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History Snoopin’: Diablo was gone, but not forgotten

Diablo was a boy’s best friend.

For three years, with his tongue lapping in the breeze, Diablo rode in the front wire basket on Duane Denny’s bike.

The 11-year-old boy and his frisky blue terrier were constant companions and each seemed to know what the other was thinking.

It was obvious Diablo thought he was a member of the family, and for Duane, he was nothing less than a little brother.

They spent hours in the yard of their North Grape Street home, Duane the patient teacher and Diablo the eager student.

His little friend was a quick study and Duane was proud of the way he never failed to follow an order.

On a Sunday afternoon in March 1950, a little misty rain and temperatures in the high 40s couldn’t keep Duane and a school friend from having a little fun.

The boys hopped on their bikes and Diablo took his front row seat in the wire basket.

Down Medford’s Main Street they flew, over the bridge and on to Bear Creek Park, Diablo’s wiry coat rippling with excitement.

They dropped their bikes on the ground and started walking along the fast moving creek, skipping stones on the bank.

Diablo came from a long line of retrievers, and when the boys began to throw those stones, he knew exactly what to do.

The dog captured every stone, running it back to the boys, dropping it at their feet, and impatiently waiting for that moment when Duane would tell him what a good dog he was.

As they approached the Main Street Bridge, one of the stones went just a little too far and splashed into the creek. Diablo was close behind.

“I saw my dog fall in the water under the bridge,” Duane said. “Then he was washed over the falls at the west end. He never came out of the whirling water.”

The boys ran down the creek, but Diablo had disappeared. They ran home for help and Duane’s mother returned with them to help search. Two hours later they gave up.

For the next two days, Duane was up early, checking Diablo’s empty box, hoping he had found his way back home and hadn’t really drowned.

Duane blamed himself for the missing dog, who had only been following orders.

He sent a letter to the Mail Tribune.

“If someone finds my little pal washed up somewhere along the bank, please let me know. For this information I cannot pay, but will thank you sincerely.”

The next morning he got a telephone call from a schoolboy who said he had seen Diablo’s body lodged against a pipe that jutted into the creek under the Jackson Street Bridge.

Diablo was buried in the family’s backyard.

In another letter to the Tribune, Duane thanked the schoolboy who had called him, and also the man who had waded into the cold creek to recover Diablo.

“I gave my little pal his last ride in the basket on my bicycle where he had enjoyed riding so many times before,” Duane said.

“I thank you, one and all, for your kind words.”

Duane’s bicycle basket wasn’t empty for long. Two weeks later, a couple from Phoenix handed Duane a box and watched his smile widen as he opened it. Inside was a 5-week-old toy terrier, bright-eyed and eager to play.

Duane put the terrier into his bike basket and raced to the Mail Tribune newsroom. He wanted to thank the reporters whose stories helped him find Diablo and resulted in a heartfelt gift — his new pal — Skipper.

Writer Bill Miller is the author of “History Snoopin’,”a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.