A newly-issued, twenty-nugget postage stamp from mythical independent Alaska commemorating the renewal of the service. This is the highest-denominated Alaska issue that I have seen thus far – delivering mail via dog sled to bush communities during the winter can be extremely grueling, even dangerous.  Though a modern, lightweight racing sled is depicted on the stamp, mail would have been carried by larger, more robust, freight sleds.

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I have wanted to portray a sled and dog team for some time. I am still letting my ideas percolate and may end up depicting a less-polished looking, native-built sled.

It is believed that the use of dog sleds dates back as far as 3,000 years ago, when some populations migrated northward due to pressure from communities were forced north to Siberia by nomadic herding peoples. Sled dogs have been used in Canada, Samiland (Lapland), Greenland, Siberia/Russian Far East, Norway, Finland and Alaska.

Historical references of the use of dogs sleds in North America predate European contact. The use of dogs for transportation was widespread, both among the Inuit and other peoples farther to the South. The Alaska Gold Rush saw an increase in the use of sled dogs as transportation and for freighting supplies. This, along with the use of dogsleds in polar exploration, led to the late 1800s and early 1900s being called the “Era of the Sled Dog”.  Dog sleds were important for transportation in arctic areas, hauling supplies in areas that were inaccessible by other methods.

Dog teams delivered mail . In Alaska dog sled mail delivery  Dogs were   hauled 500-700 lb loads. By 1901, dog trails had been established along the entirety of the Yukon River.

Regular dog sled mail deliveries to interior communities in both Alaska and northern Canada, which would otherwise have no mail service during the winter season (October to may) was common during the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Dogs were superior to other forms of transport during the winter months. Capable of delivering mail in conditions that would stop boats, trains, and horses, they could cover long distances, work day or night, and traverse both frozen lakes and rivers and pass through trackless forests. The historic 2,300-mile Iditarod Trail was the main dog trail that carried mail from Seward to Nome. In recent years, competitive dogsled races have carried some commemorative mail.

Teams of 6-8 dogs pulled loads of between 500 – 700 pounds of mail. The dogs wore moosehide booties to protect their paws from the ice. Mail delivery by dog sled ended in 1963.

Dog sleds were used to patrol western Alaska during World War II. Sled dogs today are still used by some rural communities, especially in areas of Alaska and Canada and throughout Greenland.

The Danish military  continues to conduct long-range reconnaissance patrols in the wilderness of northern and eastern Greenland. Known as the Sirius Dog Sled Patrol (Danish: Slædepatruljen Sirius), the patrols are usually conducted by two sleds, and may last as long as four months; often without additional human contact.

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