On Feb. 15, 2015, legendary Alaska sprint dog musher George Attla Jr., passed away peacefully at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage surrounded by family and friends after a brief battle with cancer.
George was born Aug. 8, 1933, at a fish camp just below Koyukuk on the Yukon River to the late Eliza and George Attla Sr. His parents traveled to the Yukon River from their home village of Huslia, which is on the Koyukuk River. George was raised in a subsistence lifestyle and spent the majority of his time at fish camp, cabins and spring camp until he contracted tuberculosis and underwent nearly 10 years of treatment in Sitka.
George began his mushing career in the 1950s and became a legendary open-class sprint dog racer.
George was revered and respected throughout the world for his dog mushing career, which spanned five decades.
The movie "Spirit of the Wind" was based on his life. A book of the same title was also published. His book "Everything I Know About Training and Racing Sled Dogs" is still considered the musher's guide.
Known as the Huslia Hustler, George won 10 Fur Rendezvous World Championship Dog Races, eight North American World Championships and nine International Sled Dog Racing Association unlimited class medals. 2008 marked his 50th year of competitive sled dog racing. In 2011, George won the Bergman Sam Memorial Koyukuk River Championship in Huslia.
Gov. Steve Cowper proclaimed April 29, 1988, as "George Attla Day." In 2000, George was awarded the Best Musher of the 20th Century. In 2007, he was inducted into the first Alaska Sports Hall of Fame.
Most recently, George established the Frank Attla Youth & Sled Dog Care-Mushing Program in memory of his late son.
He was able to pass on his knowledge, lifelong experience and passion for dog racing to the younger generation. One of his students, Joe Bifelt, plans on racing in the 2015 Fur Rendezvous World Championship Sled Dog Race.
He was preceded in death by his parents, George Sr. and Eliza Attla; brothers, Steven Attla Sr. and Frank Attla; sister, Minnie Yatlin; daughter, Barbara Attla; son, Frank Attla; daughter-in-law, Christine Attla; and grandchild, Stephan Simpson.
He is survived by his partner, Kathy Turco; brothers, Robert Attla, Alfred Attla (Helen) and Barney Attla (Ragine); sisters, Rose Ambrose, Marie Yaska and Madeline Williams (Bill); children, Gary Attla, Phyllis Attla, Marilyn Van Hatten (Mike), Eliza Tiulana (Charles), George Attla III, Amanda Attla and Sheylynn Attla; 19 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren; and numerous nephews and nieces.
A gathering was held Monday at the David Salmon Tribal Hall in Fairbanks. A service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday at the tribal hall. Immediately following the service, the family will bring him home to Huslia with a final service and burial on Feb 19.
On Feb. 8, George said the Sinner's Prayer and welcomed the Lord into his heart. The family extends heartfelt thanks to the many friends and family who offered their assistance during his illness and who came to visit, called, brought food and sent messages of love and support. Condolences for the family can be sent to Phyllis Attla, P.O. Box 104, Huslia, AK 99746. In lieu of flowers, donations can be deposited to an Alaska USA savings account No. 531583.
Published in Daily News-Miner on Feb. 17, 2015.