CONCORD, N.H. — At 24, Arthur Walden wanted a life of adventure. That led him to Alaska during the gold rush, and although he never found gold, he did learn how to drive dog sleds.
He brought the skill back to Tamworth, N.H., and is credited with introducing dog sledding to the state, as well as a new type of dog that he bred to be friendly family pets and strong pullers. The father of the breed was born in 1917, and almost 100 years later, the Chinook was named New Hampshire’s state dog in 2009.
Historian Bob Cottrell said Walden’s story is a hidden piece of New Hampshire history. “People don’t know about it, and it’s something people in New Hampshire should know about and be proud of,” he said.
Cottrell is leading a series of presentations to spread the story about how dog sledding and the Chinook came to New Hampshire. He gave a talk in Waterville Valley on Wednesday, and he is scheduled to speak at Newmarket Public Library this evening. You can see a full schedule with details here.
Cottrell said Walden bred a Northern Husky that had been on Robert Peary’s North Pole expedition with a mutt, creating the first Chinook. Walden owned the Wonalancet Inn and hoped he could attract visitors by offering dog sled rides, according to Cottrell, but sled dogs weren’t friendly enough around guests, so Walden set out to breed a dog that was both easygoing and strong.
Cottrell described Walden as “a PT Barnum type guy.” After he had a team of 10 or so dogs, he traveled around the winter carnivals in the North Country, showing them off. “He wanted a lot of publicity,” Cottrell said, and he would do crazy things to get it.
“He was the first one to go up to the top of Mount Washington with a dog sled team,” Cottrell said. His next sledding destination offered an even more extreme climate: the South Pole.
Walden and his Chinooks traveled with Admiral Richard Byrd on his Antarctic expedition.
The breed began dwindling in the 1960s, earning it a spot in the 1965 Guinness Book of World Records as “Rarest Dog in the World,” according to the Chinook Owners Association. By 1981 there were only 11 breeding dogs in the world. But the breed made a comeback, and now the owner’s association estimates there are 400 purebred Chinooks registered with the United Kennel Club.
The dogs are a large, strong breed between 50 to 90 pounds with a tawny coat and a gentle, even temperament.
After Cottrell learned about the breed from a neighbor in Tamworth, he became a fan and even owned a Chinook named Tamworth Tugger, who has since passed. “I kind of do this talk in memory of him,” said Cottrell, adding that the breed makes wonderful pets.
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Amanda Gokee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @amanda_gokee.