#2. The Asshole Who Tried to Conquer the Arctic
Adolphus Greely, in addition to having a name like a Captain Planet villain, was a Civil War veteran and strict disciplinarian who, in 1881, was chosen by the U.S. Army to form an expedition to the Arctic to take scientific measurements of the climate. He was given a short amount of time and a small pool of volunteers to choose from, most of whom were cavalrymen and none of whom had ever been to the north.
Greely and his men arrived at their Arctic destination with little difficulty and didn't seem to suffer from any foreboding or sense of doom, even after their ships sailed away without them with middle fingers waving in the air. The plan was for a supply ship to return the following year, but until then, they were on their own.
But morale started to wither away as six months of darkness settled in and temperatures reached -60 degrees, while every day the men took 500 separate climate measurements. Greely forbade lying down during the "day," so the men ended up sitting on benches arguing with each other. Eventually the enlisted men got fed up with Greely's strict discipline, which included orders for them to do the officers' laundry, and got unruly. At which point Greely, with all the tact you'd imagine of a grizzled Civil War veteran, threatened to kill anyone who disobeyed his orders. He was not a well-loved man.
When the supply ship failed to show up the next year, Greely had to make a choice: He could stay in the current base, which was warm and had an ample supply of food and game, while attempting to contact the mainland, or he could follow the Army's contingency orders to the letter and sail through 250 miles of treacherous, icy seas in three tiny boats to meet up at a barren, desolate rendezvous point. Probably without even pausing, Greely loaded up his men onto boats and set out.
"How do you say 'I fucking hate you' in every language known to man?"
After sailing away, Greely started to lose what was left of his sanity and disappeared into his sleeping bag for long stretches of time. After 51 miserable days adrift, they finally arrived at the outpost, where they faced the added challenge of an absolute lack of food. When rescue finally came for them, only six of the original 25 men were still breathing, and they were surviving like the cast of Alive, subsisting entirely on shoe leather and the flesh of their fallen comrades. But hey, they got some insight into the climate of the Arctic. The consensus was "it fucking sucks."
#1. The Mad Frenchman Who Tried to Take Over Mexico
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In 1643, Frenchman Rene-Robert Cavelier de La Salle was on the path to becoming a Jesuit missionary, but after nine years of training, he was kicked out for "mental instability." Apparently it didn't sink in that they were very politely trying to tell him he was "nucking futs," because his next choice was to sail to Canada and become an explorer.
To secure his place on an expedition, La Salle initially lied about being fluent in the native languages of Algonquian and Iroquoian, possibly assuming that he wasn't going to have to put his money where his lying mouth was (despite the fact that they were traveling through the heart of the Iroquis Confederation), or maybe it was just his crazy acting up. The party did soon meet a group of Iroquois and discovered that La Salle couldn't actually speak the language, at which point La Salle faked an illness and disappeared into the woods, presumably leaving his party and the Native Americans awkwardly staring at each other like sixth graders at a school dance.
"Goddammit, what's that idiot doing now? Will someone please tie him up?"
La Salle resurfaced in Canada the next year as if nothing had ever happened, and much later he claimed to have discovered the Mississippi River during his disappearance and just neglected to mention it, maybe because he was seeing much crazier stuff in his head all the time.
But that's nothing compared to his later ambitions. To get into the good graces of his French homeland, which was at war with Spain at the time, La Salle proposed to conquer part of Spanish-owned Mexico by leading an army of 200 Frenchmen and 15,000 American Indians against them. Although he never adequately explained how he would convince 15,000 Indians to help him, as presumably he still couldn't talk to them.
Louis XIV thought the plan was just crazy enough to work, so he approved the project and let La Salle set off for disaster. La Salle immediately quarreled with his commanders and soon lost most of his men due to sickness, piracy, and mass desertions. The few remaining ships landed about 500 miles from their destination, which La Salle figured was close enough. He then did what any inspiring leader would do and immediately built a prison to hold those who had fallen asleep on watch.
The Indians weren't exactly enamored with La Salle's brilliant leadership tactics and decided to stay the hell out of it. Of course La Salle's amazingly stupid plan failed, and that's why today you can't get decent French food in Mexico.
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"No, seriously, they just pick up anything and eat it over there."
Related Reading: At least these people ACTUALLY journeyed to where they said they did, unlike that hack-job Marco Polo. Maybe he was wise to skip out on his adventures. These clearly cursed expeditions are a solid argument against travel. The famous Dr. Livingstone ended up trapped in a zoo for all his wanderlust. Visiting unexplored spots on the map CAN work out, though- these guys were all mistaken for gods.