Of moose and men: A brief history of domesticated moose in Alaska

Long before Jack Carr was noticed for raising two pet moose, he was already famous.

An Alaska mail carrier at the turn of the 20th century, Carr spent his days crisscrossing the territory by dog sled, delivering mail between the Last Frontier and the contiguous United States.

In this role, Carr brought news of Alaska to a national audience. He was the first to confirm the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897, when he brought the news of gold to Seattle, the New York Times reported more than a century ago.

Only later, after moving to Washington state, did Carr procure and train two moose. He named them in honor of President William Taft and Taft's daughter, Helen. The unusual pets brought Carr's name to the headlines once again.

Despite the novelty and interest surrounding his pet moose, he wasn't the only one domesticating moose during that era. From Fairbanks to Skagway, stories of pet ungulates were making the news.

'Moose will go on vaudeville stage'

Carr's name is scattered among various publications of the time, where he described the advances and ills of the era, from the destitute miners spending their scant money at saloons to the bustling population of Dawson City.

He took the first mail from Circle City by dog team in 1896, mushing down to Skagway, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner wrote in 1960. The next year he purportedly traveled from St. Michael, at the mouth of the Yukon River, to Seattle. His journey took only 87 days, the article says, not including the days he rested.


By 1898, Carr was described as "one of the most famous mail carriers and travelers" among Yukon pioneers by the Klondike Nugget, based in Dawson City.

A few years later, Carr was again on the move.

A 1906 article from the Fairbanks Daily Times says that Carr, "the greatest of all mushers," had "quit the business." He and his wife were heading to Seattle, ending his mail contract between the Yukon-Koyukuk region.

The couple had already sold a trading post they owned in Fort Yukon. Carr had also secured a gold mining claim that "relieve(d) him from any further necessity of mushing or doing anything else save watching the other fellows work," the article says.

(The later News-Miner article says, though, that he was still mushing in Alaska in 1908, so there is some discrepancy as to the end of his mail-carrying career. At some point, though, he ended up back in Interior Alaska, with two baby moose by his side.)

In November 1909, his image appeared in the Seattle Daily Times next to two moose calves. The article was dug up by Elizabeth Cook of the Tanana-Yukon Historical Society.

"Moose Will go on Vaudeville Stage," the article's headline proclaims. "Jack Carr, Pioneer of Alaska, Educating Animals He Caught in Far North for Theatrical Career."

According to the article, Carr captured the twin calves near Circle City in the Interior when they were 6 days old. He fed them condensed milk and oatmeal until they were more fully grown.

He named the two moose Bill and Helen, after President William Taft and his daughter.

Bill and Helen were brought to Seattle via steamship and train, where they lived in an enclosure on Carr's property, the article says.

Undated images of the two moose fully grown show that he succeeded in training them to pull him in a sulky, a light, two-wheeled carriage. Another image shows a moose standing on two legs and Carr standing on a pedestal, smiling at his domesticated creature.

Eventually, Carr got bored of living in Seattle, the News-Miner reported. He moved to the now-abandoned town of Katalla, Alaska, where he lived for the rest of his life. It's unclear when or if the moose went with him.

Moose-mounted cavalry?

Today, of course, all of this would be illegal. State law bans the keeping of game animals as pets. Moose can be kept in captivity only under certain circumstances, by zoos and other permitted facilities.

But long before the Gold Rush, other Arctic regions were experimenting with domesticating moose.

In the 1700s, Swedish King Carl XI used moose as riding animals for couriers. He also planned to make moose-mounted cavalry regiments, an idea that was presented later to the Academy of Science in Stockholm as an alternative to importing horses. The idea never took hold, though; the animals' untrainable nature and susceptibility to disease made them less preferable to horses.

In the 1930s, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin also hoped moose would replace horses in cavalry regimes but the idea was eventually abandoned. Moose domestication projects in Russia continue today, mostly selling moose milk and serving as tourist attractions.

Meanwhile, in Alaska's territorial days, there were no laws against keeping moose, and another famous Alaskan, J. Bernard Moore of Skagway, also had his own family pet.


Carnation the moose

The Moore family settled in Skagway Bay in 1887. Ten years later -- after J. Bernard Moore successfully predicted that a gold rush would flood the valley with stampeders -- their homestead was overrun with men heading north.

The city of Skagway was born, and for a short time, one of the most famous residents was a young bull moose.

The tale of J. Bernard "Ben" Moore's moose is related in detail in "Skagway: City of the New Century" by Jeff Brady.

Moore inherited the moose in Seattle in 1899 from a miner who had brought the creature down from Canada. Its name: Carnation.

Carnation arrived in Skagway incognito. Eventually, Moore taught the moose to be put in harness, and he decided to hitch Carnation to a wagon and parade through town.

A local newspaper described the scene:

"All idle eyes in the business center of the city yesterday afternoon were amused by the sight of a fine specimen of the monarch of the woods, a moose, parading in the streets in harness and subservient to man," the Skaguay News wrote on Dec. 30, 1899.

During his short tenure as a local attraction, Carnation was photographed, featured in stories and visited frequently, Brady writes. In 1900, the 2-year-old moose died, with his death attributed to gluttony -- eating "too much clover," a newspaper reported at the time.


Moore buried Carnation on his property and mounted the moose's head above the piano in his home. Moore's homestead is today a National Historical Landmark.

'Asked many times to keep the moose out of the saloon'

A brief history of pet moose wouldn't be complete without the infamous tale of one in Fairbanks that in 1913 annoyed city officials so much they crafted an ordinance against it.

Fairbanks bartender Pete Buckholtz acquired his calf from hunters, Alaska Dispatch News columnist Dermot Cole writes in his book "Fairbanks: A Gold Rush Town that Beat the Odds."

The moose was fed potatoes and stale bread in winter months, and sometimes willow branches cut by Buckholtz. It was broken to harness and, like the other pet moose, could be hitched to a sled.

Docile and affectionate, the moose followed its owner around, including into the saloon where Buckholtz worked.

"Buckholtz had been asked many times to keep the moose out of the saloon, but he refused," Cole writes.

Mayor Andrew Nerland decided that he had to do something about this nuisance moose. While the city didn't have the power to ban the possession of a live moose, they found a loophole: They could ban moose from city sidewalks. And so they did, preventing the moose from legally entering the saloon.

If you have more information about historical game animals as pets, or any of the above men profiled, please email reporter Laurel Andrews at laurel@alaskadispatch.com.

Laurel Andrews

Laurel Andrews was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, Alaska Dispatch News and Alaska Dispatch. She left the ADN in October 2018.