As a scout for emigrant and government trains crossing the Great Plains to California, he had seen it all. Burned out wagons, discarded furniture, and the skeletons of settlers and their stock that met with terrible misfortune.
On a fall day in 1860 near Honney Lake, William Drannan and a fellow scout came across something that beat anything they’d witnessed before.
They heard a dog barking in the distance. As they stopped to listen, the bark turned into a howl. Intrigued, Drannan’s partner Jim offered to check it out, while the chief scout set up camp.
When Jim did not return right away, Drannan became concerned. It would be an hour before the investigating scout returned to report that he had followed the canine for nearly a mile before learning why it had wandered so far from civilization.
Jim found a dog with a black mask and tan markings baying over his master’s lifeless body lying on a blanket as if he’d fallen asleep. The animal had so far kept the buzzards and wolves away. However, its howl was not so much a warning to ward off predators, but a deliberate summons for help. Once the scout discovered the dead man, the stray came within petting distance, enthusiastically wagging its stumpy tail.
The lost émigré must have become separated from the wagon train with which he was traveling. There were no signs that the dog’s master had died violently. Tragically, he did not possess a gun to hunt. The man must have wandered for days until he became too weak to continue, eventually dying of starvation on the lonely trail.
The next morning, the two pathfinders returned to the unfortunate pioneer’s last resting place to cover him over with rocks and brush. They brought along three rabbits they shot along the way to share with the half-starved dog. Jim tried every which way to lure the animal away, but the dog would not leave his master’s side. It remained friendly toward the men, panting with his tongue out and mouth in the shape of a smile.
William Drannan could see his fellow scout had become attached to the dog. A cattle dog was not good only for herding, but was a valuable asset for hunting, locating water, hauling a pack, and forewarning his master of unwelcome visitors in camp. More important to Jim, it was the dog’s loyal companionship that the frontiersmen prized.
Jim told Drannan that he was having a difficult time leaving the dog behind to starve. He proposed putting a rope around its neck and leading him away. But, out of tender regard for the devoted dog, the Chief Scout replied, “No Jim, if he will not be coaxed away, it would not be right to force him to leave his deceased master.”
So, William Drannan and his reluctant partner mounted their horses and left the dog behind—a more faithful soul they’d never again find.
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