The Fan Hitch Volume 6, Number 3, June 2004

Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog

Table of Contents

Editorial: Who Are You and What Do Want?
Fan Mail
F.I.D.O.: Ludovic Pirani
Geronimo's Travels
The Breeding and Maintenance of Sledge Dogs: Part I
How We Met Tom
Dog Yard Tips
Setting a New Standard
In the News
Behavior Notebook: Qiniliq and Sunny
IMHO: Unnecessary Roughness

Navigating This Site

Index of articles by subject

Index of back issues by volume number

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Ordering Ken MacRury's Thesis

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              Editor: Sue Hamilton
              Webmaster: Mark Hamilton
The Fan Hitch Website and Publications of the Inuit Sled Dog– the quarterly Journal (retired in 2018) and PostScript – are dedicated to the aboriginal landrace traditional Inuit Sled Dog as well as related Inuit culture and traditions. 

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Geronimo up front breaking trail in deep snow          Bischoff photo

Geronimo's Travels

by Sue Hamilton

Markus Bischoff was a couple of weeks late for his appearance before a judge. The Swiss musher-adventurer was expected in Yellowknife court, alleged to have killed two polar bears outside of Resolute Bay on his way from Yellowknife to the top of Canada's Ellesmere Island.

Bischoff was in the final stages of moving from his summer to his winter camp on the shores of the Great Slave Lake, a few miles from the Northwest Territory's capital. He was last seen in mid-October 1990, motoring away from the launch in what was described by some as an over loaded boat filled with building supplies, some puppies and eight adult dogs, including his leader Geronimo, a Greenland Inuit Dog. 

When a friend reported Bischoff missing, a search party was formed. His overturned boat and the puppies were found frozen into newly formed shorefast ice. Five of the adult dogs were also dead. Paw prints seen in the immediate area gave the impression that some of the dogs survived the swamping. But there was no sign of Bischoff. A trail of bits of cloth, and bone fragments mixed with dog scat were followed. The search party eventually found Geronimo hiding in the brush jealously guarding a human skull which, by dental records, was later identified as that of the thirty-two year old Markus Bischoff. According to author James Raffan in his story "The Junction" (UpHere Magazine, October 2003), "Whatever had caused his untimely and accidental demise - like a swamping and death from hypothermia in the cold water, the searchers thought - his dogs had swum to shore and done exactly and only what they needed to do to survive."

Markus and his team. Geronimo sitting on far right          Bischoff photo

Markus Bischoff purchased the pedigreed Geronimo from a Norwegian kennel in 1986. It was in northern Norway that Bischoff trained and toured with his eight Greenland Dogs. In 1988 he attempted to be the first to successfully complete a crossing of FramStrait between Spitzbergen and Greenland. Fifty miles off the coast of Greenland, only two or three days remaining after ninety-four days into the trek, the ocean currents and melting sea ice prevented Bischoff from reaching land and attaining his goal. He, Geronimo and the rest of the team were air lifted off the moving pack ice by helicopter and brought to safety on a Norwegian icebreaker. 

In the summer of 1988 Bischoff, his partner and the dogs moved to the shores of the Great Slave Lake near the capital of Canada's Northwest Territories, Yellowknife, to train for sledding expeditions into the Canadian high arctic. In the winter of 1990 he successfully mushed, in just four months, from Yellowknife to the northernmost point of land in Canada, Cape Columbia on Ellesmere Island, a distance of some 4000 kilometers! It was later that year that he intended to prepare for his 1991 conquest - the North Pole by dog team - a plan unfulfilled due to his tragic death. 

Markus' partner gave two of the surviving three dogs to a local trapper and took Geronimo back to Switzerland with her even though she knew she could not keep him. But she knew that the amazing lead dog was precious to Markus, his favorite of the team. So she gave Geronimo to Markus' friend, Andreas Schirgi.  But by 1993 Schirgi, now suffering from a debilitating eye problem, had to give up the dog.  He contacted the Swiss Northern Breed Kennel Club in an effort to find a home. Among the club's members was a couple who owned two Malamutes. The Club president thought that since Peter Zimmerman and Enrica Nadalini were planning to relocate to dog sledding regions of North America within a year, they would be just the right people.  The couple met with Schirgi, fell in love with the tawny colored Greenland Dog, now seven years old, and made him a member of their pack.

Peter Zimmerman and Geronimo               Nadalini photo

In January 1994 Peter and Enrica arrived in Wisconsin, U.S.A. where they soon became a part of the area's sled dog community. Among them was Howard Thompson who had, among other northern breeds, Inuit Dogs. By late April of that year the couple left Wisconsin with Geronimo and their other dogs, driving through Canada to live in Fairbanks, Alaska. A fellow in Barrow, Alaska contacted them asking if they would be willing to assist in a project to bolster the north slope community's dwindling population of Inuit Dogs. Trusting his intentions, Peter and Enrica purchased from Bill Thomson's kennel in Whitehorse, Misty, a Canadian Inuit Dog female, and in the late spring of 1995 bred her to Geronimo so the pups could be sent to Barrow. Howard Thompson (no relation to Bill Thomson) learned about the project and, eager to participate, donated his Canadian Inuit Dog brood bitch Bingo to the effort, sending her to Fairbanks to be bred to Geronimo as well, and then to be shipped on to whelp in Barrow. Unfortunately after she arrived there, all contact was lost with the Alaskan who received her, much to Peter, Enrica and Howard's distress. Meanwhile, Misty whelped seven pups. Since by that time Peter and Enrica had already switched to racing Alaskan huskies, they decided to place all of the pups. Two went to Kathy Schmidt in Ohio. Three went to Kevin Slater and Polly Mahoney in Maine. And two went to Wisconsin to live with Howard Thompson. 

With arthritis making him sore, Geronimo was retired in the winter of 1995. Peter and Enrica bought him a new doghouse, designed extra large as a place for bitches to whelp their pups. In it Geronimo was able to easily stand up, turn around and stretch out in his straw-filled "Hilton". He was made the "company dog", the one to join Peter and Enrica on their trips year round. Geronimo's last adventure with the couple was a ten-day canoe journey. 

Late one evening in October 1996, the ten year-old dog suddenly began screaming in pain. Despite an urgent trip to the vet clinic, he died an hour later, the result of a silent stomach cancer which, up until that very night, never gave the tough and resilient Geronimo a moment's bother. And so the Norwegian born Greenland Dog who traveled across the ice of Arctic Europe, crossed the Atlantic by plane three times, trekked thousands of miles across the Canadian north, took a short but fateful boat ride on the Great Slave Lake, traveled by car from Wisconsin, through Canada to Alaska, and shared a challenging canoe adventure, made his final passage back to Peter and Erica's front yard, where he was laid to rest. His death has been mourned ever since.

Geronimo is known to prevail to this day in the children by his union with Misty, plus their grandchildren and great-grandchildren living and working in Canada and across the northern United States. And hopefully his genes remain somewhere in the north slope of Alaska as well.

Geronimo as the company dog                 Zimmerman photo

Thanks to the following people who so kindly provided assistance in the preparation of this story: Jonquil Covallo, Kerry Kindt, Kathy Schmidt, Polly Mahoney, Kevin Slater and Howard Thompson; and to James Raffan; and extra special thanks to Peter Zimmerman and Enrica Nadalini for sharing their personal memories and photographs. 

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