Speedy Huskies Imported From Siberia

The article was originally published in a winter tourism, sports and history tabloid that my mother and I put together in 1972. It was solicited from Raymond Thompson, who was a neighbor and friend of Leonhard Seppala in Washington State in their later years.

Some errors in the OCR text have been reconciled with the original version, and it remains to insert the table of dog breed characteristics that he refers to…

The amazing growth of sled dog racing, during the past few years, has resulted in a steadily growing interest in so-called “huskies” or sled dog breeds. Far out-distancing other pure-bred dogs, in this respect, is the Siberian Husky, The Samoyed, similar in size, but lacking the speed of the. Siberian, has been all but abandoned by serious sled dog racers and the Alaskan. Malamute, heavier and slower, is now used principally in spectator sports, such as weight pulling contests, freighting sled races, short “one-dog races,” etc.

A dozen years ago, this writer helped organize “The Seppala Siberian Husky Club,” not only to promote interest in our own favorite breed of dogs, but to honor our very good friends, Leonhard and Constance Seppala, from whom we had received our  “Seppala strain” American Kennel Club registered Siberians.

One of the very first projects of the SSHC was to research the origin of the Siberian Sled Dog and to publish our findings in “The Siberian Husky News,” – a newsletter issued by the Club. Here we ran into real problems. Vol I of “Pure-Bred Dogs” – a book on The Breeds and Standards as  recognized by the American Kennel Club, was published in 1929. Only two “Arctic” dogs are listed in this publication, the “Eskimo” and the Samoyed.

Attempting to pinpoint the.actual date of AKC registration of the first Siberian Husky, we wrote the American Kennel Club, in this regard, on March 6, 1961. Chester A. Hager, Office Manager, replied that all old registrations were on microfilm. Mr. Hager advised us that “to favor you with the statistical information which you desire would be too time consuming a project for us to undertake.” The AKC official added that “Siberian Huskies were admitted to registration in our Stud Book on October 14, 1930, with the first dog registered during December of that year”.

This response from the AKC proved one point – we could expect no help from that source, in our own research on the origin of the Siberian Sled Dog. In our own files, thanks to Leonhard Seppala, were photostatic copies of pedigrees on Siberian dogs, owned by Seppala Siberian Kennels, Poland Springs, Maine, dated January 24, 1926. The pedigrees were .on,two ‘Siberian pups (from the same litter) whelped April 2,1924. The two pups were sired by “Togo,” Seppala’s most famous lead dog. A male was named “Jan” and his sister, “Malinka.” The male pup was described as “Dark Gray,” and the female, simply “Gray.” The Dam of the pups was “Nome” and they were whelped in the Seppala kennels, at Nome, Alaska.

Leonhard Seppala acquired his first Siberian dogs, in 1909, from Jafet Lindeberg. These dogs were brought over from Siberia for use by Roald Amundsen in a sled dog expedition to the North Pole but were never used for that purpose when Amundsen abandoned the Arctic expedition.

Seppala, a very astute and dedicated sled dog breeder and musher, kept pedigrees on his Siberian Dogs. The pedigrees mentioned above, include a five generation record of animals dating back to the original imports from Siberia. No other dog breeder had kept such complete records. Sled dog fanciers today, including breeders of AKC registered Siberian Huskies, as well as those who breed racing dogs with known traces of “Siberian Dog” strains in their breeding, should be forever grateful to the world famous musher. Both Leonhard Seppala and his devoted wife, Constance, are now deceased. Leonhard departing this life a few years ahead of Constance.

Backtracking, we actually have no record of the Siberian dog in North America, prior to 1909. A Russian trader, named Goosak, is credited, by most historians, with bringing the first Siberian dogs to Alaska. This was in 1909, and Goosak’s team, driven by Thrustrup, ran in the second All Alaska Sweepstakes. The Siberian dogs finished third in the 408 mile race.

Fox-Maule Ramsay, a mining man, was so impressed by the performance of the Siberian dogs, that he crossed the Bering Sea, by-passed Kamchatka Peninsula, on into the sea of Okhotsk, went up the Kolyma River, in northeastern Siberia, and there purchased “a large number of the best type of these Siberian dogs, bringing them back to Nome, along with two men who understood them thoroughly.” The quote is from “The Great Dog Races of Nome,” by Esther Birdsall Darling, President, 1916, of the Nome Kennel Club.

Mrs. Darling, a co-partner with famous sled dog racer, “Scotty” Allan, made these observations in her booklet:

“These Siberian dogs, generally and erroneously called “Siberian wolf hounds”, in the “Outside” papers, are suggestive neither of hounds nor wolves. On the contrary they have much more the appearance of the fox, with pointed noses, prick ears, and bushy tails curled up over their backs. They are wonderfully even and steady in their work, gentle and tireless, requiring comparatively little food, and but little time in which to digest it. Any number of them can be turned loose together in a corral or stable, with hardly any fear of their fighting. Their allegiance is given to the one who feeds them.

The Alaskans, a comprehensive name used for convenience to distinguish them from the distinct type of Siberians, may be malamutes or huskies (native Alaskan dogs) or they may be setters, pointers, collies, hounds, airedales or what-not, with or without a strain of the malamute or huskie. These dogs are-far more. individual, less like machines in their characteristics, than are their rivals the Siberians; less easy to manage, too, but exceedingly intelligent and responsive, showing much pride in their work, and a deep and abiding affection for their masters, as well as great fleetness.”

We shall refer to Esther Birdsall Darling’s comments later on, in our summary on early records of the Siberian dog, as compared to present AKC standards, but, in the meantime, let us explore the authentic history of the breed, in the land of origin, Siberia.

ORIGIN: The AKC “Breed History” states that “The Siberian Husky” often more accurately called the “Siberian Chichi,” is a native of northeastern Siberia, particularly the area drained by the Kolyma River, where the strain has been kept pure for untold centuries.”

To pinpoint this location, the Chuchi Sea lies immediately north and west of Bering Strait – the strait itself separating Alaska’s Seward Peninsula and Siberia’s Chuchi Peninsula, by a comparatively few miles. Further south, Siberia’s Kamchatka Peninsula extends deep into the Pacific Ocean and to reach the Kolyma River district (where Fox- Maule procured his first Siberian dogs) a journey of 200 miles, by ship, was necessary before one could travel up the Kolyma River, by skin boat in summer or dog sled in winter.

The best racing dogs did not come from the Chuchi Peninsula, but from further inland, southwest, on the Anadyr Peninsula, where from one side of the Anadyr Mountains, the Anadyr River Flows into the Gulf of Anadyr and from the western slope of the same range, the Kolyma River drains into the Sea of Okhotsk.

Prior to 1935, when Russia stopped all exporting of dogs from Siberia, a brisk trade was carried on by Alaskans with Russian and Siberian traders. Considerable information on the Siberian dogs and their native owners, is found in various journals published from 1870 on, but none of these is available in book stores and only in limited numbers, for research in the larger libraries. Our collaborator, Louise Foley, did extensive research for us, in The Smithsonian, Congressional and other libraries, and even had the assistance of Russian and German translators.

Our own library, plus our first contact with Arctic sled dogs almost 60 years ago and our breeding and training of pure-bred Siberian Huskies, in recent years and our considerable experience with Eskimo, Samoyed, and nonregisterable breeds of northern dogs, are of course, factors in our general summary on the background, character, etc., of the Siberian dog.

Our research indicates that two rather distinct strains of sled dogs were used for several hundred years by natives in different parts of Siberia. The “interior” dogs were generally smaller than those found along the north Pacific and Arctic coasts. For example, dogs of the Kamchatka Peninsula were described by one historian, as a team “of fourteen big wolf-like dogs with shaggy coats and pointed ears.”

Similar references to thq size of the “eastern Siberian Coast” dogs, appear in several books. Quite possibly this strain of large wolflike Siberian dog may have had ancestry related to the native dog of Alaska’s Seward Peninsula, now known as the Alaskan Malamute.

The Siberian dogs first imported into Alaska, were, on the average, similar in size to the standards set up by dog breeders and recognized as “pure-bred Siberian Huskies” by the American Kennel Club. Some of the journals that mention large Siberian dogs date back to 1865. But Jochelson wrote that the Kamchedal (Kamchatka) dog, once known as “the biggest and best driving dog of Siberia” was by 1911, “small in size”. Historians also mention a famine of several years duration, when fish were so scarce that dogs starved and subsequent litters produced pups of diminished sizes.

The accompanying table shows relative sizes by AKC Standards for Arctic dogs. Standards for color and coat have also been established. All colors and white and all markings are allowed. Various shades of wolf and the silver grays, tan and black with white points are usual. Head markings – – including cap-like mask and spectacles are typical.

The eyes may be either brown or blue, one brown eye and one blue eye being permissible, but not desirable.

The coat should be double, with the undercoat soft and downy. The outer coat is very, thick – – with a smooth, full-furred appearance, longer outer fur is allowed by AKC Standard as long as the texture remains soft. “Most important of the Siberian Husky’s characteristics are medium size and bone, soft coat, high-set ears, ease and freedom of action, and good disposition.”

So much for this brief reference to AKC Standards. The Eskimo Dog, mentioned in the chart for the purpose of comparison only, was dropped from AKC registration, nearly 20 years ago, for lack of breeder interest.

Russian fur hunters in the early 1700’s, penetrated northeastern Siberia, establishing fur trade for the fabulous sable with the natives of that region. We note several references to the use of the Siberian dog in hunting game birds, deer and even fur bearing animals. According to Middendorff, the Tungus tribe of natives used their dogs for hunting the sable.

Another writer, Waldermar Jochelson also mentioned the Tungus hunting dog was used by the Siberian natives, after crossing this smaller animal with a wolf-like sledge dog. The Tungus dog was apparently a breed, later recognized as a Spitz. This dog was especially bred for hunting and according to such authorities as Middendorff, Jochelson and Borgoras, the smaller animal might be the missing link between the wolf type larger dog of northeastern Siberia of 100 years ago or more and the Siberian Husky of today, as recognized by the American Kennel Club and the Canadian Kennel Club.

In our own experience, in northwestern Canada, we had two so-called “Husky” that had definite traces of Siberian dog in their appearance and general characteristics. Both of these dogs were trained to hunt the Canadian lynx and the pine marten in the woods and also to retrieve beaver from the water, after the animal was shot by the hunter.

In quite recent years, a breeder of registered Siberian Huskies by the name of Caldwell, trained his dogs to hunt rabbits. Unfortunately of the material we had examined and all other information available, there is very little reference to the use of the Siberian dog in hunting, but the inference is there. For instance, one prominent historian merely states that the Siberian dog was used as a work animal and companion for children and a hunting dog.

There is interesting evidence of how the Siberian natives treated their dogs. Jochelson states that “The Koryak, Chukchee and Kamchadal, as well as the Tungus always feed their dogs out of doors”. Some tribes like the Yakuts, never fondle their dogs and trained them with great cruelty. The main food of the Siberian dog among the Yakuts consisting of fish and dog salmon dried in the sun, is fed dry to the dogs during journeys. The procuring and storing of food for both natives and their dogs, of course, went hand in hand and the available supply of salmon, during the normal run, would in fact be divided between man and dog.

In contrast to the Yakuts, the Koryak were found to be quite fond of their dogs and trained them by kind words, rather than with a stick. While most dogs were staked outside, one tribe on the upper Kolyma River was known to build roomy sheds on the side of their own huts for the protection of their dogs, during a snowstorm.

The gelding or castration of male dogs apparently was common practice and certain tribes like the Kamchadal and the Koryak also cropped the tails of their dogs, believing this would increase their speed. This would appear to have been a cruel practice, as the dogs used their well furred tails as a nose warmer all curled up in the snow in cold weather.

A hundred years or so ago, Russianized natives commenced selling their dogs to the white fur trader. At that time, a good dog could be bought with four or five orange fox skins and an American shotgun was good in exchange for two or more dogs. Olaf Swenson wrote that he paid as little $10.00 for ordinary dogs and as high as $150.00 for one that considered an unusual leader.

It is, of course, impossible to cover in detail, the many facets of the origin of the Siberian dog and we could be pleased to give further information on the source material for research, to any reader interested.

In our own experience, in northwestern Canada, we had two socalled “Husky” that had definite traces of Siberian dog in their appearance and general characteristics. Both of these dogs were trained to hunt the Canadian lynx and the pine marten in the woods and also to retrieve beaver from the water, after the animal was shot by the hunter. In quite recent years, a breeder of registered Siberian Huskies by the name of Caldwell, trained ‘his dogs to hunt rabbits. Unfortunately of the material we had examined and all other information available, there is very little reference to the use of the Siberian , dog in hunting, but the inference is there. For instance, one prominent historian merely states that the Siberian dog was used as a work animal and companion for childr and a hunting dog.

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