Tag Archives: Scotty Allan

Esther Birdsall Darling

Baldy of NomeAn article in the Jan-Feb issue of Alaskan History Magazine focuses on the author of several classic Alaskan books such as Baldy of Nome, Navarre of the North, and Boris, Grandson of Baldy. An avid fan of the sled dog races in Nome, Esther Birdsall Darling was also the kennel partner to the King of the Alaskan Trail, Allan Alexander “Scotty” Allan.

Esther Birdsall was born into wealth and privilege, the daughter of a prominent family in the early history of northern California. Born in 1868, Esther grew up in a fine home, tended by three live-in servants, in the state capitol of Sacramento. In 1907, at the relatively late age of 38, Esther married the co-owner of the Darling & Dean Hardware business in far-off Nome, Alaska.

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The sled dogs of the Stefansson Expedition had formerly carried the mail to Nome. C. E. Darling, ‘Scotty’ Allan, and Vilhjalmur Stefansson are among the men seen here at Darling & Dean.

Charles Edward ‘Ned’ Darling was born in Ireland in 1871. He was working for a west-coast based paint company in 1900 when he decided to transport a supply of fireproof paint to the Nome gold camp for fire-proofing the miners’ tents. After looking things over he determined that a hardware store could prove profitable, and by 1915 his store, the farthest north hardware store on the American continent, would boast a $150,000 inventory of hardware, ship chandlery, roofing, dredging supplies, and mining and mill supplies. Darling & Dean Hardware outfitted several Arctic expeditions, including explorer and anthropologist Vilhjalmur Stefansson, who in 1913 purchased $21,000 in supplies for a three-year scientific study of the Arctic. 

Baldy and Scotty Allan

A.A. “Scotty” Allan and Baldy

Charles Darling was also a musher, and in February of 1906 he set a world’s record for long distance mushing when he drove his dog team from Nome to Seattle—via Valdez and ship—in only 42 days. Dog teams were held in high esteem, for a string of strong huskies was the most reliable mode of transportation over winter trails. The secretary of Darling & Dean Hardware, a Scotsman named Allan Alexander Allan, known as “Scotty,” partnered with Charles Darling in a dog kennel, and when the new Mrs. Darling met the furry residents of this kennel it was love at first sight, and that love would blossom into a literary legacy.

Baldy of Nome, published in 1912, was kept it in print by popular demand for more than forty years. It was filled with exciting true stories such as the time during the 60-mile Solomon Derby when Scotty, leaning over his sled to look at a broken runner, hit his head on an iron trail marker and was knocked unconscious. Baldy stopped the team, returned to his injured driver and roused him with nudges and howls, and then led the team to win the race. Stories of Baldy’s descendants followed, including Boris, Grandson of Baldy; Navarre of the North, and collections of prose and poetry about Alaska. 

Esther Darling on steps 420Charles and Esther Darling left Alaska in 1918 and moved to Berkeley, California, and so also did Scotty Allan, taking along his old friend and trail mate Baldy. When Baldy died in 1922 Esther Darling and Scotty Allan obtained a special permit from the city to bury the famous dog in the back yard of the Allan home in Oakland, overlooking San Francisco Bay. A rose bush was planted over his grave, and a lengthy obituary ran in The New York Times. 

Esther Birdsall Darling spent her later years as a popular speaker at civic, charity, and other social events, describing life in Alaska during the heyday of the All Alaska Sweepstakes to her attentive audiences. She was justifiably proud of her partnership with A. A. “Scotty” Allan, who she always described as the best dog man in Alaska, and their champion leader Baldy. Esther passed away June 2, 1965, at the age of 96, in Auburn, California, near her childhood home. She was buried in the Sacramento City Cemetery, close to her parents and her husband. ~•~

 

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The entire article is in the Jan-Feb issue of Alaskan History Magazine

All Alaska Sweepstakes

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FROM OUR PAGES:

The May-June issue of Alaskan History Magazine includes an article on the All Alaska Sweepstakes, founded in Nome:

In the winter of 1907, a group of friends in Nome, Alaska set about developing a kennel club and formalizing the rules for racing dogs, founded on the same principles as the jockey clubs which oversaw the famed horse races of the bluegrass country in the south. There were many impromptu sled dog races all over the territory, but the men who started the Sweepstakes race were seeking a way to  track and trace the mushers, their dogs, and the results, with an eye toward improving the sport and breeding better dogs.

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Front Street, 5th race, 1912

In the spring of 1908 they held their first race, a 408-mile run to mining town of Candle and return, 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, and the betting was lively and spirited!

The winner of the first race was musher John Hegness, who was driving the team of Nome Kennel Club President Albert Fink. Twenty years later Hegness, who was a trapper and ranged widely over northern Alaska, would be credited with finding the bush pilot Russel Merrill after his plane crash-landed near Barrow. Merrill was transported to the Barrow hospital by dog team and treated for snow-blindness, exhaustion, and malnutrition.

 

Baldy and Scotty Allan

Scotty Allan and Baldy

The All Alaska Sweepstakes made household names of two illustrious mushers: Allan Alexander “Scotty” Allan and Leonhard Seppala, who each won the race three times. Another musher who gained widespread fame was the 1910 champion, John “Iron Man” JohnsonJohnson drove a team for the Scottish nobleman, Fox Maule Ramsay, who had traveled to the Anadyr River area of Siberia and brought back a load of “swift little foxy-looking dogs” which became the distant forerunners of today’s Siberian husky. Driving a team of these fast little huskies, Johnson set a record in the 1910 race of 74 hours, 14 minutes, and 37 seconds, which stood until 2008. 

The All Alaska Sweepstakes was an eagerly anticipated annual event until the gold mining dropped off and the First World War took a large percentage of the men away to fight on foreign shores. 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.

trophy_aasAlaska’s best-known mushers entered the Centennial race, including 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.”

nkcpatch52004 Iditarod champion Mitch Seavey won the $100,000 purse for the 2008 race, and organizers and the Nome Kennel Club announced that would be the final running of the epic race, an event now consigned to the pages of Alaska’s colorful mushing history. In 2013 Northern Light Media published The All Alaska Sweepstakes, History of the Great Sled Dog Race, which told the story of the race and the sixteen Alaskan mushers who entered their teams in the Centennial running, each hoping to have their name engraved on the Sweepstakes trophy beside the great mushing legends John ‘Iron Man Johnson, ‘Scotty’ Allan and Leonhard Seppala. •~•

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John Hegness driving Albert Fink’s team, 1st race, 1st winner, in 1908.

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“Scotty” Allan driving J. Berger team, winner of 2nd race, 1909.

 

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John “Iron Man” Johnson driving Col. Ramsay’s team, winners of 3rd race, 1910.

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Leonhard Seppala, owner and driver, winning the 1916 race. He also won in 1915 and 1917.

All Alaska Sweepstakes at Wikipedia

Nome Kennel Club History

Anchorage Daily News article by Helen Hegener, 2009

Biography of “Scotty” Allan at LitSite Alaska