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The Petersen Dog Races: Realtor’s idea brightens the dog days of winter

by STEPHEN SHEPPERD/Moving History Forward
| May 3, 2024 1:00 AM

Most everyone reading this probably has heard at some point about the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.

That 10-day-long race has been run each March since 1973. The one that follows an arduous 938-mile overland course from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska.

Less well-known to everyone is the short-lived Coeur d’Alene Sled Dog Races, which covered a distance of three city blocks in downtown Coeur d’Alene.

The Coeur d’Alene Sled Dog Race was likely created to lighten everyone’s mood during the dark dreary winter doldrum days of February. It was the brainchild of an Illinois transplant and local real estate salesman, Joe Peterson, who had his headquarters in the 414 Sherman Ave. storefront adjacent to City Hall.

With the support of downtown businessmen, Peterson made all the arrangements and paved the way for the first race by getting the permits necessary for holding his event from Mayor S.H. McEuen, City Clerk O.W. Edmonds, Police Chief George Evans and Street Commissioner John Carr to hold the race on the city’s main thoroughfare.

With the pathway clear, Peterson made a call for entries for the race. It was open for Coeur d’Alene’s school-age kids and dogs of all breeds.

All entrants received candy for participating and the first, second and third-place finishers were presented large boxes of candy donated by the Sugar Bowl Restaurant and Carom Club Cigar Store, two Sherman Avenue businesses.

The first race was held at 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, 1916, and reports in the Coeur d’Alene Press and photos of the event that are in the Museum of North Idaho photo database show that it was extremely well attended with an estimated 1,200 to 2,000 people on hand to watch. Included in that number were the members of the Coeur d’Alene Band, who entertained the crowd with snappy musical numbers and provided a festive atmosphere.

Ten teams competed in three heats that day over the roughly 220-yard-long course running from east to west. At the time, Sherman Avenue was the city’s only paved street.

Post-race newspaper coverage revealed that spectators found a great deal of humor in the numerous dogfights that erupted during each heat. The narrow race course and large number of entrants led to several collisions, which agitated the dogs and set them to scrapping with one another. The result was a small jumble of sleds and harnesses impeding desperate attempts by the kids and canines to untangle and resume the race.

Ultimately, the winning team consisted of 6-year-old Walter Wilson and his Eskimo dog, “Cap.” Placing second was Eugene Cyr and his mongrel dog, “Joe” and third place went to Harry Boyer and his bulldog, “Jeff.”

The races would be held only two more times — in 1917 and 1919 — before being canceled due to a severe drop in entrants when a severe flu epidemic made such public events unsafe. But for a just brief time, downtown went to the dogs and found a way to lift the hearts of Coeur d’Alene in happiness.

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The Museum of North Idaho at 115 Northwest Blvd. is closed for the winter; however, the offices remain open by appointment for research, photo requests, booking weddings at the Fort Sherman Chapel, or purchasing gifts and books in the gift shop. Call 208-664-2448 or visit the webpage at museumni.org.


    Sled Dog Race competitors, their dogs, and the race organizers. Tallest men, from left, attorney J.V. Hawkins, realtor Joe Petersen, and businessman Henry Glindeman.