Scotty Allan King of the Dog-Team Drivers
Shannon Garst 229 pages 1946
I’ve never read a book like this. On the one hand it’s good because if you want to read about Scotty Allan (outside of the Heirloom) this will work. Scotty’s autobiography is not available on the internet except at a huge price and it’s only in a few libraries which most people don’t have access to.
On the other hand I’ve never read a book that is a rehash of another book. Reading Scotty Allan King of the Dog-Team Drivers is like reading Men, Gold and Dogs, his autobiography.
The difference is that King of the Dog-Team Drivers is partly fictionalized. The rest is the autobiography rewritten in conversation or third person episodes.
The book starts by setting the stage for the 1909 (not 1908 as the book says) All Alaska Sweepstakes which Scotty won, “Bright colored pennants snapped in the stiff wind; whistles shrilled,; bells clangs parkha-clad people jostled each other in the streets… children scampered about in a delirium of excitement… The men that poured fro the Great Northern Saloon,…. wore a three days’ growth of beard. Their eyes were red and hollow from lack of sleep, for they had kept a three-day -and-night vigil at the bulletin board” [displaying continuing race results from the 410 miles course] …. “It’s Scotty ! Scotty Allan is winner of the All-Alaska Sweepstakes!.... Scotty Allan is King of the Arctic Trail!” He won the silver cup and $10,000.
It’s a good start and starts as a novel might. It’s mostly right. There was celebration among spectators and winners of the bets no doubt. The All Alaska Sweepstakes was a big deal and became world-famous. The year described is 1908 but the description later of the race is of the 1909 race (according to Scotty Allan’s account). From there the book recounts almost everything in the autobiography except that it changes the prose from Allan’s first person anecdotes to what people might have said as each episode is described in the third person. There are some additional facts and stories thrown in that have to do with the Klondike and the Gold Rush and have nothing to do with Scotty Allan, although they do give some perspective and description. Garst leaves out some of the autobiography, in particular the chapters on caring for dogs.
There is some commentary as well: “People always noticed his eyes when they looked at him. They were the color of the deep blue sky when it is at its loveliest. They were kind, good eyes, even when he was a lad with character yet unformed. His hair held the glint of the sun in it…” That’s followed by lessons the author thinks are important which she injected into apparently made-up episodes: hard work pays off, rewards come, be calm and strong, losing one’s temper is bad, and loyalty is repaid.”
The initial stories are questionable whereas all the later ones are in Scotty Allan’s autobiography. I’ve read a lot of newspaper and magazine articles as well as the autobiography. There is no evidence that Scotty was call “Alec” when he was young, nor that he had 9 siblings. There is no evidence that he was a champion boy runner in Scotland or that he got a knife from the Prince of Wales (or even that he knew him). The knife the Prince of Wales supposedly replaced was used to present a lesson, work hard, as was the replacement knife.
Another questionable story is supposed to show “Alec’s” character. He would not bet the knife he won running because the minister had said, “… betting is a scheme of the devil.” Meanwhile everyone later was betting like crazy on the race. Scotty Allan mentioned nothing like that, never coming close to either the minister’s lesson or winning the knife.
To further show “Alec’s” character and love of animals the owner of a two-time sheep trials winner was abusing his dog after it did not do well in third attempt. The story makes no sense describing the abuse, both physical and verbal, the owner heaped on the dog. How did it win two prior years in a row with such an owner? The story allows “Alec” to rush to the rescue and ultimately get the dog which then save “Alec” while he was a sheepherder with recalcitrant sheep. Scotty Allan doesn’t mention having a dog as a child let alone that he rescued a dog. You’d think that would be a pretty big deal given Scotty’s work later.
Of course the dog “Alec” rescued, Dandy, turned out to be the best dog in Scotland. “Alec” turned out to be the best runner. Then he just left the dog behind when he went to America. Garst built up their relationship so much that it’s pretty weird for “Alec” to leave the dog behind while he was taking a horse to South Dakota. Of course the dog would have gotten in the way of the rest of the story.
Then there are stories about Scotty Allan that one would think are just made up since Scotty Allan never mentioned them. Garst has Scotty meeting Jack London who pumped him for information before ejaculating that Scotty was the “Malamute Kid,” one of his characters.
Towards the end there is an editorial about how prescient Scotty Allan was in supporting Billy Mitchel who advocated, prior to WWII, for air force power and the dangers of the Japanese. Given that the book was written in 1946 that’s maybe understandable but out of place.
The only new information not in the autobiography was that Scotty Allan promoted winter sports in the Sierra, “He set out to establish winter sports in the Sierra Nevadas: dog racing, skiing, ski jumping. He threw himself into this project with zest, for this was what he liked. He wanted the city-bound folk of California to know of the delights of winter sports.” This is true but no details are given. This is just appended to the end after Billy Mitchel. Also thrown in at the end was that Scotty Allan was a Treasure Island for the World’s Fair in 1939 promoting winter sports. Again, there is nothing beyond that.
If you want to read about the various episodes of Scotty Allan’s life, don’t have access to the autobiography and want more than the Heirloom provides, then pick up this book in a library or on the internet. Otherwise depend on the Heirloom (February, '18) to give you the details elsewhere.