Nero the Lumber Camp Dog

Jan 1, 2020

Logging camp work defined the Northwoods during the nineteenth century.  It is common knowledge how difficult the work was for both animals and men during the winter months.  It is also known that the men were usually well fed for their work, but sometimes the animals helped in feeding the men in unusual ways.  

Winter in a logging camp was always hard work.  It was difficult not just for the men, but for the animals as well.  The workday typically started around 4:00 am and continued till dusk.  The numbers varied from camp to camp, but usually a logging camp consisted of a pair of foremen, around seventy men, twenty teams of horses, and seven yoke of oxen. Many sources on logging camp life romanticize about mealtime and how well the men ate.  Food was indeed plentiful. After all, the men needed energy to work outside all day in the frozen Northwoods.  Nevertheless, in many camps it was basic and lacking in variety.  Bread, potatoes, beans, pork, and a cup of hot tea usually sufficed for the evening meal.

The noon meal was something else.  It was impractical for all the men to congregate back at the camp or in a railroad mess car for a noon meal, so cold sandwiches were usually the order of the day.  Usually the men collected their sandwiches after breakfast and carried them out to the woods in the morning, but sometimes the meals were delivered.  This is where an unusual story comes in.  When sandwiches were delivered out in the woods, more often than not it was one of the cook’s assistants riding out on a mule, but one camp found a unique solution to food delivery problems.

During the winter of 1888-1889, the McPhee & Michel’s Logging Camp hired A.J. McDonald to deliver food.  Or to be more precise, the camp hired McDonald’s dog.  Old Nero was a mammoth bulldog who hired on to carry food to loggers out in the woods.  During the New Year of 1889, Old Nero would show up right on time each and every day to be loaded down with sandwiches in his saddlebags.  He knew his route perfectly, and at 11:00 every day he took off and delivered the meals more quickly and efficiently than a cook’s helper on a mule ever could.  For this work, Old Nero was paid the princely sum of ten dollars per month.

At night Old Nero became the camp’s official guard dog.  Mammoth bulldogs can be intimidating, and it was said that no one in camp worried about intruders while Old Nero was on the job.  Stray dogs and coyotes stayed well clear of Nero, and McDonald claimed that he would even tackle a bear with all the confidence in the world.

Tales from the logging camps about individual animals like Old Nero are far and few between but there must have been others like Old Nero who stood out and served the camps well.  What we do know, however, is that in the winter of 1889, Old Nero made camp life a bit easier for one group of Northwoods lumberjacks.