Posts Tagged ‘Gold Rush Dogs’

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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The 2009 Mushing History Conference is bringing together an unprecedented gathering of authors, historians, researchers, writers, veteran mushers and supporters of the colorful history of sled dog travel. Presentations will cover the evolution of man’s relationship with working sled dogs, including 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, trapline use of sled dogs in the North American fur trade, historic and present-day sled dog races, the early Nome author Esther Birdsall Darling, the evolution of sled dog nutrition and diets, the Iditarod Trail Committee’s historical documentary about the race, and much more.

Among the speakers and presenters will be Jane Haigh, Kenai, Alaska, author of Gold Rush Dogs, Assistant Professor of History, Kenai Peninsula College; Joe Redington, Jr., Manley, Alaska, veteran musher and son of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race founder; Jeff Dinsdale, Quesnel, British Columbia, Canada, writer involved in breeding and 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 of Trailbreakers and veteran of the first Iditarod in 1973; 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.

Among the presentations and media will be Alan Stewart’s half hour slide show on Scotty Allan with many pictures and details of his life from his early years in Scotland as recounted by his relatives there and more; A reissued DVD of the first Iditarod movie, 1974, with additional footage in a new prologue and following segment on Joe Redington’s legacy; and a presentation which was prepared by Thomas Swan, Two Rivers, Alaska, Stardancer Freight Dogs, on Dog Mushing in the North American Fur Trade, 1763 to 1821.

Also presented will be historic photographs, books, maps, pamphlets, posters, slide shows, mushing films, videos, short subjects, documentaries and more.

The Conference will open with an informal gathering for the presenters on Friday, November 6, from 5 to 7 pm, at the Iditarod Trail Headquarters in Wasilla, mile 2, Knik-Goose Bay Road, and the public is invited to meet the conference presenters at that time.

The Conference will begin at the University of Alaska Anchorage on Saturday, November 7, at the Commons Conference Room 107A, 3700 Sharon Gagnon Lane, from 9 am to 5 pm. The Conference will reconvene at the Grand View Hotel in Wasilla on Sunday, November 8, from 9 am to 3 pm. Both events are free to the public, donations appreciated but not necessary, and families are encouraged to attend. Maps and directions to both venues can be found at the Conference website, https://mushinghistory.wordpress.com or call the Conference Coordinator, Helen Hegener, at 907-354-3510 for information.

Conference Director Tim White, 881 County Road 14, Grand Marais, MN; email: twhite@boreal.org; or Conference Coordinator: Helen Hegener, Northern Light Media, P.O. Box 759, Palmer, Alaska 99645; (907) 354-3510; email: helen@northernlightmedia.com

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ebdarlingConference organizer Tim White received information from another speaker for the upcoming Mushing History Conference, which will take place near Anchorage from November 6th through the 8th:

Jane Haigh, author of Gold Rush Dogs and an Assistant Professor of History at Kenai Peninsula College, has offered to do a presentation on Esther Birdsall Darling, the woman who helped to found the Nome Kennel Club with Scotty Allan, and was a part owner of his kennel. She also was responsible for publicizing the races and writing the programs, and was the author of Baldy of Nome and other books about mushing in the Baldy series.

Click for information about other proposed conference presentations.

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