My Forty Years Scribblin's
Epilogue
Old Bob

Montana Journal Volume 14, Number 3 May-June 1999 by Mildred Chaffin


We never knew where he came from. He was just there in our barnyard one summer morning, when my farmer husband, Allen, went out to bring in the milk, a pretty little yellow shepherd with white markings. Being somewhat a dog man, Allen put out his hand to pet him and got bit for his trouble.

"To h—- with you!" my husband Allen said. Then, "I wonder if you're any good." He made a sweeping gesture with one arm and commanded "Put 'em in there!" The little dog made a dive toward the surprised bovines, barking furiously. They bolted toward the corral and all tried to get in the barn door at once. Allen came laughing to the house, the little dog following. "Give him something to eat," he said. "Somebody must have lost him. Nobody would dump a dog like that." Well, I was not exactly a dog woman. I hesitated to take up with stray critters, but I brought out some food and set it in front of him and made a friend for life. Because of his little stubby tail that never seemed to stop wiggling, we just called him "Bob."

We were in the midst of haying, and the dog insisted on following wherever I went. I was riding a horse-drawn mower and driving a team the main member of which was a fat old stallion named Prince. The horse had a never ending appetite and would pause to grab a bite of hay as often as possible.

When this happened, I would pop the lines over his back and yell "Prince!" It took the little shepherd all of 30 minutes to figure out who Prince was. Wanting to be helpful, he would dive in and take a nip out of the horse's heels. The first few times this happened I nearly ended up falling off the mowing machine seat. So it took me all of 30 minutes to stop yelling, since I not only had to control my horses I had to watch that Bob didn't get cut up by the sickle.

From my motions and commands Bob learned that he had to stay behind. I wish I knew how many miles he traveled round and round the field behind me and the mowing machine. This produced an interesting situation. Old Bob and Prince developed a hate campaign that lasted as long as we had the horse. It became a ritual. Whenever the dog passed through the corral, he had to have one nip at Prince's heels. The horse would try to land one kick.

Bob also harbored a dog's natural aversion to cats, which he also extended to pigs. If pigs got out he would gladly help get them back into their pen, but if he got his teeth into a pig's ear, somebody would have to pull him off!

Finally, we relaxed, apparently no one was going to claim Bob and take him away from us. We had a small boy who wasn't in school yet, and he and the dog were instant companions. The dog was never still, jumping, running, and chasing birds. As long as I could see our dog, I knew where my kid was because they were never apart.

Then we went into the outfitting business and the little yellow mutt became "worth his weight in gold." He was in dog heaven when we would start getting ready to go to the hills. He knew what it meant when the horses were corralled and the saddles and packs laid out. He was right at our heels so tensed up that he wouldn't eat for fear of getting left or maybe missing something. He made at least 50 miles out of the 24 miles to camp, and he knew every squirrel on the trail by its first name. He happily took on the job of keeping the bear out of camp, and he was my protector when I was in camp alone. It didn't bother him a bit that his antics kept everybody awake when there were varmints around.

The older children grew up and left home. The small one grew up and joined the Navy. Bob was getting old in dog years and each trip into the hills left him sore footed and hurting, too tired to eat. There came the day that he started up the trail and sat down to watch the pack string depart. He knew that he couldn't make it. The boss knew he couldn't make it. So he went back and lifted him into the seat of the truck, knowing that our son-in-law would be up to get it and take him home with him that evening to work.

Winter passed and the ice was breaking up when Old Bob disappeared. A neighbor told of hearing a dog crying out on the river. There was little doubt it was Old Bob crying in the night, and we only hope that he is in that place where all good doggies go. Even if we had known about it, there was no way we could have helped him, going down that river in the dark of night.

We've had cattle dogs and dogs just for pets. But there's never been another quite like "Old Bob."