BALTO'S TRUE STORY

History of the 1925 Nome Serum Run

January 27: With temperatures across the Alaskan interior reaching down to -50° Fahrenheit (-45° Celsius), due to a high-pressure system blowing in from the Arctic, and a second system burying the Alaskan panhandle, most forms of transportation were shut down.  Also, limited available daylight at this time of year prevented much flying.  Governor Scott Bone gives final authorization for the dogsled relay, and orders Edward Wetzler, U.S. Post Office inspector, to arrange a relay of the best drivers and dogs across the interior of the territory (which is a change from the original plan of only one driver heading out of Nenana to meet Seppala half-way).  The teams will travel by day and night until reaching Seppala at Nulato.  This decision outrages William Fendtriss "Wrong Font" Thompson, publisher of the Daily Fairbanks News-Miner and airplane advocate, who had helped line up a pilot and plane for the initial antitoxin to be flown to Nome.  He uses his newspaper to publish scathing editorials about the decision.  Seppala leaves Nome for Nulato with his team of twenty dogs.

The first driver, William "Wild Bill" Shannon, is handed the 20-pound (9 kilogram) package at the train station.  Despite the temperatures, Shannon leaves immediately with his team of nine dogs, led by five-year old Blackie.  The other eight dogs, however, are inexperienced.  Because of the dropping temperature, and bad conditions on the trail (ruts and pock-marks from horse-drawn carriages, which could easily tear up the paw pads of the dogs, and injure their ankles), Shannon diverts the team onto the smoother ice of the Tanana River, running alongside the sled himself to keep warm.  He arrives at the roadhouse at Minto at 3 A.M., with parts of his face black from severe frostbite.  The temperature is now -62° F (-52° C).  After warming the antitoxin by the fire and resting for four hours, he drops three dogs from the team (leaving them at the roadhouse) and continues on.  Two of the three dogs Shannon dropped at Minto die after he returns home with them after his part of the relay.  The third's fate is not recorded. 

The next driver in the relay, Edgar Kallands, had arrived at the Minto roadhouse the night before, but was sent back to Tolovana. 

January 28: Shannon arrives at the roadhouse in Tolovana at 11 A.M., he and his team in bad shape.  He hands over the antitoxin to Edgar Kallands who, after warming it again, heads into the forest near the roadhouse.  The temperature has risen to -56° F (-49° C), and Kallands makes the 31 miles to Manley Hot Springs without much reported incident, arriving at 4 P.M.  The owner of the Manley Hot Springs roadhouse, however, reports later that he had to pour hot water over Kalland's hands in order to get them free of the sled's handlebar.  Two more drivers, Dan Green and Johnny Folger, run the antitoxin along from Manley Hot Springs to Fish Lake, and then from Fish Lake to Tanana, through the remainder of the day and night (respectively).

January 29: The serum is handed along between six drivers and their teams during the course of the day, passing from Sam Joseph, to Titus Nikolai, to Dave Corning, to Harry Pitka, to Bill McCarty, and then to Edgar Nollner...encompassing a total distance of 170 miles (from Tanana through to Galena).  During the night, Edgar Nollner hands the package to his brother, George Nollner.  Two new cases of diphtheria are reported.  The crisis has become headline news in major cities across the United States, including in San Francisco, Cleveland, Washington D.C., and New York, and is talked about on the new and amateur radio sets which are becoming vogue.  The storm system which is nearly paralyzing the Alaska territory begins to hit and effect the continental United States, bringing record low temperatures (and many problems) to places as far away as New York, and freezing New York's Hudson River.

January 30: George Nollner continues on the trail, carrying the antitoxin along another 18 miles to Bishop Mountain, arriving at 3 A.M.  Musher Charlie Evans heads out into a patch of ice fog, created when the waters of the Koyukuk River break through the surface ice.  Forgetting to cover the vulnerable areas of the mixed breed leaders on his team, he sees them collapse from frostbite, and ends up having to lead the team along to Nulato himself.  By the time he arrives, at 10 A.M., both of his lead dogs are dead.  The next driver, Tommy Patsy, departs within a half hour of Evans' arrival. 

The number of cases in Nome reaches 27, and the antitoxin is depleted.  According to a reporter living in the town, "all hope is in the dogs and their heroic drivers...Nome appears to be a deserted city."  Another death in Nome is reported.  Nome Mayor George Maynard and Alaska delegate to the U.S., Dan Sutherland, renew their campaign for flying the remaining antitoxin by airplane, and several proposals are suggested.  They are again unanimously rejected by experienced bush pilots, the Navy, and Governor Bone himself (which results in more scathing newspaper articles).  In response, Bone decides to step up the speed of the relay by authorizing the addition of more drivers to the latter half of the relay (Nulato to Nome).  Seppala is still scheduled to cover the most dangerous leg of the route (the shortcut across the frozen pack ice of Norton Sound), and Hammon board of health superintendent Mark Summers arranges for more drivers...including Seppala's colleague and protege, young Norwegian driver (and also Hammon employee) Gunnar Kaasen.

Patsy runs 36 miles to the town of Kaltag, handing the antitoxin along to driver "Jackscrew", who carries it with his team over the Kaltag Portage to "Old Woman Shelter" on the 31st.

January 31: After receiving the antitoxin from Jackscrew early in the morning, driver Victor Anagick runs his team 34 miles to the shore town of Unalakleet, handing it then to driver Myles Gonangnan who's team carries it another 40 miles, through now even lower temperatures (-70° F/-57° C), driving snow, and now winds which have picked up to gale force, to the roadhouse at Shaktoolik.  Seppala is not there, but he finds driver Henry Ivanoff waiting just in case.  Ivanoff warms the antitoxin for a bit, and then heads out into the storm, intending (and hoping) to spot Seppala along the established (but now practically invisible) trail.  The winds have driven the temperature down now to a bone-chilling and teeth-shattering -85° F (-65° C).  During the run, his team stumbles upon a lone reindeer, and ends up getting itself hopelessly tangled in the confusion which follows.  Cursing and doing his best to untangle his dogs (and now at a total standstill), he luckily spots Seppala's large team passing him nearby.  He turns and shouts "The serum!  The serum!  I have it here!"  Seppala stops his team and the transfer is made.  Turning back around, Seppala heads again for the dangerous ice of Norton Sound.

Proceed To Page 3

Back To Page 1