My own personal hometown bias not withstanding, the legend of “Old Shep” has, was and will always be one of my favorite legends in all of Western New York. Old Shep was a Civil War veteran and member of the Jesse James Gang. How he got from the Civil War to a notoriously famous gang of bandits would have been enough of a tale for any human life, but Old Shep’s tale gets even more interesting. He supposedly took a bullet during a bank heist and then fled to Western New York, finding his way to the banks of Cazenovia Creek living out his days in solitude in a shack made out of piano boxes below the old covered bridge on Leydecker Road in West Seneca.
Behind the bridge & directly to the right to the right is where "Old Shep's" tiny house was located
As much as he was known to be a recluse, he also was not known to be mean or short but a rather friendly person who, if he knew you well enough, would spin one of his Civil War or Jesse James tales for you. He passed away on March 31, 1933 when his shack caught fire and is buried in Section L of St. Matthew’s Cemetery. Word is, he would occasionally venture into town to sharpen folks knives and scissors on a grindstone he pulled on a small cart, fixing the occasional umbrella and doing some light gardening here and there to make ends meet. But what always made me most curious about Old Shep was what happened to the money he must have made off of the robberies he helped perpetrate with the Jesse James Gang. He must have made something during his time with the legendary gang, right? So where’s the loot, Shep? Where’s the loot? Is there a handsome stash buried in the banks of Caz Creek? Hmmmmm Shep? Is there? The area where he made his home was my playground for years when I was kid. Even then, we’d hear stories of an old hermit who used to live in the woods who was part of the Jesse James Gang and who died tragically and still haunted the area near his home.
A new sign for "Old Shep" just before the bridge as you head up to Seneca Street.
For a little 6- to 12-year-old boy, this was about as cool a thing as you could hear and would send my imagination soaring. Of course, there was the obligatory “sightings” of his ghost still being protective of his tiny home in the woods near Leydecker Bridge that would scare the bejesus out of us when we would head out into the woods alone and our overactive childhood imagination would get the best of us. The West Seneca Historical Society has a great display featuring Old Shep’s tiny home and other bits and bobs from his life and is a must-see for those into the regional legends and lore of WNY.
The West Seneca Historical Society has a great Old Shep display that shouldn't be missed!
The West Seneca History Museum is open Tuesdays (10:00 AM - 4:00 PM)& the very first Sunday of the month (2:00 PM - 4:00 PM)Private tours can be arranged by calling the museum Tuesdays at (716) 674-4283