1925 serum run to Nome

Map of the historical and current Iditarod trails.

The 1925 serum run to Nome, also known as the Great Race of Mercy, was a transport of diphtheria antitoxin by dog sled relay across the U.S. territory of Alaska by 20 mushers and about 150 sled dogs 674 miles (1,085 km) in five and a half days, saving the small town of Nome and the surrounding communities from an incipient epidemic.

Both the mushers and their dogs were portrayed as heroes in the newly popular medium of radio, and received headline coverage in newspapers across the United States. Balto, the lead sled dog on the final stretch into Nome, became the most famous canine celebrity of the era after Rin Tin Tin, and his statue is a popular tourist attraction in New York City's Central Park. The publicity also helped spur an inoculation campaign in the U.S. that dramatically reduced the threat of the disease.

The sled dog was the primary means of transportation and communication in subarctic communities around the world, and the race became both the last great hurrah and the most famous event in the history of mushing, before the first aircraft in the 1930s and then the snowmobile in the 1960s drove the dog sled almost into extinction. The resurgence of recreational mushing in Alaska since the 1970s is a direct result of the tremendous popularity of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, which honors the history of dog mushing.


Nome lies approximately 2 degrees south of the Arctic Circle, and while greatly diminished from its peak of 20,000 during the gold rush days at the turn of the 20th century, it was still the largest town in the northern half of Alaska in 1925 with 455 Alaska Native and 975 settlers of European descent.[1] From November to July, the port on the southern shore of the Seward Peninsula of the Bering Sea was icebound and inaccessible by steamship.

The only link to the rest of the world during the winter was the Iditarod Trail, which ran 938 miles (1,510 km) from the port of Seward in the south, across several mountain ranges and the vast Alaska Interior before reaching Nome. The primary source of mail and needed supplies in 1925 was the dog sled; but within a decade bush pilots would become the dominant method of transportation during the winter months.

Mail from the "Outside" (outside the Alaska Territory) was transported 420 miles (680 km) by train from the icefree port of Seward to Nenana, and then was transported the 674 miles (1,085 km) from Nenana to Nome by dog sled, which normally took 25 days.

Outbreak and call for help

In the winter of 1924–25, the only doctor in Nome, a town of less than 2,000 people, and the surrounding communities was Curtis Welch, who was supported by four nurses at the 25-bed Maynard Columbus Hospital.[2] Several months earlier,[3] Welch had placed an order for more diphtheria antitoxin after discovering that hospital's entire batch had expired. However, the shipment did not arrive before the port closed for the winter[4][3] and he would not be able to order more until spring.[5]

In December 1924, several days after the last ship left the port, Welch treated a few children for what he first diagnosed as sore throats or tonsillitis, initially dismissing diphtheria since it is extremely contagious and he would have expected to see the same symptoms in their family members or other cases around town.[4] In the next few weeks, as the number of tonsillitis cases grew and four children died whom he had not been able to autopsy, Welch became increasingly concerned about diphtheria.[6]

By mid-January 1925, Welch officially diagnosed the first case of diphtheria in a three-year old boy who died only two weeks after first becoming ill.[4] The following day, when a seven-year old girl presented with the same tell-tale symptoms of diphtheria, Welch attempted to administer some of the expired antitoxin to see if it might still have any effect, but the girl died a few hours later.[7] Realizing that an epidemic was imminent, that same evening, Welch called Mayor George Maynard to arrange an emergency town council meeting.[8] The council immediately implemented a quarantine. The following day, on January 22, 1925, Welch sent radio telegrams to all other major towns in Alaska alerting them of public health risk and he also sent one to the U.S. Public Health Service in Washington, D.C. asking for assistance.[4] His message to the Public Health Service said:

An epidemic of diphtheria is almost inevitable here. Stop. I am in urgent need of one million units of diphtheria antitoxin, stop, mail is only form of transportation. Stop. I have made application to Commissioner of Health of the Territories for antitoxin already. Stop. There are about 3000 (sic) white natives in the district.[4]

Despite the quarantine, there were over 20 confirmed cases of diphtheria and at least 50 more at risk by the end of January. Without antitoxin, it was expected that in the surrounding region's population of around 10,000 people, the mortality rate could be close to 100 percent.[4] A previous influenza pandemic of the so-called "Spanish flu" had hit the area in 1918 and 1919 wiped out about 50 percent of the native population of Nome, and 8 percent of the native population of Alaska. More than 1,000 people died in northwest Alaska, and double that across the state.[3] The majority were Alaska Natives who did not have resistance to either of these diseases.[9]

Wings versus paws

At the January 24 meeting of the board of health superintendent Mark Summers of the Hammon Consolidated Gold Fields proposed a dogsled relay, using two fast teams. One would start at Nenana and the other at Nome, and they would meet at Nulato. The trip from Nulato to Nome normally took 30 days, although the record was nine.[2] Welch calculated that the serum would only last six days under the brutal conditions of the trail.[2] Summers' employee, the Norwegian Leonhard Seppala, was chosen for the 630-mile (1,014 km) round trip from Nome to Nulato and back. He had previously made the run from Nome to Nulato in a record-breaking four days, won the All-Alaska Sweepstakes three times, and had become something of a legend for his athletic ability and rapport with his Siberian huskies. His lead dog, the 12-year-old Togo,[3] was equally famous for his leadership, intelligence, and ability to sense danger.

Mayor Maynard proposed flying the antitoxin by aircraft. In February 1924, the first winter aircraft flight in Alaska had been conducted between Fairbanks and McGrath by Carl Eielson, who flew a reliable De Havilland DH-4 issued by the U.S. Post Office on 8 experimental trips. The longest flight was only 260 miles (420 km), the worst conditions were −10 °F (−23 °C) which required so much winter clothing that the plane was almost unflyable, and the plane made several crash landings.

The only planes operating in Alaska in 1925 were three vintage Standard J biplanes belonging to Bennet Rodebaugh's Fairbanks Airplane company (later Wien Air Alaska) The aircraft were dismantled for the winter, had open cockpits, and had water-cooled engines that were unreliable in cold weather. Since both pilots were in the contiguous United States, Alaska Delegate Dan Sutherland attempted to get the authorization to use an inexperienced pilot, Roy Darling.

While potentially quicker, the board of health rejected the option and voted unanimously for the dogsled relay. Seppala was notified that evening and immediately started preparations for the trip.

The U.S. Public Health Service had located 1.1 million units of serum in West Coast hospitals which could be shipped to Seattle, and then transported to Alaska.[2] The Alameda would be the next ship north, and would not arrive in Seattle until January 31, and then would take another 6 to 7 days to arrive in Seward. On January 26, 300,000 forgotten units were discovered in Anchorage Railroad Hospital, when the chief of surgery, John Beeson, heard of the need.[2] The supply was wrapped in glass vials, then padded quilts, and finally a metallic cylinder weighing a little more than 20 pounds.[2][3] At Governor Scott Bone's order, it was packed and handed to conductor Frank Knight, who arrived in Nenana on January 27. While not sufficient to defeat the epidemic, the 300,000 units could hold it at bay until the larger shipment arrived.

The temperatures across the Interior were at 20-year lows due to a high pressure system from the Arctic, and in Fairbanks the temperature was −50 °F (−46 °C). A second system was burying the Panhandle, as 25 mph (40 km/h) winds swept snow into 10-foot (3.05 m) drifts. Travel by sea was hazardous, and across the Interior most forms of transportation shut down. In addition, there were limited hours of daylight to fly, due to the polar night.

While the first batch of serum was traveling to Nenana, Governor Bone gave final authorization to the dog relay, but ordered Edward Wetzler, the U.S. Post Office inspector, to arrange a relay of the best drivers and dogs across the Interior. The teams would travel day and night until they handed off the package to Seppala at Nulato.

The decision outraged William Fentress "Wrong Font" Thompson, publisher of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner and aircraft advocate, who helped line up the pilot and plane. He used his paper to write scathing editorials.


The mail route from Nenana to Nome spanned 674 miles (1,085 km) in total. It crossed the barren Alaska Interior, following the Tanana River for 137 miles (220 km) to the village Tanana at the junction with the Yukon River, and then following the Yukon for 230 miles (370 km) to Kaltag. The route then passed west 90 miles (140 km) over the Kaltag Portage to Unalakleet on the shore of Norton Sound. The route then continued for 208 miles (335 km) northwest around the southern shore of the Seward Peninsula with no protection from gales and blizzards, including a 42 miles (68 km) stretch across the shifting ice of the Bering Sea.

Wetzler contacted Tom Parson, an agent of the Northern Commercial Company, which contracted to deliver mail between Fairbanks and Unalakleet. Telephone and telegrams turned the drivers back to their assigned roadhouses. The mail carriers held a revered position in the territory, and were the best dog mushers in Alaska. The majority of relay drivers across the Interior were native Athabaskans, direct descendants of the original dog mushers.

The first musher in the relay was "Wild Bill" Shannon, who was handed the 20 pounds (9.1 kg) package at the train station in Nenana on January 27 at 9:00 \{\{nbsp\}\}PM AKST by night. Despite a temperature of −50 °F (−46 °C), Shannon left immediately with his team of 11 inexperienced dogs, led by Blackie. The temperature began to drop, and the team was forced onto the colder ice of the river because the trail had been destroyed by horses.

Despite jogging alongside the sled to keep warm, Shannon developed hypothermia. He reached Minto at 3 AM, with parts of his face black from frostbite.[2] The temperature was −62 °F (−52 °C). After warming the serum by the fire and resting for four hours, Shannon dropped three dogs and left with the remaining 8. The three dogs died shortly after Shannon returned for them, and a fourth may have perished as well.

Arrival in Minto

Half-Athabaskan Edgar Kalland arrived in Minto the night before, and was sent back to Tolovana, traveling 70 mi (110 km) the day before the relay. Shannon and his team arrived in bad shape at 11 AM, and handed over the serum. After warming the serum in the roadhouse, Kalland headed into the forest. The temperature had risen to −56 °F (−49 °C), and according to at least one report the owner of the roadhouse at Manley Hot Springs had to pour water over Kallands' hands to get them off the sled's handlebar when he arrived at 4 PM.

No new cases of diphtheria were diagnosed on January 28, but two new cases were diagnosed on January 29. The quarantine had been obeyed but lack of diagnostic tools and the contagiousness of the strain rendered it ineffective. More units of serum were discovered around Juneau the same day. While no count exists, the estimate based on weight is roughly 125,000 units, enough to treat 4 to 6 patients. The crisis had become headline news in newspapers, including San Francisco, Cleveland, Washington D.C., and New York, and spread to the radio sets which were just becoming common. The storm system from Alaska hit the contiguous United States, bringing record lows to New York, and freezing the Hudson River.

A fifth death occurred on January 30. Maynard and Sutherland renewed their campaign for flying the remaining serum by plane. Different proposals included flying a large aircraft 2,000 miles (3,200 km) from Seattle to Nome, carrying a plane to the edge of the pack ice via Navy ship and launching it, and the original plan of flying the serum from Fairbanks. Despite receiving headline coverage across the country, the support of several cabinet departments, and from Arctic explorer Roald Amundsen, the plans were rejected by experienced pilots, the Navy, and Governor Bone.[10] Thompson's editorials waxed virulent against those opposing using airplanes.

In response, Bone decided to speed up the relay and authorized additional drivers for Seppala's leg of the relay, so they could travel without rest. Seppala was still scheduled to cover the most dangerous leg, the shortcut across Norton Sound, but the telephone and telegraph systems bypassed the small villages he was passing through, and there was no way to tell him to wait at Shaktoolik. The plan relied on the driver from the north catching Seppala on the trail. Summers arranged for drivers along the last leg, including Seppala's colleague Gunnar Kaasen.

From Manley Hot Springs, the serum passed through largely Athabascan hands before George Nollner delivered it to Charlie Evans at Bishop Mountain on January 30 at 3 AM. The temperature had warmed slightly, but at −62 °F (−52 °C) was dropping again. Evans relied on his lead dogs when he passed through ice fog where the Koyukuk River had broken through and surged over the ice, but forgot to protect the groins of his two short-haired mixed breed lead dogs with rabbit skins. Both dogs collapsed with frostbite, with Evans having to take their place himself pulling the sled. He arrived at 10 AM; both dogs were dead. Tommy Patsy departed within half an hour.

The serum then crossed the Kaltag Portage in the hands of Jack Nicolai aka "Jackscrew" and the Alaska Native Victor Anagick, who handed it to his fellow Alaska Native Myles Gonangnan on the shores of the Sound, at Unalakleet on January 31 at 5 AM. Gonangnan saw the signs of a storm brewing, and decided not to take the shortcut across the dangerous ice of the Sound. He departed at 5:30 AM, and as he crossed the hills, "the eddies of drifting, swirling snow passing between the dog's legs and under the bellies made them appear to be fording a fast running river."[11] The whiteout conditions cleared as he reached the shore, and the gale-force winds drove the wind chill to −70 °F (−57 °C). At 3 PM he arrived at Shaktoolik. Seppala was not there, but Henry Ivanoff was waiting just in case.

On January 30, the number of cases in Nome had reached 27 and the antitoxin was depleted. According to a reporter living in Nome, "All hope is in the dogs and their heroic drivers... Nome appears to be a deserted city."[12] With the report of Gonangnan's progress on January 31, Welch believed the serum would arrive there in February.

Connection on Norton Sound

Leonhard Seppala and his dog sled team, with his lead dog Togo, traveled 91 miles (146 km) from Nome from January 27 to January 31 into the oncoming storm. They took the shortcut across the Norton Sound, and headed toward Shaktoolik. The temperature in Nome was a relatively warm −20 °F (−29 °C), but in Shaktoolik the temperature was estimated at −30 °F (−34 °C), and the gale force winds causing a wind chill of −85 °F (−65 °C). Togo ran 350 miles for his part of the run; he gave so much of himself that he could never run again.

Henry Ivanoff's team ran into a reindeer and got tangled up just outside Shaktoolik. Seppala still believed he had more than 100 miles (160 km) to go and was racing to get off the Norton Sound before the storm hit. He was passing the team when Ivanoff shouted, "The serum! The serum! I have it here!"[13]

With the news of the worsening epidemic, Seppala decided to brave the storm and once again set out across the exposed open ice of the Norton Sound when he reached Ungalik, after dark. The temperature was estimated at −30 °F (−34 °C), but the wind chill with the gale force winds was −85 °F (−65 °C). Togo led the team in a straight line through the dark, and they arrived at the roadhouse in Isaac's Point on the other side at 8 PM. In one day, they had traveled 84 mi (135 km), averaging 8 mph (13 km/h). The team rested, and departed at 2 AM into the full power of the storm.

During the night the temperature dropped to −40 °F (−40 °C), and the wind increased to storm force (at least 65 mph (105 km/h)). The team ran across the ice while following the shoreline. They returned to shore to cross Little McKinley Mountain, climbing 5,000 feet (1,500 m). After descending to the next roadhouse in Golovin, Seppala passed the serum to Charlie Olsen on February 1 at 3 PM.

On February 1, the number of cases in Nome rose to 28. The serum en route was sufficient to treat 30 people. With the powerful blizzard raging and winds of 80 mph (130 km/h), Welch ordered a stop to the relay until the storm passed, reasoning that a delay was better than the risk of losing it all. Messages were left at Solomon and Point Safety before the lines went dead.

Olsen was blown off the trail, and suffered severe frostbite in his hands while putting blankets on his dogs. The wind chill was −70 °F (−57 °C). He arrived at Bluff on February 1 at 7 PM in poor shape. Gunnar Kaasen waited until 10 PM for the storm to break, but it only got worse and the drifts would soon block the trail so he departed into a headwind.

Kaasen traveled through the night, through drifts, and river overflow over the 600-foot (183 m) Topkok Mountain. Balto led the team through visibility so poor that Kaasen could not always see the dogs harnessed closest to the sled. He was two miles (3 km) past Solomon before he realized it, and kept going. The winds after Solomon were so severe that his sled flipped over and he almost lost the cylinder containing the serum when it fell off and became buried in the snow. He acquired frostbite when he had to use his bare hands to feel for the cylinder.

Kaasen reached Point Safety ahead of schedule on February 2, at 3 AM. Ed Rohn believed that Kaasen and the relay was halted at Solomon, so he was sleeping. Since the weather was improving, it would take time to prepare Rohn's team, and Balto and the other dogs were moving well, Kaasen pressed on the remaining 25 miles (40 km) to Nome, reaching Front Street at 5:30 AM. Not a single ampule was broken, and the antitoxin was thawed and ready by noon.

Together, the teams covered the 674 miles (1,085 km) in 127 and a half hours, which was considered a world record, incredibly done in extreme subzero temperatures in near-blizzard conditions and hurricane-force winds. A number of dogs died during the trip.

Second relay

Margaret Curran from the Solomon roadhouse was infected, which raised fears that the disease might spread from patrons of the roadhouse to other communities. The 1.1 million units had left Seattle on January 31, and were not due by dog sled until February 8. Welch asked for half the serum to be delivered by aircraft from Fairbanks. He contacted Thompson and Sutherland, and Darling made a test flight the next morning. With his health advisor, Governor Bone concluded the cases in Nome were actually going down, and withheld permission, but preparations went ahead. The U.S. Navy moved a minesweeper north from Seattle, and the Signal Corps were ordered to light fires to guide the planes.

By February 3, the original 300,000 units had proved to be still effective, and the epidemic was under control. A sixth death, probably unrelated to diphtheria, was widely reported as a new outbreak of the disease. The batch from Seattle arrived on board the Admiral Watson on February 7. Acceding to pressure, Governor Bone authorized half to be delivered by plane. On February 8 the first half of the second shipment began its trip by dog sled, while the plane failed to start when a broken radiator shutter caused the engine to overheat. The plane failed the next day as well, and the mission was scrapped. Thompson was gracious in his editorials.

The second relay included many of the same drivers, and also faced harsh conditions. The serum arrived on February 15.


Statue of Balto, the lead dog on the last relay team. The statue is located in Central Park (NYC) and is dedicated to all the dogs involved in the serum run.

The death toll from diphtheria in Nome is officially listed as either 5, 6, or 7,[14] but Welch later estimated there were probably at least 100 additional cases among "the Eskimo camps outside the city. The Natives have a habit of burying their children without reporting the death." Forty-three new cases were diagnosed in 1926, but they were easily managed with the fresh supply of serum.[15]

All participants in the dogsleds received letters of commendation from President Calvin Coolidge,[10] and the Senate stopped work to recognize the event. Each musher during the first relay received a gold medal from the H. K. Mulford Company. The mayor of Los Angeles presented a bone-shaped key to the city to Balto in front of City Hall;[10] silent-film actress Mary Pickford put a wreath around the canine's neck.[10] Poems and letters from children poured in, and spontaneous fundraising campaigns sprang up around the country.

Gunnar Kaasen and his team became celebrities and toured the West Coast from February 1925 to February 1926, and even starred in a 30-minute film entitled Balto's Race to Nome. A statue of Balto by sculptor Frederick Roth was unveiled in New York City's Central Park during a visit on December 15, 1925. Balto and the other dogs later became part of a sideshow and lived in horrible conditions until they were rescued by George Kimble, who organized a fundraising campaign by the children of Cleveland, Ohio. On March 19, 1927, the dogs received a hero's welcome as they arrived at their permanent home at the Cleveland Zoo. Because of his age, Balto was euthanised on March 14, 1933, at the age of 14. He was mounted and placed on display in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

Despite the attention lavished on Kaasen and Balto, many mushers today consider Seppala and Togo to be the true heroes of the run, as they covered the longest and most hazardous leg. They made a round trip of 261 miles (420 km) from Nome to Shaktoolik and back to Golovin, and delivered the serum a total of 91 miles (146 km), almost double the distance covered by any other team. After Kaasen's return, he was accused of being a glory hog. Seppala became upset when the media attributed Togo's achievements to Balto, and commented, "it was almost more than I could bear when the 'newspaper dog' Balto received a statue for his 'glorious achievements.'"[16]

In October 1926, Seppala took Togo and his team on a tour from Seattle to California, and then across the Midwest to New England, and consistently drew huge crowds. They were featured at Madison Square Garden in New York City for 10 days, and Togo received a gold medal from Roald Amundsen. In New England Seppala's team of Siberian huskies ran in many races, easily defeating the local Chinooks. Seppala sold most of his team to a kennel in Poland Spring, Maine, and most huskies in the U.S. are descended from one of these dogs. Seppala visited Togo, until he was euthanised on December 5, 1929. After his death, Seppala had Togo preserved and mounted, and today the dog is on display in a glass case at the Iditarod museum in Wasilla, Alaska.

None of the other mushers received the same degree of attention, though Wild Bill Shannon briefly toured with Blackie. The media largely ignored the Athabaskan and Alaska Native mushers, who covered two-thirds of the distance to Nome. According to Edgard Kalland, "it was just an everyday occurrence as far as we were concerned."[17]

Air mail

The serum race helped spur the Kelly Act, which was signed into law on February 2. The bill allowed private aviation companies to bid on mail delivery contracts. Technology improved and within a decade, air mail routes were established in Alaska. The last mail delivery by private dog sled under contract took place in 1938, and the last U.S. Post Office dog sled route closed in 1963. Dog sledding remained popular in the rural interior but became nearly extinct when snowmobiles spread in the 1960s. Mushing was revitalized as a recreational sport in the 1970s with the immense popularity of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

While the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, which runs more than 1,000 miles (1,600 km) from Anchorage to Nome is actually based on the All-Alaska Sweepstakes, it has many traditions that commemorate the race to deliver the serum to Nome, especially Seppala and Togo. The honorary musher for the first seven races was Leonhard Seppala. Other serum run participants, including "Wild Bill" Shannon, Edgar Kalland, Bill McCarty, Charlie Evans, Edgar Nollner, Harry Pitka, and Henry Ivanoff have also been honored. The 2005 Iditarod honored Jirdes Winther Baxter, the last known survivor of the epidemic. The position is now known as Leonhard Seppala's Honorary Musher, the Leonhard Seppala Humanitarian Award is given to the musher who provides the best dog care while still remaining competitive, and the Leonhard Seppala Heritage Grant is an Iditarod scholarship. The two races follow the same route from Ruby to Nome.

A reenactment of the serum run was held in 1975, which took 6 days longer than the 1925 serum run, or more than twice the total time. Many of the participants were descendants of the original 20. In 1985, President Ronald Reagan sent a letter of recognition to Charlie Evans, Edgar Nollner, and Bill McCarty, the only remaining survivors. Nollner was the last to die, on January 18, 1999, of a heart attack.

Popular media

The relay has been immortalized in various media. In 1976, the story was retold in Race against Death: A True Story of the Far North, by noted children's author Seymour Reit. The book was featured in a 1978 episode of The Book Bird, a long-running anthology of children's literature on PBS. The title character in the 1995 animated film Balto was loosely based on the lead dog from the final leg of the serum run, although all of the other characters and subplots are fictional. A detailed recounting of the people and events involved in the serum run, including the story of the native mushers and the local nurses who attended to the sick and dying, is given in the 2003 book, The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic, by Gay and Laney Salisbury.[3][10] In 2013, a documentary titled Icebound — The Greatest Dog Story Ever Told, focused on the aftermath of the events.[18]


There is much controversy surrounding Balto's role in this race and the statue in Central Park.[14][19] A premier musher, Seppala was sent to run 170 miles (270 km) across some of the most dangerous and treacherous parts of the run. He met the serum runner (to his surprise, since he had anticipated having to make the entire run alone), took the handoff, and returned another 91 miles (146 km), having run over 261 miles (420 km) in total. He then handed the serum off to Charlie Olson. Olson carried it 25 miles (40 km) to Bluff where he turned it over to Gunnar Kaasen. Kaasen was supposed to hand off the serum to Rohn at Port Safety, but Rohn had gone to sleep and Kaasen decided to keep going to Nome.[2][14] In all, Kaasen and Balto ran a total of 53 miles (85 km). Kaasen maintained that he decided to continue since there were no lights on in the cabin where Rohn was sleeping and he didn't want to waste time,[14] but many thought his decision to not wake Rohn was motivated by a desire to grab the glory for himself and Balto.

According to Leonhard Seppala,[19] Togo's musher, Balto was a scrub freight dog that he left behind when he set out on the trip.[14] He also asserted that Kaasen's lead dog was actually a dog named "Fox," but that news agents of the time thought that Balto was a more newsworthy name.[19]

The New York City Central Park statue of Balto was modeled after Balto,[19] but shows him wearing Togo's colors (awards). The inscription reads, "Dedicated to the indomitable spirit of the sled dogs that relayed antitoxin 600 miles over rough ice, across treacherous waters, through arctic blizzards, from Nenana to the relief of stricken Nome."[19] In the last years of his life Seppala was heartbroken by the way the credit had gone to Balto; in his mind Togo was the real hero of the serum race. According to the historian Earl Aversano, in 1960, in his old age, Seppala recalled "I never had a better dog than Togo. His stamina, loyalty and intelligence could not be improved upon. Togo was the best dog that ever traveled the Alaska trail.[20]

Writing in Time Magazine, Katy Steinmetz also thought that Togo was the greatest sled dog of all time. In the serum run, she wrote, Togo was the real hero: “the dog that often gets credit for eventually saving the town is Balto, but he just happened to run the last, 55-mile leg in the race. The sled dog who did the lion's share of the work was Togo. His journey, fraught with white-out storms, was the longest by 200 miles and included a traverse across perilous Norton Sound — where he saved his team and driver in a courageous swim through ice floes.”[21]

Relay participants and distances

Mushers (in order) and the distance they covered included:[22]

Start Musher Leg Distance
January 27 "Wild" Bill Shannon Nenana to Tolovana
Team of eleven Alaskan Malamute. Around 11:00 p.m. Jan. 27, 1925, Shannon received the Serum and written instructions from the conductor. Temperatures ranged from 40 degrees to 62 degrees below zero. At 3:00am, Shannon arrived in Campbell's Roadhouse in Minto, rested for four hours before setting off again, this time with only 8 dogs as three of his dogs, Cub, Jack and Jet, had been injured from the cold. Later, these three dogs ended up dying from lung injuries. Shannon suffered severe facial frostbite. Distance covered was twice that of 25 miles generally accepted as an "extreme day's mush"
52 mi (84 km)
January 28 Dan Green Tolovana to Manley Hot Springs
Temperatures warming to −30 degrees below zero, but a 20 mph wind
31 mi (50 km)
Johnny Folger Manley Hot Springs to Fish Lake
Made run at night and is reported to have made 'good time'. Folger was an Athabascan Native. Met Sam Joseph and his team at a Fish Lake cabin.
28 mi (45 km)
Sam Joseph Fish Lake to Tanana
A Tanana tribe Native, 35 years old, with a team of 7 malamutes. Recorded Tanana temperature was −38 degrees. Covered trail in 2 hours 45 minutes, averaging better than 9 mph. Met by his family and Titus Nickolai.
26 mi (42 km)
January 29 Titus Nikolai Tanana to Kallands
An Athabascan Native, no information regarding Titus's team, time or travel along the trail. Met Dave Corning at Kallands.
34 mi (55 km)
Dan Corning Kallands to Nine Mile Cabin
Reported to have averaged 8 mph for the 24 miles. Again no mention of exact times or the team. Met by Edgar Kalland at Nine Mile Cabin.
24 mi (39 km)
Edgar Kalland Nine Mile Cabin to Kokrines
A musher for the U.S. mail service. Met by Harry Pitka at Kokrines.
30 mi (48 km)
Harry Pitka Kokrines to Ruby
Seven dogs with trail in good condition. Night run with speeds averaging greater than 9 mph.
30 mi (48 km)
Bill McCarty Ruby to Whiskey Creek
Lead dog: Prince. Severe hour-long snow storm. Arrived at Whiskey Creek about 10:00 a.m. Temperature 40 degrees below zero. Met by Edgar Nollner.
28 mi (45 km)
Edgar Nollner Whiskey Creek to Galena
Lead dog: 8 year old Dixie. Nollner, a 21-year-old from Galena, mushed seven malamutes and was met by his brother George.
24 mi (39 km)
January 30 George Nollner Galena to Bishop Mountain
Newlywed George appears to have made the trip using the same team Edgar used to cover the previous 24 miles.
18 mi (29 km)
Charlie Evans Bishop Mountain to Nulato
Half Athabascan Native, Evans, 21 years old, left Bishops Mountain at 5:00 a.m. with a reported temperature of -64 degrees. Arrived at Nulato at 10 a.m. covering 30 miles in 5 hours running a 9 dog team. Two borrowed dogs suffered frozen groins on the trip.
30 mi (48 km)
Tommy (Patsy) Patson Nulato to Kaltag
Patson, a Koyukuk Native, also a mail carrier, ran a fairly straight trail, setting the fastest speed recorded during the Serum Race, covering 36 miles in three 1/2 hours with average speed of more than 10 mph.
36 mi (58 km)
Jack Nicolai aka "Jackscrew" Kaltag to Old Woman Shelter
An Athabascan Native, Jackscrew was a small man known for his unusual strength. During his partial night run, he jogged to lighten the sled until passing the Kaltag Divide, then a downhill trail toward Norton Sound. Arrived at Old Woman Cabin a 9:10 p.m. Friday evening, averaging almost 6 mph for 40 miles of difficult trail.
40 mi (64 km)
Victor Anagick Old Woman Shelter to Unalakleet
Anagick, an Eskimo Native, was sent from Unalakleet with an 11 dog team. Covered the 34 mile trail in 6 hours arriving at 3:30 Saturday morning. The Serum was now 207 miles from Nome.
34 mi (55 km)
January 31 Myles Gonangnan Unalakleet to Shaktoolik 40 mi (64 km)
Henry Ivanoff Shaktoolik to just outside Shaktoolik
Part Russian Eskimo, Ivanoff started toward Golovin. About a half mile out of Shaktoolik, he had to settle a fight in his team. While he was stopped he saw Seppala's Siberian Husky team approaching from the other direction. Passes serum to Seppala a short distance out of town.
0.5 mi (0.80 km)
Leonhard Seppala Just outside Shaktoolik to Golovin
Lead dogs: Togo and Scotty. Forty-eight-year-old Seppala, with a team of dogs had left Nome with the intent of intercepting the serum at Nulato, unaware that the relays had been faster. Leaving Isaac's Point on the north side of Norton Bay that morning, traveled the 43 miles to just outside Shaktoolik, meeting Ivanoff. Turned his team around into the wind with a temperature of −30 degrees and darkness. Risked the 20 mile sea ice crossing between Cap Denbigh and Point Dexter in a blinding blizzard. Togo's sense of smell permitted them to stay on course got them to their stopping point on the North shore of Norton Bay, at an Eskimo sod igloo. Seppala fed the dogs and warmed the serum, hoping the blizzard would lessen. Early Sunday morning with −30 degree temperatures, deadly winds, and the storm not lessening, reached Dexter's Roadhouse at Golovin with completely exhausted dogs.[2] Serum now 78 miles from Nome.
91 mi (146 km)
February 1 Charlie Olson Golovin to Bluff
Lead dog: Jack, team of 7 malamutes. Olsen had left Gunnar Kaasen at the Olson Roadhouse and traveled to Golovin to await the serum. Left Golovin at 3:15 Sunday afternoon with temperatures −30 degrees with an estimated 40 mph wind. Hit by gusts that drove him and the team off the trail. Because of the severe wind chill, Olsen stopped, putting blankets on each dog. Two dogs suffered badly frozen groins. Arrived at Olson's Roadhouse about 7:30 p.m. surprising Gunnar Kaasen who thought Olsen might have stopped to wait out the storm.
25 mi (40 km)
Gunnar Kaasen Bluff to Nome
Lead dog: Balto. Kaasen was sent from Nome to Bluff to await the serum, while Ed Rohn was sent to Pt. Safety. With chest-deep snow drifts and glare ice, he was unable to see the trail and relied on Balto to guide the sled. A message was sent to the village of Solomn instructing Kaasen to wait out the storm there. Due to the severity of the storm, Kaasen missed the village as Balto kept them on the main trail passing to the south. Crossing Bonanza flat the sled was flipped by the wind, ejecting the serum. After searching in the dark on hands and knees, Kaasen found the package and continued. Arrived at Safety sometime after 2:00 a.m. Sunday. Musher Ed Rohn was asleep, expecting Kaasen to be held up waiting out the blizzard. Kaasen, deciding not to wake Rohn, who was supposed to take the Serum the final leg into Nome, began the final 21 mile run to Nome, arriving in Nome around 5:30 a.m., for a total time of seven and a half hours.
53 mi (85 km)


  1. (Salisbury & Salisbury 2003, p. 16)
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Coppock, Mike (August 2006), "The Race to Save Nome", American History, 41 (3): 56–63
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Donahue, Deirdre (07/29/2003). "'Miles' takes measure of canine, human heroism". USA Today.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Houdek, Jennifer. "The Serum Run of 1925". LitSite Alaska. University of Alaska Anchorage. Retrieved 26 November 2016.
  5. (Salisbury & Salisbury 2003, pp. 48)
  6. (Salisbury & Salisbury 2003, pp. 33–36)
  7. (Salisbury & Salisbury 2003, pp. 47–48)
  8. (Salisbury & Salisbury 2003, pp. 47–48)
  9. (Salisbury & Salisbury 2003, pp. 42, 50)
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 Grefrath, Richard W. (08/01/2004). "The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic". Magill Book Reviews.
  11. (Salisbury & Salisbury 2003, p. 203)
  12. (Salisbury & Salisbury 2003, p. 205)
  13. (Salisbury & Salisbury 2003, p. 207)
  14. 1 2 3 4 5 D'Oro, Rachel (December 5, 2013). "Going beyond Balto, new documentary shows life-saving sled dog run in Alaska 90 years ago". The Canadian Press
  15. Salisbury, 2003, footnotes on page 235 and 243
  16. (Salisbury & Salisbury 2003, p. 248)
  17. (Salisbury & Salisbury 2003, p. 255)
  18. SEGAL, VICTORIA (01/12/2014). "Pick of the day." The Sunday Times. :49-48
  19. 1 2 3 4 5 Macivor, Ivor (February 6, 1954). "The Dog Honors That Strayed". Saturday Evening Post. 226 (32):93-93
  20. "Togo". BALTO'S TRUE STORY. Retrieved 2016-07-25.
  21. Steinmetz, Katy (2011-03-21). "Top 10 Heroic Animals". Time. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved 2016-07-25.
  22. Salisbury & Salisbury 2003, p. 263.


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