Historical Events

Copy Link

Stefansson complains about a man who wouldn't lend him matches to survive off of hunting alone. "We could not agree on the possibility of a white man making a living in the country . I told him that I needed but matches to be safe and independent, but he believed that a white man needed twelve months' provisions of white man's food in order to live twelve months in the country."

August 15, 1909

rollo-meat-diabetes_edited.jpg

My Life with the Eskimo - Chapter 3

Vilhjalmur Stefansson

My opinion agreed with that of no one else with regard to the prospects for the coming winter. It seemed to me the condition was nowise serious. I had lived with the Eskimo the year before and had seen what an abundance of fish there was in the eastern channels of the Mackenzie delta, and I knew that fish and caribou were also plentiful farther east. But the whalers had never seen Eskimo living any where except around whaling ships and dependent on them; neither had the mounted police, and, consequently, it seemed to all of them that the district was facing a period of starvation. For myself and my party I did not worry however, except for one thing, — that I had no matches. When by the 15th of August it began to seem likely that no ships would come, I went to the mounted police and explained to them that I had everything that I considered necessary for making a living for myself and my party in the country with the exception of matches, and asked them to give, lend, or sell my party a sufficient quantity to do us the winter. This the commanding officer, Sergeant Fitzgerald , refused to do. He told me that if I would discharge all my Eskimo ( I had then engaged a party of nine all told) , and if Dr. Anderson and I would live for the winter in a small house which he would assign to us near the barracks, then he would supply us with not only matches, but also everything that we needed to eat. It was in vain I explained to him that we had not come to the country for the purpose of spending a winter at Herschel Island. His point of view was that he did not know or care why we had come, but he did know that we were now destitute and likely to die of starvation, and it was his duty to supply us, in a way that suited him, with sufficient food to keep us from actual want. We could not agree on the possibility of a white man making a living in the country. I told him that I needed but matches to be safe and independent, but he believed that a white man needed twelve months' provisions of white man's food in order to live twelve months in the country. He pointed out that according to his view one of two things was sure to happen if he gave us matches : either we should go to the eastward as far as the most easterly civilized settlement, four hundred miles to the eastward at the Baillie Islands, and there become a charge upon those natives, — in other words, we were in competent to look after ourselves, and so would have to be taken care of by the Baillie Islands Eskimo, -or, in the other event, if we unwisely left the Baillie Islands settlement behind and went into the uninhabited district, we should surely starve to death , and he did not want, as an officer of the Government, to be a party to either event. He further informed me that the laws of the Yukon gave him a right to ship Dr. Anderson and me out of the country because we had no visible means of support. But, he said, seeing he could accomplish the same result by refusing us matches, he would prefer that method, and let us go west to Point Barrow for them. He knew that we would then winter at Point Barrow , where the whaling station has abundant stores, and where we should be in no danger of starving.