My journey began at the Oregon Humane Society in Portland, Oregon. The year was 1999.
A friend of mine, Michael, who worked at the socity called me and asked asked if I would be willing organize the society’s historical archives. It would require going through old files, sorting them by category.
He explained that OHS had just broken ground on their new building. They needed someone to prepare the historical items to donate to the Oregon Historical Society. Since I had some experience in this area, I said yes. I love animals and history and I wasn’t working at the time, why not.
Shortly thereafter I met the PR person as she knew where most of the boxes of papers were. They were stored in various buildings and closets throughout the property. The main files and boxes were stored in the Education room.
On one of the walls I spotted a large sepia-toned framed photograph of a dog.
“Who’s that?” I asked.
“Oh, that’s Bobbie of Silverton, he’s the original Lassie. He’s buried out back in the pet cemetery.”
At first I thought she meant that this dog was the sire of all the subsequent Lassies from movies and TV. The daddy of them all. I couldn’t understand why they would they have a picture of him. I thought Bob Weatherwax trained all the Lassies and that he lived in California. Why would Bobbie be here in Oregon?
It became clearer to me later on when we visited his grave behind OHS, that Bobbie was the supposed inspiration for the famous “Lassie, Come Home” story. Only Bobbie had been a real dog who, in 1924, got lost in Indiana and found his way back home to Silverton, Oregon. That’s a’bout 2,800 miles in six months. Showed up at his owners door. Thin and mangy but the same dog.
I was flabbergasted. I’d never heard this story before. I knew of Lassie from “Lassie, Come Home” and TV and the two dogs and a cat from “The Incredible Journey”. My own dog Buster could travel for miles in search of a free meal but still find his way home. I’d never heard of a dog traveling that far.
As I tackled the files and papers to organize them into a chronological and categorical sense, I drifted to anything to do with Bobbie. I found xeroxed articles and photos on Bobbie. I discovered that a book had been written about him, “Bobbie, a Great Collie” by Charles Alexander. There was mention of a silent movie about Bobbie. He was a celebrity. He made appearances all over Oregon, received medals and special gifts. People from all over the country and the world sent letters, cards and even flowersto him after his story appeared in the papers.
From old articles and correspondence in the files, I learned that descendents of Bobbie’s original owners might still be living in the Silverton area. I wanted to know more. Bobbie had become and obsession.
From that point on, it elevated to a mystical quest. Who was the real Bobbie?
One of my first tasks was to write letters to all the people whose names I had found in the OHS files. I wrote letters to Jean Crockett and Vades Crockett who were the granddaughters of the original owners of Bobbie. Oddly, they had both married brothers named Crockett so they had the same married name. I also wrote to a gentleman named Budd Sheesley whose name I found articles in the local paper, the Silverton Appeal. He turned out to be the local authority or at least one of Bobbie’s biggest fans.
Eventually, I visited Silverton, saw the Silverton Country Museum and talked with some folks there about Bobbie. They also gave names of people I would talk to including Jeff Brekas who was also a fan of Silverton history.
Jean Crockett was the first to respond to my letters. She lived just outside of Silverton and I met with her shortly after. I told her that my goal was gathering more information on Bobbie for OHS. Jean was enthusiastic to share her memories. She brought out her scrapbooks and photos that the family had saved. She was a sweet quiet woman who was more than happy to share her memories. She showed me the scrapbooks and photographs that the family. And even a small chalk sculpture that someone had made of Bobbie.