Wayne Eben was interviewed on November 10, 1992 by James Nageak at the University of Alaska Fairbanks for the Alaska Native Studies Department's Elders in Residence course. Wayne was raised at a roadhouse his dad operated near Unalakleet, Alaska and started driving dogs when he was ten years old. In this interview, Wayne talks about life at the roadhouse, helping dog team mail carriers, caring for travelers and their dogteams at the roadhouse, seeing his first airplane, hauling freight by dog team, and fishing to feed their dogteam. He also mentions how during the 1918 flu epidemic outside dog teams would be prevented from entering a village as a way to protect against the spread of illness. This recording has been edited from the original.
Click to section:
Going to school and learning English
The dog team trail to Nome
First airplane in the Unalakleet area
Personal experience with first airplane at Kaltag and his dog team's reaction to the noise
Dog team mail carriers on west coast of Alaska
Keeping visiting dog teams out of villages during the 1918 flu epidemic
Carrying the diptheria serum to Nome in 1925
Life at a roadhouse and how dog teams were cared for there
How his father got involved with running a roadhouse
Fishing at the roadhouse in the summer to have people and dog food for the winter
Native versus non-Native methods of fishing
Meeting his wife, Sarah
Buying supplies for the road house and hauling them by dog team
Cost for travelers to eat and sleep at the roadhouse
JAMES NAGEAK: When were you born and where were you born and what did you do when you were small? WAYNE EBEN: Oh. JAMES NAGEAK: Let's start from there. WAYNE EBEN: All right. Yeah, I was born December 24th, 1910, and I didn't know what I do for a few years. JAMES NAGEAK: When did you first remember what you were doing? WAYNE EBEN: To tell the truth, I remember what I was doing since when I was about five years old. That's -- that's when we used to go to school. And -- and not talk Eskimo in school. JAMES NAGEAK: Five years old? WAYNE EBEN: Yeah. It started about -- about that year. Because I never go to school until later, I think, but it started that year, you're not supposed to talk it if you're going to school. If you do, you -- if you do -- if you do, you chew -- you have to chew a soap of some kind. JAMES NAGEAK: So that's when it started, huh? WAYNE EBEN: So I -- I went to school when that one was still effective. And I didn't have too much trouble -- trouble on that because my dad owned the roadhouse, and I've listened to White people -- White people travelling in the roadhouse and I've listened to them, and I think on my age group, I was outstanding on talking English. So went to school, and I -- I didn't really graduate in school, but my teacher, when we were away -- we were about 12 miles away from school, my -- my teacher would bring me a lesson every Saturday. Or Monday. And when the week is over, he reviewed me and worked me all day. Right after breakfast he would start working on -- working on me and worked me all day until suppertime. JAMES NAGEAK: What do you mean, work on you? WAYNE EBEN: On my lessons. JAMES NAGEAK: On your lessons? WAYNE EBEN: Uh hum. He give me the lessons for one week, and then I have to do all these lessons in that week, and then he'd come on Saturday, look them over. And if he can't make it himself, my cousin, Henry Ivanoff, used to come down, come down and work me over. JAMES NAGEAK: So how old were you? WAYNE EBEN: Well, I was about -- I think I was about seven, seven or eight, eight years old. JAMES NAGEAK: At your dad's roadhouse? WAYNE EBEN: Uh hum. JAMES NAGEAK: What's a roadhouse? WAYNE EBEN: Roadhouse, a roadhouse is a place to stop on the dog trail. JAMES NAGEAK: A place to stop on the dog trail. What kind of dog trails did you have? WAYNE EBEN: They got good dog trails, better than they have now because they use them all the time. It takes -- it takes one month to get to Nome from here. JAMES NAGEAK: From Fairbanks? WAYNE EBEN: Yeah. One month to get to Nome by dog team. And there would be -- there would be lots of travelers -- travelers. They usually traveled together, and break trail for each other. JAMES NAGEAK: For what purpose? WAYNE EBEN: Huh? For what purpose you got in Nome. Nome country was the gold country, you know. And the White -- White people -- White people traveled to that place there. JAMES NAGEAK: By dog team? WAYNE EBEN: By dog team. No airplane until 19 -- first airplane fly over from Unalakleet to Nome, I think it was 1920. 1919 or 1920. JAMES NAGEAK: First airplane? WAYNE EBEN: First airplane. JAMES NAGEAK: From -- from Unalakleet. Did it land in Unalakleet? WAYNE EBEN: It land here, too, and Unalakleet, first trip to Nome. And people -- people out hunting, we have all kinds of stories about that first airplane. There was some sick people in some villages that would come up from the bed to go see. Finally everybody -- everybody started hollering, "Flying machine!" JAMES NAGEAK: In Eskimo? In Inupiaq or in English? WAYNE EBEN: English. That's the way they heard 'em first. Flying machine. JAMES NAGEAK: Flying machine? WAYNE EBEN: Yeah. JAMES NAGEAK: Not airplane? WAYNE EBEN: No airplane. No. Flying machine. And that -- that thing got noise. So -- when -- in the villages when they holler "flying machine," even them sick people go out from the house, go watch it. Some of them go back to bed, some of them don't. They got well. JAMES NAGEAK: Yeah. WAYNE EBEN: Yeah. And there was a man hunting fox out in the flats, someplace between -- someplace between the foothills and Koyuk, he was out hunting, hunting fox, I guess, walking on snowshoes. He hears some noise, when he hear unusual noise. He looked -- he looked, here comes something through the air. So he watched. He watched. It fly right over. He have no time to turn -- turn around and look, he fall backwards. He fall backwards. When that first airplane land -- landed at Kaltag, I was down there getting some groceries from foothills. And that night they had wire -- wire telephone to these places, St. Michaels and Kaltag, up Yukon. I don't know how far they go up Yukon, but they have wire -- wire. JAMES NAGEAK: Radio? WAYNE EBEN: Telephone. JAMES NAGEAK: Telephone? WAYNE EBEN: No radio. Right. So we -- we heard that first airplane is at Kaltag, Yukon River. And I was supposed to go back tomorrow. Tomorrow he'll come. So I -- I loaded my dad's groceries, I waited -- waited, I wanted to see air -- the flying machine. JAMES NAGEAK: You were nine years old? WAYNE EBEN: I -- huh? JAMES NAGEAK: You were nine years old? WAYNE EBEN: Yeah. I start tra -- tra -- carrying mail when I was 12 years old. I was helping the mail carriers when I was 12 years old. So I waited, waited, waited and pretty soon 12 o'clock come, he didn't come. I got to be back -- I had to travel 25 miles to my home, roadhouse, so I decided to go. So I went. I got about 6 miles away from Unalakleet, I hear the noise. There he was circling Unalakleet down there, so I stopped my dogs and stay there. My dogs anxious to travel, and I tried to keep them there. I didn't stay very long, maybe 20 minutes, 20 minutes or so. He took off, here he come. I gonna watch it. He's gonna fly right over dog trail. That plane got close enough, my dogs wouldn't go for that noise, they -- they go and come home afraid no more. The only time I see is when -- front to -- when he go over the mountains to (indiscernible). JAMES NAGEAK: So your dogs started running home, huh? WAYNE EBEN: Yeah. They scared of that noise. They never hear that noise before. They got scared of that noise, and they couldn't keep still, they got to go. JAMES NAGEAK: The roadhouse was at Unalakleet? WAYNE EBEN: The roadhouse was in the foothills, 25 miles away from Unalakleet, north. JAMES NAGEAK: Oh, north? WAYNE EBEN: Uh hum. So when -- when I first see -- see it taking off, taking off from Unalakleet, I must have said "flying machine" to my dogs. I was all alone, and them dogs heard it, "flying machine," and they -- they want to go. And after that when I travel out in the road, when I'm in a hurry, hurry, when I say "flying machine," they take off. JAMES NAGEAK: So if you want to go fast, you say it. WAYNE EBEN: Yeah. You got a problem with that flying machine making noise, they didn't know flying machine, just when I say "flying machine," they take off. Yeah. WAYNE EBEN: Mail -- mail carriers, there was a -- six mail carriers between -- between Nome and Unalakleet, and four between Kotzebue and Unalakleet, and two -- two teams between Unalakleet and Kaltag, and two teams between St. Michael's and Unalakleet. JAMES NAGEAK: So -- and each one of those teams would -- WAYNE EBEN: Travel that way because -- and when they had war out there. When they had war out there, we didn't read the newspaper until next year. Takes that long to get to Alaska. One year to get to Alaska that warning. JAMES NAGEAK: This -- when the snow melts and -- WAYNE EBEN: Yeah. So that's a -- I -- that's -- that's about as fast as the mail can travel from Outside. I know where the dog team starts from this end -- this end -- but go to Fairbanks. JAMES NAGEAK: So that's why they call that the Iditarod? WAYNE EBEN: No. JAMES NAGEAK: No? WAYNE EBEN: Way before Iditarod, it's a baby language. JAMES NAGEAK: It's a baby language? WAYNE EBEN: Yeah. Iditarod comes way late. JAMES NAGEAK: So when was that epidemic in Nome that they -- WAYNE EBEN: I think it was around '18; '18 or '19. JAMES NAGEAK: 1918 or 1919? WAYNE EBEN: Uh hum. That was -- JAMES NAGEAK: Somebody must know the dates for the epidemic, like -- WAYNE EBEN: I don't think anybody here knows who --. JAMES NAGEAK: Somebody must know. Who's a history major? WAYNE EBEN: I don't think now anybody knows. UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: 1925 is when they brought the serum in. JAMES NAGEAK: 1925 is when they brought the serum over? UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Yeah, the diphtheria serum. WAYNE EBEN: That's what they call -- that's after that big sickness that went through in 19 -- 1918 or 1919, it come -- it comes all of a sudden to people up North in St. Michaels. It didn't struck Unalakleet, Shaktoolik, Koyuk, Elim. That sickness, it didn't touch them people. And villag -- villages, when they hear that -- when they hear that sickness, they get ready here. They got -- they protect outside the village on each side. When a dog team come, they keep them away. JAMES NAGEAK: Keep them away? WAYNE EBEN: They keep -- they tried to keep them away. They all had shotguns. No pistol, shotgun. If somebody tried to go through the village, they were supposed to shoot them. They were sick. That kind -- that sickness was -- you'd be all right, you'd be all right, but if you got the germs of it, just as soon as you go out, you drop dead. That's the kind of sickness it was, that sickness. And that's that other one that they carried that what you call it to Nome, it came quite late. JAMES NAGEAK: She said 1925, so... WAYNE EBEN: Yeah. It must be 1925. So that -- that can travel night and day. Start from Fairbanks, somebody go to another place, somebody take them out. And I was -- I was too -- I was too young to carry, so I didn't take part on that one. You got to be -- you got to be old -- old enough, old enough to carry that thing to the next place. And they keep it in sleeping bag. And it got to Nome before they unpack, I think, from here. That's the way I heard. My dad -- my dad took it to -- from foothills to Bonanza, my dad took it. JAMES NAGEAK: Because he was on that leg, he was on that -- WAYNE EBEN: Yeah. He carried it from foothills to Bonanza, which is 25 miles away. And it happened that a fellow by the name of Pete Kern, old man Pete Kern, not this young Pete Kern. Old man Pete Kern was a mail carrier, he was stopping there at Ungalik -- Bonanza, they call Ungalik now. So he had -- and he had to get ready that night, that night when that thing come, took him right from mail carrier, take -- took it to Isaac's Point. From there I don't know who took it, somebody, another team take it. They take that thing to travel from -- from Unalakleet to Nome three days. Night and day. JAMES NAGEAK: About how many miles is that? Do you know? WAYNE EBEN: From Unalakleet to Nome? Well, it's 25 miles from -- from Unalakleet to foothills, from foothills is another 25 to Ungalik, and 30 miles from Ungalik to Isaac's Point, and from Isaac's Point to Elim 25, and I think from Elim to Golovin 28, and it must be 50 or 60 miles from there to Nome. JAMES NAGEAK: So 183 miles. Is that right? UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Uh hum. JAMES NAGEAK: That's 200 miles, 180 from here. WAYNE EBEN: Yep. That's about all I know about that traveller business. All kinds -- all kinds of White people travel -- Very seldom we see a colored man travel with the White people, in roadhouse. JAMES NAGEAK: That was 25 miles away, and it was on the trail to Nome, then right? WAYNE EBEN: Yeah. Well, I raised -- I raised in roadhouse. I was driving dogs -- dogs maybe when I was 10 years old because my parka would wear out right there from the handlebars. And I still carry mail -- carry mail helping the mailman. When they have bad time with their load. They carry -- they carry a thousand pounds on sled some of them sometimes. Thousand pounds of mail. JAMES NAGEAK: So how many of you were there at the roadhouse? WAYNE EBEN: My dad, and my mother, and my two brothers -- two brothers and myself, and my sister. Yeah. He told me, in those days when my dad had roadhouse, he don't required to have business license. No taxes. JAMES NAGEAK: So what kind of services did your father provide for the people? WAYNE EBEN: Well, he had to have dog barns and beds. And sometimes we'd get -- we'd get so crowded, some -- some -- some people sleep with their dogs in the dog barn, when they're so thick -- when the roadhouse is full. We have no other neighbor nowhere, just the roadhouse itself and dog barns. JAMES NAGEAK: So dog barn and where you guys live, huh? WAYNE EBEN: Uh hum. We live in the same place, too, roadhouse. JAMES NAGEAK: And how many people comes through, like? WAYNE EBEN: It's hard to number. It's just --. That thing is plumb full sometimes. Floor -- floor would be full of people sleeping on the floor. JAMES NAGEAK: How many dog teams? WAYNE EBEN: Huh? JAMES NAGEAK: How many dog teams? WAYNE EBEN: Well, they usually carry -- two guys used to travel with a dog team. See, they hire somebody to -- these White guys, they hire somebody maybe from here or some other place, it's $10 a day and board. JAMES NAGEAK: To Nome? WAYNE EBEN: Yeah. And it takes them -- it takes them about 30 days to get there. JAMES NAGEAK: And each -- each dog team carry one person or -- WAYNE EBEN: Yeah, one person with his junk, you know. Sled don't hold very much. It's not like a train. JAMES NAGEAK: And your house would be full of people? WAYNE EBEN: Yeah. JAMES NAGEAK: So you're talking, gee, how many dog teams? How many in the barn? WAYNE EBEN: Huh? JAMES NAGEAK: How many dogs would there be in the barn? WAYNE EBEN: They'd usually have from 19 to 20 dogs. JAMES NAGEAK: A sled? WAYNE EBEN: A sled. And I mean the real dogs, not -- not the play dogs today we have. JAMES NAGEAK: And would your father feed those dogs, too? WAYNE EBEN: We sell, like we have hung three caches full of dry fish. We sell those fish. JAMES NAGEAK: To the -- WAYNE EBEN: Travelers. JAMES NAGEAK: To the travelers. WAYNE EBEN: Fish and blubber, we have to have blubber and fish, and lots of water for the travelers. JAMES NAGEAK: So what year did he start that? Before you were born or -- WAYNE EBEN: See, the first -- first roadhouse man, fellow by the name of -- what's his name now. Anyway, White -- White man. White man owned that first roadhouse there. And he had -- he had sailboat. Summertime he -- we used to go take -- we used to go -- he used to hire my dad to take care of the dogs in summertime, every time he would go out hauling freight with the sailboat. So we have to go there to take care of them, stay -- stay there all summer until he comes back. And one time he did that, he didn't come home. He had shipwrecked and drowned. JAMES NAGEAK: What -- what was he carrying from where? Freight? WAYNE EBEN: Freight. Freight from Nome. Nome. Freight like from little stores, little stores that had groceries for these miners, like Dry Creek, Koyuk, different places. JAMES NAGEAK: So that's what that man did in the summertime. And what did you guys do in the summertime when you were taking care of the roadhouse? WAYNE EBEN: Oh, we fished right there. JAMES NAGEAK: You fished right there? WAYNE EBEN: We fished right there, yeah. No fish limit those days. And they -- they use more fish than today. One -- one White man -- one White man I talked to, he said he's feel these people got to have game wardens in all of the villages. "For what?" "They kill too many fish." I told him, "Too many fish, my foot." You ought to see people -- people use fish, when every family have to have bunch of dogs, no cars. That's when there are too many fish must be going. They make dry fish for all winter supply for their dogs, their own dogs and for -- and to sell, in those days. Those days, they take -- they catch fish, they catch fish, and tried and tried to tell the world that they get too many fish. They don't get too many fish. Eskimo laws from long time back, don't bother a animal if you don't need it. Get them where you need it, all you can. Nature -- nature -- they believe in nature taking care of the animals. So they always have plenty of fish and all these -- all those in western part of Alaska, the rivers just full. They get them. They would be -- there would be lots of people fishing with a seine, and every day, few groups here and there all the way up to 30 miles up Unalakleet River, in Shaktoolik, they spread all over, make dry fish. Dry fish for themselves and for -- and to sell. And they get only 12 cents a pound dry fish those days. When they -- JAMES NAGEAK: 12 cents a pound? WAYNE EBEN: Uh hum. And they sell them to the people at stores. JAMES NAGEAK: It's $12 a pound now. WAYNE EBEN: Yeah. Yeah. That's the only -- that's the only way they -- the Eskimos, Eskimos earn their living those days. JAMES NAGEAK: Was that -- that roadhouse was on the river or lake or -- WAYNE EBEN: No, it was on the hillside. JAMES NAGEAK: On the hillside? WAYNE EBEN: Under the hill. JAMES NAGEAK: Under the hill? And where did you go fishing then? WAYNE EBEN: We fished right in the bay there, right in the ocean. JAMES NAGEAK: Right in the ocean? WAYNE EBEN: And no -- nobody fish out in the sea, those days. They get lots of fish by gill nets. They know how. Eskimos know how to haul the -- get the animals because that's their own grub. When I was working down -- when I was working for FAA in certain place, we used to go fishing, we used to go fishing, I used to go fishing with the White people that I worked with. Every Saturday or Sunday. And those -- and those other guys have the rods, fishing rods. All I have is a hook in my hand with a bunch of rope on it. So we -- one time we went to the certain river and the game warden was there. So just as soon as we stopped, he come and check -- check if we have any fishing license. Well, he get the White people first. I was on the end. He come to me, he stood and looked at me for a while, I didn't have no fishing rod. Finally he asked me, "Are you fishing too?" "Yeah, I'm fishing too." "Where's your rod?" "My rod is standing all over the country." If I needed -- if I needed one, I'd get one long stick, that's it. I've got hook right here. Then he asked for fishing license. I did have a fishing license because I have to have. So I told him, "Eskimos do any -- anything to fill the food in their stomach." "Like what?" "If I have to -- if I have to have that fish down there, if I can't catch him with my hook, I dive in into it and catch 'em." JAMES NAGEAK: Have you ever? WAYNE EBEN: Huh? I shoot them lots of times. Yeah. I shoot them lots of times. JAMES NAGEAK: You don't really shoot them, but you shoot close to them so they -- yeah, that's. WAYNE EBEN: Sometimes you hit them. JAMES NAGEAK: So here we are 1910, and you were born, and it was 1915 when you started remembering what was happening. You were born at Unalakleet? WAYNE EBEN: I was born -- yeah, I born at Unalakleet. Yeah, I born there and I go to school. JAMES NAGEAK: And when did you meet? WAYNE EBEN: When I meet my wife? 57 years ago. JAMES NAGEAK: 57 years ago. Oh, wow. WAYNE EBEN: We're still in love. JAMES NAGEAK: 57 years ago. So you're from Unalakleet, too? SARAH EBEN: Shaktoolik.
WAYNE EBEN: Shaktoolik. JAMES NAGEAK: Shaktoolik? WAYNE EBEN: I've known her since she was a little girl. JAMES NAGEAK: Oh. WAYNE EBEN: Well, I -- I drive dog team all my lifetime. Try to -- try to earn money besides the roadhouse money. When we get a bunch of money, I have to haul them down to trader in Unalakleet. And that trader, that trader got used to us, and every fall he fill his schooner with groceries that we might need during the winter. He come without my dad ordering it, see, he float that boat up right to foothills and unload it there. JAMES NAGEAK: In the summertime? WAYNE EBEN: Summertime. JAMES NAGEAK: With the boat? WAYNE EBEN: Uh hum. That there -- that's the way he -- he don't have to order, but that trader like the money, he have to bring the groceries to roadhouse. JAMES NAGEAK: By boat. Boatload? How many boatloads? WAYNE EBEN: One boat. One schooner. One schooner of -- JAMES NAGEAK: So how much was that? WAYNE EBEN: You can buy case of milk that time $4.50. JAMES NAGEAK: For a case of milk? WAYNE EBEN: Case of milk. 50 pound flour, $3, three and a half those days. A pocket knife, dollar and a half. Gloves, 25 -- if it's 20 cents. If it's not 20 cents, if it's high, 25 cents. JAMES NAGEAK: So -- so your father would buy this -- WAYNE EBEN: Yeah. He paid for it during the winter. JAMES NAGEAK: Or he would charge and pay during the wintertime? WAYNE EBEN: Uh hum. JAMES NAGEAK: What would he use to pay for it? WAYNE EBEN: Money. JAMES NAGEAK: How did he get the money? WAYNE EBEN: Well, from travelers. JAMES NAGEAK: From travelers? WAYNE EBEN: Yeah. JAMES NAGEAK: Oh. WAYNE EBEN: So yeah. That's where he get the money from, travelers. And now -- JAMES NAGEAK: And they pay how much a night? WAYNE EBEN: $4 a night. JAMES NAGEAK: $4 a night to sleep and buy the food? WAYNE EBEN: Eat. Eat. The roadhouse -- all the roadhouse, they don't ask customers what they want to eat. They cook -- they -- they cook what they can cook and feed the travelers what they cook. The travelers don't have no choice of any kind of food. They have something to fill their stomach those days, that's all. So if you're an Eskimo traveler, you're a lucky man because they got lots of it. JAMES NAGEAK: A lot of Eskimo food, huh? WAYNE EBEN: Yeah.
George O'Leary and Frank Warren - Tape #Oral History 2008-01
George O'Leary and Frank Warren were interviewed on January 11, 2008 by William Schneider at Frank and Mary Warren's home in Fairbanks, Alaska. George and Frank are brothers-in-law. George's father, Maurice O'Leary, hauled mail and freight by dog team in the winter and with horses in the summer over the Circle-Fairbanks trail. In this interview, George and Frank talk about trail routes, using dog teams and horses to freight supplies, and making the trip between Circle and Fairbanks. They also comment on a collection of family photographs related to dog mushing and the old winter trail. This recording has been edited from the original in order to facilitate the flow of the interview and conversation. George passed away a few months after this recoring in March 2008. Frank passed away in March 2012.
Click to section:
Spring mushing trip with George's father
Negotiating summits and steep slopes
Food for the dogs
Traveling with a heavy sled
Graded steep trails
Mail carrying payment
Dog teams vs. airplane mail delivery
Items the mail carriers hauled
Other mail carriers
Road from Circle to Fairbanks closed in the winter
Picture on the saddle
12 Mile Roadhouse
Maurice and Mary Alice at Eagle Summit
Yukon, Maurice's leader
Dog houses at 100 mile Fish Creek
Maurice O'Leary in warm weather
Cabin at Sourdogh Creek
Hay barn in Circle
Dog team on a frozen river - possibly McManus Creek
Heavy mail sled tipped over on it's side
Picture of Jack Bolton in front of his Do Drop Inn
Walter Roman, Maurice and Bill O'Leary and Jack Bolton
Maurice O'Leary at Fish Creek
Steep terrain for dog travel
Going up Eagle Summit on the Circle side 1939
Mary Alice on the mail run with Maurice.
Model A on the Eagle Summit
Accident at Long Creek
Bill and Maurice on the Steese Highway
Mary Alice, Maurice and William O'Leary at Faith Creek
Head of Birch or Fish Creek
Walter and Edie Roman
Map of Circle to Fairbanks trail
Birch Creek and Ferry
12 Mile House across Birch Creek Flats
Heading into Central on the trail
Central to Miller House
Miller House to Chatanika
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Ok, I wanted to have you talk a little about that trip you took with your dad [Maurice O'Leary]. GEORGE O'LEARY: It was kind of a spring time trip. Good weather end of March or April. Beautiful weather all the way. We went over the hills, stayed there at 101 mile or 100 mile that night and then back over to Miller House and -- I couldn't remember. No, we didn't have a truck that was the springtime -- and then back to Central. And I forget how we got back to Circle. I think -- yeah, my dad probably took the dogs in to Circle. When I came out to go on that trip, I rode out Walter Jewell, and his wife Ida. And it was another beautiful spring day and took us probably, what 32 miles, in about five, six hours. And it was an easy trip. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Easy going?
GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Tell us how you negotiated the summits and steep slopes. GEORGE O'LEARY: Well, it's like they do today with the -- with the Quest. You're climbing out of the other, the north side coming up, you have to stop and hold the brake and hold the dogs so everything don't slide back. And give them a break, you know, maybe four or five times to get over the hill. And then the rough locks on and go down the other side. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: And how many dogs would you be running? GEORGE O'LEARY: I think they had up to eight or nine or ten -- big dogs. Not these little poodles they run in the Quest, now. See they're 40, 45 pound dogs and they had dogs, I think, were over a hundred pounds and big -- lots of fur. You could tie them outdoors 50, 60 below weather and they'd survive, see. And feed them half of a salmon every day. But when they were back in camp, like at Central and Circle, they always cooked for the dogs. The cornmeal and rice and certain -- whatever meat they had, a lot of fish and they fed them pretty good, you know, once or twice a week. So, but when they went over to like Fish Creek or maybe even in Central, they'd just feed them half a salmon maybe -- maybe a big salmon, you know. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah, that's amazing that they could digest that and be perfectly fine with just that. GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah, and one fish is a lot of nutrient, you know, the bears live on it look what it does for them. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: So, how did you travel that time were you on a Ouija board or on a -- GEORGE O'LEARY: No, no, they did have Ouija boards but they never used them. Unless they -- a lot of the guys used them, but where you would on a trapline trail -- what do they call them? You'd sit up in the front of the sled and you'd have a couple of handlebars and you'd have a couple of short skis. And the idea of being - FRANK WARREN: Gee pole.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Gee pole. GEORGE O'LEARY: Gee pole. And you could maneuver the front of the sled that way through the rough roads or bad trails. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah. GEORGE O'LEARY: I don't know what they did when they ever got caught underneath the sled, but I suppose you could get the team stopped, but my dad and Walter never used them. They had better -- better trails than that. FRANK WARREN: How old were you then George? WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Come a little closer to the mic. That's alright. FRANK WARREN: I just thought that I'd bring that up, how old he was when he made that trip? GEORGE O'LEARY: Seven or eight years old. It had to be about 1938, '39 and it might have even been the last year that they ever hauled mail. I'm not sure. [Break in recording] FRANK WARREN: You know what I'm talking about? WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Where the road would have gone? FRANK WARREN: No, where the trail went, but they made the old timers pick and shovel. It was so steep there they cut a grade for about a quarter of a mile. GEORGE O'LEARY: So it wouldn't be sideling. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Oh, I see what you're saying. FRANK WARREN: It wouldn't be so straight down. So they cut a grade around -- GEORGE O'LEARY: They could've, they could've. FRANK WARREN: I've seen it from the air many times. It is as plain as can be, but -- GEORGE O'LEARY: I've never heard anybody talk about it. Of course, these guys nowadays, the Yukon Quest, they wouldn't even know what it is, see. FRANK WARREN: Well, they might use it. GEORGE O'LEARY: They might use it. Well, they probably do use it, yeah. FRANK WARREN: It's the only place on the trail where there is a grade cut like that by -- it had to be pick and shovel. GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah. Well, the federal government might even have done that. FRANK WARREN: Might have. GEORGE O'LEARY: See, like they did up the Yukon, above the mouth of Kandik, under Castle Bluff. They put a cut grade all the way around the bottom there. FRANK WARREN: Yeah. GEORGE O'LEARY: About that wide. You could almost drive your Jeep through it. FRANK WARREN: Probably, yeah. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: So did you say you were on the Gee pole that time? GEORGE O'LEARY: No, no, no, Gee poles. They never used them. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: So where were you riding, on the sled itself? GEORGE O'LEARY: Oh, probably either they made me walk or run, so, but when the going was good I was probably in the sled. So, you know. I don't know what they had for a payload, maybe four, five hundred pounds at the most, you know. And there wasn't that much mail going back and forth and then a little bit of freight once in a while. FRANK WARREN: Well, they had in their contract that said that there was a maximum they would haul. GEORGE O'LEARY: They probably got paid a minimum. FRANK WARREN: And it had to be by a certain date. GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah, they got fined otherwise. FRANK WARREN: If they were late, they didn't get paid. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Well, that's something I'd like to pick up on. You say, if they were late, they didn't get paid? FRANK WARREN: They were supposed to be in Circle with the mail at a certain date and time, like noon on Saturday or Sunday. If they were late, they didn't get paid. That was in the contract, according to what his dad said. GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah, I've read that other places, too, and even up and down the Tanana and the Yukon. FRANK WARREN: So they encouraged them to go in bad weather and stuff like that, you know. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Well, it is interesting because when the airplanes came in, sometimes there were complaints that the airplanes would get weathered out. GEORGE O'LEARY: Which was half the time. FRANK WARREN: Yeah.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: You know, and -- GEORGE O'LEARY: That was a big -- the story I remember then that the dog team were more reliable. FRANK WARREN: We were in Circle -- we had a stretch of 30 days one time, that we never had an airplane. GEORGE O'LEARY: Yep. FRANK WARREN: It was below 50 below for 30 days and we never had an airplane. GEORGE O'LEARY: Even today, in like Central and Circle, I seen it this year, you get that fog that lays in there. And it's the fog off the Yukon River. It would be two weeks sometimes before it clears up. You don't get no airplane. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Well, it is interesting those -- because there was a whole chain and of course, if the mail didn't get to Circle, it didn't get down river or up river. And so, you know, and Dan did an interesting thing, O'Neill. He sent a postcard from Dawson to himself in Eagle and checked how long it would take and found, of course, that it took something like 10 days. You know, where in the old days by dog team it would have been about four days or something from Dawson to -- FRANK WARREN: To Eagle, yeah. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: But the lynchpin, it seems to me, must have been Circle, getting from Chatanika to Circle, you know. I mean getting over those passes -- FRANK WARREN: Everything else was pretty level. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
FRANK WARREN: Once you got over the Steese. GEORGE O'LEARY: No, I think that even in bad weather they made it with dogs. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah, but with airplanes -- GEORGE O'LEARY: Well, like right now last -- just within the last fall, they had that fog over there and they didn't have a plane in Central for two weeks. I used to -- I'd go up and check the mail once in a while, so. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah, now there was one old timer that you know, Frank, I'm sure. Helge Boquist? FRANK WARREN: Helge Boquist. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Helge. And he said that there was a petition when the airplanes first came in, a petition when they couldn't get the mail, the people would sign up to haul it themselves with dogs. FRANK WARREN: Yeah. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Did you ever hear about? FRANK WARREN: I never heard about that.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: I got no record of it.
GEORGE O'LEARY: No. FRANK WARREN: Helge told that to somebody? WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah, we have it.
FRANK WARREN: Yeah. I never heard that.
GEORGE O'LEARY: I never heard that. FRANK WARREN: But maybe in some instances maybe that was true, you know. Especially in the case like we didn't get it for 30 days one time, but then it was so cold, the dog mushers at that time 50 below, they don't want to be on the trail either. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: No. FRANK WARREN: But, of course, there was any dog mushers left.
GEORGE O'LEARY: Wasn't any -- there wasn't hardly any good dogs left. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: One of the questions that comes up is what were the mail carriers carrying? Were they carrying just letters or other stuff? GEORGE O'LEARY: I think -- I think they could carry other stuff, freight, salt, pepper, flour, people. Something the people thought they needed, see. FRANK WARREN: Whatever they had room for. GEORGE O'LEARY: Whatever they had room for. Mail came first. FRANK WARREN: Mail came first. Mail had priority, but that was parcel post, too. It wasn't just letters, you know. It was parcel post, too, so could have been a lot of anything. But they had a maximum they had to haul. They couldn't throw him a thousand pounds and say 'here take it'. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah. FRANK WARREN: But I don't know what the maximum was. I wouldn't think it would be -- what do you think it would be? GEORGE O'LEARY: I would say four, five, six hundred pounds. FRANK WARREN: Do you think that much? GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah. Five hundred pound wouldn't be too much, you know. FRANK WARREN: Going up those summits --
GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah. FRANK WARREN: Pretty tough. Well, they had rough locks to chain them up to down the other side so -- GEORGE O'LEARY: We got pictures somewhere, Mary's probably got them. FRANK WARREN: I think I got them somewhere. GEORGE O'LEARY: Showing them climbing from the north side up and the dog teams are like this and they're standing like this and it shows how steep it is, see. FRANK WARREN: That picture of Walter by the tripod? GEORGE O'LEARY: I think that's Walter, yeah. Uh-huh. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah. She pulled out some pictures. I want to take a look at those in a minute. But would you talk about some of the other mushers that carried the mail. We had mentioned earlier, Curly Wells. GEORGE O'LEARY: Now, Curly Wells I never seen him and never knew him, but I knew some of his kids like Jimmy and his wife Elizabeth and I think a couple of the daughters that lived there. They rented from my dad and Walter right over here in Ghrael, in Fairbanks, for many years. And I think there is one daughter living yet Outside, the youngest daughter and then, of course, Jimmy is in Fort Yukon yet. Okay. FRANK WARREN: Well, you know Horace Biederman? GEORGE O'LEARY: Oh, yeah, well --
FRANK WARREN: Going the other way.
GEORGE O'LEARY: I met the old man once at -- FRANK WARREN: Horace carried it, too? GEORGE O'LEARY: The Kandik at Biederman's camp.
FRANK WARREN: Yeah. GEORGE O'LEARY: And then Charlie, of course, I knew Charlie. He had carried the mail for a while, see. And I remember him being in Circle after his dad froze his feet, see. And he was only about 17, 18 years old. FRANK WARREN: Uh-huh. GEORGE O'LEARY: And, of course, Horace but I -- Horace, I don't know whether Horace carried the mail or not. FRANK WARREN: Supposedly. GEORGE O'LEARY: He might have helped out, yeah. Horace had a store in Eagle for many years. FRANK WARREN: Well, he run the NC Store. GEORGE O'LEARY: And he run the NC Store before that. In fact, he bought -- FRANK WARREN: He bought the NC Store. GEORGE O'LEARY: I think he bought the NC out, yeah. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah, Biedermans are sure associated with that stretch. GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah. FRANK WARREN: Well, they had a fish camp. Their main camp was at the mouth of the Kandik River, which is roughly half way between Eagle and Circle. And they put up a tremendous amount of fish every year. They had fish racks there that were, god, fifty feet long, you know. They had fishwheels there. GEORGE O'LEARY: Two fishwheels. FRANK WARREN: Two fishwheels, yeah. And that was for their dog teams and they sold a lot, too. GEORGE O'LEARY: Sold a lot. Well, when you catch 500 salmon in a fishwheel and you can't keep up with the cleaning you got to -- fed them down, that's how many fish there were, see. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: That's amazing. And a way up above I guess it was Percy DeWolfe was the guy that -- GEORGE O'LEARY: From Eagle.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Dawson. GEORGE O'LEARY: And he had done that for how many years? Thirty years. A long time, yeah. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: A long time, yeah. Are there others that we -- that I've missed? GEORGE O'LEARY: Well, there are some in there. In the Circle area there's -- I think there was guys come and go like, the guy out at Chatanika and they wrote a book about him -- FRANK WARREN: Bob GEORGE O'LEARY: Not Hanson -- just -- that book just come out. FRANK WARREN: Got the book right there, somewhere. GEORGE O'LEARY: But he carried the mail for a couple years in there and used horses. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Horace?
FRANK WARREN: His dad.
GEORGE O'LEARY: Well, no, the book was written about the dad.
FRANK WARREN: That's what I mean, yeah. The guy who wrote the book, it was his dad. GEORGE O'LEARY: Well, the kid never wrote the book. The guy who wrote the book was a -- he's wrote other stuff, too. FRANK WARREN: Mary has moved it somewhere. GEORGE O'LEARY: Well, she is moving stuff all the time I can't nothing. FRANK WARREN: You got to live with her, you -- WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Well, we'll think of it. We'll think of his name. FRANK WARREN: I can't see it. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Any others that come to mind? GEORGE O'LEARY: Well, way back before that, I think they had different guys that worked at it, but they never stayed, you know, for any length of time. FRANK WARREN: Did Burton (phonetic) ever have anything to do with carrying mail?
GEORGE O'LEARY: Burton? FRANK WARREN: Burton, I guess not, huh? The one that Walter's mentioned. GEORGE O'LEARY: Oh, no, Bob didn't, no. They weren't carrying the mail by dogs then. FRANK WARREN: Oh, Okay. GEORGE O'LEARY: He worked up there for Walter Jewell and the mines and that cutting wood. He's got to be a geologist, now, he is eighty some years old down there in Texas, so, I just, we got a letter -- Frank and Mary just got a letter from him. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: I'll be darned. Yeah. And then when they got to Chatanika, they -- the mail would go on, on the, on the railroad, right? GEORGE O'LEARY: Well, if that railroad was still running and they might have trucked it in to Fairbanks. I don't know. I know that road used to close in the wintertime because I remember -- I can remember when we used to have to go out and open the road to Chatanika. But I think there was probably enough travel, it was kept open pretty much most of the year, you know. But the Alaska Road Commission didn't -- I don't think they plowed it in the wintertime. All the roads were shut down, you know. They didn't have no snowplows like they do now or anything. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Well, let's look at some pictures. Tell us about this picture here. FRANK WARREN: It's on the saddle.
GEORGE O'LEARY: I don't know which way he is going, but --
FRANK WARREN: It's on the saddle.
GEORGE O'LEARY: On the saddle, yeah. FRANK WARREN: Probably going -- GEORGE O'LEARY: Look at the size of the tripod.
FRANK WARREN: Probably going north, yeah. GEORGE O'LEARY: I don't remember some of them being that big, but they probably were. FRANK WARREN: You can see the rough lock chain hanging there -- WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Oh good,
FRANK WARREN: -- on that side there, see it?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah. Looks like it is almost a basket sled. GEORGE O'LEARY: They are basket sleds.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: They were basket sleds.
GEORGE O'LEARY: Oh, yeah, no toboggans.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: No toboggans. GEORGE O'LEARY: No. They had toboggans, but I mean for hauling heavy loads you had to use a basket sled. And Walter Jewell built those sleds. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Oh, tell us about that. GEORGE O'LEARY: Well, he -- he was a master carpenter and he could build -- he could build a boat, he could build a house, anything. FRANK WARREN: Well, he built two houses there in...
GEORGE O'LEARY: Oh, he built more than. He built two houses --
FRANK WARREN: Trucks, vans, and all that stuff. GEORGE O'LEARY: Ok, this -- I guess this is Ruth Olson. FRANK WARREN: 12 Mile Roadhouse.
GEORGE O'LEARY: 12 Mile Roadhouse. It is all boarded up. And then there is a cabin behind here on the left that people used to use but the roadhouse was closed down at this time. That little guy, his name is VanGundy and I think that -- it says Ruth Olson, but that could have been -- FRANK WARREN: Looks like your aunt not Mary Alice but Josephine. GEORGE O'LEARY: Oh, Josephine, FRANK WARREN: Looks like Josephine.
GEORGE O'LEARY: Okay, Josephine, all right.
FRANK WARREN: Doesn't it?
GEORGE O'LEARY: It does, yeah.
FRANK WARREN: Josephine. GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah, that would be Mary Alice's sister. FRANK WARREN: Yeah.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Then this is 12 Mile Roadhouse? GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah. It burnt and interesting thing in the recent year or so, the log book showed up out of that roadhouse. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Oh, really!
GEORGE O'LEARY: And I got to look through it. You looked through it.
FRANK WARREN: Yeah. GEORGE O'LEARY: And it opened back in the late -- well, after the road opened and then it was open for four, five, six years in there. And then anyway, it was closed at this time. There was no travel in the winter anyway to speak of. And sometime in the beginning of -- just about the beginning of World War II, this place burnt and another one burnt on top of Cleary Summit, which was a roadhouse -- I mean a night club. And I'm sure they burnt both the same night, probably the same person, see. And there is no electricity there, nothing to catch fire, but how that log book -- log book survived I don't know. It was found in Circle and a lot of old names in it from that period. FRANK WARREN: But this was built in the creek and when they built the road it was half a mile from it, so that kind of died after the road opened. GEORGE O'LEARY: Reed Creek was named after Art Reed, the guy that built this building, and he was also a miner and he mined the head ground up on Porcupine Creek and other places. But he is the guy that got credit for building this, so. But he ran other roadhouses like down at Bell Creek. He ran that one there. FRANK WARREN: At what creek?
GEORGE O'LEARY: Bell Creek. Well, this definitely shows a team coming up there -- does that look like dad or maybe Alice? FRANK WARREN: Yeah, that's your dad with Mary Alice, I guess, yeah. GEORGE O'LEARY: That probably shows them climbing up out of Eagle Creek or on Eagle Summit somewhere. FRANK WARREN: Probably Eagle Summit. From the south -- going south.
GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah.
FRANK WARREN: Yeah. GEORGE O'LEARY: Oh, that's Yukon, my dad's leader. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Oh, ok. Tell us about Yukon. GEORGE O'LEARY: Oh, probably the best leader he ever had. He could turn them loose, loose leader. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh.
GEORGE O'LEARY: He'd stay in front of the dogs. He wouldn't chase caribou or anything. FRANK WARREN: He was big -- big dog. GEORGE O'LEARY: Probably 94 pounds. This could be Fish Creek. They did have some dog houses there and big man tripod, I don't know what them were for. It kind of looks like right at Fish Creek looking south. FRANK WARREN: Looks like the chain is tied up to the tripod. GEORGE O'LEARY: Well, that's probably -- FRANK WARREN: See the chain over there.
GEORGE O'LEARY: Probably from the top if they jerked on it would just pull down see.
FRANK WARREN: Yeah. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: So, this is at -- this might be at Fish Creek? GEORGE O'LEARY: Might be 100 Mile Fish Creek. Yeah, that's my dad there. That's warm weather, you can see by the hat he is wearing. FRANK WARREN: This is his sister, but that has got to be on the trail some where. GEORGE O'LEARY: That's on the -- you know where that could be? Up Sourdough Creek at Hilty's cabin.
FRANK WARREN: Oh. GEORGE O'LEARY: They stayed up there and they took some pictures up there. The cabin is still standing. FRANK WARREN: Is it? GEORGE O'LEARY: Somebody put a roof on it in recent years, you know, just a board roof and then other people have come along, repaired it, but God that cabin goes back before almost 1900 I'll bet. Well, that's probably where Walter used to stay when -- if he got down there. Maybe he never stayed at Bolton's, he went down to Al Hilty. FRANK WARREN: Oh, yeah. GEORGE O'LEARY: We're thinking this could have been up on Sourdough Creek which is not far off from Steese Highway and it was a guy named Al Hilty or Dave Hilty. There were two brothers but one of them at that time was passed away, but I think Walter would always go up there to stay, you see. FRANK WARREN: Yeah. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: So that would have been on his way in and out of --. GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Chatanika.
GEORGE O'LEARY: Uh-huh. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: So then we think is Sourdough Creek. We don't know who this person is, huh? GEORGE O'LEARY: It was probably Mary Alice.
FRANK WARREN: Or Josephine.
GEORGE O'LEARY: Or Jose - yeah, Josephine, yeah.
FRANK WARREN: One of the two, yeah.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Josephine?
FRANK WARREN: Sister of Maurice. GEORGE O'LEARY: This has got to the hay barn in Circle and the horses inside there with the hay. That old gray horse, that's probably the Gray Kid. FRANK WARREN: Let me see that hay barn -- that's the old --
GEORGE O'LEARY: Hay shed. FRANK WARREN: No, no, that's the barn right -- that Wilbur made into a tractor shed with the stalls in it, isn't it? You know the first one behind the store. It's got the stalls in it with the manger and -- GEORGE O'LEARY: They had stalls in that, but yeah, it could have been the -- FRANK WARREN: Didn't have any stalls in the hay shed.
GEORGE O'LEARY: There was stalls in that building next to the store, yeah.
FRANK WARREN: Yeah, it's a log -
GEORGE O'LEARY: They had individual stalls for the horses.
FRANK WARREN: Yeah, that's what that little --
GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah.
FRANK WARREN: Horse barn they called it. GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah. That has got to be somewhere down like on the Chatanika or McManus Creek. FRANK WARREN: Glacier -- on the glacier.
GEORGE O'LEARY: With all that ice.
FRANK WARREN: Yeah. GEORGE O'LEARY: The creek is not that big, but it builds up with that glacier. FRANK WARREN: It's probably -- it could be between the summits even too, you know.
GEORGE O'LEARY: Even between summits, yeah. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: So, you think that is on McManus Creek? GEORGE O'LEARY: It could be down on the McManus, yeah. Right about --
FRANK WARREN: Where it glaciers up.
GEORGE O'LEARY: Eighty -- 80 Mile Camp and then about 78, 79 it glaciers up in there real bad. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: This is a McManus Creek photo? GEORGE O'LEARY: We think.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: We think. GEORGE O'LEARY: This is a picture of my dad. I suppose he took the picture, so. FRANK WARREN: What's the writing on the back?
GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Oh, that's a good one of the outfit, though, huh. And you said Walter Jewell made the sleds? GEORGE O'LEARY: He made the sleds yeah. Toboggan sleds. He could make all that stuff. And here is an interesting one. It is the only one I know of Jack Bolton. FRANK WARREN: Oh.
GEORGE O'LEARY: At Faith Creek.
FRANK WARREN: At Faith Creek, yeah. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Oh, so this is the roadhouse where they'd stop -- GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah, he called it Jack's Do Drop Inn.
FRANK WARREN: Couple --
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Do Drop Inn.
FRANK WARREN: Do Drop Inn. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: And is this Jack Bolton standing in front -- GEORGE O'LEARY: That old guy, yeah.
FRANK WARREN: Yep. A little -- WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Pouring himself a little whiskey. GEORGE O'LEARY: Oh, yeah, he always did. Is that what he is doing?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah.
FRANK WARREN: Didn't even notice that. That's a pretty good picture for back then. That's 50 years old. GEORGE O'LEARY: It was a pretty good cabin. I slept in there a couple of times.
FRANK WARREN: Yeah. GEORGE O'LEARY: This picture there is the same cabin. Walter Roman on the left, my dad is on the next one, and then Bill O'Leary, his brother, and then Jack Bolton - FRANK WARREN: Maurice's brother.
GEORGE O'LEARY: Maurice's brother.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: So, we are going from left to right? GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah, this is summertime. It don't look like winter. It's either that or springtime. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: And that is at Jack Bolton's place? GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah. There is another cabin off the left there. FRANK WARREN: Yeah. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Fish Creek? GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah, it says -- my dad and Mary Alice's sister in the cabin at Fish Creek.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Oh, good. So this is the cabin at Fish Creek? GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah, I didn't know there was a picture of it. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Oh, that's a great picture. Look at the size of those dogs. GEORGE O'LEARY: That's the one I was talking about where the dogs -- you can see how steep it is. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Wow! That's pretty dramatic. FRANK WARREN: That could have been -- that could have been either side. GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah, it could have been either side, yeah.
FRANK WARREN: North or south. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: This is the Eagle Summit -- GEORGE O'LEARY: Going up Eagle Summit on the Circle side 1939.
FRANK WARREN: Oh, on Circle side. GEORGE O'LEARY: Because '39 they were still carrying the mail in. FRANK WARREN: Yeah, is that the same picture?
GEORGE O'LEARY: Looks like almost the same picture.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Oh, that's -- FRANK WARREN: Yeah, the background is different so it's, yeah. You said that was on the back '39? GEORGE O'LEARY: '39, yeah. FRANK WARREN: Yeah. It must have been close to the end of -- GEORGE O'LEARY: That might have been the last year. FRANK WARREN: And who's in that picture? GEORGE O'LEARY: I think it is supposed to be my dad and -- FRANK WARREN: Hard to tell, it's so far away. There's a double sled there. Two sleds, real long one and a short one. GEORGE O'LEARY: Well, maybe some of the dog team is partly hidden there, the second team. FRANK WARREN: Oh, yeah. GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah. '39 might have been the trip I made, too. That would have been the last trip. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Do you think yours was the last trip?
GEORGE O'LEARY: Maybe one of the last trips. Ok, this is Mary Alice, mail run. FRANK WARREN: Oh, yeah, I seen it, yeah. GEORGE O'LEARY: Mary Alice lived out in Seattle and she lived up here when she was young, see and then she wanted to come back and make -- maybe that was the last year they were going to haul the mail and she come up and made that trip in the springtime, so. FRANK WARREN: Come from California to make that trip? GEORGE O'LEARY: No, Seattle.
FRANK WARREN: Oh, she was --
GEORGE O'LEARY: She was married to a guy named Bob --
FRANK WARREN: Oh, yeah, that's right.
GEORGE O'LEARY: Bob something. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Mary Alice is in the sled. GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: And your dad is on the handlebars.
GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah. That might have been taken even on Eagle Summit before they widened it on the old road. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: The model T or an old truck. FRANK WARREN: What is that a T or A? Yeah, that's an A. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: It is a Model A? FRANK WARREN: Yeah. Look at the chain on the front in case you needed to get pulled. GEORGE O'LEARY: Everybody had chains on the front. This one here my dad had an accident out by Long Creek one time when they were over load, remember the spring broke? FRANK WARREN: Uh-huh. GEORGE O'LEARY: And he went down over the bank. He had two people in the cab. One of them was the old schoolteacher and Mrs. Call and she had two girls -- two girls and Lee Alder, who was still alive, and my brother Eddie were on the back and it rolled over on them. And I think the only one that got hurt was Eddie -- either broke or dislocated his shoulder. FRANK WARREN: Well, you said Lee's still alive, your brother Eddie's still alive, too. GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah.
FRANK WARREN: He's younger than you. GEORGE O'LEARY: A little bit. But anyway, that's a picture of the truck, they think, after they got it up on the road and had a dent in the fender. That was one of Johnnie Palm's trucks. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: A Dodge?
FRANK WARREN: Is that a --
GEORGE O'LEARY: An old Dodge. FRANK WARREN: That's a Chevrolet there. GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah. It just says Steese Highway, it don't say -- my dad and uncle -- his brother Bill, so I don't know where that was taken so.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Looks like the dogs are ready to help out. FRANK WARREN: Here's Faith Creek again. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: This is Faith Creek?
GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah, Jack Bolton's cabin. FRANK WARREN: Almost the same picture, isn't it? GEORGE O'LEARY: Well, a little different. He has still got the bottle. Mary Alice has probably got the parka on, then my dad, then William with the rifle there. Let's see, just looking at the terrain I'd say it is up around the head of Birch Creek, maybe -- maybe Fish Creek. This might be right outside the cabin at Fish Creek. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: So this is the one where they are in the deep snow? GEORGE O'LEARY: Well, snow don't look that deep. Of course, if it is out in the yard it is packed down anyway, but just looking downstream from there that looks like upper Birch Creek. FRANK WARREN: Yeah, I don't think it is on the north side. GEORGE O'LEARY: No.
FRANK WARREN: So, so it's probably --
GEORGE O'LEARY: Well, these --
FRANK WARREN: Probably the south side of --
GEORGE O'LEARY: Fish Creek.
FRANK WARREN: 12 Mile, Fish Creek, in that area. Looks like Walter Roman -- GEORGE O'LEARY: That's Walter Roland and --
FRANK WARREN: And his wife Josie or Edie, I mean.
GEORGE O'LEARY: Edie. Walter and Edie Rasmussen at Clum's Fork. Up Birch Creek. Okay. FRANK WARREN: Edie was his mother's sister. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh.
GEORGE O'LEARY: It showed the cabin down there, too. FRANK WARREN: Yeah. There's another picture of them by the cabin. GEORGE O'LEARY: By the cabin.
FRANK WARREN: I got it somewhere in there -- computer. GEORGE O'LEARY: They trap -- he trapped down there two winters. Edie was down there with him one winter. And that Clum's Fork is down below 94 Mile on the Steese about 10, 12, 15 miles, then it comes into Birch Creek. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Well, that's been -- this really has been helpful. This has been great. GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Point with your finger as you -- as you -- as the trail went out of Circle and so we get this down once more. GEORGE O'LEARY: Well, let's see where's Circle? WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: There's Circle there. GEORGE O'LEARY: Ok. If you follow the road out even now today, it goes out to the hills and follow the hills but the old trail had to go across the flats about two and a half miles and then it hit the foothills and then followed the foothills all the way over to Birch Creek. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Ok. Here's Birch Creek and that's Ferry. GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah, that -- and down below Ferry was 12 Mile and 12 Mile they call it 12 Mile House and there was a roadhouse there, too. Nobody knows who started it in the beginning, but when they put the road in, they moved the roadhouse up to where the bridge is now, but they didn't have the bridge right away and they used the ferry there for crossing. And after they left Birch, the ferry, they had to go out kind of across the Yuk -- Birch Creek flats and until they hit the hills and then in the summer they followed the hills with pack horses all the way to Central. But in the winter they can go right down on the frozen Birch Creek, you know, on the - WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh.
GEORGE O'LEARY: On the flats there.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Ok. GEORGE O'LEARY: And there's a-- there's a -- they tell me that when you get to Albert Creek, which is about three miles this side of Central, there's another road that takes off and went to the Circle Hot Springs. When they -- when they built the Circle Hot Springs, they hauled a lot of stuff down from that Army fort at Eagle and took it over there and built -- Frank Leach built the hot springs there. Well, from 12 Mile House, the old 12 Mile, you can go right across Birch Creek Flats and get up on the hills and follow the foothills. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh. GEORGE O'LEARY: They could get up far enough up on the foothills, not very high, just to make a trail around there like with pack horses. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: And you'd still be south of the existing road here? GEORGE O'LEARY: You would be north.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: North, ok. Uh-huh. And that would take you into Central? GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah. It would take you to Central, probably the hills would dissipate out about two, three miles from Central and you'd have to go down into the flats again and cross -- you'd be on part of Birch Creek drainage then and then into Central. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh. And then from Central? GEORGE O'LEARY: Well, from Central, I think on the old trail they just went right up Crooked Creek. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh. GEORGE O'LEARY: And up there at Sawpit where Regan's mined, there was an old roadhouse there and that is where people used to cut -- as whipsaw lumber for sluice boxes because there was big timber in there. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: It says Sawpit here. GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah, Sawpit Creek -- still there. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh. And then it continued down? GEORGE O'LEARY: Well, they'd go -- they'd go right up Crooked and when they got to the mouth of Porcupine, they'd turn left on Mammoth Creek and go up Mammoth Creek to Miller House. And then of course, there were a lot of people up there mining, cabins. In fact, what they call Miller House today, there's not really anything there, but there was almost like a little town there. But in later years when Berry [Berry Mining Company] bought up all that ground and dredged it, all those buildings come down, except Miller House. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh. GEORGE O'LEARY: And they -- they -- the Miller House bought that one acre there for the building to sit on and it was bought for insurance back in the 60's and burnt. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: So then from Miller House -- GEORGE O'LEARY: Miller House you went up a little ways and you turned -- well, Miller Creek was right there. Then you went up Miller Creek and then over Eagle Summit where the dog teams went and where the Yukon Quest goes now, so.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh. GEORGE O'LEARY: And then down this side you came down another fork. I think they call it -- they call it Miller Fork and then you're in the head of Eagle Creek and you go down Eagle Creek to where you hit Ptarmigan Creek and that's the headwaters of Birch Creek. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: That might be Eagle Creek there. GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: And then you hit the headwaters of -- GEORGE O'LEARY: Well, you go down the -- that's Birch Creek. You go down Birch Creek until you come to the mouth of 12 Mile Creek. You go up 12 Mile Creek and then over 12 Mile Summit and you come down this side of 12 Mile Summit and you're in McManus Creek. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh. GEORGE O'LEARY: And then when you get to Faith Creek, you're in the headwaters of the Chatanika then. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh. Uh-huh. And then it's a straight shot and you go down.
GEORGE O'LEARY: That's all the way down to Chatanika, yeah.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Okay. Good. Good. Thank you. That's perfect.
Pete Bowers was interviewed on July 20, 2011 by Robert Drozda and Marla Statscewich at the University of Alaska Museum of the North in Fairbanks, Alaska. Angela Linn, Ethnology Collection Manager, and Emily Chagluak, her student intern, were also present at the interview. Pete is an archeologist who has been working in Alaska since the mid-1970s and is president of Northern Land Use Research, Inc. , the largest cultural resource consulting firm in Alaska. In this interview, Pete talks about the history of and archeological evidence for people using dog power for transportation and work. He uses items from the Ethnology Collection at the University of Alaska Museum of the North to demonstrate the types of dog team equipment and technologies used through time. This recording has been edited from the original. Image Gallery
Click to section:
Personal background and coming to Alaska
Getting interested in dog mushing and connections with archeology
Archeological record of first human use of dogs
Differences between wolf and dog bones in the archeological record
Evidence needed to prove use of dog traction
Looking at items from the University of Alaska Museum of the North collections
Equipment: harnesses, toggles and swivels, snow hook, sled runners
Equipment: lines, harness
Innovation in Native material culture
What you can learn from the archeological record
Use of whips to control dog teams
Quality of preservation in the archeological record
More discussion about dog whips
Looking at and discussing old harnesses in the collection
Looking at sled models in the collection and discussing sled technology
Equipment: sled runner, mouth drill
Fan hitch versus tandem hitch for dog teams
Use of dog teams for recreation versus as work dogs
Finishing looking at items from the University of Alaska Museum of the North collections
ROBERT DROZDA: Today is July the 20th, 2011 and we are here at the Museum of the North in the conference room and we're going to talk with Pete Bowers today. Pete's an archeologist and has a lot of experience in the North. He's also the President of Northern Land Use Research. And with me today also is Marla Statscewich behind the camera, Angie Linn with the museum and Angie's assistant Emily Chagluak. And I guess we're ready to begin, Pete. Primarily, we want to talk about, you know, prehistory, history and dog traction in archeological record. And before we jump into that maybe you can give us a little bit of your own personal background. How you came to be in Fairbanks, that sort of thing. PETE BOWERS: Ok, well let's see I grew up in Pennsylvania and graduated from Haverford College in 1974 and I had a research position right after that doing fieldwork in the Alaska Range. In the Tangle Lakes area. And did that project in the first part of 1974 and then after that did archeological salvage working along the pipeline until the last part of summer of '74. And then I've been involved doing archeology ever since in a variety of positions and situations around the state. In the last 20 years we've had Northern Land Use Research operating here in Fairbanks and we've worked all over the state and done over 400 projects in all different time ranges of archeological projects. Everything from 14,000 year old sites to recent sites, gold rush era projects. And so a chance to see a few different parts of the state. Uh. I've been really interested in dog mushing. I had dogs for about fifteen years in the late 70's up until some time in 90's and ran dogs around a little bit -- the trails around Fairbanks and I got involved with sled dog racing. First for sprint racing here in Fairbanks through some of the races of the Alaska Dog Mushers Association and then got involved with -- got more interested in long distance travel. And did trips throughout the Interior and then got involved with some longer distance racing. I did the Coldfoot Classic Race and then ran the Yukon Quest and did that in 1985. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: And that was a fun experience. That's another whole story though. At one point we had about thirty dogs. And it was probably kind of a natural joining of my interests in archeology and history with dog mushing to get involved with the history of dog mushing. In 1987, I worked on a project here at the museum. Susan Will and I were the guest curators for a project called "The Driving Spirit," which was an exhibit on dog mushing and that's what really got me going on it. Just researching all different parts of the archeological background, dog mushing, ethnographic background of dog mushing. I got particularly interested in kind of the origins of dog mushing, where it came from and everything. And after that exhibit closed here, part of that exhibit -- we for several years we ran an exhibit through the Dog Mushers Association at the Musher's Hall, Farmers Loop Road in the late 80's. And the remnants of that exhibit are I think they're out at the Community Museum in downtown Fairbanks, now. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: I haven't seen it for years, but I think that's still where it is. So that's kind of a general background. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. Sounds like when you came to Alaska to do your first fieldwork, you were hooked? PETE BOWERS: Oh, yeah, yeah and it was interesting because I never thought during that summer that I was moving to Alaska or going to be doing archeological work. I kind of thought well this is an interesting way to spend the summer and, you know, then what am I going to do after this. And just one thing led to another and I ended up staying in Alaska and doing that -- ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: That same kind of work all those years and -- ROBERT DROZDA: So, are you completely out of dogs now or what? PETE BOWERS: Yes, we do some dog sitting from time to time for friends. We have one at home right now. But, had a Golden Retriever for 14 years and she just passed away last summer. But yeah, I haven't really been involved with sled dogs for, yeah, since the early 90's kind of. I had my own dogs. I've helped out a few other people train dogs from time to time. Just gone out with them. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. Ok. When -- speaking from archeology now -- when in the archeological record do you first begin to see hints of, you know, dog traction. And, you know, humans using dogs for their power and work? PETE BOWERS: Well, there's no really definitive evidence of this yet and it kind of depends who you talk to in the archeological community, you might get different opinions. ust kind of going -- going back kind of looking at dogs in general the -- there's archeological evidence of dogs going back to about 14,000 years or so. The actual domestication of dogs. And there's been a lot of DNA work done recently that suggests that dogs were -- domesticated dogs were derived from East Asia. And probably domesticated from gray wolves. And so it's probably quite likely that the first -- the first people who colonized the new world probably had domesticated dogs with them. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: Because dogs from 14,000 years ago or so from Europe and Israel, at ages like that, and in North America I think the oldest dog bones are probably about 10,000 years old or so from the site in Danger Cave in Utah. In Alaska, we have dog bones in archeological sites probably going back about 5,000 years or so. We actually have some bones we found at a site at Coffman Cove in southeast Alaska recently about 3,800 years ago or something. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: So the evidence of dogs is fairly continuous. People had -- had dogs as hunting partners. Probably a variety of uses for a long time through the -- through the most of the Holocene time period in Alaska. One thing I just ran across recently is that there does not seem to be images of dogs in any of the caves -- Paleolithic cave paintings. So I think the time period and the dating in the archeological record say 14,000 years or so is probably fairly, you know, fairly -- fairly good indication of the origins. Let's see, in Alaska there's dog bones that show up in so-called Arctic Small Tool Tradition sites in about 2,000, 2,500 years ago, about 3,000 years ago and -- ROBERT DROZDA: Can I interrupt you a second? PETE BOWERS: Yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: To the trained eye is it easy to distinguish between a wolf remains or wolf bones and dog bones in a record? PETE BOWERS: No, it's not and you really need -- you really need kind of the cranial bones, because the most obvious changes are in the dentition and the mandible -- ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: Areas. A lot of the post-cranial bones might look really similar. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: So, it's not -- it's not real easy to tell those apart. ROBERT DROZDA: Yeah, were the working dogs, the non-wolf dogs, were they smaller or -- generally or were they, you know -- PETE BOWERS: I haven't really exhausted review of all -- of just a few that I've run across in the Ipiutaq bones from Deering seem to be about the size and size range of a malamute or larger dog. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: So, I don't know. I think some of the dogs, especially in the northwest coast and in more recent times kind of run the whole gamut of sizes so it could be -- that could have been used for a variety of purposes. Let's see, dogs -- ok, let me think about here. The dogs -- the dog bones in archeological sites, you know, don't -- don't -- it doesn't automatically equate to -- with dog mushing and I think that was part of your original question here was -- There's a lot of things that you need to kind of prove or demonstrate dog traction. Having a dog bone is not -- not adequate in and of itself. Evidence of a sled is not adequate in and of itself. because people could have sleds for riding purposes or just be pulling them with human power. I think the archeologists that have really looked into this, notably Ed Hall, and some other, pretty much at least from looking at it conservatively feel that you have to have the evidence of dogs, a sled and then some means of connecting them. So in the archeological record, what we see or what we would look for would be parts of -- parts of harness and some means of attaching harnesses to tow lines or something or tug lines of some kind. And unfortunately those are perishable things. They are not usually preserved in most archeological sites. So we don't -- we don't find those in those sites. A lot of it is kind of inference from what we -- ROBERT DROZDA: Yeah. Because they're made of skin or -- PETE BOWERS: Yeah, made of skin or bone or antler and things like that. So it's only those few sites where you have really good organic preservation where you kind of find those kind of materials. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: And so the -- even though we -- there's fairly good maybe inferential evidence that dogs were being used to pull sleds back several thousand years ago, I don't think we probably until the last 500 years or so do we really have good archeological evidence of that. So, there are some sites along the Kobuk River, the Ambler Island, size one, about 1700 AD or so where you have evidence of harness parts that were a pretty good indication of dog traction. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. What was preserved in the harnesses? PETE BOWERS: I think they had some toggles. Maybe we could talk about that later. They used for hooking -- hooking a line onto a harness. ROBERT DROZDA: Things made out of bone or -- PETE BOWERS: Yeah, bone or ivory. There're swivel parts. We can talk more about the technology but - so it's-- ROBERT DROZDA: Ok, good. Well let's take a break and maybe we can bring some of those things up. PETE BOWERS: Ok. ROBERT DROZDA: Ok, Angie's put out some trays here of some stuff from the museum collection. And I think these are some of the oldest things that they have. And maybe you can just inform us a little and talk a little bit about these items. And maybe also how they've changed through time if that's possible. PETE BOWERS: Ok. ROBERT DROZDA: What they are. PETE BOWERS: It might be useful first just to talk a little about the kind of more contemporary kind of technology. And what we're talking about in hitching dogs to a sled you need some kind of a harness. This is an example of a freight harness that might have been used in the 20th century or so. But there's -- mushers nowadays and historically have tried to use -- have some kind of swivel and that helps prevent the lines from getting tangled up as the dogs move around and everything. In my own opinion, I don't think that's absolutely necessary to have a dog -- have dog traction. I think you can get some way of hooking a dog up and make the connection between a harness and a sled you can still do it even if it might get more tangles. So I don't think the toggling technology is absolutely essential. But this is kind of what we're talking about. Kind of a snap and something that spins around like that and prevents the -- prevents the lines from getting tangled. Here's another example. This is from a -- I don't know where this is from. It's a snow hook, but it's the same idea. It's a swivel so that the line doesn't get tangled up as the dogs jump around and everything. ROBERT DROZDA: What's a snow hook? PETE BOWERS: A snow hook is another part of the technology. It's your brake -- it's your parking brake. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: You just jam that in the ice and hopefully you've got it in well enough so the dogs don't run away from you. So this is an example, again it's not -- this is another ethnographic example. I think this is from east Greenland. ANGIE LINN: That's the Elephant Point one. PETE BOWERS: Oh, ok, I'm sorry, all right, ok, this is from out near Kotzebue but -- by a caribou skin harness. But this illustrates really nicely the swivel arrangement where you have a part here that's attached to the line -- attached to the harness and then this moves around so as the dog moves around it prevents the line from getting tangled up, but it does the same -- it kind of does the same thing as this. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: And made out of metal. So, again this is an ethnographic example, but when you're looking at some of the earlier -- earlier pieces here. This is material that is from Louis Giddings' excavations on the Kobuk River, which he published in a 1952 book. I believe these are from the Ambler Island site, which dates about 1730, 1750 AD or so, and they're pretty well-dated sites. But this piece here would probably be similar to this square piece here, just part of a toggling arrangement. And as you go back further in time we probably know less and less about some materials so. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. It's nice to -- PETE BOWERS: These are just interpretations. ROBERT DROZDA: Right, but it's really nice to have the ethnographic example. PETE BOWERS: Oh, absolutely, yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: And then that helps you interpret.
PETE BOWERS: I know the first time I saw some of these things. ROBERT DROZDA: What the heck is this? PETE BOWERS: Couldn't figure it out what it is, yeah. And then something like this may have been at the, you know, at the end of the toggle here to help hold that in. On another end of the operation you have a toggle to attach into a line of some sort, I don't know. We can talk about that but this might have been something like that. These other pieces are sled runner pieces. We do find quite a few of those in northern and coastal sites. They're in and of themselves they're not indicative of dog traction. They could have been used to help protect the bottom of wooden or bone sled runners, but they're presumably replaceable. You put them in with little pegs in the bottom of your sled to help protect the sled. ROBERT DROZDA: Human powered sleds? PETE BOWERS: Could be, yeah. Yeah, again it's not -- it's not conclusive evidence of dog traction. This kind of stuff is more -- more -- more indicative of you actually have dog traction. ROBERT DROZDA: And these are all bone, correct? PETE BOWERS: Yeah, these are all bone here, yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: And they'd use other materials for that? PETE BOWERS: Bone or antler or ivory in some cases. In fact, there's ivory in some of these pieces here. Let's see, this is -- let's move this out of the way. This I believe is from St. Lawrence Island. I'm not sure the exact context. It was collected by Otto Geist probably from one of the later period sites by western tool era site, might have been somewhere in the last 500 years or so I'm guessing -- late prehistoric. But that shows really nicely this toggling arrangement. You can compare that with this one. It just gives it a way of spinning around so the dogs aren't as likely to get tangled up. ROBERT DROZDA: So at that far end by your right hand would be attached to the harness? PETE BOWERS: I would -- I would presume so, yeah. There are several ways this could be -- you could hook this up. ROBERT DROZDA: Yeah, maybe Angie can bring out another rope to show how these toggles actually hook into the -- PETE BOWERS: Oh, yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: To the lines. Ok, Pete, maybe you can explain a little bit about how these lines and pieces go together. PETE BOWERS: Well, keep in mind the idea is to have a line stretching, you know, from the sled. You have the gang line and this is using contemporary technological lingo here so. You have the gang line which goes from the sled all the way up to the lead dogs in front. Then you add individual tug lines that come off of that gang line and the tug line then connects to -- to a harness. So you kind of have those three parts of the pulling system and then little gadgets that you use to connect in between. So this is an example -- ethnographic example. I think this comes from Shishmaref. Shishmaref has a long tradition of dog -- dog mushing. ROBERT DROZDA: Up northwest Alaska. PETE BOWERS: Northwest Alaska, yeah. Famous early, early Iditarod mushers, Herbie Nayokpuk came from Shishmaref. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: Uh, so, ok, this is walrus hide. And you just have to imagine this whole thing being stretched out and then at a dog's length apart you have two pieces here which basically would be your tug -- your tug lines. And so in looking at this -- this harness here which I think came from the Kotzebue area with a toggle -- it just attached like this and then that would pull tight like that. You can see that. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: Just a way of hooking and unhooking your dogs so you have a harness on your dog, you pull the dog up to the -- up to the line and attach it with a toggle. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: And some of these other archeological -- I don't see a good example right here, but it might serve the same purpose here. ROBERT DROZDA: On these lines here -- these Shishmaref lines, one thing that strikes me is that I'm not really seeing any knots. So that they're made in such a way they're just split and hide is split and -- PETE BOWERS: Looks to me, yeah, the line was cu -- the pieces were cut wide enough and then you just make a split in it and that forms your loop here. Then you can -- loop, loop subsequent pieces through it, so you don't have to have one continuous long piece. You can loop a number of them together. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. So we were talking about attaching lines without needing knots and things like that. So there's also some, you know, these other things here that do that. Now maybe we can look at some of those. PETE BOWERS: Yeah, ok. This -- looking at this in Inupiaq and Yupik material culture in general is very innovative. They used a lot of materials at hand to solve problems, and the dog traction is no exception to that. I think just looking at the really, really cool way they -- they -- problem solving their material culture to facilitate dog traction. So just looking at these examples again just kind of keep in mind how the swivel arrangement worked here. This one probably shows it better than anything else. Just again so you have the dogs are hooked up and this is moving around so the dogs don't get tangled up. Here's another archeological or ethnographic example of this, probably from northwest Alaska. I don't think there's really good context on this exactly but you can just see how the -- how this was carved to allow for movement of the line in there. There's some other -- other parts here which I think are probably from St. Lawrence Island but this dog harness, but what was catalogued as dog harness buckle. This could be used several different -- several different ways either attaching a swivel to this or just attaching another line here. Without having the whole -- the whole sequence here you can't tell for sure so there's some speculation in this. But it's just another way of attaching the lines. ROBERT DROZDA: It's one of the intriguing things about archeology right? You don't always get the whole picture you see. PETE BOWERS: Yeah, we're trying -- that's part of what archeology does. We're trying to piece together human behavior based on just a little fragment of material culture, so that's part of what we do. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. Well, along those lines let's look at that little carved dog. Maybe you can pull that out and Marla can zoom in on it. PETE BOWERS: This little carved dog. ROBERT DROZDA: It's not just about work. PETE BOWERS: Yeah, yeah, that's St. Lawrence Island, probably. Probably from one of the more recent levels of the St. Lawrence Island excavations, but it probably -- I would consider late prehistoric just -- just guessing, but nicely carved. A little curly tail. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. And then this piece here has some artwork on it. It looks like some decoration. PETE BOWERS: Yeah, this is -- was interpreted as being at the end of a whip. And actually these whip parts have been speculated by some archeologists as some of the other material culture that you would need to show dog mushing. Do you see that okay? MARLA STATSCEWICH: Yes. PETE BOWERS: Yeah, really nice carving on there. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: I personally don't think having whip parts indicates dog mushing. It's one more line of evidence, but you don't have to have -- ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: A whip to be able to drive dogs. We know that from contemporary dog mushing here. Can you see that okay? MARLA STATSCEWICH: Yes. ROBERT DROZDA: What's that material, Pete? It looks really different than the rest. PETE BOWERS: It's probably fossilized ivory. ROBERT DROZDA: Oh, okay. PETE BOWERS: Maybe fossilized walrus ivory. Yeah, that's really nice the way it's carved. This is another example of something that's being interpreted as a whip -- the end of a whip -- whip ferrel. ROBERT DROZDA: Whips used how? PETE BOWERS: I'm not sure. Just to get the dogs' attention one way or another. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: That's somewhat speculative. This -- let's see this is St. Lawrence Island also. It looks like carved eyes on there. ROBERT DROZDA: Oh, yeah. PETE BOWERS: Can you see that.
ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: And some other examples here probably also from St. Lawrence Island of dog harness toggle. The same kind of connecting technology here. Another piece of ivory. So, most of what we're talking about here, in fact, I would say everything we're talking about here is perishable technology, so if you don't have the type of archeological site that has that preservation in it, you're not going to -- you're not going to be able to make these interpretations about dog mushing. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. We're a little bit better off in the North right, because things are preserved a little better -- PETE BOWERS: Yes, we have the types -- a lot of the coastal sites have pretty good preservation having been frozen for a number of years. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: So in other areas we might not have that happen. ROBERT DROZDA: Yeah. I think there was an example of a dog whip over here. ANGIE LINN: Uh-huh.
ROBERT DROZDA: Maybe since we were talking about that --
ANGIE LINN: Uh-huh. ROBERT DROZDA: We can bring that out. So, I mean my idea, I don't know for sure but I don't think that -- ANGIE LINN: That's from Canada. ROBERT DROZDA: They're actually like beating and whipping dogs with these things. It's more a matter of like making some kind of noise over the dog's head or something and get their attention. PETE BOWERS: I think so. I think in the ethnographic accounts I've read I think that's more how they're used. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: Yeah, just to get their attention or be part of the command system, of you know, go to the Gee or Haw, go to the right or left. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: And again this is not -- in my mind this is not essential equipment for -- that's necessary for driving dogs. I never had a whip in the whole time I was driving dogs so. It's voice commands work real well. This is a jingler. It looks like parts of Hills Brothers coffee cans, which would indicate -- kind of get the dogs' attention that you want them to keep moving, or you're trying to get their attention, you know, so. ROBERT DROZDA: Another really good example of innovation though. PETE BOWERS: Yeah, oh yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: Using material at hand. PETE BOWERS: Hills Brothers cans are used for lots -- lots of different things. ROBERT DROZDA: It's unbeatable. PETE BOWERS: Yeah, yeah. This is part of a hammer -- hammer handle here so. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. ANGIE LINN: That one's from Venetie. PETE BOWERS: That's Venetie? Ok. ANGIE LINN: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: Ok. ANGIE LINN: That one's from Pelly Bay, Canada. PETE BOWERS: Oh, really, ok. ANGIE LINN: So it's really different.
PETE BOWERS: All right. ANGIE LINN: This one here. Old Crow. PETE BOWERS: Ok. I was thinking -- ANGIE LINN: Yukon Territory. PETE BOWERS: Athabascan. ANGIE LINN: Yeah. PETE BOWERS: Old Crow territory -- Yukon Territory. ANGIE LINN: Uh-huh.
PETE BOWERS: Yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: And here again I mean it's -- it has the utilitarian aspect, but people are decorating things. PETE BOWERS: Uh-huh. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Uh-huh. Yeah. Ok. I haven't seen too many of these. All right. ROBERT DROZDA: Ok, well, we have a whole bunch of examples of different kinds of harnesses, so let's talk about those Pete. And how they've changed and how they're different and similar. PETE BOWERS: Ok. Yeah, so we've talked about some of the hardware kind of technology for hooking harnesses to lines and lines to sleds and things like that. So, now if we focus a little bit more on harnesses. These are just from an archeological perspective these are the parts that are probably least preserved so we really don't -- I don't really know that we have archeological evidence of harnesses unless there're some in some of the Canadian collections maybe some Eastern Thule sites perhaps. You know a few hundred years old, western or late prehistoric. But from the examples we have here are all 20th century, but they probably illustrate pretty well how things were done. This is from -- this is from Eastern Greenland and it kind of shows some of the connecting technology we talked about earlier. The toggle part there. But the basic idea is you have -- have -- have some kind of leather or fabric that you put the dog's head through and pulls and pulls off their shoulders and around their neck. And there's been a lot of different approaches to this over the years. In fact, a lot of the contemporary distance racers and sprint racers are still experimenting with things. Even as recently as just a few years ago Jeff King made some changes to some of the harness styles that people are using in the Iditarod. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: So people have different ideas as to the best way to connect. Where you should be pulling from to have the least amount of stress and the maximum amount of power from the dogs. So this probably is as good of an example as any of what things might have looked like in the late prehistoric times. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. That looks like a pretty small harness. PETE BOWERS: It does. I think we talked about that before. This looks like a really small harness, yeah. I can't -- I don't know if it's just indicative of an adult dog or maybe they are using to train a puppy with this. ROBERT DROZDA: It may be a puppy. PETE BOWERS: Yeah.
ROBERT DROZDA: Yeah. PETE BOWERS: This one we've looked at before, kind of looking at the hardware part of things here, but this is -- this kind of shaped the way some of the modern harnesses would be shaped made out of nylon -- nylon webbing and that sort of thing. There was a place to put the dog's head through and it pulls off their chest. ROBERT DROZDA: Yeah, what's that made out of? PETE BOWERS: This is made out of caribou hide. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: The fur is kind of rubbing off it. ROBERT DROZDA: It does look really similar to modern harnesses. PETE BOWERS: And again, this is from, I think you said Kotzebue area, ok. This one might be a good example to show for them. The -- a lot of the technology you think that's being used now and we have any evidence for at all of the early -- early materials are kind of based on horse technology so it probably came with some of the gold -- gold -- during the gold rush and what not. But I mean this is classic horse technology of a collar to go around the dog's neck and this is a single tree, which the dog's tail goes up over that and then pulls -- and pulls. The idea is to kind of keep the lines spread so you're pulling evenly on both sides. And there's different ways people have come up with over the years for putting this around the dog's -- around the dog's belly. There's just a snap here that you snap around the dog. But again that's probably just kind of why I think of as kind of classic horse technology. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: And so a lot of these -- a lot of these styles kind of come from that. These are from northwest Alaska, but showing the same kind of thing. It looks like caribou -- caribou fur and neck ring actually filled with caribou fur to make it softer. But the actual pattern of the webbing here is not too different than if you went down to a feed store today to buy a racing harness would be fairly similar to that. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. And stuffed with caribou fur on the collar there for padding to protect the dogs? PETE BOWERS: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. The same thing with this one here. And yeah, I think you were saying this actually was one that Jeff Studdert had. He was a well-known musher here in Fairbanks and I think he died in the 1970's. But he was really instrumental in getting the Alaska Dog Mushers Association group started and was very active in that group. And he was -- supposedly hauled freight too in the early -- earlier in the 20th century. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: So, yeah, I don't know what else to say about these things. Just -- there are a number of different approaches that people used -- used over the years to kind of refine the -- refine the technology as to how it's pulling -- pulling off the dogs it's -- so you're trying to pull evenly on both sides and at the same time put maximum -- maximum power from the dog. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: Yeah, we don't have an example of a contemporary harness here, but I think you'd see the similarities. If you looked at it, you'd see the side parts and the cross webbing over the back. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. Let's talk about some sleds, Pete. PETE BOWERS: Ok. Let's see, so we've talked a little bit about some of the connecting technology with harnesses and lines and everything and now we'ill get to the sleds. As I said earlier, archeologically you can have a sled without -- that doesn't automatically mean you have dog mushing or you're automatically being pulled by dogs. Something like this could be used without dogs. You know people could be pulling it or just trudging along with it or something. But the basic idea is you have runners and in this case you have it high enough so it gets up out of the snow. One thing on this model, this model actually came from the Brooks Range, probably from the Anaktuvuk Pass area, but they actually have some bone sled runners on this model, which -- similar to what we've looked at earlier with some of these archeological examples of bone or antler runners that would be attached and could be taken off and replaced as they wear out. There's examples of sleds and ethnographic examples of sledges that were used in Siberian that had no built up part at all. It basically had a -- it was not quite like a toboggan but it was built up without this -- this rails and stanchions and all that. ROBERT DROZDA: Oh, I see no side rails. PETE BOWERS: Yeah, yeah. There's another nice model -- example from the University collection here from Greenland. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: This would probably be used with the fan hitch arrangement. Let's move this out of the way here. It would probably be used with a fan hitch arrangement pulling it, but this shows the kind of the real basic idea of the built up sled where you have the rear stanchions and then something you can hold onto and move the sled around. Although while the Greenland -- ethnographically a lot of the Greenland sleds people were riding in the sled, and they weren't really driving it from behind. For example, there's no stand -- there's no runners sticking out the back where you can stand on like you can with some of the more contemporary sleds. ROBERT DROZDA: Yeah, we see a lot of photographs of the drivers actually sitting in the sled there. PETE BOWERS: Yeah, yeah. So it was -- depending on the how good you are at driving your dogs whether you get to your destination or not. So another example from the University collections here are. Let's see, this is a toboggan. This would've been used in the Interior more of the Athabascans used these and also you see these in some of the early illustrations of the Hudson's Bay Company. Some of the French Canadian traders, trappers that were using things like this. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: Get into something that will enable you to get fairly -- fairly narrow for going through wooded areas. And the toboggan idea is it just rides up on top of the soft deep snow. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: These other types of sleds wouuld be better suited for more hardpack kind of stuff. ROBERT DROZDA: Open areas. PETE BOWERS: Yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: Tundra. PETE BOWERS: Yeah. As sled technology developed, you eventually got to this kind. I think you had several people in some of your other interviews who have talked about the details of this more. But the idea is you have -- you have something you can actually drive from the -- you're standing on or running along behind, but you can get on the runners and you can have a driving bow to help maneuver the sled around. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: And this is one of the kind -- this is probably the style sled that most people think of when they think of dog sleds. But, you know, a bigger version of this would be a freight sled and these were used extensively during the, you know, in the last 50 years for dog racing. ROBERT DROZDA: And this is referred to as a basket sled, right because that is -- PETE BOWERS: That's a basket sled, right. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: Right. And this was made by, who did you say? ANGIE LINN: Steve -- PETE BOWERS: Or, it's from Rampart? ANGIE LINN: That one's from Circle. Steve Nathaniel. PETE BOWERS: From Circle, ok. All right. So Interior Alaskan. ROBERT DROZDA: The thing that strikes me about this one is that we don't see any kind of metal hardware on it at all. Everything's tied and lashed and -- PETE BOWERS: Right. Yep. It's all lashed and it gives the sled a lot of flexibility, which is really important for maneuvering around through trees and also if you're racing maneuvering the sled is really important to have that kind of flexibility. ROBERT DROZDA: Maybe if you run into something it will flex instead of break? PETE BOWERS: Yeah, yeah, right. Something bolted is more likely to snap and break. So just kind of you can see the kind of different examples of how people have dealt with sled technology over the years. Nice examples from the museum collection here. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. Very nice, yeah. Lots of innovation and -- Maybe you could pull that sled runner over here a minute. I had a question about that. Ok, so obviously it's drilled and on this one I think you showed the pegging. How the runners were pegged into the bottom. PETE BOWERS: Uh-huh. Right. ROBERT DROZDA: Yeah, so, you know, some of these sleds are from before we had electric drills. PETE BOWERS: Uh-huh. ROBERT DROZDA: I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that. How did they make those holes in there? PETE BOWERS: Well, in the earlier times, archeologically you would have just made a stone tool to just to work -- work a hole into it by hand. In later times, I think you have an example over here's a bow drill. It might have been -- it might have been used. And this is from where? ANGIE LINN: Just northwestern Alaska. PETE BOWERS: Northwestern Alaska. Yeah, something like this might have been used. Put that in your mouth and -- I never really used one of these, but just like that and then you move the drill -- move this back and forth and -- ROBERT DROZDA: And it spins. PETE BOWERS: And spins and makes your hole. So that's kind of the idea. It doesn't necessarily have to go in your mouth, but that was just a way of holding the -- holding the top -- the top so it doesn't rock back and forth too much. But these are well represented in the ethnographic record from Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta with Nelson's -- Nelson's work there. Murdoch's reports from the Barrow area and all over the late 19th century, early 20th century time period. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: But I don't know how far back that goes archeologically, but I mean the idea is the same. You just -- you have either a stone or when metals came in, that metal would've been used. We actually, you know, the extensive use of metal came in of course when non-Natives showed up in Alaska, but there are actually are traces of metal which show up as early as Ipiutak time period 1500 years ago or so. Which would presumably have been traded up from China or Manchuria somewhere. We found some of that at Deering. It's been found out at Point Hope. Just little tiny fragments of metal in the end of an ivory handle of some kind. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: And that would've been a preferred -- preferred material for making these kinds of holes. Preferred over stone. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. Yeah. So the particular kind of stone tool that might be used for that, do the archeologists have a name for that? PETE BOWERS: A burin is a tool that's used for engraving or would've been used for engraving and there're special techniques that were used in the stone technology to make a stone tool. A really stout edge that then could be used for drilling or making all the insized engravings. You know, lines on bone or antler. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: Now I mentioned a minute ago about the fan hitch that was -- and that's commonly thought of as the technique used in Greenland, still used in Greenland and Northern Canada. The evidence for that shows up in the ethnographic work that was done in Northern Canada and throughout Greenland. There is some indication that fan hitches were used in Alaska -- in the -- northern Alaska. Spencer talks about that somewhat. But the idea is basically just you have one point of contact right here and then a series of lines that come out from there. And probably not a lot of control over the dogs, because the dogs are probably jumping back and forth and getting all tangled up and everything. I know I've seen some films of that from Greenland and it looks kind of like a mess to me compared to tandem hitches that we're using in Alaska. And the tandem hitch probably didn't really come in until -- until late 19th century or something like that. I don't know exactly when but it's probably that time period. But tandem hitch would be a lot more user friendly in the forested area if you're trying to go in and around trees and everything. You don't want a big fan hitch where your dogs are getting tangled up. And the fan hitch would be better suited for wide open tundra and open areas where you're not going to get tangled up. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. Do you think with the fan hitch technology there's one particular dog that's a leader? Can you see that? PETE BOWERS: I don't know. I can't recall from reading about it. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: Yeah, you might. I don't know. ROBERT DROZDA: So, you mentioned, you know, it's still being used in Greenland and parts of Northern Canada. You know here in Alaska it seems like dog mushing is more or less recreational. There aren't too many people out there who are using dogs for running traplines and stuff like that. It's been replaced by snowmachines and snowmobiles. Is that not true in some of these other places or -- ? PETE BOWERS: I'm not that familiar with some of the other areas. I just know they're still being used over there. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: But as far as -- ROBERT DROZDA: Work -- PETE BOWERS: -- working dogs. I would imagine snowmachines have largely replaced a lot of them. ROBERT DROZDA: Everywhere. PETE BOWERS: Dogs.
ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: So, a few miscellaneous pieces here from the museum collection I might just kind of look at. And as much as anything else to kind of illustrates the innovative approach people have taken over the years to -- how to drive dogs just using materials at hand. This is an example of just a wooden sled runner that was -- a sled part that was collected from the Brooks Range area. Quite likely Nunimiut Eskimo. And it's in no particular order here. Here's just showing kind of an innovative approach people have taken. This is part of a rifle barrel. This is a snow hook somebody just bent this and put a toggle on the end of it to -- as a way of anchoring your dogs, a snow anchor. But you can see the middle of the rifle barrel there. Here's a couple more examples of that too. This one, the same thing there. Do you know where these are from? I don't really. ROBERT DROZDA: So these snow anchors, Pete, they'd actually be tied in to the line and -- PETE BOWERS: Well, you would have separate -- a separate line I mean at least from my -- my familiarity with dog mushing is that I'd have the line -- a separate line attached to the back of the main tug line -- ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: That your snow anchor would be attached to. So when you jam that in the ground and everything comes to a screeching halt, the force doesn't pull through the sled. In other words, you don't have it attached to the back of the sled because it could tend to pull the sled apart so you -- ROBERT DROZDA: Right, ok. PETE BOWERS: So you have it so it pulls off the back of the main tug line. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. PETE BOWERS: Or the main gang line. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. ANGIE LINN: Noatak. PETE BOWERS: Noatak, ok. ANGIE LINN: The maker was raised in Kivalina. PETE BOWERS: Ok. ANGIE LINN: This one, 151 --. PETE BOWERS: 050. ROBERT DROZDA: Does it say who the maker was? ANGIE LINN: Yes. Let's see. The Noatak one. Woodrow Wilson, Sr. PETE BOWERS: Oh, ok. Huh. Interesting, these are all rifle barrels. ANGIE LINN: That is Kivalina. PETE BOWERS: Here's another use of rifle barrels as -- for part of the braking mechanism. Winchester Arms. Small bore. ANGIE LINN: Ambler. PETE BOWERS: Small bore. From Ambler, ok. But anyway, good reuse of materials and yeah, that's -- I don't know what to say about that. ROBERT DROZDA: Ok. MARLA STATSCEWICH: Well, thanks a lot, Pete. ROBERT DROZDA: Yeah, thanks a lot, Pete and really appreciate you coming out. PETE BOWERS: Yeah, yeah, glad to have spent some time looking. This is fun looking at these collections in the museum. ROBERT DROZDA: Yeah, it really is. PETE BOWERS: Probably don't see the light of day too often, so it's kind of fun to get them out and look at all these things.
William (Bill) Demoski was interviewed on June 15, 2011 by Robert Drozda, Karen Brewster, and Marla Statscewich at the University of Alaska Museum of the North in Fairbanks, Alaska. Angela Linn, Ethnology Collection Manager, and Briana Brenner, her student intern, were also present at the interview. Bill Demoski grew up in Koyukuk, Alaska and along the rivers, living a traditional hunting and fishing- based lifestyle. His father, Aloysius Demoski, was a dog team mail carrier in the 1920s and 1930s. In 2007, Bill Demoski built a traditional style wood freight sled for the Museum. In this interview, he talks about how he learned sled building and how he built this particular sled. He identifies parts of the sled, compares modern and traditional sleds and materials, and compares models of different sled styles. This recording has been edited from the original.
Click to section:
Learning how to build sleds
Father's mail carrying route
Father's dog team
Life in camp
Bill demonstrates how he bends pieces for the sled
Bill shows how he connects the pieces of the sled together
Purpose of the brush bow and parts of the sled
Bill explains more parts of the sled
Brakes on sleds
Voice commands to control the team
Differnt styles of dog sleds
Using a Gee-pole and the dangers associated with it
Amount of weight a sled can haul
Finding materials for the sled
Bending the wood for the sled
Steam bending method
Runners changed over time
First dog team and his father's mail carrying job
Looking at sled models from the museum
Sled without a place for the musher to stand
Small sled without a handlebar
Toboggan style sled
Grandfather's trading business
Eskimo style sled - no brush bow
Lining out dogs in pairs or single file
Sled building process from start to finish
ROBERT DROZDA: [Today is June 15,] 2011, and I am Robert Drozda and I am here with Bill Demoski and also in the room are Karen Brewster and Marla Statscewich from the library -- UAF Library and Angie Linn and Brianna Brenner from the UA Museum of the North. And today we are going to be talking with Bill about sled building and his experience as a sled builder. We have a nice sled here that Bill built and is part of the museum's collection. So, Bill, I thought maybe to start with we could get a little bit of your personal history and -- BILL DEMOSKI: Uh-huh. ROBERT DROZDA: -- with both dog mushing and sled building and we can start from there. BILL DEMOSKI: Ok. You know, my dad was a mail carrier back in the 30's and 20's, you know, and he had a sled about maybe 14 foot, you know, long. Haul about 500 pounds of mail, you know. And he built his own sleds and by the time I got old enough to start working, about twelve years old, I started on one about that big one -- kid's sled. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: And I completed it by myself. And it was a rule where my older brother couldn't help while we watched my dad to work, you know, how he does it. He would never tell us what to do. You do it yourself. If it is your project, it is yours, you know. And so I started my sled. I got the birch and I bend it, I planed it, all handwork and a handsaw. And a hand drill, you know. No electric. Chiseling you know. Knife and a little hand plane, sandpaper, you know. Did all that by hand and when I got going and I was putting together this piece here, you know, and you have to cut a slot here and then cut that with a knife, you know. When I was doing this, you know, and I got that knife and I poked my leg right there. That is why I got a scar there, blade about that long, went all the way down in there. Opened up my -- man I couldn't walk for about a week, but I still finished it, you know. And then the next one was a racing sled, bigger than this one, about half size of this, you know, for racing. I finished that and my older brother used it for dog racing and then all that I picked up, you know, from the old man, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. Were you using his tools when -- BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah.
ROBERT DROZDA: He let you use his tools? BILL DEMOSKI: My own tools. Because first thing you had to do, he always had to check his tools because he kept his tools sharp, you know. Taught us not to cut our hand, you know, and stuff. All that -- we had to split the birch, you know, and steam it. Split the birch and plane it, you know. Then steam it -- put it on the bender. I got a bender about 50 years old that is made out of -- it is made out of stump, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: Big stump and I hewed it out and formed it. It's down in Galena. I still got it. It's about fifty years old. KAREN BREWSTER: Is that made out of driftwood stump? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, I think I showed it to you.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, remember that?
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, when you were in Galena.
KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. It is still down there. And other than that I picked up a lot of new -- new style from my uncles and watched people at work, you know. Sidney Huntington was a good mentor of mine, you know. My uncle Sidney, he's married to my auntie. I'll watch him work and he did good work like this, you know, on big boats, you know. I picked up building boats and all that stuff, you know. And when I got old enough to do it by myself, you know, my dad didn't need to build. He just went out to cut the birch and bent the -- bent the runners and I put it together. And he rather had me put it together. He says, you are quite a craftsman, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: Where my other brothers, you know, they make short cut and the lazy way, he said, you know, but me everything was even, you know, and that's the way I learned from him, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: So he appreciated your work? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. It is not any old way job, you know. He said if you do half -- half decent work that the sled wouldn't last, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh.
BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: So, you were down in Galena around that time? Is that where he was running his -- BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, Koyukuk and Koyukuk and I went to school in Galena. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. Did he run the same mail route or -- BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, he went to Kaltag from Koyukuk to Kaltag, Nulato. Then from Galena he went up far as Galena and back down. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: Ninety mile run, you know, every week. KAREN BREWSTER: What was your father's name? BILL DEMOSKI: Aloyluis Demoski and my -- my great grandfather, my dad's grandfather, he was originally from Ottawa, Canada or some place but he was a French Canadian, Russian, you know. And his name was Demoski Mollsea (phonetic) so when he came up to the Hudson Bay Traders long ago, you know, he started a trading post in Nulato. They had a big fort there, Russian fort or something. And then he had a trading post there and they built a mission and he got baptized. So they put his name Mollsea Demoski. So our name was supposed to have been Mollsea instead of they put it backwards. How we wind up with Demoski, yeah, yeah. And other than that, as far as working, we had a big family. We had about ten in our family, you know. There was all boys in our family, one girl and the last two -- two kids was girls. There were seven boys and my dad used to say, we need two more to have a baseball team. Anyway, we all had to do our own laundry or like if we make a hole in our boot, we mend with the threads. Mom taught us how to use needle thread and knit, you know, sew, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: And then we all have chores to do, you know, but I was the one that, out of the seven, I was only the one that ever got to get to do the job, you know. My mom called Morris or Val or Junior, do this. Now they wouldn't move. They only tell me one time and I get the job done, you know. So I was kind of backbone of the family and my dad used to say, I would be the best worker that I wasn't lazy, you know, because I had to do it, you know and -- KAREN BREWSTER: So that was growing up in Koyukuk? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, Koyukuk in that fish camp, spring camp, where we winter camp, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: How many dogs did your dad keep? BILL DEMOSKI: Well, he drove 21 dogs. He had -- he was -- carrying mail for contractor and this contractor he had about over 150 dogs, you know and he leased them out to the government. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: And they hired these, like my dad to carry the mail, you know. And they had a roadhouse and then, he had part wolf dogs, you know, probably one-third or a quarter breed wolves, you know, bred to Malamute, you know, big dogs. My dad used to say, those dogs you couldn't get nothing out of them in daytime but the nighttime boy they could move. They -- he said you know, you go out, fix that tangle he said you got to watch the dog behind him otherwise they are going to grab his leg or something, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: That's the kind of aggressive dog they were. ROBERT DROZDA: They liked to scrap.
BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. And they were really strong at nighttime you know. ROBERT DROZDA: So the dogs were kept at the roadhouse in the dog barn? BILL DEMOSKI: No, my dad kept them at home. He picked them up in the fall time, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: On the boat, and they furnished the dog food and there used to be a lot of fish in the river those days. Dog dried food, you know, and then rice. And then, people never run short of dog food or food in them days, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Was caring for the dogs one of your jobs, too? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah.
ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: And then, we -- we were up river above Galena, in winter camp, because my dad used to go out trapping way out the Yuki River across the -- from the camp called Beaver Creek about six miles above Galena. That's where our winter camp was. We'd go there in the fall and stay there the fall and trap all winter. In the springtime, they go muskrat hunting behind the lakes. And then after breakup, we cut all the fishwheel logs, poles, load up the dogs and all the poles and make a raft and put the tent on there. We float down the river about 60 miles, 70 miles down river between Nulato and Kaltag to fish. We fished there all summer and come back up in September. We go to school for maybe a month or so, you know, two weeks. Then the teachers give us our books and back to camp we go. ROBERT DROZDA: That sounds like quite a good life. BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. That's where I pick up all the stuff how to work, you know, but most of this new idea here that, like this plywood. There were no plywood them days or planks, you know. I just made benders out of my own idea, you know, bent those runners and stuff, you know. Here you can see I laminated, you know, like I did over there. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: And I glued it and this is the -- turn it over -- this is the side rails see. See how I designed this thing to bend it. That's my own design to build the side rail, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: That would be this piece here? BILL DEMOSKI: No, the middle --
MARLA STATSCEWICH: This one.
BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, this -- that's the -- ROBERT DROZDA: On the bed, yeah. BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, and then this is plywood and I just took a plank and instead of using clamp, I make my own clamp, you know. This bolts, you know, I used --
ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh.
BILL DEMOSKI: Instead of using a -- ROBERT DROZDA: So you don't have to have a ton of clamps. BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah and this is about the same for the little sled, you know, the kid's sled.
ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: I put the -- I put the front piece underneath here and bend it and I put this underneath there, clamp it down, you know, so it is straight, you know. If I can't get that thing through there, I just go like this, you know, and you can put that right through there, you know. And -- up here when I put this together I clamp this one together like this, you know, and then drill this holes. I like to use this kind of bolts because you don't need the washer. All you need the washer is on this side. And this piece here I bolt it down in here, that way the sled wouldn't bend back this way and it will stay that way all the time. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: So, and this is called a brush bow. Nowadays, you know, snowmobile they don't use this anymore because they use that hitch, you know, to goes to the Snowgo. ROBERT DROZDA: Right. BILL DEMOSKI: And it goes over this, like this, you got to fold it back. So all the sleds I built, they always take this off so they can fold that. MARLA STATSCEWICH: And what's that called? BILL DEMOSKI: Brush bow. KAREN BREWSTER: Can you talk about what it is used -- why it is there? Why do you put that brush -- BILL DEMOSKI: Well, when they used to go to portage and driving dogs, if you hit a tree or something, this thing would hit it and it will bounce off the tree. It wouldn't smash against -- direct, you know. And then this is the cross piece. This they call slats, you know. This is the slats, side rail, and top rail. They call this top rail. This is the stanchions. The stanchions are all these you know, and this is a handlebar, the crossbar for --and this lashing here, you know, is for, you know, like you put stuff in there and it wouldn't fall out, you know, with canvas. I just put a little star in there to make it fancy, you know. And -- MARLA STATSCEWICH: And traditionally what was this made out of? BILL DEMOSKI: Oh, this is nylon. MARLA STATSCEWICH: Nylon. BILL DEMOSKI: Nylon. You can buy it from any dog mushing store. I get a bundle of it, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: But before they had nylon what would you use? BILL DEMOSKI: Here. ROBERT DROZDA: Babiche. KAREN BREWSTER: The babiche.
BILL DEMOSKI: Babiche, yeah. I make this out of moose skin. This is -- are the cross piece and then I do this fitting in with the 3/8ths drill, you know. Make a tenon and down here the same way, you know. And then I use these screw eyes, you know, to tie this down. And I start from here, you know, and then you go around and you go around like this and then you turn, put it through there and you go all the way down until you get to this tie, you know, And that's not going to come apart. And right here where I tie the side rail is about even I do same zigzag, you know, around and I tighten this up tight so it wouldn't -- see how strong it is, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Do you want these to be, the mortise and tenon, to be a loose or so that -- BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, so it don't crack, you know.
ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, so it doesn't crack and these here I used sheetrock screws, you know, worked pretty good. We used to use nail years ago when they had no screws, but when you bounce off that, nails start coming apart, you know, start ripping up stuff, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Used to bend them underneath? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, this worked pretty good. Only thing this does is, if you hit too hard, you know, it will snap or the jar or break. Never had trouble with it since I got this on here, you know, yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: Did the old sleds used to have a brake or is that a more recent development? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, no. They -- all the sleds have brakes. Some of them have bigger brakes than this. This is just one I did for temporarily, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: Well, before they had rubber what would you put there? BILL DEMOSKI: Oh, spring, spring, you know, coil spring. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh. And what about before coil springs? BILL DEMOSKI: Well, when they had -- before they had the spring, I show you. This goes all the way up to the front like this, you know, like a long one, you know. And they tie it in the middle and they make it so it can bend, you know, from there and then it just come back up itself, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: The natural bend of the wood? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah.
ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh BILL DEMOSKI: Uh-huh. Yeah. They never had iron brakes, you know. They had -- I know my great grandpa he made brakes out of fork wood, you know. Yeah. Because they used to go so slow they don't need no brakes. They can say "whoa", the dogs would stop. They were trained for that. If they go down the hill, they would tell them "whoa, whoa". They stop easy and they can hold sled back. They don't, so the dogs don't run over. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: And the famous word the dogs like to hear is "whoa". They stop and rest, you know. And when they get ready to go they say "hike", you know. Mush. ROBERT DROZDA: Mush or hike?
BILL DEMOSKI: Hike, yeah. And Bob Hope was demonstrating dog mushing. Old musher, Earl Norris was -- he was on the stage and he asked Earl Norris, what you make these critters to go? Earl Norris said, he was the owner of the dogs, he says, all you got to say is Mush, crack the whip and say Mush. And Bob Hope he crack the whip he says oatmeal. He said oatmeal. And this is here is for, you know, when you got --to not to slip off the, you know, it sometimes, it get icy. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: This keep all the ice off this --protect you from slipping off the sled, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. And you found some plastic that had some -- BILL DEMOSKI: Uh-huh. Yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: -- texture to it? BILL DEMOSKI: Uh-huh. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, what did you use before plastic? BILL DEMOSKI: Caribou skin or moose skin, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: With the fur on or the fur off? BILL DEMOSKI: Fur on.
KAREN BREWSTER: Fur on. BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, the fur, the skin is on this side and the fur -- and that keep your foot warm, too, they say. You know, when you have -- it doesn't -- this would make your mukluks wet because it is rubber, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Do you think this particular sled, the design, same from the Hudson Bay style or? BILL DEMOSKI: Well, there's a -- there's all kinds of style that -- see like this one here. You could make this -- this, this one like that one, you know, like one bow all the way down to the, but I prefer that one. This one bow all the way down. There is another style. This -- this used to be higher, you know, to haul freight. It used to -- this used to come up all the way to here and then it sticks out about that far. And then you get another one like this and you bend that bow and tie this down. And you get another one that bows in like this and so you got -- and you got another -- another one that goes in like this and you tie them together, you know. And you could push that with the snowshoes, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: I think we might have a model that looks like that. BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, yeah, yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: You want to bring it out? ANGELA LINN: Sure, I think I can. ROBERT DROZDA: Yeah, that will be good for a visual aid. BILL DEMOSKI: Uh-huh. ANGELA LINN: Is this the kind your -- like that? BILL DEMOSKI: No.
ROBERT DROZDA: Not quite. BILL DEMOSKI: This -- this is different. See look here. Look here. See this one here. This one here that goes sticks out like this, you know, this far. This is the right idea, but they don't use the bow. That's the one right there, yeah. Yeah, that's the one. But see they -- this is the one that -- yeah, this sticks out. They don't even use the bow, you know. They use this handle but they got another one that goes this way. This one don't have it. This only got this one, you know. And they make it long, you know, so they could walk behind it with snowshoes and push on the sled same time, you know. And then -- KAREN BREWSTER: And where is it that they do that? In Canada, did you say? BILL DEMOSKI: All over.
KAREN BREWSTER: All over.
BILL DEMOSKI: Yukon.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yukon. BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. And then they used to call what you call a Gee-pole. They get -- you can cut down any -- any dry -- dry pole, you know. You tie it onto this and you tie it on to down here, you know, the pole sticks up like this and you got a little -- little sled like this, you know. And little lighter sled, racing sled, you put that Gee-pole, you hang onto to this and you steer the -- or you use skis, you know. Some use -- some used to use skis for a Gee-pole, you know. Stand on skis to steer the sled, you know, so it don't go off the trail like this. ROBERT DROZDA: So you're using that when you're on rough terrain or -- BILL DEMOSKI: No, no.
ROBERT DROZDA: Distance or something? BILL DEMOSKI: When you're --when you're on the trail, you know, you got heavy load. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: And your -- your sled is not going to make quick turn like this with a heavy load. It'll just keep right on going and then it will bog in the snow, that Gee-pole will cause that from using the sled, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: And is the Gee-pole long enough that you are out in front of the dogs? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. Uh-huh.
KAREN BREWSTER: Or are you next to the dogs? BILL DEMOSKI: No, the Gee-pole is -- the pole is about that long from the -- and the skis is tied to the dog, you know, the dog team. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: Or this sled here, you know, you could use the smaller sled. The guy standing on his sled and use the Gee-poling. MARLA STATSCEWICH: So the Gee-pole is only about four feet from the sled? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah.
MARLA STATSCEWICH: Ok.
BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: So you're walking next to the dog or skiing next to the dogs -- BILL DEMOSKI: Uh-huh.
KAREN BREWSTER: As they're pulling? BILL DEMOSKI: Sometimes you use snowshoes when they go so slow, but skis are pretty dangerous though, going down hill. My grandpa got killed with Gee-pole, you know. He was on a Gee-pole and my grandma was on the back standing on the sled and it had 14 dogs. Had about three or four caribou on the sled. They were going down the hill and going so fast and up there a fox or something and they took off. And that sled veered off and smashed right against the tree. Killed him right there, yeah. It was pretty risky, yeah. My dad got runned over one time with a 500 pound -- he said 500 pound of mail but he left -- that was his fault he told me. When he left Ruby that's about fifty miles to Galena he left Ruby and he had a hangover. I guess they had a big -- he was a fiddler, you know. He played the violin and played for the dance hall and he had hangover and he fell asleep and fell -- fell underneath the sled and he said that sled was so heavy he couldn't move. So with all he got he tipped it up, you know, got out from under there and the dogs wouldn't move. He told the dogs to stop, you know. He had 15, 16 dogs I guess. Yeah, he got runned over -- under the sled. ROBERT DROZDA: Wow! KAREN BREWSTER: So how much weight can a sled like this hold? BILL DEMOSKI: This one here?
KAREN BREWSTER: Yep. BILL DEMOSKI: Three, four hundred pounds, but we used to have this big, big 14 -- I mean the sled was from about here to that end long, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: Fourteen feet? BILL DEMOSKI: It would hold 500 pound, yeah. Five hundred pounds. Uh-huh. KAREN BREWSTER: How many dogs does it take to pull a sled that long? BILL DEMOSKI: They use 16, 17 dogs. My dad used to use 21 dogs. He was 17 years old when he first carried mail and he had 21 dogs. They were trained. There were good leaders, you know. And then when they used to come to villages, you know. They used to throw a line if the dogs couldn't make it up the bank and all the kids and guys get together and pull the sled up. They get a kick out of that, you know. That was their -- yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: Bill, when you have a sled in your mind and you are going out in the woods to look for material, what do you do? What are you looking for? BILL DEMOSKI: First thing I look for a grain, you know, like see here. This is a good grain and I look at a birch. It doesn't have no knots, you know, straight and the bark is smooth, you know and you chop it with your axe and take out little piece and you split it, you know. If it split straight that's the one you want. If it split curved this way, no it is going -- it is going to warp, it is going to work all right. But later on your stuff is going to warp this way or the runners would warp as it dry, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Are you looking for a younger birch usually or? BILL DEMOSKI: No, you could get a big birch. Look for -- you -- mostly I look for birch is in the swamps, you know, where it is moisty, you know, in the lakes, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: But on the hill, like back there in the hills, you know, if you birch there it is kind of crispy dry, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh.
BILL DEMOSKI: It breaks easy. KAREN BREWSTER: What time of year do you go look for it? BILL DEMOSKI: I can go any time I want to even now or fall time, you know, before snow, you know, yeah. Before freeze up I look for the birch. But you know this here, I use table saw to cut this out, you know. And then I use a sander, you know. Years ago, you had to use hand block and hand sand -- ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh.
BILL DEMOSKI: Now you just use electric -- electric stuff, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: And you're bending these bed pieces -- BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: Without steam? I see you have a little kerf in the end here. BILL DEMOSKI: You bend that same way as inside this -- this in here, you know. Sometimes -- sometimes, I put them on green, you know. Like -- I think I did this that -- I didn't build the -- I put them on green. I just dry this one and the runners. MARLA STATSCEWICH: What does - what does that mean to put it on green? BILL DEMOSKI: It -- you don't have to bend it, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: When the wood is fresh -- BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right? BILL DEMOSKI: Sometimes I -- I put it on the bender, maybe one or two nights and then it's ready to go and when it has not been enough, you just get a clamp and clamp it down, you know, put this under, you know. This is the bridle this -- not actually the big -- biggest -- use bigger than this for sled, you know. You don't need that for Snowgo. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Are we going to talk about the bending the brush bow and the handlebars? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. The brush bow like this one -- I'll take this one just for this one right here. I take -- I take this part and I form it out, you know, but I steam this one with the, you know -- you see I notice I don't laminate it. I steam it and I clamp it one with the little block in here, you know, and put the clamps here. That is what these clamps -- things are here for clamp, you know. And then I bend it over and clamp it, you know and you do the same thing with this one. You use this part. This -- this first part here, you got to use a different type, you know, it is not -- it is for the bumper, you know. It is not shaped like this. So, you do the same thing with this, you know. You get -- you get the birch, you know, and you just clamp it and -- KAREN BREWSTER: And then do you steam it or do you just let it dry? BILL DEMOSKI: Sometimes I -- this here I don't usually steam. I just put it on green and it forms pretty good. Sometimes I have a little splinter but I fixed it up, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: And how long do you leave it on the form? BILL DEMOSKI: About ten days, ten days or two weeks, yeah. Uh-huh. KAREN BREWSTER: Did you make those forms or did somebody -- BILL DEMOSKI: I did. I make all these. You know my brother-in-law is a dog musher and I make all this bow benders for him, you know, but he makes his runners out of steel. It is about four inch wide and then he heat it up and bend it and whittled it and then he used that for his racing sleds, Marvin Kokrine. He's a dog musher, you know. He raced in North American, Anchorage races, yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: We hear he is the last one still using a wooden sled? BILL DEMOSKI: Right, yeah. Yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: On -- on this one you said you did bend this, steam this though? BILL DEMOSKI: Uh-huh. Yeah, steamed that, yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: What's your steaming method? BILL DEMOSKI: Oh, I just get a tub about that long, you know, like a fish tub.
ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: And I boil the water real -- to a boiling and wrap this up with towel or cloth, you know and pour the water over and then work it -- work it like this, you know. Do that for about ten, fifteen minutes, you know. Boil the water again and go over it. When you put it on this spinner it just go over just like that, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Nice. BILL DEMOSKI: This one you don't have to do that because it is more easier to bend, you know, then this curve here. ROBERT DROZDA: And then on the bigger ones you laminate this? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah.
ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh.
BILL DEMOSKI: Uh-huh. KAREN BREWSTER: Do you want talk about -- you have an example here -- BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Is that what this is? BILL DEMOSKI: this, yeah, that goes to that handle right there, the big sled, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, that's for the handlebar. BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: But it is the laminating --
BILL DEMOSKI: Uh-huh.
KAREN BREWSTER: here? BILL DEMOSKI: I think this is about twenty-two inches. Let's see that. Let's see that tape, measure tape. Twenty -- I think that's 22. MARLA STATSCEWICH: It's at the bottom. Kind of buried at the bottom. BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, I think that's 22 inches. Yeah, 22 inches, right on the money and this I -- this was I do, I think that's 15 or 16. Yeah, this is 16. ROBERT DROZDA: And this is a kid's racing sled or playing sled? BILL DEMOSKI: Playing sled, yeah.
ROBERT DROZDA: Baby sled. Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: You know it is about six inch high. This one will be about seven inch, I think, eight inch, seven and a half. KAREN BREWSTER: You do this laminating but back in the old days when your dad and grandpa were building sleds -- BILL DEMOSKI: Uh-huh. KAREN BREWSTER: Did they laminate or did they do that differently? BILL DEMOSKI: No, no.
KAREN BREWSTER: What did they do? BILL DEMOSKI: They just used a -- like the one up there. They just used a birch like this one, you know. They don't laminate, you know. This wasn't laminated. MARLA STATSCEWICH: So they just don't bend it -- BILL DEMOSKI: This came up when the glue come out because after you did this the pitch wouldn't -- they only had pitch for glue but the pitch would come apart, you know. The glue -- glue stays on there, you know, never come apart. KAREN BREWSTER: So would they steam bend them then? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, steam. Uh-huh. KAREN BREWSTER: What about the runners? On this sled they're plastic. BILL DEMOSKI: This one here? KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, these are plastic runners. BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, that's plastic. That's saved the sled from wearing, you know, wearing down and then that is just a new way of easy pulling, you know. And like, if you go over a gravel that it wouldn't tear up your runners, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: So before that they were iron? BILL DEMOSKI: Iron, yeah, iron runners, yeah. MARLA STATSCEWICH: And before that? BILL DEMOSKI: Before that they just used -- my dad used to boil oil, you know, like beaver grease, you know, or bear grease, put it to a boil and paint this stuff and dry it. And he said that birch is like hardwood then. It is so easy running in the winter, you know. It don't ice up. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh.
BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: Did you guys ever cover your brush bow with something? I've seen that with like caribou or hide. Have you seen that? BILL DEMOSKI: No, just the handlebar.
ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: They do that because their hands don't get cold from the -- knowing this and sometimes I used to use that twine, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: And make it a little tougher? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. Now, I don't do that anymore. But nowadays, you know, they got all these plastic and they can put plastic stuff, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: But this way look better, you know, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: So how old were you when you first took out a dog team? BILL DEMOSKI: I don't know, I was about six or seven maybe. Used to handle two dogs. Of course, those days, you know, you could take out five, six dogs because they weren't fast, you know. They weren't rough or -- they were just trolling, you know, slow, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: How old were you when your dad made his last mail run? BILL DEMOSKI: I was about -- maybe about twelve. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. Did you ever go with him? BILL DEMOSKI: Uh-uh. No. Can't afford it because you got to take all the mail you can and we'll just be in the way, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: Extra weight. BILL DEMOSKI: That extra weight, yeah. Yeah. He make more money if he'd haul 50, 60 pound of extra mail, you know, then hauling dead weight. He used to call us dead weight. ROBERT DROZDA: So how did that work him running the mail? Would he -- how many days would take him to get to his destination? BILL DEMOSKI: Oh, he goes about -- in one day he can go 30 miles, 20, you know. They don't rush, you know. So he make -- he make a hundred mile trip about four days, yeah. Twenty miles, 30, 40 miles a day, you know. Sometimes he -- sometimes take longer because they have to break trail, you know. All depends on the trails condition, yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: And then rest up? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: And haul something back or? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. Yeah. They rest the dogs a couple days and then they -- until there's more mail come in, you know. They relay, you know. And sometimes they got to wait for the other mail carrier -- it is so tough going then they got to wait for the mail. As soon as the mail come in, they relay another mail carrier turn back, you know. They had roadhouses all along the Yukon River, 20, 30 mile trip, you know, yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: So they had comforts where they stopped? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah.
ROBERT DROZDA: Yeah.
BILL DEMOSKI: Uh-huh. KAREN BREWSTER: And a dog barn. Did all the roadhouses have dog barns? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. They had -- my dad said they used to use poles for dog teams -- they had good dog barns, good kennel. Yeah, the contractor, the mail contractors, they built their sleds and they took care of about 150 dogs, you know, they owned, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: So they leased them all out to mail carriers. Some of them had their own dogs, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Maybe we can talk about a few of these models here and I notice, you know, some of them are identified as being from different villages on the Yukon. Maybe you could talk about some of the differences from village to village or that kind of thing. BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, this -- this one here is most like a racing sled, you know. Because you got longer runner, you know. And this here like you use usual long distance races, you know. They make it light, you know. You notice this stuff is pretty light, you know. This is a freighter -- freighter and that's the one they use to get behind the snowshoes. See, they don't have a -- you don't stand in the back here, you know. They used to push that with snowshoes, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: But you still have dogs? ROBERT DROZDA: And these, too. BILL DEMOSKI: Where this one have, you know, you could stand on it, you know. You used to kick your or run behind, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: So these two you're really working. They got the handlebars out here and you're pushing. BILL DEMOSKI: This here most like a wood sled, you know, freight, toboggan like, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: But do you have dogs pulling that one with the handlebars or are you just pushing it yourself with snowshoes? BILL DEMOSKI: No, we use this -- KAREN BREWSTER: This one, you have dogs out in front too? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, the dogs would, yeah. That's for snowshoes when there is heavy load, you know. MARLA STATSCEWICH: And where is the musher in this small sled? Is there a musher associated with that, no? BILL DEMOSKI: They just sit on the sled. They just sit on the sled I guess. MARLA STATSCEWICH: And go a ride? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. Well, they don't go for a ride. They go hunting or trapping or they don't joy ride them days, you know, unless they're racing. They don't go -- you don't go out for nothing. No joy riding or no -- nothing. They have to be going fishing or hunting or trapping or hauling freight, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: So this flat one with no sides, would you be carrying something different on that? Like this, you said was for work, what would that be for? BILL DEMOSKI: This one? KAREN BREWSTER: That flat one. BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, they -- you can use it for hauling wood or you know, it's like a -- they -- it's just like a -- you could use, they used to use this for -- you can haul -- pull it by your neck too, you know. And make it smaller and drag your tent and stove , you know. ANGELA LINN: Would you pull that across your shoulder? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah.
ANGELA LINN: And pull that strap across?
BILL DEMOSKI: Yes, right, yeah. ANGELA LINN: And then would you have something that you use for padding? BILL DEMOSKI: Right, yeah. My grandpa, he -- his dad was -- had a trading post in Nulato and he send them out to St. Michael with five dogs. He had a big 14 foot basket sled and he took off, fur down, you know, to trade for dry goods and he made it all the way to St. Michael with five dogs and he came back with 500 pounds. And it took him a month and he said when he came back from St. Michael he bought a two-man saw, you know. That was the first saw that ever come to Nulato and everybody came to see that saw and how it works, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: So, he was trading Interior furs for Coastal fur, seal? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, dry goods, yeah, flour, sugar, dry apples and some -- ROBERT DROZDA: Oh, so he made some money and was able to buy that saw? BILL DEMOSKI: Right, yeah. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. KAREN BREWSTER: Did you guys talk about this curved one? ANGELA LINN: The toboggan? BILL DEMOSKI: The toboggan, yeah. They used that mostly up around Canada area, you know, Fort Yukon. That's -- that's all they use is toboggan. They make them out of -- they make the sides with moose skin, you know, and we used the and -- yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: Are there certain styles on these sleds like you would see one and say oh, that came from Fort Yukon area or something like that or? BILL DEMOSKI: This one will and -- ROBERT DROZDA: Or any village, you know, like they have their own style? BILL DEMOSKI: You go up to Stevens Village or some place they got this style, you know. And this here is mostly downriver, like my sled, you know, Koyukuk River and that one there, looks like it is mostly Eskimo. KAREN BREWSTER: This one with the long handlebars? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, yeah. Uh-huh. Freighters. ANGELA LINN: That collection a lot of those pieces come from Rampart. BILL DEMOSKI: Rampart? ANGELA LINN: So, I wonder if that's. BILL DEMOSKI: Ok, yeah. Yeah, they used to use it for freighting probably. KAREN BREWSTER: You mentioned an Eskimo sled. Do you know how the Eskimo sleds might -- are different from your sleds? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, they kind of look like this, you know. They're different, you know. Other than that they used to be longer but they had no -- just like flat, you know, flat sleds. KAREN BREWSTER: They didn't have a brush bar. BILL DEMOSKI: Uh-uh. And there they start having dogs, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Do you remember or do you hear stories about changes in the way that they used to line the dogs out behind the sleds? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, they used to -- they used to call it single file, you know. If you are going to use five dogs, they put one dog in single file, you know. That way they follow their track easier, you know, follow their snowshoe track. If you used a big team, they use double, you know. Double lead dogs, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: What do you do with your dogs when you run into overflow? BILL DEMOSKI: Oh, you got to get out of there right away and then first you go to the dry snow and rub their hand in dry snow and dry it out before they get frostbite. You do that same thing with your mukluks, you know. You go before they soak through, you run and jump and get that, you know, this crispy snow. Sink your foot and dry it off, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: So do dogs in dog sleds get stuck in overflow and open water like you do on a snowmachine? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. Sometimes when it's cold winter they used to lose a lot of dogs by freezing their groin, you know, in overflow. KAREN BREWSTER: So the dogs don't know better to go around it, huh? BILL DEMOSKI: No, if you've got a good leader, they sense water because the dog can -- the leader can just come to a complete stop hear that there is -- they sense the open water, you know, or thin ice. They can feel by their hand and they stop and they ain't going to move until you tell them. They know that, they hear the water running underneath, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: Is that something you can train a dog or they just some know and some don't? BILL DEMOSKI: Right. There are some are natural. They're natural leaders and they sense that, you know. And they can navigate around open places pretty good. Yeah, we had a good leader like that one time -- me and my younger brother. We were coming back from fishing underneath the ice with a fish net, you know. Had a big sled like that and had about forty green fish in there and we were going between two riffles water and I started to go down like this, the dog went right down in the middle just as fast as they can. We got on the beach. We look out there and the whole thing just caved right in, went underneath. Just saved our life. ROBERT DROZDA: Make your heart race, huh. BILL DEMOSKI: We would never have got out of it, yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: Sometimes the overflow you can't avoid it, too. BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: You have to go through it, right? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: And then what? BILL DEMOSKI: The overflow? KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. If you have to go through it, what do you do? BILL DEMOSKI: No, you don't go through it. You get out of there. Fast, best way you can. You backtrack or you don't go push on because you'll get in trouble, you know. Where the overflow is you can just -- you can just sink down to the bottom and you got to backtrack or get the dogs out of there right away, you know. You don't keep a going. Well, it's mostly the instinct of the dogs that save your life, you know. They can pull the sled out and sometimes you couldn't pull the sled out. You got to turn the sled loose and they got relay the load, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, if you got to stop and unload your sled your feet are getting awfully wet? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, yeah. You see what I was telling you about the birch that, that you have it dry green. You wouldn't wind up with this, see. See what I mean? ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: That one got warped because it was not a straight grain birch or something. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: Or something happened there. Notice how it over like this, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Right. And then your sled won't go straight down the trail? BILL DEMOSKI: And where this one isn't as straight, its a good grain, you know. That is what I was talking about and the grain of the birch, you know. See you wouldn't wind up with that, you know. Now you got -- you can't straighten any more, you know. And when they get bowed like this, it is hard pulling. And it wouldn't steer good, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: You said you used to use nails? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: But before nails did they just use wooden pegs? BILL DEMOSKI: No, yeah, wooden peg and then they lash it, lashed like I show you, lashed the babiche around like that, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: Or I see where the nails are you'd use lashing. BILL DEMOSKI: Uh-huh. Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, ok. I guess their screws now. BILL DEMOSKI: Uh-huh. Yeah. I had a whole bunch of this but it is the only one I got left. I hadn't cleaned moose skin for about five years. MARLA STATSCEWICH: I have one question. What's the first thing you do when you are going to build a sled? I mean you get your wood and then do you build the handle and the brush bar. BILL DEMOSKI: Oh, you got to -- the old days you used to -- we split the wood, you know. Get a hammer and the wood is about that round and then you hit the hammer a little bit, you know, crack it. And then you split the birch and you split it in three corners, you know. And then you get one runners out of one corner, you know. And then you -- the next one you get this one, you know, all by splitting it, you know. And then you plane a lot of work, you know. Gotta have a sharp plane. And then after you get all -- get it ready you get the steamer, steam your handlebar and -- your bender, you know, you steam that, you know and you bend them, you know. And then let it dry for two weeks. Then you start cutting out your cross pieces and your stanchions, you know. And then you form it good, you know, like good -- sand them and then you start putting it together. You get knots in them, you know. MARLA STATSCEWICH: So in your first tree will be your runners. BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. MARLA STATSCEWICH: And then -- BILL DEMOSKI: This one. MARLA STATSCEWICH: And then -- BILL DEMOSKI: This one, yeah. MARLA STATSCEWICH: And then those ones, ok, yeah. BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. First tree - first is runners. Then you get this and then you get this, you know. MARLA STATSCEWICH: Ok. BILL DEMOSKI: This comes on green and you put it on green there and the bow -- the bow, this part here, it only dry about a week, five, six days maybe. You just cut your birch you can cut 14, 16 feet, you know, if it is straight and then you can figure you're going to use 10 foot of the -- for the runners and get another four feet for parts like this, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Do you try to get all your pieces from one tree? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. Uh-huh. And that for the bows, you know, you try to get the younger birch, you know, with more flexible, you know. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. BILL DEMOSKI: Some, yeah, some days you could go through about 20, 30 trees to get the right kind of -- but some people it look like they don't have the ambition to look for good birch, you know. They just cut down anything and they make it their own, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: In a hurry. BILL DEMOSKI: And like you notice here, you don't see hardly any knots on this one. This one has got one little one, you know, one little here but that don't hurt nothing, you know. Most of them is all good grain, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: What you look for, see this is good grain birch. Maybe some time you get a damp -- you see it picking dust, you know, you can get a damp cloth and wipe it you know. Or else it is going to look like that and get all the -- KAREN BREWSTER: Do you treat the wood? Do you oil the wood or anything? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. I use -- I boil the -- I boil the linseed oil, you know, boil it and treat the wood with it, you know. And it make -- cure the wood good, you know. It ain't going to rot or get brittle. ROBERT DROZDA: You do it once or you repeat following years? BILL DEMOSKI: Well, you know, you -- like this one here it has been out in the yard and you have to redo -- re-sand it again and do it. But this one here you could just put another coat. All you have to do is wipe this off, this stuff here with wet rag and that's really moist, you know. Gather up dust here and there, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: So in the old days what would people do to maintain their wooden sleds? Would they oil them like that? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, they use like a beaver grease or bear grease, you know. No, they used to -- you know what they used to get those rocks from the hills, it's -- and then you notice this color you know. KAREN BREWSTER: The red color. BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, the red color. They use that like this, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: So that would help protect the wood too? BILL DEMOSKI: I think I use this -- want to do it for like paint, you know.
ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: Like you use that for snowshoes too. KAREN BREWSTER: How long, I have one last question. Is all long does one of these wooden sleds last before you have to make a new one? BILL DEMOSKI: Well, according to one like I had this about twenty years. My -- I took care of it because only me use it and my Snowgo, you know, but years ago when -- yeah, about twenty years it could last if you really take care of it. Because you don't try to haul wood or heavy load in it, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: All right. KAREN BREWSTER: Thank you very much
ROBERT DROZDA: Thanks alot, Bill.