on coming out of the North, and that Stefansson was chagrined that the importance of his work in the Arctic was more or less discounted by the prominence given the sensational yarns that ran through the country of descendants of hitherto unknown tribe of lost Norsemen."

    In the fifteen years that Crawford has been buried in the North he has missed every movement of progress made by the world excepting meager bits of information picked up on occasional trips to Nome. He arrived in San Francisco a short time ago on the steam whaler Herman, the same vessel that picked him up a day following that on which his launch capsized on the ice twenty-five miles from Victoria Land, August 29 last. Until his arrival at San Francisco he had never seen an airplane or a dreadnaught. Mr. Crawford did not know that the United States had entered the war until informed by the officers of the Herman.

    Mr. Crawford, despite the fact he had been out of tho Arctic only two weeks, met and won a bride. They are here on their honeymoon, stopping with relatives.

    Crawford was chief engineer on the power schooner Mary Sachs at Nome when Stefansson's party arrived aboard the Karluk in July, 1913. The Mary Sachs was taken as one of the supply ships of the expedition. When the Karluk was frozen in the ice of Cape Halkett - not Point Barrow, as first reported, Crawford says - and Stefansson went out over the ice with two white men, the Mary Sachs and the Alaska, another supply boat, wintered at Collinson point.

    Stefansson appeared at Collinson point after searching for the Karluk. The Karluk had been crushed by the ice and swept away, it was later learned. The schooner North Star was added to the expedition fleet. March 22, 1914, Crawford was in charge of a supporting party that traveled over the ice with the explorer. He remained with him until April 7, when at 70.30 north latitude and 140.39 west longitude, on account of the shortage of supplies, he was turned back with other members of the party. Stefansson continued north with a team of dogs and two men. Crawford was instructed to move the Mary Sachs to Banks Land if Stefansson was not back at Collinson point by the time the ice broke up. Navigation was ible July 25, and the Mary Sachs went to Banks Land, arriving at Cape Kellett August 24. The party went into winter quarters at once to await the arrival of the explorer. Crawford had been instructed to await the explorer for one year, and if at the end of that time he should not appear to return to Nome and report to the Canadian government. Stefansson had arrived at the north end of Banks Land in June and had been conducting his search for new lands in the interim.

    "Stefansson's party was nearly out of provisions and had little ammunition," related Mr. Crawford. "It was a close call. He had no way of knowing that we had negotiated the ice and could not know until he saw us. We had ample of winter's supplies in the way of dried meat and other provisions. We spent the winter of 1914 there.

    "Stefansson wanted to send a dog team across the ice that winter with mail, but he decided that it would wear the dogs down too much, as he wanted to use them later. In the spring of 1915 Stefansson wanted the North Star at Banks Land, and I volunteered to go across the ice to Bernard harbor and inform Dr. Anderson, second in command of the expedition, of the explorer's wishes. With two other men we set out for the main land on April 7 of that year. Bernard harbor is at the entrance to Coronation gulf, about 500 miles from where we were. A man named Wilkins was with me, together with a native. We arrived at the North Star's position May 27, and remained aboard until navigation opened August 24. We went to Baillie island for supplies, and found that Stefansson had been there ahead of us. Stefansson was not sure that the North Star would get to Banks Land, or that it would be found at all and at Baillie island, so he negotiated with Captain Louis Lane for the schooner Polar Bear to go to Herschel Island for supplies.

    When Stefansson returned to Baillie Island Crawford left the expedition, and his place was taken by an engineer on the Ruby, a Hudson's Bay boat. With the Ruby Crawford returied to Nome, infatuated with the idea that great wealth was to be made in Banks and Victoria Lands by a hunting and trapping expedition. In Nome he purchased the schooner Challenge, and in 1916 went to Victoria Land with a full crew of hunters and trappers under him. Winter quarters were made in September on Minto inlet. He was there but a short time when the natives told him of another boat frozen in the ice not fifteen miles distant. Investigation showed that it was one of the Stefansson boats, the Polar Bear at Walker bay. During the winter visits were exchanged frequently by the men on both boats.

    Crawford says he didn't do well on Victoria Land, so he sold the Challenge to the expedition and the crew with the exception of Crawford, a white man and three natives, shipped out on the Polar Bear. The Challenge was sold when Stefansson, sending men after the Mary Sachs, found her on the beach after she was ripped to pieces by a south wester in floating her. Crawford's party was finally reduced to himself and three natives, the other white man taking passage on the Polar Bear at the last minute. Rejoining the Stefansson party again aboard the Challenge, Crawford went to the mainland.

    They discovered about forty natives forty miles down the coast of Banks Land who had been there for a year waiting for a ship to come for them. They had been hunting and trapping and had little food. Their boat was unable to reach them. Crawford helped them out with some provisions. There was no boat in 1918. Crawford's partner was to have sailed to Banks Land in that year to take him off.

    With provisions all gone and living six months on a meat diet, Crawford finally decided to start down the coast in a launch he had held out from the Challenge. With a skin boat and whale boat loaded with furs and meat and the launch loaded with as many of the stranded natives as it would accommodate, Carwford started off. The frail craft had proceeded less than twenty-five miles when overtaken by bad weather. It was while trying to make a landing, and while Crawford was bailing the launch, that it capsized. Crawford was rescued by the natives. The furs were recovered, but the meat was gone and the ammunition wet. With this gloomy outlook in view the party was making plans for a hard winter when, on the following day. the whaler Herman hove in sight in search of them. The natives were dropped off at Cape Hope and Point Barrow, and Crawford remained aboard until he reached San Francisco.

    Crawford had a heavy cargo white fox, some blue fox and a few polar bear skins when he arrived in San Franciseo. They vere disposed of there.

    Crawford first went into the North in 1904. He is a native of Elmore, Vermont. He served four years in the navy and came to the Pacific coast in 1899. He is positive in his assertion that the Northwest passage can be navigated. He claims to know ships coming from the east coast have penetrated the ice to places west of the easternmost point that ships sailing from the Pacific coast have reached. He believes that it can be negotiated in two years by wat of Melville Island or South Banks and Victoria Land. The west coast of Banks Land to Melville Island is the hardest stretch to negotiate, he says.

    Mr. and Mrs. Crawford will remain in Seattle until navigation to Nome opens, when they will again go into the North. Mrs. Crawford, until this trip, had never been further north than Portland, where she visited friends, but she says that she believes she will like it in the Arctic if her husband does.

    "Nobody can ask any more than to be satisfied, and I am that when my husband is," she said.