The history of the Alaskan Malamute breed - Debut
Extract of Rick Beauchamp book : The Golden RuleExtract of Rick Beauchamp book : The Golden Rule
On August 17, 1896, gold was discovered in a tributary of the Klondike River near the city of Dawson in Canada's Yukon Territory, about 50 miles east of the Alaskan border. News of that discovery
had spread to the rest of the world by the following summer, and the rush was on. By the end of 1898 roughly 30,000 prospectors had gone barging into the Klondike region, which would give
up more than $22 million of its golden booty in 1900 alone -- $733.33 for every claim staker and sand sifter in the joint.
« The dream weavers who swarmed to the Klondike wanted dogs », wrote Jack London in « The Call of the Wild ». « And the dogs they wanted were heavy dogs, with strong muscles by which to toil, and furry coats to protect them from the frost. » Some fortune seekers brought dogs to the Klondike with them to haul sleds and supplies; others scrambled to put dog teams together on the scene. They all learned quickly that imported dogs weren't nearly as good at these tasks as were the Alaskan sled dogs living in Eskimo villages at some remove from the Klondike.
Gold-thirsty prospectors were not the first to be impressed by Eskimo dogs. In « The Private Journal of Captain G.F. Lyon », published in 1824, Lyon describes dogs at his ship that « had no shelter, but lay alongside with the thermometer at 42-44 degrees (below zero), and with as little concern as if the weather had been mild. » What's more, wrote Lyon, « three of my dogs could draw me on a sledge weighing 100 pounds, at a rate of one mile in six minutes; and as proof of the strength of a well-grown dog, my leader drew 196 pounds singly, and to the same distance in eight minutes. »
Henry M. Bannister, who led an expedition to Alaska from 1865 to 1867, found the dogs there incredibly anxious to haul assorted burdens. « As soon as the sled is brought out, » wrote Bannister in « the Alaska Geographic Quarterly », « the dogs gather round and, fairly dancing with excitement, raise their voices in about a dozen unmelodious strains. »
The Land Rover
The most celebrated of all Eskimo dogs was the malamute, a type bred by the Mahlemut tribe, which lived near Kotzebue Sound on the northwest coast of Alaska. (Kotzebue, ironically, was a German opera librettist and playwright noted for his superficial and often sensational melodramas and comedies.) The Mahlemuts' dogs, according to one observer, were less « wild » and more tractable than other arctic strains, and were capable of a variety of tasks from pulling sledges to hunting seals to chasing down polar bears.
Malamutes were further distinguished by their strength, reliability, wide-ranging colors and unique markings. Their ancestors are thought to have migrated from Siberia to Alaska across the Bering land bridge in the company of nomadic tribes. More than twice the size of Texas, the Bering land bridge connected Siberia and Alaska until rising seas dumped 800 feet of water over it 11,000 years ago, when summer temperatures in that part of the world were eight to 11 degrees warmer than they are now.
Such was the prowess of the malamute that Eskimos who lived inland traveled down the Kobuk and Noatak rivers to Kotzebue Sound to trade furs for dogs and supplies. Thus did malamutes find their way to other regions of Alaska and even to adjacent parts of the Yukon, where the gold diggers and some of the dogs that had accompanied them to the Yukon made the malamutes' acquaintance 100 years ago. (Additional testimony to the malamutes' hegemony was the use of the word « malemute » to indicate any freight-pulling dog.
After the Gold Rush
At the turn of the century sled-dog racing became popular in Alaska. If there was one activity for which the malamute was not ideally suited, racing was it. The powerful, heavy-boned malamute was capable of pulling great weights for great lengths, but it wasn't built for acceleration or speed. For this and for other expedient reasons malamutes were bred with a variety of lighter, faster dogs « and purebreds were almost lost. »
We should observe that purebred did not mean then what it means today. Eskimos did not keep stud books, nor did the Mahlemuts have signs posted by their dwellings that read, « Stud service to approved, registered bitches only. » Indeed, bitches in heat were sometimes staked out for wolves to breed, wrote one historian, « and the toughness and adaptability of the malamute stock was replenished. » The notion that there were « purebred » malamutes in Alaska during the last century or the early years of the present one is a quaint, but imprecise, fantasy.
This did not discourage some admirers of Eskimo dogs from trying to (re)create the animals they fancied. Arthur T. Walden, an author, explorer, and inn keeper from the village of Wonalancet, New Hampshire, had freighted supplies for miners during the Yukon gold rush of 1897-98. While he was in the Yukon, Walden had worked with an Eskimo dog named « Chinook », who made such an impression on him that Walden attempted to replicate Chinook after returning to the United States. He was successful, and decades later other breeders working with the descendants of Walden's « Chinook » dogs obtained breed recognition for them from the United Kennel Club.
Walden also worked with Alaskan malamutes and Siberian huskies at his Wonalancet kennel. When financial setbacks he encountered in the late 1920s left him unable to continue breeding dogs, he sold his malamute and husky stock to Milton and Eva B. Seeley. They corresponded with dog owners and breeders in the Pacific Northwest, Alaska and the Yukon Territory, and obtained breeding stock that conformed to their idea of what an Alaskan malamute should look like -- a living ringer for the dogs the Mahlemuts had bred in the Kozebue Sound region. Their efforts eventually produced a dog that was not only true to the malamute's original form but also retained its freighting abilities. In 1935, the same year the Alaskan Malamute Club of America was formed, the American Kennel Club (AKC) granted recognition to the Alaskan malamute. (In 1997 the AKC registered 4,409 malamutes, placing the breed 46th among the 145 breeds then recognized by the organization.)
Balto the Wonder Dog
Fans of the « Tonight Show » may recall host Johnny Carson occasionally referring to Balto the Wonder Dog in his monologues. The real Balto, however, was no joke. In 1925, Nome, Alaska, was ravaged by a diphtheria epidemic. Curtis Welch, the only physician in Nome, radioed an appeal for lifesaving anti-toxin serum. By the time he did, several children had died and others were ill with the highly contagious disease.
The hospital at Anchorage had fresh serum to spare, but the only dependable way of getting it to Nome in the heart of winter was by a dog-sled relay. The anchor leg of the relay was run by Gunnar Kaasen, who had a team of seven Siberian huskies led by a magnificent malamute named Balto. After taking the serum from the dog-sled team, Kaasen traveled the final 100 miles to Nome, blinded by snow with nothing but his dogs' sure-footed instincts and courage to guide him. The serum arrived in time to halt the epidemic.
Two years later Balto and the rest of Kaasen's team were sold to the Cleveland Zoo. After Balto had died in 1933, he was stuffed, mounted and put on display at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. He was also memorialized by a statue that stands in New York City's Central Park.
Rick Beauchamp is a freelance writer who resides in Cambria, California. He is the author of numerous books on canine breeds and is a judge licensed with the American Kennel Club and the United Kennel Club.
Extract of the Web site Hopi PointExtract of the Web site Hopi Point
The Alaskan Malamute was first bred by the Mahlemiut people. They lived in Alaska on the huge Kotzbue Sound region between the Rivers Kobuk and Noatak. This was originally a part of the Russian
Empire but was sold to the United States of America in 1867 for $7 200 000. The Mahlemiut people were highly respected for their bravery and fishing skills. They were tall with soft faces and
they treated their dogs somewhat better than other people did. Their dogs were bigger and stronger than other Nordic dogs and were very similar to the Artic Wolf. It is cited in historical
sources that from 1870 to 1880 reindeer - caribou, for unclear reasons, changed their migration route. Thus they took away the Mahlemiut people's primary source of food. During these times,
families could not afford more than two or three dogs, so women and children helped to pull sleighs. The people began to die out and the same fate almost befell their dogs.
When gold was discovered in Bonanza Creek, Klondike in 1896, gold fever broke out and the Alaskan Malamute became the most valued dog for pulling. At that time they started to mate them with other dogs, but fortunately the Malamutes had such strong genes that their characteristics remained intact even in the third generation crosses. This crossing is the reason for the differences which we find in today's Malamutes.
These dogs were later used, after 1888, by Frederik Cook and Robert Elwin Peary in their conquering of the North Pole. Roald Amundsen conquered the South Pole with Malamutes on 14 December, 1911. Around the same time Robert Falcon Scott made the same journey with ponies but they perished in the cold and ice. Scott himself also never returned from the expedition. Today's advancements have presented man with a large choice of means for expeditions. However, there are still people who, together with dogs, still come to blows with the cruelty of nature. In 1982 the Russian, Sergej Soloviev, travelled 10000 km in 243 days with his team of dogs between Velen and Murmansk. An international expedition to the North Pole travelled 6000 km in 6 months with these dogs, returning to Mirny on 3 March, 1990.
The first written records of the Alaskan Malamute date from 1824 in 'The Private Journal of Captain G. F Lyon'. In Tappan Adney's book 'The Klondike Stampede', published in 1899, the author also includes very good drawings of dogs and teams. He wrote that the best dog in Yukon was an Eskimo dog, which the gold seekers called Malamute. Knud Rasmunsen and Amundsen described the following to the author of the book on Malamutes. There has never been a dog better suited to life in the cold north. Its hair is so thick that it protects it from the terrible Artic cold. Its paws are strong and compact so that snow and ice do not gather between its toes. It is not a fussy eater. It eats anything and requires essentially less food than other dogs of the same size. The Malamute is a friendly and loyal dog. It enjoys being pampered but at the same time is a very jealous and fearless contender. This dog will not jump enthusiastically around you and greet you. It is self-assured, headstrong and can sometimes even be a difficult friend, but it is not true that a dog which causes a little difficulty, cannot offer a lot of pleasure.
Anyone who has tackled researching the history of this breed would agree with the finding that it originated in a specific part of the Artic. When we wish to research the history of today's Malamute, our research can only begin with the years 1930 to 1940, the time at which individuals began to rear this breed and deliver pedigrees, holding the name ALASKAN MALAMUTE, to their buyers. We can trace some 50 Malamutes from this period whose ancestors were stated on the pedigree as UNKNOWN. In the beginning nobody knew how to describe or clarify a typical representative of this breed. Unfortunately, the Inuits did not have their own canine associations were the first dog-lovers of this breed could try to find the necessary clarification. Therefore the representation of this breed was initially dependent on the many different opinions of individuals. This is also why the breed still has so many different types of dog today.
In 1947 huge 70 kg weight Malamutes were still appearing in the show ring, which were actually half St Bernard or Newfoundland. New immigrants in Alaska crossed the Malamute with the Saint Bernard, as they wished to breed a dog which could pull heavier loads. Therefore they got huge Malamutes, which were really exceptionally strong, but unfortunately a new and also large problem emerged for these people. The additional weight which these giants could pull meant additional food. In the hard Artic conditions, food was most precious and the Inuits particularly valued these dogs because they only required half as much food as other dogs of the same size.
An other extractAn other extract
Shaped by Mother Nature
The history of Alaskan Malamute is strictly linked to the origins and history of the Eskimos who were divided into North America after crossing the Bering Strait, 6,000 years ago.
Thus, we can say with certainty that our race is a very old race, not a race that was created by man, like many others. The Alaskan Malamute was wrought by nature to survive in the hard Arctic environment and to fulfill the function of a universal dog used for traction, hunting and fishing. The Malamute breed takes its name from the tribe of Inuit "Mahlemut" who selected these dogs for thousands of years even though these dogs had been generally bred by several tribes.
"The Eskimo dogs" have developed some differences depending on the sector in which they were bred and depending on their function. These differences in the type are still present in the race today and is evident even in the eye not accustomed to. Naturally, there was no championship show in the past in the Arctic and therefore there were differences in the size and type, and even among dogs from the same sector.
The dogs of this third line were often neglected, but their contribution to the type "Husky-Pak" has been fundamental. Spawns's Alaska, father of sires and bitches of Husky-Pak type, was almost of the third line, and Apache Chief of Husky-Pak (Geronimo) and Artic Storm of Husky-Pak (Tacoma) looked considerably in the third line.
The diaries of early explorersThe diaries of early explorers
To complete knowledge of the history of Alaskan Malamute breed, it is interesting to delve into the very first words that were written about him by the early explorers of the Arctic region.
These explorers encountered Eskimo tribes who used their dogs for various tasks essential to their survival. Reading their diaries, we understand that "Eskimo dogs" they have found in these
arctic land still unknown were surprisingly similar to the Alaskan Malamutes today and old photos can prove it.
Captain J. Ross, 1819
« Genus-Canis, a variety approaching to the wolf in many points of external character and in voice was found in a domestic state amongst the inhabitants of Baffin's Bay »
- Captain J. Ross' Journal, 1819
« The dogs of the Esquimaux, of which these people possessed above a hundred, have been so often described that there may seem little left to add respecting their external appearance, habits, and use. Our visits to Igloolik having, however, made us acquainted with some not hitherto described, I shall here offer a further account of these invaluable animals. In the form of their bodies, their short pricked ears, thick furry coat, and bushy tail, they so nearly resemble the wolf of these regions that, when a light or brindle colour, they may easily at a little distance be mistaken for that animal. To an eye accustomed to both, however, difference is perceptible in the wolf, always keeping his head down, and the tail between his legs in running whereas the dogs almost always carry their tails handsomely curled over the back.
A difference less distinguishable, when the animals are apart, is the superior size and more muscular make of the wild animal, especially about the breast and legs. The wolf is also, in general, full two inches taller than any Esquimaux dog we have seen; but those met with in 1818, in the latitude of 76 degrees, appear to come nearest to it in that respect. The tallest dog at Igloolik stood two feet one inch from the ground, measured at the withers; the average height was about two inches less than this.
While thus provided, they are able to withstand the most inclement weather without suffering from the cold, and at whatever temperature the atmosphere may be they require nothing but a shelter from the wind to make them comfortable, and even this they do not always obtain. They are also wonderfully enabled to endure the cold even on those parts of the body which are not thus protected, for we have seen a young puppy sleeping, with its bare paw laid on an iceanchor, with the thermometer at -30 degrees, which with one of our dogs would have produced immediate and intense pain, if not subsequent mortification.
They never bark, but have a long melancholy howl like that of the wolf, and this they will sometimes perform in concert for a minute or two together. They are besides always snarling and fighting among one another, by which several of them are generally lame. When much caressed and well-fed, they become quite familiar and domestic; but this mode of treatment does not improve their qualities as animals of draught. Being desirous of ascertaining whether these dogs are wolves in a state of domestication, a question which we understood to have been the subject of some speculation, Mr. Skeoch at my request made a skeleton of each, when the number of all the vertebrae was found to be the same in both, and to correspond with the well-known anatomy of the wolf. »
From: « Journal of a Second Voyage of Discovery »,
Captain. William Edward Parry, 1824
« These useful creatures being indispensable attendants on the Eskimaux, drawing home whatever captures are made, as well as frequently carrying their masters to the chase, I know of no more proper place to introduce them, than as a part of the hunting establishment. Having myself possessed, during our second winter, a team of eleven very fine animals, I was enabled to become better acquainted with their good qualities than could possibly have been the case by the casual visits of Eskimaux to the ships.
The form of the Eskimaux dog is very similar to that of our shepherd's dogs in England, but he is more muscular and broad chested, owing to the constant and severe work to which he is brought up. His ears are pointed, and the aspect of the head is somewhat savage.
A walrus is frequently drawn along by three or four of them, and seals are sometimes carried home in the same manner, though I have, in some instances, seen a dog bring home the greater part of a seal in panniers placed across his back. This mode of conveyance is often used in the summer, and the dogs also carry skins or furniture overland to the sledges, when their masters are going on any expedition.
It might be supposed that in so cold a climate these animals had peculiar periods of gestation, like the wild creatures; but on the contrary, they bear young at every season of the year, and seldom exceed five at a litter. In December, with the thermometer 40 degrees below zero, the females were, in several instances, in heat. Cold has very little effect on these animals, for although the dogs at the huts slept within the snow passages, mine at the ships had no shelter, but lay alongside, with the thermometer at 42 degrees and 44 degrees, and with as little concern as if the weather had been mild.
I found, by several experiments, that three of my dogs could draw me on a sledge, weighing 100 pounds, at the rate of one mile in six minutes; and as a proof of the strength of a wellgrown dog, my leader drew 196 pounds singly, and to the same distance in eight minutes.
At another time seven of my dogs ran a mile in four minutes thirty seconds, drawing a heavy sledge full of men. I stopped to time them; but had I ridden they would have gone equally fast; in fact, I afterwards found that ten dogs took five minutes to go over the same space. Afterwards, in carrying stores to the Fury, one mile distant, nine dogs drew 1,611 pounds in the space of nine minutes ! My sledge was on wooden runners, neither shod nor iced; had they been the latter, at least 40 pounds might have been added for every dog.
- Captain G.F.Lyon, The Private Journal of Capt. G.F.Lyon, 1824 ;
« If food is plentiful the dogs are fed every other day, and then their share is by no means a large one. In winter they are fed with the heads, entrails, bones, and skins of seals, and they are so voracious at this time of the year that nothing is secure from their appetite.
Any kind of leather, particularly boots, harnesses, and thongs, is eaten whenever they can get at it. In the spring they are better fed and in the early part of summer they grow quite fat.
In traveling, however, it sometimes happens at this time of the year, as well as in winter, that they have no food for five or six days.
In Cumberland Sound, Hudson Strait, and Hudson Bay, where the rise and fall of the tide are considerable, they are carried in summer to small islands where they live upon what they can find upon the beach, clams, codfish, etc.
If at liberty they are entirely able to provide for themselves. I remember two runaway dogs which had lived on their own account from April until August and then returned quite fat. »
- Franz Boas, The Central Eskimo, 1888 ;
Donald B. McMillan, 1927
« These dogs are supposed to be the direct descendants of the northern gray or white wolf, which they greatly resemble, with the exception of the tightly curled tail.
They are of various colors - black, white, brown, brindle, and gray - and they weight from 60 to 100 pounds.
A team consists of from eight to twelve, each attached to the sledge by a sixteen-foot rawhide trace. The advantages of this arrangement are obvious. Seated on the sledge with a 25-foot whip, one can reach out and touch the back of every dog, thereby keeping him in his place and exerting him to keep his trace tight. The disadvantages are the indirect pull of the dogs at the tips of the fan and the inevitable braiding of the traces into a rope as large as one's arm, the untangling of which at low temperatures necessitates hours and hours of extreme discomfort.
Eighty pounds to a dog is a good load for the average sledging surface encountered on a long spring trip. The strength of the driver is to be equally considered with that of the dogs.
Very often - a dozen times a day - one is called upon to wrestle with his sledge to save it from destruction. The load must be lifted bodily again and again in endeavoring to extricate the sledge from a troublesome crack in the ice or from the depths of a deep hole; while the dogs are wagging their tails or sitting on their haunches, much interested in the whole proceeding.
Given the smooth, hard surface of a fiord, and my ten dogs could easily pull two thousand pounds. But at the first obstruction, such as rough ice, the sledge would go to pieces; and if a hill or glacier was to be negotiated, then it would be necessary to unload and carry the cargo to the top piece by piece. Therefore, the question as to how much dogs can pull is a difficult one to answer, depending upon the qualities of the sledge, upon the distance to be travelled, upon the strength of the driver, upon the strength of the dogs, and again and always upon the sledging surface.
On the 1914 trip my ten dogs were pulling, upon leaving home, 625 pounds; on the 1917 trip they were handling 850. »
- Donald B McMillan, Four Years In the White North, 1925, Etah and Beyond, 1927 ;
D. Jennes, 1928
« There were two ringleaders, an old dog so peaceable that we had thought him cowardly, and my goodnatured team leader, Tellurak, whom I had never known to start a fight.
Tellurak, unlike the other dogs, incurred no risk of injury, for the matted coat of long frizzly hair that enveloped him from head to foot, almost concealing his beady eyes, made him invulnerable to every adversary.
If an unfortunate dog did pounce upon him it backed away immediately with a mass of hair between its teeth, and disturbed the camp for several hours with its violent coughs and sneezes.
He must possess the intelligence to understand his master's commands, and the will to obey them without question; for the dog that understands, but hesitates to obey, causes more calamities than the numskull.
He must be strong and brave, ready at all times to discipline his own team and to champion it against its enemies. More than all, he must possess, both in harness and out of it, a natural authority over the other dogs.
Tellurak was strong and brave; he understood, partially at least, the words of command, though from sheer rascality he often disobeyed; but he had no prestige among his teammates, and wielded less authority than the old bull Caribou in the herd.
Jumbo, my leader on the trip up the Coppermine River, was a dog of another calibre. In the heat of a chase he halted at my command and checked the whole team behind him, and at feeding time, when every other animal was fighting for its portion, he would quietly devour his share on the outskirts of the fray, growling away marauders twice as powerful as himself. Dogs that had not seen him before recognized his authority.
He followed me once to the snow hut of an Eskimo, whose five dogs, the fiercest in the camp, rushed out to drive him away. Jumbo stood tense, his head and tail erect, his fangs bared in a warning snarl, When they checked their wild onrush in surprise, he disdained even to glance at them, but marched haughtily through their midst into the sanctum of their home. »
- Diamond Jenness, The People of the Twilight, 1928
Hudson Stuck, 1929
« The Malamute, the Alaskan Esquimau dog, is precisely the same dog as that found amongst the natives of Baffin's Bay and Greenland. Knud Rasmunsen and Amundsen together have established the oneness of the Esquimaux from the east coast of Greenland all round to Saint Michael; they are one people, speaking virtually one language. And the Malamute dog is one dog.
A photograph that Admiral Peary prints of one of the Smith Sound dogs that pulled his sled to the North Pole would pass for a photograph of one of the present writer's team, bred on the Koyukuk River, the parents coming from Kotzebue Sound. »
There was never animal better adapted to environment than the Malamute dog. His coat, while it is not fluffy, nor the hair long, is yet so dense and heavy that it affords him a perfect protection against the utmost severity of cold. His feet are tough and clean, and do not readily accumulate snow between the toes and therefore do not easily get sore which is the great drawback of nearly all 'outside' dogs and their mixed progeny. He is hardy and thrifty and does well on less food than the mixed breeds; and, despite Peary to the contrary, he will eat anything.
« He will not eat anything but meat » says Peary « I have tried and I know. »
No dog accustomed to a flesh diet willingly leaves it for other food the dog is a carnivorous animal. But hunger will whet his appetite for any thing that his bowels can digest.
Muk, tne counterpart of Peary's "King Malamute" has thriven for years on his daily ration of dried fish, tallow and rice, and eats biscuits and doughnuts whenever he can get them.
He has little of the fawning submissivness of pet dogs "outside"; but he is independent and self-willed and apt to make a troublesome pet. However pets that give little trouble seldom give much pleasure.
His comparative shortness of leg makes him somewhat better adapted to the hard, crusted snow of the coast than to the soft snow of the interior, but he is a ceaseless and tireless worker who loves to pull. His prick ears, always erect, his bushy, graceful tail, carried high unless it curl upon the back as is the case with some, his compact coat of silver-gray, his sharp muzzle and black nose and quick narrow eyes give him an air of keenness and alertness that marks him out amongst dogs. When he is in good condition and his coat is taken care of he is a handsome fellow, and he will weigh from 75 to 85 or 90 pounds. »
- Stuck Hudson, Ten Thousand Miles With A Dog Sled, 1929.