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!


International Women’s Day

Black and white photograph of five Alaska Native women standing in the foreground wearing white dresses with envelope-style hats and sashes worn across the front that read "ANS". The woman on the far right wears a sash that reads "Grand President." Three women stand in the background with similar outfits.

Image credit: from the Alaska State Library Historical Collections, photograph titled “Group portrait of ANS [Alaska Native Sisterhood] officers”. Front row, from right: Lottie Nannauck; Marlene Sprague; Mary Jones; Theresa Stitt; Gertrude Wolf. Back row, from left: Laura Hotch; and Mildred Sparks.

Today marks International Women’s Day, and an opportunity to shed light on the representation of women in Alaska’s historical newspapers, focusing primarily on women’s suffrage and the Alaska Native Sisterhood.

Alaska’s territorial government granted women the right to vote in 1913, a full seven years before the 19th Amendment was ratified. This right to vote was not extended to Alaska Native women, however.

Alaska historical newspapers focused the bulk of their writing on men, the focus on  women’s suffrage was exception. Despite women being granted the right to vote, news coverage of global women’s suffrage was overwhelmingly negative and often reinforced sexist stereotypes. Alaska newspapers published articles in praise of the “rugged” spirit of Alaska women, often as a stark contrast to their more sheltered counterparts in the Lower 48, as the following articles demonstrate.

Something of Pioneer Women in Alaska: Mrs. Strong, wife of Gov. J. F. A. Strong of Alaska, talking recently to the Providence Journal, said of the women of Alaska: "I do not know of any other women who can equal them in resourcefulness. And they are filled with an energy which makes nothing too hard of accomplishment. If they give an afternoon tea it is in as attractive surroundings as one could find anywhere, with the same appointments as the East affords. Flowers from Seattle will adorn the rooms, the whitest of napery covers the table, while the service is perfect, not to mention the refreshments." The women of Alaska have suffrage, the first bill passed by the new Legislature a year ago giving them that right and women have been members of the board of education and held similar offices. The children are very patriotic, singing their Alaska songs with fervor, as if patriotism meant more to them than to the majority of American children. It is 17 years since the future Governor and his wife first went to Alaska and Mrs. Strong vividly recalls the difference between the two trips made along the Yukon. She says: "Once we made when we first entered the country. It is what is known as the interior trip of the Yukon--over wild mountain passes, behind dog teams, whipsawing our lumber for crude craft when we came to the streams. It was a trip through the primitive, with obstacles on every hand. And, yet, I can recall no circumstance which struck me as a big adventure at the time. One takes the days as they come, overcomes what obstacles appear, and keeps on. "The second trip we made when the Governor had been in office but a short time. It was over the same trail. But, oh, what a different trip! Along the mountain passes in well-equipped trains on the rivers in the palatial Yukon steamships! It was a contrast I shall never forget."

Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 16 Sept. 1914. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Douglas News Thinks Alaska Women All Right: It is evident that the Douglas news does not favor women sufferage as a general proposition, but it thinks it is different in Alaska. The admiration of the Douglas paper for Alaska women is apparent in the following item from its columns: "By the provisions of a recent act of congress, the women of Alaska are to be granted the right of suffrage. Well and good; Alaska women may well be trusted to exercise this right, although they have not asked for it. The women of Alaska are usually of the kind that stay at home and tend to the babies, plan spring bonnets, make over old dresses, and mind their own business, but if the poker-playing, champagne drinking, pleasure-chasing congressmen think they should vote, they will do it with their accustomed grace and modesty, and in an intelligent manner, too. "The women of Alaska, God bless them, are not the pampered dolls of society who drive men to the devil and drink, but they are brave and noble helpers in the development of a frontier country. They have left their cozy homes in the states to take their places by the side of their husband and share with him the battles of life. When the cruel winds of adversity have chilled the blood and appalled the stoutest heart, these women have had words of cheer and comfort for the distressed. Alaskans are willing that they should vote and have no fear of the consequence."

Image credit: The daily Alaskan. (Skagway, Alaska), 18 June 1904. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

To achieve political representation on behalf of Alaska Native women, a group of graduates from the Sheldon Jackson school in Sitka met together in Haines in 1915 to form the Alaska Native Sisterhood, or ANS, for a women’s counterpart to the Alaska Native Brotherhood formed in 1912. Several other chapters formed throughout the state.

Native Women of Douglas Organize Alaska Native Sisterhood. The Alaska Native Sisterhood Society was organized by the native women of Douglas yesterday under the guidance of Henry Stevens, President of the Douglas Camp of the Alaska Native Brotherhood. The women's society will follow the same constitution bylaws as the A.N.B. Officers elected by the women for the first year are: Mrs. Sarah Fontaine, President; Mrs. Edith Johnson, Secretary; Mrs. Henry Stevens, Treasurer. The membership includes Mesdames Sarah Smith, John Dennis, Joe Rogers, Frank Hubbard, Billie Hanson, Thomas Johnson; Misses Bessie Daniels, Daisy Fox, Susie Marshall and Mrs. Mabel Horn. Additional members probably will join in the near future. The new society will meet regularly each week.

Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 30 Dec. 1920. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Historical newspapers in Alaska available on Chronicling America, as a whole, devoted few items to the formation of the Alaska Native Sisterhood. The Alaska Fisherman, the official newspaper of the Alaska Native Brotherhood, will be added as a part of the current grant cycle, which includes news related to the Alaska Native Sisterhood.

There is a great deal of progress to be made towards gender equality in the United States.(It is a telling indicator of the times that the above article mentioned the married members of the Sisterhood in relation to their husbands’ names.) May International Women’s Day be an opportunity to make contributions by women visible to all.


Going for the Gold

Silver dollar propped up against a large gold nugget, which at date of photograph was "A $1500 gold nugget"

Image credit: From the Alaska State Library Historical Collections. Silver dollar propped up against a large gold nugget, which at date of photograph was “A $1500 gold nugget”

The 91st annual Academy Awards were held Sunday night, with its gold Oscar statuettes handed out to a number of talented individuals in the motion picture industry.

Alaska has its own history of gold, as can be found in countless articles in historic newspapers. Take a look at the following news items of those who hit the mother lode- and photographs from the Alaska State Library Historical Collections of some valuable gold nuggets:

A $335 Nugget Found On Anvil: A New Cut of No. 1 Below Shows a New Paystreak, Which Runs Into Adjoining Benches. On No. 1 below on Anvil creek a $335 nugget was found on Tuesday. A new cut has been opened up on the left limit, and it has been found that the paystreak runs into adjoining benches. Work has not been fully started up on any of the Anvil claims, but in a few days more it will be in full blast, and the yield from this creek this year will be fully up to the average. Jafet Lindeberg thinks that the gold output of this section will be fully up to last year, when it reached $5,500,000, according to the Seattle assay office report. Mr. Lindeberg says that the season of 1899 was similar to the present one, working commencing on the Pioneer Company's claim, No. 1, on July 24. G.W. Price, however, began work on No. 8 on June 2, but he did not make much headway until later in the season.

Image credit: From the July 12, 1901 issue of the Nome Nugget. Courtesy of the Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

Artist's rendering of a gold nugget showing its dimensions with text that reads: Largest Nugget Ever Found in Alaska. The Above cuts represent the actual outlines of the nugget found last Thursday on Jarvis Bros.' fraction, between Discovery claim and No. 1 below on Anvil creek. The nugget is a trifle less than 6 1/4 inches long, 3 1/4 inches wide, 1 1/2 inches thick at one edge and a half inch at the other, weighs 45 ounces, and is worth about $800. Two small seams of quarts run through the nugget as shown in the cut.

Image credit: From the September 10, 1901 issue of the Nome Nugget. Courtesy of the Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

A $750 Nugget: The Largest Ever Found in This Section. On Anvil Fraction; Between Discovery Claim No. 1 Above, the Place Where it Was Found, on the West Bank of the Creek-- A Rich Piece of Ground. The largest nugget ever found in this section of Alaska was uncovered yesterday about noon on a fraction between discovery claim on Anvil creek and No. 1 below. The nugget was almost immediately taken to discovery claim and weighed. It was found to be worth $701. The fraction, which is the shape of a flat iron, is owned by the Pioneer Mining Co. At the west side of Anvil the strip is 60 feet wide, and it narrows down to a rather sharp point on the east side, or towards Anvil mountain. The nugget, however, was not found on the east side, where the best pay is found on the creek, but on the west side. The fraction has already yielded a large amount of dust, last Wednesday's cleanup having, it is said, amounted to $5,000.

Image credit: from the September 6, 1901 issue of the Nome Nugget. Courtesy of the Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

Nugget found at 9 Below Upper Discovery, Dominion Creek; weight - 126 and 60/100 ounces. Two miners, seated in front of canvas tent in camp, hold a gold pan containing large nugget.

Image credit: From the Alaska State Library Historical Collections. Nugget found at 9 Below Upper Discovery, Dominion Creek; weight – 126 and 60/100 ounces. Two miners, seated in front of canvas tent in camp, hold a gold pan containing large nugget.

Basket of Nuggets; Brought Down From No. 2 Alder Creek. One Worth $282.50; Ninety Pounds of Dust, Worth Nearly $20,000, Were Also Brought Down From the Same Claim Bluestone Country Better Than Expected. Ninety pounds of gold dust, worth $10,380, and about $2,000 worth of nuggets were brought down from No. 2 Alder creek, Port Clarence district, yesterday morning by M. J. Sullivan, one of the owners of the claim. Among the nuggets was a huge chunk of gold, which is worth $282.50. It is almost solid gold, only a couple of specks of quartz being visible. It was picked up in a sluice box last Monday by Mr. Sullivan. It was, when found, very dark in color, and its surface is exceedingly rough. The rest of the collection of nuggets range in the value from $5 to $65.

Image credit: From the August 30, 1901 issue of the Nome Nugget. Courtesy of the Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

"Sample of gold from Nugget Gulch, Susitna Country, tributary to Seward, Alaska. Mined by Herndon, Jacobs & Morris, 1906. Value over $3,600.00."

Image credit: From the Alaska State Library Historical Collections. Caption reads: “Sample of gold from Nugget Gulch, Susitna Country, tributary to Seward, Alaska. Mined by Herndon, Jacobs & Morris, 1906. Value over $3,600.00.”

Artist's rendering of a gold nugget with a text box that reads "Weight 97 ozs, Value $1552." Text beneath illustration reads: "The above is an excellent cut of the nugget found last Saturday morning on Discovery claim on Anvil creek. It was found about five feet beneath the surface by a workman who was digging a post hole. It weighs 97 ounces and at $16 and ounce is worth $1552. It is the largest chunk ever found in the Northland."

Image credit: From the September 17, 1901 issue of the Nome Nugget. Courtesy of the Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

Photograph of a large gold nugget with the text beneath reading: "The largest gold nugget found in Copper River country; weight 51 oz. 4 DWT; value $900.00; property of Oregon-Shushitna Mining Co.; found by Dan S. Kane on Lucky Gulch, a tributary to Valdez Creek, Aug. 15, 1907"

Image credit: Alaska State Library Historical Collections. “The largest gold nugget found in Copper River country; weight 51 oz. 4 DWT; value $900.00; property of Oregon-Shushitna Mining Co.; found by Dan S. Kane on Lucky Gulch, a tributary to Valdez Creek, Aug. 15, 1907”

Stay golden, readers!

Presidents Day Observed

Welcome back from the three-day holiday weekend in honor of Presidents Day!

Alaska’s Digital Newspaper Project’s Instagram provided a collage of news items from Washington’s birthday, but today we’re giving Abraham Lincoln a proper shout-out:

Clockwise from top left, from the Feb 9, 1918 issue of the Iditarod Pioneer, an illustration of Abraham Lincoln is between text that reads: “With malice towards none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right.”—Abraham Lincoln “Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith let us to the end dare to our duty as we understand it.”—Abraham Lincoln. From the Feb 12, 1920 issue of the Alaska Daily Empire, with a photo of Abraham Lincoln superimposed on photos of his log cabin and the White House, text reads: “Celebrating the birthday of Abraham Lincoln: Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of the United States, was born in Harden County, K.Y., February 12, 1809. When Indian hostilities began in the year 1832 Lincoln volunteered in a company of Sangamon county rifles organized in Richland, Ill., and was elected its captain. When the company was mustered out he went to New Salem, where in his first political venture he was defeated as a candidate for the Illinois Legislature. Lincoln then entered business as a general merchant in New Salem, but met with reverses. He then applied himself to the study of law, and for a short time he was the Postmaster and Deputy County Surveyor of New Salem. In 1833 he became a leader in the republican party immediately upon its organization and was defeated by Stephen A. Douglas for the United States Senate in 1838. Lincoln was elected as a republican President of the United States and was inaugurated March 4, 1861. He was shot by J. Wilkes Booth while attending Ford’s Theatre, in the city of Washington D.C., on the night of April 14, 1865, and died the following day.” From the Feb 12, 1910 issue of the Daily Alaskan, with a photo of Abraham Lincoln, text reads: “People Pay Respect To Loved Leader, Lincoln.”

Image credit: From the February 9, 1918 issue of the Iditarod Pioneer; From the February 12, 1920 issue of the Alaska Daily Empire; From the February 12, 1910 issue of the Daily Alaskan.

Elizabeth Peratrovich Day

Elizabeth Peratrovich

From the Alaska State Library Historical Collections, a portrait of Elizabeth Peratrovich

Each year on February 16, Alaska honors activist and civil rights pioneer Elizabeth Peratrovich. Peratrovich is responsible for the Alaska Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945,  a statute that guaranteed equal accommodations throughout the state. It is the very first anti-discrimination law in the United States.

Since the arrival of Russian fur traders and the influx of white gold miners from the Lower 48, instances of racial discrimination on behalf of non-whites occurred with alarming frequency. Places of business openly discriminated against Alaska Natives and frequently placed “No Natives Allowed” signs in shop windows, or requested “White Help Only”.

Front Street 1908

Image credit: From the Winter and Pond Photographs Collection circa 1908 as part of Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

In 1944, a high school-aged girl named Alberta Schenck worked at the Alaska Dream Theater in Nome as an usher. Her job was to help uphold the status quo by making sure nonwhite patrons did not sit in segregated seats reserved for white theater-goers. When she complained to the theater manager about the racial inequality, she was fired.  In response, Ms. Schenck wrote an editorial in the Nome Nugget.

Nome Nugget, Friday, March 3, 1944 Communications, Page 3 TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN: This is a long story, but will have to make it brief as possible. It concerns race between natives, breeds, and whites. I believe we Americans and also our Allies are fighting for the purpose of freedom. Many of our early ancestors fought for the very same purpose, so their children, and children's children, etc., would be free. I myself am part Eskimo and part Irish and so are many others. I only truthfully know that I am one of God's children regardless of race, color, or creed. You and I or anyone else is not to blame what we are. But we are all proud to be what God has made us. Why was it that Thomas Jefferson and his men signed the Declaration of Independence? You or I know for certain that they did not fight and had thousands injured and killed for nothing. It has been known and said through centuries that all American citizens have the right to go, do, and say what they please. What has hurt us constantly is that we are not able to go to a public theater and sit where we wish, but yet we pay the SAME as anyone else and our money is GLADLY received. We are not allowed even to go to public doings, only when money is concerned for the benefit of so-called society people of our city. These human beings who think they are in a higher standard than others admit that they are citizens of America, but the majority are not loyal to what is written in the Constitution. Every so often the Red Cross donations are contributed by all the people regardless who they are, for the aid of foreign countries surrounding America. We gladly offer and give help to those in need but when Red Cross social entertainments are given, we are entirely left out. It looks as though we are not good enough to be invited. Before war was declared there were supposingly American people here in our city that were not even citizens of America. They evidently were the ones keeping us from attending social entertainments and complaining to where we should sit in a theatre, because of being natives and part natives. In other parts of Alaska all people are treated equally. Seemingly Nome is the only town in Alaska treating natives, and breeds as outcasts. These people trying to be so-called society people, are only following the steps of Hitlerism. Alberta Schenck

Image credit: from the March 3, 1944 issue of the Nome Nugget.

Ms. Schenck later returned to the theater with a white date and sat in the whites-only section, only to be asked to leave her seat. She refused, and was arrested. The local Inupiat community staged a protest outside the jail where she was released the next day.

The treatment of Alberta Schenck was a rallying cry toward a bill of rights that guaranteed equal treatment of Alaska Native individuals under the law.

The following article describes the events of February 5, 1945 with a debate on the floor of the Alaska Territorial Senate regarding the “Equal rights” bill, House bill 14. Roy and Elizabeth Peratrovich testify about conditions in Alaska, along with statements from several Senators.

THE DAILY ALASKA EMPIRE Tuesday, February 6, 1945 SUPERIOR RACE THEORY HIT IN HEARING Native Sisterhood President Hits at Rights Bill Opposition Opposition that had appeared to speak with a strong voice was forced to a defensive whisper at the close of yesterday's Senate hearing on the "Equal Rights" issue. Mrs. Roy Peratrovich, Grand President of the Alaska Native Sisterhood, the last speaker to testify, climaxed the hearing by wringing volleying applause from the galleries and Senate floor alike, with a biting condemnation of the "super race" attitude. Reciting instances of discrimination suffered by herself and friends, she cried out against a condition that forces the finest of her race to associate with "white trash." Answering the oft-voiced question, "will this law eliminate discrimination," Mrs. Peratrovich admitted that it would not; but, she queried in rebuttal, "do your laws against larceny and even murder eliminate those crimes?" No law will eliminate crimes but, at least, you as legislators, can assert to the world that you recognize the evil of the present situation and speak your intent to help us overcome discrimination, she said. Opposition Declaring their opposition to the law, unless it is amended, senators Scott, Whaley, Collins and Shattuck spoke their feelings on the issue during the two hours of discussion; while Senators Walker and Cochran held forth in favor of the law. Senator Joe Green was chairman for the Committee of the Whole hearing. Senator Allen Shattuck opened the discussion by repeating a statement he declared he had already made to Roy Peratrovich, Grand President of the Alaska Native Brotherhood. "This bill will aggravate, rather than allay the little feeling that now exists," he stated. "Our native cultures have 10 centuries of white civilization to encompass in a few decades. I believe that considerable progress has been made; particularly in the last 50 years," Senator Shattuck declared. ANB President Talks Peratrovich was then asked to the stand by Senator N.R. Walker and following questions that established his education, background, and right to speak for the Indians, Peratrovich was invited to express his views on the question before the Senate. He pointed out that Gov. Ernest Gruening, in his report to the Secretary of the Interior, as well as in his message to the Legislature, had recognized the existence of discrimination. He quoted the plank adopted by the Democratic Party as its Fairbanks convention, which favored action on the natives' behalf. Reading the names of the members of the committee that helped frame that plank, he pointed out that among than were members of the present Senate body. "Only an Indian can know how it feels to be discriminated against," Peratrovich said. "Either you are for discrimination or you are against it," accordingly as you vote on this bill, he added. Has Amendment Declaring that he had an amendment to propose to the measure, Senator Frank Whaley read a lengthy prepared address to the assembly; in which he labeled the measure a "lawyer's dream" and a "natural in creating hard feeling between whites and natives." He stated his flying experience in many parts of Alaska as authority behind his the opinion he had reached. Declaring himself "personally assailed" by Senator Whaley in his remarks, Senator O.D. Cochran raised his voice for the bill, offering instances of discrimination which came, he declared, from a list of similar occurrences in his own knowledge that would occupy the full afternoon to relate. As in his speech on the matter before the House, Senator Cochran made use of a theater in Nome as a prime example of an establishment where discrimination is practiced. Senator Walker supported Senator Cochran's views, declaring that he knew no instance where a native had died of a broken heart, but added that he did know of situations where discrimination had forced Indian women into living lives "worse that death." Scott Talks Senator Tolbert Scott, in one of his rare participations in debate, spoke from the heart his feeling that the bill, as it stood, would not accomplish the purpose intended. "Mixed-breeds," he declared, are the source of the trouble. It is only they who wish to associate with the whites. "It would have been far better had the Eskimos put up signs 'No Whites Allowed'," he said. He stated his belief that the issue was being raised to create political capital for some legislators, and concluded that "white women have done their part" in keeping the races distinct; if white men had done as well, there would be no racial feeling in Alaska. Liquor Problem Speaking from his long experience, among Eskimo peoples in particular, Senator Grenold Collins furnished a sincere and authoritative voice in opposition to the bill. He supported Senator Scott's contention regarding mixed breeds by citing the well-being of the Eskimos of St. Lawrence Island, where white men have not worked their evil. "Eskimos are not an inferior race," he stated, "but they are an individual race." The pure Eskimos are proud of their origin and are aware that harm comes to them from mixing with whites. It is the mixed breed who is not accepted by either race who causes the trouble. Declaring, "I believe in racial pride" and do not think this bill will do other than arouse bitterness, Senator Collins lashed out at the sale of liquor to natives, as the root of trouble. A motion to report progress, offered by Senator Walker, was approved, following the testimony of Mrs. Peratrovich, which terminated the discussion.

Image description: From the Alaska State Library Historical Collections, article from the February 6, 1945 issue of the Daily Alaska Empire.

Roy Peratrovich, Elizabeth’s husband, stated that “only an Indian can know how it feels to be discriminated against. Either you are for discrimination or you are against it” with regards to a vote on the bill.

Gruening signs anti-discrimination act

Image credit: From the Alaska State Library Historical Collections, Governor Gruening (seated) signs the anti-discrimination act of 1945. Witnessing are (left to right) O. D. Cochran, Elizabeth Peratrovich, Edward Anderson, Norman Walker, and Roy Peratrovich.

While Alaska’s Anti-discrimination act preceded any American civil rights legislation by a good 20 years, acts of racial discrimination continued, as it continues to this day. Yet Elizabeth Peratrovich’s efforts are to be applauded for paving the way for the Civil Rights Movement in the Lower 48, for speaking out against racial discrimination, and standing up for basic human decency. In response to an earlier comment by a territorial senator who asked, “Who are these people, barely out of savagery, who want to associate with us whites, with 5,000 years of recorded civilization behind us” she famously stated:

“I would not have expected,” she said “that I, who am barely out of savagery, would have to remind gentlemen with five thousand years of recorded civilization behind them of our Bill of Rights.”

The Alaska Legislature under Governor Steve Cowper first recognized Elizabeth Peratrovich Day on February 16, 1988, and schools throughout the state of Alaska have taught students about this civil rights pioneer. It’s about time the rest of the country honors her, too.

Gunałchéesh, Elizabeth Peratrovich!

Photograph in color of Ed Thomas of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (CCTHITA), Dorothy McKinley of the Alaska Native Sisterhood (ANS), Roy Peratrovich, Governor Steve Cowper (seated, signing the bill), George Miyasato, and Richard Stitt of the Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB). The Alaska state seal is on the wall behind them

Image credit: From the Alaska State Archives, Governor Steve Cowper signs the bill that created Elizabeth Peratrovich Day, Juneau, May 26, 1988. Left to right: Ed Thomas of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (CCTHITA), Dorothy McKinley of the Alaska Native Sisterhood (ANS), Roy Peratrovich, Governor Steve Cowper (seated), George Miyasato, and Richard Stitt of the Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB).

Library Lovers’ Month

Everybody Wants a Free Public Library, Music and Art, and Can Have Easily a Fine Exhibit of Minerals and Curios; The Cordova Daily Times (Member of the Associated Press) Vol. 7 No. 91; Cordova, Alaska, Tuesday, March 21, 1922; Price Ten Cents

Image credit: The Cordova daily times. (Cordova, Alaska), 21 March 1922. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

February marks Library Appreciation Month, an appropriate designation given that this project is based out of the Alaska State Library!

Although it’s easy to take public libraries for granted, several news items from the Cordova Daily Times point to the general public’s desire for not only books, but music and art and “a Fine Exhibit of Minerals and Curios” to establish a municipal art museum.

All Seem To Want Library: Proposal Evokes Many Ideas for Good of the Community. All Cordovans seem to want action immediately by the Literacy Club, which meets tomorrow night, toward establishing the nucleus of a free public library. One of the Club members said today the proposal would be given attention. If the Club backs the movement, as expected, donations of books will be in order, likewise paintings for decoration-- as a start for the city's museum of fine arts. A commodious room downtown can be obtained, it is said, well adapted to the purpose. No definite plans have been attempted, this being left for the Literary Club, but it has been suggested that the librarian at first be a volunteer, who would attend and give out books at certain hours, daily. After awhile a regular librarian could be employed and open house be kept continually. Another suggestion is that a phonograph be obtained, together with the best grand opera and other music records, so that musical entertainments could be given in the evenings, free to everybody. The idea is to announce the program of these entertainments in The Times. In this way everybody could have the pleasure of hearing the best music and at the same time look over the book supply. Several prominent citizens already have said they know of many persons who would be glad to donate books for such a purpose; others know where paintings and other works of art might be found, for the asking.

Image credit: The Cordova daily times. (Cordova, Alaska), 20 March 1922. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Even today with a steadfast Interlibrary Loan system to connect libraries within the state of Alaska, materials can take several weeks to arrive based on the sheer distance needed to travel. Imagine not even having an established collection of books to browse through on cold, dark, winter nights- or having any means of obtaining books.

For many citizens of Cordova, a library represented a cultural outlet missing from their town. A library also represented the comforts of home and a gathering place for friends. The Cordova public school library was the only library in town, and its borrowing privileges were reserved for school children only.

Notice: The Cordova public school library will be open Friday from 2 to 3 p.m. for the children of the school who wish to take out library books. Leona Churchill, Librarian.

Image credit: The Cordova daily times. (Cordova, Alaska), 13 June 1918. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

This lack of a larger institution is laid bare in this article for an upcoming “tag sale” to benefit the Cordova public school library:

Tag Sale For Library Fund On Saturday: Next Saturday is the annual tag day for the Cordova public school library, when the public will be asked to play a game of tag with the children. In this particular kind of tag game it is proper for the participants to allow themselves to be tagged just as soon and as often as possible. It is to be hoped that everyone plays the game as well as it was played last year. This tag day sale is for the benefit of the school library, which needs to be built up to a higher point of efficiency, since it must serve in a double capacity, due to the fact that Cordova can boast of no public library at present. Some time, not too far away, let us hope, Cordova will have a public library, but until that time is it not wise to increase the scope and general usefulness of our school library, so that it may in a measure stone for the lack of a larger institution? "Have a heart" is in this case a genuine appeal for each to help by buying one of the heart-shaped tags-- no slang intended. Tag! You're it!

Image credit: The Cordova daily times. (Cordova, Alaska), 19 Feb. 1920. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

By 1920, however, the Cordova public school library opened its doors to the general public:

Notice to the Public: As Cordova has no public library, it has been decided to open the school library for general use. Hereafter anyone who cares to take out books will be welcome to do so on Wednesdays from 3 to 4 p.m. Books must be returned the following Wednesday or the borrower will be subject to a fine of 5 cents a day until they are returned. To cover possible loss or damage, a deposit of $1 will be required from those having no connection with the school, the same to be returned at the close of the school year. Our library has grown from 264 volumes to over a thousand in number, and while many of our books are juvenile, there are also many that will interest adults. Alice Daggett will have charge of this branch of the loan work, and borrowers will see her when wishing to borrow or return books.

Image credit: The Cordova daily times. (Cordova, Alaska), 31 Jan. 1920. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Newspapers all throughout Alaska picked up on the public outcry for a library in Cordova and spread the word to readers near and far.

Cordova Wants Museum of Fine Arts and Also a Good Public Library: There is a lively local sentiment in favor of the establishment of a public library in Cordova this year-- at least the beginning of one Rev. Eustance P. Ziegler, in reply to an inquiry, said he believed the people were earnestly desirous of having not only a good public library, together with all the leading magazines, but also a museum of fine arts to which he would be pleased to contribute. It is also believed that Sydney Laurence and other artists would be glad to contribute. Some constructive action along this line many be expected soon. Mr. Ziegler said these questions which probably would be taken up by the Literary Club, through the initiative of one of its live-wire members. A little further inquiry elicited the apparent consensus of opinion that the Alaska Pioneer Spirit, which is very active here, would not favor obtaining a library by endowment, or Carnegie fund, nor by charitable donation of any kind. To the contrary, it was said, the modest beginning could be made this year and additions be provided as fast as means allow. The idea seems to be to keep the city independent in this respect, free from debt and self-reliant.--Cordova Times.

Image credit: The daily Alaskan. (Skagway, Alaska), 08 April 1922. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.<>

In June of 1925, women’s guild of St. George’s Episcopal Church opened the reading room of the Red Dragon, a historical building, as the very first location of the Cordova Public Library. Books donated by Episcopalian churches throughout the Lower 48 formed the collection- which formed an eclectic mix of titles!

Library in Red Dragon to be Thrown Open to Public: Launching a movement to eventually secure an adequate library for Cordova, The Women's Guild of St. George's Episcopal Church has arranged to throw open to the public the book collection now housed in the Red Dragon. Beginning Saturday the club building will be open from 1 to 7 p.m. and people may call there to read or borrow books. It will continue open between these hours each Wednesday and Saturday. Under the supervision of Mrs. F. A. Hansen and Miss Elsie Waltz, the books have been arranged in alphabetical order and can be readily located on the shelves. About 700 volumes are now in the building, as well as a number which have been borrowed from the Red Dragon in the past. It has been requested that all persons having books from there return them as soon as possible, so that the shelves may not be too rapidly depleted. The books now on hand have been sent here from Episcopalian churches all over the United States. The range of materials is large, for the contributors seem to be in doubt as to just what the taste of Alaskans runs to. In the same book case you may find treaties on "Success with Small fruits," "Intestinal Ills" and "Manhood Wrecked and Rescued." Fiction is relatively scarce, although there are several set including works of George Eliot, Bret Harte and the like. There are recent volumes by Kathleen Norris, Rex Besch, Harold Bell Wright, Booth Tarkington, E. Phillips Oppenheim, Jeffrey Faruol, Ralph Connor, William Allen White, Somerset Maugham and many others. Even the old-time paper-backed novel is there and you may take your choice of "The Fatal Marriage," "'Twas Love's Fault" or "Vivian, the Beauty," the first chapter of which opens with the line: "'He loves me,' murmured Jeanne." Another enticing and much thumbed book is entitled "The Romance of a Poor Young Man." If you have some books you don't know what to do with, the library can find a use for them. An appeal is to be sent out to those in the States who have hitherto contributed, telling how much entertaining books of fiction and on modern progress mean when people live so far from book stores and municipal libraries. A reading table will be arranged with late issues of current magazines. A number of sets of these best magazines, covering twelve month periods are also to be found there. Another book case is devoted to a quantity of juvenile books.

Image credit: From the June 11, 1925 issue of the Cordova Daily Times, Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

More Books Given to Red Dragon Library: With the increasing interest being shown in the library recently opened at the Red Dragon by the Women's Guild of St. George's Church, several books have just been donated by local residents. The gifts are from Mrs. Brady Howard, Mrs. Lew Smith, Mrs. C. P. Mickelson and Mrs. D. F. Cook. Persons who have had volumes from the Red Dragon in their homes for a long time are urgently requested to return them, as the demand for the books is growing constantly and it is also desired that the stray property of the library be cataloged. Among the new fiction recently placed on the shelves are the following: "Scaramouche," by Rafael Sabatini. "The Desert of Wheat," by Zane Grey. "Cap'n Dan's Daughter," by Joseph C. Lincoln. "Back Home," by Irvin S. Cobb. "Galusha the Magnificent," by Joseph C. Lincoln. The library will be open again on Saturday from 1 to 7 p.m.

Image credit: From the June 25, 1925 issue of the Cordova Daily Times, Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

Today, the Cordova Public Library has found a permanent home at the Cordova Center, after having its collection housed in the Adams Building and the Windsor Hotel. We are fortunate to have had this journey toward a free public library documented in the Cordova Daily Times.

For more information, see and 




Groundhog Day

February 2 marks Groundhog Day. While a relatively small population of groundhogs or woodchucks live in the Interior of Alaska, their relative the marmot is a more common resident. Alaska marmots (Marmota broweri), hoary marmots (Marmota caligata), and woodchucks/groundhogs (Marmota monax) all belong to the squirrel family. Alaska sees its fair share of hoary marmots like the one below, and are the largest members of the squirrel family (Sciuridae) in North America.

Photograph of hoary marmot on a rock surrounded by other rocks.

Image taken by author.

Map of Alaska with the population of Hoary Marmots superimposed over the Southeast, Interior, and South Central regions of the state.

Image credit: Alaska Department of Fish and Game:

While its more famous cousins hog the limelight on February 2nd, marmots appear in Alaska’s historical newspapers, more often than not for their fur coats.

There is one, for instance, an outfit made of a white homespun woolen material with the roughest sort of surface. Then the trimming is done with bands of marmot fur, making a delicious contrast and a most effective spotting of decoration. Image: illustration of a woman wearing a hat and a skirt and a coat trimmed with marmot fur with a walking stick. Caption: White Suit of Homespun, Marmot Trimming on Collar and Cuffs.

Image credit: The Cordova daily times. (Cordova, Alaska), 31 Aug. 1922. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Men's Fur Lined Coats: Lined with dark muskrat, with extra fine quality imported broadcloth shell and large marmot mink collar. Worth nearly double the price. On sale now at...$65.00

Image credit: The Alaska citizen. (Fairbanks, Alaska), 04 Dec. 1911. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

It is unfortunate that the marmot receives such scant attention, especially given its prominence in Alaska. But for those interested in the happenings of large ground rodents, Groundhog Day is a bonanza. Whether or not you believe in the superstition, there is no shortage of news items that cover the groundhog’s winter weather prognostications. A small sample is included below:

"Old Man" Groundhog Billed to Peer Around Tomorrow: Tomorrow is the day that Mr. Groundhog is billed to make his annual debut on the hills back of Juneau to cast his weather eye about and decide whether or not there is to be a late or early spring. If he sees his shadow on that day it is said that he crawls back into his hole in the ground and stays there for six weeks. If he sees no shadow he sticks around as an indication that the weather is soon to break and spring will be early. With the brand of weather that is on tap right now and has been on tap for several days it is predicted that there will be no shadows for Mr. Groundhog to shy at tomorrow. Some one was mean enough to remark that it was an awful lucky thing than old man Groundhog did not attempt to amble about any yesterday while the high wind was blowing or he might have been blown back into his hole with a broken leg, head, or back.

Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 01 Feb. 1921. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Sunshine Much Feared: Douglas, Feb. 1.--There is one day of each year when sunshine is not welcomed in any part of the country and tomorrow is that day. Tomorrow is "Groundhog" day, the day when, regardless of wind or weather, the little animal ventures to emerge from his den in the ground or under rocks to size up conditions. After hibernating several weeks, the groundhog is naturally timid and is easily frightened. There fore, if it sees its own shadow when it comes forth into the light, it becomes frustrated and naturally hikes back under the ground where it remains another six weeks, during which period Old Bory holds high carnival, Taku winds howl and winter lingers. However, in the event there is no sun to create a shadow, the groundhog soon acquires confidence and remains out in the open, in which event winter sneaks away into the offing, spring advances and all nature stands on her head and dangles her heels in the air in glee. All good people--people imbued with the spirit that seeks to advance the public welfare-- will hope, and even pray, that the sun may not shine tomorrow, but that clouds, dark, thick, and dense, may hover over this section of Alaska just like they do on picnic days in summer. The sun is shining brightly here today which fast is causing considerable uneasiness.

Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 01 Feb. 1918. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Groundhog Backs Up. The official groundhog came forth this morning, took a slant at the sun and slid back into his hole with his nose nipped. He is due to reappear in six weeks, which will be March 15. According to the statute in such case made and provided in the cornfed Middle West winter should end on that date, but the latitude and climate of Alaska are too stiff even for a groundhog, and when he comes out then he is likely to give the weather the once-over and retire for another six weeks. An Alaska groundhog ought to be given two guesses at spring.

Image credit: Valdez daily prospector. (Valdez, Alaska), 02 Feb. 1917. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Bad Day for the Old Ground-Hog: If the alleged faith of the groundhog in the tradition of his kind is based on fact, we are in for some bad weather before the sun gets back on our side of the equator. Today is "Ground-hog Day," and if the ground hog came out he saw his shadow, for the sun was shining brightly hereabouts this morning. The New England tradition is that the ground-hog comes out of his hole on the second day of February and if he sees his shadow he hastens back to cover to remain for six weeks.

Image caption: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 02 Feb. 1915. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Groundhog Day Was Phenomenal: it must have been a reluctant retreat made by the cautious old groundhog yesterday morning, after stepping out of doors and observing his dark shadow cast across show as bright and soft as if warmed by an April instead of an early-February sun. According to tradition, the ground hog went back into his hole to remain six weeks longer, and thereby escape the storms portended by the present fair weather. There are some people hereabout who profess to believe the groundhog has played a joke on himself this time. The winter having been fine beyond all precedent so far, they contend that it is rather more logical to conclude that it will continue so than it will vent its full fury in its closing days. However that may be, the groundhog was greeted by a radiant day.

Image credit: Iditarod pioneer. (Iditarod, Alaska), 03 Feb. 1912. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Whether the proverbial groundhog sees his shadow or not, it’s important to keep warm these next few weeks. And keep an eye out for the humble marmot!