Life of a Houndsman from the Foothills of Appalachia
In the beginning I admired the dogs of my youth in the coal country foothills of Appalachia in Southeastern Ohio. In the 1930’s, 40’s, 50’s every household had a hunting dog tied out back of a weather-beaten coal company row house. These were the days before the big Labor Unions, and people used script for money that was good only at the designated company store. They bought their food at the company store, then fed the table scraps to their dogs.
Some had hounds; some Mountain Curs. Whichever they had, in those times a good hunting dog was very important to the welfare of the family. For, you see, in those days there were no welfare checks, no food stamps. People actually fared for themselves. They were self-sufficient. They made soap from hog lard, dresses from fancy feed sacks, and canned just about everything from fruits and vegetables to meat. A good dog could bring game to the gun for them (i.e. the term gun dog was coined). The wild game would then be eaten, and the fur from the animal (raccoon, opossum, rabbit, squirrel, or deer) stretched and dried and sold for money used to buy school clothes, jackets and shoes.
My grandfather, Russell Graham, of Fairpoint, Ohio had one of the best dogs around in those days, a brindle Mountain Cur named Frank. Everyone in the family said that without the hunting prowess of Frank they would never have survived The Great Depression of the 1930’s. I’ll never forget my grandfather’s funeral where a family member told a hunting story about Frank, his favorite hunting dog. Ole Frank was highly thought of by all the family.
In my youth we had several dogs, mostly hounds, but never one as good as Ole Frank, the brindle Mt. Cur. I vowed that one day when the time was right, and I had my own place, that I would have my own top Mt. Cur. After graduating from high school in St. Clairsville, Ohio, I left home for college at Mount Union and then the U.S. Navy, and lastly, Medical School in Charleston, South Carolina. During those times I spent countless hours thinking about hunting dogs, reading the monthly hunting dog journals, and planning for when I could have my own pack. Yes, I would dream about dogs and even write about the ones I’d had in the past. My writing professor, national poet laureate James Dickey, at the University of South Carolina in Columbia liked what I wrote for he, as well, was fascinated by animals and especially dogs.
Finally my days of traveling were over, and I settled onto my dream place, a farm in Tuscarawas County, Ohio that I call Lone Willow. On Lone Willow Farm are the soft meadows and craggy woods that I dreamed about. There my dogs can romp and hunt to their hearts’ delight. And, to make up for all those years when I had none, I now have several dogs. From Redbones and Blueticks to Mountain Curs, Leopard Curs and Beagles, I like them all. Each dog has the general characteristics of its’ breed and individual characteristics peculiar to itself.
These dogs are both my friends and companions. They are my country club members, so-to-speak. Together we are a team, a pack. And when we hunt, which is often, their sounds and actions take me away from all the troubles and stresses of these modern times and make me feel more simple, almost primitive, like a pioneer or fur trader. They take me back to a time when life was more simple, when survival depended on the keenness and loyalty of the hunting team. The sounds that they make in the big woods, especially in the stillness of the night, are like the music of the finest symphony to my ears and help to calm my soul. And when the hunt is over, the music that was made, makes me dream and long for the next hunt. For, you see, I am both bonded and addicted to my pack and the hunt. It distances me from the angst of modern living and makes me content…and whole…a Houndsman.