A statue of Old Shep, Fort Benton’s unofficial mascot, stands watch in the center of town, waiting for a cowboy who will never return.
In the summer of 1936, a Montana sheepherder fell ill. He was transported to the St. Clare Hospital in Fort Benton and followed by his faithful sheepdog, Shep. As the man lay dying, the old dog remained at his side, fed scraps by sympathetic nurses. When the cowboy died, his family requested that he be sent back East. Even then, Shep the sheepdog followed the cowboy’s casket out to the train depot. He whimpered as he watched his master’s body loaded into a cargo car and carried away.
For the next five-and-a-half years, Shep returned to the train station to wait for his owner to return. Four times a day, without fail, Shep would trot up to the station and scan the disembarking passengers for the man. Though at this point a stray, he became a beloved fixture of the little town and was looked after by the train station employees.
Word of the loyal dog in Fort Benton spread, and Shep became something of a Depression-era celebrity. He was featured as an oddity in early Ripley’s Believe It or Not! syndicated panels. Train travelers would take massive detours to see him at the station. Children sent him Christmas presents. Some of them even tried to adopt him, but Shep never took more than a passing interest in any of his admirers. He was a one man dog.
Ultimately, it was his unending dedication that killed him. On the morning of January 12, 1942, he waited as usual for the 10:17 train. His hearing had failed, his limbs were riddled with arthritis, and he was struck by the arriving train.
Shep was buried atop a hill overlooking the train depot. His pallbearers were a local troop of Boy Scouts, and hundreds attended the ceremony. The Great Northern Train Company paid for a wooden effigy of Shep and a cutout of his name to be placed atop the hill for all to see.
Over the years, interest in “Forever Faithful” Shep waned, and his gravesite fell into disrepair. But in the 1980s a group of local historians and civic organizations cleaned it up. Fort Benton restored its pride in its mascot, and demonstrated their love for Shep by installing a new memorial to him in 1994. This steel representation of the faithful sheepdog stands on a railroad trestle in the center of town, looking expectantly over the Missouri River. His memorial is surrounded by an octagonal patio, paved with bricks dedicated to other beloved lost animals.
Know Before You Go
Memorial is right next to the Missouri River.