HISTORY OF PULLING
The term “husky” in the old days did not refer to the Siberian Husky breed. It was a generic term for any stocky built Spitz type of dog (a double hair coat breed resembling wolves in look). There were many different breeds and cross breeds in the early days of sledding. Among these were the Russian wolf, Chinook, Greenland Husky, Coastal Eskimo Dogs, the Alaskan Interior Village dogs, Samoyed and Canadian Eskimo dog.
While Siberian Huskies are used for sled dog racing because they are sleek and fast, the Alaskan Malamute is primarily used for freight hauling over long distances.
Mals are known as the “Clydesdales of the Great White North”. They are tireless, effortless, can go on forever and love to do it. Two dogs commonly employed in sledding are Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies. These two breeds had quite different origins and uses. Alaskan Malamutes originated with a group of Eskimo people known as the Mahlemiut. The dogs of that time were very large freighting dogs, capable of pulling heavy weight. The Mahlemiut people inhabited the region in the upper part of the Anvik River in Alaska, and were spread out over a large area. The Mahlemiut people used these dogs for hauling food back to the villages. The gold rush in 1896 created a high demand for these dogs.
On the other hand, Siberian Huskies originated with the Chuckchi people of northeastern Siberia. These people had a Stone Age culture and used their dogs for a variety of things, like herding reindeer and pulling loads. These dogs were smaller and faster than their Mahlemiut counterparts. These dogs were exported to Alaska at around the time of the gold rush. Thus the gold rush played a very important role in the development of our modern day sled dog breeds. Sled dogs probably evolved in Mongolia between 35 and 30 thousand years ago. Scientists believe humans migrated north of the Arctic Circle with their dogs 25,000 years ago, and began using them to pull sleds 3,000 years ago, when hunting and fishing communities were forced north to Siberia by pastoralists. Mals were first discovered in the 1700’s working alongside the Mahlemut tribe in Alaska. Historical references of the dogs and dog harnesses used by Native American cultures date back to before European contact. The use of dogs as draft animals was widespread in North America. There were two main kinds of sled dogs; one kept by coastal cultures, and the other kept by interior cultures such as the Athabascan Indians. These interior dogs formed the basis of the Alaskan Husky. Russian traders following the Yukon River inland in the mid-1800s acquired sled dogs from the interior villages along the river. The dogs of this area were reputed to be stronger and better at hauling heavy loads than the native Russian sled dogs.
Before contact with the Russians in 1732, Inupiaq and Yup’ik peoples of the Bering Straits had already adapted their masterfully designed wood latticed and gut-skin covered kayaks into an over-the-snow craft, minus the skin but plus ski-like runners to glide over snow when pulled by dogs. The average team was three dogs, with their master running ahead to guide their dogs between villages, fish camps, and hunting camps. Unlike today, teams were harnessed like a fan, with no leader.
With their long distance fur-gathering forays, the Russians brought new efficiencies to dog mushing. Teams harnessed in single file or pairs were introduced, along with the concept of a lead dog that would follow voice commands and keep the team in order. Handlebars were added to sleds. Larger teams of dogs were used, with sleds sometimes carrying passengers.
Demand for dogs and sleds skyrocketed exponentially with the gold rushes to Alaska in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. During one of the big rushes it was said that no stray dogs could be found on the streets of Seattle, having all been rounded up and shipped to Alaska. Malamutes, huskies, and other breeds were mixed to haul freight and passengers. Unlike today’s relatively small and sleek long distance racing sled dogs, the breeds of yesteryear weighed in around 75 pounds and pulled between 100 and 150 pounds.
The Alaskan Gold Rush brought renewed interest in the use of sled dogs as transportation. Most gold camps were only accessible by dogsled in the winter. "Everything that moved during the frozen season moved by dog team; prospectors, trappers, doctors, mail, commerce, trade, freighting of supplies… if it needed to move in winter, it was moved by sled dogs." This, along with the dogs' use in the exploration of the poles, led to the late 1800s and early 1900s being nicknamed the "Era of the Sled Dog".
Sled dogs were used to deliver the mail in Alaska during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Malamutes were the favored breed, with teams averaging eight to ten dogs. Dogs were capable of delivering mail in conditions that would stop boats, trains, and horses. Each team hauled between 500 and 700 pounds of mail. The mail was stored in waterproofed bags to protect it from the snow. By 1901, dog trails had been established along the entirety of the Yukon River. Mail delivery by dog sled came to an end in 1963 when the last mail carrier to use a dog sled, Chester Noongwook of Savoonga, retired.
Sled dog racing began as a formal sport with the first All-Alaska Sweepstakes race in 1908.
Of course, everyone knows of the famous Iditarod race held today. What started it? In 1925 an outbreak of diphtheria threatened the population of Nome, Alaska. There was not enough serum in Nome to treat the number of people infected by the disease. The worst sufferers were the children. There was serum in Nenana, but the town was 700 miles away, and inaccessible except by dog sled. A dog sled relay was set up by the villages between Nenana and Nome, and 20 teams worked together to relay the serum to Nome. The serum reached Nome in six days. I’m sure you have heard of Balto?
How about Togo?
Balto got all the glory but did you know Togo did most of the work? Leonhard Seppala lead Togo to the serum and partway back for 260 miles, the longest leg of the journey. Another musher names Gunner Kaasen borrowed Balto from the outpost (where Seppala left him to rest for the return journey) and completed the final 55 miles into Nome.
Admiral Byrd used malamutes for hauling supplies on his expedition to the South Pole in 1933. The influence of Nansen and Amundsen who used sled dogs in the North and South Polar regions was also important in establishing a Scandinavian sled dog sport. In the 1952 Oslo Olympics, sled dogs were featured as a demonstration sport in the form of pulka races where the driver accompanies the dogs on skis behind a toboggan or pulka thus the beginning of skijoring
Dogsleds were used to patrol western Alaska during World War II. Highways and trucking in the 40s and 50s, and the snowmobile in the 50s and 60s, contributed to the decline of the working sled dog.
Recreational mushing came into place to maintain the tradition of dog mushing. The desire for larger, stronger, load-pulling dogs changed to one for faster dogs with high endurance used in racing, which caused the dogs to become lighter than they were historically. Americans then began to import Siberian Huskies to increase the speed of their own dogs, presenting "a direct contrast to the idea that Russian traders sought heavier draft-type sled dogs from the Interior regions of Alaska and the Yukon less than a century earlier to increase the hauling capacity of their lighter sled dogs." Outside of Alaska, dog-drawn carts were used to haul peddler's wares in cities like New York.
The vast diversity of the draft dog throughout history has been witnessed in drawings, paintings and photographs like the Civil War,
maintaining city streets and roads
and plowing fields
Man's capacity for putting his animals to work knows no bounds!!!!
Bluerose Alaskan Malamutes