Saturday, January 12, 2013

Historical Hounds-The Story of Old Shep

Today marks the anniversary of the death of one of the  most famous American dogs, Old Shep. Immortalized in the famous famous folk song by Ramblin Jack Elliot,  and later sung by Elvis Presley.  While the song tells the story of a fictional boy and his beloved dog, the name is borrowed from the real Old Shep, a homeless mutt who attained great fame in his life time due to his sweet and loyal nature.

Shep lived for 6 years at The Great Northern Railway Station in Montana. The legend is that he first appeared at the station at the same time a casket was being loaded onto a train.   After that fateful day Shep continued to return to the rail station and seemed to inspect each incoming train, leading the railway workers to believe that Shep was looking for his departed master.  The  workers began to take care of Shep until he was soon  living at the station.   Comfortable around the trains, affectionate and friendly he easily  won admirers.    Thanks to the railway workers who told his story to the many travelers who passed through the station Shep became famous and was featured in Ripley's Believe it Or Not.  His story so impressed people that he began to receive fan mail and gifts as well as many visitors.

On January 12, 1942 Shep, already a middle aged to older dog when he first arrived at the station, was somewhat feeble and suffering from failing hearing when he was struck and killed by an oncoming train.  His funeral was attended by hundreds of mourners.  His obituary was carried in many news papers, even though the news was inundated with stories of the War.  Shep was buried near the rail tracks and his name was spelled out in stones and illuminated at night.  For years  travelers saw the grave through the windows of every departing train, but eventually the  route changed and the grave fell into disrepair.  

In 1994 a large bronze  statue of Shep was erected at the station.  Today visitors continue to bring Shep flowers.

There is no doubt that like all American heroes Shep's story has been embellished and taken on some mythic elements. Some versions describe Shep waiting at the hospital where his master was ill, for days before the man's death.  Others speak of him simply arriving at the station with the casket.  Stories diverge on the degree of Shep's loyalty and overall  personality.  Some describe him as being in constant mourning for his lost master.  Some individuals who actually new Shep during his life time however, describe him as playful and happy dog who enjoyed his life at the station, and basked in the attention of his many admirers.  No matter how much we love the idea of canine loyalty, I prefer to think of Shep as a happy old dog enjoying his golden years at the railway station.


  1. Urban hounds you are brilliant at these anniversaries and we always learn something new as well as being entertained. Nice one! Have a super Saturday.
    Best wishes Molly

  2. You know I love your "Historical Hounds" posts. I did not know about Old Shep, but what a great story. I'm with you. I like to think of Old Shep living out his golden year happy and playing.

  3. Lovely story, I've never heard it before, thank you for sharing it.

  4. Woof! Woof! Interesting. My mom seen photos of that statue. Golden Thanks for sharing. Happy Saturday. Lots of Golden Woofs, Sugar

  5. What an interesting story. I love to hear about dogs from history.
    Lynne x

  6. Mom really enjoys your historical hounds posts. this is a great story.
    Bailey, Hazel & Greta

  7. What a great story! Thanks for sharing!!

  8. What a wonderful story! I hope Shep was happy at the rail station, too!

  9. Shep.. one day we will be able to bring you flowers and also a couple of cookies to go with them. AH, baby... lots of luvs.. x Freya Rose Blossom and Frankie de tabby x

  10. I love the story of Shep. I learned the song when I was young and sang it all the time at family get togethers and everyone would cry.

    Thanks for re telling it today

  11. You guys are so great at finding all this stuff out. We have heard of old Shep :) Humoms gonna make me a jean toy today..Will let you know how it goes :) xx00xx

    Mollie and Alfie

  12. I don't like sad endings. It makes my eyes leak. It's wonderful he had a good life and the workers and travelers embraced him and took care of him.