In the 1920s, a collie mix was separated from his family in Wolcott, Indiana, where the family vacationed the summer of 1923.
Frank and Elizabeth Brazier and their two daughters, Nova and Leona, lived in Silverton, Oregon, along the foothills of the Cascade Mountains south of Portland. Driving their automobile, an Overland Red Bird, they made the long trip to Wolcott, Indiana, to visit friends and relatives, staying at tourist camps along the way. (By the 1920s, an increasing number of families owned automobiles. Along the bigger roads entrepreneurs built small bungalows to rent out nightly.)
The Brazier dog Bobbie (named because he had a “bobbed” tail which was unusual for a collie) accompanied the family. The Red Bird had a collapsible roof, but cars of that time were primarily open air automobiles, so Bobbie could ride on the running boards or on top of the trunk strapped to the back of the automobile. Either way, he was free to jump in and out of the car as they traveled. Auto speeds at that time were slow enough that it was not difficult for a motivated dog to re-join his travelers.
Bobbie Chased Away
One afternoon Frank Brazier left the home where they were staying to take the car to the service station. As usual, Bobbie went along. Frank stopped to chat with the station owner, and Bobbie hopped out to do his usual exploring. However, three stray dogs took issue with the newcomer, and chased Bobbie out of the area.
Frank Brazier was not particularly worried. Bobbie was fast and smart and generally figured out a way to circle back to the car no matter where he wandered. Frank remained at the station for a time, chatting with others who stopped by. After waiting for a bit, Frank sounded the signal to Bobbie. A couple of toots on the horn meant that it was time to get going. But Bobbie did not appear.
A Search for Bobbie
After waiting for about an hour, Frank decided Bobbie must have returned to the house where the family stayed. When he arrived, no one had seen Bobbie. Frank drove back to the station and waited a little longer, but as it got dark, he resolved to start hunting again early the next day.
Unfortunately, the next day was the same. Frank visited stores in Wolcott and stopped in at the local tourist camp, since the family usually stayed at similar places. Bobbie was not to be found. Frank circled around and honked again at the service station, but there was still no response.
Needed to Go Back to Silverton
The Brazier family owned a popular restaurant in Silverton, Oregon, and they knew they couldn’t be gone much longer. All they could do was leave word that if Bobbie returned, they would pay all shipping charges to have him sent home by rail.
With heavy hearts, the family set off for the long drive home without their beloved pet. As they traveled, they left their information at the tourist parks where they camped. Perhaps Bobbie would appear at some place that seemed familiar.
The family arrived in Silverton and re-opened the restaurant. Life had to go on.
What Happened Next
To everyone’s amazement, six months later Bobbie appeared in Silverton. He looked very thin, his fur was matted, and he limped because the pads of his paws were bleeding from the long trip on ice and gravel. Daughter Nova and a friend were first to see him. The girls were on the street outside the family’s restaurant on February 15, 1924, when Nova grabbed her friend’s arm: ”Is that Bobbie?”
With shouts of joy from the girls and yips and small jumps from the injured Bobbie, the girls and the dog shared hugs and kisses. Nova led Bobbie into the restaurant where patrons were surprised to see her bringing a bedraggled dog with badly matted fur inside. He limped slowly toward the back of the diner, only to be greeted by a cry from Elizabeth Frazier: “Bobbie!”
With that, the community realized what happened—Bobbie was home.
Frank worked the early shift so he was upstairs napping before coming down to prepare the next meals. The rest of the family raced up the stairs behind Bobbie who used every last ounce of his strength to bound onto the bed beside his beloved owner.
Frank woke with a start with the first wet lick, but within seconds he realized that this worn-out dog was Bobbie. Bobbie quickly nestled down beside Frank and the two continued Frank’s nap until Frank knew it was time to prepare for the next restaurant diners. But of course, his first priority was putting out a good meal for Bobbie.
While the family was elated over the return of their beloved dog, they couldn’t answer the question that bombarded them from all the townspeople: How did Bobbie get home?
In a fairy tale, Bobbie would step forward and explain his part of the story, but we all must acknowledge that’s not possible here.
What happened was the next best thing.
Bobbie Makes News
Today local television news shows occasionally provide airtime for a feel-good “dog-and-family-reunion” story, but print papers rarely cover such stories. However, in 1925, Bobbie was a great local—and eventually a national—story.
The national news stories resulted in an outpouring of mail for Bobbie and his family. Often the letters were just addressed to “Bobbie, Silverton, Oregon,” or “Silverton Bobbie,” and not much else.
The post office knew where to find Bobbie and the Braziers, and each letter was carefully answered.
Unbeknownst to the family, these letters were key to unlocking Bobbie’s secrets. Some of the letters were from dog owners who were particularly touched by the story. Others were letters of admiration for Bobbie. Some sent gifts, others wrote poetry in Bobbie’s honor…all were touched by knowing that Bobbie got home.
Bobbie became even bigger news when he was featured in the syndicated column, Ripley’s Believe It or Not.
As time went on, the Braziers began to learn a little more about Bobbie’s travels:
“Dear Sir: The enclosed picture appeared in an Indianapolis paper recently and I am wondering if I did not make the acquaintance of Bobbie last summer at my shack on the Tippecanoe River. I was sitting under a tree one summer day, when I heard a splashing in the river and running up the hill came a collie dog which I knew was seeking his master…”
Other Hints of Bobbie’s Whereabouts
Here and there, other news trickled in: “A dog that looked just like Bobbie stayed around our tourist park for a few days…then we never saw him again.”
There were two particular occasions when Bobbie stayed for a longer time. The first incident occurred near Des Moines. One night something must have startled Bobbie. He found himself in the rapidly moving water (presumably the Des Moines River). When he surfaced on the other side of the river, he may have been hit by a vehicle as he emerged from the water. He slowly made his way to a house where he pushed his way in through a screened door and found a friendly greeting.
Des Moines Stop
The Des Moines family wrote to the Braziers:
“I am prompted to write you in the hope of establishing his identity. He made his appearance during the night and finding my nephew sleeping on the porch, he offered his paw to shake hands, after which he quietly went to sleep.”
The family made over him the next morning and fed him breakfast. Each evening Bobbie returned to their home, but he spent his days elsewhere—perhaps scouting for a lead on his family.
After several weeks with the family, Bobbie was better fed and more rested. The injury to his hip also seemed better. One morning the family fed him as usual, and when they let him out, he didn’t return.
They were heartbroken that he didn’t stay, but after asking about for him, there was nothing they could do.
His second long stay was closer to home. After many more miles, much bad weather, and almost certainly dangerous encounters, Bobbie arrived in Portland, Oregon, but he was in such bad shape he could not go on. This time he was taken in by an elderly woman who nursed him back to health and loved having him with her.
Those whom Bobbie visited were in awe of his determination to return to his original family. Despite warm welcomes in several locations, Bobbie insisted he had to go on.
Piecing the Story Together
The Oregon Humane Society heard the stories of Bobbie and the letters coming in that seemed to trace Bobbie’s trip. The story fascinated those who worked there. How could a dog travel so far on his own, and how did he possibly find his way?
The director of the Society paid a call to Frank Brazier at the restaurant. He offered to take the letters after the family answered them and let the staff try to trace Bobbie’s route home. The Braziers loved the idea, and the Society went to work.
As they followed the leads in the letters, Bobbie sometimes circled around and occasionally was led off-track (as in a trip to Denver by automobile), but ultimately, he pointed his nose West and did what he could to track back through landmarks the Braziers passed the first time.
Safe at Home
In the meantime, Bobbie received keys to various cities around Silverton and was invited for a week-long appearance at the Portland Home Show, where they provided him with an elegant doghouse, complete with it’s own white picket fence. People lined up for hours to wait to shake Bobbie’s paw and give him a good scratch behind his ears.
The happiest event for Bobbie, however, was the Silverton City Council’s resolve that Bobbie was exempt from the town leash law. Unlike the rest of the canines in Silverton, Bobbie was given free range to travel the town as he pleased.
The Braziers received countless invitations for Bobbie to appear at various events, and there was also an intriguing invitation from a producer who wanted to make a silent film of Bobbie’s life. Frank thought that was interesting, and when they said Bobbie would play himself, the family signed on.
Today one reel of the two-reel film has been located and restored. The other reel is still missing. In the meantime, to see Bobbie in action as himself, watch some of “The Call of the West” preserved by the Oregon Historical Society:
One Litter of Pups
Other dog owners considered Bobbie prime breeding material, but the Braziers moved forward with that plan cautiously. They finally agreed to let him father one litter of puppies with a local collie of good quality.
Several handsome pups resulted from the breeding. The Braziers took one of the dogs as a companion for Bobbie. Pal became Bobbie’s sidekick.
Bobbie died in April of 1927. The veterinarian that treated him speculated that the arduous journey took years off the dog’s life.
Memories of Bobbie
He was buried in the Oregon Humane Society’s pet cemetery in Portland. The doghouse/castle created for him marks the grave, and two hundred people attended the service. Today visitors are able to go behind the building to see Bobbie’s final resting place.
A week after the funeral, the dog film star, Rin-Tin-Tin, made a special appearance. He brought with him a wreath that he laid atop Bobbie’s grave while photographers and reporters documented the arrival of the famous canine star.
Today there is a mural in Silverton telling Bobbie’s story, and each year, the town continues to have a Pet Parade in Bobbie’s honor. The parade began in the 1920s, with Pal, Bobbie’s son, as the first parade leader. It has been held since then as a way to recognize the important of pets to people.