New book focuses on the Carroll County member of the Greely Expedition to the Arctic
Carroll County native Richard Funkhouser has turned a family story into a book. The true narrative is about his relative, William Henry Whistler, who took part in the military’s scientific expedition to the Arctic.
Although the setting is the late 1800s, Whistler tells part of the story himself, through his journals, which are being made public for the first time.
What happened on that expedition was so horrific that it was reported in newspapers all across the country, and it is still being written about today.
What history remembers most about the expedition is its tragic end - starvation, death, and cannibalism. Of the 25 members of the crew, including 22 soldiers, one civilian doctor, and two native Greenlander guides, there were only six who survived. Funkhouser’s relative was among the 19 who died. and was one of the six who were cannibalized.
Funkhouser said one reason he wrote the book is because there is more to the story than cannibalism. He would like people to know more about the Carroll County boy who sacrificed his life, serving his country.
Funkhouser is interested in family history, but there is more to the Whistler- Funkhouser connection than genealogy.
Funkhouser grew up on the same farm where Whistler was born and is buried. Whistler and Funkhouser’s grandfather, William Funkhouser, were first cousins and had spent time together at their grandparents’ home near Rockfield. It was from his grandfather that Funkhouser heard the family stories about Whistler and the Arctic expedition.
Funkhouser’s book is entitled “William Henry Whistler and the Lady Franklin Bay (Greely) Expedition, 1881-1884.” He acknowledges Bonnie Maxwell and Anita Werling of Delphi for their valuable assistance in researching, transcribing, editing, and putting the book together.
The project has been a year and a half in the making. Funkhouser said he originally thought he would publish a collection of articles and documents that mention Whistler’s participation in the expedition. But the more he delved into the topic, the more he saw the need for writing his own account as well. His introduction to the collection is a comprehensive summary of existing information on Whistler, plus new details, along with a debunking of myths and errors from previous accounts. The soft back 106-page book includes photos, maps, and 26 reprinted newspaper articles.
Here are a few of the misconceptions that Funkhouser corrects. He says it’s false that Whistler (or any other member of the expedition) was killed to provide sustenance for the survivors. He states that it is also false that Whistler was the last to die, only days before the rescue ship arrived. Funkhouser says in fact, nine died before Whistler, and nine died after. Whistler died May 24, 1884. The rescue party arrived June 22. And contrary to some belief, Whistler was not an officer; he was a private. ‘Whistler or Whisler’
Funkhouser uses the spelling “Whistler,” but the name also appears as “Whisler” in places. “Whisler” was a former spelling of the family name, but not used by Whistler himself. However, “Whisler” is how his name is listed in his military records. There is also some discrepancy about Whistler’s birth date, and various records disagree. The birth date on his grave marker is March 7, 1858, which would make him 26 when he died in the Arctic.
Hundreds of newspaper and journal articles have been published nationally about the expedition, as well as several books, and more recently, three documentary films. Funkhouser was interviewed for two of the documentaries because of his relationship to Whistler and his knowledge on the subject. The journals and letter
While in the Arctic, Whistler kept two journals, an official one and a private one. Funkhouser has been in possession of the journals for many years, after they were passed down in the Whistler-Funkhouser family. He said the handwriting is very difficult to read, so until recently, the journals’ contents were largely unknown. Last year Funkhouser showed the journals to Anita Werling. She first scanned the writings and then painstakingly transcribed them. In the book’s preface, Funkhouser calls her work “a Herculean task.”
Whistler’s primary journal entries are dated Aug. 10, 1881, through Jan. 7, 1883, but there are gaps in the dates. The second journal has entries for the period Oct. 28 through Dec. 11, 1881.
In addition to the journal, Funkhouser also has been the keeper of a letter written by Whistler in 1881 to his aunt Lydia (Funkhouser’s greatgrandmother.)
It was written from Fort Conger (base camp for the expedition),
Lady Franklin Bay, in the Arctic Circle. Whistler and others wrote letters to family and friends, to send back with the returning ship. The Proteus left the party with provisions for a little more than two years. The crew fully expected to be re-supplied after that, but the efforts all went wrong and ultimately failed.
In the letter to his aunt, Whistler wrote: “On the first day on shore we killed 14 muskox. The country seems to be full of game…so I think that we will not starve for a while at least.”
Funkhouser has a document from the National Archives that describes Whistler at the start of the expedition. He was said to be single, 5’7”, 156 pounds, with blue eyes and auburn hair. He was already serving in the Army when he volunteered for the expedition. Five hundred soldiers volunteered, but only the most fit were chosen. Whistler was known for his strength, but was the lightest member of the expedition party.
The commanding officer for the expedition was 1st Lt. Adolphus Greely. Although the official name of the mission was The Lady Franklin Bay Expedition, it became commonly known as the Greely Expedition.
According to Army records, Whistler had put “carpenter” as his occupation at the time of enlistment. He used that skill when he and two others put up the framework for the main building at the research station. Expedition purpose
The purpose of the expedition was to collect meteorological and other scientific data as part of the First International Polar Year (1882-1883). Ten other countries joined the U.S. in this endeavor.
Whistler is mentioned in other writings as observing animal life, ice and weather conditions, and participating in exploration parties.
Greely, who was one of the survivors, wrote about Whistler, “He always labored his best to advance the interests of the expedition.” Specific instances are given that show Whistler’s ingenuity, loyalty, and dedication.
In his journals, Whistler talks about his explorations in Grinnell Land (the central part of Ellesmere Island), but on a dayto day basis, he lists his “permanent job,” reserved for only him, as cleaning the ice out of the tide gauge. He also frequently mentions hauling ice for cooking.
Whistler’s journals list the temperature every day. He also talks about the dark days of winter when there is no sun for four months.
On Feb. 7, 1882, he writes, “… for exercise Linn and self took a mile of a walk as the day time now is quite light. We had a pleasant time notwithstanding that the thermometer was 50 below zero.”
The coldest temperature he records is 60 below, on Feb. 16, 1882.
Whistler’s sense of humor comes through in his journals.
“Find that nose and face are frosted on yesterday. The nose the most useless thing we brought to the arctic region.”
Funkhouser relates the following story, partially quoting from Whistler’s journal: “On Oct. 2- 10, 1881, Whistler accompanied Dr. Octave Pavy carrying food and supplies to be placed in caches for use during later explorations. On their arrival back at Fort Conger, Whistler wrote in his journal on Oct. 10 that some of the men came ‘out to greet me. I thought at first it was that they were glad to have me back. But as soon as they came near enough, I learned the full particulars. In my absence they had formed a five-cent anti-swearing society and enrolled my name knowing that I would be a heavy donator.’” Expedition pastimes
The explorers were not always busy with their official duties. The weather and idle hours could sometimes be depressing, so they created pastimes to keep up their spirits. Whistler writes about listening to educational lectures, attending classes on regular school subjects, participating in snowshoe races, checkers tournament, and target matches.
Early on, they celebrated holidays and birthdays. In 1881, Whistler’s birthday was the first one celebrated. Starting with Whistler, the person with a birthday was exempted from duty and allowed to select from the kitchen’s list of “dainties and provisions.” Greely wrote in his journal, “In addition a quart of rum was given him for such disposition as he thought fit to make of it. The equitable disposition of it by Whisler among the party established a precedent which was regularly followed.”
The entire transcriptions of Whistler’s journals can be seen in the book. Funkhouser said there could be a number of reasons why Whistler’s journals end where they do, such as they were lost, he just stopped writing, etc. Whistler’s entries end before the food situation was dire, but some of the survivors wrote about the stark conditions, and some of those entries are included in Funkhouser’s book.
Heroes are also human, and there were incidents of theft of food as the supply was dwindling. Funkhouser was surprised when he read that Whistler had stolen a pound of bacon. Greely speculated that hunger must have overcome Whisler’s principles. He wrote that Whistler was sincerely repentant. Sgt. David Brainard wrote that Whistler died several weeks later, begging forgiveness for taking the bacon. Funeral, burial, exhumation
Whistler died in May 1884, and his body arrived home in August. Details of Whistler’s funeral, burial, and exhumation are included in Funkhouser’s account and in the original newspaper reports printed in the book.
The casket arrived on a Saturday night. The body lay in state in the Courthouse, and hundreds of people paid their respects all day Sunday and Monday.
The Secretary of the Navy had given strict orders that the caskets from the expedition were not to be opened. The reasons given were that harmful gases would escape, and the body would not be recognized anyway.
The funeral was held on the Whistler family farm. Newspaper accounts said the funeral procession was three miles long, and 2,000-3,000 people attended the funeral, including the Governor of Indiana. The whole funeral agenda is reported in the newspaper stories that are included in the book.
A framed photograph of the members of the expedition was displayed in the courthouse and at the funeral, and Funkhouser still has that photo.
Whistler was buried, with full military honors, in the Whistler family cemetery on the farm of Whistler’s grandparents, William and Hannah Whistler near Rockfield.
Those who had brought back the bodies from the Arctic were instructed not to tell what they saw.
But rumors of cannibalism began to spread around the nation. Whistler’s grandfather insisted on having the body exhumed.
A week after the funeral, a small gathering of family members, close friends, neighbors, doctors, and two reporters witnessed the exhumation. Among those present were Funkhouser’s great-grandmother, Lydia, and his grandfather, William Funkhouser, who was 15 at the time.
When the muslin and blanket wrappings were removed from the body, a near skeleton was revealed. The flesh had been cut from the body, except for the head and part of the trunk. Those who knew young Will recognized him because of the red hair and beard, and a distinguishing tooth and finger. Dr. E.W.H. Beck said the flesh had been skillfully cut, leading him to believe it had been done by the expedition doctor. Dr. Beck concluded that Whistler had not been dealt a deadly blow.
Whistler had been buried wearing two hoods. The Delphi Times reported that a sealskin cap “was removed and will be preserved as a memento of the sad termination of his tragic career.” Funkhouser said he had never heard about the cap, and doesn’t know whatever happened to it.
Funkhouser’s grandfather told him that the knife that had been used during the examination of the body had been thrown into the grass, and he picked it up and took it home. But then, over time, he didn’t know what happened to it.
The opening of Whistler’s casket was proof of the cannibalism. Only one other body from the expedition was exhumed, and it was in similar condition.
Word got out about what happened to Whistler, and local and area newspapers ran sensational headlines such as the following: “His Bones Were Bare,” “Carved and Eaten,” and “His Friends Ate Him.” A hero
Funkhouser prefers to think of his relative as a hero rather than a victim.
Whistler was a member of an important scientific expedition – the first international scientific expedition that the U.S. took part in.
“In the 20th century the expedition’s collections of scientific data…were ignored,” Funkhouser said in his book. “In the 21st century it is useful in the assessment of global warming.”
Another accomplishment during the expedition was the attainment of the “farthest north” position, latitude 83° 24’ N. in 1882. It was about 470 miles from the North Pole. Previously, the farthest north record had been held by Great Britain for more than three centuries.
William Henry Whistler has a personal distinction as a result of the expedition. A mountain and an island are named after him – “Mount Whisler” and “Whisler Island.” Greely named geographic features after members who explored various areas. The “Whisler” features are on Ellesmere Island and still go by those names today. Ellesmere Island is where the 19 expedition members died.
At Whistler’s funeral, Gov. Albert G. Porter recognized his participation in the expedition by saying that the fame of the young hero did not belong to the county alone, nor to the state, or even the nation, but to the world.
Whistler also has local recognition on an outdoor mural in Delphi designed by Terry Lacy. He joins others on the mural who have been important in Carroll County history. Markers
For more than 60 years after the burial of the local hero, his grave remained unmarked, except for a metal flag holder. Around 1947, Funkhouser’s grandfather, William Funkhouser, wrote a letter to President Harry S. Truman, pointing out Whistler’s service to his country and the lack of a proper marker. The letter was forwarded to the Department of the Army, and a marker was supplied. However, the name engraved on the stone was spelled “Whisler” because that was the spelling in his enlistment records. Funkhouser’s grandfather expected the engraving to say something about Whistler’s Arctic service, but it didn’t. So William Funkhouser had that added at his own expense.
Richard Funkhouser and the Delphi Preservation Society are adding another “marker” to the cemetery - a historical marker recognizing Whistler and the Whistler Cemetery. The marker will list those buried in the cemetery, including William and Hannah Whistler (William Henry’s grandparents and Richard Funkhouser’s great-great-grandparents), who bought the surrounding land in 1853.
The entire Whistler- Funkhouser farm, 160 acres, stayed in the family until the 1980s when Richard Funkhouser sold four acres, including the family homestead and farm buildings. Funkhouser donated the rest of the farm to Purdue University last December.
Funkhouser, who resides in West Lafayette, retired from Purdue in 2001 after serving there for more than 44 years. He retired as coordinator of the physical sciences and engineering libraries.
Funkhouser has no siblings or children, so he is donating the journals and the 1881 letter to the international professional society, The Explorers Club, which promotes and is involved in scientific exploration.
Perhaps Funkhouser’s greatest historical gift is his book on William Henry Whistler.
It’s his way of passing on the family story.
Delphi Preservation Society’s annual Old Settlers program will be about William Henry Whistler, the Greely Expedition, and Richard Funkhouser’s new book on the topic. The program will be at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 10, in the Carroll County Courthouse, Circuit Court Room. Funkhouser will take part in the presentation and will bring some related visuals.