The Salter Homestead on Joe Bush Creek
1970’s – 1990’s
The home of Wild and Free Mushing in Eureka, Alaska on Joe Bush Creek was founded by Ed and Willow Salter in early 1970’s At the time, they were living in Illinois and were just planning an extended vacation to Alaska. Their extended vacation quickly turned into a one year adventure as they found themselves staking a piece of property in the Alaskan wilderness. In order to patent the land they had to build a livable structure within one years’ time. They did just that, and the rest is history!
Their one year vacation turned into a lifetime of adventure; as they spent the next 40 years establishing what is now known as the Salter Homestead on Joe Bush Creek. Ed and Willow spent 40 years trapping and mining, as well as raising, training, racing, leasing and selling sled dogs. They truly were living the Alaskan dream on this amazing piece of property.
Over the years they became very successful miners and dog mushers, Ed specialized in mid-distance races and leased a lot of dogs to top Iditarod contenders and neighbors, Rick Swenson and Susan Butcher. From the mid 70’s through the 90’s the Eureka area was a dog mushing mecca. Between Rick and Susan, nine Iditarod championships were brought home to Eureka and Ed and Willow Salter were at the center of it all.
In the early years, their home had the only microwave phone in the country and with all the logistics it takes to run a thousand mile race, Rick and Susan’s Crews made good use of it. Fun fact — that phone no longer works because the trees on the ridge have grown too high and blocked the direct line of sight needed to the receiver outside of Manley, the nearest village 30 miles away!
The Salter residence was also the place to be for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. Ed and Willow would tell stories about having 10 plus dog teams parked out in the yard on any given holiday. Eureka was booming!! The trail system was huge and the trails tight, rough and challenging. That paired with the extreme weather and the remote location made Eureka a perfect training ground.
Mid 90’s – 2008
But, by the mid 90’s Rick and Susan had both moved their homes and kennels to the Fairbanks area and left Eureka back in the hands of the people who got it all started, the Salter’s. For the next 15 years they saw a couple mushers come and go from the old Butcher and Swenson Kennels, but no one ever stuck around due to the extreme living and logistical nightmare of being a competitive musher in the bush, and all eventually went back to civilization.
The times of mushers coming and going from the Eureka area ended in the fall of 2008 when Brent was working in Fairbanks for David Monson, the husband of the late Susan Butcher. He was doing dog tours when he was given the opportunity to go to Eureka to do some work on David’s Kennel. Brent brought the dogs with him and after spending three weeks fixing up the kennel and running dogs, he was hooked! From that point on, Brent was bound and determined to spend the winter training dogs in Eureka.
First Winter in Eureka
Brent had been preparing the place for dog musher, Sigrid Ekran, who also had worked with Susan and David, so she could spent the winter training her dog team. Luckily, David had another place just down the road where his handlers had stayed during their time in Eureka. From there, the story reads just like Ed and Willow’s…the rest is history.
Brent and his handler, Kyla, quickly turned the run down place that hadn’t been lived in for years into home and the mushers and handler quickly became friends with their closest and only other neighbors around, Ed and Willow Salter. Both Brent and Sigrid’s crew would go up to Ed and Willow’s for dinner on a fairly regular basis. There was nothing quite like sitting around the table eating amazing food and listening to stories from back in the day when Eureka was the hot spot for dog mushing in Alaska. Ed said something during his storytelling that made Brent extremely proud, but also very determined. He had just finished telling an old dog mushing story when he looked up and said “and now you [Brent] are here and you’ve brought the dogs back to Eureka, and we couldn’t be happier.” After Ed said that to Brent, he knew that this was the place for him and his dogs! Brent had totally fallen in love with the Eureka area, the lifestyle, and the idea of carrying on a tradition so steeped in history and champion dog teams. This was something Brent didn’t want to miss out on.
2009 – 2012
For the next four years, Brent lived in Fairbanks working for David Monson doing dog tours in the summer and would then move the entire Kennel to Eureka for the fall and winter months. This allowed the team to train for the Yukon Quest and live the amazing lifestyle that Brent was falling more and more in love with every day. Brent, of course, turned to Ed and Willow for advice, nearly daily at times, and they took Brent and the team under their wings and made living the remote lifestyle much easier. Brent and the Salter’s became close friends and Brent continued to look forward to many years of Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners at the Salter homestead on Joe Bush Creek.
A Dream Comes True!
Then one October, Brent’s life changed forever. He was visiting family and friends in Minnesota, sitting at a restaurant eating dinner, when his phone notified him of a new email. Brent checked to see who it was, and in his inbox found a one line email from Ed Salter that said “Would you be interested in buying our place?” Brent just about dropped the phone on the ground, and actually had to go outside and walk around and read the message 100 times over until it really set in.
Next Brent needed to know why? He thought for sure that Ed and Willow would live out the rest of their life on the homestead and never had imagined anything different. When it was all said and done the Salter’s had lived their dream, they were now 70 plus years old and ready for a slower life with less day-to-day responsibilities. Over the last 40 years they had created what Brent believes is one of the nicest homesteads in all of Alaska, which is no small job to maintain. Brent understood, and was honored that they wanted to pass the tradition on to him. On June 15, 2012, he watched as Ed and Willow drove out of the driveway in a 40-foot moving van, leaving their homestead and everything else they owned to Brent!
Wild and Free Mushing in Eureka, Alaska on Joe Bush Creek
Brent’s life and the future of Wild and Free Mushing had been changed forever. Brent had only dreamed about having a cabin in the middle of the wilderness. He knew it was going to happen someday, but as the reality set in that it had happened, and happened in such an amazing way, a whole new set of dreams were born. Brent has spent the last three years living full-time at the homestead, doing his best to keep the Salter’s tradition alive on Joe Bush Creek! He takes a huge amount of pride in the homestead and Brent and the team do their best to keep the place in tip-top shape. This life is not easy, but Brent is confident that it is this lifestyle and this location that will lead Wild and Free Mushing to continue the tradition and bring back a champion dog team to Eureka. With their 2015 Yukon Quest victory, they are well on their way to realizing yet another dream!
2018 Yukon Quest