Driving up Montana #87, Fort Benton beckoned me to visit the famous site of "Shep" the Aussie Shepherd who kept vigil for his master for 5 1/2 years. Thinking, "this is a hokey time waster," I experienced some of the most heart-wrenching emotions of my life.
In 1936 an old rancher died in the Ft. Benton hospital and his coffin was put on a train headed for his relatives in Ohio. His dog, Shep, followed until the train's speed forced him to return to the depot to await the old man's return. Shep lived by the tracks and met every train. When the town people realized what was happening, many wanted to adopt Shep but it was apparent he had only one destiny.
The town looked after Shep by bringing him food, visits from a vet and stories were written about him. His story touched the hearts of many and Shep received letters and presents from all over the world. After keeping his vigil for 5 1/2 years, he was getting old. One snowy night he slipped on the train tracks and could no longer hear the whistle. Shep's long vigil was ended.
The above bronze statue of Shep, with his paw on a train rail still simulates his vigil. His remains are buried high on a bluff overlooking the town. You can reach the actual site by the path in the photo below. What a climb. Was I up to that? It was an extremely windy day and much of the path was a narrow precipice. Half way I panicked, too scared to forge on or turn back. All I could do is fight the wind and try to stay in the moment. When I reached the burial spot, an amazing thing happened, the wind stopped. I sat down and became one with nature, with devotion and the impetus behind vigil. Alone up there, I felt as if I could reach up and touch the sky and my tears flowed freely. In that moment, I was able to come to grips with my own issues as a strong love permeated my heart.
Even as I write this, many years later, I can't explain what happened high on that bluff but it was a definite epiphany that remains with me to this day.
There is a movie named "Hachiko" starring Richard Gere that tells the same message of a faithful dog who waits for his master's return. I don't know the history behind that movie, but it also tweaked my heart-strings.
A very short vid below also talks about Shep.