How Sled dogs are part of Culture and History

Early Days of Mushing

The Beginning of Dog Mushing
First and foremost
The exploits of the early-day mushers takes you back to a time, when people depended on their dogs for their lives. Driving a dog team for hundreds, or thousands of miles through mountain ranges and vast unpeopled valleys, over frozen lakes, and rivers or across glaciers required strength and endurance
– for the musher, but also for their dogs.
Alaskan Malamutes
back in the days
There are many books and historical articles filled with stories about the origin of dog mushing, and illustrations – for example: one, taken from the 1675 edition of Martin Frobisher’s “Historic Navigations”.

The illustration captured a dog in harness, pulling a pulk. There are also a lot of dates about the first historical records of the use of sled dogs, mostly back to the tenth century. A new study bolsters the idea, that human began to breed the artic dogs more than 9.500 years ago; mostly for pulling sleds. This study also adds DNA evidence suggesting the Malamute had already begun to evolve to adapt the temperatures.

So, what we can say, is that Sled dogs cooperated with humans for many thousands of years. Also, some anthropologists suggest that human habitation and survival in the Arctic would never have been possible without sled dogs. 

The reason: Those intrepid teams of hard-working dogs were the primary method of winter travels, especially in the early days. Further, sled dogs were made to pull freight. During the gold rushes those dogs brought everything home what the indigenous need – food, mining supplies, medicine, gold, passengers and more. This possibility often meant the difference between life and death.

Dog teams were also indispensable to Arctic traveler, explorer, missionaries, doctors, lawmen, dolg seekers, mail drivers. They all need a always-reliable dog team. Not only men were called mushers, also women – like Mary Joyce – used to run a team of sled dogs.

Inspiration for a
partner in crime
from challenges to
The first race might be an informal challenge between travelers, someday in the 1850s. Later, around the turn of the century, the attention of the outside was drawn to Alaska and the Yukon by the Goldrush; the first major sled dog races were organized. These races were in Nome and get popular by reports in the New York Times and other major newspapers.
By the 1920s, some returning gold miners brought the sport to New England. In 1932 Lake Placid Olympic Games included sled dog racing as a demonstration sport. In 1952 sled dog were featured again in the Olympics, now in Oslo and in form of pulka/toboggan races.
Mushing as a Sport spread around the world, not only because of the Olympics, but also because of famous mushers in the early days – like Nansen or Amundsen. Also, the work of Malamutes during the First World War was an huge historian impact.

Now we can watch long-distance mushers of today’s Iditarod and Yukon Quest sled dogs races to get an impression, which conditions and challenges they are exposed; with one difference: all those mushers have vastly good gear and the safety net of checkpoints on the path. Something mail-drivers and freight haulers didn’t have, when they hit the trail back in the days.

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