The Great Hound Match of 1905-Part 2

Many thanks to the National Sporting Library for access to its archives and for use of the photos. Among the original documents there are hunting diaries kept by both Henry Higginson and Harry Worcester Smith.

THE competing hounds, the Middlesex Hunt’s English hounds and the Grafton Hunt’s American hounds, took a break on Sunday, Nov. 5, 1905. The “score” was essentially even, with no clear winner in the book yet. But word was out: the Great Hound Match of 1905 was providing some of the best sport American foxhunting had ever seen. On the Sunday that the two packs rested, intrepid hunters from nearby Warrenton and Clark County, Virginia, arrived en masse with plans to join the fun when the Middlesex hounds resumed the competition on Monday in what was now becoming known as “the Market Harborough of America,” according to one reporter, a reference to the heart of England’s famed Leicestershire hunting country.

“The farmers and landowners have received the hunting contingent royally,” the same paper noted. “Not only have they willingly offered their fields for hunting, but have done all in their power to further good sport. The Piedmont Hunt has done all in its power to protect the farmers, repair the damage done to wire by cutting and keeping an actual record of all injuries received by the farmers on account of riding over their lands. … In this way a fine hunting feeling is spreading through Piedmont valley, and there can be no doubt that very shortly this country will be the Mecca to which all fox hunters will turn for sport.”

Participants in the Great Hound Match meets were provided with invitations and badges for each meet

Monday dawned overcast with scenting judged good for the meet at MIddleburg. MFH Henry Higginson’s Middlesex pack, hunted by the hunt’s English professional huntsman Robert Cotesworth jumped a fox in their very first covert just 10 minutes into the hunt, “And hounds were in full cry at 7:35,” the judges’ report informs.

There were two checks in the run, one for three minutes among cattle at 7:50 and a second for two minutes at 8:15, before the pack ran the fox to ground–the first time in the match that a fox was accounted for. Judge H. L. Movius called it “a fine run” and considered that “the hounds ran very well, although they did not show very much speed.”

The other two judges, Dr. Charles McEachran and James K. Maddux, were more effusive. McEachran said: “Today’s hunting was in my opinion the best shown to-date. From the time the fox was found with exception of two checks, one of three minutes, the other of two minutes, they held to th eline splendidly. They ran their fox to ground, and every hound in the pack hunted, was up at the earth. From the time the fox was found until he was run to ground, the field had 57 minutes of as good a run as anyone could wish.”

“The work of the Middlesex hounds far surpassed what I had expected to see English hounds do here,” Maddux reported. But he ended with a speculative note of doubt, adding, “But while they hunted admirably and gave splendid sport, I do not think they ran fast enough to kill in this country.”

Accounts of the Middlesex run were printed in the London Daily News, New York Herald, and Boston Herald–an indication of how widely the Great Hound Match was, by this point, being followed.

On Tuesday, day 7, MFH Harry Worcester Smith’s Grafton hounds took the field again. Smith hunted his hounds himself, as was his custom, and he did it with a broken foot. In fact, both competing Masters were riding with cracked bones: Higginson had broken two ribs early in the match.

Following the English hounds’ high standard the previous day, Smith now had his work cut out for him, as the Boston Herald pointed out.

“When the Grafton pack started this morning it was up to do something to even up yesterday’s splendid performance of the Middlesex hounds,” the paper reported.

Smith’s morning started off badly. Early morning winds, a frostless night, and only a light dew didn’t bode especially well for scenting, and for a while Smith’s American hounds trailed down Goose Creek “and did nothing,” the Herald said. “Up to nine o’clock it looked very much as if the Grafton pack was to draw another blank. This difficult situation persisted for another hour and a half, and the Grafton supporters’ hearts sank. Then suddenly: a fox.

Two hounds discovered Reynard, who bolted up a hill as the rest of the pack harked to the two that found him. He ran about 200 yards ahead of the pack, which appeared, some said, to be running him almost on sight.

“The first part of the day when hounds galloped away without drawing or running a fox was a sorry exhibition, but after the fox was jumped hounds ran remarkably fast,” Movius, a judge, said.

MFH Harry Worcester Smith hunted the Grafton's match pack, six couple of American hounds

The fox carried them across a road, around a two-mile loop, then back across the road. “By this time,” our Herald reporter continued, “the fox had gained enough distance to allow him a minute in which to lay a Chinese cryptogram for the pack on a dry field just north of the pike.”

This resulted in a check, and another judge, Maddux, took matters into his own hands. Movius, summarizing the first part of the run, said, “I was kept out of the first part of the run by the creek, but found hounds at the first check at 10:10, here hounds were helped by Mr. Maddux (having viewed the fox), who, as one of the judges, should not have handled them. From here hounds worked on a cold trail for 50 minutes (about one mile) when the fox was again viewed and hound were put on the hot trail by Mr. Smith.”

That was the last the field saw of them.

In the end, the hounds lost their fox, though, the judges having been distanced, no one could say for certain exactly when or where. McEachran described the straggling end to the day as hounds, recovered by Smith after  a disappearance of an hour and a half, were continuing to try to find their fox.

“When I picked up the pack again there was nothing doing but running stale lines,” McEachran wrote.

The Middlesex returned to battle for day 7 but were quickly hampered by high winds that, in the opinion of the judges, completely undid scent after about 45 minutes. Hounds found their fox 12 minutes into the hunt, and “we had several good bursts, and hounds showed splendid work and manners,” McEachran reported. They pursued the fox to a ruined house, where landowners told Middlesex huntsman Cotesworth that foxes often went to ground.

The Middlesex hounds convinced some skeptics that English hounds are fast enough to account for the speedy American red fox

“Hounds spoke until within fifty yards of the old house,” McEachran wrote. “To-day’s sport I consider first class. All hounds up at finish.”

Even Maddux, the judge originally nominated by Smith and one who earlier in the week had been skeptical that the Middlesex hounds were fast enough to catch a red fox in Virginia, had changed his mind based on their latest performance. “The Middlesex hounds to-day ran their fox brilliantly for twenty minutes, the pace was very hot, quite good enough to enable them to kill,” he wrote in his report. “Up to this time I did not believe English hounds capable of running fast enough to kill in this country. However, I now think if they can keep on going as fast as the first twenty minutes, they have as good a chance to kill as the American pack.”

On day 8, high winds came with the sunrise, and Grafton suffered a calamitous lack of scent.

“The best that Grafton hounds could do after trailing an hour and a half was to furnish a nine-minute burst that filled the field with the hope that in spite of adverse circumstances a kill would be recorded,” the Boston Herald said.

The windy weather wasn’t the only unlucky circumstance to trip up the American hounds, as the Herald reported: “When the American pack had the fox up and going they were crossed by the Orange County Hunt of New York, which is wintering at The Plains, some 14 miles distant from Upperville. Mr. John R. Townsend and Mr. Robert Gerry of New York, who were with the Orange County hounds, called off hounds and coupled them, but after the interruption Mr. Smith’s hounds were unable to find again in that locality.”

The American hounds, like this Walker hound shown with Iroquois Hunt founder Col. Roger D. Williams, had a racy build that served their fantastic speed in pursuit of fox. But early on even their supporters worried that the hounds might be too independent for classic pack work.

Smith was allowed to hunt “from sunrise to sunset” under the rules, and he pretty well did that on day 8 in search of better luck, leading the field across an estimated total of 60 miles. The field included Smith’s old friend Burrell Frank Bywaters, who followed the action–what there was of it–in his buggy on the roads. To add insult to injury, after Smith’s trying afternoon, Bywaters fell in with a local pack of hunters on his way back to his lodgings–and those hunters saw their hounds run a fox to ground.

Smith’s pack finally found a fox at 4:07 p.m. Led by his standout hound Sinner, a Bywater dog, Smith’s American hounds ran for 18 minutes and put the fox to ground.

But it was a lackluster day, as Movius described: “Hounds showed good speed in the last burst. Hounds worked indifferently at times.” Still, a new judge, Hunter Dulany, scored them as working “remarkably well.”

On day 9, the English Middlesex hounds returned to the field in frosty conditions that had put a fragile layer of ice on smaller streams. Scenting nonetheless was judged “fair” to “poor” by the judges, and hounds drew seven coverts without success. But then they went away “giving good music”,” according to a press report, burst into full cry while closely pursuing a fox. The fox went to ground in an open field, and “the pack swarmed around the entrance within a minute,” the report said.

This time, it was Higginson’s pack who got the dreaded review of “worked indifferently at times” from Movius; the failure to find at early coverts had counted against them.

When the Middlesex hounds returned to their kennels approaching sunset, they had run foxes during their outings for a total of four hours and 58 minutes; the Grafton’s American pack had run foxes for six hours and 32 minutes. With only three days left in the match, the judges were facing the very real possibility that neither pack actually would catch a fox to win. If they didn’t, then it would be up to the judges to award the cup (and the $2,000 stake) to the pack showing the greatest ability to manage a kill–even if they hadn’t.

The Middlesex Hunt's English hounds were a heavier type than the American hounds and had substantial bone. Hound match judges were surprised by their speed and good cry.

In the meantime, Middlesex Master Henry Higginson was grounded by a bizarre incident in which a landowner, Amson Payne, had arrested Higginson for trespassing on his land. Payne threatened, in fact, to arrest the entire hunt in an incident that the Piedmont Mastership understandably found embarrassing. But until the issued could be settled, Higginson stayed out of the saddle in order to make his appointment with the local magistrate. Payne, at the hearing, admitted his land hadn’t been damaged when Higginson accidentally crossed it but said he would sue all of the riders behind Higginson in the field, a process that would have tied them up in court for some days, unless the  Middlesex Master agreed to pay him $100. Higginson made a compromise and paid the man $50.

While Higginson was detained at the magistrate’s, Smith was enjoying a run with his hounds. They got up one fox, but soon afterwards two more sprang up, briefly distracting hounds before they followed one toward Leesburg. “All of a sudden, the hounds ceased giving tongue and the field, which had a generous run across country, was left in doubt as to what had happened,” one newspaper reported. “The hounds either lost or denned the fox in this vicinity and an investigation was being made this afternoon.”

Henry Higginson

Smith himself lost his hounds, but the judges generally remained impressed with the pack’s speed and initiative.

The Middlesex hounds’ final day in competition proved a sad and frustrating one. Just minutes after the moved off from the meet, “as the hounds turned off the road into the open field on the way to the covert, a red fox that trotted out of the Bald Hill woods was headed directly towards the hungry-mouthed pack,” the Richmond Transcript reported. “The hounds did not scent or see him at first. Cotesworth saw him before the hounds, and hied on the pack full cry and running on sight from the very first.”

The fox paused for a critical moment, then made a fast dash, but the hounds were already too close.

The hunters, including Higginson, were deeply unhappy with the circumstances of the match’s first kill and strongly suspected that someone had dropped a “bagged” fox in the covert. The hunt continued after this dispiriting start, and Higginson’s English hounds ran another fox to ground. Higginson called for an immediate investigation of the killed fox, and the judges, on taking testimony, unraveled a sad tale. A man named Hall had bought a fox for $4.50 the day before and then, Hall said, the fox had escaped from him in the vicinity of the covert. The kill, regretted by everyone, was disallowed as any evidence of anything other than terrible circumstance.

The Grafton met on the final day, with good scenting in their favor. The pack quickly got up one fox, then another, and split, with two couple running the first and four couple running the second. “I went as fast as I could gallop to Steptoe Hill, when I got there I found the entire pack giving beautiful music. Three foxes broke away in different directions. the pack took up one line, stuck to it. … The run was fast and notwithstanding the cold weather, the hounds held to the line and threw their tongue each.”

Joseph B. Thomas, who became an authority on foxhunting, was among those who was inspired to set up kennels in the Middleburg area after the Great Hound Match of 1905

Movius differed with McEachran in assessing the scent, calling it “poor” to McEachran’s “good,” but he, too, was impressed by the American pack. “Hounds followed line very well considering the unfavorable conditions,” he said.

The match concluded at about 10:15 a.m. when Harry Worcester Smith’s hounds lost their fox.

Does it sound like a draw to you? It does to me. Which is why I was surprised to read the judge’s one-sentence decision: “We award the Match and the stake together with the Townsend Cup to the Grafton Hounds, they, in our opinion, having done the best work with the object of killing the fox in view.”

Harry Worcester Smith took the win as a complete vindication of his view that the American hound was the best animal for hunting the red fox in America. But even the editors of The Rider and Driver, where the whole match challenge had started almost a year earlier, were more tempered in their view: “As may be noted by the account elsewhere the English hounds were no doubt working under some serious handicaps. There was no little native fervor exhibited on behalf of the American hound, at least that seems to be indicated by the fact that on two occasions the American hounds were lifted by judges and laid on the line of scent. These incidents, however, were not permitted to weigh with the judges in reaching their decisions.”

It should be noted that the English hounds faced quite a few obstacles. Higginson did not prepare them as strenuously for the match as Smith did his hounds, for one thing. And, unlike the Grafton pack, the Middlesex hounds had arrived not too long before from England and had no experience of hunting in Virginia, which Smith had afforded his hounds in their time hunting with Bywaters.

Higginson wrote that he was “perfectly satisfied with the work of my hounds,” adding “Messrs. Movius, Maddux and McEachran gave the decision to the Grafton, and it would be most discourteous to them for me to make any statements as to how their decision agreed with anything I may or may not think.”

A reward for a job well done, by all the hounds!

Needless to say, the debate over English versus American hounds continued long after the Great Hound Match of 1905. It still continues, even as fox-catching has given way to fox-chasing as a goal of the hunt, and as development and the coyote’s new predominance as game in many territories have prompted packs to reassess their hound programs.

So what, if anything, did the Great Hound Match of 1905 accomplish? Several things. It raised Virginia’s profile as the nation’s most fashionable place to hunt and helped the sport to grow here; among the people drawn to the Middleburg area by the hound match was Joseph B. Thomas, who built a state-of-the-art kennel at Huntland here and went on to write the wonderful book Hounds and Hunting through the Ages.

More importantly, from working foxhounds’ point of view, the match showcased the talents of both types. The match proved that English hounds could, in fact, provide brilliant sport and beautiful music, and that they were fast enough to press and catch foxes in America as they had for centuries in English grasslands and woodlands. The match also proved that American hounds’ independence could be managed through thoughtful training and that their sizzling speed, even though it outpaced a field of followers, was indeed more than enough to account for American red foxes. In short, the match proved the worthy qualities of both hounds.

Today, the emphasis on catching red foxes has faded in America. Unlike in England, where sheep farming is still common, foxes are rarely a problem to farmers here. But hound lovers and foxhunters undoubtedly will continue to argue, as they always have, the merits of one kind of hound against another for providing good sport.

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