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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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This post is the third in a series of reports on the 2009 Mushing History Conference, which took place Nov 6-8 in Anchorage and Wasilla, Alaska. The first report in this series included the presentations of Tim White and Carol Beck. The second report described the display panels on mushing history from Denali National Park, and the presentation by Kevin Keeler, Administrator for the Iditarod National Historic Trail.

Dr. Linda Chamberlain

Dr. Linda Chamberlain of Homer, Alaska, is a scientist, author, professor, historian and dog musher, and she lives with her 20 Huskies and her husband, Al, on their 45-acre Howling Husky Homestead outside of Homer, Alaska. An epidemiologist specializing in childhood exposure to violence and brain development, Dr. Chamberlain has combined her public health career with her passion for dog mushing and rural living. During the summer months, she leads narrated tours of a circa 1910 wall tent, the sled dog kennel, and a living museum of dog mushing on their homestead. For her first book, Arctic Inspirations, she traveled from Alaska through the northern Canada and on to Siberia to gather stories of women starting businesses in the Arctic. She is currently working on a book called Mushing the Mail on the Iditarod Trail that traces the history of mail delivery by dog team in Alaska.

Collection of Linda Chamberlain

For the 2009 Mushing History Conference Dr. Chamberlain brought a presentation which traced the history of mail delivery by dog teams along the Iditarod Trail and the Kenai Peninsula, based on historical documents from the National Archives and Records Administration, the U.S. Postal Museum, the Alaska State Library, universities, museums and historical societies, interviews, private collections, and an extensive literature review.

While details on dog team mail carriers were sporadically and sparsely documented, Dr. Chamberlain has found many rich stories describing this dominant mode of transportation to deliver supplies and mail in Alaska from the late 1800s through the mid-twentieth century. Dr. Chamberlain described life on the trail of a Star Route Contract mail carrier and their dog team, and included many details about the types of dogs and equipment used, distances traveled, and the loads they carried. Her riveting stories of heroic deeds and tragedies on the trail provided a panoramic portrait of these postal pioneers and the Iditarod Trail that served as a lifeline between communities.

Rod Perry

Alaskan author, musher, filmmaker, adventurer and self-proclaimed raconteur Rod Perry brought a colorful exploration of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race to the Conference, beginning with an impressive freehand drawing of the state of Alaska, which he filled in with rivers, mountain ranges, towns and cities, and of course, the Iditarod Trail. Rod was one of the intrepid mushers making the 1,000 mile trek to Nome in the very first Iditarod in 1973, with his media darling of a lead dog, “Fat Albert,” showing the way. Rod has been chronicling the rich history of the race for his two-volume set of books titled Trailbreakers. He describes Trailbreakers Volume I on his website:

“…Daring men and dynamic events that force the lock and break of the silence of the unknown North. Gold rush leads to gold rush, trail leads to trail, until it culminates in the last, glorious, hell-bent-for-leather gold rush and the final great gold rush trail in North America.

Trailbreakers Volume I is the most-complete, most-accurate telling of how the fabled Iditarod Trail came to be. As it relates the 1840-1930 progression of events establishing the “Last Great Gold Rush Trail in North America,” the book educates and corrects long-standing myths and misinformation that have grown up.

Amongst the misinformation that has come down through the years, the very beginnings of the Iditarod Trail constitute some of the most interesting, and Rod addresses this at length in his book Trailbreakers, Volume 1. Rod explains how there were trails running north from Seward for about 200 miles to the Alaska Commercial post at Susitna Station, a steamboat stop on the Susitna River; and trails which coursed south from Nome, 300 miles to Kaltag on the Yukon river, over a popular route between Nome and Fairbanks; but in between the ends of those routes lay over 400 miles of little-used and rarely traveled terrain:

Did the natives of the trail route at one time or another travel every foot of the country over which the trail passes? Of course. Did they trade with one another? Absolutely. But were any of their trails of a character to constitute ready-made, connected, serviceable platforms for a direct trail between Susitna Station and Kaltag? Any close look into the situation strongly indicates that that is a most fanciful stretch.

Alaska 1915

This post is the third in a series of reports on the 2009 Mushing History Conference, which took place Nov 6-8 in Anchorage and Wasilla, Alaska. The first report in this series included the presentations of Tim White and Carol Beck. The second report described the display panels on mushing history from Denali National Park, and the presentation by Kevin Keeler, Administrator for the Iditarod National Historic Trail.

Still to come are the presentations by Joe Redington Jr., Jane Haigh, Jeff Dinsdale and Chas St. George, and contributions sent for presentation by Thomas ‘Swanny’ Swan and Alan Stewart.

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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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Dog-Sled-TeamThe Mushing History Conference is coming together nicely in these final weeks, as we work toward bringing together authors, historians, researchers, writers, advocates and supporters of the colorful history of sled dog travel.

The conference is scheduled for the first weekend in November, with a gathering for the presenters planned for Friday, November 6th, and the conference to be held on Saturday and Sunday, November 7th and 8th. A sampling of the confirmed speakers to date:

• Iditarod National Historic Trail, by Kevin Keeler

• Mushing the Mail on the Iditarod Trail, by Linda Chamberlain

• Esther Birdsall Darling, by Jane Haigh

• Trapline to Finish Line, by Carol Beck

• The Disney movie, Nikki: Wild Dog of the North, and mushing history, by Jeff Dinsdale

• Mushing in Alaska during the ’50’s and ’60’s, Joe Redington, early Iditarod, by Joee Redington, Jr.

• Pioneering Alaska’s Iditarod, by Rod Perry

• Stories and History of the Taltson River Trappers, by Scott McQueen

• Evolution of Working Sled Dog Nutrition and Diets From Prehistory to Present, by Tim White

Also presented will be photographs, books, maps, pamphlets, posters, slide shows, mushing films, videos, short subjects, documentaries and more. For information about the conference, and if you’d like to bring materials or make a presentation, contact:

Conference Director: Tim White, 881 County Road 14, Grand Marais, MN; email: twhite@boreal.org

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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