This is a story about the never-ending love between a dog and his master.
It was 75 years ago that Shep, a mongrel dog, appeared at the Fort Benton rail depot. His master, a sheepherder, had passed away and his body was being sent back east to relatives. The dog began a 5 1/2 year vigil at the depot, meeting every train that pulled in to the station in search of his master.
Let’s do the math. In 5 1/2 years there are 2,007 days. In the late 1930s Fort Benton saw an average of four trains a day. That would be a total of 8,028 trains that this loyal dog met, waiting patiently to see if his master would return.
On January 12, 1942 old number 235 pulled in to the Fort Benton station. By this time Shep was an old dog. His hearing was probably poor and his joints weren’t nimble. It was winter and the rails were icy. Shep slipped and his long vigil waiting for his master ended.
Shep had become a legend. His burial rites included Boy Scout Troop 47 acting as honor guard and pall bearers. Rev. Ralph Underwood of the Christian Church in Fort Benton presided at the graveside service. As Shep’s body was lowered into the ground, the sound of Taps echoed over the bluffs surrounding Fort Benton.
The railroad erected an obelisk on Shep’s grave and a wooden silhouette of the dog’s profile is still there today by that marker.
On the fiftieth anniversary of Shep’s death the community of Fort Benton held a memorial service to commemorate the legend. At that time a heroic-sized statue sculpted by Bob Scriver was placed on the river levee.
This past June at Fort Benton’s annual Summer Celebration, the event was dedicated to the Diamond Jubilee (75 years) of this loyal dog.
I remember my father telling this story many years ago as we drove past the turnoff for Fort Benton. Each time I heard it, I had tears in my eyes.
Shep, Forever Faithful.