Dogs and history? Of course!
There are three dogs in Central Montana’s history whose legacies live on today.
In 1803 President Thomas Jefferson selected Meriwether Lewis to lead what became known as the Lewis & Clark Expedition. The mission – explore the Missouri River and waterways to the Pacific ocean in search of a water route across the continent. Captain Meriwether Lewis then invited William Clark to join and share command of the group. In 1803, Lewis also purchased a Newfoundland dog for $20 and named him Seaman.
Many years before Lewis purchased Seaman, Newfoundland dogs were used as working dogs on fishing boats. This probably led to the name given to our famous dog.
There are entries in the Lewis & Clark journals about Seaman scaring away buffalo and causing quite a ruckus when a bear came in to camp. The sheer size of Seaman could have scared away most intruders!
Today there are at least 12 statues of Seaman along the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail. At Overlook Park in Great Falls you’ll see the Captains Lewis and Clark, York and Seaman in a statue titled Explorers at the Portage. The other statue in Great Falls, where Seaman is the only star, is located at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center on the east edge of Great Falls. And, you’ll frequently see a big, beautiful black Newfoundland dog at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, available for hugs and photos. His owner will be standing alongside him with a large cloth – to take care of the “Newfoundland drool”!
There are bronze sculptures of the statue at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center available for purchase in the Portage Cache gift store. They also have some adorable plush Seaman toys.
Shep, Forever Faithful
Fast forward to the 1930s, an era where a lot of sheep were raised on the open range land of Central Montana. Primary industries in Montana during this time were wheat production and wool and sheep production.
Shep was a working dog, tasked with guarding sheep from predators for his master, a sheepherder. The life of a sheepherder didn’t have much interaction with other people and a herder and his dog formed a bond.
In 1936 the sheepherder became sick and was taken to the hospital in Fort Benton. Before the sheepherder died, Shep waited patiently outside the hospital. After the herder died, his body was sent to relatives on an eastbound train. That was the first day of Shep’s 5 1/2 year long vigil to wait at the train depot for his master to return.
Four trains daily came to Fort Benton and train station workers said Shep would meet every train and look at each passenger, searching for his master.
After time, Shep must have been a sore sight – he grew thin, his collie-shepherd hair must have been scraggly and matted, and he wasn’t accepting a warm home and food offered to him. He was a one-man dog and he was in mourning and hoping for his master to return.
Shep began to achieve notoriety as news articles about him were published. Ripley’s Believe In Or Not, Paul Harvey’s radio broadcast, Reader’s Digest and more all told the story of this devoted dog.
Over time, Shep gradually accepted food and water from the station manager. His residence under the station platform served him well although in later years he did enjoy the warmth of a fire in the depot.
Stiffened joints and hearing loss caused Shep to fail to hear train #235 one cold winter morning. He slipped on the rails. His long vigil to wait for his master had ended.
A statue of Shep, Forever Faithful, anchors Fort Benton’s river levee. There is also a wooden cutout of Shep near his gravesite above the now unused railroad depot. A small sign notes the walking trail to his burial site.
Hardworking dogs, faithful to the end, assisted in shaping Central Montana’s ranching and agriculture history. I’ll tip my hat to Shep.
It’s 1940 now and the location is Harlowton, Montana. Harlowton was the eastern terminus of electric operations from 1914 – 1974 for what became the Milwaukee Railroad, long before a dog who we now know as “Smoking Boomer” came along.
There were almost 450 miles of “electrified” track that crossed the Rocky Mountains from Avery, Idaho to Harlowton, Montana. In Harlowton, both steam and diesel locomotives were either changed or hooked up to an electric locomotive for the journey across the mountains.
Smoking Boomer arrived by rail into the Harlowton yard in 1940, brought by a Milwaukee train. In contrast to the shy Shep, he immediately befriended the Roundhouse foreman. Well, the guy fed him so it’s no surprise! The dog and the Roundhouse foreman must have spent a lot of time together. Smoking Boomer was taught to stand on his head, wear safety glasses and smoke a briar pipe.
According to legend, Smoking Boomer was frequently seen walking along the depot platform, with a pipe in his mouth greeting disembarking passengers. That would have been a photo op and many passengers took advantage of it!
Smoking Boomer was an entertainer and an entrepreneur. He did his tricks for passengers and was rewarded with treats. Pretty smart dog.
The pipe-smoking dog passed away in 1949 but his legend survives.
Harlowton has preserved both it’s railroad history and dog history. An electric locomotive, the E57-B is parked in a small park on Central Avenue in Harlowton. The Milwaukee Depot Museum showcases memorabilia from the railroads that passed through the town.
And, right next to the Milwaukee Depot Museum is a sign about Smoking Boomer and the walking trail that now bears his name. The northern portion of the trail is built on the Main Line of the Milwaukee Railroad.
Three dogs, three different stories, all with their fame showcased in Central Montana communities.