by Robert Hanaford Smith, Sr.
Weirs Times Contributing Writer
The students of the New Hampton Literary Institution (now New Hampton School ) along with interested townspeople, were outdoors on the campus eagerly waiting for the arrival of some special visitors. It was late in the winter of 1923-24 with snow on the ground and as the students, including my Dad, kept watch towards the south-east, a team of sled dogs came trotting down Shinglecamp Hill around the Mansion corner onto Main Street towards the excited audience. Once on Main Street the dog-sled driver prompted his dogs to sprint at full speed until they arrived at their destination when his shouted orders brought them to a stop in front of Meservey Hall. This was not only a new observance for the gathered crowd, it also brought to the thoughts of the boys reminders of the Alaska gold rush and the poems they had read by Robert Service and the books of Jack London. Moreover, the driver of the team was none other than the colorful Arthur Walden of Wonalancet in Tamworth, New Hampshire and his lead dog was the soon to be famous Chinook.
Walden had driven his dog team from his home at Wonalancet to the New Hampton School in order to give a speech at the school assembly. He was promoting sled dog racing and is credited with bringing the sport to New England. My Dad’s account of that occasion said that every boy and girl who had a Brownie camera had a field day as Walden talked of his Alaskan adventures. The headmaster at the school at that time was identified as Dr. John Shaw French. Walden, after giving his speech, returned to the team of seven huskies that pulled his sled and headed back up Shinglecamp Hill to begin the long trip back to Tamworth .
Arthur Treadwell Walden was not a native of either Alaska or New Hampshire. He was born in Indianapolis, Indiana on May 8, 1871. His father, an Episcopal clergyman, moved the family to Boston in 1890 where he became the minister of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Arthur didn’t like it in Boston, so spent much of his time at their vacation home in Tamworth, New Hampshire and went to Alaska in 1896. That was the year that gold was discovered and the Klondike gold rush began, so Walden became a freight-runner up and down the Klondike River. He was introduced to sled dogs, as they were used as carriers, an event that led to his life-long interest in sled-dog training and racing.Walden returned to New Hampshire, married Katherine Sleeper in Tamworth in 1902. Arthur and Katherine were proprietors of the Wonalancet Farm and Inn where Arthur began the breeding and training of sled dogs for racing purposes. In 1923 he was instrumental in organizing the Eastern International Dog Derby, the first of its kind in New England. He was chosen to join Admiral Byrd’s first Antarctic Expedition as the man charge of the sled dog teams. Training took place at Wonalancet during the winter of 1927-28 before Walden and 13 of his dogs joined the expedition moving supplies from the ship to the base camp, an involvement that resulted in him receiving the Congressional Medal. Mr.Walden was the guest speaker at the first annual banquet of the Laconia Sled Dog Club which was held on March 21, 1934 at the Laconia Tavern. About 50 members of the club listened as Walden told them about his adventures in carrying freight for gold seekers in Alaska .
Chinook is the name of a Native American tribe that lived along the Columbia River in the Northwestern part of the United States, the name of a species of salmon, and the name given to winds that come from the Pacific Ocean coast into the states of Washington and Oregon. It was also the name given to one of three dogs born in Tamworth on January 17, 1917. His parents were a Greenland Husky named Ningo and a large, yellow male farm dog with mastiff-like features named Kim. He was named Rikki at birth, but Walden changed his name to Chinook after an Eskimo dog in the Yukon. As has been noted, Chinook became the lead dog of Walden’s team. He was also the dog from which a new breed was developed which bears Chinook’s name.
So before there was “a rare breed of sled dog” named Chinook, there was a lead sled dog named Chinook. That dog was bred to other types of dogs to develop the breed that has been named after him, but the big, strong, adaptable Chinook from Wonalancet, New Hampshire , who was the lead dog for the lead driver in Byrd’s Antarctic expedition in 1929, carrying supplies from the ship to the base camp, exhibited the main traits that are carried on in today’s Chinook. The American Kennel Club has recognized the Chinook as an official breed. Walden’s lead dog disappeared when he was about 12 years old on that Antarctic expedition, and it is assumed that he wandered off to die. His owner is quoted as saying “I wish I was half as good a man as he was a dog.”
The Chinook population throughout the world is still small today, having at one time come close to extinction, and is apparently not well-known. It is said to be the 182nd most popular dog breed, but a dog that is devoted, patient, and smart. Used not just as a sled dog, but also as a family pet, the Chinook Club of America calls it an “all purpose working dog ” and “the ideal companion.”
After retiring from training dogs Arthur Walden spent the remainder of his life in New Hampshire, having gained fame for his adventures, including having successfully ascending Mount Washington in the 1920’s with his also to become famous Chinook. He was the author of several books. On March 26, 1947 the farmhouse he and his wife were living in at Wonalancet caught on fire, and Walden rescued his wife, Katherine, from the burning building but was overcome by smoke and lost his life in an effort to extinguish the flames; however, the names of Arthur Walden and his canine friend Chinook continue on in history.
The Chinook breed of dog is now the State Dog of New Hampshire.