Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Lillian Alling: The Real Lillian (part 6)

Excerpted with permission from:

Wild West Women: Travellers, Adventurers and Rebels
Written by Rosemary Neering
Published by Whitecap Books Ltd.

Part 6 (final)

What happened to her after that is a matter of conjecture, based on flimsy pieces of conflicting hearsay evidence. Lillian Alling's story quickly became a northern legend, with different versions of the end of her story sworn to by those who said they had met her along the way, or had met someone who had met her, or seen her, or heard of her fate.

One version suggested that she had not gone north at all. A policeman who had met her on her journey said he had received a letter from her, saying she had gone to Telegraph Creek to find her Russian sweetheart. On finding he had departed, she married another man. But there is too much evidence that she did indeed go north; the policeman must have confused her with someone else. Some versions report that she had the stuffed hide of the dog that had been poisoned with her all the way, perhaps at the top of her backpack, perhaps in the cart she was said at one point to have trundled behind her. But her ability to preserve a decaying hide while persisting on her way north must be doubted. Some say that an Inuit man saw her footprints at the edge of a river near the Bering Sea and that she must undoubtedly have drowned there. Others say she found someone to take her across the Bering Sea by boat, then disappeared into Siberia.

We want a happy ending for Lillian Alling. A California man, who visited Siberia in 1965, wrote to a magazine to say he thought he had found one. While in Siberia, he had spoken with a friend there. The friend said that, as a boy of fourteen or fifteen, he lived on the Siberian shore of the Bering Strait. He saw a woman and three Inuit men whom he recognized as being from the Diomede Islands in the strait arrive on the waterfront. The woman said she had come from America, where she had been unable to find friends or make a living. She had decided to walk home to Russia and had done so. On her route, she said, no one had lifted as much as a finger to help her in any way. If this was indeed Lillian Alling, her comments would surely have come as a great disappointment to the many people who had helped her on her journey.

The letter writer said his friend told him all this had happened in the fall of 1930. But neither he nor anyone else living knows for certain how Lillian Alling's odyssey ended.