May 22, 2017

The Story of Shep, the Forever Faithful Dog, Famous in Fort Benton, Montana

The statue of Shep next to the Missouri River in Fort Benton, Montana

The Story of Shep: the famous Fort Benton dog who never gave up on his owner.

Shep was a shepherd / collie cross dog, that was born in the 1930’s, spending his early years tending sheep.

Shep’s owner was a herder that had little money during the Depression, working for food and a place to sleep.  Shep and his owner were said to be inseparable.

The herder became ill in the summer of 1936 while tending his flock and was brought to the hospital in Fort Benton with Shep, where a nun fed the dog while the herder stayed in the hospital.

Sadly, the herder passed away, and his family asked that his body be shipped back East.  Paul Louther, the mortician, put the body on the eastbound train to ship his body home to his waiting relatives.  Shep followed the casket to the train, watched his owner be loaded up and taken away, and onlookers recalled the dog whimpering as the train door shut and the train left the station.

The dog, later named “Shep,” spent the next five and a half years of his life at the train station, meeting four trains each day, in hopes of his owner returning for him. 

Shep's Vigil, Fort Benton, Montana

Shep was seen in the early days going all of the way down to the river to retrieve water, which was nearly a mile away.  But he never missed a train, greeting the passengers with hopeful eyes, only to be disappointed day after day when his owner did not appear.

The train section boss tried to coax Shep into living in the section house in the winter, but Shep refused.  Shep did eventually accept food and water from people, but he preferred to live under the train platform, where he was free to greet each passing train.

Shep quickly became an icon, exemplifying the faithfulness of dogs everywhere.  Newspapers headlined his story, children were teary eyed, Shep appeared in the New York Times and the London Daily Express.  People mailed letters, dog lovers sent him bones, cakes, and cash … many people offered him a home, hoping to make his life better.

Shep led the life he wanted, hoping each day that his owner would return so that they could return to the plains.  Shep did not want anyone other than the man that he had formed his bond with years before.  Shep lived his life on the Fort Benton depot’s platform, provided food by the railroad employees, waiting for the man that never would come back.

Shep never gave up on his master’s return.  As he grew older, he laid on a bed by the fire in the depot instead of under the platform, and would accept being petted by the occasional stranger.

Shep grew older, stiff-legged, and hard of hearing.  On January 12, 1942, Shep slipped on the icy rails trying to move out of the way of the old Great Northern engine #235 as it entered the Fort Benton station that winter morning.  Sadly, Shep was unable to move in time.  Shep joined his owner on this day, never losing hope that the man who had been his best friend would surely return to get him.

Shep was a celebrity, and many people mourned his loss.

Shep was laid to rest on the hill directly overlooking the station, where his five and a half year vigil took place.

Shep's gravesite overlooking the abandoned train station in Fort Benton, Montana

Shep’s gravesite overlooking the abandoned train station in Fort Benton, Montana

The train station has long closed down.  Trains no longer roll into the station; their sights and sounds have long passed with time.  But Shep still maintains his post atop the bluff that overlooks the train depot, hopefully reunited with his herder best friend.

There is now a parking lot and walking trail that lead to a steel silhouette of Shep that mark his gravesite.  Bits of his history are also scattered throughout the town of Fort Benton, including a bronze statue of Shep along the Missouri River, next to the Grand Union Hotel on Front Street.  Hundreds of visitors appear each year to pay their respects to Fort Benton’s famous faithful dog.

The statue of Shep next to the Missouri River in Fort Benton, Montana

The statue of Shep next to the Missouri River in Fort Benton, Montana

I obtained a lot of the information here from the “Forever Faithful: The Story of Shep” book we purchased in the Grand Union gift shop.

Shep’s story brought a tear to my eye, as he clearly has to many others.  If this story doesn’t show how much dogs love their humans, I don’t know what story does.  Shep stole a piece of my heart, and I recommend visiting Fort Benton so that you can see the train site, and feel the love that this story has shared.

As a Los Angeles businessman said in 1941: “The greatest dog story I ever heard.”  May we all be as faithful in life as Shep.

Rest in peace, Shep.

Warm Wishes from Big Sky Country,

Alex M. Neill

Montana Vacation Blog

www.montanavacationblog.com

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