BOOKS: Gold Rush Dogs
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2001:
Gold Rush Dogs
by Claire R. Murphy & Jane G. Haigh
119 pages, paperback, illustrated. $16.95.
Alone Across the Arctic
by Pam Flowers with Ann Dixon
120 pages, paperback, illustrated. $15.95.
Both from Alaska Northwest Books (203 W. 15th #108, Anchorage, AK
Alaska, though much of the state remains without effective
humane services, is still the one state whose canine frontier heroes
remain as well-known as the people. Of the nine dogs profiled by
Claire R. Murphy and Jane G. Haigh in Gold Rush Dogs, four are
elsewhere remembered in popular books and videos for children,
including John Muir’s companion Stickeen and the sled dogs Baldy,
Togo, and Balto. Jack London is believed to have modeled Buck, of
The Call of the Wild, and White Fang, of the book by the same
title, on the also-profiled Julian and Nero.
Only Faust and Patsy Ann have lapsed into obscurity, after
enjoying great fame and favor in their own time.
Perhaps only in Alaska could the life history of a homeless
mutt like Patsy Ann be rediscovered, nearly 60 years after her
death. But if there is a common element to the lives of all of these
dogs, apart from courage and hardiness, it is that all of them
somehow survived well beyond the normal lifespan of dogs, touching
hundreds or perhaps even thousands of lives. Togo led his team to
victory in the most competitive sled dog race in Alaska ten years
before making his legendary 260-mile contribution to the 1925
delivery of diptheria serum to Nome over the Iditarod Trail. Balto
is justly remembered for bringing the desperately needed serum into
Nome through a blizzard on the last stage of the 674-mile trek, but
old Togo, known for his astonishing sense of direction, may have
been the only dog who could have cut successfully across Norton Bay,
a 42-mile drive through a whiteout that saved perhaps 200 miles by
any other route.
The serum run ironically marked the end of sled dog
transportation in Alaska. Alaskan dogs used to race between working.
Since the advent of railways, cars, and air travel, sled dogs work
only by racing, and though Alaska still has canine heroes, there
are no more canine legends.
Flak sheets sent with the review copies made clear that
Alaska Northwest Publishing is less interested in Gold Rush Dogs than
in Alone Across The Arctic, Pam Flowers’ memoir of her 1991
retracing of a route taken in 1923-1924 by Norwegian explorer Knud
Rasmussen and an Inuit couple, Miteq (the man) and Anarulunguaq (the
woman). Flowers was the first woman and first U.S. citizen to
traverse the route solo–a stunt of some difficulty but no real
meaning, winning transient regional celebrity put to no evident
useful purpose, informing a book which combines travelogue with
adventure, yet barely skims the surface of insights and ideas.