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Jack the Mastiff at his "Snoring Grounds"

War Dog

Jack Brutus never saw action during the Spanish-American War. But this Mastiff was a rough rider in his own right.

By all accounts, Jack Brutus had a carefree life before the Spanish-American War. Born in 1891, the Portland, Maine, resident was fond of lingering at the town’s West End Hotel, where he befriended travelers and often visited them at their homes as far afield as Boston and New York. And when his wanderlust was satisfied, “Old Jack,” as he was known, would board a steam train and return to Portland.   

 

Artist's depiction of the Battle of Manila during the Spanish-American War. 

Artist's depiction of the Battle of Manila during the Spanish-American War.

 

But the February 1898 sinking of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor ignited the American intervention in the Cuban War of Independence, and the siren call of war beckoned to Jack Brutus as it did to many young males of his era. Three months later, he joined up with Company K of the First Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, which was stationed at nearby Fort Preble.   And so it was that Jack Brutus, “a magnificent big mastiff,” according to one of his fellow infantrymen, became the first documented official mascot of an American military unit.  

 

Jack Brutus, posing with his comrades in arms.Jack Brutus, posing with his comrades in arms.

 

Up until World War II, dogs were relatively rare in the U.S. military, and they were almost unheard of at the turn of the 20th Century, except for tag-alongs like Jack. Even later canine heroes like the heralded pit-bull stray “Stubby,” who alerted his World War I unit to incoming artillery and poison-gas attacks, and sniffed out wounded soldiers in the field, were exceptions that proved the rule.  

Perhaps Stubby’s greatest role was to boost morale in the trenches, and historical record tell us that Jack excelled in this regard as well. In the 1899 book History of Company K, First Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, During the Spanish-American War, Private George B. Thayer describes how the Mastiff that followed his company from the West End Hotel joined in their maneuvers.  

“One night, at dress parade, he took a commanding position in front of the line, sat down on his haunches and took keen interest in all the maneuvers,” Thayer writes. “But when Captain Saunders took up his position to the rear of Jack and began to give out the commands in a loud voice, Jack looked around sharply at him, several times, as much as to say, ‘Steady, there, I am running this thing.’”  

Company K was assigned to providing coastal defense up and down the Eastern Seaboard. While the men, who were mostly in their early 20s, stayed on terra cognita, the going was not easy: The crowded camp conditions led to outbreaks of typhoid, and the men complained about the leaky tents, flooded encampments and outdated uniforms.

 

Jack posing with Company K.

Jack posing with Company K.

 

During a heat wave at Camp Alger near Falls Church, Virginia, Jack had difficulty breathing in the stifling heat. “Poor Jack — the noble mastiff we brought from Portland is suffering from the heat extremely and it is doubtful if he survives,” Thayer recounts.  

Jack was nursed back to health by Sergeant Boniface, an arthritic New York insurance clerk who was teasingly nicknamed “Bonnie Sergeantface” by his fellow soldiers.  

Though some Internet sites claim Jack was a pit bull, Thayer’s book clearly refers to him as a Mastiff, and surviving photos depict a dog who was quite large, if not giant sized, compared to the men and weaponry that surrounded him.  

Jack also exhibited a characteristic that most Molossers share – the ability to issue earth-shattering snores.  

“Jack snores so no one can sleep near him, much less with him, in the same tent,” Thayer explains, “so the men on guard entice him away from the tents as much as possible.” When the men voted for the “loudest snorer” in their unit, Jack came in second.  

 

Jack in the "snoring grounds." Night sentries would try to lead him away from the sleeping tents so he wouldn't rouse slumbering soldiers.
Jack in his "snoring grounds." Night sentries would try to lead him away from the tents so he wouldn't rouse slumbering soldiers.
 
The Spanish-American War lasted all of four months, and at its end Jack Brutus mustered out with wagoner Edward F. Ahern in September 1898.  
 
At seven years old, Jack was fading fast. Despite several vet visits, the four-legged war veteran died only two months later, on November 20, 1898, from “spinal troubles and constipation.”

 

© Modern Molosser Magazine. This article may not be reposted, reprinted, rewritten, excerpted or otherwise duplicated in any medium without the express written permission of the publisher.