Thursday, March 6, 2014

Fort Benton - Where Stories Abound

First Bridge to Span the Missouri River

  • Choteau County Seat
  • On the banks of the Missouri River
  • Canoeists and History Buffs seek its solitude
  • On the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail
  • On the Nez Perce National Historic Trail
  • Gateway to the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument
  • It was the world's most Innermost Port
  • Steamboats went up the Missouri River to Fort Benton for 30 years
  • Shep's home
  • Registered as a National Historic Landmark
I think it is one of the most beautiful towns in Montana, Forbes and the National Geographic have long held that same belief.  In the tapestry of Montana's History, Fort Benton is the Woof threads.  

In September of 2011 we stayed overnight in Fort Benton and the next morning we walked along the steamboat levee trying to see it through the lenses of time.  From the levee you can see the first bridge to ever span the Missouri River,  and a statute of Old Shep sculpted by Bob Scriver. 

The morning we were there I noticed a man and a dog at the nearby picnic table.   As I watched them I kept thinking of Old Shep's story.

Old Shep started out life working partnered with a sheepherder.  The sheepherder's name has long been lost.  But some in Aug of 1936 the sheepherder took sick and went to the St Clare hospital in Fort Benton.  The nun who ran the kitchen, Sister Genevieve,  took pity on the dog who was keeping vigil and fed him.  His owner did not survive.  The sheepherder's remains were sent back to Ohio.  The dog tried to remain with his owner but was left behind.

Four trains would pull into Fort Benton every day and the dog met everyone with excitement and anticipation.  Only to be disappointed when his beloved owner did not appear.  The railroad people started calling him Shep when they realized he wouldn't go away.  For the next 5 -1/2 years Shep met every train.

Several months into his vigil a conductor by the name of Ed Shield's kept asking questions about the dog.  Over the next two year's Shep's story began to untangle and Ed reported it to the Great Falls Tribune.  They ran the story of the lonely shepherd dog.  From their his story grew.  People road the train just to see the dog.  Letters were sent.  January 1942 Shep now hard of hearing slipped on the icy track and was killed.  Two days later the city fathers arranged a funeral for Old Shep, people came from hundreds of miles to say goodbye.

The railroad erected a concrete tombstone that can still be seen today.  In memory of the 50th anniversary of Shep's accident the town commissioned a bronze sculpture.  They also asked Jack Gladstone to create a song for the dedication.  You can hear the song "Old Shep" here it is also on the interview at

Sneed Collard III wrote a children's book that I love "Shep Our Most Loyal Dog".

I have often heard that Fort Benton is Montana's birthplace.  I don't know about that but I know it is where stories abound.


  1. Okay....I now since I have tears running down my face while listening to that song about Shep... This was such a touching story...I had heard it some time in my life...but your blog has brought it life...and now I want to visit Fort Benton. Love your pictures...and so glad you put the link with the song on it...even though I cried the through the whole thing. Thanks so much. Jackie

  2. What a great story - I was thinking, as I read, that it would make a wonderful picture book, and then I see hat it has. Now to find it!

  3. Sneed - the author lives in Missoula, Montana. If you click on the picture of the book it should take you directly to Amazon. Most book dealers should be able to order it for you. I will check with him to see if he has another way to order the book.


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