Athabascan Musher Hailed by Haskell

Nov 15th, 2006 | By | Category: 18-2: Traditional Wisdom Our Strength, Tribal College News

Thirty years ago, a brash Athabascan villager came out of nowhere to win the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. That man was Emmitt Peters, Sr., who was honored last April as the first dog driver to be inducted into the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame at Haskell Indian Nations University (Lawrence, KS).

In 1975, Peters’ first place Iditarod finish set a speed record and helped change the face of the race for all time. Peters took 14 1/2 days to win the Iditarod then.

That doesn’t seem like a record now, but in 1975, the time shaved almost a week off the race. Peters, now 65 years old, was raised around sled dogs. At their home in Ruby, AK, his dad kept a dog team and dogs in the yard.

The first Iditarod races were not the speed events they are now. In the early days of the race, the mushers were just trying to cover the 1000 miles between Anchorage and Nome any way they could. Peters learned “run-rest” strategy by watching the mushers as they ran along the Yukon River.

In 1974, another Alaska Native musher, Carl Huntington, borrowed Nugget, one of Peters’ dogs, and won the second Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. After that, Peters took Nugget back and headed for Nome himself. He put her trail savvy in front of a young dog team.

The move paid off. Peters’ team was so fast that it pulled him into Iditarod legend. “Nugget used to run for Carl Huntington, so I trusted her. She was the grandmother to all these pups I used on that team.”

Now the team has pulled him into the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame. Peters says he was surprised when he was contacted by the Hall of Fame board.

“That really made my day because all my life I read about Jim Thorpe… he was the all-around athlete for football, baseball, track.”

Peters is already enshrined in the Iditarod Hall of Fame. He got his moniker, “The Yukon River Fox,” by outwitting and outrunning far better-equipped dog drivers. Peters finished in the top 10 seven times in 14 Iditarods.

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