'The Most Outstanding Feat in All Dogdom'
With help from alumna author Judith (Wood) Kent '55, the story of Silverton's "Wonder Dog" still captivates us
Silverton, Salem's floral and friendly neighbor town, makes the local news every now and then because of its Oregon Garden and Frank Lloyd Wright's Gordon House, both of which draw many visitors each year.
But in 1924, newspapers throughout the country wrote about Silverton because of a Scotch Collie named Bobbie.
In 1923, a Silverton family, the Braziers, drove cross-country for a vacation to see family members back East. They rode in an Overland Red Bird, a machine closer to a carriage than a Camry, which sported wide running boards along the sides, narrow spoked wheels, and a fabric banner in the rear that read "Silverton Oregon." Standing on a running board was Bobbie, the dutiful companion.
In Wolcott, Ind., 2,551 miles from home, Bobbie disappeared. The last Frank Brazier saw of Bobbie was a glimpse of him running from a pack of local dogs around the corner at a gas station. While the family searched the area, a friendly local newspaper editor ran an ad asking for help, but no one replied. The town's telephone operator called every local number, but nobody had seen the dog. After several weeks, the Braziers, deflated, left and drove home. Winter was coming.
Then, on Feb. 15, 1924, exactly six months after Bobbie was lost, he returned home to Silverton on his own. Miraculously, he had found his way back and managed the treachery of a Rocky Mountain winter on foot.
Kent wrote about the ordeal in a book called "Silverton's Bobbie." On the day he returned, she writes, "the emaciated dog fell into [Brazier's] arms, whining and crying pitifully, seeming almost human in his joy at being home." The family's reaction was similar. They immediately gave him a meal of steak and cream, and then Bobbie sought his old basement bed, sleeping for the better part of three days.
"Footsore and weary," as one newspaper would put it, Bobbie had spent all or most of those 2,000 miles alone and running on limited food. It became obvious that he must have had periodic help along his route, and soon, with newspapers picking up the story around the country, people started to speak up.
Kent consolidated these eyewitness accounts as she tried to piece together Bobbie's solo narrative. Several people who had cared for the dog along the way wrote letters to the Braziers offering happy wishes and it-could-have-been-me recollections. Others suggested that Bobbie had picked up the habit of staying nights at service-station garages, where his owners had earlier parked their car while they slept. A caretaker in Portland provided Bobbie with the last boost - including medical attention for his paws - that he needed to push on to Silverton.
"The Guinness Book of World Records" certified the homing feat given the prevalence of eyewitness testimonies and a clear ID on the dog. "The Prodigal Dog," "Wonder Dog" -- the nicknames went on and congratulatory gifts spilled into the Brazier household (these included the keys to the city of Vancouver, B.C.).
Bobbie's last years were jubilant.
He was later buried in the pet cemetery at the Oregon Humane Society, and the canine star Rin Tin Tin visited his grave to leave behind a wreath. Though he only lived to be six years old, Bobbie fathered 16 pups, all of them male - and he now has a permanent statue installation at the Oregon Garden detailing his trek.
Kent helped organize it, but she recalls that the sculpture almost never came to be. "It was going to cost $25,000 for a full-body statue," she says, "and I had no idea how Bobbie's supporters would pay for that. So I was relieved to hear from the artist that a bust was an option, too. I thought, 'If that's good enough for Washington, D.C., and some very important people, it'll work here.'"
She says that Bobbie's story helps to color in Oregon's exploratory lore, even today. "Bobbie was dogdom's Lewis and Clark rolled into one."
The book, "Silverton's Bobbie: His Amazing Journey - The True Story" (Beautiful America Publishing Company), is available via the Willamette Store. Call 503-370-6315.
Courtesy of the Oregon Historical Society's Research Library Moving Image Collections, readers can view a charming silent film from the 1920s starring Bobbie himself. To learn more about resources like this one, visit the Oregon Historical Society at ohs.org.