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Missive #127

A Will Rogers weekly article usually appeared in print within a month after it was written. Thus, the articles from 18 August through 15 September, 1935 were published after Rogers’ death on 15 August 1935. This final weekly article was found in the wrecked aircraft and was in progress at the time of the accident, it was not released until several years after it was written.

Well all I know about dogs is not much, but when I was up in Alaska there is an awful lot of dependence put in dogs, not enough to untie one from a chain, but theyrs whole existence tangles around dogs, of course the plane has diminished the dog travel a lot but still backbone of the Arctic is a dog’s backbone. I met up there just as I was leaving Fairbanks that famous “Musher” and dog race winner, “Seppala,” he become immortal on that famous drive with the infantile paralysis serum to Nome.1 Well I dident have long to talk to him that morning, as we was trying to get off, and the river was soret narrow and many bends and Wiley was afraid that in it with a full load of gas that we might have some difficulty in taking off, so we had some gas sent out to a lake about 50 miles out, and then flew there and loaded up and took off, we were headed at the time for Point Barrow the furtherest north of any piece of land on the North American Continent, (there is island in the Arctic, but no land on the mainland further north). It was over an entirely uninhabited country, only we did get over that little village of Wiseman, did you ever read the book “The Arctic Village,” well I must tell you about it some time.2 It was very popular and best sellar, and the author lived there a year or more and uses all the people in the town and their names right in the book. I got it and am reading it and will tell you about it, but to get back to Seppala and too dogs, for Seppala is as identified with dogs as May West is with buxomness.3 He has a splendid book written with him by Elizabeth Ricker who herself is a great dog fancier and dog driver.4 Well not knowing anything about it, I asked him about the dog “Balto” that there is now a statue too in Central Park New York in honor of this great race, and he told me. Balto was not the dog, the real hero of the race was “Togo” my lead dog, Balto was not in my team, he was in the team of the driver who made the last lap or entry into Nome, and hence he received all the credit, and Balto was not even the lead dog, the newspaper men asked him the names of the dogs and the driver told them the leader was “Fox.” Well half the dog teams in the North they said was named Fox, so they kept asng other dogs names in the team, and finally he mentioned “Balto” so they hopped on that right away it had headline possibilitys, and today I guess all over the world you find it on dog food boxes. The run out to meet the serum coming in wasent originally to be done in relays by different teams, they had asked him to go out some 300 miles out and that far back, to get it, and he picked his best dogs, 20 of them for the trip, meaning to leave some along the line to use on his way back after he had gotten the serum, but after he left the disease spread and they had it started from the other end. And he met it 170 miles out instead of the 300, then he made the run with it through a terrible storm but a relay team met him. But in all he had covered over 300 miles going or coming for the serum, and no other driver had made over 53 miles. He said he dident mind it for himself but that it was his wonderful lead dog “Fox” that did such great work and then lost the credit. Balto he had raised as well as Fox, and he had left Balto at home as he was a dog that he used on just his freight team. He used to win most all those big dog races, the biggest of which was the “Alaskan Sweepstakes,” which had prizes as high as $20.000.

He is a little bit of a fellow, but mighty husky. He works for a big mining company in Fairbanks. He has charge of a section of big water line, a pipe line about six feet in diameter that runs for over a 100 miles. It has burst when we was there and we had drove out to see it. He said he might get back in the racing game, but that he was I believe he said 58 years old. Kinder said it like he thought a man that age better be dying off, and it dident make me feel any too chipper. One of the hardest things he said is to train dog teams to pass on the trail and not go to war with each other. Then you are all winter seperating ’em, to say nothin of how long it takes to seperate the drivers. They don’t drive the big long teams as much as they used too, for they don’t have the big loads. They used to hitch 18 or 20. Now 4 or 6 or 8. Joe Crosson the ace pilot that we were with so much in Fairbanks an old friend of Wiley’s, he has a mine and we went out there, and he has a partner a Swedish fellow that runs it and he had just killed a bear right at his house door.5 And the Sweedish fellow tells how Mickey went out one night and run the bear in. Well as a matter of fact Mickey went out and the bear chased him in, and Earnest had to shoot the bear to keep him from running Mickey under the bed. They say there is more fellows been caught by a bear just that way. An old pet dog, (Mickey is a wirehaired fox terrier) jumps the bear and then they hike straight to you, and the bear after ’em, and the first thing you know you got a bear in your lap, and a dog between your feet. So “Mickey” is a great bear dog. So there is two kinds of bear dogs the ones that drive ’em away and the ones that bring ’em in. Little Mickey thought he had done it, as Earnest said he chewed all the hair off the bear, after death. Now I must get back to advising my Democrats.

1Leonhard Seppala, Norwegian-born champion dog-team driver. During a severe diphtheria epidemic in Alaska in 1925, Seppala completed the last leg of 650-mile relay to Nome to deliver 300,000 units of much-needed antitoxin.
2Arctic Village, a socioeconomic study by Robert Marshall about life in Wiseman, Alaska, a small frontier mining community. The book was published in 1933.
3For Mae West see WA 540:N 2.
4Elizabeth Miller Ricker, coauthor with Seppala in 1930 of the latter’s autobiography, Alaskan Dog Driver.
5Joe Crosson, well-known Alaskan bush pilot who flew the bodies of Rogers and Post to Seattle from Barrow, Alaska, following the crash of their plane on August 15, 1935.

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