Here I have two interesting stories about two famous charachters in the sleddog history.
The musher legend from Norway
A HARSH CHILDHOOD IN TROMS
Leonhard Seppala was born on the 14th of September 1877 in Skibotn. Two years later, his family moved to Skjervøy, also in Troms. His father worked as a smith and a fisherman . Leonhard was the oldest child in the family. Still very young, he had to work at home. When his father was out fishing, Leonhard was the man on the farm. He also started very early to help his father with the fishing. Only 12 years old, he had to go with his father in the fishing boat to the northernmost county in Norway, Finnmark, to fish. He was putting bait on the fishing hooks, cooking, washing and doing laundry. It was a rugged work, but he made quite a lot of money from it. Every year until 1897 he joined his father on the yearly fishing trips to Finnmark.
LOOKING FOR THE GREAT FORTUNE
At the age of 20, he went to Kristiania (named Oslo today). He worked for a couple of months in Aker Mechanical Industries, and then in C.F.Andersersen's Smithy, where he earned his diploma. In Kristiania, he met his first girlfriend Margit. They fell in love again, and they planned to get married. But she died, and Leonhard was full of sorrow. After that, he went back to Skjervøy to work in his father's smithy. In 1899, he read about the gold strikes in Klondyke in the papers. Jafet Lindeberg came home from Nome in Alaska that fall, with his pockets stuffed with gold and US dollars. He had had great luck in Alaska, and was willing to lend money to Seppala so he could go back with him. Seppala could not resist that temptation, and in the year of 1900, he travelled on a boat to America. Just as thousands of others, he had high hopes about the wealth and fortune that was waiting for him over .
TOUGH START IN ALASKA
The life in Alaska was by no means easy. In the prospector town of Nome, in the northwestern part of Alaska, close to the Bering Sea, the conditions were tougher than he could ever imagine. To get a job, he had to work extremely hard all day long. This is how he describes it himself:
"I now began to understand what a huge mistake I had made, working like an animal here instead of working in the smithy in Norway."
But Leonhard was a rugged and a hard headed guy, so he didn't give up the work. Due to this, he worked his way upwards in the prospector society. After a while, Lindeberg offered him to join an expedition that was sent out to find new ores of gold. Seppala joined in immediately, and on this trip his first meeting with sled dogs took place. This meeting turned out to be of major importance for the rest of his life.
A MUSHER IS BORN
On these expeditions with sled dogs, Seppala developed a very close relationship to the dogs. He was bitten by the "mushing bug", and soon he got his own dogs. Together with these dogs, he had many, many wonderful experiences out in the wilderness. Some experiences were quite dramatic, too, and both his life and the lives of other persons were totally dependent upon the decisions of his lead dogs.
From one of the many terrible blizzards he went trough, he is telling this story:
"The parkas were wrapped tightly around our faces, and we were leaning forward in the dreadful, blinding blizzard. We did not worry one second about the direction we were going. That was "Suggen"s job. As long as we kept his face from ice, we knew that he could do it".
A SUCCESSFUL MUSHER
In 1908, Nome Kennel Club was established. Mushing soon became the most popular sport in Alaska. Skiing had been very popular earlier, and Seppala had been doing well in the skiing competitions. Now, mushing interested him the most. The famous mushers were his great heroes. Little did he know that he would soon beat them all… The same year, he was talked into participating in his first sled dog race. He even won that race, unexpectedly. He gave much of the honor for this to a buzzard that had been flying over the trail, and that had been pacing the dogs. He says this about the buzzard:
"I've always said that this buzzard was the reason why I started sled dog racing. The fact that I won that race, started my career as a sled dog racer"
The race with the buzzard was the start of a fantastic career. During the 15 years, he won many, many races, including the famous "All Alaskan Sweepstake" three years in a row (1915 - 17). He and his dogs became famous all over North - America, and the Siberian husky breed is still based on Seppala's dogs. He also became famous for the way he treated his dogs. He never used a whip, and he always finished with all his dogs in harness.
Leonhard Seppala got married in 1908. His wife Constance was of belgish origin, and came to Nome in 1905. She was also interested in mushing, and participated in several races herself.
"THE SERUM RUN"
Even though Seppala won a lot of races, is especially one race that made him really famous. It is known as "The Serum Run". In the winter of 1925, a diphtheria epidemic broke out in Nome. Many people got sick, and several children died. Serum was the only thing that would help. But was not much serum in Nome, it was not enough.
In the wintertime, Nome was isolated from the rest of the world. The sea was frozen, and the only way to get supplies was to use sled dogs. Nome needed to have serum. The cry for help was sent out via the telegraph s. Serum was only found in Anchorage, in the south of Alaska. The package with serum was shipped north to Nenana with the railroad, and a relay of dog teams was supposed to bring the life saving serum all the way to Nome. The distance was more than 1200 kilometers. Seppala mushed the last leg but one. He went out from Nome to meet the dog team coming from east. After he had mushed 275 kilometers, he met the team, earlier than he had expected. Without resting, he received the serum package and headed north again.
After 250 kilometers, in the most terrible blizzard, another Norwegian, Gunnar Kaasen from Kvænangen (in Troms), met him. Thanks to his fantastic lead dog "Togo", Seppala had covered the longest leg in the relay, 525 kilometer. But it was Gunnar Kaasen and his lead dog "Balto" that got the honor of bringing the serum into the city of Nome. Due to that, they got most famous for the effort of saving the lives of the citizens in Nome. Balto was even honored by a statue in Central Park in New York. Seppala was not very happy about that…
"What bothers me the most, is the fact that "Balto", that miserable dog, got the honor for "Togo"s achievement. By doing so, "Balto" was known as "the best sled dog in Alaska", even though he had never been on a winning team! I know, cause I owned and raised both "Balto" and "Togo".
"THE BIG NORWEGIAN"
In spite of the happening with "Balto", both Seppala and "Togo" have been thoroughly honored afterwards. The fame from "the Serum Run" brought Seppala to the other states in the US. Here he won several dog sled races, too. He won both the New England Race, the Lake Placid Race and the Poland Spring Race three years in a row. In 1929, he won the Eastern International Dog Race in Quebec in Canada, and he beat the race record. Those days, dogs of mixed origin weighing 40 - 45 kilograms were used. People felt sorry for Seppala and his small dogs. Afterwards they changed their opinion. Leonhard said:
"These races proved that the Siberian huskies are the best when one are supposed to go fast!"
Leonhard Seppala stayed in Nome for 29 years. The first twenty years, he was working for Pioneer Mining Co., the biggest gold mining company in Northern Alaska. It was established by another Norwegian, Jafet Lindeberg. Between 1920 - 46 he was ranger for the US Mining & Melting Co, in the beginning in Nome, and then later on in Fairbanks - where the big company had bought the best gold fields.
In the Polar book, Seppala writes in an article:
"I was not one of those who made a fortune out of the gold digging. That doesn't really matter. It meant much more to me that I got into mushing, and learnt how to handle polar dogs. My experiences have showed me that one doesn't achieve the best results with force and rough handling. Good dogs who know their master understand what he demands, and is always willing to do their best".
In 1950, Leonhard visited Norway and the area where he grew up for the last time. He was then 73 years old, and in good shape. During his visit in Oslo, he became the first honorary musher in the Norwegian Sled Dog Association. In Tromsø, he held a speech for the Workers Association about his life as a gold miner and a musher.
In 1946, Leonhard and his wife left Alaska and bought a house in Ballard, Seattle. Other Norwegians had settled , too. In 1957, he gave several gifts to Tromsø museum from his life in Alaska. The most of his other things is now owned by the University Museum of Alaska.
In 1961, the American writer, journalist and speaker Lowell Thomas invited Leonhard and Constance to Alaska. They visited Fairbanks and Anchorage, and they experienced a lot. The people in Alaska had not forgotten Leonhard's achievements, and he was well celebrated.
Leonhard died in 1967, 90 years old. Constance died a few years later, 85 years old. They are both buried in Nome, where they both started their adventurous careers.
In June 1999, relatives of Seppala rose a monument to honor Leonhard in Skibotn in Storfjord Municipality.
year, in 2001, a dog sled race called the Seppala Memorial Race is planned. The race is a co-operation between 3 countries and 4 municipalities: Pajala and Kiruna in Sweden, Enontekiø in Finland, and Storfjord in Norway.
When Seppala left for Alaska, he had not expected to get all the publicity and fame he actually got. Even though he never became rich from gold digging, he became lucky out in Alaska's wilderness - together with his Siberian huskies. Today, people remember him as "the Big Norwegian", in spite of his height - he was only 167 centimeters tall.
The famous dog from Norway
In 1925, a life or death race to rescue the children of Nome (alaska) from disease made an international hero of one sled dog and eventually led to the creation of Alaskas iditarod sled dog race.
In January 1925, doctors realized that a potentially deadly diphtheria epidemic was poised to sweep through Nomes young people. The only serum that could stop the outbreak was in Anchorage, nearly a thousand miles away. But the lone aircraft that could quickly deliver the had been dismantled for the winter. In desperation, officials turned to a much lower-tech solution: moving the by Sleddog.
Soon, a musher embarked from Anchorage on the first leg of a remarkable dog-sled relay aimed at delivering the needed serum to Nome. More than 20 mushers took part, battling temperatures that rarely rose above 40 degrees below zero Fahrenheit and winds that sometimes blew strong enough to knock over sleds and dogs. Reporters brought news of the race to a world suddenly transfixed by the drama in the far north.
Incredibly, just six days later, on February 2, 1925, Gunnar Kaassen drove his heroic dog team into the streets of Nome. In the lead of his team was a husky named Balto, whose furry face soon became known around the world. A year later. In honor of the epic trek. Admires erected a statue of Balto in New York Citys Central Park.
Balto was suddenly a world-famous celebrity; for two years after the serum run, the dog and some of his teammates traversed the continental United States as part of a travelling show. After Balto died in 1933, his body was preserved and displayed at Clevelands Natural History Museum. In 1995, a popular animated movie about Balto was released. Adding to his fame.
Long after his death, Balto`s popularity lives on. are plans in the works for Balto to return to Alaska as a part of a temporary exhibit at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art - aament to the strength of Baltos memory and fitting memorial to his indomitable spirit.