Pit Bulls In History: The All American Dog

It is a fact that Pitbulls are one of the most maligned and misunderstood dog breeds in the world. However, the truth about them is simple: They’re sweet, smart, hilarious, loyal companions. Throughout history, people have kept them as beloved pets. In this article, we outline some of the most well-known Pitbulls throughout history!

The All American Dog

Sallie Ann Jarrett

Sallie Ann Jarret lived during the civil war. If you visit Gettysburg, you should visit her statue, erected on one of the town’s famous battlegrounds! Sallie Ann Jarrett was a huge inspiration to her battalion. When she was killed in the middle of a battle, the fighting around her stopped so that the soldiers could give her a proper burial. 

The brave and loyal canine stood by her fellow soldiers for almost three years in some of the bloodiest battles during the Civil War. On September 17, 1862, the soldiers were fighting in the bloodiest single-day battle in American history, the Battle of Antietam. The men attempted to send Sallie to the rear to protect her from the vicious fighting, but the dedicated dog refused to go.

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On May 8, 1864, Sallie was shot in the neck, was treated and returned to active duty a few days later. The bullet, a mini ball, remained lodged in her neck for several months before it worked its way out, leaving a noticeable and honorable battle scar. On the night of February 5, 1865, Sallie kept waking the men with her mournful cries as though she knew something terrible was about to happen. The following morning, Sallie Ann was struck by a bullet and killed during the Battle of Hatcher’s Run – three months before the end of the war.

“Poor Sallie fell in the front line in the fight at the Run – a bullet pierced her brain,” mourned a fellow soldier in a letter after the battle. “She was buried where she fell, by some of the boys, even whilst under a murderous fire, so much had they become attached to the poor brute, who so long had shared with them the toilsome march and the perils of battle. It would, indeed, be a pleasant reverie if one could reconcile himself the poor Indian’s theory of the happy hunting-grounds, where his faithful dog would bear him company.”


Many people might remember a show called Our Gang: The Little Rascals. That show had featured multiple pit-bull types of dogs throughout times, and all of those dogs named Petey were representatives of how great these dogs are with people that love them and people who treat them just like family.

The pooch who originated the role of Pete was a pit bull, named Pal the Wonder Dog, who had a partially discolored circle around his eye. When he was cast in “Our Gang,” makeup artists simply completed the circle with dye, creating an instantly memorable look.

When Pal passed away in 1930, his son Pete took over the iconic role. To this day, when “Little Rascals” remakes are filmed, a circle is drawn around one of the canine actors’ eyes to replicate the physical trait that occurred naturally on Pal.

Sir Thomas

There are many reports about Helen Keller’s dog- Sir Thomas, who Helen Keller nicknamed “Phiz.”

Many people claim that Sir Thomas/Phiz was actually an over-sized Boston terrier. Boston Terriers are essentially bulldog and terrier mixes, so Sir Thomas could be a small pit bull and not the over-sized Boston Terrier others claim him to be.

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If you look at Sir Thomas as a pitbull, you find that the pair is a perfect match in today’s standards. Both Helen Keller and the pit bull breed have had to overcome significant obstacles.

Keller was a huge dog lover, taking Sir Thomas with her wherever she went. She did not use Sir Thomas as a service dog but as mere companions. Being that she was both blind and deaf, the dog had to be trustworthy. Sir Thomas’ reputation as a gentle and loyal companion helped create the image of pit bulls as the “All American Dog.”

Sergeant Stubby

Sergeant Stubby started his military career as a stray who wandered onto Yale Field. He was adopted by the soldiers and quickly became the mascot of the 102 Infantry 26th Yankee Division.

Following training with his division, the Sergeant Stubby was snuck onboard by his unit’s soldiers. After being discovered, Stubby won over the commanding officer by sitting and saluting with his paw at the command to “Present Arms.” He stayed with the soldiers for over a year. He was hospitalized twice: once after being exposed to mustard gas and again after being wounded by a German grenade.

He proved to be an excellent guard dog. Due to his keen senses, he was able to sniff out mustard gas attacks and hear incoming missiles long before the soldiers. He would also go out into the infamous “No Man’s Land” to find the living wounded. He even caught a German spy hiding in the bushes! For this act of bravery, he was promoted to Sergeant. At the time, he was the only dog to have such a position in the U.S. Army.

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Other memorable Pitbulls:

Special thanks to:

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Deirdre ‘Little Darling’ Franklin, MSPP 

Deirdre “Little Darling” Franklin is the founder, president, and soul behind Pinups for Pitbulls. She holds a master’s degree in public policy from Drexel University, where she specialized in breed-specific legislation. She is also the Volunteer & Foster Manager for the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center in Weaverville, NC.

Aly DelaCoeur, UW-AAB
Aly DelaCoeur, UW-AAB is one of the founders of Wag Enabled (originally Why Does My Dog). Aly has a certificate in applied animal behavior through the University of Washington and is a certified veterinary assistant and AKC Evaluator. She aims to provide an unbiased perspective on dog training by providing practical, intelligent, and caring advice for people to impart on their canine companions