Earth Day: Remembering the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill

Hello readers,

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, an environmental catastrophe that devastated the Prince William Sound. In honor of Earth Day, it’s fitting to look at news coverage of the spill that impacted the lives of countless Alaskans.

Another oil spill prompted the very first Earth Day. In January of 1969, off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, an oil well exploded, which sent hundreds of gallons of oil into the Pacific Ocean. Images of oiled birds and the mounting cleanup efforts prompted the country to reexamine the relationship between humans and the environment.

Twenty years later, history repeated itself  with an oil spill of another kind. On the evening of Thursday March 23, 1989 the Exxon Valdez oil tanker crashed into Bligh Reef in the Prince William Sound near Valdez. Hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil spilled into the waters and left a trail of dead sea life, lost fishing profits, and a threat to the ways of life for thousands of Alaska Natives.

Evos 1

Image credit: From the March 24, 1989 issue of the Valdez Vanguard, courtesy of the Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

EVOS Valdez Vanguard August 23, 1989

Image credit: From the August 23, 1989 issue of the Valdez Vanguard, courtesy of the Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

EVOS March 26 1989

Image credit: From the March 26, 1989 issue of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, courtesy of the Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

EVOS ADN June 14 1994

Image credit: From the June 14, 1994 issue of the Anchorage Daily News, courtesy of the Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

EVOS Valdez Vanguard April 5, 1989

Image credit: From the April 5, 1989 issue of the Valdez Vanguard, courtesy of the Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

When we think back on Earth Day, it’s hard not to consider the lasting impacts of pollution. Yet actions in our daily lives affect changes to the planet. Our dependence on fossil fuels has helped accelerate climate change through carbon emissions, which has affected global temperature changes. Fortunately, there are small changes we can make to use less, recycle more, and to increase sustainability.


Image credit: Infographic courtesy of NOAA.

To ensure the lasting health of the planet, every day is Earth Day.

Be sure to check out the online exhibit on display right now at the Alaska State Library, Archives, and Museum. For more information on the research and records collected by the Alaska State Archives and Historical Collections, take a look at this interview with archivist Chris Hieb.

Measles Outbreaks in Alaska’s Historic Newspapers

Black and white photograph of a Tlingit woman holding a candle and sitting against a wall next to a young Tlingit Indian with severe sores showing infection.

Caption from photograph: Tlingit woman holding a candle and sitting against a wall next to a young Tlingit Indian with severe sores showing infection. From the Winter and Pond Photograph Collection, Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

Dear readers,

It’s hard to avoid the alarming reports of measles outbreaks in the United States and worldwide. Vaccines have been proven to prevent the spread of measles; the MMR (measles- mumps-rubella) vaccine, which needs to be administered twice to children, has an effectiveness rate of 97%. Thanks to an effective vaccination program, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared measles eliminated in the United States in 2000.

Nineteen years later, however, measles cases are back are on the rise. The staggering amount of false information about vaccine safety has led to outbreaks of this preventable disease, particularly among vulnerable populations. Measles kills roughly 2 in 1,000 cases and leads to pneumonia in about 6% of cases. At present, there are 555 confirmed cases of measles this year alone in 20 states, as well as a 300% increase in measles worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

The following news items are just a handful of the hundred of measles-related stories reported in Alaska’s historic newspapers. A commonality among these stories are reports of children and indigenous populations disproportionately affected by the virus. In 1900, the measles virus devastated Yup’ik, Iñupiat, and Iñupiaq Alaska Native populations.

The Measles: The measles have afflicted several Alaskan towns quite severely during the past two or three months. Sitka has suffered along with the rest. Many pupils of the white and native public schools and the Russian Orphanage had them and there are at present several cases among our cottages. As a result of the measles there have been several deaths in the native village and one-- that of Matilda McKay in the cottages. Matilda was one of our day pupils, the daughter of our band leader, George McKay. She was a bright little girl and will be sadly missed in her home and among her playmates. Until Feb 21 we had no measles among our 105 boarding pupils. Then two boys, Andrew Hanson and Newton Kasko fell ill. They were taken to the hospital where they later developed full fledged measles. They are both rapidly recovering now. We have had no other cases as yet. We are very thankful and hope all other pupils may escape being caught.

Image credit: The Thlinget. [volume] (Sitka, Alaska), 01 Feb. 1909. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Measles Causes Deaths in Peninsula Villages: An epidemic of measles is raging on Kodiak and Afognak Islands and a number of deaths are reported. This morning the Governor's office received the following telegram from W. J. Erskine, a merchant of Kodiak: "Measles epidemic spreading outside the village of Afognak. 110 cases and three deaths at Karluk. There have been 10 deaths and 20 cases at Kagnik 10 days ago and several cases at Ouzinkie. Many are destitute." The telegram was immediately transmitted to the Secretary of the Interior and a recommendation was made that a revenue cutter be dispatched with the necessary supplies, or that the United States Marshal at Valdez be authorized to furnish provisions, fuel and medical aid.

Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 07 Nov. 1913. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Valdez Should Quarantine. During the past year an epidemic of measles has visited almost every coast town in Alaska except Valdez. At the present time Cordova, Douglas and Ketchikan are suffering from this unwelcome visitor, and in the latter place the disease has assumed a most virulent type. That Valdez has not been visited by a scourge of measles ere this is due to no precautions taken to prevent its being brought here for apparently no steps have been taken to quarantine against the town in which the disease prevails. Residents of the towns where the disease is prevalent come and go from Valdez with freedom, and there is offered every opportunity to bring the disease here. Some steps should be taken by the authorities in connection with the boat officials to prevent the disease getting a foothold here. At this season of the year an epidemic of measles would undoubtedly cause many deaths. A few years ago Valdez had an experience with an epidemic of whooping cough, the result of which was sufficiently sad to warrant every precaution against any other epidemic which may endanger the lives of our little ones.

Image credit: Valdez daily prospector. (Valdez, Alaska), 19 Jan. 1917. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

All the Eskimos at the mouth of the MacKenzie river have died of measles. The deaths numbered two hundred. Bishop Breynat, of the Catholic church, who recently reached Dawson, brings the news. Two small steamers are crushed in the ice on the upper MacKenzie.

Image credit: Douglas Island news. (Douglas City, Alaska), 13 April 1904. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>


For everyone’s sake, make sure your children are up-to-date on vaccinations.

Let’s leave measles in the past.

Alaska Folk Festival: Researching its Origins and History

Poster with a blue night sky with constellations of a wolf, a swan, two fish, a bear, a moose, a whale tail, and a woman holding a banjo with the earth as its head with the text underneath that reads: "Nineteenth annual alaska folk festival april 12-18, 1993; centennial hall- juneau, alaska

Image credit: 19th Annual Alaska Folk Festival poster, artwork by Bill Hudson, courtesy of the Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

Greetings, all!

The Alaska Folk Festival is currently underway here in Juneau from April 8-14 at Centennial Hall. 2019 marks its 45th year, and to celebrate, we’ll take a look back at the first few years as covered in local news at the time.

There is precious little information about the inaugural Folk Fest. The official website lists no program or poster- not even dates.  Under its “History”, the website states the following:

“The Alaska Folk Festival was born on a cold winter evening in 1975 when a half dozen Juneau folk musicians decided to put on a performance in the Alaska State Museum and grandly announced it as the First Annual Southeast Alaska Folk Festival. Eight musicians and an audience of several hundred friends had so much fun that evening that it was obvious there would be more such festivals.

Workshops were formed the following year so that specific skills could be passed on to other musicians, and almost 30 performers were on the program which was extended to 3 days. By 1977 the annual festival had become a regional event with over 50 performers from throughout Southeast Alaska adding their talents to those of Juneau’s musicians.”

On the “Early Years” section of the website, taken from TRAVEL by Mike Miller
from the March 1984 Alaskafest magazine, p 15 – 17, gives further description of this first folk music festival:

“It was called the Southeast Alaska Folk Festival, but even that title was probably too grand at the beginning.

What happened was, a bunch in Juneau who enjoyed pickin’ and strummin’ and making music the old-time way were talking one cold winter night in ’75 and everyone agreed that what they needed–what the whole town needed — was a musical break from cabin fever.

So, without anticipating the grand tradition they were putting in motion, they contacted the state museum, reserved the Governor’s Gallery, and — as much in humor as in actual expectation – named their one night stand the First Annual Southeast Alaska Folk Festival.

More than 400 musicians and spectators showed up to plink, plunk, play the bones, sing, stomp, and revel in the fun of shared entertainment in the folk tradition.

Even before the end of that first night it was established that this event was going to happen every year.”

Given the importance of the Alaska Folk Festival to Juneau, and to the state of Alaska as a whole, I sought to find more information about these first few years that established this beloved tradition.

Using the “cold winter evening in 1975” as an entry point, I looked through the January-April reel of microfilm from the Southeast Alaska Empire (now the Juneau Empire). After combing through page after page,a mere sentence beneath the “Happening In Juneau” community calendar contained the sole mention of a folk music gathering:

Happening in Juneau: Folk Music: The Alaska State Museum will sponsor a workshop in folk music theory at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday.

Image credit: March 18, 1975 issue of the Southeast Alaska Empire, courtesy of the Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

Published on March 18, this brief news item indicates that the First Annual Southeast Alaska Folk Festival was held March 19 and 20, 1975 and was billed as a “folk music workshop”.

Looking through the Alaska State Library Historical Collections, the manuscript collection contains a collection of Alaska Folk Festival Programs, the earliest of which dates to 1978. For the 1975 festival, Bob Banghart and Laura Lucas provide recollections of the performers in lieu of a printed program:

Performers at the First Alaska Folk Festival, 1975: Chicken Ridge Rowdies-- Dan Monroe, Alan Munro, Michael Grey, June Hall, Paul Disdier, Bob Banghart; John Palmes, Dan Hobson, Bob Pavitt, Pat Henry, Av Gross; [info from Bob Banghart & Laura Lucas on 3/1/04]: There might have been others, but Bob & Laura were fuzzy on the recall. Jeff Brown said he was NOT there. Others that Bob and Laura thought could maybe have been performers were? Joe Malonowski? Marlien Lesh? (not sure of first name spelling) Jane Wade? The Hand Bell Ringers? Or, maybe things have blurred between years, and these folks weren't AFF#1 performers. Bob said, maybe Dale Wygant has some additional ideas and recollections. (Does that mean Dale was there?)

Image credit: courtesy of the Alaska State Library Historical Collections as part of Manuscript Collection 118 (MS118).

Each year, this folk music festival grew in popularity and in offerings to the public. Word of mouth spread and in the following year, the Second Annual Alaska Folk Festival now included a poster and more substantial press coverage- with a schedule of events!

Poster with gray background with a black and white photo of band musicians from the 1910s with text that reads: "The second annual Alaska Folk Festival at the Alaska State Museum April 3 & 4 featuring concerts, workshops, and a square dance; for more information contact the museum."

Image credit: poster from the 2nd annual Alaska Folk Festival, created by Paul Disdier and Ron Klein, courtesy of Alaska Folk Festival, Inc.

Alaska State Museum Holds Concert, Workshop: If you like folk music, the Alaska State Museum is the place to be this weekend. And bring your folk instrument if you'd like to play in any of a host of workshops for the beginner and more advanced. It's all free with no reservations or tickets required, and includes a concert at 8 p.m. Saturday by more than 15 local musicians. Sponsored by the museum, the Second Annual Southeast Alaska Folk Jamboree has been organized with the help of about 40 volunteers. Local musicians will lead informal workshops in guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, dulcimer, harmonica, singing, autoharp and dobro-- a guitar developed in the 1920's from the Hawaiian steel guitar. Saturday's free concert, to be emceed by Bob Pavitt, will include Av Gross, Pavitt, Y.B. Yokum and his Bluegrass Serenaders, John Palms and friends, Gloria Barclay, Frank Jones, Sparky Sparkle and Al Eagle, Daly Wygant, Harper Anderson, Pat Henry, John Lager, Jean Wade, Claudia McConnell, Doyle Burnett and friends and Bill Hudson and associates. The Saturday Schedule of workshops: Beginning guitar, 10 a.m. to noon, Dan Hobman and other will teach basic chord patterns, bass runs and finger and flatpicking techniques; Banjo workshop, noon to 2 p.m. Mike Grey and Conner Sorenson on several levels and kinds of banjo playing; Original songs, 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. John Palms will lead and everyone is invited to bring his own composition and share it; Advanced guitar, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Pat Henry coaches finger-picking, Palms on flatpicking, and Bill Hudson on open tunings. Sunday's workshops, to be held in the Governor's Gallery: Gospel singing, 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Dulcimer, 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., led by Harper Anderson and Laurie Rogers; Autorharp, 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., taught by Pavitt and June Hall; Fiddle, 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Gross, Mike Grey and others will show how it's done; Dobro, 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., led by Jeff Haynes; Harmonica, 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., by April Disviw and David Levine.

Image credit: from the April 1, 1976 issue of the Southeast Alaska Empire, courtesy of the Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

It’s hard to believe that the Alaska Folk Festival has grown in size in the past 45 years from these humble beginnings!

If you are in Juneau, check out the entire program schedule and don’t hesitate to visit a jam spotworkshopsdances, and more. 

Special thanks to Alaska Folk Festival Inc., Mike Miller, Bob Banghart, Laura Lucas, and Jacki Swearingen.

For more information about this year’s Folk Festival, check out

Nome Nugget Digitization: Update

Hello friends,

Do you ever feel like sometimes things sometimes just don’t go right? Or that they take much longer than they should, and it’s a process of one step forward and two steps back? The ongoing re-shooting of the bound volumes of the Nome Nugget on the Bookeye scanner sure feels that way.

Just this week we opened up the 1917-1918 volume, only to find that it had sections of pages torn or cut. Because this is our “master copy” of the newspaper, this is really bad news. Unfortunately, we have to make due with what we have; an existing paper, however damaged, is better than no paper at all. Thanks to the expertise of our Sandy Johnston, one of our stellar colleagues in the Historical Collections division at the State Library, we were able to piece together a few pages to our best abilities using mylar sleeves of plastic.

Old newsprint is very fragile and is prone to crumble upon contact. Mylar plastic uses its static electricity to help keep these pages of torn newsprint together- especially when pages need to be flipped over to film the reverse side!

Bound volume of the Nome Nugget open to a torn page with articles cut out and mylar plastic placed under the first page.

Notice the mylar behind the fourth page to try to keep the torn pieces of newsprint together. Image courtesy of the author.

As you can see in the above image, bits and pieces of torn newsprint make filming a challenge. It can feel like a puzzle to piece together parts of the paper. Even with the mylar, though, the glass plate attached to the BookEye scanner that flattens the page may shift these pieces. It requires a great deal of patience and care to film the newspaper so that words can still be detected for optical character recognition (OCR).

image operator Greg has his back to the camera as he folds over a page of the bound volume and places an acid-free paperboard behind the clear plastic mylar sleeve that holds together the torn newsprint.

To film the entire torn page without the front page of the next issue, image operator Greg places an acid-free paperboard behind the clear plastic mylar sleeve that holds together the torn newsprint. Image courtesy of the author.

What all this has driven home is the importance of proper archival stewardship. Don’t make assumptions that there are backup copies of anything, especially because these are our master copies. An ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure! Fortunately,  there are always solutions- no matter how dire a preservation problem seems.

Seward’s Day

Black and white illustration of William H. Seward in profile facing left with his signature underneath the engraving.

Image credit: engraved profile of William H. Seward courtesy of the Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

Yesterday marked a statewide holiday throughout Alaska, one that is observed on the fourth Monday of each March.

Each year, the state of Alaska observes Seward’s Day on behalf of William H. Seward, Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of state and individual who orchestrated the purchase of the Alaska territory from Russia. At the time, the move was ridiculed as “Seward’s Folly” and the Alaska territory as “Seward’s Icebox”. But for approximately $7.2 million dollars, the United States now had millions of dollars worth of gold, fur, and (in 1968) the discovery of offshore oil in Prudhoe Bay.

Alaska Purchased by Seward Fifty Years Ago Tonight at a Card Table; The real story of the purchase of Alaska, or rather, the final move after a long series of conferences, is contained in a fragment of Frederick W. Seward's story of his father's purchase of Alaska from Russia for the United States in 1867 as told in "Reminiscences of a Wartime Statesman and Diplomat." On the evening of Friday, March 29, Seward was playing whist in his parlor with some of his family, when the Russian minister was announced. "I have a dispatch, Mr. Seward, from my government by cable. The emperor gives his consent to the cession. Tomorrow, if you like, I will come to the department and we can enter upon the treaty." Seward with a smile of satisfaction, pushed away the whist table, saying: "Why wait until tomorrow, Mr. Stoeckl? Let us make the treaty tonight." "But your department is closed. You have no clerks, and my secretaries are scattered about the town." "Never mind that," responded Seward. "If you can muster your legation together before midnight you will find me awaiting you at the department, which will be open and ready for business." In less than two hours afterward light was streaming out of the windows of the state department, and apparently business was going on as at midday. By 4 o'clock Saturday morning the treaty was signed, sealed and ready for transmission by the president to the senate. There was need of this haste in order to have it acted upon before the end of the session, then near at hand. The Seward Gateway and The Alaska Evening Post: Volume XI. Number III; Seward, Alaska, Thursday, March 29, 1917; Ten Cents the Copy; Land of the Last Frontier; Gold, Coal Copper and Fish.

Image credit: March 29, 1917 issue of the Seward Gateway and the Alaska Evening Post, courtesy of the Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

The holiday in honor of a man responsible for the further loss of Indigenous land is a difficult issue, and contributes to the legacy of historical trauma. According to William L. Iggiagruk Hensley, the purchase of Alaska was steeped in the concept of “Manifest Destiny” an expansion of the American empire. Additionally, Seward viewed the vast natural resources in Alaska as a valuable asset to the United States. Many historical accounts credit Seward for ending Russian occupation and enslavement of Natives during the fur trade. Yet Seward’s expansionism was made plain in 1848, in that “our
population is destined to roll its resistless waves to the icy barriers of the north, and to encounter oriental civilization on the shores of the Pacific.”

Black and white print from the painting: the Signing of Treaty of Cessation, March 30, 1867. Shown left to right; Robert S. Chew; William. H. Seward (Secretary of State), William Hunter; Mr. Bodisco; Baron de (Eduard) Stoeckl (Russian Diplomat); Charles Sumner and Frederick W. Seward.

Image credit: A print from the painting by Emanuel Leutze, Signing of Treaty of Cessation, March 30, 1867, showing the Alaska Purchase. Shown left to right; Robert S. Chew; William. H. Seward (Secretary of State), William Hunter; Mr. Bodisco; Baron de (Eduard) Stoeckl (Russian Diplomat); Charles Sumner and Frederick W. Seward. Courtesy of the Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

Yet as one of two Alaska-centric holidays throughout the year (Alaska Day being the other one), Seward’s Day is a time to reflect on the state’s history- and, for many government employees, to take a paid holiday.

Kids Rejoice! Tomorrow Big Holiday Date: Acting Governor Thiele Sends Glad Tidings of the Great Joy: There will be no school tomorrow, in observance of Seward Day,--in honor of the memory of William H. Seward, the great Secretary of State under President Abraham Lincoln, who brought about the purchase of Alaska from Russian and withstood the gibes and criticism of short-sighted men who though Alaska was an iceberg. March 30 is now a legal holiday in the Territory of Alaska. All offices and schools will be closed. The "glad tidings of great joy", as the children regard, came today from Acting Governor Carl Thiele at Juneau. The anniversary was not observed last year, due to lack of arrangements, but it is now a redletter date and established custom.

Image credit: The Cordova daily times. (Cordova, Alaska), 29 March 1922. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Shout-out in The Snowshoe!

Greetings, all!

NWTLA: Northwest Territories Library Association: 18 Monday Mar. 2019; Meet Janey Thompson! Posted by NWTLibraryAssociation in Librarians Across the North & Beyond! Janey Thompson works at the Alaska State Library Historical Collections as a Librarian and Project Coordinator for the National Digital Newspaper Program, sponsored by the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Despite living in Southern California for the majority of her life, Janey earned her MLIS at the University of Washington, Seattle, and has been living in Juneau for the past year. Depending on the season, she enjoys berry picking and wildlife viewing.

Screenshot taken from the Northwest Territories Library Association homepage:

This week, out our very own Project Coordinator Janey is featured in an interview on the Nortwest Territories Library Association (NWTLA) newsletter, The Snowshoe! You can read the entire interview here:

Big thanks to the Northwest Territories Library Association for this great opportunity to learn a bit more about Janey and to chat about the newspaper project, libraries, preservation, and a neat t-shirt that hangs in her cubicle!

Mush! A Look at Sled Dog Racing in Alaska’s Historical Newspapers

Black and white photograph of a sled dog team of 7 dogs pulling a sled with one man seated and one man standing with text in the lower left hand corner that reads: "A crack dog team of Iditarod, Alaska"

Image credit: Courtesy of the Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

Greetings, all!

Yesterday, musher Pete Kaiser of Bethel, Alaska won the 2019 Iditarod, with his dog team reaching Nome in 9 days, 12 hours, 39 minutes and 6 seconds. This was his 10th attempt, and is the 5th Alaska Native and very first Yupik musher to win the Iditarod, with last year’s winner, Norwegian musher Joar Ulsom, taking home second place.

Held annually starting the first Saturday in March, the Iditarod race consists of teams of mushers and their dogs from Anchorage to Nome- 1000 miles in total!

Its origins lie in the town of Iditarod itself, home to the last major Alaskan gold rush in 1909. To accommodate the population boom, the Federal government constructed a winter trail for year-round mail and shipping service to the miners from Seward to Nome in 1910 for use by dog sled teams. Thus a tradition was born, with races held each winter well into the 1920s.

Alaskan Surgeon Makes Long Trip: Doctor in U.S. Hospital Must Journey 838 Miles to His Patient. Anchorage, Alaska, Jan. 26.--Dr. J. B. Beeson, surgeon in the government hospital at Anchorage, was hurrying today to the end of the government railroad on the first leg of an 88-mile journey to Iditarod, where he was called by the serious illness of Claude E. Baker, a banker. At the end of Steel, Dr. Beeson will be met by Bill Cory and Harry Wanstad, famous "mushers," who will pilot him by dog sled to Iditarod. Relays of fast dog teams have been arranged for along the route and crews of men have started to break trail from the other end. Dr. Beeson estimated that the trip would require 14 days.

Image credit: Omaha daily bee. (Omaha [Neb.]), 27 Jan. 1921. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Teams of dog sleds helped save hundreds of lives in the wake of the deadly 1925 diphtheria epidemic, with heroic dogs, such as the world-famous Balto and lead dog Togo, led by world-renown musher Leonard Seppala, transport of life-saving serum to snow-bound Nome.

Color photograph with the text "1925 Serum Run To Nome" with a black and white photograph of dog musher Leonard Seppala and his team of dogs, with his lead dog Togo stuffed and mounted in front of the photograph and text.

Exhibit on the 1925 serum run with lead dog Togo stuffed and on display at the Carrie M. McClain Memorial Museum in Nome, Alaska. Photo courtesy of the author.

The advent of air travel signaled an end of the integral aspect of the dog sled team, but the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race tradition lives on each year, thanks to Joe Redington Sr., who sought to preserve the sled dog culture and the historical Iditarod Trail.

Today, an average of 65 teams participate, and it typically takes between 9-12 days for the winning dog sled team to reach the finish line.

Although the official Iditarod started a number of years after the span of Alaska newspapers available on Chronicling America, there are several accounts of other dog sled races in Alaska.

Many Dog Races Be Held Nome This Winter: With a lot of money already donated, Nome will have more dog races this winter than during any other season in the history of the Bering Sea, says the Seattle Times. The All-Alaska sweepstakes race, the great sporting classic of the north, will not receive individual attention for premiership honors this year, for a new contest, the dog race marathon, has been inaugurated, according to Charles Sanford, former editor of the Nome Nugget, who is in Seattle to spend the winter. John Borden, Chicago millionaire, who started north on a sporting expedition last summer that ended when the power schooner Great Bear piled up on St. Matthew island in Bearing sea, was the creator of the Marathon for dogs. Borden reached Nome after a wet and chilly experience in the surf of St. Matthew island and became interested in dog racing. He sent to Chicago for the handsomest silver cup that the silversmiths of that city could furnish, and donated it for a race over a Marathon course. The trophy weighs more than sixty pounds without the pedestal. Course 26 Miles 300 Yards. The Nome Kennel Club, with Borden's assistance, laid out the rules under which the trophy must be competed for. The course will be twenty six miles and three hundred yards. The event is to be run under the most favorable climactic conditions, it being the desire of both the club and the donor of the trophy to learn exactly how fast a team of dogs can cover this distance. The big cup must be won three times by the same team owner, but each winter will be given a smaller silver cup. It is likely that the Marathon race will be held a few days before Christmas, but the date is dependent on the weather. Eight teams were in training for the event when Sanford left the north. Perry Riley, Russ Downing, Grant Jackson, Fay Delzene, Charley Ross, John Erikson and Billy Webb were getting their animals in shape for the test. Only five teams will compete in the All-Alaska Sweepstakes race, from Nome to Candle Creek, and return a distance of 412 miles, and the contest is likely to simmer down to a battle between malamutes of the lop-eared variety. Leonard Seppala has acquired all the pointed ear Siberian dogs in the country and Fay Delzene has a monopoly on the best lop-eared dogs. Seppala and Delzene each has won a victory in this great event. Crossed Breed Animals to Run. Perry Riley is training a team of Missouri bird hounds, crossed with malamute, which may upset the genasid to be very fast , but there is a question as to their having the staying qualities as needed in a gruelling race of 412 miles. The Ladies' Amateur Race this year promises to bring out considerable rivalry. George Bokum, a Chicago sportsman and who accompanied Borden to Nome, donated a beautiful bronze and silver vase for the event, and already the women dog fanciers of Nome are arranging to borrow a few dogs from the crack racing teams. There will be about eight other races during the winter. Sanford says there will be more prospecting in Nome this winter than ever before, but he has never seen the time when miners wouldn't take a few days off to watch a dog race, no matter how much gold they were gathering from deep in the earth at the time. When a dog race starts all other activities are suspended.

Image credit: The Cordova daily times. (Cordova, Alaska), 02 Dec. 1916. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

The All-Alaska Sweepstakes was among these many races. From 1908 until 1917, the Kennel Club of Nome held the All-Alaska Sweepstakes, a race spanning on the Seward peninsula from Nome to Candle. From the 1931 book Gold, Men and Dogs, well-renown  musher A. A. “Scotty” Allen described the route to Candle:

“It was selected because the trail to it from Nome goes over all kinds of country, from sea ice to high mountains, with rivers, tundra, timber, glaciers, and everything else in the way of mental and physical hardships en route. We knew there wouldn’t be any doubt about the excellence of a dog or driver that covered it.”

Black and white photograph of a crowd of people wearing fur coats and hats on a street in Nome surrounding a dog sled team of 15 dogs with the caption that reads: "Team no 1 starting in the 5th annual All Alaska Sweep Stake Race; G.H. Johnson Owner and Driver."

Image credit: Courtesy of the Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

All-Alaska Sweepstakes Won By Scotty Allan: The fifth annual All Alaska Sweepstakes, run on Seward peninsula last week, was the biggest and last dog event of the season. The race started from Nome Thursday forenoon, April 4, and the course was to Candle and return, a total distance of 372 miles. The trail was heavy and the weather stormy part of the time. The purse was $3,000, divided into three parts as follows: First, $800; second, $750; third, $450. The winners were as follows: Allan and Darling, 14 dogs, Scotty Allan driver...Running Time: 53 h. 43 min.; Resting Time: 33 h, 44 m.; Finishing Time 87 h. 27 m.; John Johnston, 16 dogs, Aleck Holmson driver...63 h. 35 min; 24 h. 23 m.; 87 h. 58 m.; Charles Johnson, 16 dogs, self driver...64 h., 16 min.; 24 h. 39 m.; 88 h.; 55 m.; Oliver Blatchford also started, with twelve dogs, but was reported hopelessly out of the race at the 372d mile. He was lost in Death Valley for three hours. Holmson lost a dog in Death Valley, where it was storming, and was two hours finding him. In 1910 the race was run in 74 hours 14 minutes 22 seconds, which is high-record time.

Image credit: Iditarod pioneer. (Iditarod, Alaska), 13 April 1912. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

Black and white photograph of Esther Birdsall Darling wearing a fur coat and hat holding the leash of three dogs, one of which is seated in the middle.

Esther Birdsall Darling. Image credit: Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

Esther Birdsall Darling, Allen’s partner and co-owner of his dog teams in the All-Alaska Sweepstakes between 1908-1915, stands out as one of the notable women actively involved in sled dog racing in Alaska. In 1916 she wrote a book titled Baldy of Nome that chronicled the rescue story of Baldy, pictured below, who led Allen’s team to victory. The text of this book can be read online in its entirety.

Black and white photograph of a dog lying down looking up at the photographer with the writing: "Baldy of Nome"; "Scotty" Allen's famous leader, Winner of $25,000 in Sweepstake prizes." From the Winter& Pond company, Juneau, Alaska.

Image credit: Courtesy of the Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

Color photograph of All Alaska Sweepstakes Memorabilia at the Carrie M. McClain Memorial Museum in Nome Alaska featuring a fur coat, 4 silver trophies, patches, a hat, a program guide, and a sled banner belonging to Leonard Seppala.

All Alaska Sweepstakes memorabilia on display at the Carrie M. McClain Memorial Museum in Nome, Alaska. Photo courtesy of the author.

Click here for more information on the Iditarod and its history. To learn more about the All-Alaska Sweepstakes, click here.

Congratulations to Pete Kaiser, and to all those who participated in the Iditarod this year!