Joe Redington, Senior
(February 1, 1917 –
June 12, 1999) was an
America dog musher and kennel owner,
who is best known as the "Father of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog
Race", which runs 1,049 miles¹ across
the U.S. state of Alaska.
was born in Kingfisher,
Oklahoma on February 1, 1917 and lived there until he was six years old.
His mother left him shortly after his birth, and he grew up with
his father and his brothers James and Ray. Joe Redington's father
was a laborer who worked was a rancher, on the
oil fields, and even traveled with
Irish Gypsies for two
Because of this, Joe went to school in many different
attended school in Spearman, Texas, Fairberry,
Nebraska, Aurora, South Dakota, and Geary, Oklahoma. After living in Jersey City, New
Jersey for one year, they settled on a farm in Kintnersville, Pennsylvania in
In 1940, Redington enlisted in the United States Army
, and joined the
at Fort Hoyle,
. He was later transferred to Fort Sill,
Oklahoma, where he became part of the infantry, and was trained in the Field Artillery
He was assigned to the Pacific Theatre
World War II
, and was part of the
Special Assault Troops. He was discharged from Fort Dix, New
Jersey after the war and returned to
Redington moved to Knik River, Alaska, where he filed a Homestead Act claim along the Iditarod Trail in Knik, and started the Knik Kennels.
The trail was
overgrown, and he learned of Alaska's history of dog mushing from
His military experience helped him get a contract with the United States Air Force
's 5039th Maintenance
and Supply Group, or "Rescue and Reclaimation". From 1949 to 1957
with teams of large huskies
, he helped recover
and personnel from crash
sites, until they
were replaced by helicopters
On February 18
he married Violet Redington, and they moved to a new homestead on
Flat Horn Lake, Alaska
worked from 1954 to 1958 as hunting
along the Iditarod trail. He and his wife also helped clear the
overgrown trail, and lobbied to make it a National Historic Trail
Redington met Dorothy Page
, the future
"Mother of the Iditarod", at the Willow Winter Carnival in 1966.
to sponsor a dog sled race to commemorate the 100th anniversary of
the purchase of Alaska from
Russia, but had been unable to get the support of an
Redington in revitalizing dog sledding,
which was on the verge of vanishing. In his own words,
"When I visited Interior villages in the fifties, every
household had five or six dogs.
They were the only
transportation. But by the late 1960s, village dogs were almost
Redington agreed to help if a purse of USD
$25,000 would be split among the
winners. According to Redington, "I wanted the biggest dog race in
Alaska... and the best way to do that was to offer the biggest
The Redingtons returned to Knik in, and the money was raised. In
February 1967, 58 dog mushers competed in two heats along a 25-mile
(40 km) stretch of the old Iditarod Trail between Wasilla and
race was modeled after the 1908 to 1918 All-Alaska Sweepstakes (AAS) of
Nome, and was
named the Iditarod Trail Seppala Memorial Race, after the
three-time champion Leonhard
The 1968 race was canceled due to lack of snow,
and with a purse of just $1,000, only 12 mushers participated in
the second event in 1969.
While initially a success, enthusiasm had waned. Redington wanted to
expand the race, from Knik to the historic gold rush town of Iditarod, but changed it to the more-recognizable Nome, more
than 1,000 miles (1,600 km) away.
In 1969 he promised
there would be a purse of $50,000.
Despite widespread skepticism, the trail was cleared and a total of
$51,325 was raised. In 1973, Dick
and his lead sled dog
Devil beat a pack of 34 mushers who competed in the race to Nome.
Negative publicity caused by the death of several dogs during the
race reduced the purse to only $34,000 in 1974, but the event still
attracted a field of 44 mushers. In 1975, the race instituted
stronger dog care requirements, and a corporate sponsor raised the
purse back to $50,000. Despite more negative publicity and funding
problems in 1976, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race has since grown
into the premiere sporting event in the state, and the largest dog
sled race in the world.
This popularity also caused dog mushing to revive in the 1970s as a
recreational sport. Partly due to Redington's efforts, the Iditarod
was designated one of the first four National Historic Trails in
1978, and the first official trail marker was put up outside his
home in 1980.
Redington became known as the "Father of the Iditarod" for his work
promoting the race, and personally competed in seventeen Iditarods
from 1974 to 1997, but never placed higher than fifth. He was the
honorary musher in the 1997 race, as he was 80 years old when he
completed the race.
died in June 24, 1999
from cancer, and was buried in his favorite
dog sled in Wasilla, Alaska.
A memorial with a life-size bronze statue
was unveiled nearby at the Iditarod Trail Committee Headquarters,
on February 1
"1,049" is a symbolic number,
representing Alaska's status as the 49th state. The actual length
varies, but is always over 1,000 miles (1,600 km).
Sherwonit (1991, pages
Sherwonit (1991, page