Togo, The Sled Dog oft Forgot by History

Delivering Serum from Nenana, Alaska to Nome, Alaska

Sled Dogs(115031)Credit: Rear Admiral Harley D. Nygren, NOAA Corps (ret.)


You may recall the name Balto from a movie produced by Steven Speilburg and Universal Pictures. In the movie he was a wolf-dog hybrid and the hero of the great race of mercy. The sled dog team he led, delivered the much-needed serum to the inhabitants of Nome, Alaska to cure them of the diphtheria epidemic outbreak they'd suffered. This Balto and the plot of the movie itself may be based on a true story, however it is far from being the whole truth, as happens with many an adaptation for film, television and other media outlets. 

     There truly had been an outbreak of diphtheria during the year 1925 in Nome, Alaska. Balto was one of the sled dogs, but there was more than just the one sled dog team. The titular character of the Universal Pictures film was never identified as a wolf-dog and his pelt was different in color than what appears in that particular movie which has become loved and enjoyed by many. A movie which made the name Balto even more famous than previous to the release of the film. 



Is the Movie Balto the True Story?

Balto and Gunnar Kaasen     No, it may be based on a true story, but it is far from the complete truth. Unfortunately the Balto movie leads those whom know it's based on a true story to think it all really went down that way. Minus of course, the talking animals and what they were thinking.

     No one could have possibly understood that, but it might not have done so well had it been more of a documentary type of media. Not that documentaries don't have their place.

But, Balto Did Bring the Serum to Nome, Alaska... Did't He?

     Balto did indeed bring the serum to Nome, Alaska on the last stretch, but there were other sled dog teams during the this relay race of mercy. It was more like a relay race where the serum got handed off from one team member to the next.

     Again there was not just one sled dog team, even though today this is the case in the Iditarod Race where each team is competing against the other, a race which got started as a commemoration to the to this event with its serum run from Nenana, Alaska to Nome, Alaska. One of those sled dog teams should have been given much more coverage as they covered the longest and most dangerous stretch. The lead dog of that oft forgotten team save by those who are already in the know was Togo and older half-brother of Balto.

So Who is the Hero of the Great Race of Mercy? Balto or Togo?

     A large percentage of mushers today consider Togo to have been the true hero of the great race of mercy. This, because Seppala's team  had covered the longest and most hazardous leg and was led by none other than Togo, a twelve-year-old, black, brown and gray Siberian Husky weighing in at forty-eight pounds. 

    Balto the Sled dog of the great race of mercyCredit: wikimedia commons Balto received a statue, but Togo did not despite his large contribution to the great serum race. Leonhard Seppala was bitter and long before the race had ever begun, Seppala had never favored Balto. In fact Seppala had Balto neutered at an early age.[2] He he had however allowed Togo to go on to sire several of today's most sought after lineage of Siberian Husky's.

     A reputable Siberian Husky trainer and breeder will never trick a person into thinking that Balto is an ancestor of their furry friends. They may however show documents which can trace their Siberian Husky's back to Togo.

     Seppala's team covered almost double the mileage of any other of the sled dog teams with Togo as the lead and Togo was already twelve years old when the great race of mercy was to take place. Today, one can find Togo who Seppala had preserved after his death in 1929 on display in a glass case at the Iditraod museum in Wasilla Alaska. 

     Therefore it was the sled dog, Togo whom was the true hero of the great race of mercy, not Balto. 


Why Isn't There a Movie Called Togo?

      Perhaps someday someone with great initiative and the capital backing might create a movie about Togo, other sled dog teams with their mushers and the real history of the Great Race of Mercy. I know I for one would definitely love to watch something like it. People deserve to know the truth even if it gets fictionalized, but instead of an animation a live action televised serial would be all the better.

     There are some whom have stumbled upon the truth and have used it to create lovely books such as Togo the Sled Dog book 7 of GLMTA series by author Joe Wheeler.

    The book is a  lovely collection of stories from the far north, which may not all be about Togo, but its nice to see that he wasn't completely forgotten, but his fame pales in comparison to his well-known half-brother, Balto. They may both be gone, but their spirits live on in the hearts of those who know the tale and whom exist today, because they or their parents and grandparents before them got cured when the serum got delivered to battle the diphtheria epidemic of 1925.

Shouldn't a Hero Be Remembered? Even a Dog?

     Every hero should be remembered for what they did as well as what they didn't do. Balto received far too much of the credit. He may have been the lead dog, but there were other dogs on the sled team. Togo while he never got the acclaim that he should have, he was also not the only dog on Seppala's team.

     While Togo may have run the longest and most treacherous leg of the great race of mercy in 1925 to bring the much-needed anti-toxin to Nome, Alaka he was still not the only dog nor was Seppala's team the only team. Nor was Gannar Kassen's team led by Balto the only team.

     There were a total of at least twenty mushers helping out with the relay of the life-or-death race from Nenana, Alaska to Nome, Alaska. Without them, without Togo or even without Balto while the serum race could have been a failure there were several other sled dogs which might have held their spot in history instead. It is still a matter of chance, but a hero is a hero still, no matter how big and no matter how small. Heroes come in all shapes, sizes, colors, species and more.

      Remeber this, the person or the dog sitting next to you could be the next hero whether its for something small or large. It is important to let credit fall where credit is due, but sometimes that doesn't always happen.

Togo the Sled Dog book 7 of GLMTA series (The Good Lord Made Them All)
Amazon Price: $13.99 $11.96 Buy Now
(price as of Sep 6, 2013)

How Can We Remember that Togo Played an Important Part in the Great Serum Race?

     Satisfaction for many, may come when there is a statue for Togo as well as a movie, or television serial based on his life, particularly during the great serum race which was truly his last great race. I for one would love to watch a movie or television show based around the Serum Run of 1925. For the truer a piece of media is to the original history, the better it is. Of course, sometimes, a good old fashioned documentary works wonders as well, especuially as they are supposed to be factual and not just based on.