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John Rumohr and His Very Good Boy Tige: Denali Legends

By Erik Johnson, Park Historian

The legendary story of a sled dog saving the life of a park ranger. Ranger John Rumohr was a legend in his own right during the early years of Mount McKinley National Park.
newspaper headline reading, "resourceful dog saves mckinley park ranger's life as ice gives away"
Tige's story made it into the January 29, 1940 edition of the Fairbanks Daily News Miner.
Park Ranger John Rumohr had patrolled Mount McKinley National Park for roughly ten years when he found himself in a dangerous situation along the Toklat in January 1940. He described the harrowing circumstances in a press release:
a man kneeling by a team of sled dogs in a snowy forest
Sled dogs and John Rumohr in 1939

(DENA 216)

I was in serious trouble. Breaking through the ice over a deep channel, where I could reach no bottom by sounding with my eight foot geepole, the dogs had to swim to get the sled out. What really saved my life was Tige.

The dog had been sick and I was not using him in the team, but let him follow behind. While I was working with the sled he managed to get up ahead of the team and really coaxed them along . . . . It was quite a struggle for we had about 100 feet to go before we reached solid ice. The dogs would never have made it if Tige had not been ahead of them. Whenever he came to a place where the ice would carry him he would turn to the team, cry a little and wag his tail. That would put new spirit in them and they would struggle ahead even if the ice broke under them.

I hope Tige will get a long life. He earned it that day.

a park ranger and another man standing near a small cabin
John Rumohr and Major Phillips in 1939. Rumohr, on the left, was often photographed with his pipe.

(DENA 22722)

Rumohr's account appeared in newspapers throughout the Pacific Northwest, and the May 1940 edition of the Alaska Sportsmanmagazine reported that Tige was awarded a “Diploma of Honor.” Tige is remembered for his heroics, but the person he saved became a Denali legend in his own right.

John Rumohr was a veteran of World War One, worked for the Alaska Railroad, prospected for gold, and worked as a reindeer herder before becoming a Park Ranger at Mt. McKinley National Park around 1930. He rose to the position of Chief Ranger in the mid-1940s and was Acting Superintendent on occasion.

During his career, Rumohr conducted park patrols by dog team and implemented early interpretative programs, including the original sled dog demonstration. He also assisted in maintenance projects, firefighting, mountaineering expeditions, and wildlife management.[1]

The 1940s saw the decline of sled dog use in the park. Many of the kennels’s dogs were given to the military during World War Two or retired and replaced with machines in an effort to improve winter work efficiency. Rumohr expressed some reservations in replacing the dogs. In a classic quote, he articulated the flaws of M-7 snow tractors:
two men and two women at a dining room table
Mount McKinley National Park Superintendent Grant Pearson presents award to John Rumohr. John's wife Luella is seated at the table in front of him.

(DENA 22671)

The distance travelled in a day over unbroken trail exceeds the best a dogteam could perform. But . . . dogs have less trouble with their carburetors. You can cuss the Snow Tractor and it just sits there. When you cussed your dogs, they would at least raise their ears.


In 1950, Rumohr was instrumental in reacquiring dog teams and reestablishing a role for them at the park.[2]
a man pulling a sled in the snow
John Rumohr in 1941.

(DENA 21686)

Rumohr retired in 1951 and moved to a home he built in Cantwell—a community he had been connected to since the 1920s. In 1952 there was a special ceremony to celebrate his impressive career and he was presented a “commendable service” award by the Department of the Interior. Rumohr passed away in 1966 and was buried in Cantwell.

References


[1] Wildlife management was much different in the early park years. Rumohr’s name is often mentioned in Superintendent Monthly Reports after dispatching predators—this usually involved wolves. In one case, Rumohr shot a wolf that was threatening his beloved dog Tige. In 1944, Rumohr found the first wood frog reported inside the park. It was a quarter-mile south of Wonder Lake.


[2] The dogs Rumohr acquired from the Big Delta Arctic Training Center (now Fort Greely) were used for visitor programs and some patrols, but Denali’s modern sled dog program—which was returning the park to its traditional use of dog teams—was not implemented until Sandy Kogl took over the kennels program in 1974.

Last updated: August 22, 2019