January 14, 1911 | US Marshals in Alaska Territory

 Rearview of the US Marshals living quarters in Nome, Alaska, 1900
 

“I can remember driving ahead like in a nightmare…just sense enough to keep the dogs going…going…driving them like a fiend…It must have been about at the Porcupine River when I passed completely out.”

—Deputy Marshal Bert Hansen describing his journey from the Wind River to Fort Yukon*

Deputy Marshal Bert Hansen knew it was cold, just not how cold. His thermometer only registered down to -65˚Fand it had not budged from that reading for days. Completely alone, except for his trusted sled dogs, Deputy Marshal Hansen had spent three days chipping away at the ice on the headwaters of Alaska’s Wind River searching for the body of a prospector believed to have been murdered.

Hansen had begun his journey two months before, setting off from Fort Yukon with a sled loaded with 600lbs of tallow in 50lb cans. His life depended on his dogs and the beef fat would keep them strong on the tundra. He mushed north from Fort Yukon, eventually crossing the Arctic Ocean to Flaxman Island in search of a guide who could lead him to the prospector’s body. The guide directed him to the Wind River and a stovepipe frozen in the snow led him to the spot where he eventually found his dead prospector—shot through the neck nearly two years earlier.

Hansen nearly died on the return trip, but was somehow able to reach the outskirts of Fort Yukon where he was found lying unconscious on his sled. He remained unconscious for several days, but recovered to tell the tale of his adventures. His nearly fatal trip with a corpse left him with a clear idea of how he wanted to end his own days:

 “I’ve spent too many days of agony, tugging around some cold dead thing…bringing it back from the white, clean place where it had laid itself down for final rest, just so my fellow-men could pat themselves on the back for doing the proper thing and shovel six feet of earth on top of a coffin!

No, when I die, if it’s out on the trail, with the pure white snow drifting over me, I don’t want anyone to try to do the ‘decent thing’ by me. Let me lie right where I passed to the other trail, with the howl of a wolf-dog as a requiem.”
 

*Tundra by the Eddingtons is a dramatic account of Hansen’s years in the Yukon.