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Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

“Wonder Dog’s” 2,500-mile odyssey put Silverton on the map

Lost in Illinois, the affable collie crossed the Rocky Mountains on foot in the dead of winter, making friends along the way and causing a sensation on his arrival.

Bobbie the Wonder Dog on the Braziers' car in Silverton.
Bobbie the Wonder Dog perches on the trunk of the Braziers' touring
car in Silverton. (Photo from website for Susan
Stelljes' book, "Wonder Dog," www.silvertonbobbie.com)

The town of Silverton, nestled at the edge of the foothills of the Cascades east of Salem, has been home to some notably famous personalities, including muckraking cartoonist Homer Davenport and movie star Clark Gable.

But this town’s most famous scion is probably a dog named Bobbie.

Bobbie was a young Scotch collie mix who lived with the family of Frank and Elizabeth Brazier, owners of a popular Silverton restaurant called the Reo Café.

Bobbie & family leave on vacation

In the summer of 1923, Frank and Elizabeth packed up their Overland Red Bird touring car and headed east for a visit to Indiana. And, of course, Bobbie came with them — perched proudly atop the pile of luggage in the back seat, or else riding jauntily on a running board.

The Oregonian newspaper coverage of Bobbie the Wonder Dog.
The Oregonian's coverage of Bobbie's journey included a photo
of the intrepid collie and a map showing the most likely route
he traveled to get home.

They were almost to their destination when it happened: Frank was gassing up the Red Bird when a pack of local mongrels jumped Bobbie. The last Frank saw of Bobbie that day, he was running for his life with three snarling dogs in hot pursuit.

At the time, Frank wasn’t worried. Bobbie, he thought, could take care of himself; he’d be waiting back at the house where the Braziers were staying.

But he wasn’t.

The Braziers started searching. They called around town, advertised in the local newspaper and did some driving around. Still no Bobbie.

On their way home without Bobbie

So, leaving instructions to hang onto him if he reappeared, they continued on their trip. They’d pick him up on the way back home, they figured.

They figured wrong. Bobbie still wasn’t around on their return. So, regretfully, the Braziers continued on their way, leaving instructions to send him home on a rail car at their expense should he turn up — hoping for the best, but fearing the worst.

"Oh look — isn't that Bobbie?"

Exactly six months later, one of Elizabeth Brazier’s daughters from a previous marriage, Nova Baumgarten, was walking down a Silverton street with a friend when she suddenly seized the other girl’s arm.  “Oh look — isn’t that Bobbie?” she said (or words to that effect).

The Silverton Appeal newspaper coverage of Bobbie the Wonder Dog.
The Silverton Appeal-Tribune's coverage wasn't as flashy, but Bobbie
still made the front page.

Sure enough, it was Bobbie — sore of foot, matted of coat, his toenails worn down to nothing. Bobbie had logged more than 2,500 miles and probably well over 3,000 — swimming rivers and crossing the Continental Divide in the dead of winter to get back home to Silverton.

Nova brought Bobbie to the Reo for a joyful reunion with her mother and stepfather and a luxurious meal of sirloin steak and whipping cream. The place was packed with mill workers — possibly including Clark Gable, who had not yet been “discovered” and was working a shift at a Silverton sawmill at the time — and it was a matter of minutes before word of Bobbie’s amazing journey was on everyone’s lips, all over town.

A determined dog's journey

The Oregonian story about Bobbie the Wonder Dog receiving a medal from the Humane Society.
The Humane Society awarded Bobbie a medal, and he
was given the key to the city of Silverton.

Within a week the story was making national headlines. Friendly people with whom Bobbie had stayed for a night or two on his journey wrote in to tell their stories. Putting all of this together, the Humane Society of Portland was able to piece together a surprisingly precise account of the route Bobbie took:

After coming back to Wolcott and finding the Braziers gone, Bobbie first followed them northeast, farther into Indiana. Then he started striking out on what must have been exploratory journeys in various directions — perhaps trying to pick up a familiar scent to give him a sense of the direction to take.

Eventually, he found what he was looking for, and struck out for the West Coast.

On their trip, the Braziers had left their car in service stations each night. Bobbie visited each of these on the way, along with a number of private homes. He also spent some time in a hobo camp. In Portland, he stayed for some time with an Irish woman, who nursed him back to health after some sort of accident left his legs and paws gashed up.

(As a side note, this injury is probably the source of the allegation that Bobbie’s paws were “worn down to the bone” on his return — a physiologically impossible claim not made in any of the 1924 newspaper articles I found, but prominent in many modern accounts.)

About two weeks later, Bobbie was back in Silverton.

Bobbie the Media Sensation

After the joyful reunion, the collie’s life got a lot more exciting. The Humane Society gave him a medal in a sober ceremony in Portland. Silverton gave him the key to the city, along with special permission to walk its streets free from fear of the municipal dogcatcher. Correspondence poured in addressed to “Bobbie the Wonder Dog.” He was honored as the star of the Home Beautifying Exposition in Portland just a few months after his return, and a miniature bungalow was built to serve as his doghouse.

Alas, Bobbie had not much time to enjoy these perks. He died in 1927 after getting sick; doctors suggested it was the strain of his journey catching up with him. He was buried at the Humane Society’s pet cemetery in Portland; Rin Tin Tin (the first movie-star dog of that name) was actually coached to place a wreath on his grave.

(Sources: Friedman, Ralph. Tracking Down Oregon. Portland: Pars Publishing, 1978; The Silverton Appeal, Feb. 22, 1924; The Oregonian, Feb.-March 1924; Kent, Judith. Silverton’s Bobbie: …. Woodburn, Ore.: Beautiful America, 2004; Stelljes, Susan. Wonder Dog: The Story of Silveron Bobbie. Portland: For the Love of Dog Books, 2005; www.silvertonbobbie.com)