Alaska Dog Team at Mount Rainier Park

Alaskan dogs became famous in Mount Rainier National Park in the early 1900s, attracting visitors and helping to keep telephone lines working.

Alaska dog team in front of Paradise Inn

In 1899 Mount Rainier in Washington state became the fifth national park in the US. The wildlife and spectacular views of wildflowers, waterfalls and glaciers the mountain offered attracted visitors from all around, and by 1917 the Paradise Inn (which still stands today) was built to provide comfortable accommodations to the tourists.

Despite the harsh winters, where snow amounts could easily total 20-30 feet, people continued to visit on skis and snowshoes. In the early 1920s, the Rainier National Park Company (RNPC) decided to keep the national park open during the winter season. To attract more visitors, the RNPC brought in a team of Alaskan sled dogs. The dogs would pull a sleigh carrying tourists through the Douglas fir and hemlock forest - an adventurous and beautiful ride to never be forgotten. This was continued for several years.

The original team was brought from Nome, Alaska by an Eskimo musher named Kakisenoruk. The team consisted of 13 dogs, a mix of malamutes and huskies: Jerry (the lead dog), Speedy, Sport, Mutt, Jimmie, Jack, Tommy, Thor, Tip, Smoky, Happy, Blanco and Dick. Not only were the dogs an attraction, they were beneficial in keeping the telephone lines working during the winter seasons.

"Soon all that will connect Paradise with the rest of the world will be the thin threads of the government telephone line. But when the lashing winds come roaring down from off the jagged ridges of the Tatoosh Mountains, the telephone wires will snap, and poles will be broken in two, like matches," wrote Edward J Crosby in an article "Whose Snows Halt All But Dogs" in the American Kennel Club Gazette (November 27, 1927).

Instead of waiting for the spring thaw to fix broken lines, Kakisenoruk and his team of dogs would get a government lineman to the site to make the repairs. The trips could sometimes take days and the loads were often heavy with provisions but the dogs were able to get the men there and back safely despite the fierce weather. According to Crosby, "Jerry is the leader and sets the pace and keeps his team mates in line - if a dog gets fractious he will double back and show him his place in furious fashion."

Other dogs were bred and trained to pull a sleigh of passengers along the forest trails, and the rides continued into the summer months. "Although summer suns become quite warm, there is snow a plenty for the wonderful sport... It has long been the opinion that an Alaska dog team could not be maintained and operated in lands south of the Arctic Circle during summer, but with patient training and arduous labor one of the finest teams in the country has been raised in Rainier National Park." - Milwaukee Road Magazine, January 1929