Archive for April, 2010

Indian dog sled near Fort Clark. Watercolor by Maximilian zu Wied-Neuwied, 1833

The 2010 Mushing History Conference will be held in Willow, Alaska, on September 25 and 26, in conjunction with the 2010 Willow Dog Mushers Association’s Third Annual Symposium. The WDMA Symposium will include a broad range of canine athlete-related programs, and the Symposium’s Keynote Speaker will be Mary Shields, the first woman to run the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, in 1974.

The 2010 Mushing History Conference is still in the early planning stages, but the first Mushing History Conference, held in November, 2009, in Anchorage and Wasilla, Alaska, brought together many veteran mushers and a broad assortment of authors, historians, researchers, storytellers, writers and photographers for a wonder-filled weekend of exploring the colorful history of man’s travel via dogteam. Presentations traced the evolution of man’s relationship with working sled dogs, including trapline use of sled dogs in the North American fur trade, historic and present-day sled dog races, delivering the U.S. mail by dogteam, sled dog use in polar expeditions, the Centennial of the Iditarod National Historic Trail, Joe Redington’s work with dogteams for the U.S. Army, the evolution of sled dog nutrition and diets, the Iditarod Trail Committee’s historic documentary about the race, and much, much more.

The friendly, happy group which closed the 2009 Mushing History Conference, photo by June Price

The speakers and presenters at the first conference included Jane Haigh, Kenai, Alaska, author of Gold Rush Dogs, and Assistant Professor of History, Kenai Peninsula College; Joe Redington, Jr., Manley, Alaska, champion musher and son of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race founder; Jeff Dinsdale, Quesnel, British Columbia, Canada, a historian and researcher who’s been working with sled dogs for almost 40 years; Kevin Keeler, Anchorage, Alaska, Iditarod National Historic Trail Administrator; Dr. Linda Chamberlain, Homer, Alaska, scientist, author, professor, historian and dog musher; Rod Perry, Chugiak, Alaska, author and veteran of the first Iditarod in 1973; Chas St. George, Wasilla, Alaska, Public Relations Manager for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race; Carol Beck, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada, musher, co-chair of the 2008 Arctic Winter Games Dog Sledding Committee; and Tim White, Grand Marais, Minnesota, inventor of the Quick Change Runner (QCR) System, winner of multiple championship sled dog races, and a Mush with PRIDE Lifetime Achievement Award recipient. Historic photographs, books, maps, pamphlets, posters, slide shows, mushing films, videos, short subjects, documentaries and more were also presented.

Information updates about the 2010 Mushing History Conference will be shared via this website and the Mushing History Discussion Group, and at the Mushing History Facebook page.

Conference Director:
Helen Hegener
• Mail: P.O. Box 759, Palmer, Alaska 99645
• Phone: 907-354-3510
• Email: helen@northernlightmedia.com
Northern Light Media


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This post is the fifth and last in a series of reports on the 2009 Mushing History Conference, which took place Nov 6-8 in Anchorage and Wasilla, Alaska.

Jane Haigh

Jane Haigh with an autographed copy of Esther Birdsall Darling's classic, 'Baldy of Nome' Photo by June Price

Jane Haigh, an Assistant Professor of History at Kenai Peninsula College and an accomplished Alaskan author and historian, has written or co-written a number of books of popular Alaskan history, including Gold Rush Dogs, Children of the Gold Rush, Gold Rush Women, King Con: The Story of Soapy Smith, and The Search for Fannie Quigley: A Wilderness Life in the Shadow of Mount McKinley. In 2008 Jane was honored by the Alaska Historical Society with their annual “Historian of the Year” recognition.

For the 2009 Mushing History Conference Jane gave a presentation on Nome pioneer and Alaskan author Esther Birdsall Darling, the woman who was part owner of Scotty Allan’s kennel, and who helped to found the Nome Kennel Club. Esther Birdsall Darling was responsible for publicizing the All Alaska Sweepstakes races and writing the race programs, including the booklet and postcards titled The Great Dog Races of Nome Held under the Auspices of the Nome Kennel Club, Nome, Alaska: Official Souvenir History, printed in Nome, Alaska by the Nome Kennel Club, 1916.

Esther Birdsall Darling was the author of several books on Nome and the All Alaska Sweepstakes races, including the classic best-selling children’s book, Baldy of Nome, detailing the exploits of Scotty Allan’s famous leader. First published in 1913, the book was kept in print by popular demand through the next four decades, and Baldy’s descendants, including Boris and Navarre, were featured in additional books by Esther Birdsall Darling.

Jane Haigh’s slideshow and discussion of the famous Nome author and pioneer brought a wonderful Alaskan personality to light for the conference attendees.

Chas St. George

Chas St. George, Director of Public Relations, Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, photo by June Price

Chas St. George, Director of Public Relations for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, brought a film preview from the newest Iditarod video project, Purely Alaskan, the first in a series of videos highlighting the almost forty years of Iditarod race history. The 90-minute documentary, now available from the Iditarod website, tells the story of the race through archived photos and interviews with more than fifty people, including past champions and other mushers, race veterinarians, Iditarod Air Force pilots, volunteers and others.

Chas St. George had brought more than just the film clip; he also brought along a piece of mushing history in the form of a handwritten letter on the first Iditarod Trail Race stationery from Joe Redington, Sr. to Howard Farley of Nome, dated December, 1972, saying in part, “I thought you might be interested in this race. I need some help on that end…”

Dec. 1972 letter from Joe Redington, Sr. to Howard Farley in Nome. Photo by June Price.

In an article about the conference for Mushing magazine, Alaskan author June Price quoted St. George:

“‘Joe Redington Sr. put it on the line,’ he said. ‘He put his mortgage on the line. Journalists were following him around calling him a Don Quixote,’ he added, but Redington never wavered. ‘It wasn’t about who won,’ said St. George, ‘but about the journey,’ a sentiment shared by everyone there.

“Redington’s dreams were a huge part of the presentation made by Chas St. George, too. As a set of photos from the Iditarod’s past cycled before our eyes in an endless loop, St. George and others in the audience shared their appreciation of Redington Sr.’s ability to pull others into his dreams. Redington appreciated the history of mushing and lived the lifestyle, yet celebrated its adventure, too. Those gathered for the conference weren’t about just sharing ol’ stories about mushing; they were sharing it in a manner that put it in the words of those who’d lived the journey. St. George acknowledged this, so to speak, noting that the Iditarod’s effort to capture its own history isn’t about us telling the story ourselves, but an attempt to tell it through the words of those who’ve experienced this race.'”

More photos of the 2009 Mushing History Conference can be found at June Price’s weblog, Backstage Iditarod.

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