Tuesday, February 16, 2010

"Race With the Black Death" from Edcon Publishing.

A statue of Balto in Central Park, NYC














Something you will read about: "diphtheria", an acute, contagious disease of the throat, which affects breathing.

Driven by pride and determination, Balto led the team through the blizzard and delivered the lifesaving serum.

Gunner Kasson was a well-known dog-sled racing champion and was among the first dog runners to answer the desperate plea for help sent out by Nome, Alaska in January of 1925. His heroic mission, however, could not be accomplished without the help of Balto, the black Siberian Malemute, who was the lead dog of Kasson's team.

An epidemic of diphtheria had struck and was spreading fast. In one night, five people died, and twenty-three new cases were reported. Neither Eskimo or settlers were immune from the dreaded Black Death.

The small supply of antidote, that the only doctor in the icy territory had to inoculate the sick, was four years old. Their only hope was to get the shipment of lifesaving serum from the railroad at Nenana to Nome, a 655 mile trail of fierce snow and howling winds. The only way the antidote could be shipped was by dog sled. Different dog-sled teams would make the long trip.

Kasson and Balto were stationed at Bluff, scheduled to make the run to Safety, a 43 mile drive. Balto did not understand the meaning of the words, immune ... inoculate ... antidote ... He didn't know the terror of the word, epidemic. He didn't need to. He sensed caution. Kasson's expression told him trouble was at hand, and he could smell a blizzard coming in the heavy, icy wind. Balto was tense and alert, ready for his command.

They were at Bluff for two days with a team of thirteen dogs - waiting for the serum. On the trail, the team was as a single beast in mind and strength, but out of harness, freedom roused their primitive instincts of greed and anger. Age had left its mark on Balto's splendid body, and now he settled these raging battles more by his commanding wit than his strenuous might. He was growing old, and he suffered from the cold.

The second night in Bluff, after a bitter fight among the dogs, Balto dug his nest in the snow, down wind from the roadhouse and tucked his nose under his tail for warmth. The howling storm was picking up. In his sleep, Balto's ears were up and alert. He could hear the faintest sound. Even in the screaming wind, his instinct kept him wide awake. He heard the snap of a whip down the trail. The wind was driving against the sound so hard he could not pick up any scent. But soon his sharp eyes recognized a team driver staggering in, worn and stiff and half frozen. The team fell to a halt in their harness as Charlie Olsen, the driver, snatched a small package from the sled and trudged against the wind to the roadhouse.

Balto sprang to gather the dogs, and was waiting with them when Kasson appeared with their harness in his hands. Kasson was a giant of a man but he had to walk with effort against the heavy wind and falling snow. He hitched the team, lashed the small package to the sled, and cracked his whip. Balto was ready.
"Mush!"

The old dog forgot his tired bones. His muscles became as hard as iron and he ignored all pain. Balto did not know how fast the wind was,but he knew it was faster than he had ever felt it before. They were driving right into it. The snow was coming down harder and it was getting colder. It was strenuous work trying to get through the storm.

As they raced up the hill to Safety, the same fast wind was carrying an urgent warning from Safety down the trail to Bluff by telegraph:

BLIZZARD STRUCK COAST AT NOME
HOLD SERUM AT BLUFF. IMPOSSIBLE FOR DOGS TO GET THROUGH. WIND 80 MILES AN HOUR 380 BELOW ZERO GROUND SWELLS - TRAIL OUT

Kasson had missed the message. He did not know that it was impossible to get to Safety. Balto was determined and he kept the team going. He heard the howling wind, and sometimes he could hear Kasson above it.

After they crossed the Topkot River, Balto felt the ice moving under his legs. He took command instantly and raced the suffering team across a snow drift to dry their freezing paws. He knew Kasson could no longer see the trail. They were lost in the blinding blizzard with the worst part of the journey still ahead.

The roaring wind and snowfall persisted, but Balto continued searching for a familiar scent. As he inhaled deeply, the icy air shot through his lungs, sharply and painfully. He relaxed the team's pace, until he was finally able to locate the trail, then dashed directly across the smooth surface of the ice.

Amid the blizzard and the darkness, Balto missed the little village of Solomon, but remained on the trail, following it to Bonanza, where the drifting snow was heavy. Churning through the deep snow, he felt the sled turn over. Balto halted and fell to his belly to rest the team, wondering if he had lost Kasson. Should he turn back? If he stayed still too long, the sled would freeze in the snow and they would be strapped to a frozen death.

Balto looked back, but the snow was coming down so heavily he could not see his own tail. He decided to make a circle and search for Kasson. Just then, through the howling wind, he heard the crack of the Whip. Kasson was there, the sled was righted and the lead dog plunged on in the dark night.

When Balto got across Bonanza, the trail turned, putting the wind to his back which made his job less strenuous. It wasn't as dark now, and the wind was dying down. Balto's heart pounded with pride, knowing he had taken Kasson through the storm.

They pulled into Safety just after midnight. The whole town was in gloomy darkness, boarded against the storm. There were no dogs at the roadhouse. Out of the wretched wind, Balto heard the whip crack. Kasson shouted, "Mush!" and Balto knew that he must go on. Their destination was Nome. A twenty-one mile trail along the frozen beach of the Bering Sea, still lay ahead.

Kasson had placed rabbitskin covers around two of the other dogs, since they were beginning to stiffen up, and Balto could feel the extra effort as they plowed through the deep snow. His body ached and his paws were cut and bleeding. His strength wavered occasionally, but always returned. His legs became numb, and he lost all sensation of pain. His pride made him determined to go on and his instinct to duty and love of harness lured him mile after treacherous mile. This pride and determination that set Balto aside from ordinary animals, commanded him now and gave him incredible strength.
At five-thirty the next morning they reached Nome and delivered their precious parcel.

Balto let his strength collapse when they reached the roadhouse. He felt the rough, but kindly hands pulling splinters of ice from his torn paws, and heard Kasson say, in a choked voice, "Balto, you are a fine dog," and Balto knew they had won again.

In New York City, a famous explorer, Roald Amundsen, proclaimed Balto as
"the best lead dog in the Northwest."

From the floor, in Washington, D.C., Senator Dill praised the heroic mission, expressing gratitude, "especially to Balto." By public donation, a statue of Balto was erected in New York's Central Park, and stands there today - a fitting tribute to this unusual hero.


1. Balto was a ___________
a. courageous sled dog.
b. trained circus dog.
c. famous explorer.
d. famous race driver.

2. When the team of thirteen dogs were in harness, they ___________
a. fought almost all the time.
b. worked together as one.
c. were not as effective as a single dog.
d. could not keep up a strong pace.

3. If Balto and Kasson had not reached Nome, ___________
a. Balto would not have been famous.
b. the people would have been saved anyway.
c. it really would not have mattered.
d. many more people would have died.

4. A tribute to Balto can be seen ___________
a. in the snow of Alaska.
b. in Central Park in New York.
c. at the North Pole.
d. in the museum at Safety.

5. Balto knew the importance of his mission because ___________
a. Kasson told him about the Black Death.
b. he used his senses and powers of observation.
c. he was the only dog in the world with ESP.
d. it was strictly a matter of self-survival.

6. Balto and Kasson were ___________
a. trying to get back home.
b. searching for a lost child.
c. delivering an antidote.
d. racing to beat another team.

7. First, Balto felt the sled turn over. Then, he dropped to his belly to rest the team. Next, ___________
a. he plunged ahead into the night.
b. he made his way to Solomon at full speed.
c. he decided to circle back to look for Kasson.
d. he broke loose from the team and ran.

8. Balto was able to complete the exhausting trip because ___________
a. of his tremendous loyalty and devotion.
b. Kasson whipped him continuously.
c. he loved the challenge of the deep snow.
d. his mate was traveling alongside him.

9. Another name for this selection could be ___________
a. "Blazing Trails."
b. "Dog of the North."
c. "The Sled Race."
d. "Terrors of the Black Death."

10.This selection is mainly about ___________
a. a bad storm in Alaska.
b. a heroic dog and his master.
c. a famous explorer and his expedition.
d. a disease called the Black Death.


Balto in Wikipedia
Diphtheria in Wikipedia
Listen to The Story of Balto: American Storyteller
Dogs Can Detect Bladder Cancer

Dog Sledding in Vermont, Youtube
Dog Sledding in Siberia, Youtube
Dog Sledding in North Dakota, Youtube


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