A Pantless Mush

The following historic long-distance mushing story is presented in honor of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race which is held every year between Anchorage and Nome, Alaska:

Excerpt from the Dawson Daily News April 27, 1908



Jijuro Wada, toughened like hickory, indomitable and cheerful, splashed knee deep through the treacherous waters over the surface of the breaking Yukon river today at noon, finishing one of the most marvelous mushing trips in the history of the North. Black as a Kaffir from weeks of reflected sun from the bright snow surfaces, and his cheeks were checkered and serrated like alligator hide form alternate freezing and roasting. His six faithful dogs, with which he left the Klondike capital, and a toboggan with a few personal belongings, were all that he brought back. He did not even wear trousers. All that was left to adorn his other limbs was a woolen undergarment; but over this he had draped with all the grace of a skirt a huge parka, which he endured while he mushed down the muddy, yet well lined streets to his lodging place at Big Jo’s.

During his long mush, Wada ran short of supplies and had to feed his socks and trousers to the dogs. A treatment of whale oil from a bottle he carried was all the sauce the animals desired and Wada shared their misery by mushing from Rampart House to Dawson trouserless.

Wada is from a point east of Herschel island this time. He left Dawson early in the winter, traveling by dog team to Fort Yukon, there secured the services of Harry Anthony, a Canadian musher, for trail blazer, and with him traveled to Rampart House. At that point Anthony turned back and Wada fearlessly plunged into the wilderness and went up the Porcupine, thence over a divide to the northward and launched into the open waste of country looking out hundreds of miles toward Herschel.

With no companionship but that of his dogs and using a small tent each night for refuge, Wada mushed over the sparsely wooded and willow clad arctic slope toward Herschel. Wada remained among the whalers at Hershel Island six days and then continued his long mush, circling somewhat to the westward and taking in a region along the spur of mountains there.

It was March 24 when Wada got started back on his long homeward trip. He brought with him letters from the Royal Northwestern police post at Herschel and the officers and crews of the whaler. He thought on arrival at Fort Yukon that he would not be able to get to Dawson over the ice, so he mailed the letters there. Then he changed his mind and beat the letters to Dawson, with the exception of one or two unstamped letters which were not in the general bundle. “On my way back,” said Wada, “I followed somewhat inland along the arctic slope and then headed up the Old Crow river, thence down the Rapid river to the Porcupine, thence along the Rampart to the Rampart House. I had plenty of food for myself, but running shy on dog feed, I gave the malamutes my pants and socks.

“Fortunately the spring days were so warm that I did not suffer keenly as I should have in winter. Several times during my trip I was storm bound and my cheeks were frozen, but on the most severe days, I lay in my tent and took no chances. From Herschel Island to Rampart, my actual traveling time was nine days, Rampart to Fort Yukon, took seven days. Fort Yukon to Dawson, eight days; for a total of 24 days. I spent four or five days lying idle at Rampart and Fort Yukon. Sergeant Fitzgerald of the police secured me some whale blubber for dog feed on the way back. There was not enough, but anything feels good in a dog’s stomach when he is hungry so the socks and the old trousers made great feed. Those dogs would eat iron if covered with whale oil.”

Note: Jijuro Wada was the cook on the LaValle Young when E. T. Barnette was set ashore on the banks of the Chena River, making Wada one of the discoverers of Fairbanks. He went on to spread news of the Fairbanks gold discovery to Dawson City, acting as an agent for E. T. Barnette. Jijuro travelled all over Alaska and the Yukon and was very well known for his fortitude in adverse conditions. He was a favorite entrant in several marathon races both in Fairbanks and Nome.

The Fairbanks Pioneers of Alaska hope that all the entrants in this year’s Iditarod will all arrive safely into Nome with strong teams and fully clothed! This history nugget has been proudly brought to you by Fairbanks Men’s Igloo No. 4 and Women’s Igloo No. 8.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.