HELENA — Tuesday marks the 79th anniversary of the passing of Shep, the "forever faithful" sheepdog of Fort Benton.
The border collie mix found his way to Fort Benton in 1936. He followed his ill master who was taken to St. Clare Hospital. Shep’s master passed a few days later, and the coffin was loaded onto a train and shipped back east to family.
Historical accounts of the day recalled the dog whining as the door shut and the engine pulled away from the station.
The following day, Shep, as he would eventually be called, returned looking for his master and inspected every train passenger that got off at the Fort Benton station - a vigil that would continue for the next five years.
During that time Shep gained quite a bit of fame for his loyalty and was featured in “Ripley's Believe It or Not!” and newspapers across the country. People traveled from all over just to see Shep, with many expressing interest in adopting him. However, Shep would usually retreat after inspecting the new people.
During his vigil, Shep inspected thousands of passengers arriving in Fort Benton, but never found the one person he was looking for.
Railway staff looked out for Shep as best they could, making sure he had food, water, and shelter from the elements.
Shep was not a young dog when he first arrived in town, and after five years he had become hard of hearing and was no longer agile.
On the morning of January 12, 1942, Shep slipped on the tracks and died after being hit by a train.
Two days later, a funeral was held for the old sheepdog, with hundreds of people attending to pay tribute. School was canceled so that the children could attend and the Boy Scouts of Troop #47 served as pallbearers.
Shep was buried on a bluff overlooking the train depot. Great Northern employees erected a profile monument of Shep and placed a concrete marker in his honor. In 1994 a statue of the faithful canine by Browning artist Bob Scriver was erected in town near the banks of the Missouri River.
People still travel from far and wide to visit Fort Benton to hear Shep’s story and pay tribute to a dog that was the embodiment of “man's best friend."