In early turn-of-the-century Nome (and much of the rest of "bush Alaska"), there really wasn't all that much to do besides gold mining or panning, hunting, fishing, gambling and/or the consumption of alcohol (which, in the frontier, invariably led to many fights, out-and-out brawls, and even murder). To stem the tide of violence, the citizens turned to other forms of recreation. For Seppala and his fellow Scandinavians, skiing provided a familiar outlet:
"During the daytime I did a lot of skiing. Skiing was becoming the one sport of the day, and there were races and jumping contests patterned on those in Norway. I had skied all my life, and had little trouble competing against the novices. In those days the skiing held the importance later usurped by the dog racing; it absorbed the interest of the public, increased the skill of the beginners, and eventually attracted experts from all over Alaska."
Being quite competitive himself, in one contest Seppala actually beat a ski-jumping champion recently arrived from Norway.
Wrestling was another pastime, and a way of channeling the energies of the miners and prospectors. Those who wrestled were usually large, strong men. But Seppala wrote of a time when he was asked to fill in at a match for competitor who had "given out". He found himself facing a man who outweighed him by thirty pounds or more. He was unfamiliar with the local holds and maneuvers, and was rather apprehensive. But he tested his opponent and found him slow and clumsy. At one point, when the larger man rushed him, Seppala saw an opening and threw his opponent to the ground and pinned him. After being parted by the referee, Seppala's opponent was found to have three of his ribs broken. Sepp later wrote:
"It was an unlucky throw, and I was as surprised as he at what I had done, and exceedingly sorry that I had been so violent."
Dog Sled Racing
Seeking other forms of recreation, the white immigrants and Americans soon caught onto the native pastime (and custom) of dog sledding (which was already in use all across Alaska for freighting and mail delivery, and limited transportation), and soon dog sled racing was born. In 1908, the first All Alaska Sweepstakes race was held, running from Nome to the town of Candle, across the Seward Peninsula towards the interior of Alaska, and back again. It quickly became all the rage, and of course gambling tied in with it very nicely.
The following year, in 1909, Russian fur trader William Goosak brought over ten sled dogs from eastern Siberia to compete in the race. Most people laughed at the small dogs (they were about half the size of the typical mongrel sled dogs of Alaska in those days). They were given 100-to-1 odds against winning, and yet they almost won an upset victory in the race that year. It is believed that, despite a long tradition of trading between the natives of Siberia and Alaska, this was the first time the Siberian dogs were ever seen in the territory. And interest in these Siberian dogs quickly grew!
In 1910, a wealthy young Scotsman named Charles "Fox" Maule Ramsay imported seventy more of the Siberian dogs, purchased from the Siberian trading village of Markovo. Ramsay formed three teams to compete in the 1910 All Alaska Sweepstakes Race, and the teams dominated it...placing first, second and fourth.
Above: The end of the 1911 All Alaska Sweepstakes Race, with winner
A.A. Allen [sic] (Scotty Allan) at the finish line on Front Street in Nome.
Finding Love Again
The first running of the All Alaska Sweepstakes Race, in 1908, brought more to Seppala than just an interest in dog sled racing. He also married a young Belgian woman named Constance, who had come to Nome in 1905, and had also taken to dog sled racing (and was herself involved in the races). They would remain together for the rest of their lives.
Above: Seppala, with his wife Constance, and their daughter Sigrid, in 1914.