Who was Togo? Togo was the lead sled dog of Leonhard Seppala, a Norwegian breeder and racer of Siberian Huskies. Togo was dark brown with cream, black, and grey markings and come from the Chukchi Inuit stock of Siberia. He had ice blue eyes and weighed about 48 pounds when fully grown. Seppala didn’t intend to keep Togo, but Togo refused to be parted from Seppala and his teams of dogs and escaped his adoptee’s home by jumping through a window and returning to Seppala. A troublesome and mischievous puppy, Togo harassed Seppala’s teams whenever Seppala was harnessing up a team to a sled. To keep him calm, Seppala harnessed Togo in one of the wheel positions, directly in front of the sled. Throughout his journey to take a miner to Dime Creek, Alaska, Seppala continued to move Togo up in the line until Togo was sharing the lead position with the lead dog, named Russky. During his first day in the harness, Togo ran over 75 miles, a distance unheard of for an inexperienced young sled dog.
By the time Togo led his team during the Great Race of Mercy”, to deliver 300240 units of diphtheria anti-toxin to Nome, Alaska, he was 12 years old. Although a dog named Balto was the lead dog on the final leg of the journey and received the credit for saving the town, to those who know the real story realize that Balto was simply a back-up for Togo; Balto ran 55 miles while Togo’s leg of the journey was 261 miles: the longest and most dangerous part of the journey.
So what makes Togo an American hero? Despite rough and humble beginnings, Togo save the lives of countless thousands of people. Seppala later said “I never had a better dog than Togo. His stamina, loyalty, and intelligence could not be improved upon. Togo was the best dog that ever traveled the Alaska trail”.
Togo retired in Poland Spring, Maine. The Seppala Kennels partnership of Leonhard Seppala and Elizabeth Ricker began shortly after the Poland Spring dog sled race of 1927 and lasted until Ricker married Kaare Nansen in 1931 and left for Norway. This partnership, although short-lived, is crucial to the history of the Seppala lineage and the Seppala Siberian Sled dog. Although the kennel population at Poland Spring was sometimes as high as 160 dogs, only eight were ever A.K.C. Registered.
Togo passed on December 5, 1929 at 16 years of age. The headline in the New York Sun Times the next day read “Dog Hero Rides to His Death” and he was also eulogized in many other papers. After his death, Seppala had him custom mounted. Togo was on display at the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, Vermont, for a time. Later, Alaskan students began a letter writing campaign to have Togo returned to Alaska. Today, Togo is on display at the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Headquarters Museum in Wasilla, Alaska.
As Togo spent his retirement at Poland Spring, it is only right to honor him and his spirit here. We are currently raising funds to erect a statue of Togo in his memory. We are contacting sculptors around Maine to submit their design for a Togo Monument.
If you don’t know the story of Togo, you might want to watch the new Disney movie about Togo or visit our museum at the Maine State Building on the grounds of Poland Spring Resort, in Poland Spring, Maine. We’d be glad to tell you all about him!