Meet Duke the Butter Dog, a historically good boy

Campaign to get Duke's likeness carved in butter at the 2021 State Fair starts… now.

Campaign to get Duke's likeness carved in butter at the 2021 State Fair starts… now. @WCHSMN Twitter

The present moment might be made of monumental garbage, but thanks to the Washington County Historical Society's Twitter account, at least we're periodically reminded of weirder times, like when man employed his best friend to make butter. 

On Thursday afternoon, the Stillwater institution dedicated to collecting, preserving, and disseminating history from communities surrounding Washington County shared an image of a dog identified as “Duke” perched atop an old-timey contraption made of planks, cranks, and wheels. 

Few hard facts about the old pic can be gleaned by random observation. For one thing, no date appears anywhere on the image, though “Photo by Walstrom” has been scrawled in the bottom left. That could be a family name, or the photographer’s marking… Experts, chime in!

In the photo, a steely eyed woman – whose name has been lost to time – stands alongside Duke, one of history’s goodest boys. It appears that among sundry tasks on the homestead, she also presided over Duke as he punched in for his day’s employ of walking on that rustic conveyor belt, generating the power to churn butter… We think?

City Pages reached out to the WCHS in hopes of learning more about what Duke was really doing, his life in the dairy gulag, and (in our wildest dreams) discovering that Minnesota boasts a secret history of dogs making butter as deep and rich as the golden spread itself.

Alas, the WCHS’s physical location has been closed since COVID-19 descended, and responses to our digital inquiries weren’t immediately available. If and when WCHS gets back to us with more info about Duke and his life, we'll update this blog accordingly.

In the meantime, we're left with only one option: busting out ye olde time machine for a visit to Duke the Butter Dog, giving his ears a scratch, and sneaking him oh so many treats when his buttoned-up caretaker isn't looking. 


Update 10/23/20 3:02 p.m.: A representative from WCHS writes, "The photo was from one of our members. She says she believes that is her grandmother, who was a champion butter maker at the Minnesota State Fair in the 1880's. Not much more she can tell -- but the dog, Duke, I guess was quite the famous dog in her family. Sometimes you would see these kind of photos with a goat or another animal powering [the butter machine].... Poor Duke -- I guess it was his turn to churn some butter!!"