1973 Iditarod, The First Race

“W. A. Dikeman and Charles Peterson reported by Iditarod Nugget as “First Mushers Over the Iditarod Trail: Taking 45 Days from Seward to Otter, they meet several others on the trail including Harry Johnson and Bob Griffis.” (Iditarod Nugget, December 28, 1910)

1973 map of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, from the Anchorage Daily News files

1973 map of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, from the Anchorage Daily News

The first chapter of the newest book from Northern Light Media, The First Iditarod: Mushers’ Tales from the 1973 Race, by Helen Hegener, shares the history of the Iditarod Trail:

“Before there was an Iditarod Trail there were shorter routes and trails used by the Native peoples of the land; the Dena’ina and Deg Hit’an Athabaskan Indians of south-central Alaska, and the Inupiaq and Yup’ik Eskimos farther north. They were not mushing trails, however. The early peoples viewed dogs as useful for tracking game and sometimes hauling travois-like sleds, but mushing teams of dogs as we know it came later, during the gold rush of the late 1800s, when the prospectors and miners needed a reliable mode of transportation and freight hauling.”

The book details how gold was discovered in Nome, Fairbanks, and near Ruby, recounts the first official scouting of the trail in the winter of 1908 by a four-person crew headed by Colonel Walter L. Goodwin, and then reports a strike was made at Iditarod:

“On Christmas day, 1908, two prospectors, William A. Dikeman and John Beaton, both veterans of the Klondike gold rush, discovered gold near the Iditarod River. The last great gold rush was on, and between 1910 and 1912, 10,000 gold seekers came to Alaska’s ‘Inland Empire,’ taking $30 million worth of gold from the ground.”

The book continues:

“In 1910 the Alaska Road Commission once again sent Colonel Walter L. Goodwin to follow the Iditarod Trail, this time brushing and mapping the route with ten men and 42 dogs in six dog teams. Starting from Nome on November 9, 1910, they surveyed and recorded the trail, and located potential sites for roadhouses, keeping a log of the distances covered with cyclometers attached to the sides of their dogsleds. Goodwin and his men reached Seward on February 25, 1911, having blazed the Seward to Nome Mail Trail, as it was then known.”

The book shares the history of mail carriers on the Iditarod Trail, the First Annual Iditarod Sweepstakes Race in 1910, the glory days of the trail when hundreds of thousands of dollars in gold traveled over it, the 1925 Serum Run to Nome on the northern section of the trail, the trail’s fall into disuse, the reclaiming of the trail by Joe Redington Sr. and the U.S. Army, and how Joe and Vi Redington helped the Iditarod Trail became a part of the National Historic Trails system.

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

Published in March, 2015 by Northern Light Media. 154 pages. ISBN-13 978-0-9843977-6-1 Format 6″ x 9″ perfect bound, text only, no photos. $20.00 plus $5.00 shipping and handling to U.S. addresses only. Additional postage required for foreign orders.

Postal orders can be mailed to Northern Light Media, Post Office Box 298023, Wasilla, Alaska 99629. Thank you!

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About Helen Hegener

I write books about Alaskan history, and titles currently available include Alaskan Roadhouses, The First Iditarod, The All Alaska Sweepstakes, The Yukon Quest Trail, The Matanuska Colony Barns, and others. I am currently researching and writing a book on the early history and construction of the Alaska Railroad. You can contact me via email at helenhegener@gmail.com
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