Colonel Gilder and I [interviewed] old Ikinnilik-Puhtoorak, the head man of this tribe, with Joe Ebierbing as our interpreter. The old man, then about sixty years old, had an intelligent, open face, and all his answers were given without hesitation, in a straightforward manner which carried the conviction of truth. In response to our questions he stated that he had seen white men before in this country. Almost impatiently we waited Joe's interpretation of the old man's statements. His next remarks electrified us.
"A long time ago, said Puhtoorak, "when I was a small boy living with my people just below the bad rapids near the mouth of the Great Fish River, we saw a wooden boat with white men going down the river. The white men shook hands with the Innuits and the latter rubbed their hands down their breasts, a sign of welcome."
There were ten men in the boat, and the commander's name as near as he could remember it was Tooahdeahhrak (probably Lieut. Back on his first exploration of the river).
Continuing his story, Puhtoorak told Ebierbing that the next time he saw a white man it was a dead one in a large ship about eight miles off Grant Point. The body was in a bunk inside the ship in the back part. The ship had four big sticks, one pointing out and the other three standing up. On the mainland, near Smith Point and Grant Point on the Adelaide peninsula, an Esquimaux party which he accompanied saw the tracks of white men and judged they were hunting for deer. At this time the tracks indicated there were four white men but afterwards the tracks showed only three. He saw the ship in the spring before the spring snow falls and the tracks in the fresh spring snow when the young reindeer come of the same year. He never saw the white men. He thinks that the white men lived in this ship until the fall and then moved onto the mainland.
Puhtoorak told how the Esquimaux, not understanding how to get into the ship, cut through one side. When summer came and the ice melted the ship righted herself but the hole in her side being below the water line she sank as the water poured in. After the ship sank, they found a small boat on the mainland. When he went on board the ship he saw a pile of dirt on one side of the cabin door showing that some white man had recently swept out the cabin. He found on board the ship four red tin cans filled with meat and many that had been opened. The meat was full of fat. The natives went all through the ship and found also many empty casks. The found iron chains and anchors on deck, and spoons, knives, forks, tin plates, china plates, etc.
When the ship finally sank her masts stuck out of the water and many things floated on shore which the natives picked up. He also saw books on board the ship but the natives did not take them. He afterwards saw some that had washed ashore. He never saw any stone monument or cairn on the mainland near where the ship sank. There was one small boat hanging from the davits which the natives cut down. Some of the ship's sails were set.
Shining a light on a new era
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