Story of Shepherd Dog Shep's Long Vigil Part 1

About the history of the dog shepherd dog Shep who kept a long vigil in Montana.


From: WILLARD E. STUBSTEN (Navacommsta, APO N.Y.)

I am absorbing with fascination all the little-known facts one would probably find nowhere else except in your book. Your chapter on Unusual Animals failed to mention the story of Shep, whose long, lonely vigil in a small Montana town has been acclaimed worldwide. . . . I would like you to take this information into consideration.

One August day in 1936 an eastbound Great Northern passenger train puffed into the Fort Benton, Mont., station. Baggage men busied themselves by the baggage car, loading a casket containing the body of a sheepherder being sent east for burial.

Off to one side of the group of busy men, a big, gaunt shepherd dog whined and watched with puzzled eyes. He watched as the engine blew its steam and the train moved slowly out of the station. Then he turned and dispiritedly trotted away.

So began a long, long vigil, one of the strangest ever kept.

A Long Vigil Begins

The day Shep first came to the Fort Benton depot probably seemed little different from any other. But it was different for Shep, tragic and dreary. His master no longer spoke to him, and other men had put him into a black box and taken him away. Shep had followed, of course. He had always followed his master, as the dog code ordered.

Those familiar with the usual routine at the depot can imagine trains whistling in that day, engine bells ringing, passengers stepping off and others climbing aboard; railroad employees unloading mail, baggage, and express; everyone too busy with their own affairs to give time or attention to anything else.

They had no time for the mournful shepherd dog, who watched with sad eyes and whined as the casket containing the body of a sheepherder was placed aboard the baggage car. The train pulled out and the dog disappeared.

When the next train stopped, the dog was there again, and for the next and the next and the next. He grew gaunt and lean on the meager scraps he found; and cold when the winter came. But always when the train came in, Shep was there, tail wagging in hope. And always when the trains pulled out, the tail was drooping in disappointment and sorrow.

The Fort Benton depot is a lonely one, clinging to the bluffs that ring the valley. There is little to be seen except for the town, half hidden in a cluster of green cottonwoods, nestling in the valley a mile or more away. Mountains on the far horizon rise blue and abrupt from the wide prairie, and in front of the station the bluffs rise sharply and the rails stretch away around the bend toward the outside world.

Ed Shields, who wrote the original story about Shep and who was a conductor on one of the trains running through Fort Benton, has set August, 1936, as the month when the dog established himself there.

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