Ruby welcomes favorite mushing son home

Posted: Sunday, March 12, 2000

RUBY -- Church bells rang and villagers cheered as 1975 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race winner Emmitt Peters drove his dog team back home Saturday, if only for a short visit.

Dozens of friends and relatives braved cold winds in this village on the Yukon River to welcome home the man known as the ''Yukon Fox,'' a name given to Peters after he won the Iditarod during his rookie year, shaving six days off the fastest previous time.

Peters, 59, is competing in his 13th Iditarod. The last time he raced in 1992 an old knee injury forced him to scratch. He was the 36th musher to pull into Ruby, where he was born.

''I'm tired. I'm getting too old for this,'' Peters said as he watered, fed and bedded down his dog team. ''It's been a long day. I only had two hours sleep in 48 hours.''

Allen Titus, a Ruby resident who has known Peters all his life, said he's probably discouraged by being so far back in the pack. Seven time Peters has finished in the top 10 but those placements occurred mostly in the 1970s. He was 41st the last time he finished in 1990.

''He wants to finish. I hope he finishes. I would like to see him do it,'' Titus said. ''I like to see Native people in the race.''

Titus' 12-year-old nephew, Francis Captain Jr., said children in the village learned about Peters in school and made posters.

''Everyone is excited he's running it again,'' Captain said.

Peters had wanted to get back in the race but didn't have the $30,000 needed to train and run a competitive team. This year's race was made possible largely by two friends who chipped in about $10,000 each. Villagers also held baked sales and raffled off a handmade afghan blanket and custom-made beaver hat. The Dineega Native Corp. gave him about $3,000, said LaVerne Schafer, Peters' niece.

''Emmitt has done a lot for our community,'' she said. ''We are proud of him.''

Edna Peters, his wife, said she hoped to revive her husband with a home-baked meal of roast beef and mashed potatoes.

She also expected him to take a lengthy nap.

Soon after pulling into Ruby, Peters pulled off one of his gloves to point out to his wife the blisters he had from hanging onto the back of the sled.

This race likely will be Peters' last, said Debbie Peters, Emmitt's 44-year-old sister. She said the whole town is pulling for him.

''They are all happy he's back in the race,'' she said.

When they were growing up in Ruby, the family had a team of sled dogs that they used to haul wood and water, Debbie Peters said. But the arrival of snowmachines changed all that.

Peters gave up his dog kennel several years ago and leased dogs for the race from five-time Iditarod winner Rick Swenson of Two Rivers.

''This town was full with dogs, now mostly all machines,'' his sister said. ''I wish those days would come back, it'd be nice.''

Now there are only two dog kennels in Ruby that occasionally sell a dog to one of the top mushers, said Billy McCarty, a 58-year-old former sprint musher and dog breeder.

Peters, ever the competitor, said he wants to move up to finish in the top 20. Either way, he's pushing on, he said.

''I'm going all the way to Nome, of course,'' he said.

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