Primary Source of the Month: April

Something that every Iditarod Rookie looks forward to is “earning his or her buckle.” Each Iditarod finisher is awarded a brass finisher’s belt buckle upon the completion of their first race signaling that they are a rookie no more! In the early days of the race, the Nome Kennel club wanted to do something to honor the achievement of the Iditarod mushers. Richard Burmeister suggested, and consequently designed, the buckle in 1975 and adorned it with an image of his own dog team. Later, finishers from the first two races were also given their buckles. Despite having created the buckle, he couldn’t have one of his own until he too finished the race! Richard went on to run the Iditarod in 1979 and 1982 finishing in 41st place both times.

This year, his son, and second place finisher Aaron, decided to honor his fellow mushers with a special version of the buckle to commemorate the unique challenges of the 2021 Iditarod race.

Special thanks to Ryan and Barbara Redington for sharing this image of Ryan’s buckle.
Ryan finished 7th in this year’s race.

Using the Source With Students:

  1. Display the photo for the students and have them share what they See, Think, and Wonder about the artifact.
  2. Share with them the story behind the buckle.
  3. The buckle symbolizes a major accomplishment for the musher. As we are nearing the end of the school year, have the student design a belt buckle to symbolize all of their accomplishments in school this year!
  4. In addition to the buckle, each musher receives an official patch when they complete their first race. The Iditarod Trail Invitational, a biking, skiing, and foot race along the Iditarod Trail, last year announced a new patching system to recognize various levels of repeated accomplishment within their race. What if the Iditarod were to do something similar? What accomplishments should be recognized? Have the students work in teams to analyze the ITI patches and create a plan for a new patching system for the Iditarod Sled Dog Race inspired the ITI plan.


Associated Resources:

  • Teachers on the Trail Heidi Sloan and Laura Wright collaborated on this art lesson that teaches the students the art of embossing as they learn about the history of buckle. (While a few of the links maybe expired, they don’t take away from the lesson!)
  • Iditarod, The First Ten Years has an article by Richard Burmeister called “The Finishers’ Buckle: The Burmeister Legacy” that would be wonderful to share with students.
  • Zuma’s Zoom Lens Photo of the buckle from a traditional race year.