Primary Source of the Month: December

December ushers in holiday seasons for people all around the world. And with holiday seasons comes the big rush to the post office to mail holiday cards and packages. Do your students ever wonder how letters and packages were delivered before the creation of airplanes? Well, for many in the northern regions, mail was delivered by dog team. In fact, one of the historic mail routes traveled along the Iditarod Trail. From the very early stages of planning and creating the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, Joe Redington, Sr. wanted to pay homage to that part of the trail’s history, and so the plan to have mushers carry mail down the trail came to be. This primary source lesson will have your students discover that piece of Iditarod history while looking at several artifacts to think like historians and try to figure out the connection between them all!


Using the Source With Students

  • Display the object for your students and have them share what they See, Think, and Wonder about the artifact.
  • If you have more time to spend with this topic, the full lesson plan, which uses artifacts such as a mail sled in the Smithsonian collection, Iditarod race cachets, postage stamps, and primary and secondary source writing, is available HERE. The lesson challenges the students to put the pieces together to figure out how they are all related and to eventually come to the conclusion that the modern mushers carry mail down the trail to commemorate one historic use of the trail.
  • After learning about the history of the Iditarod Trail as a mail trail, students can design their own envelope artwork to commemorate that history. Don’t forget, students in middle and high school are invited to enter our contest to design the 2021 Educational Trail Mail Project!
  • Check page 11 in this newsletter for information on how your class can send a piece of mail down the Iditarod Trail with a musher in the 2021 race!




Associated Resources:

  • Article from the Smithsonian about race cachets: Click Here
  • Sticking with the mail theme, students may enjoy sending letters to mushers: Details Here
  • Good resource on the history of the trail, including mail delivery: Click Here
  • Good guide that features a super map and some historic photos of mail delivery on the trail: Here
  • The John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon Race, an Iditarod qualifier, is run to honor an Anishinabe mail carrier in Minnesota. Learn about him HERE.
  • Alaska mail sled at the Smithsonian Postal Museum: Click Here
  • Additional historic photos: Click Here