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VALUABLE ANIMALS OF THE ARCTIC.
The North Pole discovery is bringing a new description of the dog. In an earlier chapter were described some of the queer traits of Eskimo canines — the animals to which, more than to anything else, perhaps, Dr. Cook owes his success. Further details of the habits and uses of these animals may here be given.
The dog has probably reached the highest point in his personal, economical and ethical value to man individually, humanity as a whole and the world's progress by the part he has played in polar expeditions. Whether to the South or the North Pole, no voyage has been planned without counting upon the dog as an important if not vital factor, and no explorer has ever returned from his trip into the regions of eternal ice without paying a tribute to the value and devotion of the dog.
Dr. Fridtjof Nansen is especially enthusiastic in his references to the importance of the dogs in polar expeditions, and in his "Farthest North" is to be found this reference to them, showing not only his appreciation of them as helpers, but his fondness for them as companions:
"I kept an anxious eye upon the dogs, for fear anything should happen to them, and also to see that they continue in good condition, for all my hopes centered in them. ... I wrote in my diary: 'In the afternoon one of the black and white puppies had an attack of madness. . . . This makes the fourth that has had a similar attack.' . . . Later I wrote: 'Another of the puppies died in the forenoon from one of these mysterious attacks, and I cannot conceal from myself that I take it greatly to heart, and feel low spirited about it, I have been so used to these small polar creatures living their sorrowless life on deck, romping and playing around us from morning to evening, and a little of the night as well. I can watch them with pleasure by the hour together, or play with them as with little children, have a game at hide and seek with them around the skylight, the while they are beside themselves with glee.
" 'It is the largest and strongest of the lot that has just died, a handsome dog; I called him "Lova" (Lion). He was such a confiding, gentle animal, and so affectionate. Only yesterday he was jumping and playing about and rubbing himself against me, and to-day he is dead.' "
Captain Otto Sverdrup, Dr. Nansen's companion and a leader of expeditions himself, thus writes of the dog in his "New Land":
"There are two indispensable adjuncts to the carrying out of polar research, and these are 'ski' and dogs. . . . For my own part I am inclined to believe ... the Eskimo dog is an ideal companion on a polar expedition. I have had the opportunity of seeing the action of various breeds of dogs upon the polar ice, but none of them come up to the Eskimo dog. It has the persistence and tenacity of the wild animal, and at the same time the domestic dog's admirable devotion to its master.
"It is, so to speak, the mildest breath of nature and the warmest breath of civilization.
"As a draught animal it surpasses all other breeds. . . . If it may be said that polar research without 'ski' is extremely difficult, it may be safely said that without dogs it is impossible; and, so far, they are right who say that the question of reaching the pole is simply and solely one of dogs."
One of the great advantages of the Eskimo dog on a polar expedition is his ability to eat anything and everything or nothing. Captain Sverdrup writes:
". . . In weather of this kind a ration of one pound is too little for such big and strong animals, and no matter how sustaining the food may be in itself the quantity is insufficient. . . . Gammelgulen had tried to rectify matters by getting his muzzle off and eating it; he had then appropriated those of his companions, first gnawing them off and then consuming them. The traces had gone the same way, including the iron swivels, and only a little was left of the harness."
It is this matter of food that makes the dog the one and only animal the polar explorer is able to use to advantage. Had the horse been possible or the reindeer easily available the necessity of carrying food for them — corn, oats and fodder — would prove an insuperable difficulty, but the dog is carnivorous. He feeds on blubber, walrus skin, fish, bear or musk ox — food that is to be found all along the journey to the pole, or he can feed on the carcass of his fellow.
His tractable character and the combined strength of an obedient pack, together with his auto-solution of the food problem, render him the obvious, simplest and practically only answer to the question of polar transportation.
The Eskimos have used the dogs for transportation since the earliest days. Martin Frobisher reports their use by the Eskimos in the sixteenth century. The Russians made use of the dogs in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in charting the coast of Siberia. Many dogs and few men has always been the policy of Arctic explorers.
Dr. Nansen owed the success of his expedition to his dogs. The hardships of his memorable journey with Johansen would have been insurmountable without his canine companions. The journey was severe upon the dogs, and many of them had to be killed to provide food for their fellows. Dr. Nansen says:
"On Wednesday evening Haren was killed. Poor beast, he was not good for much latterly. But he had been a first rate dog, and it was hard, I fancy, for Johansen to part with him. He looked so sorrowfully at the animal before it went to its happy hunting grounds or wherever it may be where good draught dogs go to, perhaps to places where there are plains of level ice and no ridges or lanes."
Dr. Nansen's dogs were mostly of the white or white and black Samoyede breed. With its pointed muzzle and sharply erect ears, its strong bushy tail and short body, the dog is obviously of the Spitz type, but the wolf nature is always more or less apparent and the white Arctic wolf undoubtedly contributed largely to its origin.
The Eskimo dog is larger and more nearly allied to the wolf. He is sturdy, well boned, has a long, snipy muzzle and erect triangular ears. The eyes are set obliquely like those of a wolf, and the jaw is formidable and full of strong, white, pointed teeth. He has a strong, arched neck, a broad chest and muscular quarters, and is apparently made for work, having an almost tireless endurance. His tail is long and bushy and his coat is dense, hard and deep, especially on the back, where it may be from two to four inches deep, with a woolly undercoat, which resists the penetrating snow and cold. In color it is the same as that of the wolf, black or rusty black, with lighter grayish markings on the chest and tail. Often there is a pure white dog. In all there are the characteristic light spots over the eyes.
The Eskimo dog does not habitually bark, but has a weird, wolfish howl, and is thievish and destructive. He leaves the bones of a fish as clean as if they had been scraped by a surgical instrument. Each team has its king, which is not always the strongest, but usually the most unscrupulous bully and tyrant. They are monogamous in their mating, and interference with their domestic relations on the part of an outside dog results immediately in a fight to the death.
Six Eskimo dogs can pull a load of eight hundred pounds seven miles in an hour. Kane was carried for seven hundred miles at the rate of fifty-seven miles a day. The record speed of dogs pulling a load was attained in the case of the rescue of a sailor in Lieutenant Schwatka's expedition.
"He was seen at a distance of ten miles across an ice covered bay, just at nightfall," relates "The New Book of the Dog." "To leave him there would involve his death from frost bite, and two Eskimo natives, with a double team of forty dogs, were sent to fetch him. The runners were 'iced' and the men armed with knives to cut adrift any dog that might lose his footing, for there was no stopping when once started. They did the ten miles in twenty-two and one-half minutes."
The Eskimo dog is largely used in the Northwest, but a half-breed is considered better. Many are a cross between the Eskimo and the wolf, but the superlative dog for hauling is the offspring of the Eskimo and what is known in Canada as the staghound. For speed, strength and staying power these are second to none. Many breeds, however, are employed, including the pure Newfoundland, which is too heavy and clumsy for winter traveling. The Hare Indian, or McKenzie River dog, was formerly used, and even the greyhound and spaniel.
The "huskies," so frequently referred to in Jack London's "Call of the Wild," are of the Eskimo and wolf cross, and the "geddies" are of like origin, bred specially by the Indians for hauling purposes. These last are willing workers, declares "The New Book of the Dog," but vicious brutes, who fight their way through summers of semi-starvation and winters of ill treatment, hunger and the lash.
In the Hudson Bay territory four huskies are harnessed to the sled in tandem order, the harness consisting of saddles, collars and traces. The leader, or "foregoer," sets the pace, and changes his course at a word from the driver, who, whatever his nationality, speaks to his team in the patois of the North. "Hu!" and "choic!" anglicized to "you!" and "chaw!" are the words necessary to turn the foregoer to the right or left. The team is started by "mush!" a corruption of the French word "marche," meaning "march." The sled or steer dog is the heaviest and strongest of the team, trained to swing the ten foot long sled away from any obstacle.
Some of the Indians and Eskimos have a separate trace for each dog, which enables the team to spread out fanwise when travelling over the ice, but for land journeys the tandem team is considered better alike for speed and safety.
In the Northwest the harness is made of moose skin and is often decorated with ribbons and little bells. The dogs seem to enjoy the tinkling, and if the bells are taken away from them they sulk and do not go half so well. As a protection against frozen snow the feet of the dogs are protected with skin shoes. In summer the dogs are turned loose and go off by themselves in packs, but before the winter comes on they return to their old masters, usually accompanied by puppies.
Next to the dog, probably, the most valuable animal to the Eskimo is the reindeer. In Uncle Sam's territory of Alaska this is recognized to the extent of placing the animals under government supervision. Tens of thousands of them are kept at Wainwright, Alaska,
An encouraging feature of the work there, far from markets and utterly shut out from any considerable contact with white men, is the fact that the native is slowly but certainly coming to recognize the great possibilities of the reindeer industry. While every effort has been made to give as many natives as possible an interest in the herds by direct ownership of some of the deer, the owners of deer are still a very small minority.
So valuable has a Government apprenticeship come to be considered that it has often been the deciding factor in determining the outcome of the dusky love affairs.
"When you get some reindeer I will be your wife," says the Innuit maiden with the tattooed chin. These wise young ladies know that the ownership of deer carries with it as a usual thing three or four years of first class Government rations and piles of cloth and clothing which Uncle Sam throws about in the Arctic with a generous hand. So among the natives there is developing a sort of reindeer aristocracy quite at variance with the old democratic, communistic ideas of the others who hold no property worth while and who have not been favored by the Government.
If the moss is poor the deer may feed for six hours at the end of which time they are driven back to the vicinity of the camp and allowed to remain there until the next feeding time, while the ease loving servants of the Government sleep or whittle fine old ivory into curios to be traded off on the ships for the tobacco which Uncle Sam overlooked in ordering the shiploads of supplies which annually find their way to the reindeer camps of Alaska.
True there is other work to be done. Every spring along comes fawning season and the deer herders have to stand watch day and night by turns. Now and then the long, wild note of the Arctic wolf is heard through the midwinter gloom and a constant watch must be kept by well armed men. The repeating rifle made wolves so scarce, however, that dogs are by far the greatest source of danger.
It seems utterly impossible to train the malamoot dog to herd deer. At sight of a deer the tamest malamoot becomes as uncontrollable as though he had never known human restraint and were once more a plain wolf.
Besides guarding the herd occasionally from these dangers there are sled deer to be trained, and every June there is a kind of roundup, when the young fawns are marked, along with all deer that have changed owners during the year. In the ear of each Government deer a little aluminum button is riveted securely, but all private owners and herders have a mark which must be registered with the local superintendent and also at Washington. This mark is made by cutting the ear.
So far the native in the Far North has made almost no use of the wonderfully rich milk of the reindeer. This milk, which is as white as the Arctic snows, is at least 90 per cent cream. In fact it is practically all a rich, snow white, sugary cream. It is the most nourishing milk in the world, but the Government has so far supplied the camps with condensed milk, and the herders have preferred opening cans to milking deer.
Unlike the Laplander, the Eskimo does not make a pet of his favorite deer. When he wants to milk her she is lassoed and thrown down. When her legs are carefully tied with walrus skin strings and her horns are safely held by some stout friend the process of milking begins. When the last drop is extracted the highly indignant animal is unlashed and allowed to get up and go about her business.
Sometimes a horn is knocked off or a leg broken before the struggling reindeer understands that she is to be milked and not branded or butchered. Under the circumstances the dairying feature of Arctic life is not very prominent and the milkmaid's song is not welcomed by the wise little animals that have undergone the torture of one milking.
As only a limited number can be appointed apprentices every year and thus draw Government rations, many are now trying to get deer from other natives without waiting for Government favors. In this few have succeeded, for the owners, recognizing their great value, are running the price of female reindeer skyward. With the destruction of the country's game and the rising standard of life among the natives the population will come more and more to depend upon the reindeer industry, which will doubtless develop rapidly.
Living in a savage state of society with no other domestic animal than the half tamed malamoot dog, the process of teaching the Eskimo here how to take care of deer has been slow. Severe measures have had to be resorted to in many cases to compel the natives to keep their dogs from the deer camp.
Also it has been found difficult to prevent those who have no deer from shooting the unfortunate animals that stray away from the herd. These are considered legitimate prey and until recently were hunted the same as caribou. This year, however, a great many of these stray deer have been picked up and put back into the herds which they had deserted.
It has thus been found necessary to put the native herder through a course of training. Those who get their deer directly from the Government serve an apprenticeship of four years. They are bound by a written contract the strict terms of which they cannot violate without peril of losing their annual allotment of reindeer and suffering discharge from the service.
During the first three years of their apprenticeship they receive in addition to the reindeer a generous supply of food free of charge. Cloth, clothing, traps, guns and ammunition are also given to the fortunate apprentice, who soon becomes a person of consequence in the community. For these Governmental favors the apprentice is supposed to take care of his own deer and to assist in caring for the Government deer.
The work of the herder in a reindeer camp is not arduous and seems to be especially attractive to the carefree native. Ordinarily the deer have a way of taking care of themselves that suits the native. Every day an apprentice drives the herd to some feeding ground where they feed while the herder saunters about or hunts ptarmigan or other game near at hand.