This story was featured in The Cowboy Chronicle of The North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame in April 2022
By Dora Jane Martell Brockway
It was one summer in the late 1940’s. My dad had homesteaded in northwest North Dakota since 1908. The ranch was more than just a way for us to make living, it was our life.
The country roads at this time were two dirt tire tracks. The water we used came from a nearby spring and was piped to the ranch and bunkhouse through an elaborate system my father had created. Our electricity was from a generator my dad had installed and was used sparingly, for the radio and one light bulb hanging on a wire in each room. We were a free group, my three sisters, brother, parents and I. We were out on the Great Plains and badlands of Western North Dakota. We were two or three miles from our nearest neighbor and four miles or so from what was left of the little town of Charbonneau; a small general store, post office, grain elevator, and train stop. We were so free, free to just be.
On this particular early summer day we were all very excited. We were waiting for the “Goose”, a wonderful little train. It made the rounds between four or five small northwestern North Dakota towns six days a week. The route started in the morning from the “big town” of Williston, population about 4,000, and as I recall ended in Alexander, population of about 300. The Goose was made up of only an engine and a freight/passenger car. Once it arrived in Alexander it turned around and headed back to Williston. Actually it wouldn’t turn around; the engine would go in reverse and push the other car back along the same route it had just completed. I never rode the Goose but one of my older sisters did, and often I would go along to pick her up.
So there we were waiting on the old turn of the century wood railroad platform in Charbonneau. This time, we were not waiting for my sister and the Goose. Not today! Today our family’s new ranch dog was to arrive from some real big eastern city that bred collies.
My dad had bought us a new born baby Collie. We were all so excited. See, our old dog Teddy had died. He was a mixed collie that we had for years and our hearts were broken. Now a new family dog was on the way. One to follow all five of us around where ever we would go, warn us of rattle snakes, skunks, badgers, and who knew what else. Our new friend could look for our imaginary Sitting Bull and his party of brave scouts! Maybe our new best friend would even help us round up the milk cows at sunset.
So we waited. The depot agent told us the train was getting closer. We jumped down from the old railroad platform and put our ears to the track. Finally we heard it. Yes it was coming! Just a faint sound at first, kind of a hum, then it got louder and so we jumped back to the platform. The Goose would just stay long enough to drop off the mail, some empty big shiny milk cans, and an occasional passenger. It would then pick up the full milk cans, mail and that occasional passenger and off it would go; only staying long enough to make the exchange.
The hum was getting even louder. Now as we waited on the platform we could see the red tip of the Goose’s nose way down the track, a mile or so from the station. Then suddenly it was upon us; all red and marvelous. Oh, it was so exciting! We so loved that little train. The Goose slowed, and the door to the freight car slid open. The fellow inside wearing his striped overalls and striped railroad cap leaned down unloaded and then loaded the mail and milk cans. Then, just before the train was ready to go back, he handed to the lone depot agent a large crate with wire all around. We looked in. There it was, looking back at us; a little fluffy collie. He looked right at us and wagged his little fluffy tail. Oh my, he was white! White, how could it be, white? Collies weren’t white? Well, we all then decided that baby collies must be white; he was just a puppy. This new little fellow was all white with sable over one eye, around both ears, and around his tail. He was a strange looking little guy but fluffy soft and oh so cute, and oh so white. He was just as excited to see us. When we took him out of the cage he kissed us and kissed us some more! He didn’t know us, but anything was better than that dreadful cage. Love began, right there on the platform.
My older sister drove us back out to the ranch. We were so excited; holding and loving our little white collie, and he so loved us back. On the trip from town to the ranch we named our new best friend Laddie. When we arrived back at the ranch, my mother and dad were waiting to greet the new addition to our family. Standing back, my dad took a long look at the little fluffy white Laddie and scowled. My dad did not look at all happy. Then daddy looked at Laddie again. My dad was of the old school, a man of few words, but when he spoke everyone listened, everyone! “Hummm” he said as he pushed his cowboy hat back. “Guess that big town breeder figured we didn’t know much or have much sense. He figured we were so far away we wouldn’t send this fellow back”. Send Laddie back?! Why in the world would we ever do that? He was wonderful! What did Daddy mean?! We wanted Laddie. We already loved him unconditionally. Maybe he was a strange one but he fit right in to our wild and free life style. So he stayed and became my father’s best friend too.
Over the next fifteen years Laddie was wonderful. He did run over the North Dakota plains and badlands with us looking for Sitting Bull and his scouts. He followed us out when we rode horse back. He did find snakes and badgers but he never quite learned how to round up the milk cows. Laddie did however play with the cows new calves, and the cattle loved Laddie. He ran with the coyotes each spring. There wasn’t a mean bone in Laddie’s body. He loved the calves, the cows, the chickens and most of all, us. So we had fifteen years of his love.
Laddie and we kids were all so free. Free just to be.
Dora Jane, the youngest of the five Martell children, grew up on the family ranch near Charbonneau, ND. Her father began homesteading in ND in 1908, following in the footsteps of his Uncles George and Andrew Nohle. Dora is a District 13 trustee and occasional volunteer for the NDCHF. She makes frequent trips to ND. Her great love for the plains and badlands of North Dakota remains. Dora is currently retired and living in Los Angeles, CA