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Miller Bill.jpg

Dog days gone by


Before someone decides to tell me that this column seems to be going to the dogs, let me assure you that today it really is. Here are a couple of stories that may or may not inspire an extra beat or two in a canine lover’s heart.

Back in 1862, when Turk was dying, it seems just about everybody in Southern Oregon knew him. After all, this faithful canine had been wandering in and about Jacksonville since at least 1851 — maybe even before James Clugage discovered gold nearby, they said.

Soon after arriving, Turk was the only witness to his master’s passing. They found the young pup standing guard in the cabin, tenaciously unwilling to let anyone near. To confine this raging, faithful companion, as they prepared the man for burial, the men had to lasso Turk and secure him with a rope.

Through Indian war arrows and stray bullets from drunken miners, Turk survived and continued to stand guard for whomever supplied him his next meal. When he lived with packers bringing goods across the mountains into the valley, Turk stayed all night with their mules, herding them together, keeping them from straying, and raising the alarm at the first threat of danger. His friends — his owners — knew that he had saved them thousands of dollars worth of property.

Few dogs can match the heartfelt obituary printed in the Jacksonville newspaper.

“Admired by all for his many canine virtues, Turk gave his last unavailing whine amid the frosty stillness of Friday night, and without a doubt, passed into dog heaven.”

Almost exactly 53 years later, with Americans finally off to fight in the First World War, a 15-car troop train stopped at the Medford depot on its way to training camps in the north. Frolicking on the platform, as puppies will do, was Girlie, a 1-year-old bulldog — the prized mascot of Medford’s firemen.

Leaning out of the train’s windows, hundreds of Southern California men began whistling and calling to Girlie. What is a friendly bulldog to do? Of course! She ran toward the train and into the arms of a soldier, who tossed her onto the back platform and jumped aboard as the train began to move.

Chief Lawton and fireman Taylor Burk witnessed this blatant kidnapping and set off in hot pursuit. They managed to get on board just as Girlie scooted away into the passenger cars. Soldiers began passing her from car to car, while their companions stood in the aisles and did whatever they could to block the firemen’s pursuit.

Finally, near the front of the train, Girlie and the fire boys were reunited. Chief Lawton asked the captain in charge to stop the train so he and Burk could return to Medford, but the captain refused. Fortunately, Lawton was friends with the train conductor, who got the train stopped in Grants Pass for just long enough.

As the train pulled away, the soldiers were again hanging out of the windows, but this time they were cheering and wishing the firemen — and especially Girlie — a fond and happy farewell.

Dogs — there never can be a better friend. As humorist Will Rogers once said: “If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die — I want to go where they went.”

Writer Bill Miller is the author of “History Snoopin’,”a collection of his previous history columns and stories. The Southern Oregon Historical Society is hosting Bill for a book signing Saturday, June 23, in the SOHS Research Library. Copies of the book will be available for purchase. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.

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