At the time of this 1992 interview, Bobby Vent is one of the older people living in Huslia. He is married to Mary Vent. Their daughter, Mabel, runs the village store. Bobby was born October 12, l913 and grew up near Anvik. From comments made by various people in the village, I think his father may have been Canadian. His mother died when he was six years old, and his father sent him to school at Holy Cross for a couple of years. This experience was his only formal education. His father made his living by trapping and cutting wood, and Bobby grew up doing the same. Although today he is well along in years, he is still quite spry and active.
Bobby is known as one of the original "Huslia Hustlers", a group of men from the Koyukuk River region who were quite successful at raising winning racing sled dogs. Jimmy Huntington was another. Sled dog racing is a sport that has gone on in interior Alaskan villages at least since early in the 20th century and perhaps even before. Bobby and Jimmy, though competitors in local races, traded ideas about how to successfully, raise, feed, and train their dogs to compete with outsiders in Fairbanks and Anchorage. Their experience provided subsequent successful Koyukuk River region dog mushers and breeders with a path to follow. In l973, Bobby entered the Iditarod, and even though it was his first big long distance race, he came in second, a very significant achievement. His trophy still occupies an important corner of the living room. He used the $8,000 prize money to help start the store.
Bobby sees the biggest change in dog racing over the past 20 years as the much larger amounts of money people have to raise and spend to be competitive. Today, he feels, mushers need the best of everything for themselves and their dogs or they stand no chance of winning at all. These changes all make it much more difficult for someone from one of the rural villages to compete since its even more expensive for them with the additional costs of shipping in high quality food, shipping out dogs for races, and so on. Although Bobby no longer has a dog team, he remains very interested in dogs and mushing. When I visited him he was carefully raising a female coyote-dog mixture and her pups. He felt the pups, who were sired by a dog, would eventually make very tough, strong sled dogs.
On the tape, we talked first about his early life growing up around Anvik. Then we focused primarily on his dog mushing experiences, his efforts to run the Iditarod, and his views on how dog racing has changed over the years. We made the tape sitting in his living room late on the afternoon of July 22, 1992, the same afternoon that I taped with his wife, Mary.
Bobby Vent passed away in 2006.
Bobby Vent was also interviewed in 2003 by William Schneider (Oral History 2002-27-11, click on Bobby Vent, Interview 2 in Digital Assets Information to access this later interview).
Digital Asset Information
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1) Growing up with his dad near Anvik
2) Early jobs and first dog teams
3) Learning more about handling and training dogs
4) Tips on training and racing dogs
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Section 1: born -- October 12, 1913\ mother -- died when six\ Holy Cross -- sent by sidewheeler to school\ Soaz, Ben\ school -- couple years, only education\ father -- came and took his son away\ Owens, Harold\ Anvik\ Grayling\ wood -- cutting contract\ Twelve Mile Bluff\ Six Mile Bluff\ flu -- Anvik, many died, loose dogs|
Section 2: Demoski, Leo\ dogs -- used for hauling wood\ Doors, Herbert\ Kaltag\ Anvik\ Eagle Island\ twenty-two mile\ Koyukuk\ Vernetti, Dominick -- storekeeper\ moose -- first kill\ wood -- cutting for Koyukuk store\ trapline -- using four or five dogs\ walking -- at twelve, walking from Dulbi to Koyukuk\ Carlson, Bert -- wood cutting\ fishing\ Evans, Richard\ Evans, Charlie\ Nolen, Walter\ wood -- cutting twenty-one cords for school|
Section 3: racing -- need dogs that will listen\ Huntington, Jimmy -- Hog River, learning from each other\ Livengood Race\ Burkevich, John -- sponsor\ races -- Anchorage and Fairbanks\ Iditarod -- putting together a team of good, honest village dogs\ Iditarod -- dog injuries\ Iditarod -- Rainy Pass, Unalakleet, Nome\ Warner, Sam -- races|
Section 4: dogs -- must listen even if tired\ exercise\ breeding\ favorites -- Old Keiser, Queenie\ Fur Rendezvous\ sport racing -- changes: money, food, sponsors|