The most famous Shep of all, and the most inspiring, was Shep “the Forever Faithful Dog.” The story goes that in 1936, a local shepherd died in Fort Benton, Montana. As his coffin was delivered to the train station, to be shipped to relatives back east, it was trailed by a forlorn collie dog. The dog watched as his master’s coffin was loaded onto the train, and watched it leave the station. Afterwards, the dog remained at the station, waiting for his master to come back. When workers tried to shoo it away, it hid under the platform. Fortunately, a foreman’s son began bringing the dog — who came to be called Shep — table scraps to eat.
For the next six years, Shep kept a tireless vigil, waiting for his owner’s return. Four times a day, he would come onto the platform to meet the trains, and search the incoming passengers for his master. Disappointed, he would sneak back under the platform to await the next train. When winter came, he was coaxed into the station, where he slept on a bed of blankets.
A conductor on the Great Northern Railroad, Ed Shields, became interested in Shep. He pieced together Shep’s story, and wrote an article for the Great Falls Tribune. The story of the “forever faithful” dog soon spread across the country. Ripley’s Believe or Not featured him in a column. The railway received so many letters about Shep that they had to hire a secretary to handle the mail. Shields also wrote a pamphlet about Shep’s story, and sold it on the train, raising thousands of dollars for the Montana School for the Deaf and Blind. To a generation of Americans, Shep came to epitomize the undying loyalty of dogs.
As Shep grew old, he lost his hearing, and in 1942, he was waiting by the tracks and failed to hear an incoming train. Two days later, the town held a funeral for Shep that was attended by 200 people. A boy scout troop carried his coffin to a hill above the train station, where he was buried. The railroad erected a monument and a painted wooden sign of Shep, with his name spelled out in rocks below.
In 1994, the town erected a statue to Shep, with a plaque that reads “Forever Faithful.” His bowl and collar are in the Museum of the Upper Missouri, in Fort Benton.
I’ll be honest, just thinking about this Shep makes me tear up. I must be getting old. I’m glad he had people there to look after him in his old age, so he could become such a source of inspiration to others.
To see a short film clip of Shep at the station, go to:
To see a Dateline feature on Shep, go to:
And here is a good recent article, on the 75th anniversary of Shep’s passing: