Wednesday, April 25, 2012


In the summer of 1936, a sheepherder became ill and was brought to the hospital in Fort Benton. A dog followed his flock of sheep into town and hung around the hospital where a kindly nun fed him. The herder died, and his relatives asked that his body be sent back East. The undertaker put the casket on the train, and the engine pulled away. The dog followed along the tracks until the train sped away, beginning a five-and-a-half year vigil. Day after day, the dog—named Shep by locals—met every passenger train, eying each person who got off. Neither heat nor rain nor snow prevented Shep from meeting those trains. Irene Schanche Bowker recalls that her father, depot agent Tony Schanche, coaxed the dog into the depot from the cold station platform. After gaining his trust, Schanche taught him tricks. Shep’s fame spread, and people came to photograph him, try to make friends, and possibly adopt him. But Shep was a one-man dog. The bond he had formed with the herder was simply the most important thing to him. Although railroad employees gave Shep food and shelter, that was all he wanted, except his master’s return. Time took its toll. On January 12, 1942, stiff-legged and deaf, Shep failed to hear the whistle as the 10:17 approached the depot that cold winter morning. Witnesses said he turned to look when the engine was almost upon him, moved to get out of the way, and slipped on the icy rails. His long vigil ended. Two days later, Shep had a grand funeral. Boy Scouts played taps, and a local minister read a moving eulogy on man’s best friend. Loving citizens laid Shep to rest on the bluff overlooking the station where his long wait had come to a sad end.


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