1917 Red River Dog Derby, Part 1
In January of 1917, plans for the annual Outdoor Sports Carnival in Minnesota were underway. There were many sporting events of interest, including a national ski tournament, world's championship speed-skating races, curling, and fireworks. However, a new event was being organized, one that would make history: one of the longest dog team races ever held in the United States. Dubbed the Red River Derby, the route was set to start in Winnipeg, pass through North Dakota, and finish at Como Park in St. Paul during the carnival. The route was more than 500 miles, adding "a new sporting zest" to the carnival.
On January 24th, eleven teams set off. The weather cooperated at the outset, with newspapers reporting "a snappy atmosphere and a bright sun," making for ideal weather conditions. However, the teams were soon fighting heavy snow and shifting winds that piled drifts along the way. The three teams in the lead – Hyurtur Hanson, Gunnar Tommason, and Mike Kelley – had gotten only as far as Grafton by noon on this date, with the other teams stopping for "rest and refreshments" at St. Thomas. It had been estimated originally that the teams would be in Fargo/Moorhead by that time. After an hour's break, the teams pressed on, with the three leaders hoping to get as far as Grand Forks by evening, but they only reached Ardoch.
The next morning, Tommason woke with a high fever and was ordered to stay in bed by a local doctor. However, a rural mail carrier vacationing from Oslo, Minnesota, volunteered to take Tommason’s place. He ran the dogs for a leg of the journey while Tommason took the train, and after some rest, Tommason rejoined the team at Hillsboro. As a result, he was able to stay at the forefront – for the time being.
It took a few days before the teams began to cross into Minnesota, stiff facing illness and weather conditions. By the end of the race, approximately half of the teams would drop out.
Tune in on January 30 to hear more about the 1917 Red River Dog Derby.
Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker
The Bemidji Daily Pioneer, January 6, 1917, p1
The Bismarck Tribune, January 23, 1917, p1
The Bismarck Tribune, January 26, 1917, p1
The Bismarck Tribune, January 25, 1917, p1
The Bismarck Tribune, January 29, 1917, p1