Archive for September 12, 2009

Dorsey the Mail Dog

We *heart* working dogs

Quirky travel site Legends of America brings us the story of the most famous resident of Calico, California – Dorsey the Mail Dog:

Dorsey was found in 1883 by Postmaster Jim Stacy, when the hungry and footsore black and white shepherd was lying on his porch. Stacy quickly adopted him and Dorsey became his faithful friend. In addition to his postmaster duties, Stacy also had an interest in a mine in nearby Bismarck. On one occasion, when Stacy needed to get an urgent message to his partner at the mine, he tied a note to Dorsey’s neck and sent him up there. Before long, Dorsey returned with a reply. Dorsey was soon carrying messages back and forth to the mine frequently, when Stacy had the idea to make the dog a regular mail carrier. Soon, the dog was carrying all the mail from Calico to Bismarck, bearing his load in little pouches strapped to his back. For three years, Dorsey covered the mail route between the two camps and became so valuable that Stacy was offered $500 for the dog, to which Stacy replied: “I’d rather sell a grandson.”

Dorsey’s legend was revived in a 1972 album entitled “The Ballad of Calico” by Kenny Rogers. The song was called “Dorsey, the Mail Carrying Dog.” And, of course, in haunted Calico, he has been revived in another way – the “spectral dog.” On several occasions, Dorsey has been seen as a shadow-like apparition at the cemetery and near the Print Shop that stands near the original location of the post office.


Some say Dorsey was a Scotch Collie.  He looks like he could also have been an English Shepherd or a Border Collie.  Since he was a stray and most dogs of the time were bred for purpose rather than pedigree – he could have been just about anything.  Regardless of his pedigree (or lack thereof) Dorsey was a fit, bright, hard-working dog.  The trek from Calico to Bismarck consisted of a very steep, rugged mile-long trail that the miners prefered to avoid.  Dorsey faithfully carried the mail three times a week for two years and only retired when the mine closed and his services were no longer needed.  And he performed his duties nearly flawlessly:

There is only one instance of possible misuse of his office on record. One Christmas Herman Mellen was living in a cave near Bismarck and his mother sent him a box of candy and sweets. Stacy had tied this box under Dorsey’s neck, and when he arrived at Bismarck the bottom was out and the contents missing. Whether temptation had proven too strong, the goodies had been hijacked or whether the package had broken open, allowing the contents to spill out was never determined.

When the Stacys left Calico they gave Dorsey to San Francisco financier John S. Doe, who owned interest in the mine. I hope Dorsey enjoyed a long, happy and – most of all – interesting retirement.

September 12, 2009 at 1:52 am 7 comments

Because A Dog’s Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste


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September 2009