Skip to main content
Original Issue

Four-time Iditarod Champion Susan Butcher 1955--2006

SusanButcher was once asked how she could keep the names of all 150 of her sleddogs straight. "It's easy when you know them," she said. "Likehaving 150 kids." Butcher--who died last week of leukemia at age51--treated her huskies as such, lavishing them with love and attention whileinstilling discipline and character. It paid dividends: Her dogs pulled her tofour Iditarod victories between 1986 and 1990. (Only one musher, Rick Swenson,has won the 1,150-mile Anchorage-to-Nome race more times--five.) Butcher was asfiercely protective as any mother. In the 1985 race a starving pregnant mooseattacked her team; Butcher fought off the animal for 20 minutes with just apickax until another driver arrived and shot the moose.

Butcher grew up inCambridge, Mass., but it quickly became apparent that her future lay in morerustic surroundings. When she was eight, she wrote an essay for school titled IHate the City, and she lobbied her parents to tear down their home and build alog cabin. She moved out of her house at 16 when her mother told her shecouldn't get a second dog. "Susan is more comfortable with animals than sheis with most people," her father, Charlie, told SI in 1991. "Animalsare more emotionally honest. She loves that quality in them."

Butcher gavethought to becoming a veterinarian, but after reading a magazine story aboutthe first Iditarod, in 1973, she decided to move to Alaska. There she lived innear isolation, focusing solely on her dogs. "When I'm mushing or caringfor the dogs or picking up after them, I am in total contentment," shesaid. "I have found something that was made for me."

She entered herfirst Iditarod in 1978; she got a sponsor after two television stations ranfootage of her bathing in a frozen lake. She entered her last in 1994; afterfinishing 10th, she retired to settle down and raise a family. Butcher livedwith her dogs and her husband, Dave Monson, a musher and former lawyer, at anabandoned gold-mining camp in Eureka, a town of around a dozen people about 130miles outside of Fairbanks. She and Monson had two daughters, Chisana, 5, and11-year-old Tekla--a name she shares with one of her mom's most beloved sleddogs.




Butcher found what she was looking for in Eureka: a peaceful place to train herhuskies.