The legend of Salida’s Loyal Duke dates back to the late 1800’s. It started when a lonely Denver and Rio Grande Western railroad worker brought Duke the dog to the Salida rail yard. Duke, a smart, obedient and friendly canine, soon became part of the scene in the Salida yard during his master’s shift. A rail worker’s life in the 1890s could be described as hard, dirty and dangerous work with little compensation. The dangerous part of the job caught up with Duke’s owner one day when he was caught between a boxcar wheel and rail.
Being a resourceful pooch, Duke became a prominent feature of the Monte Cristo Hotel and depot. He was in sort a town mascot and greeter. He was always in front of the hotel upon the arrival of trains and never failed to recognize and welcome regular guests upon their arrival. His cordiality and friendliness won for him the admiration of all. When truckloads of trunks were brought here or returned Duke always insisted on being placed on the top of the load where he proudly sat as if “monarch of all he surveyed.” The porters were as proud of the privilege of serving him as if he were a king. Duke passed out of life in July, 1902, at the age of 13 years. He had been afflicted with asthma during the intense heat of that intensely hot summer. He had been under the car of Dr. Roe, chief surgeon at the Rio Grande hospital, in an effort to relieve him, but all efforts were of no avail. His master wrapped him in a white sheet, placed him in a box prepared for that purpose. After the arrival of train No. 1, the porters conveyed him to the top of Tenderfoot Hill, and all the commercial men and many other guests marched up the hill and assisted in digging his grave. Citizens of Salida erected a wooden altar with four spiral turned posts supporting a pagoda-type roof with a metal plate engraved with “Duke’s Grave.” The original structure is long since gone but a concrete one has replaced it, keeping Duke’s memory alive.
Duke’s obituary from The Salida Mail 10/31/1902 edition read as follows: “Death of an Old Dog” “The old landmark at the Monte Cristo hotel has passed away. Few here in Salida or among the many thousand of guests of the Monte Cristo during the past ten or twelve years who will not remember the splendid dog Buster or Duke as he was formerly called, and regret to learn that he is no more. Few there are among us in the higher walks of life who have as many warm, true friends as this faithful dog. He was possessed of qualities of hear and mind, of intelligence and connection which were almost human and which endeared him to all who came in contact with him. Mr. Catlin had him wrapped in a sheet and place in a box and buried on the summit of little Tenderfoot Hill, opposite the hotel. Many of the guests and employees of the Monte Cristo were present and assisted laying him away. ”
Present day Salida has the Loyal Duke Dog Park on the old Monarch Spur trail. A fitting tribute to a piece of history.