In August 1936, a coffin was loaded into a baggage car at the Fort Benton train station. Inside this casket was the body of a sheepherder who had fallen mortally ill and died at the St. Clare Hospital. At the behest of the sheepherder’s family back east, the undertaker loaded the coffin onto the east-bound train out of Fort Benton. As the casket was loaded and the door to the baggage car shut, a haggard sheepdog looked on and began to whine. Slowly, the train pulled away from the station while the dog that would later be named Shep stayed put.
In the years following that train’s departure, Shep appeared to meet four trains daily. He was a nuisance to train station employees and they would often chase him away, only for him to sneak under the station platform. There, he would wait patiently until the next train arrived.
As a scavenger, Shep survived off scraps of food that were offered to him by townsfolk. Despite their kindness, Shep was seemingly apathetic toward the people of Fort Benton and generally considered a nuisance. That was, until train conductor Ed Shields pieced Shep’s story together.
Shields, who worked the line from Havre to Great Falls, realized that the dog had been waiting at the station ever since the sheepherder’s coffin was sent home by train. The dog then, tragically unaware of the situation, was awaiting his master’s return.
Solving the mystery, Shields created a pamphlet regarding Shep’s story of faithfulness. The pamphlets were sold on the train with all proceeds going to the Montana School for the Deaf and Blind. Over the years, tens of thousands of dollars were raised through Shep’s story and the dog himself became a celebrity. When Ripley’s Believe It or Not caught word of the incredible tale, they featured Shep in a syndicated column, making him famous nationwide.
In January 1942, Shep slept on the tracks, still anticipating the sheepherder’s return. Over six years had passed, but steadfast as ever, he waited for the morning train to come in. When the train did arrive, however, Shep’s hearing was so poor from prolonged exposure to trains that he didn’t sense it until the last moment. He woke up and frantically tried to spring from the tracks. But they were slippery and he was unable to get off in time. He was killed instantly.
Shep’s death had a profound impact on the town of Fort Benton. Two days after the incident, a funeral was held in which over two-hundred people attended. The dog’s remains were taken by an honor guard and placed at a site overlooking the train station. Today, a bronze statue of Shep pays tribute to the loyal dog, whose story has captivated and inspired so many.