From Serum Runs to Seattle

By: Lance Jensen

John Hegness

The Pacific and Atlantic Photo Company had a photographer in Nome at the time of the first serum run.  The Seattle Daily Times newspaper made an arrangement with the Pacific and Atlantic Photo Company to deliver photos of that event to them, where they would be developed and published for the first time.

John Hegness was the dog driver who won the first All Alaska Sweepstakes race in 1908.  The Pacific and Atlantic Photo representative in Nome approached Hegness and asked him to deliver these exclusive photos to the newspaper in Seattle.  He agreed to do so; and to accomplish this mission, he bought a seven dog team.  The leader was named Bess.  They left Nome on the evening of February 6, 1925.

During most of the trip to Nenana, Hegness and his team encountered many of the same harsh trail and weather conditions that the first serum drivers had.  Of particular concern was a report about a mysterious disease along the Yukon River which had killed a couple of hundred dogs that winter.  This disease apparently only affected younger dogs.  The report also indicated that some dogs died rather quickly after contracting it - sometimes in just a matter of a few hours.  Hegness' entire team consisted of two year old huskies.

While traveling along this section of the trail, Hegness began to wonder if he would make it to Nenana.  What would happen if his dogs succumbed to this disease?  Would he end up being stranded along some desolate stretch of the trail in the horrible weather conditions?  And what about his contract to deliver the photos to Seattle?

Twenty-two days after leaving Nome, John Hegness and his team arrived in Nenana.  None of his dogs showed any signs of the mysterious disease.  Hegness sold his team during a layover of several days.  From Nenana, he traveled by train to Seward, where he would board the Alaska Steamship Company liner, Alaska.  The Alaska departed Seward on the evening of March 7.

The Seattle Times paper wanted the serum run photos as quickly as possible.  When Hegness reached Seward, arrangements were made to speed up the delivery.  At about 5:30 AM on March 13, the Alaska arrived in the area of Cape Lazo, British Columbia.  A lookout on the ship spotted a prearranged signal coming from the shore; a red lantern being waved back and forth.  The Alaska reduced speed in order to allow a speedboat from the shore to come alongside.  A waterproof package containing the photos was dropped overboard.  The speedboat picked up the package from the water and took it to an airplane that was standing by.  The pilot, who was accompanied by a representative of the Pacific and Atlantic Photo Company, flew the package to Seattle.

The plane landed in Seattle at about 9:30 AM that morning and the photo package was rushed to The Seattle Daily Times newspaper office.  The negatives were developed and eight photos were published in the late edition of the paper.

Solomon Basco

Solomon Basco was a full-blooded Indian dog driver who was 22 years old at the time of the two serum runs.  He was married to a 19 year old Indian girl whose name was Takeetlana.

Basco and a team of seven huskies ran the 34 mile relay from Tanana to Kallands in the second serum run.  The leader of his team was a dog named Seeli.  Basco left Tanana at 1:50 PM on February 9, 1925 and finished the run to Kallands at 6 PM.

Gerry Goss was a manager for the Northern Commercial Company of Alaska.  He had learned that a couple of drivers from the first serum run had accepted offers for commercial ventures in the Lower 48.  Not long after the second serum run, Goss contacted Solomon Basco and persuaded him to take his team outside on a similar venture.  Takeetlana would also go along.  Goss would act as an interpreter and as the manager of Basco and his dogs.

Upon arrival in Seattle, Gerry Goss made arrangements for Solomon Basco and his team to appear with other vaudeville acts at Pantages Theatre.  Basco and his dogs did daily shows there from March 16 - 22.  On March 19, a notice in one of the Tacoma, WA papers said that the group would be appearing at the Pantages Theatre in Tacoma in a couple of weeks. As of the end of April, Basco and his team had not been booked at any of the Tacoma theatres.

Solomon and Takeetlana Basco with two unidentified dogs from his serum run team.  Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

William Shannon

William Shannon is best known as the first relay driver in the first serum run.  He was one of the drivers just mentioned who had decided to do a nationwide tour of the Lower 48.  His wife, Anna, and his seven remaining dogs would accompany him.

While waiting for the ship to leave Seward, Shannon spoke with a local reporter about his part in the serum run.  He informed this reporter that three of his dogs had died as the result of frozen lungs during his first serum run relay.  He took another reporter on a tour of the ship so she could see the remaining members of his dog team.  Shannon also showed her Solomon Basco's team as Basco was ashore at the time.  After arriving in Seattle and spending some time there, Shannon and his team appeared at the Colonial Theatre in Tacoma, WA from March 21 - 27.  From there, the group headed east.

Bill Shannon and his team outside the Colonial Theatre in Tacoma, WA on March 21, 1925.
Photo credit:  Tacoma Public Library, BOLAND-B12148

On July 9, 1925 all of Bill Shannon's dogs were in the hospital at the SPCA in New York City.  They were in a bad way after traveling great distances, in hot weather, in the baggage car of a train during their eastward trip across the country.  Shannon was assisting with the care of his team at the SPCA.  He gave the names of these dogs as Blackie (his leader), Solly, Sox, Bear, Jim, Jerry and Bob.

While waiting for the dogs to recover, Bill Shannon spoke to the local press.  He told them:

"I don't want to take any credit away from Balto, but my dog Blackie takes his hat off to nobody.  He's as good a dog as Balto, and on the trip to Nome he did as much as Balto or any other dog could do." 

Why was Shannon comparing his lead dog to Balto at that time?

Gunnar Kaasen, Balto and the other eight remaining dogs on his tour team had arrived in New York City just three days earlier.  They were booked at the Loew's Theatre on Broadway through July 18.  Balto was also posing for sculptor Frederick Roth on a daily basis.  Roth was creating a statue of Balto which would subsequently be placed in Central Park.

Later that year, and also in New York, Bill Shannon was approached by a wealthy young lady who inquired as to the price for his dogs.  At first, Shannon thought she was kidding, so he quoted her what he thought was a high figure of $500 for Blackie and $300 each for the rest of the team.  To his surprise, this lady immediately agreed to the price, and Shannon ended up selling all of his dogs to her.  That would put an end to his nationwide tour.

Ralph Lomen

Ralph Lomen came to Nome, Alaska in 1903.  He and his brothers bought a photography studio and a drug store there in 1908.  They would later become well known for their endeavours in the reindeer business.

On January 22, 1925 Ralph Lomen left Nome by dog team.  He was accompanied by J. J. Elliott, who was a representative of Alaska's Second District.  Prior to leaving Nome, Lomen had found some diphtheria antitoxin in his drug store, but it was five years old and of no use.  His final destination was New York City, where he would meet one of his brothers to discuss their various business interests.

On the ninth day of their journey to Nenana, Lomen and Elliott crossed paths with one of the dog drivers from the first serum run.  This happened near Kaltag.  They did not know the identity of this person.  Ralph Lomen described him as an "Indian."  When Lomen and Elliott stopped at the various villages along the Yukon, many of the native inhabitants were afraid of them, as they had heard about the deadly disease afflicting people in Nome.  They feared the pair might bring this disease to their communities.  To help ease their concerns, Lomen and Elliott were "fumigated" by a doctor in Nulato.

On the eighteenth day of their trip, Lomen and Elliott came across a dog driver from the second serum run.  They did not know the identity of this person either.  Again, they just described him as an Indian.  Upon arrival at Nenana, Ralph Lomen had to layover for a time to wait for a storm to subside and to tend to some business affairs.

When Ralph Lomen and J. J. Elliott encountered the two dog drivers along the trail, the serum run relays were actually in progress.  In comparing Lomen's account to that of various records about the identities of the drivers for both serum runs, and the dates, times and locations for each relay, the person from the first run could have been either Tom Patsy or Jackscrew. The second run driver could have been either Sam Joseph or Solomon Basco.

John Hegness, Solomon Basco and William Shannon received a considerable amount of recognition from both the press and the citizens of Seattle when they arrived there on March 13, 1925.  But all of that would soon be overshadowed when another driver from the first serum run, who was accompanied by his wife and dog team, came to Seattle about a week later.  Ralph Lomen would be there to greet them.

©2011 Lance Jensen

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