The Origins of Mushing

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“All the tribes of the Asiatic coasts, from the Ob to the Bering Strait, to Greenland and Kamchatka, harness their dogs to their sleds, in order to make long journeys and transport cumbersome burdens.” – Baron Ferdinand P. Von Wrangell, in Le Nord de la Siberie, 1843.

There’s a historically interesting article on the Alaska Science Forum, dated March 23, 1987, noting the Yukon Quest and Iditarod sled dog races were over for the year, and adding “…but it is still interesting to ponder the origins of dog mushing.”

The contributor, Oscar J. Noel, wrote: “I am reminded of a query to the “Dear Bud” column in the Anchorage Times: ‘Did our Alaska Eskimos and Indians have dog teams before the arrival of the white man?'”

From the 1675 edition of Martin Frobisher's

From Martin Frobisher’s “Historic Navigations,” circa 1675

Noel replies in part: “Recently, I came across an illustration taken from the 1675 edition of Martin Frobisher’s “Historic Navigations.” This illustration shows, in the background, a dog in harness, pulling what appears to be a canoe-like sled, or perhaps what might be called a pulk. This illustrates that at the time of earliest contact with Europeans the Eskimos were indeed using dogs as draft animals.”

Mr. Noel continues: “I find in the book, ‘The World of Sled Dogs,’ by Lorna Coppinger, that the earliest historical records of the use of sled dogs in the Siberian subarctic appear in Arabian literature of the tenth century; in writings of Marco Polo in the thirteenth century; and of Francesco de Kollo in the sixteenth.”

team-trail-sle-dogs-1-5-10Lorna Coppinger writes a little later in her book about Eskimos with trained dogs on long leashes which would sniff out the breathing holes of seals under the ice, and migratory peoples of the north using dogs as pack animals at first, with some packs being enormous and dragging on the ground, but added that “At a walk, a dog could carry a pack equal to his own weight all day long.”

She continues that in winter the sleds the dogs pulled would result in increased mobility, and notes, “Man and dog got on so well together, each providing the other with certain necessities, that they probably migrated together across the frozen Bering Strait to North America,” and what is now Alaska.

nansen bookIn his 1911 book, a two-volume history of arctic exploration titled Northern Mists: Arctic Exploration in Early Times, the reknowned Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen quotes from the fourteenth century Arabian chronicles of Ibn Batuta, a businessman trading near what is now Kazan in Russia. The Arabian dwelled with appreciation on the sight of sled dogs, noting that “Ibn Batuta (1302-1377) has no name for this people, any more than Abu’lfeda; but he calls their country ”the Land of Darkness’ and has an interesting description of the journey thither. He himself, he says, wished to go there from Bulgar, but gave it up, as little benefit was to be expected of it. That land lies 40 days’ journey from Biilgar, and the journey is only made in small cars drawn by dogs. For this desert has a frozen surface, upon which neither men nor horses can get foot- hold, but dogs can, as they have claws. This journey is only undertaken by rich merchants, each taking with him about a hundred carriages [sledges?], provided with sufficient food, drink and wood; for in that country there is found neither trees nor stones nor soil. As a guide through this land they have a dog which has already made the journey several times, and it is so highly prized that they pay as much as a thousand dinars [gold pieces] for one. This dog is harnessed with three others by the neck to a car [sledge?], so that it goes as the leader and the others follow it. When it stops, the others do the same.”

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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1911 Iditarod Sweepstakes

14. Iditarod_Alaska_Kennel_Clubs_3rd_annual_Feb_22nd_dog_race_1914

Geo. May’s team in Iditarod, Alaska Kennel Club’s 3rd Annual Handicap Dog
Race, Feb. 22, 1914. 22 miles in 1 hour, 59 seconds, 1 minute.

On New Year’s Day, January 1, 1911, 62 years before the inaugural run of today’s race, the First Annual Iditarod Sweepstakes Race was held over a 20-mile course which started in front of the Miners and Merchants Bank in the town of Iditarod. The route passed the Summit Roadhouse, through Flat City, back to the Summit Roadhouse and ended at the starting point in Iditarod. The temperature was reportedly near zero, but high winds created blizzard-like conditions along parts of the trail.

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Iditarod dog team, 1911

Five teams entered; Claude Shea won with his five-dog team in a time of 2 hours, 28 minutes, and 54 seconds, for a first prize of $350. Dan Campbell drove a team for the Northern Commercial Company and placed second with a time of 2 hours, 58 minutes and 29 seconds, winning $100. Third place went to Slim McRae, driving a team for the Northern Saloon and showing a time of 3 hours, 12 minutes, and 19 seconds. Fourth and fifth place teams, out of the money, were Sam Adams and Tom McMahon.

Sled dog races were popular winter entertainment all across the territory at the time, and many such events were held in towns along the Iditarod Trail. In January, 1916, the first sled dog race was held in Anchorage, under the auspices of the Anchorage Kennel Club. The 54-mile route started in front of the Crest Hotel on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage, and the teams ran to Old Knik, which was near present-day Eklutna at the head of Knik Arm, and back to Anchorage. The winning team of five dogs, driven by Frank Dixon, made the trip in 7 hours and 52 minutes. The second place team, seven dogs driven by Walter Howard of Knik, was seven minutes behind him.

First Iditarod 2nd Ed

Excerpted 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 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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The First Iditarod, 2nd Edition

“As I transcribed my recordings for this book, I was once again caught up in each musher’s sense of wonderment as he described what he and the other mushers had accomplished so long ago. More than once a voice would falter and break, and a long pause would follow. There was a reverent quality to the way each musher shared their memories of that first race. It was truly one for the ages.”   ~from the Introduction

First Iditarod 2nd Ed

In 2007 the loss of two sled dog racing pioneers, men whose names I remembered from the first Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, set me to thinking that the stories of the remaining 1973 Iditarod mushers should be recorded. Their memories of that first 1,000-mile race were an Alaskan legacy, part of our state’s colorful history, and yet few people knew who they were, or what they had accomplished under almost insurmountable odds.
These men were the only ones who could tell what it was like to be out there on a trail which had never been traveled in this manner, as a race route, and which many people at the time doubted could still be navigated its full length.

Over the years a mystique has developed around that first race, and most fans know the lore and the rudiments of the story, how it was Joe Redington Sr.’s pie-in-the-sky dream, how he wrangled others into sharing the dream with him and doing the groundwork necessary to make it happen. The history of how the race began can be found in almost every book about the event, because it’s a darned good story, colorful and compelling and full of true-life characters and exciting adventures. But the mushers’ unique individual stories are little-known. This book, now in a revised second edition, is my attempt to share some of their stories.

imageedit_37_2063624493From 2007 to 2012 I travelled across Alaska to visit veteran mushers from the 1973 race who would share their memories of what has since become known as “The Last Great Race on Earth.” The bulk of my book is comprised of the verbatim words of these intrepid men who drove their teams on that first journey to Nome in 1973, captured through recorded and videotaped interviews and many notes and follow-up letters and emails. I am grateful to those who detailed their long-ago adventures, and I am equally grateful for the warm memories I brought away from our shared time together, when I would sit and listen, hands wrapped around a cup of coffee, as the years fell away and musher after musher relived that great adventure in March of 1973.

More information about the book: The First Iditarod

A post about the founder of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race: Joe Redington, Sr.

First Iditarod 2nd Ed“And they still don’t know what happened, because no one’s ever asked us.” ~Ford Reeves, who teamed up with Mike Schreiber to run the 1973 Iditarod

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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All Alaska Sweepstakes

3. All Alaska SweepstakesThe historic All Alaska Sweepstakes is the oldest organized distance sled dog race in the world, with records kept by the Nome Kennel Club dating back to the first race in 1908. The race, which was held from 1908 to 1917, and commemorated with 75th and 100th anniversary races in 1983 and 2008, is the subject of All Alaska Sweepstakes: History of the Great Sled Dog Race, by Helen Hegener. Hundreds of beautiful photos by Jan DeNapoli, Joe May, Donna Quante and others tell the story of the sixteen Alaskan mushers who entered their teams in the 2008 commemorative running. Each musher was hoping to have their name engraved on the Sweepstakes trophy beside the great mushing legends “Scotty” Allan and Leonhard Seppala. And, of course, they were racing for the richest purse ever offered for a sled dog race: $100,000.00 winner-take-all!

1983posterThe route from Nome, on the south side of the Seward Peninsula, to the small community of Candle on the north side and return, is 408 miles, following the telegraph lines which linked camps, villages and gold mining settlements on the Peninsula. This route’s established communication lines allowed those betting on the outcome to track the race more easily from the comfort of saloons like the famed Board of Trade in Nome, where the Nome Kennel Club had been founded.

A.A. “Scotty” Allan describes the route to Candle in his classic book Gold, Men and Dogs (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1931): “It was selected because the trail to it from Nome goes over all kinds of country, from sea ice to high mountains, with rivers, tundra, timber, glaciers, and everything else in the way of mental and physical hardships en route. We knew there wouldn’t be any doubt about the excellence of a dog or driver that covered it.”

With colorful drivers like “Scotty” Allan and Leonhard Seppala, who each won the race three times, the All Alaska Sweepstakes was an eagerly anticipated annual event until the gold mining dropped off and Nome’s population dwindled, along with local interest in sled dog racing. In 1983 the Nome Kennel Club sponsored the 75th Anniversary race, and Rick Swenson took home the $25,000.00 purse. Then, in 2008, for the 100th Anniversary of the event, the Nome Kennel Club offered the richest purse ever for a sled dog race: $100,000.00 winner-take-all.

Jeff King in Council. Photo by Jan DeNapoli.

Jeff King in Council. Photo by Jan DeNapoli.

All Alaska Sweepstakes, History of the Great Sled Dog Race begins with a look at the colorful history of the race, tracing its gold rush roots and highlighting the stories of intrepid mushers like Leonhard Seppala and “Scotty” Allan, “Iron Man” Johnson and Fox Maule Ramsay, and the heroic dogs like Baldy, Togo, and Fritz. For the Centennial Race some of Alaska’s best-known mushers entered: Lance Mackey, Jeff King, Mitch Seavey, Sonny Lindner, Ramy Brooks, Jim Lanier, Cim Smyth, Aaron Burmeister, Ed Iten, Hugh Neff, and Mike Santos. And then there were the mushers who entered simply to be a part of the history of the race: Kirsten Bey, Cari Miller, Fred Moe Napoka, Connor Thomas, and Jeff Darling, whose musher profile noted that he’d entered “for the historical value and a chance to see some countryside he might not otherwise be able to see by dogteam.”

AAS mapThe photo-rich, full color book covers the race from the preliminary festivities such as the crowning of the Sweepstakes Queen, Janice Doherty, and the mushers’ bib drawing, to the historically-themed finisher’s banquet and the awards, not only of the beautiful championship trophy, but also the Alec “Scotty” Allan Humanitarian Award, and the Percy Blatchford “Spirit of the Race” award. Descriptive commentaries by Race Marshal and Lead Judge Al Crane; leaderboard designer and champion musher Jodi Bailey; and dedicated race fan Marcia Claesson, who shared how the race was tracked by mushing enthusiasts from around the world, add depth and perspective to the exciting narrative of this iconic race.

“One of the pilots in Candle asked me if I’d seen any wolves, and I said no, and he said there was a big pack of wolves headed this way. I was about two hours out of Candle on my way to Gold Run and I see all these green eyes about fifty feet off the trail, a hundred yards ahead of me. So I had my headlight on bright and I’m looking at these eyes… My .44 was in my sled so I unzipped my sled bag and I’m looking, there’s a lot of sets of eyes looking at me…” ~ musher Aaron Burmeister sharing tales of the trail at the Finish Banquet.

Sweepstakes Buy NowAll Alaska Sweepstakes, History of the Great Sled Dog Race. Softcover 8.5″x 11″, published in 2013 by Northern Light Media. ISBN 978-0-9843977-0-9 • 160 pages, over 350 photos. $29.00 plus $5.00 shipping from Northern Light Media, PO Box 298023, Wasilla, Alaska 99629. For credit cards and PayPal please click here.

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Sled Dog Tales

COVER Alaskan Sled Dog Tales

“These trustworthy creatures could be relied upon to do the heavy work, while remaining—as Hegener eloquently reminds us—our most treasured friends.” David Fox, Anchorage Press

Alaskan Sled Dog Tales, by Helen Hegener. $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.

Alaskan Sled Dog Tales shares the important history of sled dogs in Alaska, highlighting legendary mushers such as Leonhard Seppala, Scotty Allan, and ‘Iron Man” Johnson, and explaining how sled dogs were an integral part of early explorations, the gold rush era, and historic events such as the 1925 Serum Run to Nome.

True stories include Alaskan mail carrier Eli Smith’s epic trip to Washington, D.C., Alaska Nellie’s daring rescue of a lost mail carrier, the Rev. Samuel Hall Young’s 1913 trip over the Iditarod Trail, and Territorial Judge James Wickersham’s 1901 dogsled trip down the frozen Yukon River from Eagle to Rampart. Fascinating stories of Alaska’s history as seen from the runners of a dogsled!

Alaskan Sled Dog Tales, by Helen Hegener. $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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“Relying upon material written from the late 1890s through the early ‘30s, [Hegener] catalogues how sled dogs provided Alaskan residents the ability to traverse enormous distances, deliver critical supplies and maintain communication from within and outside Alaska. The episodes she recounts are stirring, filled with human and animal bravery. Some are simply mind-boggling, filling the reader with awe and enormous respect for dog and driver alike.” David Fox, in the Anchorage Press

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Alaska & The Klondike

CoverFinalAlaska & the Klondike, Early Writings and Historic Photographs, compiled and edited by Helen Hegener, and published in 2018 by Northern Light Media, is an anthology of selected writings from a dozen northland classics  by early explorers and travelers in the territories of Alaska and Canada’s Yukon at the turn of the 20th century.
Complete chapters from books such as Ten Thousand Miles with a Dog Sled, The Land of Tomorrow, and Along Alaska’s Great River offer first-hand accounts of the authors’ adventures in charting an unknown country, exploring a wondrous land, searching for gold, delivering freight and mail, and administering medical and religious services by dog team, at a time when the land was young.
Wonderful black and white drawings and photographs, often by the authors themselves, accompany the writings of Frederick Schwatka, Hudson Stuck, Robert Service, Josiah Edward Spurr, Arthur Treadwell Walden and many others as they tell of adventures, explorations, fortunes won and lost, and the magnificent promise of our great northern lands.
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Selected excerpts are from the following books:
 • Golden Alaska, by Ernest Ingersoll
 • The Land of Tomorrow, by William B. Stephenson, Jr.
 • The Spell of the Yukon & Other Verses, by Robert Service
 • The Ascent of Denali, by Hudson Stuck
 • From Paris to New York by Land, by Harry DeWindt
 • Through the Yukon Gold Diggings, by Josiah Edward Spurr
 • A Woman Who Went––To Alaska, by May Kellogg Sullivan
 • The Land of Nome, by Lanier McKee
 • Ten Thousand Miles with a Dog Sled, by Hudson Stuck
 • Along Alaska’s Great River, by Frederick Schwatka
 • Alaska: Our Northern Wonderland, by Frank Carpenter
 • A Dog-Puncher on the Yukon, by Arthur Treadwell Walden
Alaskan author Helen Hegener has compiled an engaging journey through the literary history of Alaska and the Klondike, and an introduction to some of the most compelling books ever written about the North.
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Alaska & the Klondike, Early Writings and Historic Photographs, compiled and edited by Helen Hegener, published May 10, 2018 by Northern Light Media. $24.95 (plus shipping), 320 pages, over 100 b/w photos, ISBN-13: 978-1717401991. Click here to order.
Kindle Edition now available. $5.99 (Kindle MatchBook $2.99)
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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

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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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Icebound

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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.”

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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.

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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.

sepp-and-togo

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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