Togo Siberian Husky

Togo, the Unsung Hero

     In 1925, an epidemic of diphtheria clenched Nome, Alaska. Antitoxin was in dire need to save the lives of those who contracted the deadly disease, but there was none to be found. In a great race against time, 20 mushers and 150 sled dogs heroically transported the medicine needed to save the town in five and a half days, over 674 miles of Alaskan wilderness, from Anchorage to Nome.

     As many people know, there was a movie released in December of 1995 entitled “Balto, the true story of an American Hero”. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

     Leonhard Seppala was one of the 20 mushers called upon to complete the relay. Out of the 674 miles run by the dogs, Seppala and his team, with lead dog Togo, ran a total of 261 miles. That’s over 1/3 of the race! The parts of the relay that Seppala and Togo covered were some of the most dangerous in the relay.

     Leonhard and his team ran from Anchorage to Nenana solo before handing the serum off to “Wild” Bill Shannon. Below is a record that was kept of all the mushers and their distances.

January 27

"Wild" Bill Shannon

Nenana to Tolovana

52 mi (84 km)

January 28

Edgar Kallands

Tolovana to Manley Hot Springs

31 mi (50 km)

Dan Green

Manley Hot Springs to Fish Lake

28 mi (45 km)

Johnny Folger

FishLake to Tanana

26 mi (42 km)

January 29

Sam Joseph

Tanana to Kallands

34 mi (55 km)

Titus Nikolai

Kallands to Nine Mile Cabin

24 mi (39 km)

Dan Corning

Nine Mile Cabin to Kokrines

30 mi (48 km)

Harry Pitka

Kokrines to Ruby

30 mi (48 km)

Bill McCarty

Ruby to Whiskey Creek

28 mi (45 km)

Edgar Nollner

Whiskey Creek to Galena

24 mi (39 km)

January 30

George Nollner

Galena to Bishop Mountain

18 mi (29 km)

Charlie Evans

BishopMountain to Nulato

30 mi (48 km)

Tommy Patsy

Nulato to Kaltag

36 mi (58 km)

Jackscrew

Kaltag to Old Woman Shelter

40 mi (64 km)

Victor Anagick

Old Woman Shelter to Unalakleet

34 mi (55 km)

January 31

Myles Gonangnan

Unalakleet to Shaktoolik

40 mi (64 km)

Henry Ivanoff

Shaktoolik to just outside Shaktoolik

0 mi (0 km)

Leonhard Seppala

Just outside Shaktoolik to Golovin

91 mi (146 km)

February 1

Charlie Olson

Golovin to Bluff

25 mi (40 km)

Gunnar Kaasen

Bluff to Nome

53 mi (85 km)

     Even though Togo ran by far the most number of miles, credit was given to Balto for saving the town of Nome. Why is this?

     On January 31st, Seppala handed the serum off to Charlie Olson after completeing a 91 mile leg of the journey. 25 miles later, Olson gave the serum to Gunnar Kaasen and his team at Bluff to run to Port Safety. A final sled team, run by Rohn, was supposed to meet Kaasen there and take the serum to Nome, the last leg of the race. However, when Kaasen got to Port Safety, he didn’t alert Rohn, and continued on. Kaasen and Balto were given all the credit, because they were the team that pulled into Nome carrying the serum. It has been said that the only reason Kaasan did not alert Rohn was because he wanted all the glory for himself.

     Not only was Balto given all the credit for saving the town, but a statue stands in Central Park created in his likeness. He is wearing Togo’s colors (awards), but none the less in inscribed with “Balto” below the statue’s front paws. It is dedicated to all the dogs who ran the life and death race to save the town of Nome, Alaska. The inscription below reads:

“Dedicated to the indomitable spirit of the sled dogs

that relayed antitoxin six hundred miles over rough

ice across treacherous waters through arctic

blizzards from Nenana to the relief of sticken Nome

in the Winter of 1925.

Endurance

                           Fidelity

                                              Intelligence”

     Leonhard Seppala was heartbroken by the way all the credit had gone to Balto. In Seppala’s mind, Togo was, and always will be, the true hero. At the time of the Serum Run, Togo was 12 years old.

     The Serum Run is commemorated each year by the Iditarod Race.

Movie poster for "Balto"
Movie poster for "Balto"
Balto's statue in Central Park, New York City.
Balto's statue in Central Park, New York City.
Togo
Togo
Togo
Togo
Seppala saying goodbye to Togo. The "Farewell" photo.
Seppala saying goodbye to Togo. The "Farewell" photo.

More About Togo's Life

     Togo was born in October, 1913. He died December 5th, 1929 at the age of 16. (Exactly 80 years ago from the day I am writing this.) Togo’s coat was a mixture of black, brown, and grey. He weighed 48 lbs. Togo was the son of Suggen, who was Seppala’s lead dog for the 1914 All-Alaska Sweepstakes.

     Originally, Togo was viewed as an unpromising pup, with little potential. However, as time went on he became Leonhard Seppala’s favorite lead dog. Leonhard has said that Togo was "the best dog that ever traveled the Alaskan trail" and "I never had a better dog than Togo".

     After Togo’s death, he was “stuffed” or “mounted” and sent to a museum. He is displayed currently at the “Iditarod Trail Headquarters” in Wasilla, Alaska. Leonhard Seppala died in 1967, and has his ashes spread on the Iditarod Trail by Knik, Alaska.

     Arrangements had been made to donate Togo to the Peabody Museum of Natural History at YaleUniversity upon his death. In 1929, Togo developed severe neuritis as well as skin ailments. The dog who once ran thousands of miles could now barely take a step. Leonhard arranged to say farewell to Togo, and on December 5th, 1929 he was put out of his misery. Ralph Morrill, the Chief Proprietor in Zoology for the Peabody Museum, was able to capture a final “farewell” photo of Seppala and Togo.

     Thirty years after Togo’s death, Leonhard Seppala went to visit Togo at the museum. A few years later, the decision was made to close the dog collection at PeabodyMuseum. Togo was moved to the ShelburneMuseum in May of 1964.

     In 1979, the new Director of Shelburne Museum was Ben Mason. One of the staff at the museum asked him to take the “ragged looking dog” (Togo), off display and Mason agreed. Togo was put in storage. It was Ed Blechner who discovered that Togo while working as a carpenter. At first, he did not know who he was, but started researching and investigating the matter. Blechner had a background in sled dogs. When he found the identity of the poor stuffed dog tossed into storage, he informed Mason, who claimed to be unaware of Togo’s history. It was agreed that he would need to be displayed somewhere, and they set out to find a final resting place for Togo.

     February 18, 1983, it was decided by Mason that Togo would go to the Iditarod Trail Committee, where he would be displayed. Togo was finally on his way home, to Alaska!

     Today, Togo is on display for the world to see at the Iditarod Trail Committee, and though this, his legacy lives on.

Seppala with Fritz (left) and Togo (right).
Seppala with Fritz (left) and Togo (right).
Leonhard Seppala visiting Togo at the Peabody Museum 31 years after his death. Morrill is also photographed.
Leonhard Seppala visiting Togo at the Peabody Museum 31 years after his death. Morrill is also photographed.

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Comments 4 comments

Ellen Lawson 6 years ago

Thank you for taking the time to write about Togo and Leonhard. It is important that people are reminded of the extraordinary dogs and people that contribute to the best part of humanity and the beings that make us better by their trust and friendship. A great heart is a treasure for the world.


Gary Mikolovich 6 years ago

This is a great story, and also the pictures speak volumes about the mans love for Togo. It must have been hard to see such a friend be put to sleep.

Either way Togo had an amazing life, and to this day his legacy lives on. Just an amazing feat for this great dog to have accomplished...simply amazing. There should be a place in Togo's honor where retired sled dogs can live the rest of their lives in comfort.

Not enough can be said about this honorable animal.


Andy Te Slaa 5 years ago

It truly is about time that Togo got credit for the trials. Any dog could finish a race. But it took heart to do what Togo did. Vern halter should skip the Disney names and use the names of hero!


Martin Lipman 4 years ago

A small statue of Togo is in an obscure part of Seward Park in Manhattan. The Statue has no pedestal and no identification. The connection to the park would be that Seward bought Alaska, (Seward's Folly) for the United States.

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