From the book, Alaska & the Klondike, Early Writings and Historic Photographs, compiled and edited by Helen Hegener, an anthology of selected writings by early explorers and travelers in Alaska and the Yukon Territory of Canada.
The Land of Tomorrow, by William B. Stephenson, Jr., was a wide- ranging study of Alaska from the point of view of one who had served as a United States Commissioner at St. Michael. Little was apparently written about Commissioner Stephenson, but his well-received book garnered wide acclaim:
In The Continent, Vol. 50, November 20, 1919, a book reviewer writes, “The story of the vast and almost untouched resources of Alaska, the last of Uncle Sam’s frontier lands, is told in an interesting and informing way by Mr. Stephenson, formerly United States Commissioner at St, Michael, Alaska. The information which is given is largely first hand. The book will be equally valuable to the homeseeker, the traveller and the general reader. It is illustrated with numerous illuminating photographs.”
The December, 1919 Atlantic Monthly called it “An intimate and authoritative work on Alaska, contains complete, up-to-date and most reliable information for both the business man and the pleasure seeker. It appeals to the general reader as a delightful description of the little known ‘Wonderland of the North.’”
And writing for readers of the November 10, 1920 issue of The Nation, reviewer Frederick O’Brien goes into more colorful detail: “Mr. Stephenson was formerly United States Commissioner at St. Michael, an important post at the mouth of the Yukon River. He has written an excellent book of general information about those portions of Alaska where the white man has settled, and with considerable artistry he has managed to put into his book some of the lure, the freedom, and the thrill of life in that land of the last frontier, that country of the will-o’-the-wisp and the blood-red midnight sun that doubles back on its trail when the year is at its full. Along with much valuable information of interest to one intending to settle in the north, Mr. Stephenson gives us Alaska in the summer, with the woods and tundra athrill with flowers and sunshine; the great volcanos and the vast coal and oil deposits; the fox ranches and canneries; the copper ledges and gold mines. He tells of the ‘iron trails’ through the wilderness, the result of some of the most brilliant feats of engineering the world has known. He gives us Alaska of the totem pole and the basket, of old carved ivory and quaint Indian villages hidden in crescent coves. In short, he has written a book which even the Alaskan ‘sour-dough,’ who has long ceased to expect that anything true shall be written of his country, would not only read with interest and approval, but would actually go out and buy for himself.”
It’s interesting to note that managing editor of The Nation at that time was Ernest H. Gruening, who was later to become the Governor of the Alaska Territory (1939-1953), and a United States Senator from Alaska(1959-1969).
FOREWORD by William B. Stephenson, Jr.
THAT the Voice of the North calls insistently to him who once has dwelt amidst its snows is neither myth nor legend. It is history. Like the Song of the Lorelei, having heard it once it rings in his ears forever. True, it is a strenuous game which Man plays against Nature in Alaska. There, as nowhere else on earth, he pays the price for what he gets. Yet if you ask one who has loved and left her, one who has lived among her mountains, experiencing alike the bitter winter and the wondrous Alaskan summer, every day of which is perfect beyond the power of words to describe, even though he may deny the call it is not difficult to detect the hidden longing underlying his reply. For it is a fact not to be gainsaid that after such an experience, no matter how much a man may have looked forward to a life of ease after his return, he seldom finds it satisfying. Usually when he goes back home it is to find his old friends scattered or dead. The old pleasures turn to gall and wormwood in his mouth. In time the jar and turbulence of cities get on his nerves. He begins to hear the Voice! The old residents of Alaska, they who have lived there so long that they seem a part of the land itself, always smile grimly when they hear a man begin to curse the land where he has made his wealth and swear that he never wants to see it again. To them it is an old story. They have seen many return to the regions whence they came. And they have seen most of them come back! They alone know the truth of the line from the old Norse legend:
"Dark and true and tender is the North!"
Following the opening up of the gold fields much was written of Alaska, but it was confined largely to the territory of the Yukon and the unsettled, chaotic conditions of the hour. The fortunate few who, through the medium of poem, song or story, have revealed the glories and the tragedies of this part of the country have done their work well. The record of that now-historic stampede to the Klondike gold fields has journeyed to the uttermost parts of the earth. But all this was twenty years ago. The Alaska of to-day is not what it was then, and there are sections of this marvelous country which no artist has yet painted and of which no poet has yet sung. Were this not true the present scribe would have no task,—no reason for adding to the list.
Sixty miles north of the mouth of the Yukon lies the little island of St. Michael on which the writer spent five years (first as manager of the Pacific Cold Storage Plant and afterward as United States Commissioner), journeying later from this island to almost every spot in the country which the white man has yet penetrated. Moved by the astonishing discovery during a recent visit to the States that there is practically nothing to be had in any library in regard to this island, so important a connecting link between the Yukon and the outer world, he is inflicting this little volume upon a patient and long-suffering public. He has been moved to do this, not from a desire to pose as a creator of literature, but because of a belief which can not be shaken that Alaska is The Land of Tomorrow! It is the only bit of Uncle Sam's territory where it is still possible for a man to get in on the ground floor. Now that the great World War is at an end thousands of soldiers are coming home again—to begin life over! They will be seeking a new environment. Travel, especially by water, even though (as is the case with those lately in the service) it be under difficulties and not always of one's own choosing, never fails to breed wanderlust in man. It awakens something within him which urges him to go adventuring, to seek the far spaces of the world, no matter how much his heart may cry out to him to stay at home. In Alaska there is room for all who know how to fight! Untold opportunity for him who is willing to fight! With a physique made strong by the life in the trenches, with muscles hardened by military training, the returned soldier will be fitted as he never has been before and perhaps never will be again to cope with the somewhat rigorous life demanded of him who dwells "north of fifty-three."
Alaska is calling for men,—men to cultivate her farms, to develop her mines, to build her railroads, to man her fisheries and her lumber camps. She will soon be asking for business men to manage her stores, for lawyers, doctors and dentists, for teachers, ministers and priests, for actors and motion picture operators. In another year Uncle Sam's great railroad will be running Pullman cars across this sparsely-settled country. This means progress. Alaska will begin to live. She will prove a good although at certain seasons of the year a frigid mother to thousands yet unborn. The homely old proverb in regard to the early bird is peculiarly applicable to Alaska. The worm is only waiting to be caught.
To know Alaska is to love her. As one old North-Pacific sea captain once put it,—"A man can get along without the woman he loves if he has to. But he can't get along without Alaska after he has fallen in love with her!"
It is Robert Service, however, who in The Spell of the Yukon has breathed the real spirit of the land:
Some say God was tired when He made it; Some say it's a good land to shun;
May be. But there's some as would trade it For no land on earth—and I'm one!
W. B. S.
St. Michael, Alaska
Excerpt from chapter 10:
THE ALL-ALASKA SWEEPSTAKES
NO STORY OF ALASKA would be complete unless it included reference to that most vital element of all the Northland, the Alaskan dog. Ever since the days when Ulysses roamed the seas man has loved his dog. Dearest (and most valuable) to the heart of an Alaskan is his "Malamut" or "Husky," as the Alaskan dog is usually designated. So intelligent that he is almost human, strong as a young ox, oblivious (apparently) to the cold,—he is a part of the land itself! His importance to the life of the North can not be over-estimated. He carries the mail into far regions which but for him would be closed to the outside world for many months of the year.
"An I should live a thousand years," as Shakespeare puts it, I could never forget a leader I once had. I called him "Paddie." During one long, cold winter we went to Andreafsky, distant a hundred and twenty miles from St. Michael, to take the mail. I can see him yet, at the head of the thirty-three dog team, pulling us swiftly over the hard, white snow. At night when I would wrap myself in my sleeping-bag and lie down to sleep, Paddie never failed to come and lie beside me, snuggling as closely as possible to keep me warm. I could not forget, if I tried, his faithfulness and affection, and I do not wish to. I think of him many times, often have dreamed of him and sometimes have talked to him in my sleep.
But laying aside all sentiment in regard to his dogs, a man would indeed be helpless in the north country without them. Into far and almost inaccessible regions which no other beast could penetrate and where neither man nor vehicle could enter unaided, the dogs run nimbly, pulling a sled behind them. Many and dramatic (and true!) are the stories of the arrival of a dog team in the nick of time with food and supplies for a distant, snowed-in camp the members of which would have starved but for their coming.
Reference will be made in another chapter to the wonderful part our dogs are now playing in the great World War. Alaskans have never failed to appreciate what they owe them, but it is only within comparatively recent years that they have realized their real value. Nothing in the history of the country has been of more value to Alaska than the Dog Derby, the "All-Alaska Sweepstakes," as the dog races are called.
Albert Fink, an attorney at Nome, one day overheard a bet between two men as to the speed of their respective dog teams. As he owned some fine dogs himself, he conceived the idea of having a real Derby, matching the teams for the love of the sport itself. Calling together all the dog lovers and dog owners of the community, he put the suggestion before them. The result was the organization of the Nome Kennel Club, a society the purpose of which was to foster the races. The latter were to be known as the "All-Alaska Sweepstakes," and as such the races have been known ever since. The club was organized and conducted just as jockey clubs are. Rules and regulations were drawn up, officers elected, and a purse of fifteen thousand dollars collected for the first race.
Some one has ventured the opinion that nothing on earth could ever have made the city of Nome except the very thing that did make it,—the discovery of gold in the sand on the beach!
Be that as it may, it is safe to say that since that discovery nothing has ever equaled the interest it created until the first dog race was held in 1908.
Men talked of nothing else. On the day of the race the stores, banks and offices were deserted and it is a fact that the District Court was forced to adjourn. Witnesses, jurors and attorneys failed to appear. All went to the races. Thousands of dollars were wagered on the dogs, thousands more on the men who drove them. It was a day of great excitement and enthusiasm.
The course was from Nome, on Bering Sea, across Seward Peninsula to Candle and back,—a distance of four hundred and ten miles. The first race was a great event. One of the conditions was that the whole team must return to the starting-point. The weather was most severe and some of the dogs froze to death. It is no uncommon sight in Alaska to see an intrepid driver, in harness himself, helping to bring back in the sled the disabled dogs which have become incapacitated by accident or sickness. The man who loses a dog is out of the race, no matter what the cause of the loss may be. The rules provide, however, that after being certified at Candle, the turning-point, the dog does not necessarily have to be driven back. But the whole team must return.
The winning team of the first race were Malamuts owned by Albert Fink, driven by John Hegness. They made the distance in a hundred and nineteen hours, fifteen minutes and twenty-two seconds. The winning team was closely followed by one driven by the now-famous "Scotty" Allen and which made the course in a hundred and twenty hours, seven minutes and fifty-two seconds. Three hours elapsed before the third team came in.
The small margin of time between the first and second teams made the race, which took days to finish, of unusual interest. There was great uncertainty almost up to the last moment. But the race was regarded as a success and the event became a fixture. Heretofore, while there had been much discussion as to the breeding of racing dogs, it had been largely theoretical. Now men who owned dogs began to put their minds on it seriously.
The purse of fifteen thousand dollars collected for the first race was awarded in three prizes. Ten thousand went to the winner, three thousand to the second and two thousand to the third team. It was supposed when the amount was collected that it would be amply sufficient to tempt dog owners to become fanciers and to induce the importation and breeding of faster and better dogs, But the sum was found to be inadequate. The total purse fell far short of the amount necessary to assemble, feed, train and condition a team.
The following year there were numerous entries for the second race. And they were not confined to wealthy dog owners, by any means. Miners, fur traders, mail carriers, to say nothing of the first delegate to Congress, entered the contest. This time "Scotty" Allen came in for his own. He drove his team himself and lowered the time to eighty-two hours, two minutes and forty-two seconds,—thirty-seven hours less than the time the first race had consumed.
Perhaps the most interesting personage in connection with the early dog racing in Alaska is Fox Ramsey. He is an Englishman, the brother of Lord Dalhousie. He was what is commonly known as a Cheechaco,—in other words, a tenderfoot. He was unused to the ways of the trail, and what he did not know about handling dogs would fill a book. But he was a good sport. So he entered his team of Malamuts in the second race and drove them himself. He took any amount of chaff from the local drivers and the amusement of the latter was certainly justified. Several weeks after the race was over Ramsey drove up to the finishing post and with the utmost good humor notified the judges that his team had arrived!
The old saying, however, that "he who laughs last laughs best" is peculiarly applicable to Fox Ramsey. He chartered a schooner bound for Siberia. When he returned, as some one has already recorded, "Siberian huskies howled from every port hole." The crowd which had found so much merriment in his racing team of the previous year laughed louder than ever. They took not the slightest interest in the training of his dogs. Ramsey kept his own counsel. When the time came he entered the race. Then came Ramsey's turn to laugh. He took both first and second money! Not only that, he broke the record. The new one was astonishing. He covered the course in seventy-four hours, fourteen minutes and twenty-two seconds.
The good Alaskans, as always, showed the right spirit. Their amusement changed to admiration. All existing theories as to the best breeds for racing had been completely upset. Ramsey is now at the front "somewhere in France" fighting for his country—and ours! Here's to him!
It is the hope, of course, of every fancier to perfect a breed which will lower the record still more, and many hope to prove that the descendants of the wolf are best adapted to the needs of the country. There is a new breed which is now being watched with interest,—the stag-and fox-hound. It has proved excellent for speed in short races but has not yet been able to hold out over the long course of the Sweepstakes. Another experiment is with the Russian wolf-hound,—beautiful dogs these are, but with courage as yet untested.
There is great difference of opinion as to the relative merits of the various breeds, and since the third race the Derby has settled down to a contest between those who believe in the superiority of the fox-hound, bird dog and Malamut cross as pitted against the pure-blooded Siberians.
Those who have never trained or watched over the training and conditioning of a team of racing dogs would find it a most interesting experience. The food of the dogs, like that of a child, is carefully watched over. It consists at first of dog-salmon, corn and cornmeal mush, rice and bacon. Later this is changed to a more strengthening diet. They are fed chopped beef, mutton and eggs. Also, one who has never visited Alaska would open his eyes wide if he could see the kennels where the dogs are kept. In fact, one sometimes wonders whether the human inhabitants are as comfortable. To get a team in condition requires the combined efforts of a large retinue of trainers, drivers and helpers. The driver who is to pilot the first team of a kennel devotes his time and attention to the choice few of some twenty or thirty dogs. The helpers and second string drivers keep the remainder in fit condition so as to develop and gait those which must be ready to substitute in case any one of the first lot proves unequal to the qualifications for entry,—speed, soundness, courage.
It has often happened that dogs the fame of which has spread not only over Alaska but over all the world have developed from the second string. One such was Baldy of Nome, the hero of a book written by his owner, Mrs. C. E. Darling, commonly known as "The Darling of the Dogs." Baldy is old now,—a pensioner. He lives in ease and luxury at the California estate of his mistress. His story is interesting. He was rejected at first as being not of sufficient caliber for the first team. Whether the rejection spurred him to renewed effort I do not know. But he proceeded to prove his worth. He won his way from wheel of the second team to leader of the first team. Baldy occupies a warm spot in every Alaskan heart. He worked up from the ranks,—a "self-made" dog, so to speak, and proved his courage, his sagacity, his strength, and his endurance. One of the most interesting things about him is that he now possesses the largest service flag of any one of my acquaintance. Twenty-eight of his sons and grandsons went to the Vosges to "do their bit," and Baldy now wears the Croix de Guerre bestowed upon them by the French government!
Of the now-famous dogs of the Derby mention must be made of Dubby. He was the first "loose" leader ever developed in Alaska and the best. He was almost human in intelligence. He ran free from the tow line. He would take his place proudly at the head of his team, with no restraint of tow or leash, observing the spoken commands with instant obedience. From his position of authority at the head of the team, by incessant yelping and playful antics, he would encourage the others, and woe to any one of them that proved the laggard! Dubby promptly punished him. He would run back, bark and then nip him until the offender was only too glad to return to duty and resume gait. Other dogs which have won fame in the Derby are (1) Jack McMillan, a leader belonging to Albert Fink; (2) Rex, a pacer; (3) The Blatchford Blues, two thoroughbred Llewellyn setters, wonderful both as to speed and intelligence; (4) Kalma, a beautiful, white-eyed, black-coated Siberian who has proved the most lasting campaigner of them all.
Not to the dogs alone, however, much as we love them, is due the credit for the success of the Alaskan Derby. Too much can not be said for the trainers and drivers. All of them were men deeply versed in dog lore. They had made a study of many years' duration and were imbued with theories as to the training and conditioning of dogs,—theories as varied as were the breeds of the dogs themselves. These men were knights of the trail, inured to hardship, fleet and sure of foot, gifted both with physical endurance and courage to which no words can do justice. Mention has already been made of "Scotty" Allen. He is known to every man, woman and child on Seward Peninsula. He has been in every race except the last one, either with a team of his own or one owned jointly by himself and Mrs. Darling. He developed and owns the two famous leaders, Dubby and Baldy, and their reputation is world-wide.
To "Scotty" Allen the French Government entrusted the responsibility of choosing and transporting to France more than a hundred of the Sweepstake dogs. Further reference will be made to their noble work on the war-swept fields of Europe where, with a courage and daring equaled only by their human brothers, they carry ammunition and supplies far into the mountains,—often to remote and seemingly inaccessible spots where the soldiery could not penetrate without them. It was because of this mission that Allen was unable to enter the last race and as he has recently been elected to the Alaskan Legislature he will also be deprived of the privilege of entering this year. The session is held at the same time as the Derby. In any other country the latter might be postponed. Here it is not possible. It is a matter of much regret that the Derby can not be made a territorial affair. This was the original intention, as the name, All-Alaska Sweepstakes, indicates. But it proved impossible. The race could not be held after the spring break-up. It must have the hard spring trail and the cold weather, and the trainers must have the whole of the winter for the training and conditioning of the dogs. Therefore, April must be the month and, regrettable as the fact is, this prevents teams from Fairbanks, Iditarod and other Alaskan towns from entering. The men from these sections could not well take chances on the disappearance of the trail by an early thaw before they could return home again for the spring clean-ups. But almost every Alaskan town now has its own Kennel Club, small or large as the case may be, and all are actively alive to the sport. Moreover, the "Outside" is by no means indifferent. Many contributions to the purse come each year to the Nome Kennel Club.
Trophies for the different races, usually cups, are, almost without exception, the gifts of men in the United States who are devotees of the sport. Unable to participate themselves, they like to aid and encourage the event. The latest trophy, and the one which unquestionably will be most sought after this year, is the cup presented by John Borden, Chicago sportsman and millionaire, who joined the Club last summer while in Nome. This cup is for a new contest,— extreme speed being the object. The course is to cover twenty-six miles, three hundred yards. It must be run under perfect conditions, it being the object and the desire of both donor and Club to learn how fast a dog team can actually travel without obstacles. The winner each year will be given a small cup, and the big trophy must be won three times in succession before it becomes the property of the winner.
In addition to Allen and Ramsey, other drivers have made substantial but less spectacular winnings. Two of these are the Johnson brothers and another is Leonard Sepalla. Their dogs were Siberians, driven in a long string, fifteen to twenty-six to a team. These men have marvelous records for endurance, as has also Peter Berg, a mail carrier. The latter did a hundred and thirty miles without a stop for food or rest. The last thirty miles was made in harness, and in snow shoes, with what was left of his badly used-up team. Then, after hauling a large part of his frost-bitten and exhausted dogs to the finishing post he found that he had been beaten to second money by a man who had ridden four hundred miles behind his untiring and seemingly inexhaustible Siberians.
If the Alaskan Derby had had but one result,—that of developing a superior race of dogs—it would have been invaluable to Alaska. But it has done one other thing in which every dog lover rejoices. It has not only benefited the racing dog. It has materially benefited the condition of the working dog. The old rule of feeding an exhausted and over-worked team "buckskin soup" no longer goes in Alaska. Very few drivers now have the temerity to abuse a dog. It has been proved beyond doubt that better results come from kindness and care than can possibly be obtained by neglect or brutal treatment.
So, after many years' sojourn in the country, I affirm that he who does not love a dog never owned one! Here's to them,—dumb heroes of the trackless wilderness and the gigantic snow fields! Over the frozen wastes they cheerfully pull both driver and load for thousands of miles and come up smiling when the end of the long journey is reached. Into their masters' deepest affections they unconsciously walk and "stay put." They become his most sympathetic companions, comrades and friends. And the news which from time to time reaches us from "over there" where our canine heroes are doing their "bit" in a manner little short of miraculous goes straight to our hearts. Yes. The dog has come into his own. And all Alaska rejoices that it is so. Over a kingdom of devoted subjects he reigns supreme!
From the book, Alaska & the Klondike, Early Writings and Historic Photographs, compiled and edited by Helen Hegener, an anthology of selected writings by early explorers and travelers in Alaska and the Yukon Territory of Canada.