With the running of the 2015 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, well underway toward Nome … I thought it a good time to talk about the sled dog race that began it all: the All Alaska Sweepstakes of 1908!
The Nome Kennel Club was founded in 1907 and by 1908 the quintessential kennel club had organized and run their first sled dog race, from Nome to Candle and back. The distance amounted to 408 miles in total, following telegraph lines that “linked camps, villages, and gold mining settlements,” in the District of Alaska. The famous musher, Scotty Allan (1909 winner), described the rough terrain to include sea ice, high mountains, glaciers, tundra, rivers, and timber. The trail was grueling and only the most enduring dogs and mushers could tackle such a course.
The Siberian husky (the Chukchi dog) was introduced to the District of Alaska in 1908 and ran their first All Alaska Sweepstakes in 1909. The third place finish was amazing to local race watchers, since the little dogs from Siberia were called “rats,” unlikely able to finish such a difficult challenge as their newly-crowned All Alaska Sweepstakes. The mixed malamute huskies, tough freight dogs, were larger and more muscular and surely would have the best showing. Nome called a 4-day holiday to celebrate the race. Despite hardships and setbacks, the little Siberian dogs had a big finish, placing 3rd, and finishing only a hour behind the race winner. The winning time was 82 hours, 2 min, 41 seconds. The 1909 All Alaska Sweepstakes was not without problems, besides the rough terrain. Bad weather brought a vicious storm, which knocked many out in the early running. Some of the first checkpoints were Cape Nome, Safety, and Solomon; 13 miles, 22 miles, and 33 miles from the race start, respectively. Thirteen race teams didn’t make it to the finish, being knocked out early due to weather.
Among noted mushers to win the All Alaska Sweepstakes are Scotty Allan (1909) , John “Iron Man” Johnson (1910), and Leonhard Seppala (1915). Some of these mushers won more than once. The time of the All Alaska Sweepstakes was the hey-day of sled dog racing in Alaska. World War I put racing on hold in 1917-18. Other reasons included a drop off in Nome’s population as well as a drop off in gold mining.
Sled Dog Racing picked up again in 1973, with the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, 1000 miles of rugged terrain to Nome. The Iditarod takes approximately 8 to 10 days while the All Alaska Sweepstakes took 3-4 days. The Iditarod follows the historic freight trail between Seward and Nome, and played a huge role in the settlement of Alaska.
The Iditarod race has been dubbed, the Last Great Race on Earth, while the All Alaska Sweepstakes has been called the First Great Sled Dog Race.
Between the All Alaska Sweepstakes and the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, came the 1925 Serum Run to Nome.
All of these epic events celebrate the Siberian husky along with the other valiant Alaska husky breeds. Without the importation of the Chukchi dog from Siberia, there would be no Siberian huskies today. That’s for another story …
How about this one?
Arctic Storm, Book 1, Watch Eyes Trilogy, begins this heroic frontier tale; based on fact and fantasy.