The Second Serum Run
By: Lance Jensen
While the first serum run relays were still in progress, arrangements were being made to deliver a second batch of diphtheria antitoxin to the stricken town of Nome, Alaska. At that time, most medical officials in the Territory doubted that the first batch of medicine would be sufficient to control the epidemic.
These are some of the people who played a significant role in the second serum run at the administrative level. The real heroes will be addressed later in this story.
Scott Bone - Alaska Territorial Governor
Edward Wetzler - Chief Clerk, Railway Mail Services, Nenana
Harry DeVighne, MD - Commissioner of Health, Alaska Territory, Juneau
Curtis Welch, MD - Asst. Commissioner of Health, Nome
J. A. Sutherland, MD - Asst. Commissioner of Health, Fairbanks
Mark Summers - Manager, Hammon Consolidated Gold Fields and Chairman, Nome Board of Health
Dan Sutherland - Alaska Territory Delegate to the U. S. House of Representatives
The first serum run was completed early on the morning of February 2, 1925 when relay driver Gunnar Kaasen delivered the medicine to Dr. Welch. During the following days there were many telegrams sent to and from Nome, and between various government officials in other parts of Alaska. These messages were mostly about the status of the epidemic and about the need for sending a second batch of antitoxin to Nome.
Fifty-eight thousand units of diphtheria antitoxin had been located in Juneau on January 27 - 30,000 units at Britt's Pharmacy and 28,000 units at Butler, Mauro & Company. The Territory of Alaska purchased both batches at a total cost of $38. Another consignment of 1.1 million units had been put together by the Public Health Service and the Red Cross in Seattle. This batch was shipped from Seattle on January 31 via the Alaska Steamship Company liner, Alameda. It was anticipated that this shipment would reach Nenana on February 10. The Juneau batch was scheduled to arrive at Nenana on the evening of February 3.
As was the case during the first serum run, Governor Bone was being pressured by various people to allow the medicine to be flown from Fairbanks to Nome.
On February 1, Delegate Sutherland sent a telegram to Governor Bone advising him that the Fairbanks Airplane Corporation was assembling one plane in order to transport the Juneau shipment to Nome. On February 2, the Fairbanks Airplane Corporation sent a telegram to Governor Bone:
"we have assembled airplane darling and lieut. mackie will make trip and expect to get away wednesday morning stop postal authorities demand your permission before releasing any" (referring to the antitoxin).
The Wednesday morning mentioned in the telegram was February 4.
Dr. Welch sent a telegram to Dr. DeVighne on February 3 advising him of the status of the epidemic in Nome:
"deaths five two whites comma two natives and one half breed stop typical cases discovered whites nine natives and mixed nineteen about forty suspects stop six cases awaiting quarantine release stop more recoveries than new cases reported at this minute situation is favorable stop If half million units could be delivered by airplane within ten days all other shipments could come by regular mail without relay stop this schedule would give me ample antitoxin under all conditions."
That same day, Mark Summers sent a telegram to Governor Bone requesting that the large Seattle consignment of antitoxin be divided into two groups. One batch of 600,000 units would be sent to Fairbanks, where it would be flown to Nome by Roy Darling and Ralph Mackie. The second half would be transported from Nenana to Nome by the regular mail team.
Other encouraging reports about the status of the epidemic were received from Nome. After consulting with Dr. DeVighne, Governor Bone decided to send the Juneau consignment to Nome via the regular mail team. He sent a telegram to Mark Summers informing him of the decision. He also told Summers that the serum could be expedited by another dog team relay if it became necessary. This batch left Nenana on the morning of February 4.
On February 5, Dr. DeVighne gave the following statement to the press:
"The supply of anti-toxin now in Dr. Curtis Welch's hands delivered by relay dog team in unprecedented time should last for another week. His daily advices to me are reassuring. A further consignment of serum is enroute, by regular delivery over the Winter trail and may be expedited by relay, if required.
The government's shipment of anti-toxin on Steamer ALAMEDA cannot reach Nenana or Fairbanks before February ninth or tenth. Alarming reports sent out from Nome in criticism of official agencies are wholly unjustified by facts.
The Territory is alertly watching the situation and prepared to meet any further emergency that may arise. To have heeded the demand to divide the limited consignment now on the way and have attempted delivery of part by airplane when not immediately needed would have been the height of folly. In fact, I believe that the delivery of the larger supply would now be infinitely safer by dog team than by any airplane available in the Territory."
(Author's Note: I divided this press release into three paragraphs in order to make it easier to read. The original transcript is in one continuous writing).
After Governor Bone made the decision to send the Juneau shipment to Nome via the regular mail team, William Thompson, who was the editor of the Fairbanks newspaper, sent a complaint to Delegate Sutherland in Washington, DC. Sutherland forwarded the complaint to Paul Henderson, who was the Second Assistant Postmaster General.
Thompson's complaint alleged that Edward Wetzler had failed to cooperate in the shipment of the Juneau batch sent to Nome. In fact, Postal Inspector Wetzler had just carried out Governor Bone's orders regarding that shipment. The governor sent a telegram to Postmaster Henderson informing him of this. He also praised Wetzler for his "great service" and recommended that "he should be commended by the department."
The next decision Governor Bone had to make was about the disposition of the Seattle consignment of antitoxin. He knew that Mark Summers had recommended the batch be split into two groups and that about half of the medicine should be flown from Fairbanks to Nome. He knew that some officials in Fairbanks and Nome agreed with this plan. He was also aware of the information in the press release by Dr. DeVighne.
Later on February 5, Dr. DeVighne received a telegram from Dr. Welch updating him on the situation in Nome:
"situation in incorporated town of nome unchanged stop.....if conditions should remain the same here we would have ample serum but if things should suddenly get worse we would be out of serum in a very short time stop.....as to the feasibility of airplane transportation I am in no position to judge technically stop.....to put it flatly if airplanes should arrive safely everything would be glorious but if serious accidents occur and situation did not immediately demand serum censure would no doubt follow stop however should airplane flight not be attempted and we are left without serum we would also be subject to censure stop I am in an equivocal position in which my own or any one else opinion may be wrong stop you know the conditions from my reports."
Governor Bone wanted more information in order to make a final decision about the Seattle consignment. Two telegrams he received on February 6 would solidify his decision and dictate the course of events that would follow. The first message was from Anchorage and was signed by Deputy Henry Staser. That telegram was in response to Bone's inquiry about the feasibility of an airplane flight from Fairbanks to Nome.
"today in telephone conversation with darling at fairbanks who is to pilot the plane I gathered the following facts from him stop darling was last in the air six years ago when he crashed badly injured stop the only available plane at fairbanks has old standard engine with four hundred and fifty hours service life of which is six hundred hours stop.....necessary to make two landings one ruby and kaltag stop with forced landing would be unable to start motor in cold weather stop plane has compass which is not dependable."
The second telegram was from Dr. George Magruder, Director of the Public Health Service in Seattle:
"in obedience to orders from surgeon general cumming post office officials at nenana have been directed to divert portion of shipment of antitoxin to aviator darling in accordance with arrangements made by sutherland." (Hugh Cumming was the United States Surgeon General).
While part of the decision about the Seattle antitoxin had been taken out of his hands by outside forces, Governor Bone was convinced that the other half of the shipment should be sent to Nome by the same means used in the first serum run. He thought that any plan which would involve flying the serum to Nome was a "most hazardous undertaking with inadequate equipment and unskilled fliers."
Dr. Welch had been somewhat involved with the relay teams in the first run. Accordingly, Governor Bone sent a telegram to Dr. Welch on February 6 authorizing him to organize dog teams on the Nome end for a second relay.
In another telegram to Ed Wetzler on the same date, Bone wrote: "welch directed to engage teams that end stop." Here is part of Dr. Welch's reply to Governor Bone:
"it must be plain to you that my time is fully taken up with the medical aspect of this situation and my medical reports to heads of departments and maintaining quarantine it would facilitate matters and give me more time to attend to duties which are purely medical if you could give authority to another with regards to dog team transportation of serum stop I have not the time nor inclination to be troubled about relays and in doing so detract from my usefulness in the medical handling of the situation."
Dr. Welch continued by recommending that Mark Summers be appointed to handle the dog team relays for the western part of the run. Governor Bone wired back to Dr. Welch:
"certainly stop summers hereby designated stop never intended you should be burdened with detail."
Bone had already designated Edward Wetzler as the person to set up the relays on the eastern end of the run. As he had done in the first serum run, Wetzler again enlisted the services of the Northern Commercial Company of Alaska for the second run. He also made arrangements for the Juneau batch of antitoxin to be halted at Hot Springs, where it would be picked up by a relay team.
The Seattle batch of medicine arrived at Nenana at 1600 on February 8 - ahead of the original schedule. About half of the serum was sent to Fairbanks. The other half left for Nome ten minutes after arrival via the first dog team of the expedited relay system.
The following list contains the names and the order of the relay dog drivers in the second serum run. This list is based on information in numerous telegrams and other written correspondence between various Alaska Territory officials and others who were involved in this event. Several of the second run drivers had also participated in the first relay.
A. C. OLIN -- Nenana to Minto (25 miles)
Depart Nenana @ 1610 on FEBRUARY 8, Arrive Minto @ 1857
C. F. JONES -- Minto to Tolovana (27)
Dep 1910 - Arr 0017 on FEBRUARY 9
WILLIAM SHANNON -- Tolovana to Manley Hot Springs (31)
Dep 0025 - Arr 0505
DAN GREEN -- Hot Springs to Fish Lake (28)
Dep 0527 - Arr 1020
The Juneau batch of antitoxin was picked up from the mail team.
SAM JOSEPH -- Fish Lake to Tanana (26)
Dep 1030 - Arr 1350
SOLOMON BASCO -- Tanana to Kallands (34)
Dep 1355 - Arr 1800
PETER COLUMBE -- Kallands to Nine Mile (24)
Dep 1815 - Arr 2130
EDGAR KALLAND -- Nine Mile to Kokrines (30)
Dep 2135 - Arr 0130 on FEBRUARY 10
HARRY PITKA -- Kokrines to Ruby (30)
Dep 0140 - Arr 0645
ALEXANDER BROWN -- Ruby to Whiskey Creek (28)
Dep 0700 - Arr 1130
GEORGE CLARK -- Whiskey Creek to Galena (24)
Dep 1145 - Arr 1555
EDGAR NOLLNER -- Galena to Bishop Mountain (18)
Dep 1600 - Arr 1855
FRANCIS MONROE -- Bishop Mountain to Nulato (30)
TOM PATSY -- Nulato to Kaltag (36)
Dep 2350 on FEBRUARY 10 - Arr 0600 on FEBRUARY 11
JACK MADRAS -- Kaltag to Old Woman (40)
Dep 0700 - Arr 1800
JOHN KOTUGAN -- Old Woman to Unalakleet (34)
Dep 1830 - Arr 2330
GEORGE KUTOK -- Unalakleet to Shaktoolik (40)
HENRY IVANOFF -- Shaktoolik to Isaac's Point (31)
NASHUK (native) -- Isaac's Point to Elim (35)
JULIUS KAIGSAK -- Elim to Golovin (26)
ED ROHN -- Golovin to Nome (78)
Arr Nome @ 1200 on FEBRUARY 15
Total time: 163 hrs. 50 min.
Total mileage: 675
At first it was believed that the second serum run relay would deliver the medicine to Nome faster than the first relay had. However, a number of severe storms slowed down the dog teams considerably, starting at Kaltag. Notice the fast times recorded from Nenana to Kaltag, and then the much slower times from Kaltag to Nome. It only took 62 hrs. for the antitoxin to travel from Nenana to Kaltag, a distance of about 390 miles--while it took almost 102 hrs. for the serum to travel from Kaltag to Nome, a distance of about 285 miles.
According to a number of telegrams and other correspondence from both during and after the second serum run, Edgar Kalland is credited with running the relay from Nine Mile to Kokrines. This is the same relay that some sources credit him with running in the first serum run. One example is the book The Race To Nome (1963) by Kenneth Ungermann. However, in a recorded interview years later, Mr. Kalland said that he ran the relay from Tolovana to Hot Springs in the first serum run. This interview took place on September 15, 1980 and is part of the BLM's Iditarod Trail Oral History Project.
Mr. Kalland's account about his relay in the first serum run is also supported by a Seward, Alaska newspaper interview of William Shannon dated March 7, 1925. Shannon said he turned the serum over to Edgar Kalland at Tolovana. In the 1980 interview Mr. Kalland does not say anything about him participating in the second serum run.
One of the telegrams referred to in the paragraph before last is from Harry Clarke, the Postmaster at Ruby, Alaska. It is dated February 11, 1925. Mr. Clarke is providing progress reports on some of the relays that took place on February 9 and 10. He starts with Solomon Basco - then to Peter Columbe. Next is Edgar Kalland.
"edgar kalland departed nine mile point nine thirty five pm arriving kokrines one thirty am."
There is a typed receipt dated May 6, 1925 that is signed by Edgar Kalland. It is for his copy of the citations awarded to the dog drivers in both serum runs by the Governor of the Territory of Alaska. There are two handwritten notations on this receipt, just below Mr. Kalland's signature. They read: "Tolovana to Hspgs 1st Relay" and "Nine Mile to Kokrines 2nd Relay." Both notations include the distance and the total time for each relay.
The Northern Commercial Company of Alaska sent a letter and an itemized bill to the Secretary of Alaska on March 20, 1925.
"FOR SERVICES RENDERED transporting serum from Nenana to Old Woman, Alaska during epidemic of Diptheria at Nome....."
The bill was for both the first and second serum run relays.
In this itemized bill, "E. E. Kalland" is listed as the driver who ran the relay from Tolovana to Hot Springs in the first serum run, and again as the person who ran the relay from Nine Mile to Kokrines in the second run. To provide an example of the nature of the charges by the NCC, this is what they billed the Territory of Alaska for in the case of Edgar Kalland's relay during the first serum run.
Tolovana - Hot Springs
3 days at 15.00 = 45.00
9 meals at 1.50 = 13.50
3 days dog food at 2.00 = 6.00
Stable rent 9 dogs at 25 cents each, 2.25 per day = 6.75
Dog whip = 4.00
2 beds at 1.00 = 2.00
Total = $77.25
Gunnar Kaasen bypassed Ed Rohn at Safety in the first serum run. Rohn was the last dog driver in the second run and ran the longest relay - 78 miles. A June 4, 1925 payment voucher from the Territory of Alaska to Ed Rohn reads:
"To services on second relay of diphtheria anti-toxin to Nome."
"This is payment in full covering driver's services, hire of dog team, meals and lodging for driver, and dog feed, route traveled from Golovin to Nome, during the month of February, 1925."
The amount of the voucher was $82. As mentioned several paragraphs ago, the NCC provided various services for the relays from Nenana to Old Woman, and then billed the Territory at a later date. It appears that after Old Woman, the dog drivers were on their own, both financially and otherwise. There are vouchers for the other drivers who ran the relays from Old Woman to Nome in the second run. These subsequent payments were made to the drivers in response to a request made by Mark Summers to Governor Bone in letters dated March 26 and April 16, 1925.
As to the disposition of the portion of the Seattle batch of antitoxin that had been sent to Fairbanks. The airplane developed some mechanical problems and the plan to fly the medicine to Nome was abandoned.
On February 12, Dr. Sutherland sent a telegram to Governor Bone:
"airplane shipment diptheria antitoxin still here understand nome has sufficient supply and another shipment coming steamer watson may we retain antitoxin now here in case emergency if not needed at nome."
Governor Bone decided to keep some of the Seattle batch of antitoxin at Fairbanks as a precautionary measure. The rest would be sent back to Nenana. On February 14, Edward Wetzler sent a telegram to Governor Bone:
"two pouches antitoxin returned to postal service by darling forwarded this date by regular service to nome."
©2012 Lance Jensen
Source Note: All of the telegrams and other documents quoted in this writing are from the National Archives Microfilm Publication M939 (File 28 on Roll 121 and File 63 on Roll 128), Records of the Alaskan Territorial Government, Record Group 348.