American Indian on Antarctic Expedition

Yesterday, I received a letter from Laura Kissel, Polar Curator at The Ohio State University Archives. She found a letter dated September 1, 1932 from William Winneshiek to Richard Byrd in which Winneshiek requests to be considered for inclusion in Byrd’s Second Antarctic Expedition. That was a year and four days before the newspaper articles were published that said he had been selected. So, Byrd had ample time to select him for the trip. Although no documentation exists that he had been selected, the newspaper accounts may have been correct. But why was he selected?

Winneshiek points out [accurately], “The Boy Scouts of America and various other nations have been represented on your previous expeditions. Thus far, I have failed to see the American Indian represented on your expeditions, hence this letter.” He went on to describe his heritage (full-blood Winnebago) and his education (Carlisle Indian School, Lebanon Valley College, Penn State). For his qualifications, he included, “…my vocations as chemist and musician, I am capable of performing the duties of a ‘chef,’ having worked my way through school as an assistant ‘chef.’”

It’s doubtful that Byrd needed musicians or chefs, possibly a chemist, but he most definitely cooks. I say plural because his force was split for significant lengths of time and all would need to have been fed. It seems quite plausible that Byrd would have chosen him as a crew member because it would have made good press and would have created interest due to his being an Indian. He closed with, “…I feel positive that you will give my application your earnest consideration and give the Red-Man an even break.”

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