The First Iditarod

New First IditarodThe First Iditarod: Mushers’ Tales from the 1973 Race, by Helen Hegener

“We got a storm back about Rainy Pass and the trail was covered over; we had no trail, so Victor Kotongan, Bud Smyth and I spent about three days walking, somewhere near the headwaters of the Rohn River…” -Ken Chase

“Herbie Nayokpuk and I were at Farewell Lake and it started snowing. I mean it was like a major snowstorm, and we were running down the trail and all of a sudden you couldn’t find the trail anymore! We got into this real thick brush and we stopped and turned around and we looked and we’d totally lost the trail.” -Bill Arpino

The First Iditarod shares the story of the first running of The Last Great Race through the words of mushers who made that first journey to Nome in 1973, captured in recorded and videotaped interviews conducted by the author over a span of several years.

Published in March, 2015 by Northern Light Media. 154 pages. $20.00 plus $5.00 shipping and handling to U.S. addresses only (foreign readers please order via Amazon). Click on the book title or the link above to order via PayPal or with a credit card. Also available at Amazon, eBay, and your local independent bookstores. Postal orders can be mailed to Northern Light Media, Post Office Box 870515, Wasilla, Alaska 99687-0515.

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The Yukon Quest

YQ Front CoverThe Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race spans some of the harshest and most beautiful winter territory anywhere: 1,000 miles between Fairbanks, Alaska and the city of Whitehorse in Canada’s Yukon Territory.

Known as ‘The World’s Toughest Sled Dog Race,’ it’s an event like no other. Run every February, the race is phenomenally challenging, crossing four mountain ranges, including the dangerous and intimidating 3,685-foot Eagle Summit, as it loosely follows the course of the mighty Yukon River.

Dyan Bergan's lead dog at the finish in Fairbanks, 2013. [Eric Vercammen/Northern Light Media]

[Eric Vercammen/Northern Light Media]

The Yukon Quest Trail, by Helen Hegener, takes readers checkpoint by checkpoint from Fairbanks to Whitehorse, an extraordinary journey in which the author shares insights and details of the trail, along with the incredible history of both the race and the wild and beautiful land it crosses. Over 180 photographs by the author and by photographers Eric Vercammen and Scott Chesney provide an unparalleled look at the trail, the mushers, the dogs and more. Also included are Trail Notes for Mushers, detailing the route in both directions, compiled by two-time Yukon Quest Champion John Schandelmeier.

YQ Front CoverThe Yukon Quest Trail: 1,000 Miles Across Northern Alaska and the Yukon Territory, text and photographs by Helen Hegener, additional photos by Eric Vercammen and Scott Chesney; with Trail Notes for Mushers, by two-time Yukon Quest Champion John Schandelmeier. Published December, 2014 by Northern Light Media. 151 pages, 8.5″ x 11″ full color format, bibliography, maps, indexed. $29.00 (plus $5.00 shipping and handling). Click on the image to order.

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2017 Sled Dog Race Calendar



• January 6 – Gin Gin 200 – Paxson, Alaska

• January 7 – Tahquamenon Country – Newberry, Michigan

• January 7 – Knik 200 (Joe Redington Sr. Memorial) – Knik, Alaska

• January 7 – La Grande Odyssée Savoie Mont BlancLes Carroz, France

• January 8 – Knik 100 (Bruce Braden) – Knik, Alaska

• January 9 – Gunflint Mail Run – Grand Marais, Minnesota

• January 14 – Copper Basin 300 – Glennallen, Alaska

• January 14 – Darby Dog Derby – Darby, Montana

• January 18 – Eagle Cap Extreme – Joseph, Oregon

• January 20 – Kuskokwim 300 – Bethel, Alaska

• January 20 – Two Rivers 200/100 – Two Rivers, Alaska

• January 21 – Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run – Quesnel, British Columbia

• January 27 – Northern Lights 300 – Big Lake, Alaska

• January 27 – Wyoming Stage Stop – Jackson, Wyoming

• January 28 – Tustumena 200 – Kasilof, Alaska

• January 29 – John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon – Duluth, Minnesota


• February 3 – Willow 300 – Willow, Alaska

• February 4 – Wilderness – Greenville, Maine

• February 4 – Yukon Quest International – Whitehorse, Yukon

• February 4 – Yukon Quest 300 – Whitehorse, Yukon

• February 10 – Willow Jr. 100 – Willow, Alaska

• February 11 – Race to the Sky – Seeley Lake, Montana

• February 11 – Knik-Goose Bay 150 – Knik, Alaska

• February 16 – American Dog Derby – Ashton, Idaho

• February 17 – UP200 – Marquette, Michigan

• February 18 – International North Hope – Neya, Kostroma region, Russia

• February 21 – Canadian Challenge – Prince Albert, Saskachewan

• February 25 – Jr. Iditarod – Willow, Alaska

• February 26 – Caledonia Classic – Fort St. James, British Columbia


• March 4 – Iditarod Trail – Anchorage, Alaska

• March 4 – Can-Am Crown International – Fort Kent, Maine

• March 11 – Finnmarkslopet – Alta, Norway

• March 18 – Hudson Bay Quest – Churchill, Manitoba

• March 23 – Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Race – Dawson City, Yukon

• March 24 – Nome-Council 200 – Nome, Alaska

• March 25 – Tobacco Trail – Kiruna, Sweden

• March 25 – Canadian Championship Dog Derby – Yellowknife, NWT


• April 6 – Kobuk 440 – Kotzebue, Alaska

Please send changes, additions or updates to

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A Dog-Puncher on the Yukon

Dog-PuncherPeople sometimes ask me which musher in history is my favorite, and it’s a tough choice, as there have been some truly amazing mushers (and I write about many of them in my book Alaskan Sled Dog Tales), but one which is always near the top of my list is Arthur Treadwell Walden, author of “A Dog-Puncher on the Yukon.” Walden is rarely mentioned without reference to his great sled dog Chinook, for the dog helped cement Walden’s reputation and renown as a musher, breeder, and trainer of the highest caliber.

Arthur and his wife Kate bred and raised the magnificent Chinook, born in January, 1917, at Walden’s Wonalancet Farm near Tamworth, New Hampshire. Chinook, for which the breed was named, made headlines around the world with victories in the first international sled dog race in 1922, and the breed was later hailed as the freighting dogs on Admiral Byrd’s 1928-29 expedition to Antarctica. Much has been written about Arthur Walden and his dogs, and several online articles are linked below this photo.

Walden and Chinook

“Adventurer Arthur T. Walden with his sled dog Chinook at the Winter Carnival in Portland, Maine. This photograph was published on the front page of the Portland Evening Express on February 11, 1922, the same year Chinook led Walden’s team to victory in the first Eastern International Dog Derby, on his way to becoming the most famous dog in America.” 

Read more:

Northern Light Media: Biography of Arthur Treadwell Walden

Wikipedia: Arthur Treadwell Walden

New England Historical Society: Arthur Walden and A Dog’s Life of Adventure

Cowhampshire Blog: Walden Biographical details

Seppala Kennels: Arthur T. Walden

The Chinook Owners Association: Arthur Walden history

The Laconia Daily Sun (3-part history): The Most Famous Dog in the World

Intervale Chinooks: History of the Chinook Dog

 Downeast Magazine: Leader of the Pack

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Looking for Lizzy


Elizabeth “Lizzy” Geady

As an author of books on the history of Alaska, I often receive inquiries from people seeking information about long-lost relatives, and I’m always happy to help whenever I can. Family connections are important, and helping someone piece together clues to a lost relative is a fringe benefit of my work which brings happiness and often new friends.

I received one such letter recently which provides a fascinating glimpse into the life of a young roadhouse keeper along the Valdez-to-Fairbanks Trail, which would later become the Richardson Highway, in the early years of the 20th century, when travel was slow and arduous, whether by dogteam, horse-drawn wagon or sleigh, or most often, by foot.


“Lizzy at Gulkana.” [UAF Archives}

The letter came from my friend Julie Stricker, the online content editor at the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. Julie had received the letter from a woman named Lorne Brown who’d read Ray Bonnell’s article about the Sourdough Roadhouse in the News-Miner, and she queried: “I am looking for any information you might be able to offer regarding the woman who purchased the Roadhouse from C.L. Hoyt in 1916. We have an old family letter from my G-G Aunt Elizabeth Geady — she married a Kerr and a Stevens, but we believe was divorced from both before arriving in Alaska — in which she writes about the trading post, she refers to it as a store, that she owns in Gulkana, at least that is where the letter is postmarked from. The letter is dated January 30, 1915.”

There was more to Lorne’s letter to Julie, describing her great-great aunt’s 1915 letter, and she ended with this plea: “Any assistance you can offer would be greatly appreciated. She’s our lost Klondiker.”

Young Elizabeth Geady wrote this letter to her mother from Gulkana in January, 1915. I’ve transcribed it for easier reading and the text of the letter is below the photos.







Gulkana P.O


Jan 30, 1915

Dear Mother,

I received both your letters and was so glad to hear that you are well and liked the goods I sent you. I am glad that you sold some of them. I will send you some more things before long, I can write to the store keepers in Chicago or Toronto if I know their name it would not cost any duty from there.

Tell Mr. Randsom I said Thank you for sending his regards to me (?) tell him I have in mind very clearly the time I worked for them.

They were such nice clean people. Tell him that I said that I remember of his father (Old Mr. Randsom) he wanted to light his pipe and he had no match so I run and lighted his pipe with a sliver of wood and old Mr. Randsom said someday you will be very rich lady. I asked him how he could tell and he said oh it is a sure sign when a child saves a match that they will get rich. What a nice lady Mrs. Randsom was, and also her sister. I hope they are all well. The last time I saw Mrs. Randsom she had a little baby girl and I had lots of fun with Leslie.

Mr. Randsom might be able to give you the address of some wholesale stores in Toronto, ask him and send me the address and I will send you some things from there.

I have a store here and am doing well. I have 3 black foxes and 9 cross foxes alive. I sold a black live fox this summer for $1000 for breeding purposes. I caught him myself in a trap and I sent to the States and got a lot of goods. I got 1 ton of flour, 200 lb bacon, 500 lbs sugar and everything in proportion and lots of clothing. I sell them to the Indians. Flour is $16 a hundred, sugar $20 a hundred, tea $1.50 a lb, bacon 60¢ a lb, socks $1.50 pair (can’t decipher). Everything is high here. I have a horse and I send 150 miles for the goods after they land in Alaska.

Oh how I wish you were here with me. I am so comfortable and contented. If you were here you could get my breakfast for me. I hate to cook and do housework. I have a saddle horse to ride all over the country. I have a shotgun and shoot partridges and grouse. They are so good to eat.

I am living on the bank of the Tolsona River. The trout and greyling are so thick one can get them by the thousand

Mother, did you get my letter where I told you to give Teany my hand painted things, there are a few things

Lizzy’s letter ends there. Lorne explained “The Teany she mentions at the end is my Great Grandma Brown, Christianna (nee Geady) Brown.”

If you have any information about Elizabeth “Lizzy” Geady (possibly Kerr or Stevens) from around 1915, please get in touch with me at and I will forward your information and contact details to Lizzy’s great-great niece, Lorne Brown.


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Sled Dogs Documentary

sleddogs_poster_27x39Documentary filmmaking is an efficient and effective way to promote a message, support or denigrate a topic, and/or forward an agenda. It’s difficult to say which intention was at the fore when the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) commissioned Fern Levitt, an accomplished Canadian writer, producer and director of documentary films, to produce a searing investigation into the sport of sled dog racing.

The film, titled Sled Dogs, is slated for release in December at the internationally respected Whistler Film Festival in the mountain resort community of Whistler, British Columbia, Canada. The festival catalog’s description of the 82-minute film reads like a blistering indictment of the sport:

“In what will surely be one of the more controversial documentary entries looking at Northern snow culture, Fern Levitt’s exposé of the sled dog puppy farm industry will have particular resonance here in Whistler. It recalls a local business who was found to have euthanized a large number of sled dogs when the costs of raising them no longer made it a lucrative business.

“What is shocking to learn is that nothing under the law protects these dogs from some of the cruelest conditions, as they are largely considered to be nothing more than private property. Many of these dogs are being raised to take part in the famed Alaskan dog-sled race known as the Iditarod. As the film carefully explains, a tourist myth has been propagated that these dogs have been bred for and love to run through the snow in teams. What we see instead are the cruel conditions under which many of these dogs are raised and trained.

“This film exposes the nature of these puppy farms and how they are just big business to many of the operators who just leave these beautiful animals tied to chains for months on end. To its credit, a group of Whistler operators tried to restart the local puppy farm using ethical methods, but they soon found that the costs were too high, and had to regrettably shut down.

“If you love dogs, this will be a tough film to sit through, but credit the filmmakers for exposing a form of state sanctioned animal cruelty that has to be regulated or somehow brought to an end.”

screen-shot-2016-11-03-at-5-42-08-pmThe film’s impending release and a brief two-minute YouTube trailer have generated a firestorm of protest in the mushing community. Alaskan journalists Ellen Lockyer (Alaska Public Media) and Craig Medred ( described the film’s effect and the reactions of several mushers, sharing their thoughts with each other through mushing-related Facebook groups and forums. Medred’s article, titled “Iditarod Nightmare,” was published Nov. 1 and quoted Alaskan musher Lisbet Norris and Canadian musher Susan Rogan, and predicted the film was “certain to cause problems for the Iditarod . . . ”

screen-shot-2016-11-03-at-5-37-55-pmLockyer’s Nov. 2 article, “Mushers Await Release of Documentary Criticizing the Sport,” noted, “Levitt received $400,000, Canadian, from the Canadian Media Fund to produce the film, although the targets of the film are primarily two kennels: one in Whistler, BC, the other in Snomass, CO.”

Alaskan blogger Toni Reitter released a blistering post on Nov. 1 titled Beware the Sled Dog Film “Documentary” which included the full text of one musher targeted by the film. Reitter explained, “One of the mushers supposedly featured in the ‘film’ has spoken out via social media. Patrick Beall trains and runs out of Mitch Seavey’s Kennel in Seward and Sterling, Alaska. Patrick was part of the Seavey puppy team in Iditarod 2016 and was told by the film makers that they wanted to follow a rookie in the race. They had to get permission from the ITC (Iditarod Trail Committee). From what I can tell they lied and provided false information on multiple levels.”

screen-shot-2016-11-03-at-5-28-32-pmIt’s worth reading Beall’s entire post, in which he writes, “They followed me during Iditarod. They were there at the ceremonial and re-start. Just as excited as I was. I saw a glimmer in their eyes of how intriguing and glorious the atmosphere at this event can be. They gave me high fives and like they always had during filming been so impressed with everything that was going on.”

And later, in Nome, at the end of his race, “I was so damn happy. All of this was of course filmed by this crew. Pure life in the moment joy. The kind that you can’t stage, you can’t fake, you can’t ask even the best actor to accomplish. And guess what, they were there witnessing all of it. With their cameras and their false agenda. Behind their fake smiles and congratulations.”

The sense of betrayal Patrick writes about is palpable, and the thousands of posts and comments on social media in just the past three days (over 300 beneath the YouTube trailer alone) are testament to the widely felt outrage; but as Toni Reitter rightly explains, the mushing community is “. . . . calmly and intelligently refuting the accusations being levied at them.”

everything-it-takes-poster_small-low-resMany people within the mushing community are taking a proactive stance and working together to provide resources and information which convey the truth about the sport. Documentary filmmaker Jennifer Hawks wrote, “Many years ago, when I first envisioned making my documentary film, Everything It Takes, one of my goals was to show the bond between mushers and their dogs. I also wanted to show how much work, time, and money they invest in their dogs out of their love for them and for the sport of mushing.”

Hawks’ film follows rookie Iditarod musher Mary Helwig as she prepares for the 2016 run to Nome, highlighting the strength of commitment in taking on what she would term ‘the challenge of a lifetime.’

Musher Annie Hammond penned a thoughtful open letter to the various parties involved, including the filmmakers (“If we’re expected to have ethics in the dog world (and we do), then it logically follows that the reporting institution(s) should be held equally accountable. That’s what’s so troubling about this project– it was set up as a sting. A stab in the back.”), the skeptics (“Rest assured, we are not trying to ‘cover up’ for the bad apples, we’re simply bringing to your attention the fact that deceitful editing can easily make even the best apples appear rotten.”), the viewers (“You have all been duped.”), the backers (“We’ll gladly accept your next $400,000 to share OUR side of the story.”), and to everyone (“This one trailer, with its unscrupulous editing, is not indicative of the sled dog world as a whole.”).

screen-shot-2016-11-04-at-2-26-45-pmOne of the kennels spotlighted in the film is Krabloonik Dogsledding in Snowmass Village, Colorado. Ellen Lockyer explains in her article for KTOO: “Fern Levitt zeros in Dan MacEachen, a Snomass, Colorado, kennel owner who was charged with animal cruelty in 2013. He pleaded guilty to one count of animal cruelty in 2015. Other charges were dismissed. MacEachen competed in the Iditarod seven times.”

In December, 2014, Danny and Gina Phillips took over the operation of Krabloonik Dogsledding, and the business has since garnered over 100 TripAdvisor reviews and a four-star rating. In a popular mushing forum on Facebook, Dan Phillips has been among those discussing the film and recently commented in part: “I spent my morning in my dog yard asking my dogs why this is happening.. I walked into my office and my wife had this on the computer screen. I got my answer I needed.

Here’s what Dan’s wife, Gina, had written:

We are Mushers and We are Proud

Mushers are a generally misunderstood group of people, often quiet, reserved individuals…not always fans of large groups or society. People don’t understand how we can travel for miles into the wilderness, with only the company of our dogs on our team and the love and support of our families and handlers, who become family, at home rooting for us to be safe and return home victorious. The public doesn’t understand why we have so many dogs, how we can possibly know all of their names and how in the world can we possibly take care of ‘all those dogs’.

We in fact find a society within our kennels, with our dogs, fellow mushers, and all the families involved. What they don’t understand is that ‘all those dogs’ are our family, our village, our hearts living outside our bodies. We not only know their names, we know their personalities, when they are happy and when they might be sad. We learn their quirks, insecurities and where we can work with them to be their very best. We know them, and they most certainly know us. It’s not a chore to take care of them any more than it’s a chore to feed, clothe and nurture our human babies.

This is a lifestyle, not an occupation a career or a business. We are a community of people, children, dogs and nature. A lifestyle lived by few and understood by fewer. Our dogs are our coworkers, our friends and a furry neck to nuzzle when things just get too hard in the world. They understand us and we them. We fit into a space all our own, the dogs not quite dogs and the humans not quite like everyone else. But in that space, we all find our home, together.

I was not raised a musher, I married one. He wasn’t raised a musher, but he was born to be one. Few answer their call to follow this passion, this lifestyle, and even fewer make it their true life’s work. Who are we? We are tough, we are compassionate, we are true animal and nature lovers, we are happy with little, but will give everything we have to a visitor. We love our lives, our dogs and our lifestyle. Many will misunderstand us, and that’s ok… But we are Mushers and we are Proud.

Gina Phillips
Krabloonik Dogsledding
Snowmass Village, CO


Musher Dan Phillips and friend

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“A Mighty Nice Place”

“The valley looks great. It looks fine, fine. You got a mighty nice place here.”     ~American humorist and commentator Will Rogers, Palmer, Alaska, August, 1935

a-nice-place-coverThe newest book from Northern Light Media combines the history of the Matanuska Valley with the photographs of A.R.R.C. photographer Willis T. Geisman, who was charged with recording the events surrounding the 1935 Matanuska Colony Project. This book combines two earlier titles into one comprehensive history of this important era in Alaska, when the federal government took a direct hand in the future of the territory.

The Matanuska Colony Project was part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal for America, an unprecedented series of economic programs designed to provide aid to people reeling from the Great Depression. Nearly one hundred new communities were designed and developed by Roosevelt’s planners, but the largest, most expensive, and most audacious of them all was to build a government-sponsored farming community in Alaska’s Matanuska Valley.

“A Mighty Nice Place,” The History of the 1935 Matanuska Colony Project, by Helen Hegener, explains how a few visionary men convinced the planners in Washington, D.C. to extend their community-building efforts north to Alaska, and tells the complex story of this important chapter in Alaska’s history.

Photo by Willis T. Geisman, A.R.R.C. 1935

Photo by Willis T. Geisman, A.R.R.C. 1935

The remarkable photos of official A.R.R.C. photographer Willis T. Geisman documented every aspect of the venture, and his compelling images tell the true stories, moments in time captured and preserved, brought together here with the detailed history of the Matanuska Colony Project.

“A Mighty Nice Place,” The History of the 1935 Matanuska Colony Project, by Helen Hegener. Published in November, 2016 by Northern Light Media. 276 pages, 120 photos, 6″ x 9″ b/w format. $24.00 plus $5.00 shipping. Click here to order now via PayPal.

Posted in Alaska History, Books, Matanuska Colony, Matanuska Valley, News & Information | Leave a comment

Ordering Books

Ordering books from Northern Light Media is simple, and I offer four convenient ways for you to order my titles online:


Northern Light Media You can order every title I’ve published directly through my website, just click on the title you’re interested in for complete details about the book and a link for ordering through PayPal, which also accepts credit and debit card orders.

CSCreateSpace CreateSpace publishes all of my books and makes it very easy to order them from the CreateSpace Store. Each title is listed and clicking on the title takes you to a descriptive page for that book, with complete details and ordering through the convenient CreateSpace shopping cart.

IndieBoundIndieBound I support independent bookstores and encourage ordering my books through your local favorite! There are two ways to purchase books through (1) The “Buy Now” button on every book page allows you to purchase the book immediately, and the sale will support the entire network of independent bookstores. (2) By entering a zip code in the “Shop Local” box, you will be able to choose from among the websites for a list of independent bookstores near you. You will then be transferred to the selected store’s website to complete the purchase.

AmazonAmazon, the largest Internet-based bookstore retailer in the U.S., carries all of my titles, simply enter the title you’re interested in and use Amazon’s easy online ordering system!


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Golden Places


Golden Places: The History of Alaska-Yukon Mining, With Particular Reference to Alaska’s National Parks, was written in 1990 by William R. Hunt, prepared as a special theme study to assist in the assessment of cultural resources associated with metal mining in Alaska’s national parks. Designed to focus on mineral discovery and development in the national parks, its first chapters explore the earliest prospecting efforts in the north country, through the Klondike Gold Rush years. From the first Cassiar discovery in the Stikine River country in 1862, through gold discoveries at Sitka, Juneau, Yakutat, the Fortymile country, the Circle Mining District, the stampede to Nome, the Nabesna and Nizina gold strikes, strikes at Kantishna, Kuskokwim, and the stampede to Iditarod, the complete history of gold in Alaska and the Yukon is presented clearly with a gold mining chronology.


Teams freighting to Chisana

The book, which is available free to read online, is divided into 18 chapters which detail the history with in-depth descriptions and fascinating details, such as this from chapter 12: “In February 1914 Chisana folks argued that their community had more log cabins than Circle, Fairbanks, or Dawson and deserved to be called ‘the largest log cabin town in the world.’ Four hundred cabins was one estimate, including seven general stores, a saloon, two restaurants, a clothing store, and ‘roadhouses galore.'”



There is a brief but good description of the history of the Iditarod Trail, shared here in full: “The Seward-Nome Trail, famed today as the Iditarod Trail because of annual dog-sled races from Anchorage to Nome, was never a major long-distance route. It consisted of a number of winter trails that had developed in the early prospecting days that were linked in 1910. When the upper Innoko strike attracted miners from Cook Inlet and elsewhere in 1906, a trail to tidewater appeared beneficial. In February 1908 the Alaska Road Commission began a survey of a new trail from Seward to Nome. After a Christmas strike on Otter Creek by prospectors W.A. Dikeman and John Beaton, the boom town of Iditarod developed. Over the winter of 1910 the Alaska Road Commission marked and cleared 1,000 miles of trail from Kern Creek, on the Alaska Northern railroad 71 miles north of Seward, to Nome. Some portions of the trail were new and some had been used by prospectors or natives earlier. The Seward-Knik section became a mail and supply route until the railroad was extended, and the Knik-Kaltag section was much used from 1910-20. Other portions of the wide winter trail network were used as needed, then abandoned when conditions changed.”

Detailed maps, charts, photographs and extensive notes and bibliographies at the end of each chapter make this book an outstanding online research tool, but also an enjoyable contribution to the history of Alaska for the more casual reader. An observation from the last chapter: “Alaska’s hunters, trappers, dog mushers, and hikers have a certain respect for those early miners. It required travel skills and a spirit of adaptation that is generally admired by Alaskans who have a particular sensitivity to their natural environment.”




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Gakona Roadhouse

Alaskan Roadhouses

This article is an excerpt from the book by Helen Hegener,  Alaskan Roadhouses, Shelter, Food, and Lodging Along Alaska’s Roads and Trails, published in 2015 by Northern Light Media. Ordering information below.



Gakona Roadhouse, 1984. Photograph by Jet Lowe. [HABS AK-27-1]

The Gakona roadhouse at milepost 205 on the Glenn Highway, dating from the first buildings constructed on the site in 1902, is the oldest still-operating roadhouse in Alaska.


Gakona 1930

Mile 2, Gulkana-Chisana Road, Gakona River and Roadhouse, Copper River in distance. Photo by Walter W. Hodge, 1930. [UAF-2003-63-278]

Originally called Doyle’s Ranch, the Gakona Roadhouse was constructed by Jim Doyle, who homesteaded a site on the banks of the fast-flowing Gakona River, which joins the mighty Copper River a few hundred yards downstream. His homestead was at mile 132 of the Trans-Alaska Military Road, which was the name of the then-new Valdez-to-Eagle Trail, built by the U.S. Army to link its post at Fort Liscum, near Valdez, with Fort Egbert, at Eagle on the Yukon River. The Valdez-to-Fairbanks Trail also ran north from the site, making the junction of the two trails an excellent location for a roadhouse.


Gakona Roadhouse, by P. S. Hunt. [AMRC-b62-1-a-151 Crary-Henderson Collection]

Gakona Roadhouse, by P.S. Hunt. [AMRC-b62-1-a-151 Crary-Henderson Collection]

The original roadhouse was built of six- to ten-inch saddle-notched round logs, approximately 20′ by 50′, with with a 15′ by 30′ shed-roofed addition. The building included living quarters, a kitchen and dining room, a few private rooms, an upstairs dormitory and a store. A low shed which could accommodate dog teams was built, and a military telegraph station was installed nearby. In 1910, the roadhouse become the main stop for the Orr Stage Company, and Doyle added a blacksmith shop and a barn that could hold up to a dozen horses. He also raised oats and hay on over sixty acres of fields.


Arne Sundt - Gakona RH Arne's Grandma

Henra Sundt

Jim Doyle sold the roadhouse in 1912, and the property went through several owners, including the Slate Creek Mining Company. In 1926 Arne N. Sundt, a director of the Nabesna Mining Company, discovered that the manager of the Slate Creek mine, a fellow named Elmer, was sidetracking the gold which should be going to the mine owners. In a 1993 interview for the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Oral History Program, Arne N. Sundt’s widow, Henra Sundt, explained what happened next: “Arne put on the only suit that he ever owned,” and traveled to the offices of the mining company and told them what was transpiring. They told Arne he “could just take over the place as Elmer hadn’t sent them one ounce of gold in years!”


Arne made an agreement to mine the company’s holdings on Slate Creek and send them a percentage, and they sold the roadhouse to him as part of the deal. When Arne got back to Gakona and confronted Elmer with the news, “Elmer got pretty upset and pulled a gun on him, but Arne just reached out and took the gun away from him.” Henra explained, “[Elmer] was just a little guy, but my husband was six feet tall! So Elmer left, but he stayed around the country, mining his own claims on Slate Creek.”

32. Gakona_Roadhouse_from_front copyIn her book, Sisters, Coming of Age and Living Dangerously in the Wild Copper River Valley [Epicenter Press, 2004], Aileen Gallaher described stopping at the roadhouse on her way north from Valdez in 1926: “Our next stop was Gakona, about thirty miles north of Copper Center. The Gakona Roadhouse there was a huge log building, which really could not be called a cabin. It had a second story and a high-pitched roof. The Gakona River flowed swiftly about fifty feet in front of it. The lobby was a large room without any decoration and only a few wooden benches for furniture. In one corner, a staircase led to the bedrooms upstairs, and the other corner was occupied by the Post Office. Across the front next to the lobby were the dining room and the kitchen, and behind were the owners’ quarters. The two men who lived there and operated Gakona Roadhouse were Arne Sundt from Norway and Herb Hyland, from Sweden. Both welcomed me warmly to Alaska, and made me feel at home in this new, amazing world.”

In 1929 Arne Sundt built a new roadhouse, much larger than its predecessor, in an L-shaped, gable-roofed plan, with 9 private rooms, a bunkhouse on the upper floor, two bathrooms, a general store, and a post office. He also built a separate owner’s residence, two cabins, a wagon repair shop, and other buildings. Arne and Henra, who had traveled to Alaska from Norway in 1928 to marry Arne, ran the roadhouse together for 22 years, until Arne’s untimely death from a heart attack in 1949. When he died, her friends said Henra should sell the roadhouse, but she felt running the roadhouse would provide a good living for her and her children, and she prospered, raising two sons and a daughter, finally selling the roadhouse in 1979.


A dogteam in front of the Gakona Roadhouse during the 2014 Copper Basin 300. [Photo: Helen Hegener/NLM]

All of the buildings on the site – all but two of them made of logs – have been subsequently added to the National Register of Historic Places. Over the years, the roadhouse and its cabins have known many famous guests, including the venerable Judge James Wickersham, the first federal judge from Interior Alaska, who waded through overflow water to reach the roadhouse in 1905. Alaskan artists Ted Lambert, Eustace Ziegler, and Josephine Crumrine, with her artist-mother, rented cabins one summer, and each presented Henra Sundt with an original piece of their artwork. Bill Egan, the first governor of Alaska, stayed at the roadhouse often during his years in office, and the arctic explorer Hurbert Wilkins was a guest. Perhaps the most well-known guest is a pipe-smoking ghost, said to have a preference for Room 5, whose appearances have been written about in many newspaper and magazine articles over the years.



Excerpted from:

Roadhouses Buy NowAlaskan Roadhouses, Shelter, Food, and Lodging Along Alaska’s Roads and Trails, by Helen Hegener, published by Northern Light Media. 6″ x 9″, over 100 black/white photographs, 284 pages. $24.95 plus $5.00 shipping and handling.

Alaskan Roadhouses

$24.95 plus $5.00 S&H

Click on the book image to order your copy!

Available at Amazon, eBay, and your local independent bookstores.

Postal orders can be mailed to Northern Light Media, Post Office Box 870515, Wasilla, Alaska 99687-0515.

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1912 All Alaska Sweepstakes

Screen Shot 2016-06-12 at 5.19.22 PMAn old friend, Robert Lutz, sent me the link to an article which appeared in the March 27, 1912 issue of the newspaper, The San Francisco Call, which noted entries for the 1912 All Alaska Sweepstakes race. The article read, in full:

Berkeley Woman’s Dogs To Race in Alaska

NOME, Alaska, March 27.—Few entries have been received for the 1912 All Alaska sweepstakes, the great dog race of the north, which will be run next month over the 412 mile course from Nome to Candle and return. The only contestants in sight are A A. (Scotty) Allen, driver of the dogs owned by Mrs. Charles E. Darling of Berkeley, Cal.; Charles Johnson, Alex Holmsen and possibly Bleechford. Holmsen will drive Colonel Sir James Ramsey’s team of Siberian wolfhounds, taking the place of John Johnson, the famous dog team driver, who has always handled the wolves and who is marooned on the Siberian coast. Johnson went to Siberia late last fall to get dogs for the race and was left stranded when the ice moving down from the Arctic drove his schooner back to the American shore.


Charles Johnson’s team starting the April 4, 1912 All Alaska Sweepstakes

I have written about the All Alaska Sweepstakes race many times, most recently in my newest book, Alaskan Sled Dog Tales. In that book I included an article about the great racer, John “Iron Man” Johnson, who is mentioned in the 1912 article. I also included a booklet written by Mrs. Charles E. Darling, also known as Esther Birdsall Darling, the author of the classic children’s book, Baldy of Nome. That booklet, The Dog Races of Nome, detailed the results of the fifth All Alaska Sweepstakes race in 1912:



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Seppala Kennels Advertising Card

I often stumble across interesting websites in my research, and one I’ve returned to a number of times over the years is the Alaskan Heritage Bookshop website, which sells Alaskan books, Alaskan art, vintage Alaskan memorabilia and photographs, and much more. Based in Juneau, the site bills itself as “The Museum of Alaska History Where Everything is for Sale.” I shared some fascinating horse snowshoes in my last post, and there are lots of other interesting items to be found at the Alaskan Heritage Bookshop.

One such item is an advertising card from Leonhard Seppala’s kennels in Nome, Alaska. This business card was apparently mailed to Carl Lomen, known as the “Reindeer King of Alaska” and one of the famous Lomen Brothers whose numerous photographs recorded early Alaskan history. The card features Seppala’s favorite lead dog, Togo, described as “the champion trophy winner of Alaska.”

Price for this historic gem is $750.00, plus $12.00 shipping.

Togo Card

Togo Card2

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Horse Snowshoes

The photos and information here are borrowed from the Alaskan Heritage Bookshop website, which sells Alaskan books, Alaskan art, vintage Alaskan memorabilia and photographs, and much more. Based in Juneau, the site bills itself “The Museum of Alaska History Where Everything is for Sale.”

One item no longer for sale is an interesting pair of snowshoes for a horse. The screenshots below tell the story – remember these are no longer for sale, but there’s a limitless supply of interesting items at the Alaskan Heritage Bookshop website.

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Crow Creek Pass, Iditarod Trail

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Trail up to Crow Creek Pass (by Frank Kovelchek, Wikimedia Commons)

Crow Creek Pass is a popular summer destination with hikers and backpackers, crossing a scenic pass high in the great Chugach Range of mountains which overlooks Anchorage and separates the Matanuska Valley from Prince William Sound. Crow Creek pass, or Crow Pass as it is often referred to, is also a significant point on the Iditarod Trail, made famous by the similarly-named 1,049-mile sled dog race held annually since 1973.

The Iditarod Trail historically began  in the mountains of the Kenai Peninsula, threaded along the tidal waters of Turnagain Arm, and then turned up Glacier Creek and climbed mapover Crow Pass before dropping down into the Eagle River Valley. From there the trail turned north and wound around Knik Arm, through the trading post of Knik and over the Alaska Range to the gold rush town of Iditarod, just south and west of Denali (Mt. McKinley), and continued on to another gold rush town on the edge of the Bering Sea called Nome.

The trail was about 1,150 miles long and incorporated the long-traveled native trails of the Dena’ina and Deg Hit’an Athabaskan Indians on the southern and middle sections, and the Inupiaq and Yup’ik Eskimos on the northern end.

Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 2.15.16 PMOne of the early travelers over the Iditarod Trail was a hearty adventuring Presbyterian minister known as ‘the Mushing Parson.’ The Reverend Samuel Hall Young had spent time traveling in southeastern Alaska with none other than the great naturalist John Muir, who would come to be known as the “Father of the National Parks” and founder of the Sierra Club. The story of their friendship is chronicled elsewhere on this website.

In 1913 Rev. Young wrote an article for the church publication The Continent in which he shared his story of a journey via dogteam from Iditarod to Seward over the Iditarod Trail, crossing Crow Creek Pass in March. He wrote from Knik, “The worst mountain pass of all is before us–Crow Creek Pass over the high Alaska range. Fearsome tales are told me of this pass, but there is nothing to do but to try it.”


S. Hall Young photo: “My start from Iditarod to the coast.” [UAF-2001-38-64a]

The Reverend, who suffered from a bad back, hired a young prospector named Fred Taulman to take him over the trail, writing, “Were it not for my lame back I would go alone, but they all say that the pass is too dangerous to be traveled singly even by a strong and vigorous person. So on March 21 we hitched up our eager dogs, whose three days rest has put them in high spirits, and hit the trail again around the head of Knik Arm.”

An overnight stop at a roadhouse near present-day Eklutna and the travelers were ready to start the arduous part of their journey the next day. Crossing the Eklutna River and Peter’s Creek, along the shore of Fire Lake and up the valley of the glacial Eagle River, the mountains on either side closing in and narrowing above them.

Young and Team

Rev. Young and his team at Iditarod, 1913. [UAF-2001-38-3]

“Now hard climbing up a steep road to the base of the pass at Raven Creek roadhouse. A storm is blowing. The snow banners on the mountains that overlook the pass and the fast falling snow make it impossible for us to go on, so we spend a day at this fine roadhouse, kept by three men who are hunters, prospectors and hotel keepers as occasion requires. The second day they hitch up four big dogs as big as Shetland ponies to supplement our smaller ones, and a sturdy mountaineer with ‘creepers’ on his feet comes to pilot us over the summit. From daylight until noon we struggle before reaching the summit, making only five miles in six hours. The descent from the summit is almost sheer for 2,000 feet.”

One of the rarest historic Alaskan photos is S. Hall Young’s image of his dogteams at the summit of Crow Creek Pass in March, 1913. It is the only photograph of dog teams in the pass this historian and author has ever found, and at least two historic societies have verified the scarcity of such historically important photos. This one (below) is part of the Rev. S. Hall Young Album in the collections of the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

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Rev. S. Hall Young photo: “Summit Crow Creek Pass, Alaska. One of the passes on my trip to the coast. [UAF-2001-38-104]

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Joe Redington’s Iditarod Booklet

Redington 0A slim little booklet came to my attention at the Palmer library recently; if memory serves me it was tucked into their collection which cannot be checked out of the library but must remain in the building. Titled Iditarod Trail, The Old and The New, published by Alladin Publishing in Palmer, Alaska around 1990, the booklet was apparently authored by M. Carter; across the bottom of the front cover are the words “Story by Joe Redington.”

The book has some interesting charts and tables, such as a listing of the original 1907 route with the stopping points named, and a list of the roadhouses on the trail. There are a number of old photographs, but the most interesting part is that written by old Joe. I’ll share some photos I took at the library with my cellphone, hope they’re readable.

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Dog Team Doctor

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 9.42.28 AMIn 1896 Dr. Joseph  H. Romig traveled to Bethel, Alaska, and opened the first doctor’s office and hospital west of Sitka, at a time when there were very few non-native people living in remote southwest Alaska. Four decades later a book would be written about the good doctor’s adventurous and life-saving exploits across the vast northern territory.

Joseph Herman Romig was born in Illinois in 1872. His parents were descendants of Moravian immigrants, and in exchange for his pledge to serve for seven years as a doctor at a mission, the Moravian Church sponsored his medical training. In 1896, Joseph married a nursing student he met at school, and the couple moved to Bethel to join Joseph’s older sister and her husband as missionaries to the Yup’ik people of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. Bethel was barely a village at that time, consisting of only four houses, a chapel, an old Russian-style bath house and a small store. The Romig home was a simple two-room structure, and included the first hospital: one room with two homemade beds.

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 9.40.55 AMFor a time, Dr. Romig was one of the only physicians in Alaska, and he became expert at dog mushing, as his practice stretched for hundreds of miles. He became known as the “dog team doctor” for traveling by dog sled throughout the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta in the course of his work.

When his term of missionary service was complete Dr. Romig left Bethel, and in the following decades he played an eventful and important role in the growth of Alaska. In the 1920’s Dr. Romig set up a hospital in Nenana for the Alaska Railroad. In 1930, he was asked to head the Alaska Railroad Hospital in Anchorage. He would eventually be, in addition to a missionary and a doctor, a superintendent of schools, U.S. Commissioner, mayor of Anchorage (1937-38).

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 9.50.37 AMIn 1939, Dr. Romig was appointed chief surgeon at Anchorage’s newly constructed state-of-the-art Providence Hospital, but he retired shortly thereafter, and purchased land on what would later be called Romig Hill. From his log cabin on the property, he started a “Board of Directors” club which eventually provided the founding members of the Anchorage Rotary Club. In the 1950’s and ’60’s Romig Ski Hill was a popular recreation area for Anchorage and provided a tow rope, lighted trails, a regulation jump, Quonset hut for warming up, and an intercom system which played polka music for the skiers.

dtdJoseph and Emily Romig moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado, where Joseph died in 1951. Although he was originally buried in Colorado, his remains were later disinterred and moved to Alaska to be buried in the family plot in Anchorage Memorial Park. J. H. Romig Junior High School, named in his honor for his dedication to youth and education and later renamed Romig Middle School, was built on Romig Hill in 1964.

Dr. Romig’s life story and his adventures in southwest Alaska became the subject of a book, Dog-Team Doctor: The Story of Dr. Romig, by Eva Greenslit Anderson, published in 1940.

Sled Dog TalesThis story is excerpted from the new book Alaskan Sled Dog Tales, which will be published May 14, 2016; advance orders are available now. All advance ordered copies will be signed by the author, Helen Hegener; after May 14 books will be shipped directly from the publisher and will not be signed. Alaskan Sled Dog Tales, by Helen Hegener. $24.95 plus $5.00 shipping & handling. 320 pages, 6′ x 9″ b/w format, includes maps, charts, bibliography, indexed. Click this link to order.

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The Parks-Archer Colony Barn

The Parks/Archer barn is a familiar landmark in the Bodenburg Loop Road area, being two Colony barns placed end-to-end. In this photo the barn on the left is the Parks barn, built on tract no. 189, and the barn on the right is the Archer barn, moved from tract no. 193. (Photos by Helen Hegener/Northern Light Media)

The Parks/Archer barn is a familiar landmark in the Bodenburg Loop Road area, being two Colony barns placed end-to-end. In this photo the barn on the left is the Parks barn, built on tract no. 189, and the barn on the right is the Archer barn, moved from tract no. 193. (Photos by Helen Hegener/Northern Light Media)

In 1935 the U.S. Government transported 200 families from the Great Depression-stricken midwest to a valley of unparalleled beauty in Alaska, where they were given the chance to begin new lives as part of a federally-funded social experiment, the Matanuska Colony Project. As part of each family’s farmstead, a magnificent barn was raised, a sturdy square structure 32′ by 32′ and soaring 32′ high. Today these Colony barns are an iconic reminder of what has been called the last great pioneering adventure in America.

In my book, The Matanuska Colony Barns (Northern Light Media, 2013), I shared the individual histories of many of the Colony barns. The Parks and Archer barns were built on adjoining 80 acre tracts, numbers 189 and 193, respectively. Lynn Sandvik explained to the author, “They moved the Archer barn north and put them together and did quite a bit of work on them about 20 years ago, for some kind of centennial something, but then they forgot about them again.”

In a letter to the author, Valley historian Jim Fox related a little of the Parks family history from an interview with daughter Bonita Parks Strong: “Many of the farmers in the Butte had sheep, selling their wool to Pendleton in Washington or Minnesota woolen mills, often getting blankets and winter clothes in exchange along with some cash. The Parks family had a big flock which they drove up into the mountains to the north in the summer, an 18 to 20 mile trip…”

In front of the Archer barn, the Parks barn can be seen in the distance, along with Bodenburg Butte. Glen Archer’s great grandmother Lillian Post wrote near it, “Perle Archer thinks he can handle his big bull. One day it took many to handle him.”

In front of the Archer barn, the Parks barn can be seen in the distance, along with Bodenburg Butte. Glen Archer’s great grandmother Lillian Post wrote near it, “Perle Archer thinks he can handle his big bull. One day it took many to handle him.”

Glen Archer, a grandson of Colonists Perle and Dorothy Archer, wrote to the author, “My sister and I grew up listening to our father, Floyd Archer, tell stories about growing up in the Matanuska Valley and homesteading there and how his parents, Perle and Dorothy Archer, moved the family from Wisconsin to Alaska. He was only 18 months old… there were six children including my father in the family. My father still has lots of memories of life in Alaska, going to school, playing with the Colony kids, and all the hard work and long winters.”

The barn in the foreground is the Otto Peterson barn, the one in the center of the photo would be the Archer barn. The Parks barn was just out of the photo on the left side.

The barn in the foreground is the Otto Peterson barn, the one in the center of the photo would be the Archer barn. The Parks barn was just out of the photo on the left side.

“About 12 years ago, I inherited from my father the old family album filled with pictures of the homestead and family in Alaska. Among the pictures is a picture of the Archer barn, more pictures of the chicken coop, farm animals, the fields, as well as the house. All of the pictures appear to have been taken by my great grandparents (Dorothy’s parents) during their trip to visit Perle, Dorothy and the six kids, in 1939, which would have been well after Perle and Dorothy were selected as part of the 200 plus families and moved to Palmer.”

In another letter to the author and friends, Glen Archer shared some of the family history after a visit with his father: “Dad said yesterday that the original house was a nice fairly large two story log house which had a full basement. It had been insulated with what he remembers as oakum, which he described as fibers saturated with a tar like substance. Somehow, two or three years after being built, his older siblings Betty and Bob one day caught the insulation on fire and the house burned to the ground. Dad said that grandpa (Perle) was very sad about the whole experience as he had really put his heart and soul into building that place and was proud of it. According to Dad, Grandpa was one of the few individuals who truly knew how to build and taught others to build. He was a general contractor for decades after they returned to the states. Grandpa also apparently started a sawmill which employed others so they could have access to milled lumber and was instrumental in building Fort Richardson.”

Parks/Archer barn. Photo by Stewart Amgwert, Wasilla.

Parks/Archer barn. Photo by Stewart Amgwert, Wasilla.

This post is an excerpt from the new book The Matanuska Colony Barns, by Helen Hegener, published by Northern Light Media, May 2013.

Barns Buy Now• The Matanuska Colony Barns: The Enduring Legacy of the 1935 Matanuska Colony Project, by Helen Hegener, photographs by Eric Vercammen, Stewart Amgwert, Albert Marquez, Dave Rose, Joanie Juster, Ron Day and others. Foreword by Barbara Hecker. Introduction by James H. Fox. 140 pages, full color. ISBN 978-0-9843977-4-7. Includes Colonist families listing, maps, bibliography, resources, index. List price $29.00.

Order from the publisher or from your local bookstore via IndieBound. Also available at Amazon. To order via check or money order, mail to Northern Light Media, Post Office Box 298023, Wasilla, Alaska 99629. To order from the author via credit card or Paypal, CLICK HERE and send payment to


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John “Iron Man” Johnson

Best HeadlineIn 1910, a Scottish nobleman who lived in Nome, Fox Maule Ramsey, crossing the Bering Strait to Siberia and purchased 70 Siberian racing huskies. In that year’s All Alaska Sweepstakes race, a 408-mile run from Nome to Candle and return, Ramsay’s dogs won 1st, 2nd and 4th places, with the first place team driven John “Iron Man” Johnson with his peerless lead dog Kolyma setting the pace. Named for the great Kolyma River in northeastern Siberia, the striking black-and-white blue-eyed Siberian husky was Johnson’s favorite, and his constant companion.



At one point in the race, crossing the aptly-named “Death Valley,” Johnson became snow-blind, strapped himself to his dogsled, and relied on Kolyma to keep the team on the trail. Upon winning the race Johnson was given a traditional victory wreath, but he took it off and placed the wreath on Kolyma, saying, “I did not win the race, this leader won it!”

John “Iron Man” Johnson was a musher of great renown in early Alaska, having won the 1910 All Alaska Sweepstakes race with an elapsed time of 74 hours, 14 minutes, 37 seconds, setting a record which would not be broken until the Centennial running in 2008, at a time when dogs were better bred, better fed, and better cared for on the trail.

“‘Iron Man’ of Arctic and Savage Huskies Leave Wilds to See Land of Soft Delights” ~1915 newspaper headline

oie_2292438Xd2iVfY5San Francisco, Cal., Jan. 9, 1915 John Johnson, “The Iron Man of Alaska,” and his pack of $30,000 Siberian wolf dogs, winners of the All Alaska Sweepstakes race, have come down here to loaf a little while in the land of soft delights. With Johnson is Bill Brady, another celebrity of the “land that God forgot,” and his string of huskies, valued at $20,000.

John and Bill and their shaggy canine friends were a little shy and awkward when they tromped down the gangplank at the wharf here. Asphalt streets and skyscrapers were strange to feet and eyes accustomed to snows and the long, hard trails.

Lean and hard they were, both men and dogs, their bodies stripped to the fighting weight of bare muscle and sinew the Northland demands of its creatures. An extra pound of flesh may weigh like a ton in the strenuous sport. Johnson does not sleep. Only a few mouthfuls of food pass his lips, and scarcely any water. The dogs run the grueling race under the same conditions. In 1910 when he won his first Sweepstakes, John Johnson did not once stop to rest. This year he allowed himself a few minutes in breathing spells, finding that the short pauses benefitted him and his dogs. The man who can do that is quite naturally the idol of his fellows on the other side of ’53.

The dogs, too, come in for their share of worship–Those who live to drag themselves to the winning post. The drivers in the All-Alaska race, inaugurated by the Nome Kennel Club in 1908, may go as they please. The only condition is that they bring in every dog, dead or alive, with which they started. In one of his races Johnson finished in spectacular fashion with three exhausted dogs and one dead on his sled.

with Kolyma and Jodi

With leaders Kolyma and Jodi

His record for the 408-mile course never beaten is 74 hours and 14 minutes, which is remarkable time when the rough country over which the trail leads is considered. On the way Johnson feeds his wolf hounds biscuits made of graham flour, eggs, cream and sugar, only small portions being doled out to sustain their fires of endurance.

“You can’t get over the country on a full stomach,” explained the greatest of northern dog mushers.

While in San Francisco, where Johnson and Brady expect to stage Alaskan dog-racing scenes at the 1915 exposition, the $50,000 beauties will be fed on a fish diet until they get accustomed to the rations of bread, milk, and biscuit it is intended to substitute after a time.

This is Johnson’s first visit to San Francisco in 10 years. Formerly he often made this port as a sailor, having graduated from the foc’scle to champion dog driver a decade ago.

~ ~ ~

oie_d9bitPyLMAKhLake Tahoe’s Winter Carnivals were much-anticipated and popular events in the early 1900’s, and while dog sledding and racing began during winter carnivals in the late 1890’s, the first and official sled dog race in the continental U.S. was reportedly held in Truckee, California, in 1915. Bert Cassidy, editor of the Truckee Republican (Sierra Sun), described the event: “Crowds of people had been arriving in Truckee on each train… all hotel accommodations had long since been taken… movie cameramen were legion… all the bigger papers had sent sports editors.”

After arriving in Seattle  with his dog team during the latter part of 1914, John Johnson traveled to San Francisco to enter some races and display his dogs at various shows.  He and his team entered the race in Truckee, and were billed as an All Alaska Sweepstakes champion team of “Siberian Wolf Dogs” competing against a team of “Huskies” driven by Ed Parker, and a team of Malamutes driven by Bill Brady.


Jack London and John “Iron Man” Johnson at Truckee, California, 1915

Johnson was photographed with the famed novelist Jack London, a spectator at the event who would return to the area twenty years later for the filming of the movie version of his book, The Call of the Wild. While at Truckee, Johnson and his dogteam would be  featured in a movie titled “The Deathlock,” a silent film by the Mutual Film Corp. starring Fred J. Butler, Wilma Wilkie, and David W. Butler in a story of Alaskan prospecting, gambling, claim jumping, and of course, romance.

A Swedish Finn who was born in Åbo, Finland in 1871, John “Iron Man” Johnson never raced again after the 1914 All Alaska Sweepstakes, except for the short exhibition race in Truckee, California in January, 1915 (he won it.) He later became a deckhand on a trading ship plying the Bering Sea waters. In the 1920 census for Nome, Alaska, John Johnson’s age was given as 48, his home was listed as Cape Nome, and his occupation as a seaman – coastwise.

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1910 All Alaska Sweepstakes winning team, driven by John “Iron Man” Johnson

This article is excerpted from Alaskan Sled Dog Tales, by Helen Hegener, published in May, 2016 by Northern Light Media.

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A Look Between the Covers

Sled Dog TalesThe newest book from Northern Light Media, Alaskan Sled Dog Tales, is in the final proofing stage before indexing the book, and I thought a peek between the covers might be fun for readers looking forward to this book. Here, then, are a few page shots from the layout in production (below).

Alaskan Sled Dog Tales will be published May 14, 2016; advance orders are available now. All advance ordered copies will be signed by the author, Helen Hegener; after May 14 books will be shipped directly from the publisher and will not be signed. Alaskan Sled Dog Tales, by Helen Hegener. $24.95 plus $5.00 shipping & handling. 320 pages, 6′ x 9″ b/w format, includes maps, charts, bibliography, indexed. Click this link to order.







Sled Dog TalesAlaskan Sled Dog Tales will be published May 14, 2016; advance orders are available now. All advance ordered copies will be signed by the author, Helen Hegener; after May 14 books will be shipped directly from the publisher and will not be signed. Alaskan Sled Dog Tales, by Helen Hegener. $24.95 plus $5.00 shipping & handling. 320 pages, 6′ x 9″ b/w format, includes maps, charts, bibliography, indexed. Click this link to order.





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Alaskan Sled Dog Tales

Tales coverThe history of Alaska was in large part written behind a team of sled dogs.

“These trustworthy creatures could be relied upon to do the heavy work, while remaining—as Hegener eloquently reminds us—our most treasured friends.” David Fox, for the Anchorage Press

Alaskan Sled Dog Tales shares the important history of sled dogs in Alaska and how they were an integral part of events such as the 1925 Serum Run to Nome, explorations of the land before there were roads or railroads, and tells of the thrilling adventures of legendary mushers such as Leonhard Seppala, Scotty Allan, ‘Iron Man” Johnson and many others. These stories, however, are not just tales of the well-known and heroic mushers, but also of lesser-known dog drivers whose day-to-day lives were spent on the trails, behind a team of trusted sled dogs.

Included are stories such as Alaskan mail carrier Eli Smith’s epic trip to Washington, D.C., Alaska Nellie’s daring rescue of a lost mail carrier, the Rev. Samuel Hall Young’s 1913 trip over the Iditarod Trail, and Territorial Judge James Wickersham’s 1901 dogsled trip down the frozen Yukon River from Eagle to Rampart.

Crack-dog-teamDozens of old photographs and postcards are included, along with the entire booklet published by Esther Birdsall Darling in 1916, titled The Great Dog Races of Nome, which details the first eight years of the All Alaska Sweepstakes race, from 1908 to 1916.

Alaskan Sled Dog Tales: True Stories of the Steadfast Companions of the North Country, by Helen Hegener. $24.95 plus $5.00 shipping & handling. 320 pages, 6′ x 9″ b/w format, includes maps, charts, bibliography, indexed. Click this link to order.


screen-shot-2016-06-12-at-9-55-34-pm“Relying upon material written from the late 1890s through the early ‘30s, [Hegener] catalogues how sled dogs provided Alaskan residents the ability to traverse enormous distances, deliver critical supplies and maintain communication from within and outside Alaska. The episodes she recounts are stirring, filled with human and animal bravery. Some are simply mind-boggling, filling the reader with awe and enormous respect for dog and driver alike.” David Fox, in the Anchorage Press

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