The Alabama Claims

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Tzar Alexander II’s ratification of the Treaty

There is a wealth of Alaskan history in the old books and documents which are digitized and online, available to read, download, save to your Kindle or other device, or otherwise enjoy in multiple formats. The Library of Congress has an astonishing collection of historic documents, as expected, including Alaska-specific volumes such as the Treaty concerning the cession of the Russian possessions in North America by His Majesty the emperor of all the Russias to the United States of America (1867), a 1967 facsimile of the limited official edition of the original Treaty of Cession. You can read the text-only version over at the Yale Law Library, or in the Harvard Classics at Bartleby, and there’s a transcribed photo version at the Alaska State Library.

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The signing of the Alaska Treaty of Cessation on March 30, 1867. L–R: Robert S. Chew, William H. Seward, William Hunter, Mr. Bodisco, Eduard de Stoeckl, Charles Sumner, and Frederick W. Seward.

The history behind the treaty was reported on the front page of newspapers across the U.S., such as this leading article from The New York Tribune for April 1, 1867 (top of the fifth column). The history is also well explained at Wikipedia: “The Alaska Purchase (Russian: Продажа Аляски, tr. Prodazha Alyaski, Sale of Alaska) was the United States’ acquisition of Alaska from the Russian Empire. Alaska was formally transferred to the United States on October 18, 1867, through a treaty ratified by the United States Senate and signed by President Andrew Johnson.”

The article continues with the history, public opinion about the purchase, the transfer ceremony, the aftermath, and much more, including their always-valuable references, further reading, and external links. While some people dismiss Wikipedia itself as a resource, I find the additional resources Wikipedia freely shares to be of utmost value, and the best reason to keep it among my bookmarked research sources. As an example, a linked reference under See Also led me to the “Alabama Claims, the US demands for British reparations after the Civil War, which Seward thought would lead to the cession of western Canada.”


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Painting of the CSS Alabama

I’d heard the term before, but I didn’t know the history, so I was surprised to learn that our Secretary Seward had higher aims than just Alaska: “The Alabama Claims were a series of demands for damages sought by the government of the United States from the United Kingdom in 1869, for the attacks upon Union merchant ships by Confederate Navy commerce raiders built in British shipyards during the American Civil War. The claims focused chiefly on the most famous of these raiders, the CSS Alabama, which took more than sixty prizes before she was sunk off the French coast in 1864.”

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Sen. Charles Sumner, MA

“Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, originally wanted to ask for $2 billion in damages, or alternatively, the ceding of Canada to the United States. When American Secretary of State William H. Seward negotiated the Alaska Purchase in 1867, he intended it as the first step in a comprehensive plan to gain control of the entire northwest Pacific Coast. Seward was a firm believer in “Manifest Destiny”, primarily for its commercial advantages to the United States. Seward expected the West Coast Province of British Columbia to seek annexation to the United States and thought Britain might accept this in exchange for the Alabama claims. Soon other U.S. politicians endorsed annexation, with the goal of annexing British Columbia, the central Canadian Red River Colony (later Manitoba), and eastern Nova Scotia, in exchange for dropping the damage claims.”

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US Secretary of State William H. Seward

It’s all quite fascinating, and if you’ve read this far you should click here and read the entire article to learn why the claim was dropped without our annexing a large part of Canada. There are also many interesting links to references, a bibliography, and external links which lead to books, articles, newspaper accounts, and much more. One link took me to another particularly interesting online book, Great Britain and the American Civil War, and another to a detailed breakdown of the Alabama Claims and their “final and amicable settlement,” written in 1871.

In my opinion the best book about the entire affair is the 1900 book written by Thomas Willing Balch titled simply The Alabama Arbitration. It is available to read or download free at The Internet Archive.

There are also good articles at:

• History.com

•  Office of the Historian for the U.S. Department of State

JSTOR “The arbitration which led to this result has been described as one which, whether measured by the gravity of the questions at issue or by the enlightened statesmanship which conducted them to a peaceful determination, was justly regarded as the greatest the world had ever seen.” -JB Moore, History and Digest of the International Arbitrations to which the United States has been a Party (Washington, 1898)

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Alabama sinks the whaler Virginia 


Alaskan History Magazine • 1 year subscription

A one year subscription to Alaskan History Magazine is six bimonthly issues, featuring well-researched stories of the people, places and events which shaped the history of Alaska from prehistory to Statehood. Full color, no advertising, 48 pages per issue. Back issues are always available.

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Togo’s Serum Run

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Leonhard Seppala and Togo

As the worldwide fight against the coronavirus goes on we are reminded almost daily that pandemics and epidemics have happened before, and we have struggled through them with far fewer resources and much less medical and scientific knowledge than we have now. That is a very real comfort, and lends a bit of perspective to what we are facing. One such epidemic was a deadly diphtheria outbreak which raged across Alaska almost 100 years ago.

The gold rush town of Nome was still the largest town in the northern half of Alaska in 1925, with a population of around 1,500 souls. When the Bering Sea froze over the only link to the rest of the world was the Iditarod Trail, which ran 938 miles from the port of Seward, across several mountain ranges and through the vast Interior of the territory before reaching Nome. Mail and supplies were customarily transported by train to Nenana, and then freighted by dog team 675 miles from Nenana to Nome, a journey which normally took 25 days.

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Nome, Alaska, 1925

In January, 1925, the town’s only doctor, Dr. Curtis Welch, witnessed a series of alarming deaths of his young patients, and on January 22 he sent the following telegram to Governor Scott Bone in Juneau, and to all the major towns in Alaska: “An epidemic of diphtheria is almost inevitable here STOP I am in urgent need of one million units of diphtheria antitoxin STOP Mail is only form of transportation STOP I have made application to Commissioner of Health of the Territories for antitoxin already STOP There are about 3000 white natives in the district.”

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“Togo” L. Seppala’s Racing leader – Nome Serum Run

By January 24 there were two more fatalities, and at a meeting of the board of health that same day, superintendent Mark Summers of the Hammon Consolidated Gold Fields proposed a dogsled relay, using two fast teams. One would start at Nenana and the other at Nome, and they would meet at Nulato. The trip from Nenana to Nome normally took 30 days, although the record was nine. Welch calculated that the serum would only last six days under the brutal conditions of the trail. Summers’ employee, the Norwegian Leonhard Seppala, was chosen for the 630-mile round trip from Nome to Nulato and back. He had previously made the run from Nome to Nulato in a record-breaking four days, won the All-Alaska Sweepstakes three times, and had become something of a legend for his athletic ability and rapport with his Siberian huskies. His lead dog, the 12-year-old Togo, was equally famous for his leadership, intelligence, and ability to sense danger.

Nome Mayor Maynard proposed flying the antitoxin by aircraft, but the only planes operating in Alaska in 1925 were three vintage biplanes which were dismantled for the winter, had open cockpits, and had water-cooled engines that were unreliable in cold weather. While potentially quicker, the board of health rejected the aircraft option and voted unanimously for the dogsled relay. Seppala was notified that evening and immediately started preparations for the trip. While the first batch of serum was traveling to Nenana, Governor Bone gave final authorization to the dog relay, but ordered Edward Wetzler, the U.S. Post Office inspector, to arrange a relay of the best drivers and dogs across the Interior; the majority of the relay mushers selected were native Athabaskan U.S. mail carriers, widely acknowledged to be the best dog mushers in Alaska. The teams would travel day and night until they handed off the package to Seppala at Nulato.

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Map of the Serum Run from The Cruelest Miles, by Gay and Laney Salisbury (W.W.Norton & Co., 2003)

The mail route from Nenana to Nome followed the Tanana River for 137 miles to the junction with the Yukon River, and then followed the Yukon for 230 miles to Kaltag. The route turned west, 90 miles over the Kaltag Portage to Unalakleet on the shore of Norton Sound, then continued for 208 miles northwest around the southern shore of the Seward Peninsula and 42 harrowing miles across the shifting ice of the Bering Sea, for a total distance of 675 miles.

The serum transfer points were Tolovana, Manley Hot Springs, Fish Lake, Tanana, Kallands, Nine Mile Cabin, Kokrines, Ruby, Whiskey Creek, Galena, Bishop Mountain, Nulato, Kaltag, Old Woman Shelter, Unalakleet, Shaktoolik, Golovin, Bluff, and Nome. And all along the trail were roadhouses which gave the drivers brief opportunity to warm the serum and themselves: the Tolovana Roadhouse, the Minto roadhouse, the Manley Roadhouse, the Eskimo Roadhouse at Isaac’s Point, Shaktoolik Roadhouse, Dexter’s Roadhouse, the Olson Roadhouse, the Solomon Roadhouse, the Bluff Roadhouse, the Port Safety Roadhouse. Links in a thin chain winding across northwestern Alaska, providing brief intervals of safety and protection to the mushers and their dogs.

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Leonhard Seppala’s racing Siberian Husky team

The story of the 1925 Serum Run was detailed in a bestselling book by cousins Gay and Laney Salisbury, The Cruelest Miles (W.W. Norton & Co., 2003), but the most compelling recounting was given in a book which had been written 73 years earlier, by the famous Alaskan musher Leonhard Seppala, who carried the serum over the treacherous ice of Norton Sound. This is an excerpt from the final chapter of Seppala: Alaskan Dog Driver, by Elizabeth Ricker (Little, Brown & Co., 1930), which Seppala wrote as a tribute to his intrepid lead dog, Togo:

The Commissioner had asked me to get off without delay. He explained that such serum as they had was several years old, and with the epidemic steadily increasing they were in dire need of a new supply. I singled the dogs out one by one; naturally not one wanted to be left behind. Twenty were chosen. I planned to drop some of them off along the way, to be cared for at Eskimo igloos until the return trip, when we could substitute the fresh dogs for the tired ones. Also, if any of them showed any signs of weakness or sore feet, they would have a chance to rest up and be in good condition for the home stretch. I intended to leave twelve dogs by the way, arriving in Nulato with a team of eight. I should hardly need more, as I was told the package containing the serum was very light. With fresh reinforcement on the way back I should be able to drive day and night. Thus I picked out the twenty best dogs, though at the time all were on their best behavior, raising their paws politely and pleading to be taken. A dog named Fox was left as leader for the cull team, which was to continue hauling supplies during our absence and was composed of dogs too slow to be of much use in a fast run.

The people of Nome gave us a great send-off. They knew it was a long, hazardous trip, and they realized what a word of encouragement would mean. The first day we made about thirty-three miles, and from then on the team warmed up to the work and averaged fifty miles and over every day. We passed two villages where there were government schools for Eskimo children, and I told the teachers about the epidemic, advising them to close the school, to keep the children in quarantine, and away from people passing from Nome.

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Dogteam crossing Norton Sound.

We were lucky in having favorable weather, and the trails were at their best. According to plan, some of the dogs were left along the way to be cared for while the rest of us pushed on. On the third day we arrived at Isaac’s Point, where we stopped with an Eskimo family, having covered a hundred and thirty miles since leaving Nome. The next day we started off for Shaktoolik, a native village on the south side of the Bay. It was late by the time we set out over the ice of Norton Bay. We could see it was blowing hard out on the Bay, and with the north wind at our backs we were sure to make good time. The team would deserve a good rest at the end of the day, and surely I should welcome it as well as the dogs. Having crossed the ice, and being just in sight of our destination for the day, we scented another dog team and struck out with a great spurt. As we came up I could see that the driver was busy refereeing a dog fight. With a word of greeting to the man, I was about to pass by when he called to me. In the wind, and with my parka hood up over my ears, I got only three words” “serum–turn back.”

I thought I must have misunderstood, but when I looked back over my shoulder I saw the other driver waving his arm. I called to Togo to “gee,” but he couldn’t. The other dogs were still on the spurt, and I had to run about a mile further on before I could slow the team down and turn them. We came to a stretch of hard snow, where I was able to get the dogs under control. Though they hated to, they followed Togo. When we reached the other team a package was tossed into my sled and the stranger handed me a paper which proved to be the instructions accompanying the serum. The young dogs in my team began acting disgracefully, wanting to pick a quarrel with the strange team. Their driver explained that after I had passed out of telephone communication the epidemic had increased so alarmingly that the officials had decided to speed the serum by short relays running night and day. Thus I had reached the serum after traveling only a hundred and seventy miles, instead of the three hundred for which I had originally planned.

We had had a hard day, covering forty-three miles with the wind at our backs. But the return was even harder. The gale was in our faces, the temperature was thirty below, and we had the forty-three miles to do over again in the dark. There was nothing for it but to face the music. The dogs did their best, and I drove as if we were in a race. The ice of Norton Sound is notoriously treacherous: it has a habit of shifting and breaking up, so that before travelers know it they have gone for miles on a loose ice-cake with open water on all sides, slowly but surely being blown out into the Bering Sea.

In spite of these unpleasant prospects, we managed to reach Isaac’s Point, and after a drive of nearly ninety miles the team were grateful for a brief rest in a comfortable kennel. They were wild for their rations of salmon and seal blubber. After they were fed I went into the igloo and read over the instructions. They called for the serum to be warmed up at each station. Accordingly I pulled the sled inside, and undid the fur and canvas wrapped around the package. I found the serum was sealed up in paper cartons, and as I saw nothing about breaking the seals I instructed the Eskimo to make the igloo good and hot and left the package exposed to the heat. As I looked it over and felt of it I was convinced that if it was a liquid it must have been frozen in the severe cold, though we had protected it as well as possible. I doubted if the heat could penetrate the paper cartons, but I had taken off the last wrapping which I was authorized to touch.

When I had allowed as much time as we could spare I came out to the dogs and began putting them back on the line. An old Eskimo stood by as we hitched up, and observing the increase in the wind he cautioned me: “Maybe ice not much good. Maybe breaking off and go out. Old trail plenty no good. Maybe you go more closer shore.” I thanked him and followed his suggestion, taking a trail further in. At that, we came within a few feet of open water, as the trail over which we had traveled only the day before had broken off and drifted far out into the Bering Sea.

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Nome, Alaska

During the afternoon we pulled into Cheenik Village, where another driver was waiting with his relay team. We had traveled in all three hundred and forty miles in the interest of the serum. No other relay made more than fifty-three miles. After delivering the package to the driver at Cheenik, a tired driver and dogs all had a good rest until the next day, when we drove to Solomon and then on into Nome. When we arrived there the whole town seemed to be out to meet us. It was like the winner’s reception after a Sweepstakes race.

News of the diptheria had found its way to the outside papers, and in the States the teams were being followed from day to day by the press. They had become heroes while they were peacefully going on their way, totally unconscious that they were headliners in the press. The last relay team landed the serum in Nome at six o-clock on the morning of the second of February, 1925.

The Serum Drive was Togo’s last long run. In that drive he had worked the hardest and best. I appreciated this, and tried to take the best possible care of the old dog. Togo, in his sixteenth year, seemed content to rest on his laurels. He even posed without fuss for a photograph with his cups and trophies, perhaps imagining himself as he was in the old days. It seemed best to leave him where he could be pensioned and enjoy a well-earned rest. But it was a sad parting on a cold gray March morning when Togo raised a small paw to my knee as if questioning why he was not going along with me. For the first time in twelve years I hit the trail without Togo.

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The 1925 serum run to Nome was also known as the Great Race of Mercy, was a 675 mile dog team relay of diphtheria antitoxin, accomplished by 20 mushers and about 150 sled dogs in only five and a half days, saving the community of Nome from a deadly epidemic. The race became both the most famous event in the history of mushing and the last hurrah for a unique means of transportation which had played a vital role in opening the vast northern territory of Alaska to the world.


Alaskan Sled Dog Tales

Alaskan Sled Dog Tales, True Stories of the Steadfast Companions of the North Country, by Helen Hegener, details the stories of mushers and their dog teams in early Alaska, the explorers, the scientists, the racers, and the long-distance drivers hauling freight, mail, passengers, and gold. Published in 2016 by Northern Light Media. 320 pages, 6′ x 9″ b/w format, includes maps, charts, bibliography, indexed. $24.95 plus $5.00 for First Class shipping.

$29.95



 

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A People at Large

 

Copper-TintsThe following is a chapter from a slim book titled Copper-Tints: A Book of Cordova Sketches, by Katherine Wilson, illustrated by Eustace P. Ziegler, and published in 1923 by the Cordova Daily Times Press.

A People at Large

That more or less indefinite region north of the Yukon known as the Chandalar Country owes its name to one given by the early French-Canadian traders of the Hudson’s Bay Company to the singular native tribes that ranged there. Because these came from none knew where, recognizing no boundaries and taking to themselves no local designations, they were called gens de large––people at large. With peculiar fitness the name applies to all Alaskans, for in more ways than one we are a people at large. Coming from everywhere, we go vagrantly here and there, ranging over a great area. A vast country is ours, and in appropriating it to ourselves we recognize no local limitations. Perhaps this is nowhere more true than with us of the Copper River Delta and Prince William Sound. Here, midway of all adventurings into and out of the Territory, from contact and habit we think in terms of far places. And so, in our common concerns we speak an itinerant tongue.

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by Eustace P. Ziegler, 1922

To us, all the world is divided into two parts: Alaska and Elsewhere. And in reference to either, one talks in none but generalities. That portion of the globe which in a definite and specific way stands for civilization must never be specifically named; far too remote and magical is it for that! Seattle, San Francisco, New York, are never referred to as such, but with grandiose cosmopolitanism as “The Outside.”

Similarly, the country to the north in any direction is “The Interior.” The Tanana, the Koyukuk, the Iditarod, the Kuskokwim or the Porcupine Country, each a remote and vasty section of the great Territory, is definitely enough, Inside. And so with Coast destinations. En route to Anchorage or Kodiak, Nushagak or St. Michaels, a difference of a thousand miles or two one way or the other calls for no special designation; one journeys nonchalantly “to The Westward.” Even a jaunt to Juneau or Ketchikan is “to the Panhandle.” Speaking judiciously, the terms may be varied by reference to the First, Second, or Fourth Division. But to particularize on their respective centers as Sitka, Nome or Fairbanks is to confess a perspective unworthy of any but a chechako!

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by Eustace P. Ziegler, 1922

Long accustomed to measure his journeys by the hundred miles, his time by weeks and months, the real Alaskan is aware only of magnificent distances. Excursions by canoe and dog-team through regions noted only for their part in leading to the place he is bound for, have evolved in him but a passing interest in way-stations. It is a habit of years, which the coming of rapid transit and the consequent shrinking of space have failed to alter. A few hours’ trip by railway to Chitina, Strelna or Kennekott is invariably a run “up the Line,” while to continue to Gulkana or Paxson’s Roadhouse, even by automobile, is to go in ‘over The Trail.” By the same incorrigible vagrancy have the very railway stations been tagged, the place at which the trains stops to take on water or let off a lone prospector bound for his diggings being denoted no more specifically than as Mile 39, Mile 72, or Mile 115!

The truth is that there is an engaging picturesqueness about all this. Alaskan names are in themselves all compact of romance. Traces left by the geography of early navigators and the mixed jargon of sealers and whalers, the marks of the Muskovite and the Oriental, remain in the nomenclature of a land that was an Eldorado long before the Pilgrims stepped on Plymouth Rock. Always the Mecca of adventurers, the country is permeated with the tang of the Seven Seas. To this the modern Alaskan instinctively reacts, his own inordinate love of the wilderness plunging him naturally into the language of Vagabondia.

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by Eustace P. Ziegler, 1922

How long will this continue, who knows? The land is fast taking on the meagerness of civilization. Into it is coming the settler with his stationary mind, his paucity of imagination. And so, in the not too distant future we may see certain transformations. We, too, may have our Smith’s Coves, our Jonesville Crossings, our Schaefer’s Creeks; our Christianias, New Warsaws. Already the signs appear. But for a little while yet the land is ours. And until progress claims it for its own, it is our delight in our speech of it to indulge the inborn romanticism of the pioneer.

~from Copper-Tints: A Book of Cordova Sketches, by Katherine Wilson, illustrated by Eustace P. Ziegler, and published in 1923 by the Cordova Daily Times Press.

The entire book can be read at this Google Books link.

More stories of northland history can be found in:


Alaska and the Klondike: Early Writings and Historic Photographs

"Alaska & the Klondike: Early Writings and Historic Photographs," compiled and edited by Helen Hegener, published in May, 2018 by Northern Light Media. 320 pages, over 100 b/w photos, ISBN-13: 978-1717401991. $24.95 plus $5.00 First Class shipping.

$29.95



 

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The Yukon Quest Trail

YQ logoThe 2020 Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race begins in Fairbanks at 11:00 am on February 1, and runs to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory; the Yukon Quest 300 starts at 3:00 pm the same day and runs to Circle, on the Yukon River. There are many exciting books about the race, and many written by the mushers who have run the race, but one book focuses on the trail between Fairbanks and Whitehorse, highlighting the incredible route followed by those mushers who accept the very real challenge of the Yukon Quest.

Yukon Quest Trail The Yukon Quest Trail: 1,000 Miles Across Northern Alaska and the Yukon Territory, text and photos by Helen Hegener, with additional photographs by Eric Vercammen and Fairbanks-based photographer Scott Chesney, was published in full color in December, 2014 by Northern Light Media. The book also includes detailed Trail Notes for Mushers by two-time Yukon Quest Champion John Schandelmeier.

Screen Shot 2019-12-29 at 3.07.23 PMThe Yukon Quest Trail traces  a captivating journey by hardy mushers and their teams of lionhearted sled dogs, traveling, as the subtitle states, ‘1,000 miles across northern Alaska and the Yukon Territory.’ Over frozen rivers and lakes, across mountain ranges, through “valleys unpeopled and still,” as described by poet Robert Service over a century ago, the sled dog teams are on a quest….

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines ‘quest’ as “a journey made in search of something,” or “a long and difficult effort to find or do something.” In the case of the Yukon Quest there are a lot of possibilities for what that “something” might be. A championship. The fulfillment of a dream. A testing of oneself, and one’s dogs. A trek through some of the most incredible wilderness to be found anywhere. A promise kept. A bucket list checkmarked. A march through history. An accomplishment which few mushers ever achieve.  An achievement to be proud of.

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 1.55.39 PMThe Yukon Quest Trail explains the history and the route of the Yukon Quest, with photographs which give the reader a compelling look at what it’s like to launch out of the starting chute behind a team of lunging huskies, or to be feeding your tired but hungry team when it’s thirty degrees below zero, or to be all alone in a vast mountain valley with only the thin orange-and-black trail markers to show the way. Superlatives become superfluous, but Robert Service found just the right words in his ode to the north country, The Spell of the Yukon:

The winter! the brightness that blinds you,
The white land locked tight as a drum,
The cold fear that follows and finds you,
The silence that bludgeons you dumb.
The snows that are older than history,
The woods where the weird shadows slant;
The stillness, the moonlight, the mystery,
I’ve bade ‘em good-by — but I can’t.

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 1.58.26 PMEvery year a large percentage of the mushers who enter the Yukon Quest are those who have been down this trail before, and over the years, this incredible adventure wraps mushers and dogs together with a traveling road show made up of handlers, vets, volunteers, judges, friends, families, fans and the media, as they all travel from checkpoint to checkpoint along the Yukon Quest trail.

There’s a land where the mountains are nameless,
And the rivers all run God knows where;
There are lives that are erring and aimless,
And deaths that just hang by a hair;
There are hardships that nobody reckons;
There are valleys unpeopled and still;
There’s a land — oh, it beckons and beckons,
And I want to go back — and I will.

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 2.38.15 PMThere are photos of some of the old teams which originally ran these trails, for there is a palpable sense of history inherent in this great race; the mushers and their dogs literally run in the tracks of some of the greatest sled dog drivers of all time.  As the race website notes,”The race is a living memorial to those turn-of-the-century miners, trappers, and mail carriers who opened up the country without benefit of snowmobiles, airplanes, or roads. It was their strength and fortitude that blazed the Trail over which most of the Yukon Quest travels.”

The combination of history, distances, wilderness, and the sheer physical endurance necessary to make the trek captures the imagination like few other sled dog races can, but the country itself, the land the race takes place in, simply captures one’s heart and soul. Robert Service’s epic poem, about a sourdough longing for the country he left behind, puts words to what many who have traveled the Yukon Quest trail still feel today:

There’s gold, and it’s haunting and haunting;
It’s luring me on as of old;
Yet it isn’t the gold that I’m wanting
So much as just finding the gold.
It’s the great, big, broad land ‘way up yonder,
It’s the forests where silence has lease;
It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.

YQ Front CoverThe Yukon Quest Trail: 1,000 Miles Across Northern Alaska and the Yukon Territory, text and photos by Helen Hegener, additional photographs by Eric Vercammen and Scott Chesney; also included: 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″ format, bibliography, indexed. $29.00 (plus $5.00 shipping and handling). Click on the title (or here) to order via PayPal.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Alaska History, Book Reviews, Books, News & Information, Sled Dog Races, Yukon Quest | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Congressional Records & the ARR

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There are a wealth of historic resources at the website for my book on the Alaska Railroad construction from 1902 to 1923. Most of the resources I used in researching the history and writing the book are there.

Link to the 1913 Congressional Report of the Alaska Railroad Commission, on Railway Routes in Alaska.

Alternate Link.

Below is an excerpt from this report, a message from President William H. Taft dated February 6, 1913, in which he explains the purpose and meaning of the commission report.

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oie_2431739Mw7GhIDh(1)Link to the Congressional Report of the Alaskan Engineering Commission for the period from March 12, 1914 to December 31, 1915.

Alternate link.

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1922 Report on The Alaskan Engineering Commission: Its History, Activities and Organization.

Alternate link.

AEC History quote

 

 

 

 

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Read more history: Website for the Book

ARR CoverThe Alaska Railroad: 1902-1923, Blazing an Iron Trail Across The Last Frontier, by Helen Hegener, published in May, 2017 by Northern Light Media. 400 pages, over 100 b/w historic photos, maps, bibliography, indexed. The book can be ordered via PayPal for $24.00 plus $5.00 postage, by clicking here (credit cards accepted). The Alaska Railroad: 1902-1923 is also available at Amazon, and can be ordered through your favorite bookstore.

 

 

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Sled Dog Movies

Last year, 2018, was noted by the Chinese calendar’s zodiac as being the Year of the Dog, but this year, 2019, seems to be the Year of the Sled Dog, as film after film featuring heroic sled dogs is released to movie theaters and home streaming services. There are two movies about the great Serum Run to Nome during the 1925 diphtheria epidemic, one focusing on the champion musher Leonhard Seppala, and the other on his favorite lead dog, Togo. One is an independent production, the other is from the powerhouse film company Disney Studios, but both are absorbing stories, beautifully filmed. Another champion musher, the sprint racing legend George Attla, is the subject of a new PBS documentary, and one of the greatest dog stories of all time is brought to life by a great film legend, Harrison Ford. Pass the popcorn!

~ ~ ~ THE GREAT ALASKAN RACE ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

MV5BNzY2NDFhYzctM2ZmMi00MmU3LWJkOWMtM2UyYzQzYzZmYjQzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTA0NTU3MDYz._V1_UY1200_CR90,0,630,1200_AL_ From the official website for The Great Alaskan Race: “After overcoming personal tragedy, widowed father and champion musher Leonhard ‘Sepp’ Seppala steps up in the midst of a diphtheria outbreak in Nome, Alaska to deliver the anti-toxin to the hospital. With his own child’s life on the line, Sepp battles the impossible, accompanied by his pack of sled dogs.”

Rex Reed in the Observer: “Bruce Davison is the nervous, embattled governor who approves of the race despite growing fear and criticism, and the skeptical antagonist is Henry Thomas (yes, the child from E. T., all grown up and bearded now). Director Presley is very good as Sepp—the strong, virile and indestructible hero. But there’s no getting around the fact that it’s the dogs who steal the picture.” And “The unfailing spirit of survival is captured along with the excellent period costumes, sets and even makeup (the frostbites look too real for words) that are rare for an independent film with a limited budget. Not a perfect film, but breathtaking enough to linger in the memory.”

great-alaskan-race_668_330_80_int_s_c1Frank Scheck for the Hollywood Reporter: “You’d think that the true story of a legendary dog run across Alaska’s frozen tundra nearly 100 years ago to get lifesaving medicine to diphtheria victims would make for compelling drama. Unfortunately, actor tyro director/screenwriter Brian Presley lacks the filmmaking chops to make the tale come alive in his feature debut. Although earnest to a fault and certainly fulfilling its goal of being family-friendly entertainment, The Great Alaskan Race ultimately proves less exciting and not nearly as adorable as Balto, the 1995 animated film inspired by the same events.”

~ ~ ~ TOGO ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

220px-Togo_film_poster  Walt Disney Studios: An Original Movie starring Willem Dafoe and Julianne Nicholson, “Togo” is the untold true story set in the winter of 1925 that treks across the treacherous terrain of the Alaskan tundra for an exhilarating and uplifting adventure that will test the strength, courage and determination of one man, Leonhard Seppala, and his lead sled dog, Togo. The poignant and emotional adventure debuts on Disney+ on Dec. 20, 2019.

Kate Erbland on IndieWire: “Tom Flynn’s screenplay wedges in a hefty amount of fact-based drama (with a few curious tweaks), and while those elements will likely prove less appealing to younger viewers, the human demands and the canine cost of the quest to secure diphtheria-fighting serum during a horrific Alaska winter are the stuff of classic drama. Dafoe stars as legendary breeder and musher Leonhard Seppala (who helped normalize the use of Siberian Huskies beyond their Native American roots) as he sets out on a 600-mile journey to obtain the medicine needed to save the children of his adopted hometown of Nome, Alaska.”

Screen-Shot-2019-12-04-at-10.05.26-AM-800x400Nicola Austin for Geeks Wordwide: “Togo is a character driven tale that focuses primarily on the central “man and his dog” tale rather than the wider race against time (and elements), and it’s all the better for it. The film flits between present day and flashbacks, nicely building up the central bond between Seppala and Togo – recounting his mischievous puppy years in which the musher tried to give him away twice(!), to him finding his heroic place leading the pack. It’s a beautiful bond that will undoubtedly melt the iciest of hearts; you know what they say about the purest love being between grumpy dads and the pets they said they didn’t want!”

~ ~ ~ ATTLA ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Screen Shot 2019-12-07 at 12.36.40 AMFrom the film’s website: A co-production of ITVS & Vision Maker Media, ATTLA tells the gripping but little-known story of George Attla, a charismatic Alaska Native dogsled racer who, with one good leg and fierce determination, became a legendary sports hero in Northern communities around the world. Part dog whisperer, part canny businessman and part heartthrob, Attla rose to international fame during a unique period of history when Western education, economies, and culture penetrated the Alaskan village lifestyle and forever changed the state with the discovery of oil in the late 1960s. Spanning his fifty-year long career, the film tells Attla’s story from his childhood as a tuberculosis survivor in the Alaskan interior, through his rise as ten-time world champion and mythical state hero, to a village elder resolutely training his grandnephew to race his team one last time.

Screen Shot 2019-12-07 at 12.34.45 AMFrom PBS Independent Lens: “ATTLA tells the gripping but little-known story of George Attla, a charismatic Alaska Native dogsled racer who, with one good leg and fierce determination, became a legendary sports hero in Northern communities around the world. Part dog whisperer, part canny businessman and part heartthrob, Attla rose to international fame during a unique period of history when Western education, economies, and culture penetrated the Alaskan village lifestyle and forever changed the state with the discovery of oil in the late 1960s.

“ATTLA weaves George’s remarkable underdog story with the final chapter of his life, as he emerges from retirement to mentor his twenty-year-old grandnephew, Joe Bifelt, who takes a break from college to train with his uncle. With their sights set on reviving proud cultural traditions, the pair embark on a journey to compete in one of the world’s largest dogsled sprint races, one that has seen a steep decline in Native competitors.”

~ ~ ~ THE CALL OF THE WILD ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

Screen Shot 2019-12-07 at 12.47.34 AM  20th Century Fox: Adapted from the beloved literary classic, THE CALL OF THE WILD vividly brings to the screen the story of Buck, a big-hearted dog whose blissful domestic life is turned upside down when he is suddenly uprooted from his California home and transplanted to the exotic wilds of the Alaskan Yukon during the Gold Rush of the 1890s. As the newest rookie on a mail delivery dog sled team–and later its leader–Buck experiences the adventure of a lifetime, ultimately finding his true place in the world and becoming his own master. As a live-action/animation hybrid, THE CALL OF THE WILD employs cutting edge visual effects and animation technology in order to render the animals in the film as fully photorealistic–and emotionally authentic–characters.”

No reviews yet, scheduled for release in February, 2020.

Posted in Alaska History, DVD & Video, Movies, News & Information, Sled Dog History, Sled Dog Races, Videos | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A New Books Site

First six books

I have reworked an old website I built a few years ago and it is now a showcase for my Baker’s Dozen books on Alaskan history. The front page displays all the book covers, and clicking on any book title will take you to an in-depth description and ordering information for that book. Photographs, excerpts, quotes and more from each book can be found on their individual pages, easily accessed from anywhere on the site via the book titles listed in the right sidebar.

Bottom Seven BooksA page about my company, Northern Light Media, and another linking to my new Alaskan History Magazine round out this simple and straightforward book site. It will be a somewhat static site, while this Northern Light Media site will continue to be updated with posts about Alaskan history, my books and book-related activities, and great photographs. Books can be ordered via PayPal from either site. I hope you’ll take a look at my new book site, share the link with friends who may be interested, and bookmark the site for future reference!

Here’s the link again! 

 

 

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Interesting Old Photos

As I’m researching and doing reference work on articles for Alaskan History Magazine I come across many interesting old photographs of Alaska which don’t meet my needs, but which seem worth sharing for those who enjoy the history. I’ll post a few here now and then, and I’ll share more great old photos from time to time at the magazine’s website and on the related Facebook group.

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Wells Fargo Express office, Tanana, 1900.

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The U.S. Lighthouse Service tender Armeria, assigned to Ketchikan, ran aground off Cape Hinchinbrook on 20 May 1912 while delivering supplies for the Cape Hinchinbrook lighthouse.

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Governor’s mansion under construction. Juneau, July 31, 1912. 

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Cabin of Rex Beach, author of ‘The Spoilers,” and “The Silver Horde,” Rampart, date unknown.

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Freighters crossing Thompson Pass north of Valdez, date unknown. 

 

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Old Alaskan Postcards

Nome 1899

Juneau mine

Ft. Gibbon on the Yukon River

Seward birds eye view

Valdez Overland Stage

Nome watching passengers landing

Skagway

Wrangell

Juneau and Gastineau Channel

Nome passengers landing

Valdez

78. Keystone Canyon team

 

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Mush with PRIDE

Mush with PRIDE borderedThe mutually beneficial relationship between sled dogs and people is one of the oldest bonds of its kind. In his essay “A History of Mushing Before We Knew It,” champion musher Tim White wrote of this relationship:

“Sled dogs have coexisted and cooperated in partnership with humans for many thousands of years in the northern regions of North America and Siberia. Archeological evidence puts the earliest date at over 4,000 years ago. Some anthropologists suggest that human habitation and survival in the Arctic would not have been possible without sled dogs.”

Modern sled dog owners are proud of their dogs, and view them as canine athletes that are bred and trained to do what they love to do — that is, run as part of a team. The organization Mush with P.R.I.D.E., established in 1991 as an organization of mushers who were concerned about the care of sled dogs and public perceptions of mushing, supports the responsible care and humane treatment of all dogs, and is dedicated to enhancing the care and treatment of sled dogs in their traditional and modern uses.

YQ Dogs by me

Northern Light Media photo

The abbreviations in the organization’s name, P.R.I.D.E., stand for Providing Responsible Information on a Dog’s Environment, and to address some of the concerns relating to sled dog care and training, the organization developed sled dog care and equipment guidelines. A voluntary kennel inspection program was established because, as the page on their Web site explains, “The P.R.I.D.E. Board firmly believes that if we mushers conduct ourselves responsibly then we will be less likely to suffer from unknowing governmental regulation. We hope that this program is a demonstration of the fact that we can responsibly take care of our own.”

Mush with P.R.I.D.E. guidelines have frequently been used by other groups and agencies when determining responsible dog care and kennel husbandry standards. Member clubs supporting Mush with P.R.I.D.E. include not only Alaskan sled dog groups, but mushing associations, clubs and groups from around the globe, including Canada, Norway, Great Britain, Germany, Jamaica and Australia. In 2007, P.R.I.D.E. elected a new multi-state, international Board of Directors. Anyone who cares about sled dogs and mushing is encouraged to support Mush with P.R.I.D.E. by becoming a member. Current P.R.I.D.E. members include large competitive kennels, small recreational teams, skijorers, veterinarians, race sponsoring organizations, local mushing clubs and fans of sled dogs. The support and input from the membership is what helps direct the P.R.I.D.E. Board of Directors and establish P.R.I.D.E. as a leading organization promoting responsible sled dog care and dog-powered sports.

Members receive a quarterly newsletter and a copy of Sled Dog Care Guidelines and Equipment Guidelines, and a First Aid Manual for Sled Dogs. Mush with P.R.I.D.E., PO Box 1915, Kenai, AK 99611. https://mushwithpride.org

Posted in Iditarod, News & Information, Sled Dog History, Sled Dog Races, Yukon Quest | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment