Project Jukebox: Mushing

Banner(resized)_0Project Jukebox is the Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program, part of the Alaska and Polar Regions Collections of the Elmer E. Rasmuson Library at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The program was established in 1981 to collect and curate audio and video recordings that relate to various aspects of Alaska’s history and the people who have contributed to its rich heritage. The collection contains over 11,200 individual recordings, including interviews with politicians, pioneers, and Native elders. Key collections include “Alaska Native Songs and Legends,” “Early Day Alaskans,” “The Alaska Native Elders-In-Residence Program,” and “On the Road Recordings with Old Timers.”

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Man with gee pole [UAF 1981-11-10]

 “Dog Mushing in Alaska” highlights stories related to the history of dog mushing in Alaska, showcasing historic oral history interviews and incorporating new recordings into the collection. The recordings included in this project represent various aspects of dog mushing, including traditional use, freighting, mail carrying, recreational use, tourism, sled building, trail systems, dog care, and racing.

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Dogteam in Nome [UAF 1989-192-26]

Among the interviews are mushing legends such as George Attla and Herbie Nayokpuk, Joe Redington, Sr. and Dr. Roland Lombard, but also many less-well-known but equally interesting interviews with dog drivers like Mary Shields, Grant Pearson, Moses Cruikshank and Effie Kokrine. Photograph slideshows accompany many of the interviews, and related materials include films, terminology, background resources, and websites of interest. The two-fold purpose of the Dog Mushing Project is explained here, and wonderful historic photographs are included throughout.

PROJECT JUKEBOX: Dog Mushing in Alaska

 

 

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Across Alaska in 1907-08

Last fall I shared an article about the Arctic explorer Ernest de Koven Leffingwell, a joint commander, with the Danish polar explorer Ejnar Mikkelsen, of the 1906-1908 Anglo-American Polar Expedition, which established that there was no land north of Alaska. In a dog sledge journey over the ice they took soundings and succeeded in determining the position of the continental shelf of the Arctic Ocean, 65 miles offshore, where within two miles the sea dropped away from 164 feet in depth to more than 2,264 feet.

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Ejnar Mikkelsen

In October 1907, his work for the expedition completed, Ejnar Mikkelsen set out on a formidable journey home, which would take him west along the Arctic coast from Flaxman Island, where he left Leffingwell to continue doing scientific research and mapping. Mikkelsen’s trail led to Barrow, Nome, Fort Gibbon, Manley Hot Springs, Fairbanks, and then down the Fairbanks-Valdez Trail to Valdez, where he boarded a ship for home. The first part of his journey was made by dogsled, the second half riding in the horse-drawn sledges which travelled the winter trails.

Mikkelsen’s entire trip was detailed in his book Conquering the Arctic Ice, published in London in 1909 by William Heinemann. The trip from the Arctic coast to Valdez comprises the last four chapters of the book.

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Conquering the Arctic Ice

Selected excerpts from Chapter X: THE SLEDGE TRIP FROM FLAXMAN ISLAND TO ICY CAPE

Neither Mr. Leffingwell nor myself felt particularly cheerful, and in spite of his assurances I could not but feel that it was not quite right for me to leave him behind with but one man to assist him. But he insisted it was all right, that he would not dream of keeping me in the country for his sake, that he could not see what work worth doing I could do under the circumstances, and once more my doubts were dissipated. We spent a considerable time in looking at the map, and I think that I almost enjoyed the prospects of the long march. At any rate there promised to be excitement on the trip, and although the road might prove long and hard, I preferred that to a year of inactivity. A big dinner was prepared. Mr. Leffingwell brought out some cigars which his father had sent, and while smoking we listened to a concert of selections from the great masters of music, performed on the gramophone, the machine which had made so many long hours pass pleasantly by.

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Homeward bound

Crossing Harrison’s Bay: We kept on till after dark, hoping to reach the other side of the bay, but the night fell, we stumbled on and on, until at last we could not see to walk any further and had to camp on the ice, which was less than a foot thick. It was a very unpleasant sensation, the ice bent under us, and we knew that a pressure during the night might open up the ice underneath us. Every thing we had by way of long pieces of wood, our snow-shoes, skis, some of the tent poles, ice spears, etc., were placed on the ice to give a better support ; then we crawled into our sleeping bags, trying as best we could to keep the small flame of our stove burning.

It was still too early in the day for camping, the trail to Point Barrow was yet long, our sledges were emptier than I cared to think about, our dogs footsore and tired, and we had to move on against the increasing wind, which cut through our clothing, froze our wrists and faces, and made traveling hard. We kept on driving till after dark, as there was plenty of wood about, and we wanted to make as long marches as possible. Besides, it was so bitterly cold that the thought of having to pitch tent was far from tempting, and we consequently put it off as long as possible, till at last the darkness forced us to camp.

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Native houses at Pitt Point

At the settlement of Pitt Point: The natives were very kind to us. They unlashed our sledges, took everything into the houses and fed our dogs, while a pot of coffee and some seal meat was placed on the stove in almost every cabin of the village, and the mistress of each was waiting and eager to have us come to her house and eat the meal she had prepared. And then they began to ask us where we came from, what kind of a trip we had had, and where we were going. When I showed them my destination on a map they would not believe me ; it was much too far— ” Oh, no, white man plenty lie!”

Manley Hot Springs Hotel

From later in the book.

On Wednesday, November 20, I left the kind people at Wainwright and started alone for Icy Cape. At first all went well, but then I struck some rough ice and had an awful time. I had to go ahead to break the trail, and the sledge, being thus unguarded, capsized time after time, was run into a snowdrift, or brought up against a sharp piece of ice. Whenever any of these things happened, as they very often did, I had to go back to the sledge, right it, dig it out of the snow, or disentangle it from the ice, as the case might be. The dogs had now learned to follow my every movement, and when I had to attend to the sledge they at once rushed after me and got their traces badly tangled. In their endeavours to get out of their difficulty they would then bite them in two, and when the sledge was ready to move I had to disentangle the traces of my nine dogs, which were always in a hopeless state of confusion. Then I had to knot together the chewed traces, take the hauling straps over my shoulder, and start the sledge from ahead of the dogs. For two minutes all might go well; then again I would have a capsized sledge, and the same trouble would begin afresh.

At Icy Cape: A young man, Oojooaktok, wanted to go down the coast, and we soon agreed that he and I should travel together. He was a nice fellow, and I never had any reason to regret our association, as he was not only clever, but also helpful and willing. Oojooaktok knew what he was about when he came and asked for permission to travel with me, for a herd of reindeer were expected at Icy Cape, and some young men were wanted as apprentices. He reasoned that Mr. Evans, the assistant superintendent of the reindeer herds of Alaska, would thus have the opportunity of seeing him before any of the other young men who stayed at Icy Cape. He wanted to go with me until we reached the herds, then he would go back with them.

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Conquering the Arctic Ice, by Ejnar Mikkelsen, can be read free online at the Internet Archive.

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Tribute to a Sled Dog

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PROLOGUE: TRIBUTE TO A SLED DOG

by Charles E. Gillham, 1965

You conquered the toughest country
Ever created on earth
Where you led, man followed your footsteps,
And the North was given birth.

197318_10150110089977826_2453825_nBrown-eyed, happy and gritty
You slaved, and your only pay
Was dry fish, blubber or muktuk
Thrown on the snow at your sleigh.

Without you, the Great North Country
Would yet be unknown to man
There are insurmountable barriers
That only a dog can span.

Who went to the Pole with Peary?
Who carried the serum to Nome?
who rescued our ship-wrecked sailors,
From the ice-pack, brought them home?

frostydogs-300x225Who traveled the creeks to Dawson,
Hauled the mail and packed out the ore?
Left crimson tracks along the Bering,
Heard Aleutian sea lions roar?

Who struggled, helping his master
On traplines barren and dreary?
Fought polar bears from the caches
Stood guard over those held dear?

Descendant of wolf ancestors –
Tempered by hardship and pain,
Fighting a raw, tough country –
These bred the Husky Dog strain.

[From “Sled dog : and other poems of the North,” by Charles E. Gillham, associate editor of Field & Stream magazine, an outdoor writer and game biologist. In 1934 he transferred to the Canadian Arctic as a Federal waterfowl biologist, and his arctic service resulted in four books, “The Raw North,” “Sled Dog,” “Beyond the Clapping Mountains” and “Medicine Men of Hooper Bay.” He left Alaska in 1945.]

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All photos by Northern Light Media.

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Planet Mackey

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Lance, 2008, photo by Helen Hegener

The 2019 Iditarod is wrapping up now, with the final teams making their way into Nome and the mushers which have been arriving for the past week are getting ready for the Awards Banquet. One of the most exciting events in this year’s race was the re-entry of mushing legend Lance Mackey, who set record after record a few short years ago and is still the only musher to win four Yukon Quest championships and four Iditarod championships, a couple of those being back-to-back runs with a pack of incredible superdogs!

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Larry, 2008, photo by Helen Hegener

His leaders became household names in Alaska: Larry, Lippy, Maple, Zorro… Big beautiful Alaskan huskies who led Lance to write in his 2015 book, The Lance Mackey Story:

“There is always the comfort and beauty of watching my team trotting. Muscles on their hind legs, rhythmic, trotting with so much power. Transfixed, I can stare for hours at my dogs moving across the white landscape, reminded that life itself is about moving forward-made authentic with risk. I’m willing to take risks to keep living, and my dogs are bold, always ready to share it with me. I’ve learned to force myself to look around, take my eyes off the team, even ride backward on my sled and look behind, to break the trance.”

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Lance Mackey at the 37th annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race start in downtown Anchorage, March 7, 2009. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Paizley Ramsey. [Wikipedia]

Lance’s achievements were such that they caught the attention of two famous astronomers, and they named a minor planet in his honor: 43793 Mackey. The official naming citation is published in the Dictionary of Minor Planet Names.

Discovered November 13, 1990 at the Palomar Observatory in California, 43793 Mackey was named by C.S. Shoemaker and D.S. Levy, who co-discovered the famous Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9 in 1993, which collided with the planet Jupiter in 1994.

(43793) Mackey = 1990 VK7 = 1998 UR32 = 2000 CZ42
Discovered at Palomar on 1990-11-13 by C. S. Shoemaker and D. H. Levy.
(43793) Mackey = 1990 VK7

Lance Mackey (b. 1970), with his canine athletes, is the first musher to win North America’s two premier long-distance sled-dog races back-to-back, the 1000-mile Yukon Quest and the 1100-mile Iditarod. His 2007 triumphs are testimonial to his courage, toughness and determination as a cancer survivor. [Ref: Minor Planet Circ. 59923]

The International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center is the single worldwide location for receipt and distribution of positional measurements of minor planets, comets and outer irregular natural satellites of the major planets, responsible for the identification, designation and orbit computation for all of these objects. This involves maintaining the master files of observations and orbits, keeping track of the discoverer of each object, and announcing discoveries to the rest of the world via electronic circulars and an extensive website. The MPC operates at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, under the auspices of Division F of the International Astronomical Union (IAU).

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Sled Dog Mail

33a. Mail Delivery

Connor Cole delivering the mail by dog team, Kasilof, Kenai Peninsula, 1930’s. 

Delivering the mail to Alaska has always presented a formidable challenge to the U.S. Postal Service. Letters, parcels, and supplies from the Lower 48 states often took weeks or months to reach their destinations. Steamships transported Alaska-bound mail north from the west coast to Alaska’s coastal towns. The harsh Arctic weather and limited trail and road system made mail delivery difficult, and in the more isolated sections, dogs proved superior for the winter transport of mail.

Dogs were capable of covering long distances, day or night, and could travel over frozen lakes and rivers and pass through dense forests. By 1901, a network of mail trails throughout Alaska was in use, including a system that followed almost the entire length of the Yukon River. The historic 2,300-mile Iditarod Trail was the main dog trail that carried mail from Seward to Nome. Overnight roadhouses served mail carriers, freighters, and other travelers who used dog sleds or horses.

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The Yukon Mail at Eagle, Alaska. 

On average, dog teams pulled sleds containing between 500 – 700 pounds of mail, which meant that each dog had a load of up to 100 pounds (although they hauled less on the more challenging trails). Mail sacks usually weighed 50 pounds each. Rubber-lined waterproof bags were used to protect precious mail from snow, rain, and mud. The dogs wore moosehide moccasins to protect their feet as much as possible from jagged pieces of ice.

In 1963, the U.S. Post Office Department honored Chester Noongwook of Savoonga, on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea. He was the last mail driver and with his retirement, regular sled dog mail delivery ended in Alaska.

On January 2, 2009 the U.S. Postal Service issued a new stamp commemorating Alaska’s 50th anniversary as a U.S. State (Alaska became an official U.S. territory in 1912 and the 49th state on January 3, 1959). The image selected was created by official Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race photographer Jeff Schultz, and depicts veteran sled dog racer DeeDee Jonrowe on the Iditarod trail.

Read more:

Mail and Mail Carriers at Smithsonian National Postal Museum

John Phillip Clum, Gold Rush Postal Inspector

Alaska’s First Free Mail Delivery in 1900

Sled Dog Mail, by Helen Hegener, at Last Frontier Magazine

The Last Sled Dog Mail Service

Dogsled Mail at Wikipedia

 

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Iditarod National Historic Trail

Iditarod_Trail_Seward_500What is commonly referred to as the Iditarod Trail is actually a vast network of winter trails which first connected Alaskan villages, opened the territory for the last great American gold rush, and now plays a vital role for travel and recreation in modern-day Alaska. Multiple groups use the historic trail every year, from the hardy dogs and mushers of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race to the super-fast Iron Dog snowmachiners to long-distance trekkers and modern-day explorers seeking adventure in the Alaskan backcountry.

Portions of the Iditarod National Historic Trail from Seward to Nome are open to the public, and while the northern stretches of trail are generally impassable in the summer, you can explore the lower, or southern part of the historic trail year-round on foot, by road, and even by rail between Seward and a point just south of Wasilla, where the trail turns west and the rails continue north. Trail access is easy and well-marked, especially in the Chugach National Forest on the Kenai Peninsula, and Chugach State Park right outside of Anchorage. Historic signs explain how the trail was used by early freighters, mail carriers, and travelers, beginning with the Milepost 0 tripod on the waterfront in Seward, shown above.

19. First team Nome to Seward

First dog team Nome to Seward. 

The Iditarod Historic Trail Alliance notes on their site, “While the Iditarod Trail is well known nationally and internationally due to the contemporary sled dog race, many Alaskans and most Americans are unaware of the basic history of the Trail. While parts of the Trail go back thousands of years to trade routes used by Alaska’s native people, today’s Iditarod Trail began with an Alaska Road Commission scouting expedition in mid-winter 1908. With the strike of gold in Iditarod, the ARC blazed the trail the winter of 1910, giving the Iditarod and Innoko mining districts overland access to the deep water port of Seward, and eventually, the Alaska Railroad.”

Iditarod Trail map

Click to view larger map. 

Nationally, our Historic Trails commemorate major routes of exploration, migration, trade, communications, and military actions that formed America, and only 16 trails in the U.S. have been honored as National Historic Trails. The Iditarod is the only Alaskan trail in the National system, and the only Historic Trail celebrating the indispensable role played by man’s best friend in America’s Last Great Gold Rush. Without dependable sled dogs hauling freight, passengers, mail and more, the history of Alaska and the north country would have been quite different.

For more information:

Iditarod National Historic Trail Interactive Map

Iditarod Historic Trail Alliance

Alaska BLM page on Dog Sledding

Iditarod Trail Access Points

Iditarod Trail at Wikipedia

Alaska State Trails Program – Iditarod Trail

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Addison Powell in Valdez

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Addison Powell is second from the left. Caption from the book: “Five men pose by the float copper nugget, Chititu Creek, Nizina District, Alaska.” Photo taken in 1903 by the Miles Brothers. 

Addison M. Powell was an adventurer, prospector, hunter, and a guide for Captain William R. Abercrombie’s 1898 Copper River Exploring Expedition, one of three military expeditions organized to explore the interior of the new territory of Alaska. His book Trailing and Camping in Alaska, subtitled Ten Years Spent Exploring, Hunting and Prospecting in Alaska – 1898 to 1909, was republished in its entirety by Northern Light Media in September, 2018. An edited excerpt, photos from the book:

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Valdez

We landed, May 29, 1898, in the little tent town of Valdez, which is about three thousand miles north and west of San Francisco. At this time my only possessions were a year’s supply of provisions and twenty-five cents in money. The great Valdez glacier appeared to be at the edge of the little tent town, but really it was five miles away. The mountains appeared scarcely a mile from us, and from twelve to fifteen hundred feet high, yet they were from three to five miles distant and from three to five thousand feet in altitude.

About four thousand people had landed there, three thousand or more of them had crossed the glacier, and many had recrossed during the last month to return home disgusted. The hungry glacier had been the death of some of them and its cracks were gaping for more. We felt that we were up against the toughest proposition of our lives and those who had been there a month knew that we were.

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Valdez as we left it. 

Those soldiers had been detailed to explore the route from Valdez to the Yukon. They were conspicuous in their efforts, and of- ten returned from exploring trips without food and with very little clothing. Every out-going steamer was loaded down with the quitters, who, as prospectors, were helpless incompetents. To avoid being ridiculed, they pretended to be returning for horses, larger outfits or more assistance from home.

Hundreds daily trailed into town, so foot-sore, after traveling over that twenty-eight miles of solid ice, that their crippling walk caused them to be referred to as “The Glacier Striders.” Those who came over during the melting of the snow had lost their outfits, either while boating the Klutena rapids, or before they had arrived at Klutena Lake. The snow that covered the crevasses had become too rotten to be safe, and those who crossed told of jumping cracks with spring-poles. If they had slipped they would have been put in cold storage forever, hundreds of feet below.

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A Glacier Crevasse

The glacier was a succession of sharp ridges, with deeply washed erosions on each side, which made them nearly impassable. Men who crossed over claimed that all of Alaska’s gold would not tempt them to do so again. They had felt secure while crossing in winter, but had not suspected the dangers that are presented in summer.

While some people were camped beside the trail on the glacier, near the foot of the mountain, they heard the approach of an avalanche. Most of them escaped, but eight were dug out from beneath that snow-slide and two were dead.

There was a little Llewellyn puppy dug from that snowslide. He came out with his head and tail up, and has had them up most of the time since. He lived to acknowledge me as his friend and master, for he became my trail companion for years. He is retired now on a life pension in California, and when we meet he acts as if he thought we were the two best dogs that ever ascended the Copper River.

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“Little Dog Pete”

Excerpted from:

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Trailing and Camping in Alaska, Ten Years Spent Exploring, Hunting and Prospecting in Alaska – 1898 to 1909, by Addison M. Powell.

Originally published in 1909 by Newold Publishing Company, New York, New York. Republished September, 2018 by Northern Light Media. 300 pages, 30 b/w photos, edited by Helen Hegener, $24.95 (plus $5.00 shipping). Click here to order via PayPal.

 

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Dog Gone Addiction

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“I have no doubt that if people want to feel the real power of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race they will be enthralled with this film.” Aliy Zirkle, Yukon Quest Champion

With the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race coming up February 2, this is the perfect time to enjoy a wonderful film which captures the unparalleled challenges and excitement of the race!

The international award-winning film by Becky Bristow, Dog Gone Addiction, follows three women as they test their personal limits, driving their dog teams through record cold temperatures and over icy mountain passes in the 2007 Yukon Quest, a 1,000-mile sled dog race from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory to Fairbanks, Alaska. The film focuses on a young Canadian mother, Michelle Phillips; Agata Franczak, a 48-year-old Polish adventurer; and Kelley Griffin, a veteran Alaskan musher.

Becky Bristow’s camera records the women’s struggles to overcome minus 60 degree Celsius temperatures, mental and physical exhaustion, sick dogs, mountain passes, and the remote wilderness of the Yukon and Alaska to achieve their goals of finishing the toughest sled dog race on earth. Included in the DVD are 55 minutes of extra features, commentary from Yukon racing legend Hans Gatt, and some interesting footage showcasing many of the unique characters who help make up the Yukon Quest race each year.

During its promotional tour “Dog Gone Addiction” was shown at film festivals across North America and Europe and won numerous awards and accolades, including Best Adventure Film, Explorers Club film festival, New York; Best Adventure Sports Film, Taos Mountain Film Festival, New Mexico; and Special Jury Award, Whistler Film Festival, British Columbia.

RELATED LINKS:

• Filmmaker tackles a Dog Gone Addiction
Becky Bristow’s film tells the story behind the women mushers of the Yukon Quest
An in-depth article by Lynn Martel, in Pique, November 30, 2007

“On American Summit, the sun was setting, you could hear the dog teams coming from a long way away,” Bristow recalled. “I watched the sun set for a long time, there was ice on the trees. It made me realize the beauty of the place they were seeing with their dog teams, and why they do it.”

• A video interview with documentary filmmaker Becky Bristow

• Dog Gone Addiction is available from Tagish Lake Kennels

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W. T. Geisman, Photographer

BIA ship North Star at San Francisco, April, 1935

BIA ship North Star at San Francisco, April, 1935. Photograph by Willis T. Geisman for the A.R.R.C. [ASL-PCA-270, Mary Nan Gamble Collection, Alaska State Library]

In the spring of 1935 a large contingent of Matanuska Colony officials, including Colony Manager Don Irwin, architect L. N. Troast, Col. Frank Bliss and his staff, and many others, left San Francisco on the Bureau of Indian Affairs ship North Star, bound for Seward, Alaska.

They were transporting the tents, stoves, trucks, tractors, well-drilling equipment and other materials necessary for creating a new community in the Alaskan wilderness, along with the first group of 118 transient workers who would be building the homes, barns, and roads for the new colony.

Willis GeismanJoining this advance guard was a young graduate from the University of California at Berkeley named Willis Taubert Geisman, who played rugby and had lettered in Political Science. Before setting sail, Geisman photographed the Emergency Relief Administration headquarters on 4th Street in San Francisco, and the workers loading trucks and farm machinery onto the North Star at Pier 50.

As the official photographer for the Matanuska Colony Project, Geisman documented every aspect of the venture, from the kitchen help aboard the North Star to the colonists’ children playing in the tent city, from officials posing stiffly for portraits to farmers working together to build homes before winter. His photographs portray proud farm wives showing their neat tent kitchens, and a small girl sitting in an Alaskan berry patch grinning at the cameraman.

Title_pageIn the Official Photographic Album of the Alaska Rural Rehabilitation Corporation (A.R.R.C.), Matanuska Colonization Project, Geisman’s 939 photographs are notated: “Complete Album photographed and produced in the field with portable equipment by Willis T. Geisman, official photographer, A. R. R. C. Palmer, Alaska, 1935.”

Little is known about Willis T. Geisman after 1935. He was born in San Franciso in November 1, 1911, to Clarence John and Florence N. Geisman. At some point he married, and he joined the Marine Corps, where he attained the rank of Captain. He was captured by the Japanese after the fall of Corregidor, Philippine Islands, on 6 May 1942, and was held as a Prisoner of War until his death while still in captivity. Burial was at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Manila, Philippines. His awards included the Prisoner of War Medal and the Purple Heart.

Colony kids in a tent camp. Photograph by Willis T. Geisman for the A.R.R.C. [ASL-PCA-303, Mary Nan Gamble Collection, Alaska State Library]

Colony kids in a tent camp. Photograph by Willis T. Geisman for the A.R.R.C. [ASL-PCA-303, Mary Nan Gamble Collection, Alaska State Library]

Willis T. Geisman’s documentation of the 1935 Matanuska Colony project was a monumental achievement, and has become the most frequently referenced work on that part of Alaska’s history. Geisman’s compelling photographs have appeared in hundreds of books, magazines, news articles, on television, and in films.

His photographs played a major role in the award-winning 2008 documentary, Alaska Far Away, and they were lauded by Valley historian Jim Fox, author of The First Summer, a splendid collection of some of Geisman’s most memorable photos: “Geisman’s work is of tremendous importance in its documentation of the Colony’s history and its technical skill, artistic and documentary style.”

The complete A.R.R.C. photograph album by Willis T. Geisman can be viewed online at Alaska’s Digital Archives for the Alaska State Library.

a mighty nice placeExcerpted from “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. Print book: $24.95 plus $5.00 shipping. Click here to order now via PayPal

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1967 Centennial Race

oie_3sqcid7pnqgjIn 1967, a 50-mile sprint sled dog race was run from Knik to Big Lake, in two 25-mile heats over a two-day period, with the race route including nine miles of the original Iditarod trail.

The race was the brainchild of Wasilla historian Dorothy Page, who thought such an event would be an appropriate and effective way to commemorate the Alaska Purchase Centennial. With a purse of $25,000 the race would be the richest in modern times, and it drew a field of 58 mushers which included most of the best-known racers in Alaska and two from Massachusetts.

The Iditarod Trail Seppala Memorial Race was planned for February 11 and 12, 1967. 

sepp-and-togoThe name was a tribute to the great sled dog driver Leonhard Seppala, whose fame derived from his three championship All Alaska Sweepstakes races and his heroic run in the 1925 Serum Run to Nome. He passed away after a brief illness in a Seattle hospital at the age of 89, shortly before the 1967 Alaska Centennial race, and the organizers added the great musher’s name as a way to honor his memory. His wife, Constance, flew to Alaska for  the Centennial race, and while she was in Alaska she sprinkled her respected husband’s ashes along the Iditarod Trail, saying he had always felt at home on the Iditarod Trail.

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Isaac Okleasik from Teller

The 1967 race was billed as ‘the biggest event in racing history,’ with an unprecedented purse of $25,000, richer than any purse offered for a sled dog race until then. It attracted mushers from all around Alaska, respected dog drivers such as George Attla, Gareth Wright, Earl Norris, Jerry Riley, Orville Lake, Herbie Nayokpuk, Dick Mackey, and even two champion sprint mushers from Massachusetts: Dr. Roland Lombard and Dr. Charles Belford. Among the 59 teams entered were three Redington teams, driven by Joe and his sons Joee and Raymie. Although many of the mushers who entered were already champions, the race was won by a relative newcomer, Isaac Okleasik of Teller, driving a team of big village working huskies. 

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Joe Redington, Sr.

Joe Redington played a large part in making the first race over a short section of the old trail a reality. Besides spearheading the fundraising for the 1967 race, Joe, with the help of several friends, blazed and reopened nine miles of the long-dormant Iditarod Trail for the event. He also put his Flathorn Lake homestead on the line as collateral when raising the purse became an issue; it would later take the governor’s intervention and a state legislative act to save the Redington land from foreclosure. But the race won generous accolades in the press and at the finisher’s banquet, and reinforced Joe Redington’s belief that the Iditarod Trail could play an important role in keeping the sport of mushing alive.

 

Excerpted from:

First Iditarod 2nd Ed

 

The First Iditarod, The 1973 Race from Anchorage to Nome, by Helen Hegener, a revised edition of the 2015 book, published by Northern Light Media. 199 pages. Format 6″ x 9,″ b/w illustrations, bibliography, resources, indexed. $24.00 plus $5.00 shipping and handling. Foreign orders please use AmazonClick here to order from the author via PayPal.

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

 

 

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