BRUCE WALKER

Bruce Walker

A lot is owed to Alexander McNab. Out of need, he created one of the great herding breeds, The McNab Shepherd. Reviewing the documented history of the McNab Shepherd, consistently the same names overlap. They are McNab, Bonnifield, and Walker. When Alexander died, his probated will divided his assets equally among his children; though documented interviews with John reflect his desire to own the Ranch outright. John also purchased additional acreage to add to what his father originally purchased growing the Ranch to 10,000 acres. From son Arthur’s Ranch diary, the McNab sons worked as hard on the Ranch as any agricultural effort of that size would demand. Arthur’s entries document the McNab sons as shepherds and workers though eventually they went on to higher prospects. Gavin completed his education. John never went to university but passed the bar with independent study in one year as opposed to three years of law school. They both became famous for their presence in law and politics as well as oratory abilities. John was teased in his 1949 retirement announcement that "he developed his oratory skills on the sheep while herding on horseback.” The Ranch diary makes no mention of the dogs or their breeding and training.

 

From my research and interviews, I have created an opinion that much of what we appreciate of the McNab Shepherd’s uniqueness and breeding over the years, must be attributed to the efforts of Bruce Walker, Truman Bonnifield, and Alvin Bonnifield.

Many pioneer family members, fifth and sixth generation Californians, still live in Mendocino County. Through my research, I found one of these pioneer family members who also had a career as a veterinarian.  A random email sent to the Mendocino County Historical Society (MCHS) was forwarded to Dr. Paul Poulos, DVM. Dr. Poulos is head of the MCHS, and the nephew of Bruce Walker. Dr. Poulos' mother, Pearl, was a Bonnifield. Paul told me he is “intrigued by the history of the McNab dog, because those Border Collies were so much in my life as a teenager.”

 

Bruce Walker was a key person in the development of the McNab Shepherd under John L. McNab. Bruce was from a pioneer family in Ukiah. His father was an emigrant from Scotland. The Walker relatives in Scotland became the connection for dogs when John L. McNab began to place more focus on breeding. This focus may have been attributed to the growth in the sheep operation at the Ranch, the upcoming needs of the U. S. military as the country postured for war, and the possible demands of the surrounding sheep operations and their need for herders. 

Dr. Poulos says he spent from age 12 years to 18 years with his Uncle Bruce, whom he calls “my Scotch Uncle,” while he trained dogs on the McNab Ranch. Dr. Poulos recalls his Uncle Bruce as “probably the person most involved with the daily care and training of the dogs.” Dr. Poulos remembers Uncle Bruce leashing a non-started dog to a started dog as one of his methods. Douglas Bruce Walker, Bruce’s father, was a native of Scotland. He became the liaison between the McNab Ranch and Scotland for the importation of the Scotch Collies imported to the Ranch for breeding. As you will read, Walker and Ben Noonan—the cattleman and meat baron that used McNab Shepherds to drive his cattle to the slaughterhouse through the streets of Santa Rosa—developed a friendship which is documented in the social announcements of their business trips and attendance at dog trials. Sheep dog trials were forms of entertainment and recreation, but serious business. For fifty years, the papers from Mendocino to Sonoma County displayed first page articles on sheep dog trial announcements and results. Bruce Walker’s abilities as a dog trainer are also documented by his wins at these local events. There was no better advertisement for the skill of a McNab Shepherd than the dog and trainer team being the favored and the winner.

 

Bruce eventually went on to own the Walker Ranch in Potter Valley. For those of us that love this breed, let us give our thanks to Bruce Walker for his skill and contributions. Dr. Paul Poulos has been generous with his time and knowledge meeting with me several times over the last year and making MCHS archives available for my review and use. 

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