Gold, Men, and Dogs
Autobiography of Scotty Allan, King of the Dog Team Mushers
Discovering that Scotty Allan had written an autobiography sent the DSHS Historical Research Team (HRT) into paroxysms (a word we’ve always wanted to use) of excitement. This would be the definitive story. The book is only in a few libraries and the only copy for sale was $395. A trip to U.C. Berkeley for the book was in order.
Paging through it we realized that the book, which we’d known was written in 1931, was not a complete autobiography. It left out the last ten years of Scotty’s life and it left off sometime in the 1920’s. It’s also not really an autobiography. It’s more like the reminiscences of Scotty Allan.
The title comes from what influenced him in life most: gold “the way it affects more men as they hunt it, fear it, lust for it, yearn for it, suffer for its lack”), men (who taught him a lot), and dogs (that were his life after he got to Alaska dogs “have given me great happiness… it is through dogs that I have found the contentment we all dream of and so rarely achieve.”)
The “autobiography” is full of stories of life in the north: the guy who bought is wife – the cost being her weight in gold dust; meeting John L. Sullivan in New York, getting accidentally knocked out by him, and then coming to being hugged and cried over by the boxing champion; bunko artists; a hobo and a shell game; the single horse that ruined a town; recovering lost RCMP liquor hidden in a nail cask; scammers; tricksters; the fellow who could start snoring before he started to sleep and while standing up; rumors of whale milk; and characters such as Porky the swamper who retired on his gold dust sweepings and Soapy Smith, the con artist
There are little asides such as about life in the Klondike. “Conditions on the Skagway Trail were so terrible that horses were said to have committed suicide by throwing themselves in the mudholes.” Men slept in shifts, at least three to a bed each shift being eight hours. There was the fellow who hadn’t bathed in so long that when he went to sleep on a shelf by the stove the heat began melting the grease and oil on him, “oozing like an oily chunk of walrus blubber! Probably he hadn’t had a bath for three months and was soaked with bacon grease.”
The book is eminently and easily readable. It’s also fun. As an autobiography it’s short on substance about his life. Never does author Scotty Allan explain what began his passion for dogs nor how he developed his skills. He just shows up in Nome with three dogs, a sled full of firewood, and $18 in 1900 after losing his $72,000 investment in a steamboat that sank. Since dogs were his life, that’s an important omission. He never mentioned his family except in passing and does not cover his move from Alaska to California. Apparently he traveled often back to Alaska but given his life there and his love of the outdoors there, that’s an important change in his life. It may be why he came to Donner Summit and Soda Springs but we don’t know.
Close to the end of the book there are two chapters about dogs, their care and feeding and how to teach dogs. Given his love of dogs and life with dogs, these chapters are not out of place in his “autobiography.”
For more about Scotty Allan see the Heirloom for February, 2018 and Scotty Allan, King of the Dog Team Drivers book review.