There is much more to the modern-day Siberian than most people understand. Not much is known by those outside of the mushing world. Those of you who have a Siberian Husky may not even know how they came about. The mushers who actually live the life… run dogs in races, are familiar with the history of the breed, know about the legend of a man. The man was named Leonard Seppala and he invented the Siberian husky you may own today. They may have changed over the years but the DNA of his dogs is in all Siberians today.
Thanks to many dedicated people, champions who have given more than most, and who have worked very hard to preserve the true descendants, they still exist. Some dedicated their whole lives to this effort. The dogs that share a direct and constant lineage to Seppalas original foundation dogs still exist today in limited numbers.
These are in fact what is known as “Seppala Siberian Sled Dogs.” Dogs that’s pedigree’s trace unbroken back to the foundation dogs of Leonhard Seppala himself. They are not anywhere close to being as diluted as the modern-day Siberian. They are the “Royals” of the husky kingdom. Their purpose is to be the top of the working class. Sled dogs supreme if not in speed but in tenacity, with a much milder temperament and willingness to be trained. World class athletes that still posses a coat that can survive temperatures that make Alaskan Huskies need coats.
Rather than re-invent the wheel I found this next part to be a nice summary if you are still interested in learning more. A bit of history about the legend of Leonhard Seppala and that husky sitting at your feet as you read it.
“Leonhard Seppala was a champion musher, a skilled athlete and one of the most iconic figures in Alaska’s history. When his city, Nome, Alaska, was struck with a disastrous epidemic during the worst possible time of year, Seppala’s dog team struck off into the harsh winter to retrieve the much-needed cure. He was, without question, an Alaskan hero – and he was born in Norway. Here’s a look at Leonhard Seppala’s life, and how he came to be such an important part of history:
Seppala was born in Lygenfjørd, Norway, on Sep. 14, 1877. He was raised amid harsh winter conditions – his town was located far, far north of the arctic circle. In addition to the weather conditions in which he was grew up, Seppala became a hard worker early on. His father was a blacksmith and a fisherman. Before he was old enough to learn his father’s trades, Seppala worked on the family farm. Once he turned 12 years old, he began sailing out to fish with his father. Seppala’s physical strength and endurance served him well, and he was able to earn a fair bit of money at his father’s side.
The gold rush
In his 20s, Seppala was working as a blacksmith in his hometown. A friend of his, who had traveled to Alaska in pursuit of gold, came back to Norway after having struck rich. Seppala, amazed by the wealth his friend had found on the other side of the world, decided to try his own hand at the gold trade. He packed up and traveled to Nome.
He wasn’t immediately successful. After moving, it took some time for the local prospecting company to even select him for a trip. When they finally did, the trip was something of a bust – there wasn’t much gold to be found, and Seppala began regretting his decision to travel to Alaska. Luckily, however, he decided to stick it out a little longer rather than travel back to Norway.
Seppala’s choice to remain in Alaska turned out to be a pivotal moment in time: Shortly afterward, dog sledding started emerging as a sport. Dog sleds were already part of Alaska’s industrial culture – they were used mainly to transport items back and forth from gold sites – but during this time, people started to recognize the activity’s recreational potential. Seppala, who had worked with dog teams while prospecting for gold, was a fine fit for a musher. He was strong, but light and agile, so the dogs could reach top speed under his command.
His prospecting supervisor gave Seppala the task of raising a pack of sled dogs to compete in the All-Alaska sweepstakes races. The first year Seppala’s team competed, they failed to finish the race. The second year, however, Seppala and his team won first place, marking the beginning of Seppala’s reign as an Alaskan dog-sledding champion. Seppala and his team won race after race, securing legendary status incredibly quickly.
The winter of 1925 was treacherous. During the colder months, travel between Alaskan cities was nearly non-existent. Normally, this wasn’t that much of a problem, but this year it seemed to leave Nome doomed. When the city experienced a massive diphtheria outbreak, it quickly ran out of its stores of antitoxin. Children were coming down with the deadly disease at alarming rates, and there was no way to help them get better.
Nome desperately needed antitoxin, and there were stores to spare in Anchorage. Citizens in both towns teamed up to form a plan – a series of mushers would deliver the antitoxin, relay-style, to the struggling town. Seppala provided multiple teams of well-trained sled dogs, and he and a number of other drivers set out to collect the antitoxin. Although Seppala did perform a leg of the relay, it was another driver, Gunnar Kaasen, who completed the final part of the journey and delivered the antitoxin to Nome. The team Kaasen led was made up of dogs Seppala bred and raised himself, but Seppala kept his best dogs for his own team.
Aftermath of the relay
Though Seppala was pleased that the antitoxin made its way to Nome, he was bitter about the media attention Kaasen and his dog team received. They had only run a small part of the journey, and the lead dog, Balto, was, in Seppala’s eyes, not remotely worth the attention he was receiving. Seppala believed his lead dog, Togo, deserved the praise and recognition. Balto, he argued, was just a freight dog and had only pulled the sled for a small leg of the journey. Though Balto became the star of the Anchorage-Nome run, Seppala always maintained that Togo had been the journey’s real hero.
Seppala went on to become a world-renowned sled-dog breeder, and his work was so prolific that today, there is an elite breed of sled dogs known as “Seppala Siberian sled dogs.”(https://www.hurtigruten.us/must-read-articles/norway/leonhard-seppala-alaskas-norwegian-hero/)
And that my friends is a quick glimpse into the history of your own dog, and that of what we call “Seppala’s.”
A few dedicated breeders are answering the call. And that is to keep the line going as long as we can. And why does this matter? Because its not only to preserve history but to keep these magnificent animals alive and doing what they did better than any other working sled dogs.
We do it to give back, to what so many dogs have given us.
Its hard to find such detailed history of a breed. I highly appreciate this post!
I’m glad you liked it. If you really want details read my post under the history section of the menu bar. https://life-with-a-husky.com/2017/09/02/a-little-history-of-the-siberian-husky/
Thanks for reading!
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We watched the movie Togo and everyone just loved it, to know the true heroes are Togo and Seppala after all these years having Balto falsely given the honours is an overdue acknowledgement. The film was very well made and I give it a 10/10 ranking. This history is invaluable to anyone with an interest in these dogs and the sport of sled-dogs. Thanks.