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The Story of Shep

During the summer of 1936 a sheepherder fell ill while tending his flock and was brought to the St. Clare Hospital in Fort Benton, Montana. A nondescript sheep dog had followed the herder into town and soon set up a vigil at the hospital's door. A kind hearted nun who ran the hospital kitchen fed the dog during those few days before the man died. The herder's family in the East requested that his body be sent back home. On that August day the undertaker put the body on the east-bound train for shipment to his waiting relatives. As the gurney was rolled out onto the platform, a big gaunt shepherd dog with watchful eyes appeared out of nowhere and watched as the casket was loaded into the baggage car. Attendants later recalled the dog whining as the door slammed shut and the engine slowly started to pull away from the station, then head down, turning and trotting down the tracks. On that day the dog, later named Shep, began a five-and-a-half year vigil that was only broken by his death.

Day after day, meeting four trains daily, Shep became a fixture on the platform. He eyed each passenger hopefully, and was often chased off as a mongrel but never completely discouraged. Neither the heat of summer days nor the bitter Montana winter days prevented Shep from meeting the next train. As Shep's fame spread, people came from everywhere to see him, to photograph him, and to try and make friends and possibly adopt him. All of the attention was somewhat unwelcome; after checking the train he often retired quickly to get away from those who came to see him.

Most people missed the point that Shep was a one-man dog. The bond he had formed with the herder many years before was simply the most important thing is his life. Food, shelter and attention were now provided by the railroad employees. That was all he wanted, except his master's return.

Shep was an older dog when he came to the station house in Fort Benton. Throughout his vigil the long nights under the platform and the cold winter had taken their toll. Stiff-legged and hard of hearing, Shep failed to hear old 235 as it rolled into the station at 10:17 that cold winter morning. He turned to look when the engine was almost upon him, moved to get out of the way, and slipped on the icy rails. Shep's long vigil had ended.

Shep's funeral was held two days later. He was laid to rest on the bluff overlooking the station where his long wait had been in vain. The sights and sounds of the singing rails and the whistles around the bend are all gone now, also passing with time. No passenger trains pull into the station today, but Shep still maintains his lonely vigil atop the wind-swept bluff overlooking the abandoned depot.


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