Digital Asset Information
Project: Dog Mushing in Alaska Project Jukebox
Date of Interview: Oct 17, 1962
Narrator(s): Grant Pearson
Interviewer(s): W. Verde Watson
Transcriber: Carol McCue
People Present: Dick Stenmark, James Larson
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
Beginning of the use of sled dogs at Mt. McKinley National Park (Denali National Park)
End of dog sled patrols in the Park
Relationship between a park ranger and his dogs
Relationship between visitors and the dogs
Keeping the dogs in shape during the summer
Dog care: keeping their toe nails trimmed
Equipment: dog collar
Dog care: feeding your dogs
Size of dogs used for winter patrols in the Park
Using male versus female dogs
Consideration of a dog's foot size
Obtaining the right types of dogs
Raising sled dogs
Sled dog demonstration program and early use of dog teams at Denali National Park
End of the sled dog patrols, and disease amongst dogs
Training sled dogs, and the best lead dog he ever had
New rangers learning to drive a dog sled and train dogs
Learning from dogs and learning to trust them
Retiring old sled dogs
Number of dogs used in a team for winter patrols
Changes in modes of transportation
Number of dogs on a winter patrol team and type of sleds used
Use of commands to control dogs
Using a gee pole
The end of a sled dog's career
Number of dogs kept at Mount McKinley National Park and rangers maintaining their own teams and equipment
Equipment: dog harness
History of sled dog demonstrations in the Park
Discipline problems with the dogs
Historical accuracy of the sled dog demonstration and number of dogs used
Getting dogs to work for you
The dog team trail through the Park
Click play, then use Sections or Transcript to navigate the interview.
After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.
W. VERDE WATSON: Well, we're on the air now, on the tape.
Well, Grant, in what year was the use of sled dogs for making winter patrols discontinued?
GRANT PEARSON: Well, it was back in 1921, Harry Karstens, he was then based in Nenana, that was before the railroad was completed, and that was the headquarters for the park at that time, made one of the patrols from there.
And in 1920 or so he moved down to the Riley Creek, then outside the park at McKinley Park Station, and set up camp in the old deserted railroad camp.
The patrols were then made by dog team and they went on from there.
When I came to the park in February 20, 1926, there were 12 miles of road a Model T could drive over, so you can see our transportation consisted then of dog team work.
And it was -- to answer your question now, it was in 1942 when I returned to the park after being absent for three years. In 1942, the chief ranger had discontinued the use of dogs.
The reason for that was that during the war, there was no trapping, the price of fur had gone down, there was no trapping going on.
We checked with the -- with the Game Commission of Fairbanks, we found out who was trapping, there was nobody trapping in there, so there was no need to patrol from a protection standpoint.
So I would say in 1942 was practically the close of the dog team patrol for protective purposes or other work in the park.
W. VERDE WATSON: It was pretty much a decision in the area and concurred in by everyone, I suppose?
GRANT PEARSON: That's right. The region then thought dogs were too much expense.
This was brought to the attention of them by Mr. Been, and it was too much of an expense, and that airplanes would be a more practical way to do it,
and that they would stock the cabins, and then they would make their patrols with skis or snowshoes on foot.
The reason, or the original reason for the dog team, dog teams, as you know, was to carry your supplies along with you.
Because when I came here we had no patrol cabins or anything else, and we used a dog team continuously.
Was it the first 13 years I was here, we worked with the dog teams all together, they hauled all of our supplies out, all of our supplies for our cabins, that's if we didn't whipsaw, and advance supplies for any emergencies.
And if we build our cabins, everything was hauled out by dog team.
We had no other way to get it. Airplanes hadn't advanced to the state where we could use them.
Cats we couldn't use. We had no Snow Jeeps at that time that were practical until after the war.
So the dog team was the answer. It was a practical way to travel.
And in case that you had anything to do when you was out there, that was your lifeline, so to speak, was your dog team.
W. VERDE WATSON: Well, I guess that covers that fairly well. I'd say if other men have questions, we can bring them up later.
The next thing was I was interested in knowing the kind of relationships that existed between the park ranger and his dogs.
Was it friendly and close? Did the dogs respond quickly and accurately to his commands under most circumstances because they loved him and wanted to do the job, or did he get the desired results more generally by harsher measures, such as use of kicks, whips, chains, and strong language?
I'm under the impression the latter is more the rule between the Natives and their dogs.
GRANT PEARSON: The rangers know that the dog team was their lifeline. That was their chance for living and for existing with their -- with their dog team; and as a rule, they all took good care of their dogs.
They responded to the commands because they were trained that way, that the dogs were trained that way and they responded to the command, and as a rule, the only reason the whip was used was to stop a fight.
And the rangers almost always used kindness.
The Natives, as a rule, they use the harsher methods, they beat them down and lose the spirit of the dog, but the rangers didn't do that.
And we trained our dogs to be friendly and so they would like strangers. Strangers could come up and pet them, the same as they do now.
And occasionally we would have a timid dog on the team, and we would warn people to stay away from him because they might get excited and they might bite them.
And now, that's all of that one now, you can go on to the next one.
W. VERDE WATSON: Well, you pretty well answered this next one, but I'll ask it anyway.
When people other than rangers were around, that is to say, visitors such as now attend our dog demonstrations, were they allowed to get chummy with the dogs? Would you permit it now?
GRANT PEARSON: I would permit it now if I was handling those dogs and knowed the dogs -- and knew the dogs, I would permit it, but I'd have to know the dogs because as I said before, there are timid dogs and they'll get excited and they might accidently bite you,
but from Smoky and Skipper and all that old type of dogs, you wouldn't need to worry about them biting anybody.
We'd let them go up and pet them, and we always did. So I let them do that, it's just the way you train them.
And you would know, the man who's taking care of them would know whether they would let them do it or not.
And the fact is, you asked the question, would you let them,I wouldn't let any stranger come up and pet any dog that I thought there was the least chance that they were going to bite them.
And I wouldn't have them, and wouldn't have them in the team, in fact.
You'd have those dogs in the team that you know you can depend on, like this bunch you had, I suppose you still have them, I suppose all those dogs are the same as they were, probably.
W. VERDE WATSON: Well, most of them except a couple of them that we did away with lately were too old for -- for the use, so we thought.
Well, I was just curious about that because we were wondering if this routine or this habit we have of letting people be friendly with the dogs is a good influence on the dogs and was in character with the old time use of them.
Evidently, in general, it was.
GRANT PEARSON: Yes, it was.
W. VERDE WATSON: Well, during the heyday of dog sledding here, was anything special done during the summer season to keep the dogs in good condition for winter patrol?
GRANT PEARSON: The only thing that we done in the summer to keep them in good condition, we had those pens, we let them run on that,and then we had these whirlimajigs for a number of years which would allow them two dogs on a -- on a pole to run around,
and we put them out on those during the day and they could run around in a circle, and that's the only thing we had.
And at that, the dogs were not in condition when fall came along. While I'm on that, I think probably I'll answer another question of yours, too.
In the fall when we got ready to work our dogs, you have a certain procedure that we would go through.
Those dogs are idle. Consequently, their toenails grew out, they had long toenails. Consequently, the -- all the hair on their -- between their toes was out long.
The reason I mention the toenails, you'll get to travelling on this ice and a dog is pulling and he's got a long toenail, and he'll pull a toenail.
Well, then, he's practically out for the winter. You have to put a mocassinon that foot for all the winter long and that toenail will not grow out.
You take a pair of pliers and you cut them off where it's white, every one of them. And then just file them down a little so there's no rough edges or a ragged edge.
And then all winter long they are travelling and they'll keep them worn down, but in the summer when they are on -- on the dirt, they don't keep them worn down.
And this hair, the reason it's so important to get that out, as you go along, and as your dog's foot hits the -- hits the snow, his toes opens up.
Then when his foot comes up, they close, and there's hair in there. The snow will gather around the hair, pretty soon you get ice chunks.
Some dogs are very patient, they'll hold back, you know, that they've got something wrong with their foot and they'll chew them out.
Others will grab them and pull the hair and all out and they'll just wreck their feet, will just make them -- they'll be bleeding and everything else.
And you take a pair of blunt nosed scissors and cut each hair out of the dog's feet, cut all the hairs between the toes, between the pads;
and it will keep that worn enough, maybe you might have to do that once more during the winter, and that's one of the main -- main things on keeping your dog in shape.
And one other important thing is the collar. The collar on a dog is not like the collar on a horse.
The collar on a horse fits down on his shoulders; the collar on a dog fits on the neck. You let them pull on the shoulders and it will hurt their shoulders and it will get sore and wear the hair off.
Sometimes they'll -- they'll have abscesses on their shoulders, and you just practically ruin a dog.
They pull on the neck, they don't pull on the shoulders. It took me a long time to figure that out, but their shoulders are just not made for pulling, it's their neck right here where they pull on.
And that's another thing. You keep that up, if your collar is too big, they run -- our collars are running 5, 6, 7, and 8 inch sizes, depending on the size of the head.
But whatever the smallest -- the way you judge your collars for your dog, the smallest collar you can get over the head is the size that you use.
Because it doesn't fit on there, it fits on your neck, and you want it to fit right in here.
And down here what cuts off the wind, is you'll notice the collar, has a -- it's provided for there, and there's no danger of cutting their wind off.
So that's -- I just mentioned that to show on the care of the dogs. And then other than that, you take and feed your dogs regular.
The first year I was in the park here, I was a kindhearted ranger, I couldn't quite savvy that business of going 24 hours without feeding a dog, so I fed them in the morning.
And I started out and I got about two miles out, and every dog got sick and I never moved for three hours. They are like the hunting dog, they can't work on a full stomach.
And some of the dogs will eat their fish, probably eat half of it and they'll leave half of it. Then along towards morning they'll eat it.
And you can tell which ones are doing that because you'll go along and he'll start to vomit after he's worked an hour and two, he'll start vomiting.
So the next night you'll go around to that dog and you'll fool him, you'll take his fish that he hasn't eaten and you'll pick it up about ten o'clock and take it in before you go to bed.
So then he gets out of the habit, if he's going to get that fish, he better eat it.
Those are things that you learn as you go along. And I think I got more about training of them, but as you come along with your questions, why, I'll cover that.
W. VERDE WATSON: Yeah, well, I think those are a couple of important things that need to be incorporated in this talk on the demonstration, if we continue it.
They're certainly things I didn't know much about. So what breed of dog was used, if any one, or more than one breed? GRANT PEARSON: Well, I --
W. VERDE WATSON: What breed is considered best?
GRANT PEARSON: Well, we used what is known as a Husky and a Malemute, and the only difference I could find in what they call a Husky is they have more of the strain of wolf.
And what we wanted out of the wolf, we started back -- I think it was about in 1920s, I picked up a couple of bitches from an old timer by the name of Jim Bourrough , and he had half breed wolves, and these were quarter breed females.
And we got the feet out of those dogs. They had a small, compact foot instead of the -- most of the dogs, what we call the Malemutes, have a great, big paw, and when they go down like that, as I said, their toes open up and they come up with a whole bunch of snow.
Now, the wolf, you can follow a wolf trail, if you have, and you'll never see any blood along it. But if you follow a dog trail, you'll generally see some blood here and there.
And the wolf has a compact foot. I don't know if you've got any out there at all now that's got any wolf in them at all, but it's all we wanted out of the wolf was the foot.
And that was -- that was the cross with a wolf that's known as the Husky.
The Malamute is more of a mongrel, he's something that happened when the White men come up here and they crossed their dogs that they brought from the states with the Indian dogs, and that's more of a Malamute.
But as near as I can find out, you can talk to old timers and you can get four or five definitions of dogs, but as near as I've been able to find, that's about as good a definition that you can give is a Husky is one that has wolf strain in them.
Generally they have straight ears, compact feet; small, compact feet. Not real small, but small in comparison to the others.
And that's the difference. And we preferred the Husky. Now, Lou Corbley, when he was chief ranger, someone gave him a little Siberian Husky bitch, she was white.
So he got a dog,a white hide Siberian dog and was going to try them. And we came up with about a dozen of those, and they would average from 40 to 60 pounds.
They were fast, but in 6 inches of snow they'd start jumping, they couldn't -- they couldn't break it, they couldn't break the snow like the big guys, like you see them going through.
So we got rid of them. They were racing dogs, they weren't pulling dogs at all.
So we tried -- actually tried the three different kinds, the Siberian Husky, which is the small type dog, Husky dog; and the Husky, which is a larger dog, and the Malamute.
The Husky and Malamute would run from 80 to 135. We had some that weighed as much as 135 pounds. I think you have pictures of some of them down there.
Old Skipper out there, I think he weighed about 110 or something like that. We weighed him once. I've forgotten the exact weight.
But that was the type of dog we wanted, something that could go through the snow and you didn't need to snowshoe in front of them all the time.
These little dogs, 6 inches of snow and you're snowshoeing in front of them, that gets to be an old thing, but you get a good mangy dog, and they'll go right at -- take seven dogs, and they'll go right through there without breaking snow, probably as much as a foot or 14 inches of snow.
That's what we wanted. And that's why we stuck to the big ones and not the -- not the little ones.
W. VERDE WATSON: Well, that's another interesting and important thing. I -- You actually use big dogs because you want them to break a trail.
GRANT PEARSON: That's right. And also, they can pull more. We figured our big dogs on a trail that once was broke, broken, by "broken" I mean it was broken out and used during the winter, and there might be some snow on it drifted over or something, but a big dog, seven dogs will pull 700 pounds on a sled and do 30 miles in a day.
You have to handle that with a gee pole in the front of the sled. We figured a hundred pounds to the dog exclusive of their sled and tarps and stuff like that. And that's a pretty large load, you know, and those little dogs can't do it.
Most dogs I've ever used, I think there's a picture of them in the file, when we finished surveying the park in 1937, I had 13 dogs and I had 1200 pounds on the two sleds.
I had a gee pole, and I went right along with it, had no trouble at all. So that's a --
W. VERDE WATSON: How large a dog was used? Is there a minimum and maximum weight that should be considered?
GRANT PEARSON: Well, I think there should be a maximum/minimum weight, and the last year before we got rid of our dogs, our dogs would average from 80 to 135, with most of them running around to 100 to 105 pounds.
Now, after -- I think it was 1947, the Fairbanks Ice Carnival asked me if I would come up with specifications for the typical Alaska sled dogs.
And I contacted many people on it, and they all agreed that a dog should run for ordinary work, not race work, for ordinary work, it should run from a hundred and ninety to a hundred and ten.
That would be a typical dog. And that's what we stuck with mostly. But we had two dogs, one 130 and 135.
Well, this probably shouldn't go on tape but it cost me a hundred -- it cost me a quart of whiskey to find out the weight of those dogs because I came in with nine dogs one spring and I had been training out in the park, and John Rumohr was here, and he said, "You've got lots of dog paws there."
And I said, "Yeah, John, I think they'll average a hundred pounds, and I think maybe Skipper and Bozeman will go a hundred and five." He says, "Why are they yup and yiminee," he said, "Bozeman and Skipper will go more than a hundred and thirty pounds."
"I'll bet you a quart of whiskey they don't." So we went and got the scales and weighed them, and Bozeman weighed 130, and Skipper 135, and he got his quart of whiskey.
But that said, they're a little bit too heavy.
W. VERDE WATSON: Is that the same Skipper we have --
GRANT PEARSON: No, no, that was another. That was -- that was another.
W. VERDE WATSON: How long have we had this one:? GRANT PEARSON: Well, we've had three different Bozemans since I've been here, and I think about four Skippers.
We just carry on the name; if they die, why, we give someone else the name.
W. VERDE WATSON: Well, that's an interesting point. I haven't made a question out of it, but since we're on the matter of names, the names that you used were that type more -- more specially, were they, rather than Eskimo or --
GRANT PEARSON: Yeah. W. VERDE WATSON: -- Indian names?
GRANT PEARSON: In those days we kind of believed in the short, convenient name. Tom, Dick, and Harry, or something you can get out fast instead of coming out with some long Eskimo name or something, you get shortened.
We did have some -- had some Kluane, that was one I remember. We had Toklat, that's an Indian name. And a few others, I think.
Not too many, though. But we have probably more for convenience short names you could snap at them fast.
W. VERDE WATSON: That sounds under -- or all right.
GRANT PEARSON: Then we had some crazy names, too. We had 16 pups come up at one time, I trained most of those dogs. We had a clerk here by the name of Oxfelt and the kids got calling them names, you see, and the darn pups got to knowing those names.
And being kids, they named them Warbucks and Oysters and things like that. Well, those names stuck then because the dogs got to know those things.
Hey, Warbucks, Oyster, things like that. Well then after that we put in a little no more naming those names, we give them a short -- at least a short, one syllable name that we could snap at them, two at the most.
W. VERDE WATSON: I think we still have some of those name boards around, I think I saw Warbucks out there, and that, and Oyster.
GRANT PEARSON: Yeah. They found them funny papers, you see, and they got that --
W. VERDE WATSON: Well, so much for names. It sounds like short ones would be certainly most usable. Were male dogs only used?
GRANT PEARSON: As a rule, male dogs are only used. Occasionally, we would put a female in the team, but the only reason we would have her in there, like, say, in March, if we wanted to breed her and we'd take her along, and if there was a certain dog we wanted to breed her to,
so Harry Liek, the chief ranger, would say, take Bitch here, or whatever the name was, along with you this time and breed her. And then you have a lot of trouble because you had to be sure only that dog, and generally some other guy would beat his time.
But that's -- that's why we didn't use bitches because once they came in heat, for 27 days, there are 9 days coming in and there are 9 days in heat and there are 9 days going out, you just have one big fight practically that whole time about who is going to be the head man for that lady.
W. VERDE WATSON: I can imagine the problem. See there,I suspected for that reason it would be all males.
GRANT PEARSON: If you're going to use bitches, why, you should use them all. Now, John Rumohr told about when he was packing mail on the Kuskokwim mail train, Judge Coke Hill had the contract, and his wife had nine bitches, and a wonderful team.
She used those bitches running back and forth between the Kuskokwim, almost 300 miles to Nenana. She'd make that trip three or four times in the winter.
And she'd use all -- all bitches. She just preferred them.
W. VERDE WATSON: Uh hum.
GRANT PEARSON: So they are just as good to work as a dog. I don't know but what -- I won't tell the women that, but I think they might be a little more intelligent. Don't play this tape back to them now.
W. VERDE WATSON: Well, it's probably a proper admission at that.
GRANT PEARSON: Yeah, I think it is.
W. VERDE WATSON: Was the size of the dog's feet considered very important?
GRANT PEARSON: Yes. Very much so. As I mentioned before, short, compact feet was much better because they didn't have the -- the trouble with the ice and the snow and things like that tearing their feet up.
And when you go down like that, then your feet open up, you have more chance of hurting their feet than you have on these short, compact feet.
Their toes will open, too, but not near as much. And we found that that wolf strain in them brought out that feet.
W. VERDE WATSON: I see. GRANT PEARSON: That was the main thing.
W. VERDE WATSON: Well, did any of the bigger, or perhaps the biggest dogs that we have out here now, do they have feet that are bigger than they need to be or should be?
GRANT PEARSON: Well, I -- I haven't seen them. Skipper had big feet, I'd say his feet were too big,but Smoky was fairly decent, as I recall. I never had no trouble with them.
I made one trip with Charlie in 10 days and I clipped the hair out of his feet and I never had no trouble with him at all as far as feet.
W. VERDE WATSON: Have you by chance looked at these, I guess, set of five small dogs that we have that have been said by some to have feet too small for this job?
GRANT PEARSON: No. I will, after we get through, I'll go out and take a look at them, but I haven't seen them.
W. VERDE WATSON: It would be interesting to know what you think about them.
GRANT PEARSON: Yeah, I'd be glad to.
W. VERDE WATSON: They appear to have very small feet, certainly by comparison of the other dogs we have. Of course, the dogs themselves are pretty small, too. They must be far under the weight limit that you mentioned.
Were dogs suitable for the job readily obtainable then, and are they now, and from whom?
GRANT PEARSON: Well, in those days we had trouble getting dogs. I remember I went to Fairbanks, it took me three days to find seven dogs.
And in those days we paid $45 a piece for them, they were untrained dogs, they were a year old, and no leader.
And they were not easy obtainable because when I first came to the park, and it was before the airplanes were taking over, and that was their main mode of transportation, they were carrying the mail and everything else.
You go and buy a dog in the winter, you had quite a lot of trouble getting one and they generally held you up on them.
And right now, if you knew where to go down -- down the river getting Indian dogs, you can get them, but most of those Indians villages are changing their way of thinking about their dogs and they are getting more of a racing type of a dog now.
They haven't got their heavy luggers like they had before. They use the racing dogs on their trap line, too, and they do that on account of this attraction to this winter carnival and racing and the money they make out of that.
But there are a few good dogs around Nenana obtainable. I don't know what they cost, but if you're going to buy them, go out and pick them up. It'd cost you plenty.
W. VERDE WATSON: How much would you say? GRANT PEARSON: I'd say $75 for a good year old dog.
W. VERDE WATSON: Would he have any training?
GRANT PEARSON: Probably would just be broken in, maybe this time of the year, probably just broken in to work.
Which, after you have trained dogs, I trained dogs for six years steady for the Park Service, and that way, I mean, they were -- they were bringing up a litter or two of pups every year.
And every fall I got the pups. And I just loved that because I had a high yield skookum team, and I could train them the way I wanted, and then I'd turn them over to a ranger the next year.
And every year I had a team of pups, which on the start was quite a lot of trouble because you had to teach them different things, but after you once got them trained, you had the best team of them all because you had a young team.
But then your leader, you had to train your leader. And I think I have down in the notes here on the -- training the leader on certain pages.
Well, when we get to that, I'll come to that later on that --in my book when I tell about how -- how I trained the leader.
W. VERDE WATSON: Yes, I remember reading that in the book, and it's quite interesting. Well --
GRANT PEARSON: But right now, to answer your question again, I don't think that sled dogs are readily obtainable. I don't think you could go out and pick them up, you'd have quite a lot of trouble.
W. VERDE WATSON: I suppose, in view of what you say about the tendency among dog handlers and owners as a rule to -- sort of move toward smaller racing type dog, the kind of dog we think about is going to get more and more difficult to obtain.
GRANT PEARSON: That's right. And that is the reason that the Park Service raised their own dogs the last 10 years we used them, we raised practically every one of them.
One summer we had 16 pups running around here. And the way we did, getting back to your friendly dogs, we turned them loose until they started packing things off, so that they were among people and they got friendly with people and they knew everybody and they were friendly.
We just had them running, running loose around here. But the superintendent got into trouble quite a few times because some of the women put up their sheets, and the dogs seen these sheets flipping around, and the first thing they know they wouldn't have any sheets.
There would be a mad ranger's wife giving them the dickens for tearing up the sheets, which you can't blame them.
But that brought the best type of dogs, giving them the best growth and everything, was just let them run loose for about the first five months.
And you open up the door all dressed up to go someplace and it was raining, the dogs would come and jump up on you, and you were a very fine looking sight when you got to where you were going.
W. VERDE WATSON: Well, something I had in mind after -- in that whole. In order to have dogs, then, as the years go on, it appears to me that the Park Service would have to plan on -- on just simply raising dogs by --
with the direct objective of having the right kind of dog, if they want to have the dogs, the kind that you used to use, we'd have to provide them ourselves.
GRANT PEARSON: It's absolutely, and you would have a better workable team.
Now, if you were going to go out and get a team right now, you'd have to buy one in Nenana and one in Fairbanks, one in Koyukuk, and one some other place, you'd have all strangers.
And this way you have all the dogs that knew each other, they are all friendly, and as your teams come along, you take the females and save the best looking one and have her for breeding next year.
And then maybe you would have to take her someplace to get her bred to prevent inbreeding, but you wouldn't have to, say if you had one bitch, better have a litter every two years, you just want one team anyway for exhibition purposes, that's all would be necessary,
then you could bring up the kind of the dog you wanted, rather than to -- and you could also train your dogs much better, have them here in the summer and have a big play pen for them and let them all run together in there.
They don't fight when they are pups; oh, they fight, but it doesn't matter, but they don't hurt each other.
And I would recommend that you raise your own dogs. If you could buy them I'd say buy them, but you can't do it. Go and try to buy a litter of dogs, you can't do it. You might buy one and that would be all.
If you could find a litter that had five males in it and buy them, why then you'd have them that would be friendly with one another, and be much, much more convenient, and better, and easier to train that way.
That's why we raise our own dogs here.
W. VERDE WATSON: Well, in the same connection, it's been said -- it's been said here that we could obtain our dogs, the kind of dog we need, from other people who have one that doesn't work out well in a team or something, and they'll be needing to buy more any training or all of that.
So you, I gather, wouldn't say this was so, or at least not to get the kind of dog we want.
GRANT PEARSON: No, I wouldn't want to say so. If you're going to have a team for exhibition purposes, you should have something that is a replica or something similar to what we used in the days past, and something that operates.
Now, I can say, get back to our dog teams again, when I came here, two years after I was here we worked our -- reached our maximum personnel, personal people.
We had four rangers and a chief ranger and a superintendent and a clerk, we had seven. Every one of those rangers had their own dog team.
The chief ranger had their dog team. And it was five and seven and 35. We had seven more at 42.
The clerk used his dog team because in those days we did not keep the road open. We'd haul all of our coal, all our bulk supplies up before the road closed.
And he'd go down once a week with his dog team and get the mail and supplies. We never kept the road open at all.
We didn't have any bulldozer, we had no way of keeping it open. So that was part of our way of living, part of our way of life, and if you're going to go back to that type of dog, you should have that type of dog to show the kind of dog we used.
The clerk didn't think no more of hitching the dog team up and going down, and the first time or two, he was scared to death, naturally, but that's the same with the ranger, he didn't know what was going to happen, whether they were going to eat him up or -- or what, after he was around with them for a while,
after he got out overnight with them out along the trail, why, and stationed out in the park, well, he got to love his dogs and he'd know that he was part of them, just the same as a ranger in the states had his horse or used to have his horse.
Same thing. It was just part of it.
W. VERDE WATSON: Well, I'm glad to have you bring out that feeling that if we are going to demonstrate dogs that we need to have dogs of the kind that you had. GRANT PEARSON: That's right.
W. VERDE WATSON: But something less than that is -- is not actually showing the people what you people did, it's just putting on a dog show.
GRANT PEARSON: Right. W. VERDE WATSON: It's sort of a farce.
GRANT PEARSON: That's right. If you're going to do that, let the concessioner to do it, and then they can take all the blame for something that they want to say it's a fake or something like that.
If the Park Service does something, they ought to do it accurately and have it as it was, and that's the way they should do it.
W. VERDE WATSON: Amen to that. I sure think that's what we need to shoot at.
Well, this next question I have was -- and we covered a good bit of it, perhaps, but I'll ask it again. Were dogs already trained for this work readily obtainable?
GRANT PEARSON: No, they were not readily obtainable, as I mentioned before, because when you would buy them, you wouldn't buy them until you needed them generally, and then you go to town try to get them, and they were not readily attainable, and the ones you could get were generally something that someone didn't want too much.
He'd give you his poorest dogs. And by raising our own we got a good dog. And I don't think we bought any dogs -- I think the records will show that we never bought a dog after 1927.
I think I bought the last dog for the Park Service, the team of seven dogs I went to Fairbanks and bought in the fall of '27, for the Park Service.
I think those were the last ones we bought.
W. VERDE WATSON: After that you raised your own. GRANT PEARSON: Raised our own.
One year, you'd have to dig that up in the -- in the records, one of the rangers was told to go down to Knights Roadhouse and pick up a dog down there, and he did.
And he didn't only pick up the dog, he picked up distemper, and we lost -- I think out of our 42 dogs, we lost 28 dogs. Boy, that next winter was a tough one.
We had the darnedest looking bunch of dogs because we couldn't break them in time, you see. We lost them in the spring.
And he came in, and then when we first noticed when the dogs get sick, why, we'd spread them all out over a mile area around here so they were not together, but they had been contaminated and then they all got it, and the 14 that survived was hardly worth keeping.
So then after that, I think they did some inoculation on it for distemper. That's the only time I know of we've ever had disease among our dogs, but if you got a good team of dogs, I'd certainly inoculate for distemper.
Rabies, I don't know, but I've never had any here, but I never have, maybe it would pay to inoculate for that, too, I don't know.
But for distemper, I certainly would because one gets it, you can't hardly stop all of them getting it.
That's a terrible thing. 28 dogs we lost that. Bunch of weeping rangers around here from losing their dogs. They lost the best ones, too.
W. VERDE WATSON: Well, I suppose that's the way it would go. GRANT PEARSON: Yeah. Yeah.
W. VERDE WATSON: Well, in view of that, I gather that you didn't expect to get them or raise them and train them yourself?
GRANT PEARSON: That's right.
W. VERDE WATSON: You didn't expect to find dogs very readily, and you didn't expect to find trained dogs at all, you had to -- you had to train them. How long did it take to train them?
GRANT PEARSON: Well, a dog to work, now, to just straight work, in a week you can have them so you'll jump -- jump the towline back and forth and keep from getting tangled, and to know "whoa" and "all right," or "mush," whichever you want to use,
and that's about all the work dog has got to know excepting the two dogs behind the leader, they should follow the leader. Then the leader, you generally work your leader one year before you make a leader out of him.
But as I mentioned in my book, the best leader I ever had was Mike. And I think I worked him 10 days when I made a leader out of him. The only leader I had was 11 year old Sandy, and I had seven young pups, 9 months old.
And that poor old Sandy, he was a good leader, but those pups were just continuously running over the top of him.
And that's when I finally got out to where I was stationed for the winter, Toklat River, I pensioned Sandy off and I started in breaking in Mike after he'd worked for 10 days.
And as I mentioned in the book, probably you won't want to take time to look it up, but the way I did it, he already knew "whoa" and he knew "all right" and he knew how to run by himself behind the leader, by stretching the leader out.
So I started him off and got him so he would run in front of the team. And there was about a foot of snow out on the river, and I snowshoed trails all over it with forks.
One continuous to the right, it would be one going ahead with the trail going to the right. Gee. And he'd stop when I'd holler "gee" and look back, and went and put him over there, about three or four times and he did gee.
And the next time, after I had a bunch of those, he knew gee, then I had forks to the left, haw, haw, and he did, after two or three times.
And I think the first day I learned him the gee and haw. Then you teach them the other things. You want to turn him, "come gee, gee," that's a little bit.
That's about at an angle, maybe 30 percent. "Come gee, right straight off." And then you'd have your straight turn, "come gee," and you'd be surprised.
Then after you take him away from those trails and get him out on the ice where there's a little snow, "gee," he goes a little, "gee," he went a little more, go a little more, then "come gee," he comes gee, straight over.
And then you want him to make a complete 180 degree turn, "come gee," then he gets out of there, you holler "whoa," and he stops; "come here," and he comes to you, "all right," and you go back down along the trail where you've been.
And you just teach him those things. And after a week, an intelligent dog, after a week of training, you can have him so they know all those turns.
Then I went even farther with that team. I lost a team once and I had to run 7 miles to the cabin and I was afraid -- what worried me, I was afraid that I would have a bunch of crippled dogs when I got there, they'd get in a fight.
So I decided I'd want to break my team that they'd never run away from me. So I got on the trail, and I put up barricades. And I started out in the morning "all right."
And they'd take off. "Whoa." I'd be way back there on the trail,
"whoa," they'd turn around and see me and go like the dickens and get up there to that barricade. And I'd go up there and I'd have a -- something that was big but didn't hurt, and just wallop the devil out of them with a newspaper or a sack or something like that.
Do it four or five times and you'll be surprised, you can, "all right," and holler at them "whoa," they'll look back and see you there and they'll stop. And that's the team that I had Mike, never did run away from me.
I could step off and let them go and holler "whoa." You just try it with this team you got here, you'll never see them until they get tied up someplace.
But you can train them to that. You can train them to that, but it takes patience. And that -- that was the result of me having to run 7 miles once, without a dog team.
W. VERDE WATSON: Probably try to figure out something to keep that from happening.
GRANT PEARSON: Yeah. That -- that was it. But that was the best trained dog team we ever had was that team that I called -- I called them the team of Mike's, and I trained them for the Chief Ranger, Lou Corbley, and they were wonderful.
I've never seen anything like it. But after a leader gets older, then he gets ideas of his own, he knows a little bit more than you, and you have to just discipline him when he takes those.
He wants to go someplace and you don't want him to go, and you just have to show him who's boss, ánd give him a little cupping once in awhile.
But the first few years, they depend on you; after that they know more than you do. Sometimes.
W. VERDE WATSON: Well, this next one is kind of a long question, a little bit involved, but I think I'll ask it anyway.
In these days, if dogs properly trained for this use are not found to be readily obtainable, and considering the usual turnover of park personnel and the fact that men normally accept an appointment here could not be coddled upon or expected to have special skill of dog trainers, is it reasonable to expect that such men will be able to learn to properly train new dogs for use as sled dogs as needed?
In other words, can a new man coming in the job cold and sort of pick up and train these dogs, as needed?
GRANT PEARSON: Now, in those days, as I mentioned before, we had four rangers and a chief ranger. Now, what we did in those days, we always gave a new man a trained team.
He always had a trained team. It's near foolproof if we could get him. Then the ranger would go with him for two or three days out on these trips and let him do it, but advise him on the different things.
And any intelligent man can learn to drive a dog team as well as he can learn to drive a horse or pack a horse or to even drive a car, as far as that goes, so we had no trouble there at all.
Every human reacts different. Some lose their temper once in awhile and whale the devil out of the dog, but they'll -- after awhile they'll come around to it.
They'll find out that they are not getting the effect and they will do it other ways. But to answer your question, we had no trouble at all on training newcomers on dogs.
I came here, I didn't know anything about dogs. In Michigan I had a couple dogs, but you couldn't compare it to anything like this. And I went out with Al Winn and the ranger on one trip, and after that it was off to the races, I was on my own, but you learn as you go along.
The dogs will teach you a lot of things, too. They'll teach you a lot of things. And the main thing is to trust your dog in a storm.
Like sometimes the trails -- trails drift over, and I was going across the bar at Toklat once, that 2 mile bar, and it was a matter of keeping my sled -- and it was quite cold, I'd say maybe 10 above or something like that, and a blizzard blowing, which it very seldom gets colder than that when a blizzard is blowing, you couldn't see 50 feet in front of that dog team at all.
And I could have -- I had no way of guiding him across there at all. I had a big leader by the name of Dynamite, and I just let him go and he went straight on across.
Sometimes the wind would take us -- blow the snow off the ice, take us, sled dogs and all, sliding along the ice and you'd wind up in a drift, and he'd go along about his business.
When we got over on the other side, they looked like white Siberians, that snow had driven in their fur. And if you trust them, a leader, anyway, the second winter, he'll take you across there, you don't need to worry.
How they do it, don't ask me, but they'll do it because I've had them do it. But all you've got to do is to trust them. And those are the things that you learn as you go along about a dog team.
You learn how little you know about handling dogs and how much they know when you give them a chance. And that -- that's the main thing.
Now, one time I wrote an article to be published in the Saturday Evening Post, how to take dogs through tough going, but my original title for that was Dog Team College, and I brought out in that what the dogs taught me more than what I taught the dogs.
And they'll teach you. All you've got to do is to keep the upper hand, discipline them, and don't let them fight, and they'll teach you. They like to work, they are not lazy.
Nine out of ten of those dogs, they are not lazy, they like to work. And so it's just a matter of getting a green ranger is to getting them to have confidence in their dogs.
Then after, once they've driven a team, supposing they'd lose one for some reason or other, something would happen, they'd get killed or get in a fight, we have had one or two killed in fights, and you put another dog in and you'd probably have to train that dog until he got used to it, but he's got a trained team to go with.
Same as these right here in the ranger's force, you get a new ranger here, you've got a bunch of the old rangers and they help him along and keep him in line, show him --show him the different tricks of the trade, things to do; that's the same way with the dog team.
W. VERDE WATSON: Well, that all sounds real logical.
W. VERDE WATSON: At what age was a dog generally considered too old for pulling a freight sled on park patrols?
GRANT PEARSON: Generally, 8 to 9 years, sometimes 10; it'd depend a little on the dogs and how hard they've been worked. But after 8 years, we tried to give them to a ranger who was stationed at some place and wasn't doing any hard pulling, but doing light patrols, short patrols.
Like maybe John or one of the other boys would be down at Windy, and he would be patrolling up the head at Windy and maybe over Riley Pass in those days.
And we'd give -- give the older dogs to someone like that. And then for the ranger that was out at McKinley Bar or Moose Creek or Toklat or wherever they were stationed, they'd give them a younger team, something that they really could put out when they had to, you get in a storm or something like that.
So then the last years of their life the clerk would generally get them down here to run the mail with. He'd have the old ones, they're always good for four miles it would be to go down and back, and so he'd get the old dogs, and it would suit him better, too, because then he had real trained dogs.
He had the old fellows. I never seen a park clerk here yet that once he started on it that didn't like that. But I can imagine now hauling all that stuff up with the dog team.
W. VERDE WATSON: It would be a bit of a project. I wonder how old John would make out on that.
GRANT PEARSON: I don't know.
W. VERDE WATSON: Jim Barron (phonetic) would go for it all right.
GRANT PEARSON: Oh, it's attractive.
W. VERDE WATSON: Well, how many dogs were generally used by a park ranger making a winter patrol?
GRANT PEARSON: We generally used seven dogs because then you could -- you could take 450 pounds and travel fast, on a broken trail you could haul a hundred pounds with the dogs.
And on the later years when we were patrolling, there would be a ranger stationed at McKinley Bar out at the Kantishna, another one at Toklat, and maybe one over at Windy, and then there might be one at Lower Savage.
And we'd cover those areas in between, and we had all those cabins built, and one at Sushana, one at East Fork, one at Toklat, one at Stony Creek, one at South Fork and those, we'd just make between cabins.
And they were not long patrols. And we broke out from our main cabins, maybe we'd -- be gone three or four days and then come back.
Also it would all depend, a good ranger would figure this out, well, old Mitchell, he's trapping up on Glenn Creek, [he's a pretty tough old character, he uses poisons and some forth quite a lot. I'll go up there quite often. And they know there was a -- who was trapping along in all those areas.
They go right up to the -- the Alaska Game Commission and find out every license issued to this area, and we knew who was trapping, we knew the reputation of those trappers, we knew the ones we had to watch and the ones we didn't, and that made it a lot easier.
And so that depended. Then after the fur dropped down, there was no one was trapping anymore, why, we didn't patrol.
Now, you have quite a problem because now they can take an airplane and go in there and set down for a week and trap and get out again along the boundary. So you've got a different -- a different type of protection altogether than we had then.
Then they left trails, you'd know who was in there, and you know when they got a license what kind of a fellow they were.
Now you don't know who is coming. They might come from Koyukuk up there and sit down with their airplane.
Every one of those villages have airplanes, they use them for trapping, but you've got a different proposition at all, altogether. I think the airplanes patrols are the answer to that, occasionally.
Occasionally the airplane patrol. Now, if they ever get a rule through that makes it mandatory, mandatory that everybody has to file a flight plan, then you have got them again, then you can keep track of them.
But as long as they don't have to file a flight plan, you don't know who is in there. They could -- right now there could be fellows out there setting up a camp just outside of the park on Toklat or any other place, and maybe come in with a floatplane, and come back in later with skis, and you haven't the least idea.
I don't think they are doing it because I don't think the fur is worth it right now,but it could be done.
There's a different -- the economy of Alaska is changing altogether, all the travel is changing and everything else, and these boys, just because they fly an airplane, don't mean they won't break the rules, they'll break it just the same as anybody else.
I've known quite a few of them that smuggled beaver and every other thing,and you have that coming, if the price of fur is going up like they say it is, they say long haired fur is going up, and you're going to have a problem again along your boundaries.
And I think the only way you can patrol it right is during hunting season put a couple rangers out at those cabins. And keep your eye on them.
I don't know if dog team is the answer or what, but if you're out at the cabins, you can probably make it on foot skis or snowshoes, and it would just be a matter of the chief ranger to figure out which would be the most efficient and the most economical way to do it.
But our modes of travel has changed altogether since I was a boy here, since I came in. Airplane is it now. Also these little Snow Jeeps are getting very popular.
You see them, in every one of those Indian villages, you see these little things. Have you got -- you've got the Bombardier, haven't you?
W. VERDE WATSON: Yeah. GRANT PEARSON: You seen these little fellows?
W. VERDE WATSON: The Snow Traveller they call it? GRANT PEARSON: Yeah, those little things.
They've got them in every village now. They're using them for trapping and they're starting to do away with their dogs and everything else.
W. VERDE WATSON: Well, we've seen some literature on them, and we have one man here on the maintenance crew that lived out at Montana, he says he has one of them, he would like to bring it up here and demonstrate it.
GRANT PEARSON: Yeah, I think he should. They look kind of goofy to me, but I guess they're all right. I don't think you could ever use them on these rivers and overflow ice. I think you'd go through that water once and you'd be done.
Chief ranger, I don't think he -- maybe he's not aware of what happens on our rivers, but here they will freeze to the bottom and they'll overflow on the top.
And you'll be going along and you'll hit this ice, and suddenly you'll break through this ice. And you might have anywhere from 1 inch to a foot of water.
And you get through with a vehicle like that in that and you ice up, that's what the Tucker Cat was no good at all, the Army demonstrated that you just tore that pontoon right out when you got it in that ice and it started to freeze on them. There're no good at all.
This M 7 was the best we had, and this Bombardier, you have got that, it looks like it should cut that. Because no matter how careful you are, you can't help but get in that overflow ice once in awhile.
And that's a condition that I don't know if it's -- it prevailed out in Montana, but it certainly does in Alaska, that overflow. Each river flow from bank to bank before this --
W. VERDE WATSON: This Montana that I mentioned a bit ago, the man that is from Montana is in Alaska.
GRANT PEARSON: Yeah, I know what you meant. W. VERDE WATSON: I thought that you meant the guy from Montana --
GRANT PEARSON: No, no, one of those things, I just imagine those in the water, I don't think you'll have much left if they get in the water. They don't look like it to me. That's the first thing I thought about.
Now, down on the flats where you can keep away from the river, there on the Mighty Yukon and the Tanana where they don't overflow, you're all right, but you get up in the mountains here where you have got these streams that are standing on end and the overflow, I don't think, I'm just guessing, but I don't think -- just to run around here doesn't mean a thing.
You know, I'd have him run up and down one of those rivers. And then went up and down Toklat River or someplace like where you might be going.
Go down to -- have you been down to the cabin lately on Toklat? UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Two winters ago.
GRANT PEARSON: Two winters ago. The old one, I imagine, is gone now, or did you put a new one in?
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Put a new one in. GRANT PEARSON: Oh.
W. VERDE WATSON: Well, we could go on on that thing quite awhile.
GRANT PEARSON: Yeah. W. VERDE WATSON: Maybe we could get back to that after --
GRANT PEARSON: Do the dogs again. W. VERDE WATSON: Let's finish up the dogs -- GRANT PEARSON: Yeah.
W. VERDE WATSON: -- aspect of it, first.
And you mentioned, I believe, that you figured that seven dogs on a winter patrol was normal or average?
GRANT PEARSON: That is about the average. Sometimes we'd use five if we were just going for a short trip out from here, but generally it was seven.
Then in the spring is when we'd split our teams up and do our training, but seven for patrol work is the best.
W. VERDE WATSON: Well, and that -- in light of that, then, this next question you've probably already answered. How large a team should be -- or should we maintain to carry out an accurate demonstration of a park ranger on a dog sled patrol. Probably seven dogs?
GRANT PEARSON: Yeah, I'd say seven with that.
W. VERDE WATSON: But you did use five?
GRANT PEARSON: Yeah, we did use five. And we have used more and less, but seven would be average. W. VERDE WATSON: That would be most typical?
GRANT PEARSON: Yeah. Yeah.
W. VERDE WATSON: Well, what size and type of sled was used on dog sled patrol?
GRANT PEARSON: I think I got that down in here, but it was 9 feet in the basket for the patrol sled, and that would be about at 12 feet overall with the extension runners, it would be 9 feet, because I think it's about like the one you've got out there.
I don't remember whether you got that little sled or the regular one. Have you got -- have you got just one sled out there now?
W. VERDE WATSON: Well, I think there's more than one sled around it.
The rest of this question was, is one such as is used in our present day dog sled demonstration right for this use? GRANT PEARSON: Yeah.
W. VERDE WATSON: That is, the patrol use. GRANT PEARSON: The one that they did use was, and I imagine you're using the same one.
W. VERDE WATSON: Do you fellows know if it is?
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: I think it's the same one since I've been here. I think it's been used many years before that.
GRANT PEARSON: It's about 9 feet in the basket from the front to the end.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: That would be about right.
GRANT PEARSON: Yeah, yeah, that -- that's the one. That's the one.
W. VERDE WATSON: All right. Well, what command did the park ranger use to control his dogs on the trail? Was the traditional word "mush" used at all?
GRANT PEARSON: No, I never used it in my life. All I used is "all right." I think we should have used "mush" because you'd be talking to somebody and somebody would say "all right," and away would go your team.
But that's what we used, "all right." "All right."
The Indians, "Mush, mush, mush, mush, mush, mush, mush," that's the way they'd get them going.
I think that would have been better if we used it, but we started off on the "all right" and that's the way that we followed through with it. As I said before, if you're talking to somebody and you'd say "all right," and your dogs would take off on you.
W. VERDE WATSON: But that "all right" and "gee" and "haw" were -- GRANT PEARSON: Those were the main commands.
W. VERDE WATSON: -- were the main.
GRANT PEARSON: "Whoa," "all right," "gee" and "haw." And then as you wanted it on the others, "go gee," "come gee," and then "gee, come here," and things like that.
And train them just the same as you manage a man's. A dog has a good memory and they act suddenly. When they know their command, they'll do it right now.
The only time they won't do it is if you're trying to get them by a cabin, if you're out on the river and you want to go on by the cabin, they're going to stop at every cabin if it's within their power to do so.
And it isn't because they don't want to work, they just want -- they've been fed at that place, you see, once they've been there and they want to go in.
Don't you know there's a cabin in there? We know there's one there.
W. VERDE WATSON: Pull over. GRANT PEARSON: Yeah.
W. VERDE WATSON: Well, riding a saddle horse is much the same way.
GRANT PEARSON: Sure. Same way.
W. VERDE WATSON: Did the park ranger use the so called gee pole on his dogs? I asked this because we got into some little misuse of it this year, evidently, and so we quit using it.
And the further part of the question, if so, how was it attached to the sled and where? We didn't even know this much about it.
GRANT PEARSON: Yes. The park rangers mentioned earlier did use a gee pole on the sled. That was when the sled was loaded.
Now, when you have, I'd say, 400 pounds on a 9 foot sled, 9 foot basket sled, you can handle it from behind, but you get any more than that, you can't handle it.
It will just keep cutting off the trail. So with the gee pole, if you keep the front end of the sled on the trail and the hind end follows, of course. And so we used it altogether when we were afraid.
Now they had a ring on the -- lashed to the front end of the sled on the right hand side, that's gee, that's where it gets its name, it's on the right hand side.
You have a ring there. And you're going to have two types of poles, but the one we generally used had a ring.
We'd run the pole in that ring, that was finished -- tied to one of the stanchions. And then up on the nose we had a stick sticking out across, and we'd tie it there with a rope. That was a movable one.
Then if you wanted to be more ritzy, you could go into a gee pole that would pull back into the sled on a hinge.
And that, we used that some, too, but they used iron on that, and these others, why, I preferred the others because you just -- when you didn't use it, you could throw it in the bottom of the sled and it didn't weigh much anyway.
But the other ones were handier. And the only time we used the gee pole was when we had a load anyway. When you haven't got a load, you don't need it.
W. VERDE WATSON: How long a pole was this?
GRANT PEARSON: Well, just long enough to allow you to stand between the dogs and the sled. It would be about for true out -- about 5 feet, maybe 5 and a half feet.
And you would put on an extra second of towline to let your dogs -- dogs out. Then if it was real tough going, you would straddle that towline with a pair of snowshoes and walk along behind the dogs.
If it was a good trail, you might take a little dog trot. If it was a real good trail, you had a light pair of skis or what we call the ouija board, you'd ride right in front.
And that would be attached to the next section of towline. We had many arrangements there depending on the conditions of the trail.
In the spring, when the -- when the trails all look good,it's freezing at night and warm in the day, excuse me, then you generally travel at night or when the trail is frozen, and they make fast time.
You can take a light pair of skis or a ouija board and you can make 30 miles in 5, 6 hours.
I don't care how good a man is, they tell about running all day on a gee pole, but if you run for 5 hours at 6 miles an hour, you're cooked, that's all there is to it.
But that's faster than a walker, and it isn't quite a run, and it's the most tiresome gait that you can get. It's just a dog trot. I don't care what kind of condition you're in, you can hardly do it.
You have to have something to ride on. You can do it for half a mile or something like that because your gee pole offers your support, that much support.
Helps you a little. But those mighty guys in the old days that could run 30 or 40 miles on the gee pole, I'd like to see some of them, because --
W. VERDE WATSON: There are more in the books than they are in the natural life. GRANT PEARSON: That's right.
But you can do it for a short time.
W. VERDE WATSON: Well, you spoke about a ring, and then later you mentioned maybe where others had hardware. You mentioned the one that you preferred, the ring was made with a thong or leather?
GRANT PEARSON: Made with a metal ring, then it was tied on with a leather thong onto the side of the stanchion. It would be down at the bottom of the sled, but you can't see this on the radio, but here's -- here's your sled here like this, and here's the nose of your sled, it would be tied down here,
then your gee pole would go up like that, not on that much of an angle, there'd be a piece of wood across like that and you would lash on that, and you'd just tie it to that.
W. VERDE WATSON: I see.
GRANT PEARSON: And you'd have your -- have your nose in there. It wouldn't be tied down at the nose at all.
And the rope up at the top, you had a groove around your pole to keep it from slipping. And you're generally not pulling on a gee pole anyways; if anything, you're holding back on it.
W. VERDE WATSON: It's more to guide it right or left -- GRANT PEARSON: That's all, to just guide it.
It's not made to pull on it, it's just made to guide it. And that's the gee pole, right hand side. And the only reason they use them is to keep the sled on the trail when you've got a heavy load.
When you're going fast, you don't need them, or when you're light, you don't need them.
W. VERDE WATSON: Well, one more question.
When a dog -- I probably know the answer to this, but I thought I'd ask it.
When a dog became too old to satisfactorily carry out his work as a sled dog, what method was used to dispose of him?
GRANT PEARSON: Well, we would, if we could, somebody might say, oh, I know somebody who would love to have that dog. So we got permission so we could give government property away without surveying it off.
And while they would survey it off -- they would get to a point of where they'd survey it off, then we'd give it to someone.
If we couldn't find anybody who wanted him and the dog was in pain, we'd put them away with chloroform or shoot them; destroy them, in other words.
We didn't do it, if we could find a home for those old, faithful dogs, we would give -- give them a home.
And at the last, why, lots of times we didn't even survey them off, we'd just give them -- give them away when they were too old to work and find a home for them.
W. VERDE WATSON: By that time how old were they?
GRANT PEARSON: Over 9.
W. VERDE WATSON: Over 9.
GRANT PEARSON: Sometimes -- old Sandy, I mentioned, I mentioned him in my book, he was 12 years old. Last trip I took him on, he was a pretty good dog,
but the first couple days he's over that and then he gets stiff. He'd do 20 or 30 miles, and he'd get just as stiff like an old man, like me, you see. He couldn't hardly walk around anymore.
And he'd rest a few days and he'd be all right again. So after -- the average would be 8 to 10 years.
And then the clerk would get them from that 8 to 10 maybe, and then after that we'd destroy them or give them away, or something.
W. VERDE WATSON: Well, we're about at the end of the tape here, we can turn it over later, but how many maximum dogs did you keep around here? This is a just matter of casual interest more than anything.
GRANT PEARSON: Yeah, we had six, seven dog teams for about close to 15 years. That was the chief ranger, four rangers, and the clerk.
The headquarters team we called it. We had six, and then generally we'd have one or two old ones we were just letting waste their time out and I'd hook them in once in awhile, find a home for them.
But we had pens for 40, and we'd generally have a couple tied out to one side. And every ranger had his seven dogs, and he took care of them.
He -- if we got a little long here, I'll mention this too, in the spring when we'd come in, each ranger would look at his sled and he'd see what was broken, what he needed on it. He'd take it apart.
And we had a bunch of second groves here of hickory, he'd take it down to the boiler house, and we had a steaming place down there and he'd steam it out, and we had forms made for every turn on the sled.
And they put them in these forms and leave them there until fall. And in the fall he'd come and get them out of there and put them in his sled.
And every ranger had to do that, fix his own sled. If he couldn't do it, would you help me? And, of course, you would, you'd always help him. And you took care of him.
And same way with your harness. You started out with your harness in first class condition. And if something happened during the winter, why, you would repair it, you'd have your repair kit along.
We didn't bother buying these harnesses. We bought good hides and we'd cut them. I guess you still probably got this cutting, you'll find it someplace in the warehouse,
and unless somebody went south with it, cutting tools and all that, riveting tools and sewing and everything else, buckles, snaps, and everything. We made all of our own harnesses excepting the collar.
We bought our collars. They come in sizes 6, 7, and 8. You can get them 5. That's the inches across. W. VERDE WATSON: I see.
GRANT PEARSON: 5, 6, 7, and 8. 5 were for the Siberians. Very seldom did you ever have a dog that you could get that over his head.
Generally about a 7 inch. Once in awhile you will have a big one, like those two dogs I mentioned, you'll need a special, that would be an 8.
And can I still remember the outfit in Seattle we got them from, Duncan & Sons. They were the outfit we got them from in Seattle.
W. VERDE WATSON: Wonder if they are still in business.
GRANT PEARSON: I wonder, too. W. VERDE WATSON: Probably supply this kind of equipment to other --
GRANT PEARSON: They probably do. W. VERDE WATSON: -- driving dog activities.
GRANT PEARSON: There's quite a lot of dog collars made yet, but not many more harnesses. They find out they can get a -- get a hide and cut it themselves and make it so much cheaper, and then they can fit it exactly the way they want it.
After you make a few harnesses, they are no trouble fitting them. You just take and measure across, put the collar on,
you measure back on each side, well, that's for his tugs, and then you measure over across the back, and that's for his back straps and for his belly band.
And then you have your -- your buckles that you could take up, tighten them or loosen them, have a loose end in there, so it isn't as difficult as it seems.
After you make one or two, you don't have any trouble making them. Beat the harness maker out some money is all.
W. VERDE WATSON: Well, that's the connection or straps on the harness that attaches the dogs to your towline in between, I mean, I noticed there is a strap -- GRANT PEARSON: Yeah.
W. VERDE WATSON: -- but sometimes some of the boys over here hitching up for this demonstration, some of them were fastening it to their belly band, some would fasten it to the collar. Where should it be?
GRANT PEARSON: To the collar. To the collar. Your towline comes out in sections. That's boughten, too, by the way. We didn't bother sewing those because we didn't have a sewing machine to sew them with.
That would take quite a few different layers of leather to make that towline, and you can -- when you buy them, you can buy them in different sizes, and as you go out, your last one is a very slender one and your one in back at your wheels,
the two dogs back next to the sled are called your wheel dogs, your two dogs out next to the -- to the leader is called your swing dogs, and then your pair in between are called middle dogs. So I can come into that. W. VERDE WATSON: What were those, the back ones?
GRANT PEARSON: The swing dogs are the ones in front, the two back on the sled are the wheel dogs.
W. VERDE WATSON: And the ones in between?
GRANT PEARSON: Are just middle dogs. W. VERDE WATSON: Middle dogs. I missed the term.
GRANT PEARSON: You can put in as many terms as you want to. And they are all in sections, so those -- we didn't make those.
But, Bill, to get back to your -- your hooks again, they should come on -- you can kill a dog if you got him hooked up wrong there because if you happen to break the towline back at the first section, for instance, and you've got your neck line coming from the next section, which one ranger did, it goes back, and if this breaks, the whole dogs are pulling right on their neck.
You can practically pull their head off if you've got a heavy neck line on them. So you want to be sure you got them properly hooked on so it's not on the section of the head.
W. VERDE WATSON: Well, we're back on the tape again, on the other side. So you fellows, Commack, Chief Ranger; and Dick Stenmark, district ranger; and Jim Larson, park ranger.
If you have questions about dogs, dog sledding, or anything else, why, let's see if we can get Grant to answer them. So go ahead.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Grant, how many years have they been giving dog sled demonstrations here in the park, and by whom? Have they been permanent personnel or persons just coming in for the summer?
GRANT PEARSON: The first years that I were here -- I was here, the visitation was very low, and it was, as I recall, about 1928 that we started giving our first demonstrations.
We gave it then with the sled like it is, with the runner. We wore out a lot of steel doing it. And then later, in the '30s, they came up with these wheels for the sled.
And the permanent personnel was doing all of that until after the war. That would have been around '47.
And Bill Nancarrow, he was the naturalist then, and he had a temporary ranger naturalist, and he trained his temporary ranger naturalist to do that work.
He thought that that was more in their line than -- than it was the rangers', the temporary regular rangers. And so from then on, it was practically done all by the ranger naturalist, the temporary ranger naturalist.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Well, as you probably know, we have quite a discipline problem with our dogs under the present setup where we have every year probably two or three or four different individuals running the dogs, and then in the winter again, some of the permanent rangers run the dogs, none of us who are exceptionally well qualified or take the time to really work with them.
And I was wondering if you had discipline problems in those days; and if so, how did you handle them in midsummer when visitors would be there viewing the demonstration?
GRANT PEARSON: Well, you'll always have discipline problems when you have dogs, but if you're working them every day so they are worked down, quite a lot the dogs are worked down, they are at a minimum.
But every once in awhile you'll have that fight, and you can't stop it and there's all that, you can't prevent that occasionally. Some dog will get tangled and he will take and jump on the other dogs and a fight will start.
There's only one way you can stop it and that's with a dog whip.
And you don't go in there by slashing, you just double up your whip and go in and wallop them and knock them off, and get that fight.
And even if the people think it's cruel, that's the only way you can do it. You can't stop it any other way. And I believe that answers your question, the way to do it.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Yes. Well, that answers how to stop a fight, more or less. That isn't the problem we have.
We simply have just in the process of hooking up, our dogs are so poorly disciplined that they jump up and cross over their tow ropes and get turned around in their harness and yap and everything.
It's generally quite a -- quite a spectacle at times.
GRANT PEARSON: Well, the only thing I can recommend for that, up until the time I left here, we were operating our dogs enough on patrol so they were worked down good, and they were well trained.
They were pretty well trained. But you don't work a dog steady or work him enough, you'll have that problem.
And I'd say that three or four weeks before you're starting your demonstration, you should work them, especially in the winter, try to get them down pretty well and get them disciplined because it's awful when you've got tourists standing around there and some dog jumps up and starts jumping, jumping, jumping, and you feel like clouting him over the head,
maybe not with the whip but with a newspaper or something, it looks so cruel, but that's the only way you can do it, to teach them to lay down.
Push them, "Head down there," and make a motion at them. Don't -- maybe it's cruel, but make them think you're going to kill them.
But that's what -- that's the only way you can do it. You have to discipline them.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Is that the only technique you have for making a dog stay down, where he repeatedly wants to jump up? Just keep on?
GRANT PEARSON: Keep on him until he knows that that's what you want. And that's what he has to do, in other words. What he has to do.
And you should do that before you start in with your demonstrations, you should do that in the spring.
Go out there and run them around there and hook them up every day, maybe give them, somebody an hour's chore if you can to go out and do that every day, put a load in the sled, work them down a little bit, if you can.
That's the only thing I can say for that. And it is more of a problem where you have only a demonstration team and not a work team.
If you could have a team here that you'd take out today and go out, maybe up Riley Creek, and maybe tomorrow you might go on up out toward Savage with them on a run, on a patrol, checking and looking over wildlife conditions or something like that.
But that's going to be a problem, there's no question about it, because there's only one thing that will keep a dog steady and that's work.
You let him rest for two days, and whoof, away they go, that's all there is to it.
And he's going to want to jump up, and when he finds out what he's doing and he's worked down to a certain extent, boy, you can't starve them down, to have work them down.
And that's the only thing I can say, if you're going to do that demonstration, you have to assign one man time, it doesn't need to be a ranger when he's doing that as long as he knows what the guy -- the guy is doing, some laborer even run them around there for an hour or two during the day, keep them in training.
And then when you give your demonstration, have your ranger there. I don't see any reason why you couldn't do that.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: On your demonstrations, then, did you always use seven dogs in --
GRANT PEARSON: We did. But you can cut it down to five. That's just as good, you could cut it down to five.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Are we -- are we getting away, then, from this actual picture?
And that's what the one thing we're interested in, should this demonstration depict just how it was done here in the old days, or is this just any old dog demonstration? GRANT PEARSON: No. UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Like in, say, Kotzebue or Barrow or any other places?
GRANT PEARSON: No. The -- the rule was seven dogs, as I said before; occasionally we had five. Occasionally. But I would stick with seven because that is what we used.
That's what we used, I'd stick with them. They are harder to handle, as you know, but that's the true picture.
Now, many times I have gone out on short trips with five dogs, maybe I'd have a dog that had a sore foot or something, and rather than have one running along, I'd leave two out, and maybe if I'm just going out for two days and then come back and he'd be all right or something like that.
Or going for a fast trip down at the depot or something like that, I might want nine, I'd put in a couple more or something like that.
But seven was the rule. You'll look at these pictures and you'll invariably almost see seven, excepting when we were freighting, then you'll see more.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Did you use the larger dogs at all just to do away with, say, half of a problem?
Like if you go with the lighter dogs, like they have 12 or 14 dogs on the team, did you ever consider it from that aspect --
GRANT PEARSON: No. UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: -- or was it just strictly to break the trail
GRANT PEARSON: It was strictly to break the trail. UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: -- leads.
GRANT PEARSON: The reason we picked the larger dogs, as I mentioned before, they were more practical. They could go, they could break the trail through more snow, and they could also haul the heavier load.
Now, the longer you have your dogs string out -- strung out, the less efficiency you have.
As you know, you hook something on a string, you get out a hundred feet, and it takes more effort to pull that than it does back at half the distance.
And that's the way you do with the dog team. You try to -- try to keep your -- more weight and keep them closer to the -- to the sled.
That has a lot to do with it, too. Also going around turns, you've got a whole big string out there, pulls with 13, which I have mushed as many as 13, in fact, I've mushed more than that, but going in a turn, half of your dogs are not even pulling.
It just pulls them right off and they get up in the bend. And so if you've got a heavier dog, that keeps you from having more dogs.
And for the reasons I mentioned above, for efficiency going through deep snow and stuff like that, that's why we -- we had the larger dogs.
For racing them at, just the same as anything else, they have got more speed, they go faster, and they use more of them, and that's what the Indians and Eskimos are coming to now. They are not sled dogs, they are race dogs.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Did you always have your dogs harnessed in tandem with a single lead or were there exceptions to that rule?
GRANT PEARSON: You mean -- UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Side -- two side by side.
GRANT PEARSON: Yes, we always had them that way. UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: With a single lead?
GRANT PEARSON: That's right. Occasionally, if I wanted to make time, and I might split up one and let one run loose out in front, where I'd knock my -- knock my leader loose and take that towline out and just have the two next dogs tied by the neck, and let the leader go out in front, and he will make faster time and the other dogs will go faster to keep up.
That's what they call a loose leader. If you get a good lead -- loose leader in command, you can do it, but if you haven't got a good loose leader, he might take off after a caribou or anything else that he sees, but you have to have good control of him.
That's what you call a loose leader.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: And they actually do a better job of leading when they are loose, if you've got a good, intelligent dog.
GRANT PEARSON: Oh, they do. UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Check out the trail better.
GRANT PEARSON: Right. UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: And because he's ahead of the others, and then they will follow him.
GRANT PEARSON: And that's another thing you have to do in training your dogs is sometimes one of those leaders up at -- one of those dogs up in the flank will insist on following the leader, and he will just push the other dog over.
Well, you can see what that means. The dog -- the leader might swing over to the right to avoid something. Here this dogs follows him over, he pushes the other dogs out in the deep snow.
So you've got to have a -- your two swing dogs broke to follow down the trail, not follow the leader, to follow down the trail.
They follow the leader, too, but the leader might cross over for obvious reasons, for several reasons, and if that dog will continue to follow him, he pushes the other guy off.
Well, then you'll put him back in the middle and get yourself a dog that will do what he's supposed to do or train him, get him trained so he will do it.
Those sound like problems but they -- they are easily ironed out. All of those. When you're working a dog, when you're living with them, when you're working them every day, it's so much different than having a demonstration because you'll --
I don't think there was ever a time when I was out in the park, and it would be over three days but that I had my dogs hitched up and I'd do from 10 to 40 miles a day with them on a patrol.
And you learn your dogs. You know what they can do.
And so we get along with some more questions before I get started off again on another track.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Can you make a dog work? If so, how?
GRANT PEARSON: Yes. There are several ways you can make them work. Read my book. I've got -- I tell about it in there.
One time I was freighting over to -- up on Riley Creek,we have a cabin, the Park Service had a cabin up there, and I freighted some galvanized iron -- galvanized iron roofing.
And going down back towards headquarters is an old road, and I'd hit the creek and then follow down up over the big hump there, we had an old dog trail. And this dog absolutely wouldn't work.
And I tried every way I could. I tried to put him alongside of a good, working dog, I tried to work him alone; I tried -- finally used the whip on him,
and I just got nothing, I couldn't -- I couldn't do anything with him at all, and that hurt me because he was the first dog that absolutely had blocked me that I couldn't find a cure for.
So I said, "Well, boy, I'll just take you back and tell the superintendent to get rid of you, give you away. You're no good." I was just talking to myself. And I tied him up, started up the hill, I was going over to Riley, I tied him up. And I was gone about 4 hours, he was tied by himself.
And I come back and that guy had hollered so much, that was the first time he had ever been alone that I know of, he'd hollered so much that he couldn't even holler.
And I hooked him back in, we had him for six more years and he never slacked. Now, that wasn't in the book at all.
I wasn't -- that wasn't in the book at all. And I guess he figured if he wasn't going to work, why, he'd get left. If they think, and they do -- they do think. UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Yes.
GRANT PEARSON: So that -- that was one way of making him work. Other ways, they'll get scared sometimes, you'll put a pup in the team.
Well, the first best thing to do when you start out is not -- I'd say three dogs, take the leader and another old dog, and put him alongside him, and take him for a little trip out for a mile and let him run along.
He's not so able to get -- so liable to get tangled, he's not so liable to get tangled and dragged for a hundred yards before you can get them stopped.
And you don't break their heart, you don't discourage them. And if you do that, you don't have no trouble at all.
But once in awhile you run against that little problem, boy, that he decides he don't want to work, he's scared, but for some reason he don't want to work.
And sometimes a whip will do it, sometimes you put him alone will do it, and as I mentioned, that's the only time I ever tried that, and it worked.
And I -- I didn't do it for that purpose, I just couldn't pull him up the hill. I just took him off and tied him to one side until I come back. Little fellow Blackie.
And gee, I'll never forget when I come back, he's wagging his tail and he's just trying to yelp and he couldn't yelp anymore, he'd hollered so much he couldn't holler anymore.
We, we'd haul all of our lumber and our roofing and galvanized iron and everything with dogs in the early days. All of it.
W. VERDE WATSON: I want to ask one more question about dogs before we get too far along.
And that has reference to this dog trail you used to get from here out into the park, as -- I suppose all the way to Wonder Lake or whatever your terminal was then.
As we see evidence in some of the old -- some of the drainages that has been similar to the line of the old trails. Is that true? For instance, can you see that, where the trail went in places across the tundra now?
GRANT PEARSON: The only place you can see our dog trail is wherever we crossed the tundra, which is very, very seldom did we cross it. We followed the creek.
And what you have seen and I've seen, and can still see, is the old Cat Trail that they advanced ahead on making the road.
You'll see where there's grass growing, where it killed the dwarf birch and the other plants and they killed it in its wake.
You can see that, that's the old Cat Trail. A dog team, unless it's had an awful lot of travel, will never kill no vegetation.
W. VERDE WATSON: Well, this is interesting. GRANT PEARSON: Yeah.
W. VERDE WATSON: A typical place that I'm thinking of, I just want to tie it down to so we're talking about the same thing,
but about 16, 17 miles out, you look down in the big drainage toward Savage.
GRANT PEARSON: Yeah. W. VERDE WATSON: And there's --
GRANT PEARSON: That's your old Cat Trail. W. VERDE WATSON: That's the Cat Trail.
GRANT PEARSON: Yeah. That's when you had your gas Cat when they would freight it out of here. And before the road was there.
And lots of times after the road was there, when they were freighting in the spring, and if the roads was drifted, they'd go through there because the drifts didn't bother them, because once they got the trail broke, that's all there was to it.
W. VERDE WATSON: The continuation of it appears to go from the ridge up on Sanctuary down into Teklanika.
GRANT PEARSON: That's right. You can see it on the left there. W. VERDE WATSON: Yeah.
GRANT PEARSON: And then you can place -- and you can see it on the right. And after you get over to 66, you can see it; actually, you get past around the bluffs over at Mile 71, you can see it on the left there. It's the same old Cat Trail.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: How about this side of Stony Hill on the flat, if you look down there, you can pick out what appears --
GRANT PEARSON: Yeah, that's it, too. UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: -- to be a road going through there.
GRANT PEARSON: That's it, too. W. VERDE WATSON: In other words, the dogs didn't leave it?
GRANT PEARSON: Oh, no. No. W. VERDE WATSON: There's nothing left of theirs.
GRANT PEARSON: There's nothing left of theirs. Most of the travel for the dogs is right in the creek bottom, right square in the creek bottom. We tried to take advantage of the ice, it was smoother.
Once in awhile there'd be a little bit of water, but very seldom, and we'd follow the lowest spot that we could.
And the Cats, they generally follow along these benches where it was level, but not at the lowest place because they couldn't travel along the creeks.
It'd take an awful lot of travel for a dog team to show up, although it could, if you traveled on it enough and it froze ice and it could kill it out in the spring.
W. VERDE WATSON: But you never -- you don't believe there's any such place --
GRANT PEARSON: I don't believe you can see any at all. I don't think you can see a dog trail.