The husky history started with the famous gold rush to the Klondike district in Alaska at the end of the 19th century. This gold rush has brought to light various talented and talented characters. The reputation of the American writer of adventure novels and animal stories Jack London (1876-1916), for example, is inextricably linked to that period. The same applies to the fate of the Siberian Husky. If they had not found gold in Alaska, we would probably never have heard of this dog. But more about that later.
The term husky, or “hoarse”, applied to all sled dogs used by the Indians and Eskimos.
The Siberian Husky breed, which is part of that group of sled dogs, comes from the far north-east of Asia, to be precise, from the Chukchi peninsula. The Eskimo people living there, the Chukchi or Chukchee, were deprived of any contact with Western civilization. Little is known about this people and about the way they bred dogs. What they have managed to find out is that the Chukchchen took the dogs into the family circle and that they applied a real selection.
These Eskimos killed the most bitches shortly after birth, and kept the most robust ones. The males were castrated, except for the specimens selected for breeding. Of course it concerned the bravest males. Because of this use and the extremely strict climatic conditions and the isolation of the Eskimos, a very typified and pure dog population could arise. Finding gold in Alaska would remove the Siberian Husky from its isolation.
In July 1896 huge clumps of gold were discovered at the confluence of two rivers in the Klondike district. The consequence of this was that an unexpected influx of emigrants from all over America came to Alaska. The prospectors soon discovered that it was not that simple to survive in the cold, the dark and the silence of the high North. Because they had no contact at all with the Indians and Eskimos, and therefore did not know the native dogs, they had to seek help elsewhere for, for example, the transport of their loads. Anyone who seemed strong enough and apparently could handle the climate was called in. That meant, among other things, that the carriages were pulled by dogs of all kinds with tools, food and iron heaters. Collies, Sheepdogs and Setters were mainly used for that tough job, but the most sensible chose dogs of the Saint Bernard or Newfoundland type. A few managed to get their hands on indigenous dogs, and they showed to be superior when it came to sledging. However, it was not so easy to get these dogs because the locals themselves needed them too badly. Moreover, it turned out to be very difficult to master them. The fact that the local sled dogs slowly but surely managed to secure a permanent place and eventually became generally recognized by the pioneers, was probably due to the fur hunters.
Long before the gold rush took place in Alaska, fur hunters had settled there. They were also referred to as ‘musher’, a term derived from the ‘marche’ command that the French-Canadian trappers gave to their ropes. For English speakers that has become ‘mush’ because of the sound. In the days of these mushers, the robust dogs of the Mahlemuts, an eskimo tribe in Alaska, spread. Because those dogs were able to pull the heaviest loads over the greatest distances, they soon became famous. They also came into the hands of the settlers, and they were brought up by the construction of the Malamutes (as the dogs were called) with the idea of crossing them with Saint Bernard. Out of these crossings came the Blossom, a still famous species. Later, they sought more power than speed, and that is why the Malamute was crossed with western dogs that were lighter, such as Setters or shepherd dogs. But back to the mushers. Following the Indians and Eskimos, they conceived the plan to compare the performance of their strains. To this end, they organized competitions between the villages themselves, events that were also firmly bet. It is easy to explain that these competitions expanded rapidly. According to an Alaskan saying, the high North has four seasons: June, July, August and winter. The aim is to indicate that all activities focus on the three summer months and that everyone closes off from the outside world during the rest of the year. The obvious boredom was perhaps the birthplace of the success of the sled races.
It is not surprising that the popularity of the sled games led to the founding of the Nome Kennel Club in 1907. Initiators to that end were the musher Allan Scott and the lawyer Albert Fink, who wanted to give the games a serious basis and a recurring event. Wanted to make of it. The name Nome refers to a hamlet on the coast of the Seward peninsula, in the extreme north-west of Alaska. This remote corner owes its existence only to the discovery of clogs of gold on the beach. At first it was not even thought of giving this hamlet a name at the end of the world, and precisely because it had no name (no name) it was called Nome. Nome became the center of the sled races. In 1908 the Nome Kennel Club launched the All Alaska Sweepstakes, a competition over a length of 650 km. As a result, the search for the best dogs and the selection of the best-performing strains were given a new dimension, and the Siberian Husky also came into the picture.
The Husky lived in Siberia, but in fact it is not that far from Alaska. The Beringstraat that separates Alaska from Siberia is no more than 100 km wide. Moreover, Alaska had ties with the Asian continent, if only because a large Russian colony lived in Alaska. He had settled there before 1867, the year in which Tsar Alexander II sold Alaska to the United States for seven million dollars. As the sledge races continued to expand, a fur dealer of Russian origin, William Goosak, first came up with the idea of getting some Huskies from Siberia. He intended to use these dogs in the All Alaska Sweepstakes. Initially they were a bit skeptical about these sled dogs because they were smaller than the others. However, it was not long before they were taken seriously because the team of Siberian Huskies finished third.
The result was that a well-to-do Scotch collected no less than 60 Huskies from the Chukchens on the Anadyr River. He entrusted a team to John Johnson, who made a name for himself in 1910 by convincingly breaking the match record. Johnson, also known as “Iron Man” or “the Iron Man”, repeated his performance in 1914. Then it was Leonhard Seppala ‘s turn to win the game for three consecutive years. This Norwegian was without a doubt the greatest musher of all time and with him the most glorious period in the history of the Siberian Husky came. The stock of the breed was formed by the very valuable import of Huskies from Siberia. The last time dogs were introduced in that period was in 1930 and came in the name of Olaf Swenson.
In 1925, a dramatic event ensured that the Siberian Husky’s reputation reached the whole of America. In January of that year, Nome became the victim of a diphtheria epidemic. The only doctor of the then only 1450 inhabitants had no more than a few doses of diphtheria anatoxine, and they had been there for five years. So outside help was urgently needed. The necessary serum was quickly sent from Anchorage via the new railway line (from Anchorage to Fairbanks) to Nenana. Nenana, however, was still more than 1000 km away from Nome. Due to the usual weather conditions at that time of the year, the old planes that were available could not take off, so there was nothing left but transport by sled. To get the precious medicine to the destination, 19 teams of Huskies alternated. They were met by Leonhard Seppala, who left Nome, and who in turn was relieved by Gunnar Kasson. Eventually the leader of his team managed to reach the dog Balto Nome, and that in the middle of a snowstorm, in the freezing cold and in almost complete darkness. This ‘match against death’ had all taken 127 hours, so about five and a half days.
The news of heroism soon became known throughout America. They even erected a statue for Balto in New York’s Central Park. The admiration and interest in Siberian Huskies were so great that Seppala and his dogs toured the United States. From the dogs he gave up during that tour, a part of the American population of the breed has emerged. The Siberian Husky was recognized as a breed in 1930 by the American Kennel Club. That apart from the sled dogs also the sled sport gained popularity, is evident from the fact that in 1932 sled races were allowed as demonstration sport at the Lake Placid Winter Olympics. The Siberian Husky Club of America, founded in 1938, established the first official standard, although a first impulse had already been published in 1932. In 1939 the Canadian Kennel Club also admitted the breed. Everything went well, except in Alaska itself. Life in Alaska started to look different from the 1920s. The era of the small prospectors was almost over and was followed by the industrial era. This also had consequences for transport. In addition to the train, people increasingly made use of the aircraft. Today, one in every 30 residents of Alaska has a pilot’s license and one in 50 owns a private plane.) In addition, a first economic recession in 1923 forced the last adventurers to flee. That was a foretaste of the great world recession that arrived hard in Alaska in particular. The transport by sled therefore decreased, and with it the use of sled dogs, although there were still exceptions here and there. For example, the famous Hudson Bay Company would use sleighs to deliver the mail until 1963, while the Canadian police would continue to use the dogs until 1969. The Indians and Eskimos in Alaska, however, still use sleighs and still hold matches between the villages.
After a period of neglect of sledging, a revival took place in 1946, when the “Fur Rendezvous” of Anchorage was established. But there were clear changes in the sport. It was no longer about the famous races from the hero era, but more about speed races over distances of a few tens of kilometers per day. As a result, the dogs also changed. Native American mushers such as the famous George Attla still used Huskies, but others soon realized that they could get much faster dogs by crossing Siberian dogs with hunting dogs and even Greyhounds. Such crossings took place so many times that many “Alaskan Huskies“ could no longer be called northern dogs.
It was not until the 1970s that it was realized that the dogs became faster due to the crossbreeding, but that this was at the expense of their robustness and endurance. Alaska’s Huskies did not become true polar dogs again until the Iditarod was introduced in 1973, a competition over a distance of 1800 km to be completed in 11 days (with one day of rest). Of course the Siberian Husky had lost its homogeneity in the meantime. He had actually become one of the Huskies who descended from Native American, Eskimose and Western dogs. The Siberian Husky, however, has not completely disappeared from Alaska because his blood still flows through the veins of many Alaskan Huskies. He is also still able to compete as a pure breed, as the breeder and musher Earl Norris have proven. The progressive development of sled sport and the related selection of competition dogs have only recently emerged in Europe. The first impetus was given by enthusiasts who went to watch competitions in Alaska and the United States and then took very high-performing Huskies to Europe. Yet the Siberian Husky was already on display in France during the First World War. It turned out to be impossible at that time to supply certain strategic positions in the Vosges with ammunition and food via horses, mules or people. After all, people were under intense gunfire. That is how the idea of using dogs was born. Among the approximately 400 dogs that were brought from Nome and Canada for this purpose, there were about 100 Siberian Huskies. They were trained by the famous musher Scotty Allan. The rest of Europe did not become acquainted with the breed until the 1950s, first in Switzerland and Norway, and later in the other Scandinavian countries, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. The Siberian Husky was recognized by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale in 1966. Since then, this dog has achieved enormous success, of course because of its appearance, but certainly also because of its sporting qualities.
It is certain that the wolf-like appearance of the Siberian Husky has attracted attention. Distorted blue eyes are of course an attractive aspect. Moreover, because much attention was paid to the breed by the written press and the necessary movie stars, more Husky admirers were added every year. Everyone wanted to have such a special dog. It was soon realized that the rather unusual appearance of the Husky matched its equally unusual character. And since pulling sleds turned out to be his specialty, they naturally also came up with the idea of holding competitions.
The Siberian Husky is often complained because he has become a companion dog, but that is not always necessary. Many owners realize that this dog has a special character. They still use and train him as a sled dog and put him in front of the sled in the absence of snow.