Brie: It's What's For Breakfast

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CV for a Cemetery

My mom wanted me on the board of an historical cemetery. I thought it would be awesome – it’s a great old place with lots of ghost stories and locally famous – and infamous – people buried there. Including a truckload of my ancestors.

“I need your resume,” she told me.

“Mom, I hardly think that my work history has anything to do with why I might be qualified to serve on that board.”

“So dress it up. Emphasize your genealogy research and your history research. Talk about your volunteer work.”

In other words, she wanted me to re-craft my resume entirely.  Therefore, I did exactly what I always do when given an irritating assignment: I procrastinated.

A week later: “I really need your resume.”

Two weeks later: “If you don’t get me that resume I can’t nominate you.”

Three weeks later:  “I need it today.”

Crap. And I was having so much fun putting it off.

“Just write something. I’ll rewrite it to suit our nomination style.”

Had she said this in the first place, I could have whipped off a few relevant paragraphs and been done with this a month ago. But she said she wanted a freaking resume. So after lunch, I sat down and wrote:

Anne has a keen interest in genealogy and history, and has done research on both in this particular cemetery, once regrettably denting the side of her car as she took a turn too sharply around a certain walled plot in the northeast corner of the place.  Her interest in these disciplines began in high school, when in 1976 she won the esteemed and coveted Annual Ninth Grade History Award at All Saints Episcopal School in Vicksburg, Mississippi, mostly to prove to a certain boy that she was smarter than he was. It must have worked, because that intimidated lad has refused to this day (over 30 years later!) to come to class reunions.

Her interest was fed her freshman year at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, when given the task of charting the genealogy of Zeus’s progeny she instead charted the genealogy of the entire Greek pantheon. While mostly accurate, her work earned her a C for failing to follow directions. Her professor was not interested in reading that much. Anne didn’t really care, since being right was all that mattered. When she graduated from Colgate in 1984, her major was English, not Greek.

With no immediate better use to put an English major, Anne returned to her Arkansas roots the following year to go to law school.  Anne clerked for Justice David Newbern at the Arkansas Supreme Court, then worked for a state agency or two until her secretary, one Gennifer Flowers, decided to hit the front page of the papers and not return to work. Anne opened her own law practice in 1993 and has remained in private practice ever since. Today, after 16 years in the trenches of litigation, Anne is a managing member of the law firm Almand, Orsi & Campbell, PLLC, which handles civil litigation.  Both she and her cousin and law partner, Donald K. Campbell, III, have generations of ancestors buried at this cemetery, stories about whom they occasionally pull out, dust off, and tell to their children and other passers-by, whether or not such innocents are especially interested.

Anne has maintained a moderately noticeable profile among local bar and statewide bar associations. She joined a whole slew of them in 1988 immediately after getting her J.D. from UALR Law School and passing the bar.  In 1993 she was made Parliamentarian of the Arkansas Association of Woman Lawyers, then served as  Vice President in 1994-1995, and as President in 1995-1996. She remains a member of the group today.  She has been a member of the Pulaski County Bar Association since 1988, and served as co-chair of the Hospitality Committee in 1995-1996. Likewise she retains her membership in the Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association, for which she chaired the Domestic Relations Division in 1997-1998. She was a member of the American Bar Association from 1988-1996, when membership became prohibitively expensive. Most of her bar activities have been through the Arkansas Bar Association, for which she has served on numerous committees, including the Real Estate Committee, Probate Law Committee, Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare Committee, Women and Minorities in the Law Committee, Mock Trial Committee, Online Legal Research Committee, Civil Litigation Committee, and Access to Justice Committee.

Very conscious of the fact that not everyone has access to the legal system in a meaningful way, Anne donates her time and expertise through two of Arkansas’ legal services organizations. The Center for Arkansas Legal Services helps clients in the central Arkansas area, and Anne is one of the attorneys who accepts legal representation of clients in need who meet low income guidelines. Anne volunteers in rural areas of the state for Arkansas Volunteer Lawyers for the Elderly, another legal aid program that ensures that senior citizens with limited assets and income can access the legal system.

She has served on the boards of other historical societies, including Scott Connections in Scott, Arkansas (Director, 2007-2008), and the National Society of Colonial Dames of America in Arkansas (Director, 2006-09; and Board of Managers 2009-present). This spring Anne was selected to be the state’s Regent of Gunston Hall, the Northern Virginia home of founding father George Mason, a position she will hold for the next four years.

Anne is active in several of her family’s businesses. She is on the board of directors of ARNO, Inc. and Pioneer Farms, and has served as Chairman of the Board of Three Rivers Title Services, Inc. since 1999.

For pleasure, Anne loves to grow herbs, read, and write short stories. She maintains two blogs: one is purely for pleasure and the other is purely for work. She is also working on three novels, none of which she ever expects to finish unless the Fountain of Youth is found and she drinks copiously from its non-Stygian depths.

“Very amusing, my dear. I will extract the pertinent information to send out to the rest of the Board, omitting the humor, sad though that makes me.”

She will extract the pertinent information? That means most of what I wrote will end up in the trash.

And I worked so hard to get it to her!


June 29, 2010 Posted by | Arkansas, Creative Writing, History, Lawyer, Personal | 1 Comment

Saumur Ecole de Cavalerie, Courses de Tetes

My office, and my my messy desk, with the offending painting.

I have this print hanging on the wall of my office. My assistant, the lovely and incomparable Jane, thinks it is morbid and shocking.  I think it metaphorically demonstrates what a good trial lawyer does.

The name of the painting is “Saumur Ecole de Cavalerie, Course de Tetes (Carrousel).” It is by Albert Adams. Although my French is as rusty as my ancient Etruscan (that means it’s somewhat better than my Sumerian, at least idiomatically), I can roughly translate this to mean that the French cavalry school at Saumur has a ring it calls “The Course of Heads.”  Apparently the cavalry students brandish sabers and attempt to collect as many heads as possible as they go through the course.

Here’s a close-up:

You can see the reflection of the mess on my desk in the glass.  Attractive, non?

Given the French predilection and national past time of separating heads from bodies (see: guillotine) it may be necessary, occasionally, for a French cavalryman to pick up the mess.  Someone has to, after all.  All those loose heads lolling and rolling about the countryside and through the city streets would be a menace and cause the bourgeoisie to trip and fall, thus giving rise to lawsuits of the variety I’d like to bring on behalf of my bruised and battered bourgeois client.  (Hands fallen future plaintiff a business card.  “Call me,”  I say.  “Merci.”)

But back to the incomparable and indispensable Jane, who says that this particular picture is, in a word, “gross.”

Since I have only one print of the painting, I am 143 short of a gross. She must mean something else by her statement.

I think it’s entirely appropriate for my law office.

I have always loved this print, which hung in my grandparents’ house, and which I rescued from my aunt who had it stored in a damp storage building about 20 years ago. Aside from the fact that I find it fascinating, though, there is the metaphor.

A better quality image than my cell phone is capable of, which I obtained off the net.
You can see a close-up of it on that web page:


March 24, 2009 Posted by | History, Lawyer, War | Leave a comment

Strange Maps

One of my favorite blogs is “Strange Maps.” I admit: I’m a map geek. The maps are really fascinating, I promise. Each map is accompanied by a well written, well researched article that lists its sources. I’ve never failed to learn something from these posts.

For instance, there’s the one that shows how King Cotton picks Presidents, something near and dear to my heart since my family has grown cotton in Arkansas since before the Civil War and is pleased to hold sway still over national politics. (Sorry, I will not entertain questions about how many slaves my ancestors owned. I hate to be prickly, but that is usually the tactless question immediately asked when I mention our history of cotton farming.)

Also on the political front was the map that showed clearly what illegal immigrants were aiming for when it came to the Absolut Perfect Mexico. Scary, huh?

Believe it or not, though, there’s humor in maps, too.

The “Strange Maps” blog featured a very special post on The Semi-Colonial State of San Serriffe, a place that is near and dear to my writing, punctuation-loving heart.

There are maps of strange and wonderful places such as Elleore, a kingdom 12 minutes ahead of Copenhagen. I never discerned whether they have Daylight Savings Time in Elleore, or if at some point they fall 48 minutes behind Copenhagen.

Then there are the bizarre maps of the modern world, such as the “Smart Medicine” infomercial map that located Australia off the coast of Baja California and situated Africa between Maine and Ireland, eliminating Iceland and Greenland entirely, and
a map of the “Special World” that only the hospitality industry inhabits.

Wonderful antique maps crop up occasionally, like the map that inspired Christopher Columbus to believe he could sail from Spain to Cathay in three weeks, overlaid on the true map of the world.

Maps on the site show useful things, too, like where to find goblins in Europe or what to ask for when one wishes to order a non-alcoholic carbonated beverage in a different part of the country.

I have to admit, though, that yesterday’s featured map, from (a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math and language) is one of my favorites, just for the sheer fun of it:

November 18, 2008 Posted by | Grammar, History, Humor, News, Politics, Travel | Leave a comment

Gun Control

In the last couple of years I’ve changed my stance on gun control.

I don’t like guns.  They scare the hell out of me, and I see nothing “sporting” about attacking unarmed animals with them in the woods. I don’t own one and I’ve never been comfortable with the notion of having one in my house, despite the fact that my ex-husband had a hunting rifle and a boyfriend had a pistol.

I’ve represented kids with criminal charges involving guns.  I’ve seen bullet holes in children’s bedroom walls from drive-by shootings. I’ve represented women who were threatened with guns by their husbands, boyfriends, and even their sons. I’ve been to funerals of people killed by guns.  I’ve held and hugged a weeping grandmother when a stray bullet in a gang shooting left her favorite grandson, a good boy with an “A” average and college-bound, dead on a dark street in a small town in southeast Arkansas.

I don’t like the attitude of the NRA. It comes across as arrogant, shrill, and combative – not the kind of attitude a responsible gun owner/handler should display, especially around guns.

This is going to sound stupid, probably, but one of the things that tipped the scales for me against gun control was a movie.  It wasn’t just any movie.  It was a movie based on a comic book. Bear with me.  I’ve watched V for Vendetta, a film by the incomparable Wachowski Brothers, multiple times, and I find no fault with its future history philosophy.

Perhaps the helium in my brain is showing, but the point that disarming a populace oppresses the citizens makes sense to me.

One of the very best quotes from the movie is, “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.”  Why?  Because the power to change government, to oversee government, and to demand that government be accountable lies with the people.

There is a poignant scene in this movie in which thousands of unarmed citizens in Guy Fawkes masks confront the well-armed military. As they pour into the open areas on this auspicious night, the astonished military doesn’t open fire. Perhaps it is the sheer numbers of people; perhaps it is the eerie, surreal fact that they are costumed like that seditionist of the past, but for whatever reason, the armed forces of the government holds its fire and allows itself to be overrun. Perhaps it is because the members of the armed forces are citizens, too, and the whole point of the movie is that citizens must require and compel change in the government.

And then there’s this quote, the source of which I’m desperately seeking:

“An armed society is a polite society.
An unarmed society is a police state.
A disarmed society is a tyranny.”

April 14, 2008 Posted by | Children, Death, History, News, Philosophy, Politics | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


You’re at a cocktail party and the conversation around you has waned. People standing around you are your shoulder hoping they see someone more interesting to talk to.

You’re on a date – the first you’ve had in months – and suddenly you’re tongue-tied. You can’t think of a single thing to say.

The debate around your in-laws’ dinner table has become heated as your wife’s younger brother defends displaying his latest nipple piercing (the one on his girlfriend) and you desperately want to change the subject to something more innocuous, yet interesting enough to distract the rest of the family, thereby making you the in-laws’ favorite hero and guaranteeing you some action with the spousal unit later.

You’re wishing you had a fun fact to know and tell.

Wish no more. If you lean closer, refill your glass of wine, and settle in for a bit, I’ll share one with you.

You’ve heard of Death by Chocolate.

You’ve heard of Death by Hari Kiri, or Seppuku.
Most of us have even heard of Absynthe Death.

There is another manner of death by which we never think we might die. It is, however, a sweet death, even sweeter than the Hiram College Band performance of J.S. Bach’s Komm süsser Tod.

I speak of Death by……


“Death by molasses? You’ve got to be kidding,” I hear you say. And you’d have a point. To a point, anyway.

Molasses is really kind of healthy. It’s made when the juice of sugar cane is boiled, similar to the boiling of maple sap to make maple syrup. After boiling, the sugar crystals we are familiar with are removed from the resulting syrup with centrifugal force.

Sugar cane is grown mostly in the West Indies (in the Caribbean, for those of you who don’t know), and was exported to the American colonies and then to the US, where it was the primary sweetener until the late 19th century.

The cane juice is boiled three times. Light molasses comes from the first two boils, and can be the color of homey to a medium amber shade. The third boiling of the juice yields blackstrap molasses, which is the dark stuff that traditionally sweetens ginger cookies and baked beans.

A Sugar Cane Refinery with

Holding Tanks for Molasses

In addition to the benefit of being a natural sweetener, blackstrap molasses is just chock full of minerals and vitamins. In fact, several tests have shown that the more blackstrap is boiled, the higher the concentration of iron. This is something every anemic ought to know. Depending on the brand and the quality, up to 25% of the RDA of iron can be found in blackstrap. How about using it instead of an artificial sweetener in your coffee or tea? The 16 calories per teaspoon is counterbalanced by the other health benefits, in my opinion.

And while no self-respecting blogger such as myself would hold herself out as a doctor, I am always looking for herbal remedies and cures. The Earth Clinic website excitedly claims to “have emails from our readers about blackstrap molasses curing cancerous tumors, fibroid tumors, anxiety, constipation, edema, heart palpitations, anemia, arthritic pain, joint pain, and acne, just to name a few. It has also been reported that molasses turns gray hair back to its original color and is a wonderful skin softener!”

I shall be washing my hair in molasses this evening, just to see if the gray fades as Earth Clinic’s readership claims. I hope the disappearance of the gray isn’t due to the blackstrap sticking to the hair and gumming it up. (Actually, it’s the copper in the molasses that does the trick. A copper deficiency is usually to blame for prematurely gray hair.)

Molasses has been credited with curing tumors, cycts and other benign growths, cancerous growths; arthritis; ulcers, dermatitis, eczema and psoriasis; high blood pressure, angina pectoris and other conditions related to the circulatory system; constipation, colitis and other digestive disorders, including gallstones and bladder problems; various types of anemia; nervous conditions; and even the effects of menopause. It is said to strengthen nails and hair, and, like I said before, reverse premature graying of hair. It speeds healing after surgery. Yeah, this molasses is some healthy stuff.

It even makes certain herbs more potent. For example, certain growers of marijuana claim that molasses binds the nutrients to the soil more efficiently than other agents, so they use it to grow better weed. Far out. (Anybody got that guy’s number?)

And speaking of mind-altering substances, no story about molasses would be complete without a reference to all that makes being a pirate worth being a pirate (in addition to the booty, or course): Rum!

You didn’t think all that sugar cane was grown just to sweeten some colonist’s tea, now did you?

“That’s all well and good,” you object, “And all this rot about molasses is fascinating. But, you promised us a story of death by molasses.”

And so I did.

When Molasses is stored, it’s is kept in great round tanks, similar to those that store oil.

Molasses Tank

I’m going to tell you a story of one such tank, which once sat on a pier in Boston Harbor. It was noonish on a weekday, January 15, 1919. The temperature rose that day from a frigid 2 degrees Fahrenheit to about 43 degrees. As it did, the air inside a tank holding 2.3 million gallons of molasses expanded. Because of the speed with which the air temperature rose, the air expanded faster than the poorly constructed tank could let it off. The tank exploded.

A wave of molasses 15-40 feet high soared and sloshed its way across two city blocks near the pier at about 35 miles per hour. A housewife was crushed to death in the debris of her house, which was demolished by the wave of molasses. The molasses ripped apart nearby elevated train tracks, nearly taking out a train. Gluey death captured people, horses, and dogs in its sticky ooze, finally settling two to four feet deep in the streets near the north Boston pier.

In his book Dark Tide, Stephen Puleo wrote,“Anthony di Stasio, walking homeward with his sisters from the Michelangelo School, was picked up by the wave and carried, tumbling on its crest, almost as though he were surfing. Then he grounded and the molasses rolled him like a pebble as the wave diminished. He heard his mother call his name and couldn’t answer, his throat was so clogged with the smothering goo. He passed out, then opened his eyes to find three of his sisters staring at him.” A fourth sister died, and Anthony himself was found among those thought to be dead.

The Boston Globe reported that people “were picked up by a rush of air and hurled many feet.” That rush of air tossed people, animals and debris in every direction outward from the exploded tank. A truck was picked up by the sticky deluge and thrown into Boston Harbor. A gathering of municipal employees on their lunch break in one of the buildings were caught in the flow as the building shattered around them and pieces of it hurled as far as fifty yards. A fire station was destroyed by the force of the blast and one of the four firefighters was killed. Three others were injured. Carts, wagons, and trucks were overturned and a number of horses were killed, unable to regain their footing in the sticky flood.

Approximately 150 were injured, and twenty-one people died.Some were crushed by debris and others became mired in the molasses and asphyxiated. At least two of the dead were not found for several days, and were so bruised by the pummelling they had taken in the molasses wave that they were unrecognizable.

The cleanup took months. As volunteers traveled to and from the site of the disaster, molasses stuck to their shoes, clothes, tools, and skin. It was transferred with them through the trains and transports of the city, and soon all of Boston, from the waterfront where the horror had taken place, to the suburbs where helpful volunteers lived, was covered in a sticky verneer.

On a warm day, the smell of molasses still permeates Boston.

I found this recipe while researching this blog, and I thought it would be a fitting start to our healthier new diet, which shall, I know, henceforth be sweetened with molasses. It’s written the way recipes from the time of the disaster would have been written: by hand, on scrap paper, in somebody’s grandmother’s handwriting.

And if anyone ever says you’re moving as slow as molasses in January, you can smartly respond, “So this is what 35 miles per hour feels like!”

See more of these drawings from Recipe for Disaster: The Great Molasses Flood by Andrew Einspruch and Scott Fraser (published by EPS as part of the Making Connections series) on Scott Fraser’s Live Journal blog.

February 24, 2008 Posted by | Death, History | , , , | Leave a comment

The Invasion of America

America – both the Americas – were not so much settled by Europeans as they were invaded.

Sixteenth and seventeenth century European attitudes toward the “virgin” land of the New World implied that they believed that the continent was theirs for the taking, as if it had been waiting millennia for some white people to come along and civilize it.  This attitude persisted until very recently, and may not have been annihilated even yet.

The idea behind the Crusades in the eleventh century still held for the sixteenth and seventeenth century Europeans.  Any war fought for the purpose of expanding the Church was considered justifiable (jihad, anyone?), and with European attentions turned to the American continents came the profound realization that there were more savages who needed to be exposed to Christianity.

Christians tended to view the indigenous Americans as non-religious because they did not recognize elements of their own religion in the environmental religions of the natives. American Indian religious myths, legends and rituals emphasized the peoples’ relationship to the environment.

For awhile, the natives and the European colonists found a use for one another.  The basis for the relationship was trade, and trade was something neither side wanted to lose.   Indians were enthralled by the wonders of steel blades, guns, and European textiles. Both sides wanted each other’s support against hostile neighbors. In the beginning the Europeans required the assistance of the natives just to survive in what they perceived as a wilderness.  They also wanted pelts, wampum (which was accepted as currency in the colonies), handcrafts, and the personal service of the natives.  Most of all, though, the white people wanted land.

As Indians realized what wonderful objects they could obtain through trade with the Europeans, intertribal trade decreased.  Since the white people demanded furs in trade, native energies were devoted to acquiring more pelts than the next tribe down the trail. Overkill disrupted the balance of nature.  The Indians’ diligence in getting furs for the Europeans resulted in self-destruction as they wiped out the wildlife upon which their lives depended.

White populations grew, and so did the demand for land. The colonists and their sponsoring governments believed that American soil was lying unused.  They believed that since the same ground could support a denser population of white people that somehow the white people had a more valid claim to the land. They disregarded the fact that disease brought to America by Europeans had effectively depopulated the Americas; in fact, had they acknowledged such a thing it might be seen as God’s judgment upon the heathen savages, and further proof that the land should be in the possession of those who would put it to obvious use rather than those who would allow it to remain largely untouched.

At the root of all native-colonist relations was the hunger for land.  Colonists believes that the natives did not utilize land to its utmost because there were, as the Europeans saw it, vast tracts of land left wild, uncontrolled by agriculture or towns.  The European colonists did not consider that the indigenous people obtained a great deal of their food from hunting and gathering. To assure the presence of game , the game’s habitat must be preserved.  Only with the practice of conservation would the game continue to multiply.

Something the colonists did not understand then, and which has largely been ignored in history, is that the native Americans farmed to feed their people.  Although many foods were gathered as they grew wild, and animal husbandry was introduced by Europeans, agriculture was widespread in both of the Americas. The natives grew surplus crops and stored them for the winter.

Had the Plymouth colonists not stumbled upon stores of these surpluses, and then been given more, they would probably not have survived their first winter.  Jamestown colonists were also kept from starving by gifts and purchases of surplus crops already grown and stored by the natives.

Arrangements between Europeans and Indians to share the land were made with the ultimate intention of the part of the white people to dispossess the natives.  When land was conveyed to an European, whether by a deed or by some other kind of agreement, the European assumed that the tribe gave up rule over the area in question. Imagine a Dutch family buying a home in New York City today and claiming that the law of the Netherlands, and not of the United States, prevailed! This is exactly what the Europeans did, though. Furthermore, when Europeans claimed land in the Americas, they would claim that the natives living in that territory as their subjects.

Wars fought between white and native peoples were generally fought over land rights.  Whether the disputed land was claimed by both natives and Europeans, or by competing European countries, the Native Americans ended up fighting, either to support their own claims or to support the claims of the European community with which they did the most business.

Effectively Indian populations became the vassals of the colonial governments and then later of the American government.  They never saw themselves in this light, however. Sovereignty became the single major issue between white and native populations in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and was an especially bloody concerning the Iroquois, whose lands were claimed by the new governments of  State of New York and the United States.

The colonists abused inter-tribal feuds for their own purposes, too.  They spread rumors about enemy tribes among friendly ones in order to cause suspicion and war.  After the tribes battled, the Europeans moved in to enjoy the spoils.

The colonists also used the spread of Christianity to pit the natives against each other. As different European nations established colonies, the religious men of those colonies taught the nearby natives their own brand of Christianity, ultimately pitting Catholic against Protestant.  Once again, when the bloody battle was over, the white man moved in to enjoy the spoils.

The French and Indian War is an obvious and famous example of how useful the native was for European warfare. French and English traders bought the loyalties of different groups of natives then threw them into battle against each other.  It was a war for European dominance that the Europeans barely had to fight.  They could be relatively detached and observe while the natives unwittingly substantiated European claims to what was actually native land.

Europeans saw the natives as lawless.  They did not recognize the form of government under which the indigenous peoples lived.  They saw the chiefs and sachems as tyrants, or they discerned only anarchy from council gatherings.  For example, the Iroquois did not recognize a central authority as a governing device.  Consensus, in a very democratic manner, created the authority by which the tribes operated. On the other hand, Europeans saw sovereignty as a means to an end.  The goal was control.

At first, the colonists paid little attention to native protocol in intergovernmental relations.  As they became more accustomed to Indian ritual, they adapted themselves to the native style of diplomacy.  Treaties in the northwest portions of New England eventually followed the government model of the Iroquois Five Nations, and eventually the colonists, in their break from monarchy, adopted a mix of European and native democratic protocols.

Because the native governments did not conform to what the Europeans historically understood to be government, the colonists felt justified in forcing their values and institutions on the natives.  They considered the Indians uncivilized and therefore outside the sanction of law and morality, so they were not ridden with guilt as they extorted the Indians’ lands from them and subjected them to an alien form of government.

The Europeans went to great extremes to bring the natives under colonial jurisdiction.  Often natives would sign away their lands without understanding the terms of the treaties.  Colonists would deliberately mislead the natives as to the content of the agreements, making certain that the tribal leaders or individuals they treated with did not comprehend the meaning of the papers they signed.  This practice was continued by the new government of the United States.

Some of the more nefarious practices included not informing the natives of the terms of the treaty, then penalizing them for violation of those terms or of terms which the white men retrospectively wanted the treaty to include. The Europeans would extort great sums of currency from the Indians knowing the natives could not pay, then loan them money with the land as collateral.  When the tribe failed to come through with payment, the colonists would confiscate the land and declare the tribes on it to be under colonial jurisdiction.

It is hardly remarkable that upon entering a reservation today, the sovereign Native American nation posts a sign explaining that those who enter are subject to tribal law rather than to American law.

White men later extorted money from natives in other ways.  When Charles A. Eastman, a mixed-race Indian activist and lobbyist around the turn of the 20th century, learned that the United States government had shorted the Sioux nation by about $10,000.00 on a treaty payment for their land, the government called in an inspector.  The inspector agreed with Eastman’s assessment.  The Bureau of Indian Affairs elected to discredit the inspector’s report, however, and sent another inspector.  This inspector found no wrongdoing, and the tribe was denied its money.  In yet another case, the Sioux were to have received payments over a period of fifty years for their tribal lands.  Only nine payments were ever made.

Propaganda to the contrary, tribal customs in war were not nearly as brutal as those of the Europeans or their American children.  Indian war philosophy was not constructed along plans of conquest and subjugation.  At the next peaceful meeting of the native tribes, gifts would be exchanged and the other side would be honored.  Only after repeated exposure to European-style warfare did the natives engage in mass slaughter. European warfare, on the other hand, was always about wiping out the enemy and taking all that he had, rendering any survivors unable to survive for long.

The indigenous warriors tended to kill only in battle and stopped fighting after relatively few deaths.  European soldiers had no qualms about massacre as long as they were using it against the natives. Prisoners of war were treated with much more compassion among the Indians than among the colonists, and the use of torture in all its depravity was more common among the English than the Indians until the English use of it became so widespread that the native captors employed it as well.

The tribes did not tend to destroy crops during warfare.  When they fought intertribally, they were steeling feuds with people, not wildlife.  However, white soldiers routinely burned crops and stole livestock.

Part of what Europeans mistook for native lawlessness was that Indians recognized fewer crimes and therefore punished fewer.  If a white person felt he had been victim of a crime committed by a native, he normally insisted that the native be brought to justice under the terms of the white government.  If a native were the victim of a crime committed by a white person, though, he could not hope for justice to be delivered to the offender under the white government.  If a white man asked that an Indian be punished under tribal laws, he was much more likely to get results.  The tribal leaders were all too aware that if the white person was not satisfied with his redress, he would be avenged on the native’s entire town or tribe.

After learning to live in the alien land of the Americas, Europeans began to distribute the tools that made survival a part time job.  Traders knew that the goods most in demand were practical ones.  The natives were just as happy to receive these tools as the whites were to receive pelts.  The difference lay in the fact that the Indians taught the white man their techniques of preparing hides, but the white man neglected to show the Indian how to make his own blades, guns, and other factory-made products.  The white man came out ahead once again, and the Indian destroyed his livelihood by over-hunting to be able to purchase the goods he could not make himself.

Inter-tribal trade was also transformed by the new goods available through the Europeans.  New commodities replaced the old.  The collapse of inter-tribal trading increased the hostilities because tribes began competing with one another for European products instead cooperating with each other for mutual survival.

Trade and loyalties to opposing groups of Europeans are only a part of what disrupted harmony between tribes.  Following the example specifically of the English, Indian sachems such as Uncas of the Mohegans became territory-hungry.  Contact with Europeans added new motives for war, introduced new weapons, and increased the number of wartime casualties drastically, even in wars the Europeans did not fight.

The Colonies often moved without the permission or even the knowledge of their sponsor governments. Each colony was autonomous and competed with its neighbor for claims to lands to the west, for the best locations for trading posts, and for tribute from local tribes to buy the peace.   There were vicious disputes between colonies for land, and the real losers were the real owners.

When the first serious English settlers arrived in North America in the 1620’s, many sachems welcomed them. Schoolchildren today are taught about the kindness of the Wampanoag chief, Massasaoit, to the Pilgrims when they first arrived and were starving. That initial kindness was not returned by the Englishmen, as can be seen in the sequence of events leading to the struggle for dominance in the Connecticut Valley.

This was the land of the Pequots, and both the colonies in Massachusestts and Connecticut coveted the land.  What resulted were the Pequot Wars, in which the Massachusetts colonists paid the Narragansetts to fight against their neighbors, the Pequots. The Narragansetts agreed, unaware that no warriors would be in the Pequot village when they arrived. The women, children and old men left in the Pequot village were massacred, mostly by the Englishmen accompanying the Narragansetts. The English depravities horrified the Narragansetts, and the surviving Pequots fled north and west to tribes friendly to them.  An entire tribe was now out of the way and English settlement could proceed.

The natives did fight back, but never very successfully for very long.  Natives were eventually herded onto reservations that became smaller and smaller over time. Resettlement was another option the U.S government pursued.  In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, thousands of natives were sent hundreds of miles away from their homelands to places like Oklahoma, Kansas, and Wisconsin. They became refugees at the mercy of the United States and host tribes.  Displacement of the native population contributed not only to physical hardship, because the people were forced to adapt to a smaller and sometimes alien territory, but to mental anguish as well.

During these times some natives responded with religion.  The Ghost Dancers among the Sioux and their neighbors, and the followers of the Code of Handsome Lake among the Seneca were prominent.  Especially during the nineteenth century, many native prophets and messiahs appeared.  Their teachings were peaceful and advocated a revival of native customs that had been ignored, forgotten, or neglected.  They were nevertheless perceived as threatening to the United States government. Ghost Dancers disappeared after a paranoid against mistook their celebrations for an uprising and called in soldiers, who massacred an encampment at Wounded Knee Creek.

The Code of Handsome Lake survived the test of time, though.  It still has followers on Iroquois reservations in the United States and Canada.  Handsome Lake, brother of the great Indian chief Tecumseh, taught the old Seneca ways.  He also advised his followers to take from white society things that could benefit Indian society.  He began a revival of Seneca religious traditions and rituals and at the same time he lobbied for education and agriculture.

Now the Native American lobby is gaining power.  Will the wrongs ever be redressed? It is highly unlikely. Money and education may help, but I doubt anyone one can imagine a North American continent in which the descendants of the Europeans are displaced and the descendants of the indigenous people control the government and the economy.  Well, perhaps we can imagine it, but we expect it will stay “safely” in our imaginations.

Selected Bibliography:

Charles A. Eastman, From the Deep Woods to Civilization (Little, Brown, 1916)
William M. Fowler, Jr., Empires at War: The French and Indian War and the Struggle for North America, 1754-1763 (Walker, 2005)
Patrick Huyghe, Columbus Was Last: From 200,000 B.C. to 1492, A Heretical History of Who Was First (MJF Books 1992)
Francis Jennings, The Invasion of America (Norton, 1976)
Robert Leckie, “A Few Acres of Snow:” The Saga of the French and Indian Wars (Castle Books, 2006)
Malcolm Margolin, The Ohlone Way, (Heyday, 1978)
Ted Morgan, Wilderness at Dawn: The Settling of the North American Continent (Simon & Schuster 1993)
Nathaniel Philbrick, Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War (Viking, 2006)
Arthur Quinn, A New World: An Epic of Colonial America from the Founding of Jamestown to the Fall of Quebec (Faber and Faber, 1994)
Daniel K. Richter, Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America (Harvard University Press, 2001)
Edward Spicer, ed., A Short History of the Indians of the United States (Van Nostrand, 1980)
Christopher Vecsey and Robert W. Venables, American Indian Environments (Syracuse University Press, 1980)
Anthony F.C. Wallace, The Death and Rebirth of the Seneca (Random House/Vintage books, 1972)

February 2, 2008 Posted by | Environment, History | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Procrastination and Common Sense

I am as the American Colonies were in 1775.

I know you all want to know how I could possibly be like the American Colonies were in 1775. “The simile is a stretch,” you think.  You are wrong.

It will require a bit of a history lesson, so get out your notebooks and pens and pay attention.

Two hundred thirty-two years ago today, a man in Philadelphia began distributing copies of a pamphlet he had published anonymously at his own expense. The man, known as Tom Paine to his friends, had emigrated to the colony in America from England only two years before.

By the time he fortuitously met Benjamin Franklin in 1774, Paine had so far failed at everything he had ever done in life.  He failed out of school at the age of twelve.  By 19 he had failed at his apprenticeship to his father, a corset maker, and had gone to sea. He failed at that and returned to land work for the British government as a tax collector. By the time he was 32 he had been fired twice from that job, the second time because he agitated for higher wages, inciting others with his essays and leaflets to demand more money.

Once in Philadelphia, Paine began writing essays and contributing to a local magazine.  He was a popular writer, and was widely read.  He became a success.

Philadelphia’s air was full of anger and resentment against England when Paine arrived.   The colonists in America felt that England was abusive towards them and despaired of Parliament even granting them self rule.  Ten years before Parliament had reined in the quasi-independence that had previously existed for the colonies on the other side of the Atlantic.  In repealing the Stamp Act, which was despised by the colonists, Parliament passed the Declaratory Act of 1766, and claimed for itself the “right… power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the colonies and people of America…in all cases whatsoever.”  Successively more restrictive laws were passed, and rebellion was imminent as 1775 turned into 1776.

For some reason, though, there had not been a formal rebellion against England in the colonies.  As angry as the colonists were, they didn’t rise up and take arms against their English overlords. There were skirmishes here and there, and demonstrations and the like, but no organized, armed rebellion. We look back on it today and wonder, “What were they waiting for?”  It’s hard to see why they wouldn’t take action.

Paine believed he knew how to package the idea of an armed rebellion so it would be more palatable to the colonists who might be sitting of the fence when it came to the issue of separation from England. He thought he had a way of convincing them to get off their dead asses and rebel.  He had a way to stop them from procrastinating any longer.

And now we come to how I am like the colonies.

Hello.  My name is Aramink. (Hello, Aramink.)
I am a procrastinator.

I have lousy time management skills.  I let things without deadlines linger on my desk, hoping they will go away.  They never do.

I am a procrastinator.  Like the American colonies in 1775, I am sitting on my dead ass doing nothing (playing on Multiply) when I should be doing something constructive, something like writing, working, paying bills, balancing my checkbook, cleaning out closets, making my bed, taking a nap… well, maybe not taking a nap, but the other things certainly should be done.

The colonists were sitting around, complaining about taxes, about soldiers eating them out of farm and home, and unfair laws, just like I sit around and complain that I’m not getting out and getting things off my desk. Something had to shake up the colonists enough to actually do something about what they enjoyed complaining about so much.

Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, Common Sense, lit the colonies on fire.

The pamphlet appeared January 10, 1776.  Over 150,000 copies were sold almost immediately.  Through many reprintings throughout 1776, as many as six million pamphlets reached readers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Not only did Paine write the argument that won support for the rebels among farmers and educated businessmen alike, he discussed naval strength and set out a model for the new government of a country called America.  He set out a plan of action for the colonies to take so that they could wrest their independence from England.  It wasn’t until the third edition of the pamphlet, published February 14, 1776,  that he set out this plan, but by the time the plan was proposed, the ideas in the pamphlet had already planted seeds of rebellion in very fertile ground.

Thomas Paine’s Model for a Constitution for the American Colonies

Perhaps you’ve never read this famous pamphlet, which is credited with starting the American Revolution. How did Paine stop the colonists’ procrastination and propel them into action?  He focused them on the bad guy.  He identified King George III as the enemy of the American Colonies and he laid out a plan for getting rid of the yoke the king had clapped on the neck of the colonies with the passage of the Declaratory Act of 1766 and those successively restrictive laws aimed at strangling the autonomy of the colonies in America.

Why did it take ten years, from 1766 to 1776, for the colonists to act?

The same reason it took me a week to go to the doctor when I knew full well that the cranberries I was consuming in mass quantities were only giving me bad dreams and not curing my… indisposition.


What stirred the colonists to action? Thomas Paine giving them a target and a plan.

What stirs me into action?  Deadlines.  When I don’t have one, I get nothing done whatsoever.  I have no Thomas Paine to stir my passions into action.

I am a procrastinator.

Yesterday I was talking to Katie about stuff I want to do but haven’t gotten around to doing.  I had a laundry list of things.  She laughed at me as I added more and more things to the list.  “You’re a procrastinator!  She declared.  I admitted as much.  I’ll deny anything until presented with incontrovertible proof.  She had the proof.

Then she gave me an assignment.

“This afternoon, do three of these things on your list,” Katie commanded. She was kind enough to specify which three, and I was grateful.  “I’m going to check with you later,” she warned.

It was about 2:30 and my eyelids were getting heavy.  I had dealt with Book Club drama for two straight days and I was sleepy.  I went to take a nap.

I woke up about 5:00 and returned to my computer.  Oh yes, I remembered my assignment.  I had to make two phone calls and mail something.  Those were my tasks.  I yawned and poured myself another glass of cranberry juice.  Then I got an IM from Doc.

“I understand you were supposed to accomplish three tasks this afternoon,” he said.  He had been talking to Katie!

I stammered.  I hemmed and hawed.  I did those things at least as much as one can possibly do them in an IM conversation.

“Are they done?”  Doc asked.  I could tell by the tone of the letters he typed that he was about to get serious with me.  No, the font didn’t change.  I could just tell.


I dialed the phone.   I made the first phone call.

“I’ve done one,” I told Doc.

“Only one?”

I hung up and dialed the phone again.

“I’ve done two,” I reported.

“You’re tardy on those two,” he advised me sternly, and then noted that I hadn’t done the third one at all.

“But I took a nap!” I whined, hoping for leniency since Doc is known to be fond of naps himself.

No luck.  He remained stern and even got Katie into an IM conference with us.

Katie pronounced punishment.  “You have to do what you didn’t do, and you have to write a blog about procrastination,” she decided.

“But I have another blog planned for tomorrow,” I protested, thinking about how I hadn’t finished my blog about Thomas Paine and his pamphlet, Common Sense.

“You must post your procrastination blog by 6 p.m. tomorrow,” Katie commanded.

Katie is a formidable mistress. I felt like a naughty kid.  Doc was probably laughing at me, but he was at least pretending to be stern, too.

“Yes, ma’am,” I said meekly.

Guess what happened.

Uh huh.

I procrastinated.

I didn’t get my Common Sense blog written last night, so it wasn’t ready to be posted this morning.  And I had to do this procrastination blog, too.  Today is the anniversary of the publication of Common Sense, so I really need to post that blog today, but Mistress Katie says I have to post the procrastination blog today, too.

That’s why I am comparing my procrastination with the inaction of the American colonies prior to the publication of Common Sense.

Thomas Paine set out a plan for rebellion and independence, and Katie told me I have to set out a plan to eliminate procrastination from my life.

These parallels between me and the American colonies are just downright uncanny, aren’t they?

Here’s my plan:

  1. I will read my email first thing in the morning and respond to it all.
  2. I will write the rest of the morning, unless Jane is here, and in that case I will write unless Jane has other work for me to do.
  3. I will break for lunch and actually eat somewhere other than over my keyboard.
  4. I will check my email immediately after lunch and respond to it all.
  5. I will run errands and get other things done as my list dictates (see below).
  6. I will read and write some more, as time permits.
  7. I will make tomorrow’s list by 5:00 every day.
  8. I will then allow myself to play online.

It may not be as good a plan as Thomas Paine’s was for rebellion, but it will probably help me to stop procrastinating.

I wonder if I should sign out of Messenger, too. I mean, I’m normally invisible, but I’m always here.  If I hadn’t been on Messenger before 5:00, Katie might never have given me that assignment in the first place, and I might not have had to figure out how to combine a blog on Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and procrastination.

It’s worth considering.

Me, in My Thomas Paine Costume, Making My List

January 10, 2008 Posted by | History, Humor, Personal | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Neighborhood

I live in an historic neighborhood in Little Rock, Arkansas. The neighborhood used to be its own town, but as Little Rock spread west along the Arkansas River, the city annexed the little village of Pulaski Heights and called it “Hillcrest” because it was spread along a U-shaped ridge overlooking the floodplain. A levee was built to keep the river out of the floodplain, and I look northward out my back windows and see the Riverdale area, where Alltel has built its headquarters and where there are lots of apartments.

Here are two photos, looking in the same direction, one on a day when there’s a fog on the river. I can’t see the river itself from my house, but I see across it – those cliffs in the distance are in the city of North Little Rock, on the far side of the river.

My house was built about 10 years ago in a neighborhood dominated by turn of the century stone cottages, Craftsman bungalows, colonial revival houses, the occasional Victorian or Edwardian home, and one gorgeous Queen Anne mansion. The lot where my house sits used to be the yard and garden of the stone house next door – the one where the beagles live. I showed you a photo of the beagles in my last blog. Other than the original city of Little Rock, known as the Quapaw Quarter, Hillcrest is the oldest neighborhood in the city.

I have some pretty affluent neighbors. For instance, a block away is the huge stone mansion where Winthrop Paul Rockefeller lived until his death of leukemia last year. His wife, Lisenne, and their kids still live there – some of their kids go to the same school as Jack. Win was the great-grandson of the oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller. His dad, Winthrop A. Rockefeller, was governor of Arkansas back in the 60’s. He’s noted for commuting the sentences of every inmate on death row – none of whom went on to commit another crime. Win was running for governor himself when he was diagnosed with the blood disorder that killed him.

My house was designed to fit the architecture and scale of the neighborhood. In the other historic neighborhoods, there have been problems with new homes being built that don’t fit the neighborhood’s style. Fortunately, Hillcrest has a great Property Owner’s Association that is active in city government and zoning matters. A few non-conforming homes have been built, but not to the extent in the other two old areas of town.

Although we were Little Rock’s first suburb, we are now the area referred to as Midtown, the center of Little Rock. The state capitol is less than a mile from where I live. I can get almost anywhere in the city quickly from here, except the far west suburbs of the city. Little Rock is a fairly small city (Pop. abt. 185,000), but the urban sprawl is awful.

My front door is flanked by sidelights of stained glass done in a Frank Lloyd Wright style. It’s pretty in the daytime, but at night it glows yellow and I think it’s gorgeous. Of course, it’s mine, so I would, right?

More stained glass is in the topless turret, stretching the length of the turret on the east side of the house. The stained glass stops at the stairs, which spiral down inside the turret. I think it looks pretty at night, too. It sets off that new garage door just… so.

All this is leading up to an invitation to visit. I’ll give you a tour of my abode. Come on in. I’ve left the front door open for you.

December 9, 2007 Posted by | Arkansas, History | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Perspectives on War

I was talking recently with a couple of friends who have experience in military and foreign relations. As sometimes happens with us, the discussion turned to politics.

The question was asked, “What do you think about Russia and China conducting joint military training?”

One friend, who has a military background, dismissed the exercises as “showing off.”

“So you don’t think they can amass the power to oppose the US in world military matters?” I asked.

“I think the trainings were a desperation move,” my other friend responded. This friend has worked with the American diplomatic corps in international locations for years.

“Why do you say that?”

“China and Russia consider themselves decision makers along with US on international levels, but in recent years, they have found themselves out the picture and being ignored. They are trying to drawn some attention hoping the world will remember their presences.”

“As though the world doesn’t remember that they are both serious nuclear powers?” I was skeptical.

“They hope, among other things, that if they make a display of comradeship and display their combined military might, other countries will look to them with more respect,” said my diplomatic friend.

“They can only do so much, though,” agreed my military friend. “In the end, they know and everyone knows that we could crush them and their entire military in less than 24 hours.”

“Yeah, right,” I said sarcastically. “Like we crushed Iraq.”

“No war has ever been won faster than Iraq,” declared my military friend.

“What about the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War?”

“No. We won the war in less than eight hours and then we invaded to take out the remaining resistance. It took time to cover the land and actually get to Baghdad, but by then the war had been won.”

“What do you mean, eight hours? Eight hours from when we got to Baghdad, or eight hours from when we crossed the Kuwait border initially?”

“By military definition, a war is won when one side destroys the enemy’s military and renders it unable to fight. That only took us less than eight hours with airstrikes, before we ever crossed the border,” my military friend explained.

I repeated one of my initial questions. “Could we cripple the combined military of Russia and China as quickly, without nuclear reprisal?”

“Easily,” my military friend asserted. My diplomat friend agreed with a nod.

“Without inviting a nuclear attack from them?” I was very skeptical.

“There is no assurance that we could avoid nuclear missiles getting into our territories,” said my diplomat friend. “Desperation may lead the losing countries to try using their nuclear power, and they might get missiles through before we could destroy them.”

My military friend added, “But we have jets that have never been used in any war, sophisticated weapons…”

“Do you really believe that we are 100% capable of taking out any nuclear warhead directed at the US or its allies?” I demanded. No matter what the technology might be, error-prone humans create the equipment, program it, and operate it.

“Nothing is one hundred percent assured,” agreed my diplomat friend.

“Do you think any country would actually use nuclear weapons?”

“Yes,” asserted my military friend without hesitation. “Any Muslim country that obtains nuclear weapons will use them against us.”

I was still skeptical, but thoughtful. “I prefer to think that the lessons of Japan and even of Chernobyl would cause leaders not to use them, but if the nuclear arsenal of a country got into the hands of fanatics, I don’t think we would be able to judge what might happen. Fanatics just don’t think like we do.”

“Consider, too, that the world population is increasing and there are not enough natural resources to satisfy everyone. It won’t be long before the countries of the world will be fighting over resources as basic to sustaining life as water.” My diplomat friend has already been at the negotiating table on matters of resources and the environment.

“That is definitely true,” I agreed. “But if nuclear weapons are used, then the land affected by them becomes uninhabitable, and resources like water that pass through contaminated lands will be unusable.”

“Right, but some countries may see themselves as having no choice but to destroy more powerful countries just so they can survive. They believe the historically powerful countries are dominating the world and they need to be taken out. For instance, that is what many Muslims believe. They think the only way for Islam and their way of life to survive is if there is no powerful Western influence over their government or their culture.” My military friend feels strongly about this, in case that fact escaped anyone.

“There are plenty of countries that resent our interference in their policies. Venezuela is one. Obviously the Muslim world thinks that of any non-Muslim power. China has been careful to prevent foreign influence and accused England of causing their population to become addicted to opium in the 19th century in an effort to control them,” my diplomat friend pointed out.

“No country appreciates the interference of outside forces,” I agreed, “unless they see that country as an ally that has been invited for a particular purpose – like Kuwait during the Gulf War.”

“The bottom line,” declared my military friend, grinning, “is that we need to destroy the rest of the world sooner rather than later if we want to stay in the driver’s seat.”

“Now you’re thinking clearly!” I laughed.

“Right,” said my diplomat friend. “Instead of annexing the rest of the world, we should just annihilate those other countries. We should learn from the mistakes Rome made.”

“Not to mention the Soviet Union,” I added. “Ancient Greece, ancient Persia, Hitler, Napoleon – all made the same mistake of trying to conquer the world when they should have just destroyed it.”

“Finally you two are talking like people who know what they are talking about,” my military friend chuckled.

What’s disconcerting is that I’m not sure he wasn’t just a little bit serious.

October 16, 2007 Posted by | Foreign Relations, History, Humor, Iraq, News, Politics, War | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Iditarod Trail 1925: The Serum Run (Conclusion)

A Team of Dogs Pulling a Sled

The serum arrived, frozen, on Gunnar Kaasen’s sled at 5:00 a.m. February 2, 1925, two weeks after the first diphtheria death in Nome. Five people had died waiting for the serum to arrive. With 28 confirmed cases of diphtheria and as many as 80 people in Nome known to have been exposed, the 300,00 units of serum were gone long before the second shipment of 1.1million units arrived.

Dr. Welch later said that there were 70 confirmed cases of diphtheria in and around Nome that winter. Although the official death toll was five, Dr. Welch believed that the actual number was much higher since the Eskimo population may have buried children without reporting the illness. Without that first heroic run by 20 men and their hardy dogs, the death toll would have been much higher. And although the initial delivery of 300,000 units of diphtheria antitoxin serum is the one that made the headlines, without the same heroic effort made two weeks later by many of the same men and dogs, the casualties of the epidemic would have been much worse.

Ed Rohn, the man who had been sleeping at Port Safety when Gunnar Kaasen passed him by at 3:00 a.m. delivered the package containing 1.1 million units of serum February 15, 1925. Once again the teams braved howling winds and blizzard conditions to get the serum to Nome. The quarantine was lifted Saturday, February 21, 1925, a month after diphtheria killed little Billy Barnett and nearly three weeks after the first doses of serum arrived in Gunnar Kaasen’s sled.

The serum made it from Nulato to Nome in five and a half days, traveling along a mail route that normally took 25 days. Not only had the serum made it to nome in record time, it had done so in the dead of winter during a major winter storms in the Alaskan Interior as well as around Norton Sound.

Norton Sound

A Dog Sled Crossing Norton Sound

Wild Bill Shannon, the Irishman who was the first driver in the relay, returned from the initial serum run to Nenana with four dogs riding and five dogs pulling his sled. Three of the four riders, the same three he had left in Minto because of the pulmonary hemorrhaging, died a few days later. Shannon told a newspaper reporter, “What those dogs did on the run to Nome is above valuation. I claim no credit for it myself. The real heroes of that run …were the dogs of the teams that did the pulling, dogs … that gave their lives on an errand of mercy.”

His dogs weren’t the only ones sacrificed in the race to keep children alive at the top of the world in the dead of winter. Charlie Evans had borrowed two lead dogs for his run between Bishop Mountain and Nulato, both of whom died of frozen groins. Because dogs not specifically bred for the Arctic tend not to have thick fur in their groin area, mushers often wrapped the dogs in additional furs to prevent this problem. When Charlie Olson’s dogs began to suffer from frozen groins, he stopped and put blankets on each dog to keep them from freezing. Two of his dogs ended up badly groin-frozen. Ed Rohn’s lead dog, Star, was seriously injured in a fall into a fissure crossing Golovin Bay during the second serum run. Togo and one of his teammates didn’t make it back to Nome with the rest, either. They saw a reindeer and tore out of their harnesses to chase it, much like Henry Ivanoff’s dogs had done just outside Shaktoolik, about the time Leonhard Seppala happened by. Togo found his way home several days later, much to Seppala’s relief.

Leonhard Seppala

Leonhard Seppala and a Team of His Sled Dogs

Seppala always maintained that it was categorically unfair that Togo, the leader of the dog team which covered the most miles in the desperate race to save to the children, never got the recognition Balto received. Indeed, Togo is actually made a villain in Balto, that children’s movie I mentioned back in the first segment of this series. Should we blame producer Steven Spielberg and his ilk for making a truly exciting story intentionally wrong? Frankly, in this case, I do. The serum run is a story that is exciting and dramatic without having to resort to exaggeration, distortion of facts, or outright fabrication.

Leonhard Seppala

Leonhard Seppala

Togo and the man who drove his team, Leonhard Seppala, are names known mostly to hardcore followers of the Iditarod race. Seppala made the decision to cross frozen Norton Sound with the serum despite the danger of breaking pack ice that might have cost the team and the children of Nome their lives. Had he not crossed the frozen expanse of sea, though, more children would have died because of the delay in getting the serum to them. Seppala was already widely regarded as the territory’s best musher, and his part of the serum run was certainly the hardest of any of the 20 mushers who participated. Togo worked so hard on the Serum Run he injured himself and never raced again.

During the 625 miles the dogs and men ran from Anchorage to Nome, many Americans were transfixed by the story as it unfolded almost in real time in their homes via the marvelous invention called “radio.” The story gripped the imagination of the entire nation, and once the children of Nome were saved the team led by Balto began touring the country.

Within a couple of years, though, the dogs ended up a permanent attraction in one of the many vaudeville shows that were so popular at the time. The animals were apparently mistreated and not well cared for. George Kimball of Cleveland, Ohio, saw the team in Los Angeles and was appalled at their condition. With the help of Cleveland’s schoolchildren, $2,000.00 was raised and Balto and the rest of the team were purchased from the vaudeville show. The dogs lived in Cleveland for the rest of their lives. After Balto’s death in 1933 he was stuffed, mounted, and placed on display at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, where I believe he is still a very popular attraction.

Balto’s Stuffed Carcass

Balto, at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History

Togo is also preserved for posterity. His stuffed and mounted form is on display at the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Gift Shop and Museum in Wasilla, Alaska.

Togo, Stuffed and Mounted, at the Head of the Iditarod Trail in Wasilla, Alaska

Togo, at the Iditarod Trail Museum

The Seppala Siberian Huskies continue to be a much coveted bloodline. Leonhard Seppala imported his dogs from Siberia. They were dogs intended to work hard, pull loads, and last in the harsh Alaskan cold. Most of today’s Siberian Huskies tend to have characteristics more suited to racing, with shorter coats, longer legs, finer bones, and a narrower head. Seppala’s Huskies had wider heads with larger sinus cavities for warming the Arctic air; today’s Siberian Huskies need to be more concerned with heat than with cold.

Leonhard Seppala Mushing

The news reports of the Nome epidemic and the publicity afforded by the touring dogs inspired a drive to immunize children against diphtheria. The first successful diphtheria vaccine had been tested in 1924, less than a year before the Nome epidemic. Now, of course, diphtheria vaccines are part of all early childhood immunization programs. If there is any doubt as to whether it might be preferable to allow a child to have the disease rather than inoculate him against it, parents should read a description of the progression of the illness and be informed of the nearly 100% mortality rate prior to the discovery of the antitoxin serum.

In 1966-67 Dorothy Page and Joe Redington Sr. organized the first Iditarod Trail Dog Sled Race to commemorate the original serum relay. In 1973 the race was expanded to its present course. The entire course of the relay from Nenana to Nome has never been covered as quickly as it was between January 28 – February 2, 1925.

Resources for this series of blogs include:

Salisbury, Gay & Laney Salisbury, The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic (New York: Norton 2003)
Nome Convention & Visitors Bureau (
The Official Site of the Iditarod (
Kent A. Kantowski’s Serum Run Web Pages (
Mike Coppock’s Serum Run Web Page (
Race To Nome: The Story of the Iditarod Trail Dog Race (
Balto’s True Story (
Norman Vaughan Serum 1925 Run (
The Seppala Siberian Sled Dog Project (

August 7, 2007 Posted by | Children, Death, Health, History, Science | 20 Comments

Iditarod Trail, 1925: The Serum Run (Part VI)

Togo, Leonhard Seppala’s Lead Dog during the 1925 Nome Serum Run


Leonhard Seppala had gambled with the crossing of Norton Sound and won. He had crossed during the daylight hours of January 31, 1925, and although he could tell a storm was coming, it wasn’t there yet. The northeast wind was at his back as he left the roadhouse at Ungalik and pushed his fast toward Shaktoolik. Seppala had come 170 miles in his three days on the trail and believed he had about 100 miles to go before meeting the serum in Nulato. Togo and the rest of the dogs were making good time, had good energy, and so far had had good trail conditions.

A few minutes out of Shaktoolik Seppala saw another sled stopped ahead of him on the trail. The dogs had apparently started after a reindeer that had run across the trail and were tangled and fighting in their harnesses. Their driver saw Seppala and began waving frantically. Seppala had no intention of stopping to help. Time was of the essence. the wind was blowing at Seppala’s back and he wanted to take advantage of it as long as he could. As he passed the other sled, though, the driver jumped over the morass of agitated dogs and ran at him, screaming, “The serum! The serum! I have it here!”

The stunned Seppala had not gotten word of the change in the plans for the relay and had no idea that the serum could have made the trip from the railhead at Nenana in just three days time. Such speed was unheard of. It was true, though. The other driver, Henry Ivanoff, a Russian Eskimo who captained a ship on Norton sound in the summers, had taken the serum from Myles Gonangnan at Shaktoolik. He had been on the trail only a few minutes when he encountered Seppala. It was mid-afternoon, and the few daylight hours had turned to dusk.

Ivanoff informed Seppala that the epidemic had worsened and that the governor had ordered teams to run with the serum round the clock until it got to Nome. Worried at the news, Seppala wasted no time turning around and heading back toward Ungalik, 23 miles away. He was to take the serum back across Norton Sound if it was safe to do so, or run along the shore to Golovin, where Charlie Olsen waited to take the serum on the next leg of the relay. He was still unaware that his only child, eight year old Sigrid, was now one of Dr. Welch’s patients.

Having crossed the sound in daylight, Seppala knew that the coming storm would wreak havoc on the ice, and now that he was heading into the wind he realized that the storm was coming quickly.He had to cross the sound before the ice broke up or he and the serum, and Nome’s diphtheria victims, might all be lost.

Seppala and Togo had crossed the sound a number of times, but one time in particular had to be preying on Seppala’s mind as he headed toward it. Togo had been leading his sled across the sound during a northeastern gale on another occasion when, a few miles from shore, Seppala heard an ominous crack that let him know the sea ice was breaking up. Togo headed toward shore even before Seppala could give the command, but drew up short so fast he nearly flipped backwards. A yawning chasm of water had opened almost at Togo’s feet, but the dog had reacted quickly enough to avert immediate disaster. Seppala looked around and realized with dismay that he and his team were trapped on an ice floe and headed out to sea.

They spent more than twelve hours on that raft of ice, waiting as it drifted in the icy waters. Finally it neared land, but ran up against another floe that was jammed against the ice still connected to shore. they stopped moving, but there was still a five foot gap of water that Seppala couldn’t hope to cross. He tied a lead onto Togo and heaved the dog across the water. Togo landed on the ice and sensing what Seppala intended, the dog began pulling with all his might, narrowing the gap between the two ice floes. Then the lead rope snapped. Seppala thought he was a dead man. Then Togo, showing himself to be possessed of more intelligence and resourcefulness than most men could expect from even their lead dogs, leaped into the water and grabbed the broken end of the lead rope in his jaws. He clambered back onto the ice and continued pulling until he had narrowed the gap enough for Seppala and the sled to cross safely.

Seppala knew that he would be trusting Togo completely to make a night crossing of Norton Sound in another northeastern gale. In the Arctic darkness, and in a blowing blizzard, Seppala wouldn’t be able to see to color of the ice or hear it creaking. He didn’t hesitate, though. When he reached the Ungalik he put his life, and the lives of Nome’s diphtheria patients, in Togo’s capable paws.

His trust was not misplaced. At 8:00 that evening, Seppala and Togo pulled back onto shore at Isaac’s Point. They had crossed Norton Sound twice in one day, traveling a total of 84 miles. Such a distance was incredible. They would rest at the roadhouse at Isaac’s Point until 1:00 a.m., then head out again. The next driver of the relay was waiting at Glolvin, another 50 miles away. As the dogs and the man slept, the ice in Norton Sound began cracking.

By the time Seppala hitched Togo and the rest of the dogs to the sled again, the wind was howling. An old Eskimo man warned Seppala not to go back out onto the ice of the sound, and Seppala would heed the advice for the most part. But unless he drove across the ice, the trail between Isaac’s Point and Golovin was extremely rugged. In fact, the current path of the Iditarod Race follows a different trail because of the dangers. Seppala’s route from Shaktoolik to Golovin was made even worse by high winds and temperatures of less than -40 degrees.

The ice Seppala and Togo had crossed just hours before had already begun to break up, so they also faced the constant threat of the ice breaking apart beneath them, even just a few yards from shore, and yawning chasms of open water. The howling wind blinded Seppala and, again in the darkness, he trusted Togo entirely. Once they crossed the last bit of frozen sound, Seppala had to be relieved, especially when he learned that by the time the sun rose the entire expanse where they had driven broke up completely.

Despite the potential hazards of the open ice, the most grueling portion of Seppala’s leg of the relay was about to begin. The team would have to climb eight miles along a series of ridges, including the 1,200 foot summit of a mountain called Little McKinley. Seppala’s hardy team was exhausted, but never stopped. They reached Little McKinley’s peak then descended three miles to the Golovin roadhouse, arriving thirteen hours after they had set out from Isaac’s point with only five hours of rest. Seppala and Togo and brought the serum 135 miles, and now, with the northeastern gale threatening even more, the serum was 78 miles from Nome and the dying children.

Charlie Olson took the Serum from Golovin to Bluff, where Seppala’s colleague, Gunnar Kaasen, was waiting with another team from Seppala’s kennels. Kaasen was to take the serum from Bluff to Port Safety after stopping to warm the serum at the Solomon Roadhouse. From Bluff, Ed Rohn was to take the serum into Nome.

None of these drivers knew how bad the storm was, though. Back in Nome, Dr. Welch was in worried conference with the public health officials. The mushers were carrying enough serum to treat 30 people, and 28 were already in Dr. Welch’s hospital. If the storm worsened and the serum was lost or frozen, all of those people would probably die. With the worsening storm threatening more than just the men on the trial, the decision was made to halt the relay until the storm had passed. Nome’s mayor could only guess where the serum was at this point, but it was almost a moot point since the telephone line only reached as far as Solomon. The mayor called the roadhouse at Solomon, where Kaasen was to rest and warm the serum, and gave the order that Kaasen should stop there until the storm passed. Word was also sent to Ed Rohn who was waiting at Port Safety, just 21 miles from Nome.

Kaasen hadn’t yet gotten the serum when the call went out, though. Charlie Olson had been hit with hurricane force winds on his leg of the relay and was making very slow time. At one point he was blown into a drift and had to dig his way out with his bare hands and then free the dogs. The fight against the wind and the blowing snow had exhausted him and he had not been able to warm himself up after digging out of the snow. When he arrived at the roadhouse at Bluff, Olson’s hands were so stiff with the cold that he couldn’t get the serum off the sled by himself. His dogs were nearly frozen, too. Their vulnerable groins were stiff with the ice and cold and the dogs limped into the roadhouse to get warm themselves. As they waited for the serum to thaw, Olson pleaded with Kaasen to wait for the storm to pass before heading out.

Kaasen was reluctant to wait. He had put together a team from Leonhard Seppala’s kennels, and believed that with the steady, strong Balto in the lead position he could make it. Balto was inexperienced as a lead dog on a run like this, and Seppala had left instructions that if another team needed to be put together his choice for the lead was a dog named Fox. Kaasen preferred Balto, though. He waited with Olson for a couple of hours. The storm showed no sign of abating. Kaasen went out at one point wearing sealskin mukluks, sealskin pants, a reindeer parka, and a second parks over that one. The wind pierced the furs, but Kaasen decided to head out anyway. He was afraid that if he waited the trail to Solomon and Port Safety would be blocked by drifts.

Just five miles from the Bluff roadhouse, Kaasen met his first drift. Balto tried to go though it but got mired in the snow. Kaassen couldn’t punch through the drift, either. Balto would have to find a way around. The dog was on an unfamiliar trail in the dark of night during a raging blizzard. He put his nose to the ground, though, and within a few minutes the team was running down the trail toward Solomon. A few miles further on the trail followed the frozen surface of the Topkok River. Kaasen was startled when Balto suddenly stopped and refused to go again. He realized that the dog had stepped into the water of a spot of overflow. Kaasen steered the team off the river and dried Balto’s paws, then ran them along the ridges toward Topkok mountain.

The storm was so bad by this point that Kaasen had no choice but to trust Balto to find his way along the trail. The man just held onto the sled and let the dogs do the work. It wasn’t until he recognized Bonanza Slough that he realized that he had completely missed the Solomon Roadhouse in the dark and the blowing snow. He was at least two miles past it. Rather than turn back, though, Kaasen decided to keep pushing toward Port Safety and the next leg of the relay. Because he missed the roadhouse, he never got the message that the health officials had ordered the relay halted to let the storm pass.

He started the dogs back on the trail through Bonanza Slough. The slough created a wind tunnel for the hurricane force winds of the storm. More than once the sled was literally picked up by the wind and the dogs became tangled in their harnesses. Each time Kaasen had to remove his gloves to right the sled and untangle the dogs. Then a particularly mighty gust picked up the team and tossed them all into a drift. Kaasen had to dig himself and the dogs out. He felt the bed of the sled for the serum. The box was gone! Panicked, Kaasen floundered around in the drift, finally locating it. He lashed it to the sled with extra straps this time and without further incident made it to Port Safety.

Believing that Kaasen would stay at Solomon, Ed Rohn had gone to bed at the Port Safety roadhouse. Kaasen considered waking him, but rejected the idea since Rohn’s dogs would have to be fed and then hitched to the sled for the continuing trip. It was about 3:00 in the morning, and Nome was about 20 miles away. Since leaving Bonanza Slough the storm appeared to be abating somewhat, so Kaasen decided to press on.

At 5:30 a.m. Gunnar Kaasen pulled into Nome with the serum. “Witnesses … said they saw Kaasen stagger off the sled and stumble up to Balto, where he collapsed, muttering: “Damn fine dog.”

Seppala with Togo, and Kaasen with Balto

Leonhard Seppala with Togo, and Gunnar Kaasen with Balto

Next: the Conclusion

August 6, 2007 Posted by | Children, Death, Health, History | Leave a comment

Iditarod Trail, 1925: The Serum Run (Part V)

Half an hour after Charlie Evans and his dead lead dogs had arrived in Nulato, the serum was thawed and Tommy Patsy, another Athabaskan driver with a formidable reputation for his wilderness survival skills, headed down the trail following the Yukon River to Kaltag, the last stop on the run before the trail rose into the Nulato Hills. He covered his 36 miles in about three and a half hours, making the best time of the entire relay at just over 10 miles per hour.

Jackscrew, a Koyukuk Indian, took the serum through the mountains from Kaltag to Old Woman Shelter. To lighten the dogs’ load and make better time on this difficult stretch of the trail, Jackscrew ran uphill through the woods of the Nulato Hills for a good bit of the first 15 miles of his 40 mile leg of the relay. Once he passed the Kaltag Divide and headed downhill toward Norton Sound, he climbed back aboard the sled.

Victor Anagick took the 34-mile leg from Old Woman Shelter to Unalakleet, across mostly open tundra and through the stunted coniferous taiga closer to the coast, where he passed the package to Myles Gonangnan, an Eskimo musher.

On the morning of Saturday, January 31, at Unalakleet on the southern shore of Norton Sound, Gonangnan took the measure of Norton Sound. He had to make the decision as to whether to cross it or go around it. The shortest route from Unalakleet would have been straight across Norton Sound to Nome. Leonhard Seppala had been warned against taking this route as it was entirely too risky. The center of the sound at this point rarely froze entirely because of the currents and motion of the water.

Norton Sound is an inlet of the Bering Sea. Nome, Alaska, sits on its north shore. The sound is about 150 miles long and about 125 miles across. Norton Bay is its northeast arm. The Yukon River, along which the teams of dogs drew their sleds carrying the precious diphtheria antitoxin serum in January 1925, flows into the sound from the south. The sound is only navigable from May to October. In October the sound begins to freeze as average temperatures dip well below freezing. By January, when the average temperature is below zero, the sound is completely frozen.

The closer you got to the sound, the more conscious you became that the ice was in a constant state of change and re-creation. huge swaths would suddenly break free and drift out to sea or a long narrow lead of water would open up…. Depending on the temperature, wind, and currents, the ice could assume various configurations – five-foot-high ice hummocks, a stretch of glare ice, or a continuous line of pressure ridges, which look like a chain of mountains across the sound. …

Then there was the wind. It was a given on Norton Sound that the wind howled and that life along these shores would be a constant struggle against a force that tried to beat you back at every step of every task. But when the wind blew out of the east, people took special note. These winds were shaped into powerful tunnels, and gusts barreled down mountain slopes and through river valleys, spilling out onto the sound at spectacular speeds of more than 70 miles per hour. The could flip sleds, hurl a driver off the runners, and drag the wind chill down to minus 100 degrees. Even more terrifying, when the east winds blew, the ice growing out from shore often broke free and was sent out to sea in large floes.

The Cruelest Miles, pp. 195-196

The overland route was safer than crossing the sound even in the best conditions. Gonangnan considered the fact that the wind had been blowing for several days from the west, pushing the ice against the coast and raising the level of the ice in the sound and weakening it. Had the wind remained from the west, the decision would have been easier. Even if the ice broke into floes, it would be blown toward shore and a sled team could navigate safely along the floes to shore. With the shift in the wind’s direction, though, the ice was being blown out to sea. More disturbing was that the northeast wind was building in strength. A storm was coming and would be there soon. When it came, the ice would be likely to break up. He decided not to risk the shortcut directly across Norton Sound. He turned northeast, toward Shaktoolik.

On the other side of Norton Sound, at about the same time, Leonhard Seppala was facing south and facing the same decision as Myles Gonangnan. Although he had been told not to risk the crossing, he knew that the fastest way to get the serum in the hands of Dr. Welch was to go across that frozen expanse. In two days he had covered about 110 miles, and had 200 more to go before he got to Nulato where he believed the serum would be waiting. Word had not reached him that not only had the number of teams in the relay increased tenfold, but that the serum had passed Nulato 24 hours before and was just on the other side of the sound.

Seppala decided the time saved by crossing the sound was worth the risk. Doubtless he would have hesitated even less had he known that his own daughter, Seigrid, had been admitted to Dr. Welch’s infirmary that very morning with diphtheria. Five more children had died, and twenty-seven were in the hospital, and at least eighty were known to have been exposed. Nome’s epidemic was in full swing. What was worse, one of the diphtheria patients was the daughter of the owner of a roadhouse at Solomon, a small settlement near Nome. The girl had been helping to cook for guests at the roadhouse. The grim fear was that she may have unwittingly spread the disease beyond Nome.

Later that day, Dr. Welch was told that Myles Gonangnan had left Unalakleet. With great relief Welch sent a telegram to the Public Health Service saying that the 300,000 units of serum from Anchorage was expected by noon the following day, February 1. Dr. Welch was unaware that the weather was conspiring against his patients.

The trail between Unalakleet and Shaktoolik is windy even in good weather, but sometimes the winds can blow from the north at more than hurricane force, with temperatures well below zero and chill factors worse than minus one hundred. Winds like that create ground blizzards, white-out conditions in which a sled can flip and men and dogs can freeze trying to find each other.

As the wind rose on the souther side of Norton Sound, snow blew in deeper and deeper drifts. At last Gonangnan had to break trail for his dogs. Breaking trail consisted of walking back and forth across the trail in snowshoes, tamping down the snow until it was firm enough to hold the weight of the dogs. The trail breaking was a slow, laborious effort. In five hours, Gonangnan had made only 12 miles. He stopped at a fishing camp to warm himself and the serum. He knew he was still at least nine hours from Shaktoolik, and had extremely difficult terrain to cross.

Five miles further along the trail were the Blueberry Hills, where the team would have to climb a 1000 foot summit then descend again to the beach. Wind tunnels in this region were brutal enough without the addition of the storm Gonangnan knew was coming. From the fishing village to Shaktoolik there were no shelters, abandoned or otherwise. If the storm hit while he was on this stretch of trail, it would be unpleasant indeed.

The wind was vicious and unrelenting on the way up the Blueberry Hills. By the time the team reached the summit Gonangnan was blinded by whiteout conditions. He had no time to prepare when the team suddenly began its steep descent toward the dunes along the sound. He held on and held his breath for the next three miles, and made it safely down to the beach only to find that the wind was blowing at gale force and and the wind chill was at least -70 degrees. He rode the sled for another four hours, arriving at Shaktoolik at 3:00 p.m.

There was no sign of Leonhard Seppala. Where was the famous musher?

Next: Seppala, Togo, and Balto 

August 5, 2007 Posted by | Children, Death, Health, History | Leave a comment

Iditarod Trail, 1925: The Serum Run (Part IV)


Newspapers had picked up the story of the epidemic early. As the tone of the telegrams between Nome and the outside world became more urgent, radio began to carry the story to an even broader audience. Winter storms swept across the continent as Nome waited for the serum, and people enduring zero degree weather on the East Coast were amazed at the determination and hardiness of the dog sleds driving through temperatures more than 50 degrees colder. The entire nation was transfixed by its radios, chewing its fingernails in hopes that the men and dogs could brave the blizzards and hurricane force winds of the Alaskan winter storms, cross an untrustworthy seasonal ice pack, and deliver the serum to the exhausted doctor and nurses as the number of victims reportedly rose with each passing hour.

On January 28, the exhausted and frostbitten Wild Bill Shannon handed the package over to a 20 year old Athabaskan musher named Edgar Kallands at Tolovana. Kallands made his five hour, 31 mile run to Manley Hot Springs under essentially the same conditions that had nearly done Shannon in. The temperature was -56 Farhenheit. When Kallands arrived in Manley Hot Springs, his gloves, with his hands inside, had frozen to the handlebar of the sled. “The roadhouse owner had to pour boiling water over the birchwood bar to pry him loose,” the Associated Press reported.

At Manley Hot Springs, the precious cargo was handed to Dan Green, who took it another 28 miles to Fish Lake, where another Athabaskan driver, Johnny Folger, took possession of it and got it to Tanana, another 26 miles closer to Nome. At each stop, just as the Anchorage doctor had instructed, the serum was warmed for fifteen minutes. From Tanana, Sam Joseph, also an Athabaskan Indian, took the serum another 34 miles to Kallands, the settlement named for the family of young Edgar Kallands. Titus Nikolai then transported the package 24 miles to Nine Mile Cabin, where he gave it to Dave Corning. Corning took it another 30 miles to Kokrines, then Harry Pitka took it the next 30 miles to Ruby. At Ruby, Bill McCarty took over and drove 28 miles to Whiskey Creek, where Edgar Nollner waited. Nollner delivered the package to his brother George at Galena, another 24 miles closer to Nome.

George Nollner took the serum 18 miles to Bishop Mountain. He arrived at 3:00 a.m. on Friday, January 30. He and his friend Charlie Evans, the next driver in the relay, sat in the relative warmth of the cabin. Like everyone else along the way, they were worried that the deep cold and the infrequent thawing of the serum would render it useless. The temperature at Bishop Mountain was -62 degrees Fahrenheit, and Evans had thirty miles to go to Nulato, the halfway point, where Leonhard Seppala expected to take possession of the precious serum and return to Nome.

Evans ran into trouble as he approached the convergence of the Koyukuk and Yukon rivers. Water had broken through the ice and the trail was covered with dangerous overflow. Overflow is caused when because of the pressure beneath the solid surface of ice, water breaks through in a gush, then continues seeping. Sheets of extremely slick, glacier-like ice result from the water flowing over the ice. An ice fog also develops at about -50, when the relatively warmer water vapor from the overflow turns to tiny ice crystals in the air. The ice fog Evans encountered was as high as his waist. He could no longer even see his dogs, much less the trail.

Eventually, a breeze began to blow that dissipated some of the ice fog. This was a mixed blessing, though, because with the breeze came a worse wind chill. Evans couldn’t get off the sled to warm himself with exercise. If he did, and the ice fog thickened again, he’d be lost, and the dogs would have gone on without him. Less than ten miles from Nulato, the unthinkable happened. Evans had two lead dogs he had borrowed for the run. First one collapsed and had to be loaded onto the sled, then the other collapsed. Evans hitched himself to the sled and led the team the rest of the way to Nulato. When he arrived about 10:00 a.m., both lead dogs were dead.

The serum had arrived at the halfway point in three days, the shortest time that distance had ever been traveled. Leonhard Seppala had expected to meet the serum in Nulato, but the Territorial governor had other ideas. On that Friday, January 30, ten days after Dr. Welch had confirmed diphtheria among Nome’s population, the death toll stood at five. Getting the serum to Nome as fast as possible was paramount.

Leonhard Seppala, who held the records for the fastest runs by dog sled, had set out from Nome on January 26 planning to travel a total of 630 miles. Traveling that distance without rest would be impossible and time was of the essence. Alaska’s territorial governor made the decision to add more drivers and dogs to the number making the relay. The idea was that the fresher the teams were, the faster they’d get the serum to Nome. All in all 20 drivers and their teams of dogs would be participating in the relay.

Seppala had already set out on the first 315 mile leg of his journey, though, and he was still the best one to take the serum across the pack ice of Norton Sound. Driving across the frozen sound would shave a full day off the time it would take to get the serum to Nome. There was no way to get word to Seppala, though, that the plan had changed. As drivers were called to participate in the relay they were told to keep a look out for Seppala and to hand the serum over to him when they saw him.

Next: Crossing the open ice of Norton Sound; and the canine heroes Togo and Balto

August 3, 2007 Posted by | Children, Death, Health, History | 10 Comments

Iditarod Trail, 1925: The Serum Run (Part III)


Leonhard Seppala and His Lead Dog, Togo


Getting the diphtheria antitoxin to Nome the fastest way possible was paramount. The lives of scores of people, if not the whole town, depended on it.

The original plan for dog sleds was for two teams to meet in the middle. One team would set out from the end of the railroad at Nenana, and the other would set out from Nome. They would meet in the middle, at Nulato, and the Nome team would return with the serum.

The logical choice for the team to make the round trip between Nome and the halfway point was Leonhard Seppala and his team of Siberian Huskies, led by Togo. Togo was 12 years old, which was somewhat elderly, but he had been Seppala’s lead dog for tens of thousands of miles across the Alaskan Interior. Seppala himself held records for races like the All-Alaska Sweepstakes. He had trusted Togo with his life more than once.

Togo had not originally seemed like lead-dog material. In fact, Seppala tried to sell him twice, but Togo kept finding his way back to Seppala’s kennels. When he was just eight months old, Togo had escaped the kennel and followed Seppala. Seppala couldn’t turn back to return Togo, so he let the pup run with the team. Togo finished that trip in the harness next to the lead dog, and Seppala realized that Togo had great potential.

Alaska’s territorial governor was familiar with Seppala’s speed records across the frozen expanse of Northern Alaska’s interior, but thought that the fastest way to get the serum to Nome was by a relay involving more teams – thus, no team would be driving exhausted, the dogs would at their fastest and freshest, and the serum would get to Nome where it was desperately needed that much faster. The governor sent a telegram to the US Postal Inspector in Nenana, who would have the closest official contact with the mushers. The Postal Inspector contacted the Northern Commercial Company, which actually hired the drivers of the dog sleds. The company notified drivers all along the route to be ready for a relay. They wouldn’t be getting paid for this run. It was a mission of mercy.

Twenty teams of men and dogs took part in the relay. Athabaskan Indians (native to the Alaskan interior), Eskimos (native to the Alaskan coasts), and US Postal Service mushers all participated.

Dogs and men are believed to have arrived in Alaska together, walking across the Bering Land Bridge. Although the people native to Alaska hunted other animals, the dog was their only domesticated species. Dog fur kept Eskimos warm, dog meat filled their bellies when there was no other source of food. Dogs were used for hunting, as beasts of burden, and as guides through the confusing white terrain. It is believed that the Eskimos first came up with the idea of hitching dogs to sleds. The Athabaskans of the interior did not use sled dogs until after white men came to Alaska.

Twenty-four hours after the crate of diphtheria antitoxin serum left Anchorage, Alaska, the temperature in Nenana, Alaska, at the end of the railroad, was fifty degrees below zero. Traditionally, when the temperature reached -38 degrees Fahrenheit, so cold that mercury froze in thermometers, neither man nor beast went out. Wild Bill Shannon set out from Nenana with his team of Malamutes in that searing cold for a fifty-two mile run over very rough terrain. Normally the 52 miles between Nenana and Tolovana, where the next team in the relay waited, took two days with an overnight stop in Minto.

The train from Anchorage arrived at 9:00 p.m. January 27, 1925. Despite being cautioned by the Nenana Postal Inspector to wait until morning to start the run to Tovolo, Shannon insisted upon leaving immediately. “People are dying,” he said. His attitude was the attitude of every driver in the relay.

The trail normally used by the dog sleds had been churned up by horses in the days before, so Shannon turned his team to run on the frozen surface of the Tanana River. The air over the river was even colder, and the danger of water breaking through the ice was ever-present. As time wore on, Shannon had a harder time warming his feet and hands. He began losing his focus. Suddenly Blackie, his lead Malamute, swerved, taking the sled in a new direction. Shannon nearly lost his grip on the sled and looked around in surprise at Blackie’s move. He saw a black hole in the ice – an area of open water that the team had narrowly missed. Thanks to Blackie’s canine perceptions and quick thinking, disaster had been averted. It would not be the only time along this relay that the serum was nearly lost. But for the wit and courage of the lead dogs, the serum would never make it to Nome.

The temperature continued to drop through the Arctic night. Shannon felt his extremities freezing and knew he had to take steps to get the blood circulating in his body. So, he took steps. He got off the sled and literally ran alongside the team. This helped for only a short time, and soon Shannon realized he was in real danger of hypothermia. By the time he reached Minto, the halfway point between Nenana and Tolovana, the outside temperature was -62 degrees. Four dogs had bloody muzzles from breathing the icy air, and Shannon’s face was black with frostbite.

After four hours of warming himself by the stove in Minto, Shannon set out for the remaining 22 miles of the run to Tolovana. He had to leave three of his dogs behind because they were too weakened by pulmonary hemorrhaging caused by the cold to continue. A fourth dog looked questionable, but Shannon decided to take him. If necessary, that dog could be unhitched from the team and ride the rest of the way to Tolovana. Shannon made it to Tolovana by 11:00 a.m. on January 28. It was -56 degrees Farhenheit when he turned the precious cargo over to Edgar Kallands, the next driver in the relay.

In Nome that same morning, Leonhard Seppala set out. He had 315 miles to travel to get to the halfway point at Nulato, then 315 miles back to Nome with the serum. On the way he had to traverse the questionable pack ice of Norton Sound. The Sound might be completely frozen or it might have ice floes that would kill him and his team. the shortest distance between Nulato and Nome lay directly across the Sound, though.

In the meantime, the number of confirmed cases of diphtheria in Nome were increasing by the hour. Although both the white and native populations obeyed the quarantine, the strain was extremely virulent and and probably infected the population well before the quarantine had been ordered. The diphtheria bacterium could live for weeks outside its human host on something as benign as a toy. The children of the area had all attended Christmas celebrations and had been in school and church prior to the quarantine.

Nome’s mayor contacted the territorial governor again, begging for relief by airplane. A little more serum, enough to treat perhaps five people, had been located in Juneau and was being sent by rail to Nenana to await the next mail run. It wouldn’t be enough.

Next: more dogs, and a nation holds its collective breath …

July 31, 2007 Posted by | Book Reviews, Children, Death, Health, History | Leave a comment

Iditarod Trail, 1925: The Serum Run (Part II)


Diphtheria has now been largely eradicated in developed countries. In the US, for example, preschool children typically receive multiple doses of the DPT vaccine, which immunizes them against diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), and tetanus. Children who are not immunized, especially those who are in close proximity to other non-immunized children, are most prone to the disease, even in places where it was previously under control. For example, after the fall of the Soviet Union a lapse in enforcement of the immunization programs resulted in outbreaks in several its former states. In 1924, though, the children of Nome had not been immunized against diphtheria. Indeed, the vaccine had only been successfully tested the previous year for the first time. Antibiotics were not available to treat the disease until after World War II.

Prior to 1891, a child with diphtheria could be expected to die within a few days of falling ill. Diphtheria was a dreadful disease, highly contagious and had a mortality rate of nearly one hundred percent. Children are the most vulnerable targets of this bacterium, although it can infect and kill adults, too. In a single outbreak between 1735 and 1740 diphtheria killed as many as 80% of the children under 10 years of age in some New England towns.

In the 1880s a method of intubation was discovered that prevented victims from suffocating, but this method did not stop the toxic effects of the bacteria. The mortality rate fell to 75%, which was small comfort when the disease attacked a community.

In the 1890s, however, a Prussian physician, Emil von Behring, developed an antitoxin that did not kill the bacteria, but neutralized the toxic poisons that the bacteria releases into the body. The first Nobel Prize in Medicine went to Dr. von Behring for this discovery and the development of this serum therapy for diphtheria. It was this serum Nome so desperately needed.

Six of Nome’s children had died of diphtheria by January 22, 1925, the day the telegram was sent pleading for serum. Two days later, two more children had died, Welch had confirmed diphtheria in 20 children, and 50 more were at risk of contracting the disease because of exposure to sick siblings.

The only ground-based link to the rest of the world during the winter is the Iditarod Trail, an established mail route used by the mushers and their teams of dogs. The trail stretches 938 miles from Seward on the southern coast of Alaska, across several mountain ranges and the vast tundra of the Alaskan interior before reaching Nome, situated on an icy port just two degrees south of the Arctic Circle. Because the cockpits of airplanes were open in 1925, the only way mail and supplies could get to Nome was the dog sled.

Nome, Alaska, sits at the top of the world. In January, the coldest month of the year, temperatures hover in single digits much of the time. In late January 1925, though, a series of winter storms were blasting across northern Alaska, pushing temperatures 30, 40 and 50 degrees below zero. It was through these strong winds and driving snows, and through the perpetual twilight of the Arctic winter, that the dogs and their mushers would have to transport the serum.

It was decided that the serum would travel by train to Nenana, as far as the tracks could take it. A teams of dogs would meet the train and take the serum to Nulato, approximately half the distance between Nenana and Nome. Leonhard Seppala, a Norwegian musher based in Nome, would take delivery of the serum and transport it back to Nome. Seppala and his dogs were famous for having won races across the Alaskan interior, and it seemed logical that he should hurry the serum to Nome.

Now that there was a plan for transporting the serum, Dr. Welch waited to hear that sufficient serum had been located and could be sent to Nome. In the meantime, as more children and adults developed the gray membrane of diphtheria, Dr. Welch began administering the expired serum that he had on hand. Possibly the confirmed case that worried Dr. Welch the most was that of Nome’s school superintendent, who was also a teacher. Every child in the Nome area would have been exposed to diphtheria through him. Dr. Welch hoped that the million units of serum he had requested would be enough to treat the entire population.

News finally came that 1.1 million units of the serum had been located at hospitals along the west coast of the US, but it would take until January 31 for the serum to arrive in Seattle to begin the trek to Nome. The serum was gathered and began its trek north. Having confirmed diphtheria on January 20, Dr. Welch knew that if no serum arrived until well into February, it would be too late for many of the children of Nome.

A few days later, 300,000 units of serum were located at a railway hospital in Anchorage. It wasn’t enough to save the town, but it was a start. Anchorage’s supply of serum would reach Nome long before the serum being sent from Seattle. The serum was packed in as much cushioning as possible to protect it from the jarring of the sled. The doctor in Anchorage pinned a note to the blanket surrounding the crate of serum instructing the mushers to warm the serum for fifteen minutes at each stop along the trail. He delivered the crate to the railroad and sent it north to Nenana. The serum would arrive in Nenana on January 27, a week after little Billy Barnett had died of diphtheria.

Next: the dogs…..

July 29, 2007 Posted by | Book Reviews, Children, Death, Health, History | Leave a comment