Along Alaskan Trails

Along Alaskan Trails, Adventures in Sled Dog History, by Helen Hegener, is a collection of true stories about Alaskan sled dogs and the role they played in the development of the north, with dozens of historic photos from the archives of the Alaska State Library, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and other sources.

The history of Alaska was in large part written behind a team of sled dogs. Or, more accurately, thousands of teams of sled dogs. Man’s dependence on these canine workhorses of the north can be seen in photo after photo: A dog team carrying passengers on the Richardson Trail, a dog team hauling freight across the Iditarod Trail, two dog teams loaded with the U.S. Mail and bound for Anchorage from Seward, a dog team on patrol from Fort Gibbon near Eagle, a dog team making its way along the frozen Yukon River to the next missionary stopover…

Among the tales shared in this book is the story of an intrepid Japanese musher who blazed a wide swath across Alaska, an Archdeacon who wrote the classic Ten Thousand Miles with a Dogsled, legendary mushers such as Scotty Allan and Leonhard Seppala, Arctic explorers like Ernest de Koven Leffingwell, and intrepid adventurers like Slim Williams and Mary Joyce.

U.S. Mail team on the Yukon River. Photo: University of Alaska Fairbanks, John Zug Collection UAF 1980-68-252

And the dogs! From Baldy to Balto, Togo to Wolf, Chinook to Rembrandt, these are the dogs who blazed across Alaskan trails and into the history books. From the fiercely-argued conflict between sled dogs and reindeer, to the spooky apparitions along the Iditarod Trail, this book captures the fascinating stories of the dogs of the north.

The history of Alaska would be very different without the criss-crossing trails of thousands of sled dog teams. Sifting through hundreds of photos of Alaskan dog teams makes clear their important role in the history of the northland. Before cars and trucks, there were sled dogs. Before ships, trains, and airplanes, there were sled dogs. In every part of this great land, from the misty fjords of southeastern Alaska to the farthest northern tip of the continent, sled dogs were the most dependable – and often the only – form of transportation. The dog team made travel and moving loads over otherwise impassable trails possible. In The Cruelest Miles (2003, W.W. Norton & Co.) Gay and Laney Salisbury wrote: “On the Alaskan trail, sled dogs becsme partners in a game of survival. Drivers depended on their dogs so that they could make a living as freighters, mailmen, and trappers, and relied on the animals’ skill and intelligence to get them safely across the rough, dangerous terrain.”

mail sled dog team

Ben Atwater arriving at Lake Bennet from Circle City with U.S. Mail, 1909.

Now their stories are gathered and shared in this splendid collection of well-researched essays and historic photographs.

Along Alaskan Trails, Adventures in Sled Dog History, by Helen Hegener. Published in July, 2012 by Northern Light Media (ISBN 978-0-9843977-2-3). Available from Amazon and other online book sellers, or through your favorite local bookstore.

About Helen Hegener

Author and publisher, Northern Light Media and Alaskan History Magazine.
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