Tag Archives: Books

Irving M. Reed

oie_21234926N4BBt391In his classic 1969 book, Boyhood in the Nome Gold Camp (Mineral Industry Research Laboratory, University of Alaska), Irving McKenny Reed records the observations made by an enthusiastic young boy in one of Alaska’s great gold mining towns at the height of its glory: Nome between 1900 and 1903.

An article in the July-August issue of Alaskan History Magazine highlights the young Reed’s adventures in Nome. He was only ten years old when he, his mother, and his six-year-old sister traveled by ship from Seattle to Dutch Harbor, where Irving’s father was developing a sulphur mine. It was a storm-tossed, 34-day voyage, but only the beginning of his life of Alaskan adventures. Irving Reed would grow up in the remote mining camps of Nome, Iditarod, Livengood, and Takotna, and he would go on to be a respected mining engineer, Alaska’s first fire warden, a State Game Commissioner for 12 years, and the Territorial Highway Engineer.  His complete biography can be read at the Alaska Mining Hall of Fame, and a collection of Irving Reed’s photographs at the University of Fairbanks, including several photos from the Iditarod Trail in the 1920’s, can be found here.

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Article in the July-August issue of Alaskan History Magazine.

 

Barrett Willoughby

oie_2132217v9Yn62AlThe July-August issue of Alaskan History Magazine features an article about Barrett Willoughby, Alaska’s first commercially successful female novelist. Her romantic stories, set in various parts of Alaska, were serialized in the most popular magazines of the day, and two of her books, Rocking Moon and Spawn of the North, were made into motion pictures. In addition to her popular novels, she wrote short stories, travel books, and character sketches of significant Alaskan pioneers.

oie_21323170HlUIHvEThe daughter of a riverboat captain and named after her mother, Florence was raised on Alaska’s waters. Some of her earliest Alaskan experiences are recounted in her first novel, Where the Sun Swings North (1922), available to read online free at Gutenberg.org. Florence – later taking the family name Barrett as her first name – grew to love Alaska, its land, history, and people—and all but one of her novels have an Alaskan setting. Many of her male protagonists were, like her father, riverboat captains, and all of her female protagonists shared her love of Alaska.

Barrett Willoughby bioBiographer Nancy Warren Farrell wrote in Barrett Willoughby, Alaska’s Forgotten Lady (University of Alaska Press, 1994): “Willoughby’s novels were romantic adventures. And therein existed one of the keys to Willoughby’s personality and her writing. If one word depicted Barrett Willoughby as a person and as a writer, it would be ‘romance.’ It was the romantic outlook which urged her on, which kept her excited about the future. Her journey in life was like a steamer trip north: ‘A warm and magical Alaskan wind that fills me with expectancy and makes me sure that ahead––up around that next beckoning bend––lies something I’ve always longed for. I don’t know what it is exactly, but it’s beautiful; and it has in it youth and bouyancy––and that elusive, golden will o’ the wisp––Romance.’”

Sondra O'MooreBibliography
Where the Sun Swings North (1922)
Rocking Moon (1925)
Gentlemen Unafraid (1926)
The Trail Eater (1929)
Sitka, Portal to Romance (1930)
Spawn of the North (1932)
Alaskans All (1933)
River House (1936)
Alaska Holiday (1940)
The Golden Totem, a novel of modern Alaska (1945)

Filmography
Rocking Moon
Spawn of the North

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Sled Dog Tales

 

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Tanana Flats, April, 1912 

The May-June issue of Alaskan History Magazine included an article on the All Alaska Sweepstakes sled dog races, which ran from Nome to Candle and return from 1908 through 1917. The races spotlighted the hardy sled dogs which made travel in Alaska’s harsh winters possible, the ever-reliable dog teams being the primary mode of travel in territorial Alaska. It is to our good fortune that thousands of photographs of mushers and their teams were captured, such as the one above, showing a musher and his dog team crossing the Tanana Flats in 1912.

Ten Thousand MilesThe colorful history of dog team travel in the north country was surprisingly well documented, and to read the exploits of these early-day mushers is to venture back to a time when men depended on their dogs for their very lives. Driving a team of huskies for hundreds of miles through mountain ranges, across glaciers, over frozen lakes and rivers, and through vast unpeopled valleys required a caliber of strength and endurance almost unimaginable today. The mail drivers and freight haulers of old left civilization behind when they hit the trail, and they were on their own when trouble or tragedy struck, as it often did.

In the frozen north, the singular capabilities of a good sled dog often meant the difference between life and death. In the Nome Daily Nugget newspaper, April 2, 1917, a poem by Esther Birdsall Darling told the tale of a heroic rescue which had taken place only a few weeks before. Sled dog driver Bobby Brown, working at Dime Creek on the Seward Peninsula during the winter of 1916-17, was badly mangled in a sawmill accident. The man who would later become a legend in the north country, Leonhard Seppala, was nearby with his team, and he loaded the injured man onto his sled, wrapped him in wolf robes and set out for the nearest hospital, at Candle, over fifty miles away. With a dog named Russky in the lead, they made the hospital and delivered Bobby Brown to the doctors, but his injuries were too great and he died a few days later.

Dog-Puncher on YukonThe mail drivers, freight haulers, and other early mushers faced danger on a regular basis, but it was just part and parcel of their job. 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. Adolph “Ed” Biederman was a contract mail carrier between the towns of Eagle and Circle. Delivering the mail on the Yukon River by dog team over the 160-mile section took six days one way, then a day’s rest, and six days back. Biederman ran this route thirteen times over the course of each winter, with loads of mail often exceeding 500 pounds, following a string of roadhouses located at intervals along the river.

“I spent almost the entire winter freighting with my dogs to the outlying creeks, and so was away from civilization most of the time. There was more money in it than in ordinary freighting to the mines, and the life suited me better. I had to camp out, but this was less difficult now than formerly, as by this time we all had tents and stoves.” — Arthur Treadwell Walden, ‘A Dog-Puncher on the Yukon’ (Houghton Mifflin Co., 1928)

Baldy of NomeDog teams were indispensable to Arctic explorers, missionaries, lawmen, doctors, gold seekers, mail drivers, and anyone who needed to travel the winter trails in Alaska, leading the venerable Judge James Wickersham to state in 1938, “He who gives his time to the study of the history of Alaska, learns that the dog, next to man, has been the most important factor in its past and present development.”

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Many stories of early Alaskan mushers and their dog teams are featured in the book, Alaskan Sled Dog Tales: True Stories of the Steadfast Companions of the North Country, by Helen Hegener, published in 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. A wonderful gift for any dog-lover!

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. 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