This is a piece I wrote for the Marion County Historical Society, where I’m
doing a bit of volunteering.
You know about
Rin Tin Tin, famous canine actor and four-legged detective. You remember
Lassie, always coming home, saving Timmy from doom. But are you
familiar with Oregon’s most celebrated canine, a true-life hero and marvel
from the 1920’s? Presenting: Bobby the Wonder Dog!
news clippings in Marion County Historical Society files recount the tale of
Bobby, a scotch collie, and his incredible 2,800 mile solo expedition to
reunite with his lost human pack in Silverton. In the summer of 1923,
Bobby accompanied his owners, Frank and Elizabeth Brazier, on a vacation to
their native Indiana. Bobby traveled in high style, riding atop the
luggage rack or the running boards of the family touring car.
Unfortunately, Bobby had a penchant for wandering, and made a fateful doggie
detour at one Hoosier stop.
conducted a grand search of the Wolcott, Indiana area, to no avail;
heartbroken, they departed for a return trip to Oregon on August 15th.
months later, the youngest Brazier daughter, Nora, spotted a familiar-looking
pooch on the streets of Silverton outside her family’s restaurant.
Nora’s squeals of delight caught the dog’s ear. He bounded to her,
slathering her little face in slobbery kisses while heaving strangled,
relieved sobs of joy. It was Bobby.
examination of the dog confirmed his identity. He had the same three
scars, that same missing tooth. His paws were raw and
tender. He also was filthy, stinky, skinny and
exhausted. And very hungry.
Like Lewis &
Clark before him, Bobby had traveled months over unknown territory, across
wintry peaks, blazing plains, roaring rivers. From the Midwest to the
Eden of the Willamette Valley! Surviving off the land! Depending
upon the kindness of the native peoples!
Bobby provided a
few clues of his absence. A fresh collar, from would-be owners,
perhaps. New scars. A curious taste for raw meat. Had
Bobby subsisted on prairie fowl and rabbits?
Bobby’s remarkable excursion spread throughout the land. Major
magazines, newspapers, wire reports and movie house newsreels narrated the
story of Oregon’s Wonder Dog. Bobby’s fame
Soon fan mailed
arrived for Silverton’s new star. Some dog-lovers testified of
encounters with Bobby on his journey, how they fed and housed him, how they
doctored his bleeding feet. Bobby would take a little R & R,
they said, but always seemed to be in a rush to get along his way.
reports, Bobby’s biographer established the dog’s apparent route across
the states. Bobby turned up in towns and homes the family had visited
during their summer vacation, executing eager inspections of each
location. For the first 3-½ months, he seemed to wander in
circles. Upon reaching Des Moines, Iowa, the dog’s homing instinct
kicked in, and he trekked westward in a more or less straight path. How
did Bobby do this? Surely it involved great canine intelligence,
persistence, endurance, desire, determination and all that sort of
stuff. But nobody has ever fully answered the questions regarding the
directional instinct, including the psychics and clairvoyants of the day who
understood the “why” better than the “how.” It was for loyalty,
some said. Others suggested the draw of the Oregon climate.
Everyone else agreed that Bobby’s true compass was love for his home and
family, pure and simple.
started rolling in for Bobby: a book, a silent movie (with Bobby playing
himself), a listing in Ripley’s Believe It or Not. The Portland Realty
Board featured Bobby as guest of honor, gifting him a silver collar and a
miniature bungalow with silk curtains--suitable for a well-traveled dog, they
explained. Bobby enjoyed the attention but his owner claimed that it
“never turned his head.”
surprise that Bobby’s death, three years later, brought tremendous
grief. Grief and wailing, actually. News accounts describe the
deathbed scene (“Bobby knew he was dying…”) and compared his struggle to
those of early Christian martyrs. Editors printed mournful sonnets with
words like “O’er” and “Hitherto.” They worried they were becoming
Humane Society in Portland buried Bobby in their pet cemetery in a
silver-mounted casket. Rin Tin Tin paid his respects, his head bowed,
despondently resting his paws over the graveside cross.
after Bobby’s death, the town of Silverton launched its annual springtime
pet parade in his honor; the parade continues today. Silverton is
experiencing a resurgence of interest in Bobby, including a new mural, replica
doghouse, concrete image, and book. More than 80 years later, Bobby’s
journey still strikes a chord of wonder in the hearts of Oregonians.
story recalls a proverbial tale of something precious gone missing, never to
be seen again. A rare coin. Grandma’s wedding ring. A
beloved pet. The loss cuts such a deep sting because the disappearance
is most likely forever. Its unexpected prodigal return delivers the
sweetest reunion of all.