In 1923, the Brazier family of Silverton, Ore., set out on a road trip to visit relatives in Indiana. While there, their much-loved dog Bobbie was chased by a pack of snarling dogs and disappeared. Heartbroken, the family drove home without their two-year-old Scotch collie-mix. Six months later, Bobbie suddenly appeared on their doorstep, quite a bit worse for wear, having walked 2,800 miles home to Oregon. Bobbie became a hometown – and national – sensation for his feat, which is recounted in Bobbie the Wonder Dog: A True Story, written by Tricia Brown and illustrated by Cary Porter. WestWinds Press, an imprint of Portland, Ore.-based Graphic Arts Books, will release the picture book on April 12.
Bobbie’s tale initially caught the attention of Graphic Arts marketing manager, Angie Zbornik, who saw a 2012 TV news story that spotlighted a heated controversy about the dog’s final resting place. When he died in 1927, Bobbie, at his owners’ request, was buried at the Oregon Humane Society in Portland, where he was eulogized by the mayor (and Hollywood canine celebrity Rin Tin Tin visited his grave). But several years ago, a small group of Silverton residents launched an unsuccessful campaign to move Bobbie’s remains to his hometown.
“When I learned about Bobbie through this TV report, I wondered why there wasn’t an illustrated children’s book on this amazing dog,” Zbornik recalled. Her Graphics Arts colleagues agreed that Bobbie deserved his own book. Managing editor Kathy Howard recommended Tricia Brown as a writer who could tackle Bobbie’s story. Howard had worked with Brown when the author was acquisitions editor for Alaska Northwest (another Graphic Arts imprint) and WestWinds in the early 2000s, and the two subsequently worked together on several of Brown’s children’s books, including Groucho's Eyebrows and The Itchy Little Musk Ox, both published by Alaska Northwest. “Since Tricia had also published Patsy Ann of Alaska: The True Story of a Dog with Sasquatch, she had done a successful children’s book based on the story of a real-life dog,” said Howard, “so I knew she’d be perfect for Bobbie.” “And she was,” Zbornik said, adding, “Tricia’s attention to detail and gifted storytelling is what brought Bobbie’s story to life.”
Bobbie Becomes a Hero on the Page
Brown eagerly dove into researching Bobbie’s story, which she had tangentially encountered while driving through Silverton, where a 70-foot mural highlights the dog’s journey. The author searched Oregon census records to learn the ages of each Brazier family member, as well as where they had lived and when. And while searching for more information online, she was thrilled to come across a copy of a rare book from 1924 called Animal Pals, which collected stories submitted to a writing contest – including one by Frank Brazier, Bobbie’s owner.
“It was such a find,” Brown said. “The book is inscribed by the president of the Pennsylvania SPCA: ‘To Percival P. Baxter, true friend of man and beast.’ Baxter was then governor of Maine and had written a story for the book, too. I couldn’t have asked for a better first-person account, published just one year after Bobbie’s long walk, and it even included photos.”
The author’s research also led her to descendants of the Braziers, including two great-grandsons who are cousins, Dana and Ron Crockett. Brown reported that Ron showed her a shadow box displaying dozens of dried daisies, the remnants of a bouquet that a fan in Australia sent for Bobbie’s funeral. Brown noted that Ron also offered insight into his family’s determination to perpetuating Bobbie’s legacy. “He told me that his mother, Valena, on her deathbed, told her family, ‘Please keep Bobbie’s story alive.’ Meeting the Crocketts, and talking with them about how this story has been handed down through the family, was very emotional.”
The book’s editor at WestWinds, Michelle McCann, lined up debut illustrator Porter to illustrate Bobbie. “I had hired Cary to create some black-and-white line art for another project, and I knew that he would be just right for this book,” she observed. “His style is so precise, and I knew that he would get the palette right and that turned out to be true.” Brown also praised Porter’s contribution to Bobbie, noting, “Cary created beautifully layered art that has such depth and detail – I immediately fell in love with his pictures.”
Bobbie’s story has been included in the annals of Ripley’s Believe It or Not, and he played himself in a silent film entitled The Call of the West, a reel of which is housed in the archives of the Oregon Historical Society Research Library. Ongoing celebrations honoring Bobbie include Silverton’s Kiwanis Club Pet Parade, which has been held each year since 1932, when Bobbie’s son Pal led the procession with the Braziers’ granddaughter, Vades.
Through the years, locals have chosen a Bobbie look-alike to lead the parade. Brown, who will participate in this year’s celebration on May 21 and take part in various book signings around town, noted that she anticipates that, having written Bobbie, the event will be “particularly special, and a lot of fun!”
Bobbie the Wonder Dog: A True Story by Tricia Brown, illus. by Cary Porter. WestWinds Press, $16.99 Apr. ISBN 978-1-943328-36-9