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Trail History


Portraits of the Past

Jujiro Wada

Admired for his daring and indomitable spirit  throughout Alaska and the Yukon Territory, Jujiro Wada lived the life of a legend.

Jujiro Wada ca. 1908
A photo of Wada from the July 5, 1908 issue of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Wada was born in Japan in the 1870s. Hearing intriguing stories of America as a boy, he went to San Francisco in 1890. For two years he was a cabin boy for the Pacific Steam Whaling Company. Then he worked in Barrow for Charles Brower and the Cape Smythe Whaling and Trading Company as a shore whaler. This is probably where he learned to handle sled dogs and began learning Alaska Native languages. His travels took him many places. He was with E. T. Barnette when the trading post that was to become Fairbanks was established and later drove one of Barnette’s dog sleds to Dawson City to spread word about a gold strike on the Tanana.

In 1902 Wada left Fairbanks to trap and hunt seals in Nome. While in Nome he began a successful indoor Marathon running career. He took his race winnings to Vancouver, British Columbia, and then to Dawson City, entertaining people with stories of the north. From Dawson City he traveled throughout Alaska and the Yukon Territory by dog team, hunting, trapping, prospecting, running marathons, and telling stories. One of his epic dog mushing trips took him from the headwaters of the Chandalar River to the Arctic Ocean, along the ocean’s shore to the Mackenzie River, and up that river and across the divide to the Porcupine River. It took more than a year and he and his dogs lived on game hunted along the way.

Japanese musher Jujiro Wada, dog, and unidentified man at Dawson City, February 1903.

Japanese musher Jujiro Wada, dog, and unidentified man at Dawson City, February 1903. Wada had just mushed 400 miles from Fairbanks to Dawson City to bring news of a gold strike on the Tanana. (Photo courtesy of Phillip Vogler)

In the winter of 1909-1910 Wada was in Seward. There had been several gold strikes in Iditarod country and both Seward and Valdez were actively touting trails to this area from their respective towns. Wada made a proposition to the Seward Commercial Club. He would mush to the Iditarod District and back in fifty days if the club would pay his expenses and a $500 bonus if 1,000 people would travel the same route either way before the next April 1st. Wada and his partner Alfred Lowell carefully blazed and flagged their route over the Iditarod Trail, then returned to Seward. This trip was widely covered in the media and helped the popularity of the Iditarod trail.

After looking for gold in the Aniak area, Wada traveled to the Canadian Northwest Territory to trade on the upper Liard River. After that he looked for oil near Fort Norman, traveled back to Japan, then went back to California. Like many pioneer Alaskans, Jujiro Wada spent his life doing many types of jobs and traveling. He ended his days in San Diego, California, at age 65.

External link: Jujiro Wada - Wikipedia