THORNBURGH......................A Monument To A Dog's Life,
a dog named for Major Thomas Tipton Thornburgh, killed on the
29 September 1879 in a Ute Indian Uprising in Rio Blanco County,
Colorado at White Indian Agency. A true story.
Thomas Tipton Thornburgh was born in 1843 in New Market, Tennessee
He had married Eliza Jane Clark and they were the parents of one son,
Robert Montgomery Thornburgh. Major Thornburgh was in charge of
a fort in Rio Blanco County, Colorado near where the "Thornburgh
Massacre" occurred on the White River Indian Agency.
Here's a tale about a dog. It's one of those fabulous stories that
will live as long as there are old timers to tell them.
Story by Albert Cooper Allen, 1894.
"On Aug. 27, 1894, I visited Fort Bridger, Wyoming. It had been abandoned
for several years and was deserted. The buildings falling into decay and
being torn down. But, over near the old stables, was a small grave
inclosed in a fence of white palings, shaded by a weeping willow tree.
In all this scene of desolation it was the only place that appeared to
have been cared for and kept in good condition. It appeared to be the
grave of a child, but the strange epitaph puzzled us. On the stone was
engraved a picture of a reclining dog. The inscription read:
It was shortly after my return from the visit in 1894 when a civilian
teamster employed at Fort Douglas, where I was then living, heard me
telling about it, that it was the grave of his dog. I got it little
by little and, often, the old man's eyes filled with tears and his
voice choked as he told of his beloved dog.
Trouble With Indians
It was in 1879. There was trouble at the White River Indian Agency
in Colorado. Meeker the agent, was in grave danger from the Indians.
So, a command of troops under Major T. T. Thornburg, with a wagon train,
was ordered to the scene of hostilities. On the 29th of September,
Major Thornburgh and his command entered a small canyon on Milk Creek,
some 20 miles from the White River agency. A force of 300 Utes....
far outnumbering the troops...knowing of his approach, secreted them-
selves in almost impregnable positions above the canyon.
As the soldiers entered, the Indians opened fire. In the fight which
ensuded, Major Thornburg was killed and Capt. Payne took command and
withdrew to the wagon train. But, when they arrived, they found that
every man with the train had been killed, the animals slaughtered or run
off and the wagons set on fire. This has often been called "The
After the fight, soldiers were set to work clearing up, salvaging
what they could and burying their dead. It was during this operation
that the body of a female dog was found with a little puppy yelping
it's heart out beside her. He was named "Thornburgh" after the gallant
At first, Thornburgh was regarded merely as an ordinary dog and attracted
no more attention than any other dog. He grew like all other dogs do
and it was not long before he was living contentedly with his soldier
It was early in his career that he began to show certain marked
characteristics, among them his intense hatred of Indians and his
disdain for all civilians except those regularly employed about the post.
He also disliked a sneak, be it animal or man. It was this trait which
first brought him into the limelight.
There had been some thievery going on in the fort, and the thefts had
not been stopped or the culprit caught.
Night Of Storm
Came a night of storm with wind, thunder and lightening and driving
rain. "Post Number Five" seeking shelter under the commissary shed,
as he awaited the arrival of his relief, heard a commotion near him.
In a lightening flash he glimpsed a dog, with bared fangs, standing with
forelegs upon a prostrate man. The sentry recognized Thornburgh and
called him but he could not see if he was obeyed.
He was about to call for the corporal of the guard, when he saw a light
at the corner of the building as the corporal and two men swung rapidly
into view. In a moment the relief was beside the sentinel and the light
from the latern revealed Thornburgh standing near the body of a man
dressed in civilian clothing. Not far away was a sack, part of its
contents scattered on the ground.
In a few words the sentry told all he knew of the happenings.
"I guess the dog has killed him," he ended.
"No", said the corporal, who was examining the man, "but he is pretty
badly mauled. He was robbing the commissary and Thornburgh must have
caught him sneaking away."
There had evidently been a terrific fight there in the darkness.
The following day the whole post was excitedly talking of the heroic
work of the dog who had captured a thief. Heretofore, Thornburgh had
been but one of a number of cur dogs running about the garrison and
upon whom the commanding officer had pronounced doom when caught out on
the parade ground. But now Thornburgh, the "cur", became Thornburgh
the hero, and the order of execution was so modified that there should
be no danger to his existence.
At this time Thornburgh belonged to no one.
He was fed at company kitchens, petted by the men and lived at
But he acknowledged no man as his master.
He depended mostly upon the friendship of those at the corral
to look after him in his time of illness........and they did it.
Accorded Every Honor
So, on the morning after his fight with the thief, he was found
in his bed stiff, sore and bedraggled.
The commanding officer, bluff old soldier that he was,
heard of the dog's condition, visited him personally, and
ordered the post veterinarian to give Thornburg every care.
A knife cut in his side was the more serious, though bruises
occasioned much of his stiffness.
When he was around again, he wore a nice new collar with a brass tag
stamped with the name of "Thornburgh." Though he understood nothing
of the admiration he had earned, he learned two things which he never
forgot. He rememberd the stinging cut of the knife and the sight of
the blade as it flashed in the glare of lightening. From that time
he stood ready to attack when a knife was drawn and raised.
Warned of Indians
On several occasions Thornburg distinguished himself by his unusual
One night, in particular, out on an Indian campaign, he warned
the sentinel when marauding Indians sneaked up under cover of
darkness to cut loose and stampede the horses and mules of the
Always he could be depended upon to warn of the proximity of Indians.
Life on the frontier, in those days, was full of changes and then,
one day, Thornburgh found himself at Fort Bridger. Soon afterwards
there came to the post an old civilian teamster named Buchanan, more
familarly known as "Buck."
Buck was a kindly fellow whose geniality extended to both man and beast.
When he first appeared at the post corral, Thornburgh regarded him as
another of the detested civilians and showed his displeasure in a low
Buck Won Him Over
At first, Buck was too busy to pay any attention to the dog, whose
eccentricities were explained to him.
In a day or two, however, things changed.
Thornburgh was lying in the doorway when Buck approached.
He resented his disturbance by a low growl as Buck spoke to him.
The dog did not move and Buck halted.
One of the teamsters started to order the dog away when Buck interrupted.
"Hold on," he said. "Just leave him alone. I've handled dogs before
and I think I can this fellow."
"Don't try anything rough or he'll nail you," warned the teamster.
"No fear of that. But we have to live here in the same quarters so
we've got to get acquainted."
Buck smilingly regarded Thornburgh as he lay watching him closely.
Then he extended his hand casually, palm up, and spoke.
"Thornburgh, you've made a mistake. You and me has got to be friends
or enemies. And we're going to settle it right here. Come. Let's be
Bristles Went Down
The dog eyed him narrowly, but refused to move. Buck sat quietly down
in a chair very near him. For a while he looked the dog squarely in
the eyes, smiling and crooning to him. He urged the dog to approach.
The smiling face and extended hand was reassuring. Thornburgh looked
away, but always the low soothing tones of the man drew his attention.
His bristles went down.
For some time this game went on.
Finally Thornburgh arose and approached.
He smelled of the extended hand and allowed it to touch him. Slowly
Buck patted his head, sliding his fingers, almost imperceptibly, back
of the dog's ear, and gently scratched it. Then Buck removed his hand.
Thornburgh looked up, hesitated, then edged closer, placing his muzzle
on the man's knee.
"Well, old fellow, I guess we'll be friends from now on, won't we?"
That evening as Buck sat smoking among the teamsters, Thornburgh came
to his side and placed his nose on the man's knee. Buck laughed and
rubbed his head and ears.
In a few days Thornburgh had an irresistable desire to stay near
this bearded man.
And then entered into Thornburgh's heart, the love he had never
He worshiped the old teamster.
Buck returned the affection in his kind and the two became
Thornburgh's was a jealous devotion and woe unto any dog upon whose
head Buck happened to place his hand. In that jealousy, too, he soon
refused to allow anyone to so much as slap his master on the back...
one could shake his hands with Buck, but that was all.
Life Became Easy
Thornburgh's life became an easy one as he followed his master around.
About the only disagreeable thing to him was the trouble he got into
when he occasionally attacked the Indians who came by the post. His
intense hatred of them was ingrained, and it was only through the
strickest discipline that he was prevented from flying into them.
One of his major exploits happened one pay day. Some of the men had
opened a game of faro, down behind the corral. Most of the players had
been drinking heavily, and a quarrel ensued, in which one attacked the
other. In the melee one of the combatants drew a knife and raised
his arm to drive it into his adversary. As the blow descended, the
raised arm was suddenly grasped as in a vise. The grip was around the
bared wrist and the pain was excruitiating as it was violently shaken
and the knife went flying through the air.
Fight Was Stopped
In a trice the other men grabbed the would-be killer and Thornburgh
was made to release his grasp on the man's wrist. The fight was stopped
the assailant was taken to the hospital, where his badly lacerated wrist
was attended to. An ever after that this man was a devoted friend
of the dog, for he had prevented him from killing one of his comrades.
Later, Thornburgh saved the life of a small boy who had fallen into a
raging torrent. Thornburgh went to the resuce, and, after a heroic
battle, succeeded in saving the youngster. For this, the parents of
the boy presented the dog with a beautiful new collar upon which was
a silver plate engraved with his name and the words:
"For most distinguished gallantry."
So he had won his medal of honor.
Often when in the post, Buck turned his mules loose in the big corral
among others that were not working. When he needed them them,
Thornburgh was told to bring them in, and went joyously to work. It
was not long before the mules became used to him and, as a rule, the
dog had little trouble in herding them.
In those days a great many mules were used in the army. They were
purchased and shipped to posts where needed. When unbroken mules were
among the number, these were marked by clipping the hair on their tails
and they were called "shave-tails." In this way, those who received
them would know that they were green and dangerous if handled carelessly
One day Buck turned his team into the coral when the shavetails were loose.
Later he received an order to hitch up and go to the commanding officers'
quarters. So he went to the gate and sent Thornburgh for his team.
The dog went with a dash and began to cut them out and drive them toward
the gate. The shave-tails had not been used to him and they dashed
wildly about the corral, scattering the other animals. Thornburgh
dodged in and out doing his best, but the new mules had the rest badly
disorganized. Fearing for his safety, Buck called the dog, but in the
noise he did not hear.
The Dog Labored
With the utmost zeal the dog labored, barely escaping the flying hoofs
in many close places. He got one of his master's animals headed right
when one of the shave-tails cut in and diverted the mule. Thornburgh
jumped at the intruder with a bark and the shave-tail kicked viciously
at him. Thornburgh swerved, but slipped and the mule's hoofs landed
squarely on his side.
Just one yelp escaped him as he was thrown several feet into the dust,
where he lay motionless. Buck rushed out and saw the dog was unconscious.
Picking him up he carried the limp form into the stable and placed him
tenderly in his own bunk.
Over half a century has passed and few, if any, know where gallant
Major Thornburg rests, but thousands visit the grave of Thornburgh,
the dog, at old Fort Bridger.
Where Buck, the master sleeps I do not know, but I am sure that, at
last, he and his faithful dog have "met across the range."
The bottom of the sign reads" It is said that Thornburgh's master
lies in an unmarked grave in the city cemetery at Salt Lake City",
End of quotes.
End of Story by Allen, 1894
I love dogs, horses and birds. Used to read animal stories of all
kinds when growing up...."Greyfairs Bobby"..."The Yearling", etc.
So many good animal stories to read.
Kids nowadays do not know what they are missing. So many good books
to read. So much to do to help animals.
Dogs are men's best friends; they are ever faithful and forgiving.
Could not possibly list all the books I have read.
And I often cried while reading these stories.
While standing at Thornburgh's grave, I silently wept to think of this
brave dog and how he loved his master.
Was always reading history books, animal stories and Zane Grey
When visiting Ft. Bridger, Wyoming with my sister in 1994, the story
of Thornburgh and seeing his grave, brought tears to my eyes.
The story of Thornburgh was written on a script of paper and I just
had to have a copy.
The story was written by Albert Cooper Allen
Thornburgh has been sleeping there for about 115 years now.
There is no better friend you will ever have than a devoted dog.
Ever true, ever faithful.
I will never like a person that does not like dogs.
Dogs can sense a good, truthful person.
We used to live on the Reid ranch near Ft. Bridger, Wyoming and it
is dear to my heart. What a fabulous place.
The valley off the main highway leads to some beautiful land.
The ranch is still there. The Bugas Ranch is up the road.
Fort Bridger has always been my very favorite place to live.
Have lived all over the Western United States.
Oh, what wonderful feelings I have when I think of Fort Bridger,
Always dreamed of opening a Dude Ranch in that area.
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Evelyn Bartlett Flood