Since early 1925, a great number of stories have been written about the effort to deliver diphtheria antitoxin to Nome, Alaska. These stories have appeared in a wide variety of publications. The majority of them have focused on the first relay. The material on this website is not confined or limited to just that one heroic feat; nor is it a rehash of these other narratives.
The general purpose of this site is twofold. First, to provide some little known and/or long forgotten facts about individuals and events relative to the early history of sled dogs in Alaska and the Lower 48. Second, to clarify some of the distorted and incorrect accounts that have been perpetuated over the years - some of which continue to this day.
All of the subjects on this site are about history the way it actually happened. They are supported by volumes of the most original and reliable written and photographic evidence from the time. In addition, several dozen individuals were interviewed; specifically, those who were able to provide objective firsthand accounts, or who had little known knowledge about any of the people or events of interest. A fair number of previously unpublished documents and photos have recently been uncovered. Some of them had been filed away for as long as eighty years. Other types of rare memorabilia that once belonged to some of the individuals in these stories has also been found. The reference material used to support these writings was accumulated during the course of more than a decade of research.
Please check back periodically as more true and little known stories about early Siberian dog history will be added in the future.
This is a two part article that is written in a different format. Instead of being in a traditional story form, it is presented in such a way that it provides a combination of some information about the resources used; about the nearly two years of research that went into retracing the footsteps of Gunnar Kaasen and his dogs; and most importantly, the evidence that was found. To the extent possible, the dates, locations and some abbreviated highlights about the tour team in Part I of this article are listed in chronological order.
A considerable amount of attention has been given to the first serum run. A few of the drivers and some of their dogs became famous as the result of this heroic journey. But what about the men and the dogs who participated in the second run? After all, they faced the same severe conditions that the first run teams did. For the most part, the second run is just mentioned in passing, if at all.
At least three old noteworthy books, as well as a number of other writings, all have the same version of a poem about a rescue mission by a famous Alaskan dog driver in 1917. The name of the lead dog of this team is part of the poem. The version in all of these publications is incorrect, in that the name of the lead dog has been changed. Credit for the rescue mission has been given to the wrong dog! A copy of the original poem is included in this story.
Not long after the two serum runs in early 1925, four individuals traveled from various parts of Alaska to Seattle, Washington. Two of them were directly involved with the delivery of the medicine. The other two had incidental roles related to the runs. As it turned out, all of them had at least one thing in common - they were all passengers on the same ship from Seward, Alaska to Seattle.
Within a week of completing his serum run relay, Gunnar Kaasen received two offers to appear in a motion picture. The first one was a role in a romance and adventure story that would be portrayed as taking place in the Yukon Territory. The title of the movie was Winds of Chance, by novelist and playwright Rex Beach. Part of it would be filmed near Bellingham, Washington. The other one was by film producer Sol Lesser, who owned the Principal Pictures Corporation in Los Angeles. This movie would be about Gunnar Kaasen's relay in the serum run, using all of the actual participants. It would be filmed at Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington State and would be released with the title Balto's Race To Nome.
When Leonhard Seppala retired, he and his wife relocated from Alaska to Seattle, Washington. He brought a few dogs with him. Not long afterwards, Seppala became involved with a Siberian dog kennel in the Seattle area for more than a decade.
The name Gunnar Kaasen is most often associated with the last relay team that delivered diphtheria antitoxin to Nome, Alaska during the first serum run in early 1925. Unlike Leonhard Seppala, who had many stories published about his life, not much more has been written about the life of Gunnar Kaasen beyond his role in the serum run and the subsequent nationwide tour. While this article is not a complete biography, it does provide a more detailed account about various and little known events.
This will probably be the last article on this website. The primary reason is due to the passing of my beloved wife, Susan, on August 28, 2014. She had been battling brain cancer since February of 2013. Over the years, she had inspired and encouraged me to continue writing. Now that inspiration and encouragement is gone. Since this story was in the works prior to Susan's passing, I will honor her wish by publishing this article - and I dedicate it to her. Old Sled Dog Tales
It's been about 7 months now since my wife passed away. For about 6 months after that, I had no desire to do much of anything, let alone write another story for my website. However, during the past month or so I have found the energy and motivation to write another article. This one is primarily about little known and/or long forgotten incidents related to early sled dog history in Alaska and the Lower 48. It consists of selected items during the period from 1908 to 1928, starting with some of the first Siberians in Alaska, and ending with the Balto team in Cleveland, Ohio.