SAUK RAPIDS -- Back in the 1920s Benton County had a pretty famous resident - a dog named Nero.

Ed Hoffman owned Nero and some other German Shepherds that he smuggled out of Germany after World War I. He brought them all to Watab Township where he set up a business training the canines to become police dogs on the C.B. Estey Farm.

Hoffman quickly learned that Nero was smarter than most and called him 'the dog with a human brain".

He was so incredibly smart and so incredibly talented that Ed taught him all kinds of things to do in shows, and he ended up doing movies.

Benton County Historical Society Executive Director Mary Ostby says Nero was sort of the Rin Tin Tin of Benton County. One of the films featuring Nero was made in Stearns County.

One of the movies they did was filmed in Sauk Rapids at a meat market.  There was a fake fire and the dog had to climb a ladder to save someone.

Ostby says at one point a reporter from Kansas City came to Benton County to do a feature story on Nero.

Benton County Historical Society
Benton County Historical Society

However, at the height of Nero's fame Hoffman started running into trouble with the law. He was first arrested and jailed in Minneapolis. Then, the federal agents showed up at his farm site in Watab Township looking for alcohol.

He tells them he's got near beer but no moonshine.  They push him. He tells them he's given them moonshine, but it's actually near beer, but by then they had already arrested him.  But it wasn't really moonshine.  It caused all kinds of grief because he spent time in jail.

Ostby says the farm site was located on a well-known moonshine running area, but it is not known why the federal agents targeted Hoffman. After the run-ins with the law, Hoffman eventually moved out of Benton County.

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It is not known what happened to him, or his famous dog Nero, after they left the area.

Once a month Ostby is on the News @ Noon show on WJON talking about the forgotten history of Benton County.

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