Tamworth’s Walden brought ‘Chinook’ racers

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TAMWORTH — While Laconia is home to the annual World Championship Sled Dog derby, Tamworth can lay claim to both bringing the sport to New England and being the cradle for the development of a new breed of dog — the first with a New Hampshire birthright.

Arthur Walden, born in 1871 in Indianapolis, Indiana was a natural adventurer. Introduced to a wealthy newspaper family in Boston in 1890, he was offered a job managing the 1,300-acre Wonalancet Farm and Inn.

At age 24, however, he headed to Alaska shortly before the Gold Rush. While in New England oxen and horses were the preferred beasts of burden, in Alaska sled dogs were the primary mode of travel. He learned the art of mushing and at the turn of the century was busy carrying freight, supplies and mail and while in the Yukon he befriended an Eskimo dog named “Chinook” that made a lasting impression on him.

When he returned to New England he set his sights on developing a new sled dog breed that would combine the best traits of the dogs he had worked during the Klondike Gold Rush. Back at Wonalancet Farm he married Kate Sleeper, the boss’s daughter in 1902. There he began breeding and training sled dogs.

His goal was to produce a friendly, gentle dog that would possess both power and endurance. Mating a large tawny colored male of vaguely mastiff type to a female Greenland husky, a direct descendent of Admiral Richard Peary’s famous lead dog Polaris, resulted in the birth of three pups on Jan. 17, 1917.

Walden’s genetic role of the dice proved especially fortuitous as it produced “Chinook” named in homage to the Eskimo dog that had so impressed him in the Yukon.


Once fully grown, Chinook was a massive 100-pound male in lean condition and proved to be a very capable lead dog. Walden commenced breeding Chinook to various females, Belgian and German Shepherds and perhaps to huskies also.

Walden linked the development of his dogs to many other “enterprises.” As a tireless promoter he unveiled his new line of “husky half-breds”, to the world in 1920 at the Gorham N.H. Winter Carnival. He quickly began touting the talents of his dogs for a variety of purposes including racing, heavy freighting and recreation. He used his team to skid utility poles on his farm for his hydroelectric project. And in the early 1920s he drove a Chinook team to a successful ascent of Mount Washington – at 6,288-feet the highest peak in the Northeast becoming the first dog team to do so.

Early photographs in the collection of the Tamworth Historical Society showcase Walden’s talents for promotion along with the placid nature and keen intelligence of Chinook. In one photo, Walden in his trademark campaign hat is shown holding a lit wooden match as Chinook raises his island-sized front paw to extinguish it.

Other photographs show Walden mushing a team of Chinooks with the breed’s namesake at the lead, pulling a sled packed full of smiling passengers up and over a giant mountain of logs.


This and other stunts won considerable local renown for Walden and Chinook. In 1922 he persuaded a local paper company to sponsor the first Eastern International Dog Derby of 123 miles. As a result he is credited with bringing the sport of dogsled racing to New England. In 1924 he spearheaded the founding of the New England Sled Dog Club, which is still in existence today. As the sport of dogsled racing grew in popularity and competition heightened, Walden began to select Chinook’s mates with an eye to lighter, faster progeny that still would maintain the friendliness and tractability that characterized his offspring. Finally in 1927 at the Poland Spring, Maine, race, Walden met his match. Going up against Leonhard Seppala, hero of the Nome Serum Run touring the U.S., Walden’s and other Chinook teams were beaten, despite Seppala’s difficulties on the trail with loose teams, wildlife and other distractions to his dogs.


Never a man to remain down for long, Walden heard of Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd’s plans for a major Antarctic expedition. At the age of 56 he was well beyond the specified age limit; but he applied to join the expedition. Meeting with Byrd, he emerged with the position of lead trainer and driver of dog teams for the trek.

Late in 1927 dogs, drivers and equipment began to be assembled in Wonalancet at the Walden farm and for a year the training of dogs and men and the evaluation of equipment continued.

In Antarctica, the Chinooks pulled heavy loads over long distances and were highly praised by Byrd who wrote in Little America:

“Had it not been for the dogs, our attempts to conquer the Antarctic by air must have ended in failure. On January 17th, Walden’s single team of thirteen dogs moves 3,500 pounds of supplies from ship to base, a distance of 16 miles each trip, in two journeys. Walden’s team was the backbone of our transport. Seeing him rush his heavy loads along the trail, outstripping the younger men, it was difficult to believe that he was an old man. He was 58 years old, but he had the determination and strength of youth”.


During the expedition, on Chinook’s twelfth birthday, he wandered away and was never found. Some said that, knowing he was no longer in his prime that he visited Walden in his tent that night and said good-bye before going off to die. Others suggest that he may have fallen into a deep crevasse and perished.

“The second incident, perhaps the saddest during our whole stay in the Antarctic, was the loss of Walden’s famous lead dog, Chinook. Chinook was Walden’s pride, and there was no doubting the fact that he was a great dog. He was old when brought to the Antarctic, too old for hard, continuous labor, and Walden used him as a kind of “shock troop”, throwing him into a team when the going turned very hard. Then the gallant heart of the old dog would rise above the years and pull with the glorious strength of a three-year-old. perhaps the saddest [incident] during our whole stay in Antarctica.”

News of Chinook’s death was recounted in newspapers throughout the country. Route 113A from Tamworth to Wonalancet, New Hampshire, still bears the name “The Chinook Trail” in his memory. Townspeople had wanted to name the road in honor of Walden, but he felt it was more fitting to memorialize Chinook. Look for the road sign with the picture of a harnessed and prone “Chinook” along the westbound side of NH Route 113A.


Upon Walden’s return from the Antarctic he found that his wife had taken ill and half of his farm had been sold to Milton & Eva “Short” Seeley. Walden sold his Chinook dogs to Julia Lombard. Lombard and Walden continued to breed them for intelligence and disposition, stressing their ruggedness, stamina and gentle nature.

During Mrs. Lombard’s ownership of the breed, the dogs were sponsored by Mother Hubbard dog food and raced throughout New England under the name “Wonalancet-Hubbard” Kennels. The dogs were also regularly exhibited at sportsman shows around the region. It was at one of these shows, the New England Sportsman’s Show in Boston, MA, where Perry Greene, a famous woodsman, first met the Chinook breed and fell in love. When Lombard decided it was time to sell the breed, Greene was a willing buyer. Greene and his wife, Honey, continued to breed Chinooks, promoting them as model companion dogs. But following Mr. Greenes death in 1963, the population of Chinooks dipped to just a dozen dogs. But in just 23 years a group of dog enthusiasts dedicated to keeping the breed from extinction helped grow the population to 60.

Today there are about 600 purebred Chinooks and the American Rare Breed Association and the United Kennel Club recognizes them.

The Remick County Doctor Museum & Farm at 58 Cleveland Hill Road, in Tamworth Village has a variety of Chinook-related photographs, books and documents now on loan from the Tamworth Historical Society. If you are lucky, you might get to meet Mountain Laurel Tamworth Tugger, a two-year-old Chinook that belongs to Museum Director Bob Cottrell and his wife, Debbie. The Chinook Dog Club of America will be giving sled dog rides – weather permitting – during the Remick Museum’s annual winter carnival and ice harvest to be held on February 9, 2008. Admission to the museum is free. For more information about dog sledding or Chinooks visit the New England Sled Dog Club Web site, www.nesdc.org

Source: The Citizen of Laconia

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