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Posts Tagged ‘Nikki: Wild Dog of the North’

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

Joe Redington, Jr.

Joe Redington Jr. and Mushing magazine publisher Greg Sellentin, photo by June Price

Joe Redington, Jr. was raised on the Iditarod Trail and learned to mush dogs from his father, Joe Redington, Sr., who’s also known as the Father of the Iditarod. Joe is a former World Champion sled dog racer, and he and his wife Pam make their home in Manley Hot Springs, 160 miles northwest of Fairbanks, Alaska. Their Iditarod Kennels offers a tour of their kennel, sharing their knowledge about dogs, equipment, sleds and strateg, and they’ll describe their subsistence lifestyle of fishing, gardening, hunting and mushing for their visitors.

For the Mushing History Conference Joe brought an amazing slideshow and a video of his family’s colorful history in Alaska. On Saturday, at the UAA in Anchorage, he shared the slideshow and explained the photos of his dad’s early days in Alaska, his fish camps and boats, dogteams and airplanes, the Redington boys growing up in Knik and at Flathorn Lake, both on the Iditarod Trail; Joe Sr. working for the Army salvaging wrecked airplanes, and summiting Denali with champion musher Susan Butcher and the reknowned mountaineer Ray Genet; and Joe Jr. winning the 1966 World Championship Sled Dog Race at the Anchorage Fur Rendezvous. After the slideshow Joe answered questions and an interesting discussion ranging over many different topics ensued.

Joe Redington Sr., Father of the Iditarod

For Sunday’s presentation at the Grand View Inn in Wasilla Joe had brought a video he’s put together which combined many of the same slides with some additional images, but the narrator was his father, Joe Sr.! It was fascinating for those who were able to attend both the slideshow and the video showing, to hear father and son each talking about the family photos, commenting on things which happened over the years, ways of doing things, making observations and sharing laughs with the viewers. The stirring tribute to Joe’s father, “Redington’s Run,” by Alaska’s State Balladeer, Hobo Jim, ended the video. It was a delightful presentation, and certainly a highlight of the conference.

Jeffrey Dinsdale

In the early sixties Walt Disney Studios made a feature length film titled Nikki, Wild dog of the North, about a half-husky, half-wolf separated from its owner during the gold rush in Canada’s Yukon Territory. What many people don’t know is that Joe Redington Sr. bred the dog who played in the title role, and the story behind that dog, and all the dogs used in the film, and how they ended up in the kennels of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and what happened after that, is a fascinating tale!

Jeffrey Dinsdale, right, talking with conference organizer Tim White, left

Jeffrey Dinsdale has been involved in breeding and working with sled dogs for almost 40 years, as he and his family have lived in Canada’s Northwest Territories, the Yukon and Northern British Columbia. Throughout this time Jeff has maintained a keen interest in sled dog history; he was involved in the organization of the first Carcross, Yukon to Atlin, British Columbia Mail Run in 1975, and since 1992 he has been involved with the organization of the Gold Rush Trail Dog Sled Mail Run from Quesnel B.C. to Barkerville and Wells B.C. In the 1970’s and 80’s Jeff worked with the Canadian Kennel Club and the Eskimo Dog Research Foundation during a period when attempts were being made to ensure that these dogs, which are indigenous to the Canadian Arctic, would continue to thrive, and Jeff has published many articles in various sled dog-related publications.

Jeffrey’s interesting, engaging, and often humorous story of the Disney Dogs and the RCMP is available on his blog, titled simply Mushing Past. A very brief excerpt:

Nikki was bred by Joe and Vi Redington of Knik Alaska.(3). He was originally named Polar and was born February 4, 1958. At six months of age he was sold to Bill Bacon. His sire was Tok, a Malamute show dog and a fair working animal. His dam was Chena, also a Malamute, of Earl and Natalie Norris stock.(4). Nikki (Polar) had no Siberian Husky blood in him. The Redingtons later sold six other dogs to Bacon, three males and three females. Three were Chena’s pups, but three were sired by Tok of a ½ Siberian Husky ½ Eskimo Dog named Belle. Belle’s sire was from Greenland and was brought to Alaska by the U.S. Air Force 10th Rescue Unit of Elmendorf Air Force Base. In all it should be noted that over 200 different sled dogs were used in the movie “Nikki –Wild Dog of the North”, which was released in 1961 (5).

Jeffrey’s excellent article is well-referenced, and additional information is documented. As an example, here are the notes for the paragraph above:

(3) This is the same Joe Redington who went on to become the Father of the Iditarod.. There is a very interesting account of Bacon’s dealings for Polar in the book Father of the Iditarod, the Joe Redington Story, by Lew Freedman, Epicenter Press, Box 82368, Kenmore, WA, 98028, U.S.A. Go to page 71 for the story of Polar.

(4) The Norrises are well known for their Anadyr Siberian Huskies. It is perhaps not as well known that throughout most of the existence of their famous “Alaskan of Anadyr” kennels, Natalie Norris has also maintained a small breeding program of purebred Alaskan Malemutes. At one stage, Natalie also bred purebred Eskimo Dogs with breeding stock from both Greenland and Igloolik in the Canadian Arctic

(5) Have any readers ever seen this movie? Any comments would be appreciated, please reply using the contact email address on this site.

A long and colorful history of the RCMP in northwestern Canada is part of Jeffrey’s post, as is a detailed accounting of what happened to the Disney dogs.

Still to come are the presentations by author Jane Haigh, and Chas St. George of the Iditarod Trail Committee, and contributions sent for presentation by Thomas ‘Swanny’ Swan and Alan Stewart.

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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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