The Rite Corner: Lessons from a Sheepdog


Illustrious David L. Nielsen, 33°, S.G.I.G. in Montana

Recently I participated in the necrology ceremony performed by the Shriners annually to remember those nobles who had died during the prior calendar. It is a meaningful way to honor those who have died and to reflect on their legacies. A person really does not have control over his or her individual legacy in the world. It is not something a person can compose and be assured that will be the legacy that prevails, if at all, through time. A legacy is what others in the future will evaluate in your life.

Several days later I read an interesting article in the newspaper about Shep, the famous Australian Shepherd dog of Fort Benton, written by Ken Robison, Historian at the Overholser Historical Research Center. As a youth growing up in Montana, I had heard the story about Shep from my father and was taken to Fort Benton to visit the train station that was his final home.

Shep, as he was known by to the community, had been at the railroad station in 1936 when his master's body was loaded on an eastbound train for burial in another state. After that day Shep never left Fort Benton. He became a stray in the town, except that he was different from other strays. For the next five years of his life, until his death, Shep met every inbound train at the Fort Benton station, awaiting the return of his master-his best friend and companion. He slept under the porch at the station and was fed by the station agents. It was obvious that Shep deeply missed his master and the word spread throughout Montana and even the rest of the world.

Shep was most likely a working sheepdog, since Australian Shepherds were the breed of dog favored by sheepherders. A sheepherder, especially living alone in a sheepherder's wagon in the open range, only had his dog as his co-worker, companion and confidant. It was usual for the dog to sleep in the small wagon to escape the weather. Working dogs love their ability to herd the sheep. They are not pets; they are part of the crew. We do not know who his master was, what Shep's real name was, or where they lived and worked. We do know that Shep was loyal to his master, even after the master's death, and kept constant vigilance in meeting all inbound trains to greet his master when he returned.

Shep died 80 years ago, but his legacy in being constantly faithful to his master has made him famous even now. Shep and his master never knew that Shep and his story would give people hope and inspire generous giving for the benefit of the Montana School for the Deaf and Blind. Shep's never ending fidelity to his owner is a remarkable story, but Shep's legacy continues in helping others stricken with hearing or vision loss. Shep teaches us to never forget a friend that has died, be hopeful that we will meet again, put that hope into action, and live a life that inspires others to do good works.

Unfortunately, with the pandemic we have lost brothers, family members, and friends. We mourn the loss, but we will keep them in our memories, honoring their accomplishments, and learning from their lives. The lesson is, remember, never forget.