Thure and Ludwig Kumlien Blazed Trails in the Scientific World
Two Kumliens, father and son, blazed naturalist trails from the Arctic to the wooded shores and rice filled marshes of Lake Koshkonong in Wisconsin to the Arctic again.
Thure Kumlien and his son Ludwig of Jefferson County, Wisconsin, both made important contributions to the scientific world. Thure Kumlien collected many specimens for Louis Agassiz at the Boston Museum and Agassiz called him “the greatest authority in the world on bird nests.” A gull, an aster and an anemone are named for Thure Kumlien and his son, Ludwig sailed on theFlorence on an expedition to the Arctic and brought back valuable specimens and observations.
Thure Kumlien Studied Ornithology and Taxidermy
Born at Hertrop in Harlunda parish in Sweden on November 9, 1819, Thure Kumlienbegan his serious study of ornithology and taxidermy in his early teens, mostly teaching himself. Like his father Ludwig, he went to Uppsala University and graduated with the highest honors. Even at Uppsala, which had been the university of his famous predecessor Carl Linnaeus, there was no professor of ornithology in Kumlien’s time. Thure Kumlien spent his summer vacations while at Uppsala on long nature hikes. One summer he explored the Baltic Islands. During these explorations he rediscovered a small roseate gull that had first been seen by Carl Linnaeus, but had been recorded by no other ornithologist for about a century.
He spent the next summer far north in Lapland, where he hiked and explored for nearly three months. He saw wolves chasing reindeer, which closely resembled Arctic caribou. Years later, his son, Ludwig explored the Arctic with the Howgate Expedition. While at the University he met Margretta Christine Wallberg, whom he described as “the most beautiful girl of all this nation of handsome women.”
The young couple fell in love, but the King, the Church, and Thure’s father opposed the match. Margretta was the daughter of a minor officer in the Swedish army in charge of horses for the King’s Cavalry. Margretta graduated from a domestic science school, the highest form of education offered young women in the Sweden of her day. With Margretta’s older sister, Sophia, for a companion, the engaged couple sailed for America and arrived in New York, August 20, 1843. They sailed on an old, leaky ship called theSwea Maria, a name they later gave to their daughter.
The Swea Maria spent ten weeks at sea, and while they were becalmed in mid ocean, the drinking water almost gave out. Eventually, a great storm shattered the calm, and theSwea Maria nearly sank. Only later did the passengers discover that the sailing ship had been condemned months before they had purchased passage.
The Kumliens Built a Log Cabin on Lake Koshkonong
Thure and Margretta were married in Milwaukee two weeks after they arrived, on September 5, 1843. Less than a decade old, Milwaukee had grown from a fur trading post to a thriving frontier village. The newlyweds walked seventy miles through the woods to Lake Koshkonong, where they built their log cabin.
When their little house was finished, Thure wrote to a friend, “’It is the nicest log house around here, for we have an extra bedroom besides our one big room. Under the stairs we have a pantry, which is more than most of the pioneers have.”
As a housewarming gift, Thure painted a watercolor of his birthplace and hung it in the cabin. Like his father and his grandfather, he was a talented amateur painter. His youngest son Frithoif inherited artistic genes and the family was also musical. . Kumlien, like Thoreau, played the flute, mostly for his own enjoyment, but also to lure the birds to answer.
Margretta spent much of her time cooking and keeping house, but she found time to work outside with Thure cutting and piling hay, digging potatoes and doing all kinds of farm work. Together they gathered and prepared many wild plants, berries, fruits, nuts, seeds and greens. Thure, being an expert botanist, knew which wild mushrooms were safe and savory and which were poisonous. He believed that if they didn’t have any other food, his family could survive on the “bounty of nature,” instead of having to till the soil so diligently.
The Kumlien’s had four children, Ludwig, Theodore, Swea Maria, and Frithoif. Margretta Christine Kumlien died September 22, 1874, shortly after Thure and their children had finished building a new frame house for her. Thure survived her by fourteen years, filling the lonely hours with his taxidermy and nature pursuits. He died August 4, 1888 and his children laid him alongside Margretta in Sweet’s Cemetery near Albion, Wisconsin.
Ludwig Kumlien Joined the Howgate Arctic Expedition
Thure Kumlien’s son, Ludwig, learned natural science at his father’s knee, and absorbed enough knowledge for Captain Howgate to hire him as naturalist for his expedition ship the Florence. Captain Howgate of the United States Signal Service had come up with the idea of an Arctic exploration and colonizing expedition in 1875, and asked Congress for a $50,000 appropriation to finance it. He outfitted the Florence, a fore and aft schooner of 56 tons, somewhat small for an Arctic expedition, but well suited for the purpose.
Ludwig’s fellow crew members included Commander Captain G.E. Tyson, First Mate William Sisson, Second Mate, D. Burrows, and Meteorologist and Photographer, Orray T. Sherman. A steward, cook, and a general crew of seven men rounded out the roster.
Captain Howgate expected his appropriation to be approved, so he fitted out the Florence, partly from his own purse and partly from private funds. He charted the Florence to steam to Bisko Island in Davis’ Strait and instructed the crew to wait for his arrival which he expected to take place in July 1878.
The Florence left New London, Connecticut, on August 1, 1877. She sailed to Newfoundland, passed through the straits of Belle Isle, and headed north. Forty one days out, the Florence tied up in the harbor of Niantillic. The crew hired some Eskimos and dog teams and sailed into Cumberland Sound. They landed on Cumberland Island at latitude 67.30, longitude 68, and spent the next few weeks preparing winter quarters close to the Eskimo village of Annanstook. They built an observatory and snow house and began taking observations and gathering facts about the natural history of the region. Ludwig recorded hourly observations, day and night, and gathered valuable information to take back home.
The Florence Froze in the Ice and Ludwig Kumlien Explored Cumberland Island
On October 7, 1877, the Florence froze snugly into the ice and the long winter confinement began. Winter conditions on Cumberland Island were about the same as winter on the west coast of Greenland, 600 miles to the north. The cold was intense. Ludwig observed that Wisconsin winters were mild compared to the polar winter. The average temperatures on Cumberland Island from February 1 to March 19 were between 35 to 43 degrees below zero and the lowest temperature in February was 52.5 degrees below zero. They calculated the lowest temperature to be about 60 below zero.
Ludwig found the Eskimo and their habits an interesting study for a naturalist, and recorded first hand observations of 19 century Eskimo life in the Arctic.He said that the Esquinmaux, as he called them, were an honest and well meaning race, “as socially inclined as their intelligence would permit, but entirely uncivilized.” They had little knowledge of white men, because at this point only two or three whaling vessels had visited their island.
Ludwig contended that the the raw seal flesh and fat that the Eskimos ate prevented scurvy. To back up his statement, he said that during the five months the Florenceremained at Annamatook her officers and crew dieted about the same as the Eskimo and not single case of sickness, including scurvy, occurred. The men had a medicine chest but no doctor, and they had no use for one. Ludwig had the only serious accident among the crew. While skinning a dog which had died of a species of rabies peculiar to the country, he poisoned his hand with the virus and suffered severely from its effects. Only one person experienced frostbite and that was not a serious case.
Ludwig Kumlien visited many interesting places while the Florence remained frozen in the ice. He explored Kennedy Lake, a large body of fresh water in the center of Cumberland Island, with both an east and west outlet to the sea. He found that it abounded in salmon and trout and vast quantities of aquatic fowls. Geese were so abundant that at certain seasons, the Eskimos surrounded them and drove them in large flocks. Many islands in the lake contained remarkable fossils and Ludwig found multitudes of fresh water seals.
The exploring party visited other parts of Cumberland Island and found evidence of the previous presence of white men. At one time they penetrated to within a short distance of where, on the opposite side of Fox Channel, Sir John Franklin, an earlier Arctic explorer, is supposed to have died.
The Florence left Cumberland Island on July 19, 1878 and threaded her way through the cracked ice into Davis’ Straits. She headed for the coast of Greenland, making the harbor of Godhaven, Bisko Island, about 250 miles away on July 31, 1878. The crew had taken on board 16 Eskimos, 30 dogs and a large quantity of fur clothing, sledges- everything they needed for the long and dangerous voyage and planting a colony.
They waited for twenty two days for Captain Howgate to arrive. Finally, they decided he wasn’t coming and began their return voyage. Later they would discover that Congress had denied Captain Howgate the appropriation and he had not even ventured to the Arctic.
Captain Howgate Remained Stateside and the Florence Returned Stateside
The voyage proved to be dangerous both ways. Icebergs loomed everywhere and theFlorence had to dodge them constantly. The crew managed to keep from drifting into the icebergs, although the fog hung thickly and rain fell most of the time. Later they discovered that the current season was the worse ice season known since the settlement of the Danes in Greenland. The winds were unfavorable and often the tides were enormous. On leaving Bisko Island they countered a heavy gale from the southeast, which lasted four days and forced them to drift nearly across the width of Davis’ Straits.
Finally, they again reached Cumberland Island. They landed the Eskimo, gave them presents, and on September 12, 1878, the Florence set sail for home. Buffeted by heavy gales all of the way, they arrived in St. John’s, Newfoundland, on September 26, 1878. From St. John’s, they ran to Provincetown, Massachusetts, where they put in to repair a bad leak that sprung off Sable Island and forced them to work the pumps for four days and nights. The rest of their voyage was uneventful and Ludwig returned safely to his home and family in Jefferson County.
A Milwaukee Sentinel Reporter interviewed Ludwig when he returned from the voyage of the Florence. He described Mr. Kumlien as “a young man of fine physique, who has gained most of his knowledge of natural history for personal observation and natural capacity. He brings with him many interesting and valuable specimens, skins, skeletons, minerals, etc., some of which have already found their way into several of the leading educational institutes, and others of which remain in his possession. He has many interesting reminiscences, personal and otherwise, and has been urged to tell some of them in the way of public lectures.”
COPYRIGHT NOTICE All of the material on this website is copyrighted. You are free to link to any of the articles as long as you credit me as the author. firstname.lastname@example.org