Old Sled Dog Tales

By:  Lance Jensen

*April, 1908 - San Francisco, CA:  The general consensus is that the first Siberian dogs were imported from Siberia to Nome, Alaska during the late summer/early fall of 1908; however, there is some evidence that Siberians were in Nome prior to that. Here is one example:

Nome lawyer and judge Clarence Hannum and his wife owned at least one Siberian, and possibly more.  His name was Bruin. In 1907, the Hannums traveled to California to show some of their dogs.  Bruin was awarded a special medal by the San Francisco Kennel Club in April of 1908.

*September 14 or 15, 1909 - Nome, Alaska:  A fair number of accounts have reported that anywhere from about 40 to somewhat over 100 Siberians were imported by Charles Fox Ramsay in the fall of 1909, and that the ship that brought them from Siberia to Nome was the schooner Arctic.  Ramsay did import some dogs then, but the exact number was 48, and the dogs were transported by the Russian ship Varg.

*October 30, 1909 - Nome, Alaska: Leonhard Seppala and Constance Vanderstraeten were married.

*November 25, 1909 - Nome, Alaska:  Fox Ramsay was one of six entries in the Loop the Loop Race.  He was driving a team of Siberians.  His team became entangled with another team at the start of the race, and it took almost two minutes to separate the dogs, costing him time.  As he was coming back into Nome, Ramsay threw a club at his dogs, almost striking some spectators.  Ramsay's team finished in last place.

*March 6, 1910 - Nome, Alaska:  George Allan, the 8 year old son of famous musher Scotty Allan, won the Juvenile Alaskans' race from Nome to Cape Nome and back.  There were four teams in this race.

*May 10, 1910 - Nome, Alaska:  This was the due date for the owners to pay the tax of $2.00 per dog for every dog in Nome. That law went into effect exactly one year before.  Every dog was required to wear a tax tag which varied in color from year to year.

*May 13, 1910 - Nome, Alaska:  Nome Census Enumerator Sawyer reported to District Court Judge Moore that the population of Nome during the winter of 1909/1910 was 2,602.

*June 4, 1910 - Nome, Alaska:  Charles Johnson, also a well known musher and dog man, parked his dog team on the beach and went to a nearby restaurant for a meal.  When Johnson returned, he discovered that his team had been impounded by the Nome Poundmaster for non-payment of dog licensing fees.

*December 1, 1910 - Nome, Alaska:  Loubrom, a Siberian dog imported the previous year, and who was used by well known dog driver John (Iron Man) Johnson on his 1910 All Alaska Sweepstakes race team, died that evening of unreported cause(s).

*February 12, 1911 - Nome, Alaska:  Edward Coke Hill was a lawyer and an experienced dog man and musher.  Chummy, one of Hills' best dogs, was killed that evening as the result of a dog fight in his kennel.

*Early March, 1911 - Nome, Alaska:  A proposal was submitted to the Nome Kennel Club requesting that the All Alaska Sweepstakes race course be changed for that year.  The proposed new route would start at Nome and "...will be to Tishou and return to Nome and then to Chinik via Fort Davis, Cape Nome, Safety, Solomon, Topkok, Bluff and from Chinik to Council, which will be the turning point.  The teams returning to Nome via Chinik as they went out.  The distance is about 350 miles." That proposal was not looked on favorably by a majority of the local dog drivers, and the measure was declined by the Nome Kennel Club during the latter part of March.

*April 8, 1911 - Nome, Alaska:  A reported 1,000 people witnessed the start of the All Alaska Sweepstakes race.  At least fifty people with cameras took pictures of the start of Scotty Allan's team.

Coke Hill was one of the entries in the 1911 AAS race.  On his return trip Hill began having trouble with his dogs.  His leader at that time was a dog named Prince. Here is part of his account about that incident:

"It was near Safety that the dogs began to act up a little.  They would swing on and off the trail...and after I had warned them several times...I lost my temper and slapped Prince severely."

"When I tried to start the team up again, Prince squatted down on his haunches and refused to move.  When he saw that the other dogs were willing to travel, he went up to them and whispered something to each one, and then they all laid down."

Hill tried a couple of different dogs as the leader and was finally able to get the team going again and complete the race. Coke Hill also said that after that experience, he would never again lose his temper with his dogs, and he would always treat them well in the future.

*Early November, 1911 - Nome, Alaska:  John (Iron Man) Johnson left Nome aboard the ship Sea Wolf, destination Siberia. One of his goals was to procure some Siberian dogs and bring them back to Nome.  Johnson returned to Nome aboard the ship Yorkey on June 30, 1912 "...with a number of dogs."

*January 14, 1912 - Nome, Alaska:  Charley Sing, owner of the Boston Laundry, won the round trip race from Nome to Fort Davis.  Normally this race started on Front Street; however, this time it was started out on the Bering Sea.  Sing beat other notable contestants, such as Faye Delzene, Scotty Allan and Charles Johnson.

*Early December, 1912 - Nome, Alaska:  The humane societies of New York City and San Francisco wrote to the Nome Humane Society advising that complaints had been received from anonymous sources in Nome about the cruelty to dogs involved in dog racing.  Furthermore, that these organizations would consider asking the U. S. Congress to enact laws to prohibit dog racing.  The Nome organization replied with a strong letter defending the sport.

*February 7, 1913 - Council, Alaska:  John Hegness, the driver of the winning team of the first All Alaska Sweepstakes race in 1908, was married to Marie Louise LaBoulanger at the Marks Hotel.

*January 3, 1914 - Nome, Alaska:  Gunnar Kaasen was admitted to the Holy Cross Hospital due to an attack of appendicitis.

*April 1, 1914 - Nome, Alaska:  The original start date for the 1914 AAS race was April 6.  At a meeting of the Nome Kennel Club, John Johnson requested a postponement so that he could get his dogs in shape for the race.  The club agreed to extend the start date to April 13.

*December 29, 1915 - Seattle, WA:  After leaving Nome with his dog team during the latter part of 1914, John Johnson travels to San Francisco to display his dogs at various shows and enter some races.  He and his dog team enter a race in Truckee, CA and are photographed with novelist Jack London.  Johnson and his dogs are also featured in a movie titled "The Deathlock", an Alaskan adventure story.  One of the theatres where this movie is shown is the Colonial Theatre, on December 31 and on New Years Day.

*April 13, 1916 - Nome, Alaska:  The Nome Kennel Club received an inquiry from the Island White Collie Kennels in Oshkosh, Wisconsin asking about the possibility of their kennel entering a team of Collie dogs in the 1917 AAS race.

*November 6, 1916 - Nome, Alaska:  The Nome Kennel Club received a large silver trophy and a smaller one from John Borden. The large trophy was put on display at the Darling and Dean Hardware Company.  The conditions of winning this trophy were that the same team owner must win the John Borden Race three times, but not necessarily in succession.  The first race to be run in 1917 and subsequent years, and the course to be 26 miles round trip from Nome to Cape Nome.  A smaller Borden Cup trophy would be awarded on an annual basis to the winning team owner.  When that same team owner had won the race 3 times, they would be presented with the large silver trophy.

*January 16, 1917 - Solomon, Alaska:  Leonhard Seppala, with Carl Lomen as a passenger, was enroute from Nome to Chinik (Golovin).  Before reaching Solomon, another musher warned them of treacherous ice on the Bonanza River.  In spite of the warning, all 19 dogs on Seppala's team were plunged into the water when a weak spot on the ice dropped out from under the dogs.  Another musher happened to come along and assisted Seppala and Lomen in getting the dogs out of the river.  After a brief rest at Solomon, they were able to continue their journey.

*April 11, 1917 - Solomon, Alaska:  The coverage of Paul Kjegstad's troubles during the 1917 AAS race almost overshadowed the coverage of all the other teams.  Not long after leaving Solomon, one of the tow lines broke and 6 of Kjegstad's dogs escaped.  Another dog had been involved in a dog fight and was seriously injured.  That dog was being carried in the sled. Yet another dog was partially frozen, and that dog was also loaded onto the sled.

Kjegstad went out looking for his missing dogs but was unable to find them.  He holed up in a native igloo in the area of Spruce Creek due to a severe storm.  The other three teams in the race had also sought shelter due to the fierce storm. After the blizzard subsided, these three teams continued on and were logged in at the Council checkpoint on the outbound journey. There was no sign of Kjegstad and the Council checkpoint reported that his missing dogs had most likely perished in the blizzard and that Kjegstad was out of the race.

*April 12, 1917 - Council, Alaska:  As reported by The Nome Nugget paper, "Council was startled this morning at 8:44 by the appearance of Paul Kjegstad who was packing a dead dog on his sled.  He shouted as he swept through town "Notify Nome that I'm still in the race..."  Not long afterwards, it was learned that some natives had found Kjegstad's six missing dogs and returned them to him.  The dog who had been in the fight had died, and the frozen one had recovered and was able to continue.  Paul Kjegstad finished last in this race, but he did finish, still carrying the dead dog in his sled, as required by the AAS race rules.  Even though it was 2 A.M. when Kjegstad arrived back at Nome, many of his friends and admirers were on hand to greet him and to acknowledge his "pluck and tenacity" in running this race.

*May 19, 1917 - Washington, DC:  A presidential proclamation is issued to all men of eligible age to register for the military draft.  It also stated that dates of registration for the territories of Alaska, Puerto Rico and Hawaii would be established at a later date.  As it turned out, those dates were from June 2 to September 2, 1917.

Olaf Hallstrom, husband of Felicia Seppala/Hallstrom (who was Leonhard Seppala's sister), was in Nome at that time and he registered with the selective service draft board.

*April 8, 1918 - Nome, Alaska:  The Nome Kennel Club decided not to hold the annual AAS race for that year, due to the nation being at war.  They anticipated the race would resume in the spring of 1919.

*November 25, 1919 - Nome, Alaska:  The following notice was posted by Mayor E. L. Holt:

"City Ordinance No. 233, makes it a misdemeanor for any person, during the winter months, to drive dog or horse teams, drawing sleighs, through the streets of Nome without being equipped with bells of sufficient size to automatically give warning of their approach.  The police will be instructed to arrest any one violating this ordinance."

One of the present day Nome dog laws is similar to that of 1919:

Nome Animal Control Laws - Chapter 10.30, Section 10.30.160, Dog teams.

"It is unlawful for any person to drive over, across or upon any of the streets of the city a dog team drawing a sled or other vehicle unless such team is equipped with bells attached thereto of such size and number and so attached as to automatically give warning of the approaching team. (Ord. O-14-01-01 § 2 (part), 2014)."

*April 24, 1920 - Nome, Alaska:  Fred Ayer won his third Borden Cup Race and received the large silver cup mentioned earlier in this story.  He was the first person in the history of the race to do so.  Leonhard Seppala was an entry in this race, but he withdrew from the contest near the Milk Ranch at the east end of the city.  "After trying his best to make the team liven up its pace, Seppala gave it up as a bad job after he had been overtaken by Ayer when still within the city limits."

*May 28, 1920 - Nome, Alaska:  The following notice was posted by the Police Committee:

"Notice is hereby given to owners of dogs that any dog found running at large contrary to the following Ordinance will be summarily shot by the Chief of Police or any police officer.

Ordinance No. 212.  Section 6 - it shall be unlawful for any person to suffer or allow any dog to be at large in the town of Nome, during the Daytime between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. from May 1 to Nov. 1.  Or to allow any vicious dog or any dog afflicted with any contagious or loathsome disease to be at large at any time whether day or night."

*November 1, 1921 - Seattle, WA:  Leonhard Seppala gives an interview to the Norwegian newspaper, Washington Posten. He arrived in Seattle about a week earlier with his family and several dogs.  The family will stay in Seattle while Seppala goes to Norway that winter.  Among other things, Seppala reports that his famous lead dog, Russky, had to be put down that past summer.  He also said that neither he nor his family could bare to part with their favorite family pet Siberian, Nellie, so they brought her with them.

*December 1, 1922 - Nome, Alaska:  The Maynard Columbus Hospital dedication ceremony takes place, and is open to the public.  A part of the old Holy Cross Hospital will be used as quarters for the nurses.

*February 4, 1923 - Nome, Alaska:  Leonhard Seppala wins the Yuba Derby Dog race with a time of 33min/52sec.  On February 25, the Ladies Race was held using the same course.  Mrs. Laurie Mattilla won this race and beat Seppala's time for the course with a time of 31min/38sec.  The temperature was below freezing and a wicked wind was blowing. The spectators called Mrs. Mattilla's performance in this race "sensational."  She was driving a team owned by Al Carey.

Another report from this race says, "Mrs. E. J. Gorman, driving Seppala's team, ran over a tailings pile, was thrown from the sled and dragged some distance, sustaining severe and painful bruises.  This charming lady's chief regret, is not the bruises, but her inability to finish the race..."

*February 23, 1924 - near Nome, Alaska:  Hans Samuelson was driving 3 reindeer to the Buckland River District for the Biological Survey Station of Nome.  Some dogs from Fred Ayer's nearby kennel were turned loose by the kennel help for exercise. The dogs got the scent of the reindeer and chased them down, killing two of them.  Hans Samuelson shot and killed 4 of Ayers' dogs.

*February 28, 1926 - Nome, Alaska:  The Bering Sea Race had four entries.  One of them was Leonhard Seppala; however, at the beginning of this race, Seppala's dogs bolted off the course and ran for home.  His team was disqualified.

*November 20, 1926 - Kansas City, MO:  Leonhard Seppala and his dogs were on their second nationwide tour stop. During late morning, the team was scheduled to appear at Muehleback Field for a mushing demonstration.  Here is part of what happened during that event:

A man took Togo and led him around the field, so that the other dogs would know to follow Togo.  When Leonhard Seppala stepped onto the runner of his sled and cracked his whip, the man saw the dogs coming after him and Togo.  The dogs caught up with them and didn't know where to go next, so they went back to the place where they had started.

Since that hadn't worked out very well, another man took Togo and made the mistake of leading him between the football field goal posts.  The dogs followed Togo but got tangled up around the goal post.  After Seppala got them untangled, the team started to head back to the starting point again.  However, a man who had helped to get the dogs untangled got in the way and the dogs knocked him down.  One of the runners of the sled went over his body.  The man was only slightly injured.  The audience howled with laughter.

*May 5, 1928 - Cleveland, OH:  Balto and his six teammates had arrived at Cleveland in mid-March of 1927, after being rescued from a dime museum in Los Angeles.  Their new home was at the Brookside Zoo.  Bill was one of Balto's teammates. He was the first of the dogs to die at the zoo, but news of his death wasn't reported until a month after the fact.  

During the morning feeding one day in early April, the caretakers found Bill motionless with his front paws and nose in a hole he had been digging.  An autopsy was performed, and it was discovered that the dog had died of an enlarged heart. Bill was buried in a pine coffin near the monument which had been erected by the dog enclosure to honor the dogs and to tell of their efforts in the 1925 serum run to Nome.

©2015  Lance Jensen

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