I can’t think of a better way to kick off 2018 than with a good old fashioned dog story. The story of Bobbie the wonder dog. Bobbie’s “tail” begins during a family visit to Wolcott, Indiana. This tiny town of 1,000 owes its genesis to being the last stop of the Pan Handle Route railroad back in 1861. Wolcott is located halfway between Indianapolis and Chicago on I-65, not far from Indiana Beach. Bobbie the wonder dog is by far the most famous subject to ever come out of Wolcott — literally.
Mr. and Mrs. Frank Brazier, along with their daughters Nova and Leona, were on a 2,500 mile family car trip from their Silverton, Oregon home to Wolcott in the summer of 1923. Joining the family was their 3-year-old bobtailed Scotch Collie/English Shepherd mix dog, whom the girls had named Bobbie. The dog made the cross country journey riding on the running board or atop the luggage of the family touring car.
The family had left Indiana and moved west to Oregon to work outdoors in the hop fields of the Beaver State. At the time, Oregon led the world in hops with more than 34,000 acres in production. Hops are responsible for the pleasing flavors in beer produced by the plant’s flower known as the hop cone. It looks like a pinecone, but is smaller with soft overlaying petals. Hops provide beer with it’s bitter flavor and distinctive aroma. The hop plants rise in mid-March, harvest begins in August and ends in October. The family planned to wrap up their trip and return home in time for harvest. Bobbie had other plans.
On August 15, 1923, Mr. Brazier headed down to the filling station to get the car “tanked up” with gas. As usual, Bobbie rode shotgun on the trip. As Frank went inside to pay, he heard the dog yelp. He rushed out just in time to see Bobbie, in Frank’s words, “run around the corner of the building with three or four snarling curs at his heels.” (Cur being an ancient term used to describe the lowest class of mixed-breed dog.) Bobbie had a history of chasing after rabbits and squirrels but always found his way back home.
Thinking Bobbie would take care of himself as usual, Frank left for home expecting to find the dog there upon return. After a couple hours with no Bobbie, the Brazier’s began to get anxious. Bobbie always responded to the sound of the car horn so Frank drove slowly all around town, honking at frequent intervals. Bobbie never appeared. It was midnight before Frank gave up. The next morning, Frank got busy on the phone calling everyone in and around Wolcott, but no one had seen their beloved family pet. The weekly paper even ran an ad asking for information on the lost dog.
The Brazier family remained in Indiana for an additional three weeks looking for any sign of Bobbie, with no luck. Heartsick at their loss, the family gave up the search and headed toward home, leaving word that if the dog turned up the family would have him shipped back to Oregon. Fall turned to winter, the holidays came and went without beloved Bobbie to share the season. The family adjusted to life without the family dog, resigning themselves to the fact that they would never see Bobbie again.
Exactly six months passed. On February 15, 1924, little Nova and a friend were walking down a street in Silverton when she stopped dead in her tracks, gasped and seized her friend by the arm. She suddenly exclaimed, “Oh! look! Isn’t that Bobbie?” Nova was pointing at a shaggy, ragged looking dog as it walked out of a nearby woods in her direction. Nova screamed out “Bobbie” and in moments the dog began leaping up again and again to cover her face with kisses. Bobbie was making half-strangled, sobbing sounds of relief peppered with soft whimpers of joy. He was skinny, footsore, and wearing an unfamiliar collar, but it was Bobbie, sure enough, and his actions proved that he was happy to be home again.
The pads on Bobbie’s feet were worn to the bone causing the Brazier family to wonder, did he walk the entire 2,551 mile distance back to Silverton on his own? Yes indeed, Bobbie had traveled an average of 14 miles per day over plains, desert and mountain terrain to make it back home.
How did the family know that this mutt was truly their Bobbie? When only two months old, Bobbie was kicked in the head by a horse. This left a scar over the dog’s eye. On another occasion, the dog was asleep in the hops field when a passing tractor ran over his leg. The ground was soft and deeply cultivated, which fortunately kept him from serious injury, but the accident left another scar. His third identifiable scar came from an encounter with an angry gopher. While digging furiously in a hillside trying to get at the varmint, he broke off parts of two teeth. All of which helped the family identify the pooch as their beloved Bobbie.
According to Frank Brazier, “Poor Bob was almost all in. For three days he did little but eat and sleep. He would roll over on his back and hold up his pads, fixing us with his eyes to tell us how sore his feet were. His toe-nails were down to the quick, his eyes inflamed, his coat uneven and matted, and his whole bearing that of an animal which has been through a grilling experience. When he first came back he would eat little but raw meat, showing that he had depended for sustenance chiefly on his own catches of rabbits or prairie fowl.”
After his return to Silverton, Bobbie experienced a meteoric rise to fame. The local paper, the Silverton Appeal, published the story of Bobbie’s cross-country trek, and it quickly spread to newspapers across the country. Soon Silverton was flooded with hundreds of letters from people simply addressed to “Bobbie, the Wonder Dog” or “Silverton’s Bobbie.”
He was the subject of newspaper articles including “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!,” books, and a movie. Bobbie played himself in the 1924 silent film “The Call of the West.” He received more fan mail than President Calvin Coolidge and Harry Houdini combined. He was honored with a jewel-studded harness and collar, medals, ribbons and keys to cities. Frank said, “His dog sense and his love for us led him over three thousand miles, across river and prairie, through towns and wilderness, straight to his own folks…we have had many letters from persons who saw him at different stages of his journey. He would turn up at some house where we had stopped or some town we had passed through, his eyes half closed and red with strain, his feet bleeding, ravenously hungry, so tired he was ready to drop. Some friend of dogs would feed and doctor him and he would rest for a while, but just as soon as he could, he would be up and away again. We are told he was always looking for someone and always in a hurry.”
Mr. Brazier said, “He received presents almost daily, with requests for his picture; has had columns and columns of newspaper stories printed about him, and his photograph has appeared so many times that we have had to get a special scrapbook for all the articles and pictures.” The Oregon Humane Society, at first skeptical of the story, interviewed enough people along Bobbie’s route to confirm that the determined dog had indeed traveled a circuitous 2,800 mile route in the dead of winter to return home. He was the guest of honor at the Portland Realty Board’s Home Show where over 40,000 people stood in line to pet him, and where he received a deluxe dog house a special gift.
Bobbie’s miniature bungalow weighed 900 pounds, had eight glass windows shaded by silk curtains and featured every convenience a well-traveled dog could wish for. The house was on exhibition all week and the show concluded with a formal ceremony where Bobbie was presented with the deed to his domicile. Probably the best gift of all, from Bobbie’s perspective, was a local leash-law exemption that allowed him to roam Silverton freely for the rest of his days.
Upon his death in 1927, Bobbie was buried with honors at the Oregon Humane Society in Portland some 50 miles away from his hometown. Portland Mayor George Baker gave the eulogy. Rin Tin Tin, a German shepherd who was a Hollywood film star, laid a wreath at his grave. Bobbie’s grave is sheltered by the ornate red and white dog house he received at the Portland Home Show. Later, so many people visited the gravesite that the gravestone had to be moved outside of the house for better viewing. Officials feared that the prized doghouse would be destroyed by curious, well-meaning visitors.
Unlike other famous animals of that era, Bobbie was not stuffed after death. This initially limited his potential as a tourist attraction but is seen as a blessing by animal activists today. Later, the Humane Society Headquarters expanded and closed off the cemetery behind a fence, which meant that Bobbie’s grave could only be reached by walking through the building during regular business hours. It just didn’t seem right for the wayfaring dog turned populist hero to be fenced in forever.
In 2012, a grass-roots movement was started by Silvertonians to remove Bobbie’s remains from Portland for reburial in Silverton. The movement failed and Bobbie’s bones remain nestled securely in the state’s largest city. Nevertheless, Silverton keeps Bobbie’s memory alive by hosting an annual Pet Parade. The first ever was led by his son, and current ones are led by winners of an annual Bobbie the wonder dog lookalike contest.
Bobbie the wonder dog’s legend was seen as a perfect reason to visit Silverton and failure to move the loyal pup’s bones did not deter the grass-roots effort to honor him. In Silverton, a 70-foot-long mural of his life was painted on a wall facing the busiest street in town. At one end, a life-size statue of Bobbie sits on a square of Astroturf. Today, the spot has become THE picture spot for selfie lovers in Silverton. Next to the statue is a replica of Bobbie’s fancy dog house.
Bobbie the wonder dog’s story is a reminder of the special place animals and pets have in people’s lives. After all, where would we be without our pets?
Al Hunter is the author of the “Haunted Indianapolis” and co-author of the “Haunted Irvington” and “Indiana National Road” book series. His newest books are “Bumps in the Night: Stories from the Weekly View”, “Irvington Haunts: The Tour Guide,” and “The Mystery of the H.H. Holmes Collection.” Contact Al directly at Huntvault@aol.com or become a friend on Facebook.