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The Cook-Peary Files: October 25, 1909: A lawyer informs Dr. Cook of Barrill’s payoff

Written on July 25, 2019

Ed Barrill

Edward N. Barrill

This is the 14th in a series examining significant unpublished documents related to the Polar Controversy.

In early October of 1909, rumors flew that Edward N. Barrill, who had been Dr. Cook’s only companion on his claimed climb of Mt. McKinley in 1906 was being solicited to swear an affidavit that not only had Cook and he never been to the top of the mountain, but also that the account of the climb was a premeditated fraud. This was important because, if true, it would set a precedent for what Robert E. Peary and his powerful backers had been saying for some time: That Cook’s claim to have reached the North Pole on April 21, 1908 was completely false.

In fact, an agent of General Thomas H. Hubbard, the President of the Peary Arctic Club, which had backed Peary’s attempts to reach the North Pole since 1898, had been seeking affidavits from various parties in relation to the 1906 climb with just that purpose in mind. Of course, chief among the affidavits sought was that of Ed Barrill, since he was Cook’s only witness to the events of the alleged climb. The newspapers varied in their estimates of what Barrill had been offered for his sworn testimony as between $5,000 and $10,000 (that amount in 1909 had the buying power of about $125,000-250,000 today).

On October 14, 1909, Barrill’s affidavit was published in Hubbard’s New York Globe and Commercial Advertiser, and it swore that Cook’s account of the climb was indeed a hoax. In the wake of the publication a reporter asked Hubbard, “How about $5,000 being offered to Barrill for an affidavit attacking Dr. Cook?” Hubbard dismissed this as “all bosh.” “No money was given to him for his signature,” Hubbard said.

But Hubbard had indeed paid $5,000 to cover the “expenses” of his agent obtaining Barrill’s and other sworn statements. A check drawn on Hubbard’s account for that amount is among Peary’s papers now preserved at the National Archives II.

If not $5,000, what did Barrill himself actually receive? The answer may be found in a letter mailed from Kennewick, WA, on October 25, 1909, by O.C. Anderson, a lawyer residing there:Anderson 1

Anderson 2Anderson 3

The document was in an envelope marked “Mount McKinley Material,” forwarded to Cook by his lawyer, H. Wellington Wack. At the time the author saw it, it was in the possession of the Frederick A. Cook Society at the Sullivan County Historical Society in Hurleyville, NY. Presumably, the original of the letter is now among the papers of Frederick A. Cook now held at the Ohio State University Archives.

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