Footprints in the Snow
Brief History Of The Siberian Breed
The Siberian Husky breed originated and thrived in the frozen, unforgiving environment of northern Siberia for more than a 1,000 years ago with the Chukchi people. Developed and raised as a working dog that possessed certain attributes and desired instinctive qualities, the Chukchi people used their dogs to pull laden sleds which carried the successful rewards of seal hunts inland to the Chukchi villages of the harsh and forbidding Arctic coast. The Chukchi Dog not only helped to ensure the livelihood of the Chukchi people, but their survival as well. For in that inhospitable Siberian wilderness, the Chukchi understood the concept of "doing more with less".
The breed of dog the Chukchi developed was medium sized, fast, very efficient and able to withstand the harsh Siberian winters. Most notably, the Chukchi dog instinctively knew only one thing when working in a team - RUN ! Today's Siberian breed, like its ancestors will instinctively run until it collapses from exhaustion if allowed to do so. However, over many generations, the Chukchi dog and its master formed a very special bond and closeness. Being very docile, gentle and highly intelligent, the Chukchi dog found a valued position in the Chukchi home as companions and playmates for the children as well as guardians of their master's home. Exhibited today, this trait is ever present in the Siberian breed.
The decline of the Chukchi dog and the birth of the Siberian Husky breed seems to coincide with several notable historical events that occurred on the Asian continent within the last several hundred years. During the eighteenth century, as a new nation on the North American continent was being born, the power of Czarist Russia was building as well. The famous and fierce Russian Cossacks spread over much of the Asian continent to conquer, seize and control the land, its resources (primarily fur) and indigenous people. Like the resistance of the native North American Indians when the U.S. Cavalry swept across the United States , the simple and primitive peoples of northern Asia tried to stop the advance of the Cossack forces. The Cossack weaponry was superior to the primitive weapons the Chukchi relied on for defense.
However, the Chukchi effectively stopped the advancing Cossacks and forced the invading armies to give up any intention of conquering the Chukchi people and their homelands. This was not because the Chukchi were warriors in any sense of the imagination. They were hunters that lived peacefully for many years. However, the advantage the Chukchi had over the Cossacks was that they knew the terrain, how to survive in the harsh environment and could move quickly form place to place because of their sled dogs. The invading Cossack Armies were at a great disadvantage and suffered heavy casualties because of the harsh Siberian winters and the inability of their horses to perform in the harsh environment. Worn down and nearly beaten, the Chukchi lured the Cossack Army into an ambush. With no way out, the Chukchi inflicted heavy casualties - using only primitive weapons. Conceding defeat, the Cossack Army retreated.
For many years after this conflict, the Chukchi enjoyed the way of life they had known for many generations. Their dogs continued to hold an important place in the Chukchi homes. Their dogs meant livelihood and became a symbol of status. By the close of the nineteenth century, the “western world discovered the Chukchi dog and examples of the breed were soon exported. The story, here, now splits and spans two continents...
The Klondike Gold Rush of the late 1800s brought forth a need for transportation to carry goods to the gold fields and burgeoning towns. Soon the need for efficient and suitable transportation grew to bring back the glittering bounty of the fortunate miners seeking to cash in on their claims. The traditional means of transportation (i.e. horse, mule or ox drawn wagons) failed miserably in the Arctic environment because of the harsh weather and high costs to maintain these teams. Dog sled teams quickly proved the best means and "mushers" found a lucrative business opportunity. However, these sled teams often used larger, more powerful native breeds of dogs that required considerably more care and food. Still sled dog teams were the best way to transport goods. As with any venture, business often turns to sport. Sled dog competitions became popular in Alaska among those who had ventured north in search of their fortune. A little wager in a competition promised as much wealth as panning for gold. As the Sled Dog races developed into a sport, a lawyer named Albert Fink assumed the task of regulating these events and formalized the sport. Meanwhile...
Shortly before the Russian Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, a Russian Fur trader named, William Goosak, imported and entered a Chukchi sled dog team to compete in the 408 mile 1908 All-Alaska race. Finishing third place in this race, and because of a "musher" who was unfamiliar with the breed of the sled team, the speed and natural enthusiasm of the Chukchi team to run - seemingly endlessly - attracted a lot of attention. Soon, the demand for Chukchi dogs grew and many were imported from Siberian Russia before the communist regime close the borders of "Mother Russia".
In 1917, the Marxist Communist regime overthrew the aristocratic Czarist Russia. In purging the "capitalist" elite or "bourgeois" of the former Russian ways, the Red Army once again attacked and overwhelmed the Chukchi people. This time, the Chukchi faced more than horse mounted soldiers wielding swords. Since the Chukchi highly valued their dogs and used them as a measure of wealth and position of leadership, they were stripped them of their status and were either imprisoned or executed by the Red Army. Within a matter of a few years, Communist Russia had effectively brought about all but the end of the Chukchi way of life and the Chukchi dog breed in Siberia . As a chapter closed in Siberia , another began not too far away in North America .
A Norwegian, Leonhard Seppala, immigrated to the Alaska territory early in the twentieth century, gained worldwide notoriety as the premier sled dog "musher" of the Chukchi dogs. Before the outbreak of World War I, the famous explorer Roald Amundsen was planning his drive to the North Pole. To get there, Amundsen had acquired a Chukchi dog team to pull his sled. Canceling the expedition, Amundsen placed the dog team in Seppala's care. Over the next few years, Seppala used the team in many competitions and beat “any and all” challengers.
During the winter of 1925, a diphtheria epidemic broke out in Nome , Alaska , where Seppala and his team resided. Doctors were unable fight the epidemic because of critically short medical supplies. Nome 's local doctors in Nome made an urgent appeal for help. In 1925, Nome only had direct contact with the lower Alaskan territory by telephone and the nearest railroad station was 650 miles away in Anchorage . Arranging to assemble the medical supplies, a series of 15 relay sled dog teams (that would only travel 50 miles) quickly assembled to carry the vital medical supplies from Anchorage . Dispatched to meet the final relay team, Seppala and his Chukchi team collected the much-needed medical supplies and returned to Nome .
Seppala and his 20-dog team traveled 170 miles, via the Tanana and Yukon Rivers and the Bering Sea , to meet with the fifteenth and last relay team in blizzard conditions. Forty miles into his return trip, Seppala rested his team briefly before returning and delivering the cargo he and his Chukchi team carried. With all considered Seppala's team logged nearly 350 total miles in this journey. His team traveled seven times farther (with only one rest stop) than any one of the other 15 relay teams. The heroic feat of Seppala and his team drew worldwide acclaim. However, in this feat, alone, The Siberian Husky breed was born.
In 1938, The Siberian breed was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club ( AKC ). By then, the Chukchi dog breed in Siberia had literally vanished.
Article from http://www.burgesslegacy.org/footprints.htm
For old photographs of the Chukchi people their dogs click here.