Tag Archives: Iditarod

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.

 

Sled Dog Tales

 

UAF 1981-11-10

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

A People at Large

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

A People at Large

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

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by Eustace P. Ziegler, 1922

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

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

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by Eustace P. Ziegler, 1922

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

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

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by Eustace P. Ziegler, 1922

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

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

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