Alaska Railroad 1902-1923

ARR CoverThe Alaska Railroad: 1902-1923 , subtitled Blazing an Iron Trail Across The Last Frontier, is the story of the construction of the Alaska Railroad and its predecessors, from 1902, when pioneer real estate promoter John Ballaine built the Alaska Central Railroad north from Seward; through 1923, when President Warren G. Harding drove the Alaska Railroad’s ceremonial Golden Spike at Nenana.

Bartlett Glacier postcard b:wThis 400-page book is a wide-ranging look at the many ways in which the railroad played a major role in Alaska’s growth and development. From dynamiting the railbed out of the rocky cliffs along Turnagain Arm, to spanning the deep chasm of Hurricane Gulch, and from crossing the endless miles of muskeg swamp to bridging the mighty waters of the Tanana River, the story is told through historic documents, photographs, and publications.

Screen Shot 2017-05-18 at 12.15.19 PMThis is more than the just  the story of constructing the railroad, this is also the story of how the U. S. Government built towns and cities across the territory, including Seward, Anchorage, Palmer, Wasilla, Talkeetna, Nenana, and Fairbanks. It’s the story of coal mining in Alaska, from the Guggenheim Syndicate’s notorious attempted monopoly of Alaska’s resources, to the government’s own private coal mine to service the U.S. Naval fleet in the Pacific. It’s the story of steamboat travel on Alaskan rivers, and how the railroad’s own fleet of steamers and gas-powered “tunnel boats” came to dominate the watery transportation corridors. It’s the story of the role a fledgling conservation movement played in dividing a major political party. And it’s the story of how steam shovels which dug the Panama Canal were brought north to claw at Alaskan hillsides.

Screen Shot 2017-05-18 at 12.28.15 PMThe 500-mile long Alaska Railroad runs from the seaport town of Seward, on the Kenai Peninsula, to Fairbanks, the Golden Heart of Alaska. Along the way it crosses two formidable mountain ranges, several broad and daunting rivers, and numerous deep gorges and canyons. It winds along the tidewater edge of Turnagain Arm, past Bartlett and Spencer Glaciers, and skirts the highest point on the North American continent, the Great One, Denali. From running its own opulent luxury hotel—literally in the middle of nowhere—to developing the telephone, water, and sewer systems of Anchorage, the history of the railroad is largely the history of Alaska. Take a ride on the northernmost U. S. railroad, and gain an unusual perspective on a richly fascinating period in America’s past.   ~•~

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 for $24.95 plus $5.00 postage, by clicking here.


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Joe Redington, Sr.

imageedit_99_2822321794“When I went out to the villages (in the 1950′s) where there were beautiful dogs once, a snow machine was sitting in front of a house and no dogs. It wasn’t good. I didn’t like that. I’ve seen snow machines break down and fellows freeze to death out there in the wilderness. But dogs will always keep you warm and they’ll always get you there.” ~Joe Redington, Sr., in “I’d Swap My Old Skidoo for You,” by Nan Elliot (Brimm & Heald, 1989) 

Joe Redington, Sr., known as the “Father of the Iditarod,” was born on February 1, 1917, in a tent on the banks of the Cimarron River, north of Kingfisher, Oklahoma, on the famous Chisholm Trail. It was a fitting start for a man who would later spend his life traveling the trails of a far distant land. 

imageedit_31_9647115163Joe Redington came to Alaska in 1948, settling on a homestead near Knik, south of Wasilla, with his family. He learned about sled dogs and how to handle a dog team from his new neighbors, mail and freight team driver Sharon Fleckenstein and Lee Ellexson, one of the last dog team mail drivers on the Iditarod Trail. He and his wife Grace had at one time been the operators of the Happy River Roadhouse in Rainy Pass. Ellexson had traveled thousands of miles with a dog team, and his stirring ‘tales of the trail’ captivated the newcomer.

Ellexson sold Joe a few dogs, and in less than a year Redington had created Knik Kennels and was feeding his own 40 huskies. He became a proficient enough dog driver to contract rescue and recovery missions for the U.S. Air Force between 1949 and 1957, using his dog teams to reach the sites of aircraft crashes. Harnessing teams of 25 to 30 dogs, Redington hauled hundreds of servicemen and millions of dollars’ worth of salvaged parts from remote areas of Alaska. 

imageedit_59_3104246169A boat-building project took Joe to the village of Unalakleet, where he observed hundreds of huskies sitting idly around while snowmachines roared everywhere, the obvious transportation mode of choice. This alarmed Joe, and set him to thinking seriously about a one-thousand-mile race following the historic Iditarod Trail. Joe Redington promised that there would be a long-distance race to Nome by 1973, with the unheard-of purse of $50,000. Several major obstacles stood in his way, such as trail-clearing and fund-raising, but the biggest obstacle was his fellow race enthusiasts.  

Undaunted by the skeptics, Redington continued making plans for his race. He wrote up incorporation papers for the Iditarod Trail Committee, or ITC, forerunner of today’s race-governing body of the same name, and his wife Vi and two schoolteacher friends, Tom Johnson and Gleo Huyck – became the first officers of the new organization. 

imageedit_83_3081490922As Joe and his new Iditarod Trail Committee set to work, the base of opponents and naysayers grew, and chief among them were some of the mushing world’s most prominent racers. There were claims that no dog could run 1,000 miles, and that no musher could cover that distance either. The old-timers on the trail had traveled at a slower pace, and traded dogs and entire teams when necessary, and there was a network of close-set cabins and roadhouses to support them which no longer existed. Attempting to travel the entire distance with one team of dogs was considered foolhardy by many, ill-advised and reckless at best. 

imageedit_102_9606488615And then, quietly at first, a few advocates emerged and said it wasn’t such a far-fetched notion, and as evidence they pointed to mushers like Hudson Stuck, the Yukon River missionary whose classic book, Ten Thousand Miles with a Dog Sled, related seemingly non-stop travels to the farthest reaches of Alaska. Others had utilized dog teams on long distance trips, explorers like Ernest de Koven Leffingwell, who mapped the Arctic coastline, and Olaus Murie, the federal wildlife biologist who ran dog teams throughout Alaska for more than 30 years. Dr. Joseph Romig was known as “the dog-team doctor” for his extensive remote travels, and Father Bernard Hubbard, “the Glacier Priest,” who led an expedition 1,600 miles down the frozen Yukon River, visiting missions along the way. 

The Alaska Native elders chimed in with their stories and experiences; they were recognized experts on raising and training sled dogs and they knew the dogs could travel that distance. Well-known and respected mushers like George Attla of Huslia, Ken Chase of Anvik, and Dick Mackey of Wasilla signed on for the challenge, and other mushers began declaring their interest. Attla’s joining the race was significant, because at the time he was a reigning champion in the mushing world, enjoying something akin to rock star status in the sport. 

First Iditarod 2nd EdJoe Redington Sr.’s dream race became a reality which continues to enchant mushers and fans alike every March. The year after founding the race, in 1974, Joe Redington would enter and run the race along with his sons Raymie and Joee. Raymie would place seventh, followed by his brother Joee in ninth place and Joe Sr. arriving in eleventh place. That would be a banner moment for the 57-year-old founder of the race. 

Edited from 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 Amazon. Click here to order from the author.


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The Call of the Wild


An excerpt from Jack London’s The Call of the Wild (Macmillan, 1903), the fictional account of events in the life of the great sled dog Buck who, at this point in the story, ran in the traces of a courier for the Canadian Government, bearing important dispatches:

“…they pulled into Dawson one dreary afternoon… Here were many men, and countless dogs, and Buck found them all at work. It seemed the ordained order of things that dogs should work. All day they swung up and down the main street in long teams, and in the night their jingling bells still went by. They hauled cabin logs and firewood, freighted up to the mines, and did all manner of work that horses did in the Santa Clara Valley. Here and there Buck met Southland dogs, but in the main they were the wild wolf husky breed. Every night, regularly, at nine, at twelve, at three, they lifted a nocturnal song, a weird and eerie chant, in which it was Buck’s delight to join. With the aurora borealis flaming coldly overhead, or the stars leaping in the frost dance, and the land numb and frozen under its pall of snow, this song of the huskies might have been the defiance of life, only it was pitched in minor key, with long-drawn wailings and half-sobs, and was more the pleading of life, the articulate travail of existence.”

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Title screen, see full video below.

“On January 28, 1925, newspapers and radio stations broke a terrifying story — diphtheria had broken out in Nome, Alaska, separated from the rest of the world for seven months by a frozen ocean. With aviation still in its infancy and one of the harshest winters on record, only ancient means — dogsled — could save the town. In minus 60 degrees, over 20 men and at least 150 dogs, among them the famous Balto, set out to relay the antitoxin across 674 miles of Alaskan wilderness to save the town. An ageless adventure that has captured the imagination of children and adults throughout the world for almost a century, the story has become known as the greatest dog story ever told.”


The 1925 Serum Run is a legend, a heroic testament to the human spirit, and to the indomitable achievements of the dogs of the far north. But beyond the legend lies a tale that is far more complicated, filled with irony, tragedy, and myth.


The documentary Icebound, narrated by Sir Patrick Stewart, took director and producer Daniel Anker eight years to film and involved hundreds of people — researchers, crew members, scholars, archivists, mushers, and citizens throughout the state of Alaska, particularly in the villages of Nenana, Galena, Unalakleet and the town of Nome. The film premiered in Anchorage’s Bear Tooth Theater in December, 2013, and was presented as part of the 2013 Anchorage International Film Festival.

After the Bear Tooth showing the film was described in an article for Alaska Dispatch by Megan Edge: “While ‘Icebound’ takes a tone that’s more dismal than some of the more kid-friendly retellings that have been produced in the years since the epidemic, it doesn’t lack for good storytelling. The film presents the facts in a straightforward manner, focusing on ghastly details and little-known facts.”

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“Wild Bill” Shannon

A 2016 article I wrote for Alaska Dispatch focused on the ’25 Serum Run commemorative running, and an eerie incident involving the first Serum Run musher, “Wild Bill” Shannon. “Even before the train came to a complete stop, conductor Frank Knight jumped onto the platform with the 20-pound package of serum and ran over to Shannon.” The article is available with my original photos at this link.


Leonhard Seppala and Togo

I also wrote about the three-time All Alaska Sweepstakes champion Leonhard Seppala’s crucial role in the Serum Run, and the heroic achievements of his peerless lead dog Togo, in 2015.

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.”

The video Icebound is available on YouTube:


Filmmaker Daniel Anker died of pneumonia in 2014, at the age of 50.


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Alaska Road Commission


Crossing Thompson Pass on the Valdez-Fairbanks Road

In the early part of the twentieth century Alaska was criss-crossed with trails such as the Seward-Iditarod-Nome Mail Trail, which later became simply the Iditarod Trail, in fact a broad and wide-reaching network of trails which provide access to many towns and villages in southwestern Alaska. As traffic increased on these trails a network of roadhouses were built by enterprising souls, offering a place to rest and recuperate from the harsh rigors of the trail.

On the eastern side of the territory the Trans-Alaska Military Trail and Wagon Road became the Valdez-Eagle Trail, which spawned the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail which then became the Richardson Highway, the first actual road of any length in Alaska. In 1905 the U.S. Congress approved legislation establishing a commission to oversee construction of this and other roads, and the Board of Road Commissioners for Alaska, generally referred to as the Alaska Road Commission, or ARC, became part of the War Department, by order of the Secretary of War, William Howard Taft. The Board was comprised of three members: The chairman or president of the board, in charge of all operations, an engineer officer responsible for the fieldwork, and a secretary officer who ran the office and paid for work done.

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Within two years the Commission had upgraded 200 miles of existing trails, built 40 miles of road, flagged 247 miles of winter trails on the Seward Peninsula, and cleared 285 miles of new trail. By 1922 these numbers had grown to 1,101 miles of wagon road including 600 miles of gravel surfaced roads, 756 miles of winter sled roads, 3,721 miles of permanent trail and 712 miles of temporary flagged trail. The Commission did not favor use of these trails by trucks or automobiles, declaring in 1914 that it made “no pretense of having built roads adapted for automobile travel….”

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Alaska Road Commission truck number 23 stuck in mud on the road between Sourdough and Gulkana, July 1919. [Bill Frame Photograph Collection, 1912-1940. ASL-PCA-228]

In 1932 the Alaska Road Commission was transferred to the Department of the Interior, which promptly imposed registration and license fee requirements on all vehicles in Alaska. In 1956 it was absorbed by the Bureau of Public Roads, then a division of the Commerce Department, which later evolved into the Federal Highway Administration. When Alaska gained statehood in 1959 the State of Alaska assumed road building and maintenance responsibility for 3,100 miles of roads, and in 1960 what had once been the Alaska Road Commission morphed a final time into the Alaska State Highway Department. One of its first projects was construction of a new Fairbanks to Anchorage road, the George Parks Highway. ~•~

Alaskan Roadhouses

Excerpted from Alaskan Roadhouses, Finding Shelter, Meals, and Lodging Along Alaska’s Roads and Trails, by Helen Hegener (Northern Light Media, 2015)


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Roadhouse Registers

Travelers of the Trail • Seeking Shelter and A Warm Meal

19. First team Nome to SewardW. 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)

An excerpt from Recreational Resources of the Alaska Highway and Other Roads in Alaska, published December, 1944 by the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service:


Woodchopper Roadhouse, built ca. 1910

“The Alaska roadhouse is an institution which must be encountered familiarly to be appreciated. There the term does not connote in the least the type of use or misuse which has come to be associated with it in the States. Alaska roadhouses are functional necessities to travel through country populated sparsely or not at all. They are inns or taverns in the honest, Colonial sense, providing food and shelter for the traveler today as they did for his predecessor a generation ago, but now supplying oil and gasoline for the motor car instead of the hay and grain required by its equine forerunner. More, they often serve as trading posts for tributary populations, whether Native or white, sources of supply for pack trains, prospectors, and trappers, the first link in the chain of processes through which the raw pelt becomes milady’s stole. They are post offices as well as general stores, often linking enough functions to become real communities in themselves. 

“The earlier roadhouses were apt to be sprawling, one-storied, log-buildings, with sod roofs perhaps strangely fitted together. Later came structures of two or even three stories, some of squared logs, others of frame construction, sometimes incongruous with their wilderness settings. In planning for the accommodation of recreational travelers, it would seem a fitting tribute to the part which these buildings have played in the development of Alaska, to adopt the better principles which they have exemplified, with such modern adaptations as would add to the comfort of the visitor without sacrificing atmosphere and precedent.”

Upon entering a roadhouse, travelers would sign their names to the roadhouse guest register, signaling their intent to stay and providing an accounting for the proprietor and the inevitable taxman. Recording the daily, monthly and annual business income and expenditures of a roadhouse was part of a manager’s duties, and some kept carefully detailed records while others merely entered the briefest necessary accounting facts.

wpeF7The Alaska and Polar Regions Collections at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, includes photocopies of guest registers from two roadhouses which were located in Knik, on Knik Arm near Anchorage, on the northeastern tip of Cook Inlet.

Knik was on the original Iditarod Trail, which saw heavy traffic during the heyday of the Iditarod gold rush, as dog teams hauled thousands of pounds of freight and supplies to the diggings west of the Alaska Range, and miners and businessmen sent their gold back out over the same route.

39. 3:4 million gold at Knik 1912

Pioneer Roadhouse, Knik, 1912

The register for the Pioneer Roadhouse at Knik covers the time period from December 16, 1910 through December 28, 1913, when the proprietor was F. B. Cannon. At the end of the register are entries for November 1 through December 4, May 8, and September of unknown years, as well as February, 1930 and January through February, 1931.

The register for the nearby Knik Roadhouse covers the period from April 1, 1909 through October 5, 1918. The proprietors were Mrs. J. C. Murray (April through November, 1909 and again after August 14, 1911) and Mr. and Mrs. J. B. Smith (December 29, 1909 through June, 1911).


Manley Roadhouse circa 1908

The Manley-Hot Springs Resort Records consist of photocopies of six ledgers dating from 1907 to 1911, relating to Frank Manley’s Hot Springs Resort at Manley Hot Springs. These include one daily log of occurrences at the resort (February to June, 1909); one ledger (1906) and one time book (1907-1908, 1911) relating to Manley’s other business enterprises in the Manley Hot Springs region; and a small book of accounts outstanding (1901-1902) that may relate to Manley’s affairs elsewhere in Alaska. The resort ledgers include a hotel register for 1907-1908, three double-entry account books (1907-1911),

screen-shot-2015-09-13-at-2-01-29-pmThe resort ledgers include a hotel register for 1907-1908, three double-entry account books (1907-1911), a mess account (1907-1909), and a trial balance for 1910-1911. In addition to providing insights into the resort’s expenses, income, and operations and Frank Manley’s involvement in local mining, the various ledgers list many individuals whose names are not found in such common reference works as Polk’s Alaska-Yukon Gazetteer and Business Directory.

Also in the collections are registers and accounting records from the Ferry Roadhouse (1928-1959) located at Ferry, Alaska, approximately 39 miles south of Nenana; and the Kobe Roadhouse (1927-1949); also known as the Rex Roadhouse, at Rex, Alaska, approximately 48 miles south of Nenana. ~•~


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Ernest de Koven Leffingwell

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Ernest de Koven Leffingwell was a joint commander, with Ejnar Mikkelsen, of the 1906-1908 Anglo-American Polar Expedition, which established that, contrary to long-held myths and stories, there was no land north of Alaska.

Self-described as “the forgotten explorer,” as his efforts went largely unrecognized in his own time, Leffingwell is credited for later mapping about 150 miles of the Arctic coastline, between Point Barrow and Herschel Island, along with the adjacent Brooks Range, between 1906 and 1914.

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Leffingwell, Mikkelsen, and the members of their expedition became stranded on the coast of the Arctic Ocean when their schooner, the Duchess of Bedford, became ice-locked near Flaxman Island, 250 miles east of Pt. Barrow, the northernmost point of Alaska. While Leffingwell, Mikkelsen, and the ship’s physician, Dr. G.P. Howe, were exploring the coastline in March and April, 1907, the sailors in the expedition used wood from their badly-damaged ship to build a rough but serviceable cabin and other structures on Flaxman Island. For the next several years, Leffingwell stayed at the camp intermittently and conducted mapping projects with Inupiat guides, traveling by dog team in the winter and following the coastline in a small boat during the summer months

Leffingwell’s cabin and several other buildings on Flaxman Island still stand, and a sign was placed on them in 1971 by geologist C. G. Mull for the Alaska Division of Parks which states: “From this base camp geologist Ernest D.K. Leffingwell almost singlehandedly mapped Alaska’s Arctic coast during the years 1907-1914. He also identified the Sadlerochit – main reservoir of the Prudhoe Bay field.” In 1978 Leffingwell’s camp was listed as a National Historic Landmark.

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Leffingwell’s writings include many original journals and related papers from his expeditions. In 1909 he contributed to a book, Conquering the Arctic Ice, authored by his friend and expedition co-commander, Ejnar Mikkelsen (Philadelphia: G. W. Jacobs); in 1915 he wrote an article, “A Communication from Leffingwell,” for the University of Chicago Magazine; and in 1919 he authored a 247-page Professional Paper on the Canning River Region for the U.S. Geological Survey.

In Conquering the Arctic Ice Mikkelsen described buying dogs for the two-month exploratory expedition which he, Leffingwell, and Dr. Howe undertook in the spring of 1907: “Another serious question to be settled was that of the dogs, as several more of our pack had died, and some of those we had bought were useless. We had to get more and were willing to pay any price for them. We began at once to look about us for dogs in the possession of the Eskimos which we knew would stand us in good stead for the ones lost, but we had to pay exorbitant prices for them. For example, one which we bought from Kanara was paid for with two sacks of flour, 25 lbs. beans, 6 lbs. coffee, 20 lbs. dried potatoes, 12 lbs. cocoa, one shot-gun, 250 rounds of ammunition, and one broken-down tent; and another bought from Uxra with two sacks of flour, one sack of cornmeal, 5 lbs. coffee, 20 lbs. dried potatoes, 25 lbs. sugar, 4 lbs. prunes, 4 lbs. malted milk, 200 rounds of cartridges, and one hatchet file. The prices, as said above, were exorbitant, but the dogs were good, and what was more, we needed them.”

Joe Henderson is a dog musher and arctic traveler who has explored the remote regions of Alaska over the past 30 years with his intrepid team of twenty-two Alaskan Malamutes. During the winters of 2006-2008, Joe and his Malamutes made a series of unprecedented solo expeditions in the Brooks Range and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Pulling three sleds in tandem with two tons of supplies, Joe and the team mushed entirely unsupported for up to five months at a time without seeing another human being.

Screen Shot 2018-10-23 at 2.25.41 PMHenderson’s expedition was a tribute to the “forgotten explorer,” Ernest de Koven Leffingwell. Traveling with Leffingwell’s journals as a guide, Joe covered much of the same country, camped in many of the same localities, and experienced some of the same weather and ground conditions that Leffingwell had a century before. On the third year of the expedition, Joe found Leffingwell’s cabin during a whiteout blizzard.

Joe kept a detailed journal of his travels, and he wrote a three-part series of articles for Mushing magazine which appeared in three issues from 2006 to 2008. An excerpt: “It always amazes me how much ground Leffingwell covered. Leffingwell, along with some local Inupiat assistants, had spent six winters and nine summers surveying, mapping and studying Alaska’s arctic environment. He traveled by dogteam or small boat over 4,500 miles, drew a sketch map of the entire coast between Point Barrow and the Canadian border, triangulated 150 miles of coast, and mapped the geographic features of 4,000 square miles of mainland. He also named several geologic formations, including the one that is the source of oil at the Prudhoe Bay oilfield. He journeyed 20,000 miles by ship, and he mentioned pitching camp 380 times! These are just a few of his extraordinary accomplishments.” [Joe Henderson, Retracing Leffingwell, Mushing Magazine, Nov/Dec, 2008]

Ernest de Koven Leffingwell was awarded the Patron’s Medal by the Royal Geographical Society and the Charles P. Daly Medal by the American Geographical Society, both in 1922. He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree by Trinity College in 1923. Leffingwell Fork, a stream on Alaska’s North Slope, Leffingwell Crags in Canada’s Northwest Territories, and Leffingwell Nunatak in Greenland are named for him. When he died in 1971, he was believed to have been the oldest surviving polar explorer. ~•~

oie_26184625vRrFCP9HThis story is excerpted from Alaskan Sled Dog Tales, by Helen Hegener (Northern Light Media, 2016).

The print book is $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 from PayPal.

Also available for $5.99 as a Kindle eBook from Amazon.

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The Call of the Wild

From The Call of the Wild, by Jack London:

“They were new dogs, utterly transformed by the harness. All passiveness and unconcern had dropped from them. They were alert and active, anxious that the work should go well, and fiercely irritable with whatever, by delay or confusion, retarded that work. The toil of the traces seemed the supreme expression of their being, and all that they lived for and the only thing in which they took delight.”

Express Teams


the call of the wildRead The Call of the Wild, by Jack London, free online at Project Gutenberg. Published in 1903, the story is set in the Yukon during the 1890’s Klondike Gold Rush—a period when strong sled dogs were in high demand. The novel’s central character is a dog named Buck, who is living on a ranch in California as the story opens. Stolen from his home and sold into the brutal existence of an Alaskan sled dog, Buck is forced to adjust and survive, relying on his own instincts and the lessons he learns.

Jack LondonJack London lived for most of a year in the Yukon collecting material for the book. The story was serialized in the Saturday Evening Post in the summer of 1903, and a month later it was released in book form. The novel’s great popularity and success made a reputation for London. Much of its appeal derives from the simplicity with which London presents the themes in an almost mythical form. As early as 1908 the story was adapted to film and it has since seen several more cinematic adaptations.  ~•~


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Trailing and Camping in Alaska

Addison Powell coverTrailing and Camping in Alaska, subtitled Ten Years Spent Exploring, Hunting and Prospecting in Alaska – 1898 to 1909, was written in 1909 by Addison M. Powell, an adventurer, prospector, hunter, and a former guide for Captain William R. Abercrombie’s 1898 Copper River Exploring Expedition, which was one of three military expeditions organized under the direction of the Secretary of War with directives for exploring the interior of the new territory of Alaska. Powell’s familiarity with the land made him a valuable addition to Abercrombie’s efforts over the next several years, and brought him into contact with many men who would help to shape the future of Alaska. 

Pack Train Crossing

Pack train crossing a pole-bridge.

In the spring of 1898, Abercrombie was directed to organize his men and supplies at Valdez, on the coast, and to explore northward into the valley of the Copper River and its tributaries, and farther north to the Tanana River, seeking an all-American route from coastal Alaska to the Klondike gold fields . Powell’s sub-report, which was published in Abercrombie’s 1899 Government Report on the Copper River Exploring Expedition, appears as chapters of this book.

The Copper River

The banks of the Copper River.

The following year Abercrombie would be responsible for constructing a military road from Prince William Sound at Valdez to Eagle on the Yukon River, a route which became known as the Eagle Trail. Powell, who had been exploring and prospecting in the country, once again joined the effort as a guide and surveyor. The following years are filled with additional explorations and adventures, and a continuing search for a lost gold strike which enticingly begins the book. 

New Pete

Powell’s little dog “Pete.”

Addison Monroe Powell was born November 25, 1856, in Clinton County, Indiana; he was 42 years old when he joined Abercrombie’s 1898 expedition. His book of verses, for which he was often compared to that Bard of the North, Robert Service, was titled Echoes from the Frontier, and was also published in 1909. Powell passed away in Santa Barbara, California, on January 29, 1932, at the age of 75. 

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. 300 pages, 30 b/w photos, edited by Helen Hegener, published September, 2018 by Northern Light Media. $24.95 (plus shipping). Click here to order via PayPal.

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Jujiro Wada, Trailblazer

This story is excerpted from the book Alaskan Sled Dog Tales, by Helen Hegener, published May 14, 2016, by Northern Light Media. $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.

Jujiro Wada, 23 years old

Jujiro Wada, 23 years old

There are many strange and unusual stories in the annals of northern sled dog travel, but one of the most fascinating concerns an enigmatic Japanese explorer and adventurer named Jujiro WadaBorn in Japan in the 1870s, the second son of a lower-class samurai warrior, he traveled to the U.S. in 1890 and worked as a cabin boy for the Pacific Steam Whaling Company and at Barrow for the renowned Charlie Brower, manager of the Cape Smythe Whaling and Trading Company, which history buffs agree was probably where he learned to handle sled dogs and began learning the Alaska Native languages.

Jujiro Wada was with E.T. Barnette when the businessman landed at what is now the site of Fairbanks. Hearing about the recent gold strikes nearby, Barnette dispatched Wada up the Yukon River with one of his own dogteams, taking the first news of the strikes to the miners at Dawson City. Wada drove Barnette’s team into Dawson City on Dec. 28, 1902, and upon interviewing him the Yukon Sun printed a front-page story with the bold headline, “Rich Strike Made in the Tanana.”

Several hundred miners quickly left Dawson City for Fairbanks, but most were disappointed to find the best sites were already staked. As the story goes, an angry mob gathered at Barnette’s store and threatened violence against both Barnette and Wada. An article in the Dawson Daily News, July 8, 1912, mentioned Wada’s legendary predicament:

Jujiro Wada and his dogs, Dawson City

Jujiro Wada and his dogs, Dawson City

“Jujiro Wada, the mushing Jap who brought the first news of the Fairbanks strike to Dawson, and has made numerous other trips in the North, recently blew into Fairbanks again with a new story about the placer country of Western Alaska. The Times says: Ten years in a placer camp is a long, long time, more than five or ten times that number of years in an older community, where things move more slowly and the population does not come and go with such kaleidoscopic changes. Thus, the return of Jujiro Wada to Fairbanks might be likened almost to the return of one of the Pilgrim fathers to Plymouth, in point of the changes that have taken place in Fairbanks and the generations (placer camp generations) that have come and gone since he first visited the section and then mushed overland to Dawson ten years ago, with the news that caused the Fairbanks stampede. True, when the Dawsonites moved over the winter trail and viewed Felix Pedro’s strike the majority of them were in favor of hanging Wada, but the hardy little brown musher has since been vindicated. His estimate of the camp was the correct one, and those of that first stampede who remained have mostly prospered. Thus is always gives him much satisfaction to drop back to Fairbanks and view the progress.”

Five years earlier, however, in a Dawson Daily News article dated September 1907, Wada had already explained what actually happened:

“The story that I was about to be hanged for causing a thought-to-be-fake stampede was not correct. The fact is that the miners held a meeting to decide as to the price of flour then being offered by one of the trading companies. They thought the price exorbitant. It was rumored that the miners had a rope on my neck, and were about to hoist me. Now that is not true. The other part of the story, that I showed a copy of the (Seattle) Post-Intelligencer saying that several years before I had rescued a party of shipwrecked whalers in the Arctic in dead of winter is true. I did show that paper to let some of the boys know I had been up North, but it was not in a plea to save my neck.”

Jujiro Wada, ready for the trail

Jujiro Wada, ready for the trail

For many years Jujiro Wada traveled widely across northern Alaska, the Yukon Territory, and beyond, leading an adventurous life and leaving his mark on the history of the north country. His exploits were the stuff of legend, as he traveled by dog team, hunting, trapping, prospecting, running marathons, and entertaining people wherever he went with his colorful stories. On one of his epic dog mushing trips he travelled from the headwaters of the Chandalar River to the Arctic Ocean, along the shore of the ocean to the Mackenzie River, and up that river and across the divide to the Porcupine River, taking more than a year, he and his dogs living on game hunted along the way.

Another of Wada’s lasting contributions to Alaskan history was helping to pioneer the Iditarod Trail after several gold strikes were made in the Iditarod area, although in most accounts of Wada’s travels the trip appears as something of a footnote to his other adventures. In a summary of Yuji Tani’s 1995 book, “The Samurai Dog-Musher Under the Northern Lights,” Fumi Torigai, who was documenting Wada’s travels for submission to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Parks Canada, wrote:

“In December of 1909, at the request of the town, Wada established a route from Seward to the newly discovered gold mine of Iditarod. Acting as the leader of a fleet of dogsled teams, Wada had a relatively uneventful trip to Iditarod.  However, on the return trip to Seward, he and his three companions had to go through prolonged minus 60 F (minus 51 C) weather.  Several dogs, including his lead-dog, became too weak to survive the extreme cold and had to be put to sleep.  The hardships of Wada and his companions and the ensuing rush of prospectors into the Iditarod area were widely reported in many Alaskan papers.”

The Seward Museum has a marvelous three-part video series online telling the story of the Iditarod Trail expedition of Jujiro Wada in newspaper articles read by Lee Poleske, president of the Resurrection Bay Historical Society. Recorded earlier this year as part of the Iditarod Trail Centennial celebration, the free video series is fun and informative for all ages, and brings to light some of the history of this little-known Alaskan wanderer.

An article in the Sept. 13, 2009 Fairbanks News-Miner, by Ronald Inouye, titled “Jujiro Wada: musher, long distance runner and Fairbanks co-founder?”, poses a critical inquiry:

“An interesting and perhaps controversial question remains: Why don’t we know more about this remarkable individual? His feats and tenacity are exemplary although detractors question some of his motives and willingness to be manipulated by people like E.T. Barnette. Wada wished to become a U.S. citizen so he could own land and stake claims, but his application was denied. Later, during World War I he was accused of being a Japanese spy, but those charges were not confirmed.

“The newspaper accounts of those times, as now, are selective, likely reflecting the socio-economic conditions and attitudes of that era. Whereas Northerners then as now accept most individuals based on individual abilities, it has not always been so by federal standards. Alaska Natives were only accorded U.S. citizenship in 1915, and then only provisionally. Until 1922, non-whites weren’t allowed citizenship through naturalization. These factors might have obscured the presence and exploits of individuals like Wada.”

Jujiro Wada, 60 years old

Jujiro Wada, 60 years old

The 2007 Yukon Quest honored Wada with an exhibit of his achievements in the north. The official press release read in part:

“‘Mr. Wada traveled by dog team along what is now the Yukon Quest Trail over 100 years ago when it was a traditional travel route. He learned his survival skills and travel routes through the assistance of the aboriginal people in the north,’ said Lillian Nakamura Maguire, educator for the Yukon Human Rights Commission. ”‘He was respected for his hardiness, dog care and good character, although, as a Japanese man he experienced racism due to the strong anti-Asian sentiments in the early 1900s,’ Nakamura Maguire said.

“‘The Yukon Quest is dedicated to honouring the traditions of travel by dog team in the North and the equal treatment of all dogs and people taking part in the race. Mr. Wada embodied the love and respect for his dogs that is one of the founding principles of the Yukon Quest,’ said Stephen Reynolds, Yukon Quest (Canada) Executive Director. ‘We are honoured to help bring Jujiro Wada’s incredible story to the world.’”

In an article for the Fairbanks News-Miner in June, 2011, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner – entry Local group seeks to honor Fairbanks trailblazer Jujiro Wada, author and historian Dermot Cole wrote:

Wada, who promoted many mining ventures, traveled great distances across Alaska by dog team. He also helped blaze the trail from Seward to Iditarod.

In 1912, the News-Miner took note of the rocky reception given to Wada in early 1903.

“True, when the Dawsonites moved over the winter trail and viewed Felix Pedro’s strike the majority of them were in favor of hanging Wada, but the hardy little brown musher has since been vindicated. His estimate of the camp was the correct one and those of that first stampede who remained have mostly prospered.”

Wada had good times and bad, always sending money back to support his mother in Japan. He died broke in 1937 in San Diego and was buried in an unmarked grave.

A monument to him in Japan in Matsuyama City, established in 2007, celebrates the high points of his life.

Website: Jujiro Wada Memorial Association

Excerpted from Alaskan Sled Dog Tales, by Helen Hegener [Northern Light Media, 2016]

Jujiro Wada website

Jujiro Wada Facebook page

Seward Museum Iditarod Centennial video series:




Sled Dog Tales

This story is excerpted from the book Alaskan Sled Dog Tales, by Helen Hegener, published May 14, 2016, by Northern Light Media. $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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