On Time Delivery: The Dog Team Mail Carriers

On Time DeliveryBy William S. Schneider. University of Alaska Press. $24.95.

This forgotten, yet iconic piece of interior Alaskan history from the late 1890s until the 1940s is resurrected to some degree each March with the Iditarod Trail Race from Anchorage to Nome.

No comparisons should be made, however, Schneider emphasizes, between today’s race mushers, whose priorities are speed, minimum of weight and highly trained dog teams. Conversely, the carriers and their dog teams were recognized as “a human link in a chain of communication that moved the mail across the North” via challenging trails, bustling roadhouses and inclement weather.

The author’s work combines the first-hand accounts of several individuals who as kids and young adults traveled with the mail carriers at the end of the dog-team era with information from archives in Fairbanks, Whitehorse and Washington, D.C. Photos, maps and data tables further complement the presentation.

Michael Mason, who traveled in the Upper Yukon in 1922, captures the importance of the mail carrier:

“To those who live their lives along the Yukon, the farthest frontier of civilization, the visits of the mail are the only regular events of importance. The mail joins friends far apart, reminds one of another world beyond the spruce forests and the mountains, and sometimes brings in travelers, who may be strangers or old friends, but always are carriers of news, the most welcome luxury in Alaska.”

A compelling portrait, “On Time Delivery” delivers a big picture of Alaska’s early interior history in a nicely packaged cultural context, accented with earthy narratives and tough realism.