The Great Hound Match of 1905 – Part 1

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

IT started with a letter in The Rider and Driver back in 1904, when Massachusetts M.F.H. Harry Worcester Smith called on American foxhunting authorities to widen their breed standards to include the emerging American type of foxhound. At that point, the English hound–bigger and heavier–was the foxhound breed standard, but Smith led the charge to include the leaner, racier American type of hound that was being bred mostly in the deep South, Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky as a legitimate and approved standard. His argument was founded mainly on his strong belief that, while the English hounds were still dominant in the hound show ring, the lighter-boned American hounds were better at catching foxes.

“Shall we hold to the heavy English type or shall we go to the racing type, that type which is the successful hound to kill a fox and acknowledged by and proven so by our own trials?” Smith, the Master of the Grafton Hunt (Massachusetts), wrote.

Smith’s assertion was an affront to many established packs who had carefully selected their hounds from some of England’s best packs, packs that had bred hounds for centuries to chase and account for foxes. By comparison, English proponents argued, the new American-style hounds hardly constituted a reason to alter an established breed standard.

“The truth of the matter is this–there is no American foxhound to-day,” responded another Massachusetts M.F.H., Henry Higginson of the Middlesex Hunt. “What Mr. Smith wants, what we all want, is a hound that will kill foxes in America. Now, how are we to get this? Mr. Smith thinks by turning to a lighter type of hound. To quote him: ‘This being the situation, it seems wise to me to allow the Southerners, who have put more time, care, and thought into the breeding of hounds for killing the fox than all the rest of us combined, to have their type acknowledged.’

“Now, if Mr. Smith thinks this, then why not take the English standard? No sane man will deny that our brother sportsmen across the pond ‘have put more time, care, and thought into the breeding of hounds to kill foxes than all the rest of us’ (including the Southerners) combined. Why, when they have produced an animal which, for symmetry, power, hardiness, speed, nose, and staying qualities is unequalled, should we Americans–novices at the game–say: ‘No! We know more than they; we’ll stick to our own weedy sort!'”

Higginson faulted the American hounds both for their “weedy” build and for a relative lack of biddability, and asked, rhetorically, how many of the American hounds’ kills were accomplished “without the use of powder and shot?”

Higginson ended his letter with a direct challenge to Smith: “Let Mr. Smith choose a judge, let me choose a judge, let the two name a third. Then let Mr. Smith go to any fair fox-hunting country in America with such hounds as he chooses–and I will bring such clean-bred hounds as I choose and my huntsman and whippers-in–and we’ll hunt on alternate days for love, money, or marbles. Then if his hounds kill more foxes than mine or show better sport, I’ll admit I’m wrong–but not till then.”

Harry Worcester Smith, the man who got the ball rolling for the Great Hound Match. The Grafton (US) Master was an outspoken proponent of the American foxhound.

After weeks of negotiations over the match’s terms–and after both Smith and Higginson had pulled together packs with the best hounds they could find from American and English breeders, respectively–the Great Hound Match of 1905 finally was agreed to take place on November 1, 1905, in Virginia’s hunt country. The months leading up to the match were marked by acrimonious public exchanges between Higginson, Smith, and their various pro-English or pro-American supporters, as well as by breathless press accounts of the two packs, their breeding and facilities, and the larger debate over which type of hound was indeed best for pursuing the American fox. Insider magazines like The Rider and Driver and The Sportsmen’s Review were understandably hanging on every development, but so, too, did the New York Tribune and the Associated Press.

Smith, for his part, didn’t hesitate to make a Master’s opinion on hound breeding a question of patriotism: “We have just enough pride in America to be willing to back the Grafton Hunt with American hounds, American thoroughbred horses … with saddles and bridles not made by Whippey, but the best that can be made in the United States of America; the livery made in American mills by American operatives, from the tip of the boot to the velvet on the cap, against the imported production.”

By the time the first hunt took place, a lot had happened. The parties had each put up $1,000 for a winner-take-all prize, the Orange County Hunt in Virginia sponsored the winner’s choice of a cup or a $250 purse, and both Smith and Higginson had scouted out the best recruits for their respective packs. Smith appears to have been more detailed in his preparations: he bought a topographic map of the Piedmont Hunt country and toured the land with Piedmont M.F.H. Dick Dulany. Neither pack was allowed to hunt the country before the match opened, but Smith brought his pack to the Middleburg area the month before the match and, coupling them, roaded them all through the lanes between Upperville and Middleburg, with the aim of teaching his hounds  their way back to kennels, wherever they might find themselves on a hunting day.

In fact, the Grafton competitors had had ample training in Virginia hunt country already, courtesy of the famed Virginia hound breeder Burrell Frank Bywaters, from whom Smith had bought hounds. In a letter quoted in Alexander MacKay-Smith’s The American Foxhound 1747-1967, Bywaters wrote: “I hunted his hounds for him the winter before the meet. He wanted them to mouthe a lot of foxes.”

The composite Grafton match pack consisted largely of hounds from Virginia and Kentucky.

Henry Higginson, a staunch supporter of the English-bred hound and MFH of the Middlesex Hunt.

By the time Higginson’s 25 couple of English hounds and their hunt staff rolled into town a few days before the match, Smith’s comparatively small pack of six couple were old hands at Virginia foxhunting. It’s interesting to note, as an aside, that two of his hounds, Snodgrass and Simon, were, as Smith put it, “quarter-bred English,” but these he apparently considered the weakest members, “simply good as running with the pack,” he claimed in The Sportsman’s Review.

Higginson himself didn’t arrive until the day before the match, when his hounds were to be the first to hunt. But, like Smith, he had put careful thought into making up  his pack for the match. He imported 20 couple of foxhounds from the Fernie.

“All are built along the approved English type,” a reporter who visited the Middlesex kennel wrote, “and it has been the main contention of the opponents of the English dogs that they are too heavy to travel fast, although the justice of this criticism has been questioned, as they are able to go faster than any horse that has ever run with them. They are also noted for their docility and can be called from a scent no matter how hot it is, and steered away on a new course with little difficulty.”

If the main question American hound proponents had about the English hounds was whether they were fast enough, the doubt English supporters had about the American hounds was whether they could be controlled. MacKay-Smith notes, “Even those who had faith in the hunting abilities of the American hounds were fearful that they would be uncontrollable.”

The main reason for those doubts stemmed from the way the nascent American type of foxhound had been bred and raised to hunt: independently, often on their own in rocky country too difficult for man to follow on horseback, and often in the night-hunting tradition, in which the “followers,” instead of following, built campfires and sat through the night, enjoying echoes of their hounds’ voices as they ran foxes on their own.

Night-hunting with foxhounds, an American tradition that heavily influenced early American foxhound breeding and produced a fast, highly independent hunting hound

In his unpublished autobiography in the National Sporting Library‘s archives, Harry Worcester Smith himself described the style, utterly foreign to generations of English huntsmen, that he found when he visited Bywaters in Virginia:

We started out with 15 couples of grand looking hounds. … There was little chance to follow hounds because of the rough and mountainous country, but it was great how all these sporting families loved and appreciated a good hound. When the hounds were taken to hunt, they went to the mountain. Their owners knew from the cry which hound had struck a cold trail and when another joined in. When the cry was redoubled we knew that Reynard was up. There was no chance of getting to the hounds–you could only figure in your mind where you thought they might come, and, by galloping, obtain a position at a point where they could come towards you in full cry, possibly see the red fox, and hear them go away.

Faced with hounds who were bred to be highly independent, both of the huntsman and each other, Harry Worcester Smith had done three things to try to minimize potential control problems: he had limited his match pack to six couples, sent his hounds for hunting in Virginia with Bywaters, and roaded them extensively, in couples, around the Middleburg area in the month leading up to the match.

The Match

The match started off with tremendous fanfare. A local newspaper reported that 100 horses had been imported to the Middleburg area so that their riders from up and down the East Coast could ride behind the Grafton and the Middlesex packs as they attempted, once and for all, to settle the question of whether English or American hounds were superior for hunting the American red fox.

Despite the minute-by-minute coverage in the press and the pressing hordes of riders, including quite a number of Society’s brightest lights, the first two days–the Middlesex hunting Nov. 1 followed by the Grafton on Nov. 2–proved blank. Interestingly, Higginson arrived nearly an hour late for the opening meet, delaying his hounds’ start, an incident that in retrospect did not help their chances as scenting declined with the rising sun. He was not, at any rate, late again.

Things picked up on day 3, when the English pack, on a scenting day the judges described as “only fair,” found a fox and ran it for 47 minutes without a check, “even giving tongue as they swam across a creek,” according to the judges’ report. They earned high praise for their good work on cold trails under professional huntsman Robert Cotesworth. The day wasn’t without incident for riders, either. At Goose Creek, judge Fred Okie attempted to follow hounds across the water, as described in the press: “Both he and his horse disappeared under the water, and for a few minutes it was thought that both would drown. After a hard struggle both horse and rider were gotten safely to the other shore.” Bolling Haxall later “swam for his life” when hounds crossed the creek again, and Harry Smith fell off twice, breaking his foot. The hounds finally lost in high wind.

The Great Hound Match of 1905 brought fashionable society, with their horses and hampers, to northern Virginia in droves. It also helped establish the area as prime hunt country.

The six couple of Grafton hounds, hunted by Smith, got their own back at the fourth hunt. They jumped a fox after trailing for an hour, then blazed through another 1 1/2 hours, losing all but nine of the 28-horse field in their sizzling pace. There were seven falls as the field attempted to keep up, and “Mrs. Tom Peirce of Boston, one of the best riders to hounds in America soiled her hunting coat when her gray hunter Tapps put his front feet in a hidden drain.”

Hounds checked at a derelict house, where they “were cast again and again around this old house without success, and finally it was decided that the fox had gone to earth beneath the foundation, and so the hounds were called off,” according to a newspaper report.

The following day, the Middlesex pack of 18 1/2 couple ran a blinder, too, as described by one newspaper: “The English foxhounds of the Middlesex Hunt Club started a red fox in Bald Hill woods, on the Fred farm, this morning, They drove him hard for nearly an hour, and denned him in the Goose Creek bottoms, below the Dudley Farm. It was a smashing run of six miles, with many stiff jumps, and nearly the whole field of 30 riders was well up. Though it was only nine o’clock when Reynard was put to earth, Henry Higginson, Master of Middlesex, decided to let well enough alone, and called off the hunt for the day.”

The reporter also noted: “The fox was tired and laid down in an edge of cover for a moment, but the hounds soon made him understand that he must run for his life. He was too hotly pressed to lay many puzzles as he scurried across the open and down into the Goose Creek bottoms. As he entered the covert the hounds were running on sight. The fox headed straight for an earth he evidently knew and in a few seconds more was safe from the hounds’ fangs snapping impetuously about him.”

This unassuming box at the National Sporting Library contains many original artifacts that make the high drama of the Great Hound Match of 1905 come alive.

The field of 32 riders were able to stay with hounds during the 57-minute run and viewed the fox twice. “The report filed by the judges showed that every one of the 37 hounds were up; the first flight will bear witness that a blanket could not have covered the lot as they pressed into the woods which sheltered the quarry’s refuge,” the Boston Herald‘s reporter wrote.

And as a final feather in Higginson’s cap, one of the judges, James K. Maddux, told the Middlesex Master after the run that “the day had proved a revelation to him as he had no idea English hounds could run so fast and true in the stiff country of Piedmont valley,” the Herald noted.

The following day was Sunday, and the horses, hounds, and huntsmen took a day of rest. So will we, but the story, of course, isn’t quite done yet. Will Harry Worcester Smith’s Grafton pack of American hounds pull off another blistering run, leaving the field in its dust? Will either pack ever catch a fox, the goal they and the judges had set as the ultimate test? Stay tuned.

NSL Dispatches: Kid, meet candy store!

The National Sporting Library in Middleburg, Virginia, is a haven for lovers of sporting books, art, and ... weathervanes! The bright, golden grasshopper to the lower left of the oil painting of George Ohrstrom Sr. above is one example from the late Paul Mellon's collection, which is on display throughout the library.

TODAY was my first chance to step inside the National Sporting Library. Remember your first day at school? The bag full of notecards and paper, the yellow pencils, books everywhere? But imagine a school where you can read what you want to read, where you can while away six or seven hours a day poring over books and unique original documents about your favorite subjects. That’s what the National Sporting Library is like if you are passionate about horses, hounds, hunting, angling, sporting art, polo, and countless other delights. And it is open to the public, so pay them a visit from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesdays through Fridays, and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.

The bronze War Horse by Tessa Pullan memorializes the 1.5 million horses and mules who died of injuries or disease or were wounded in both the Confederate and Union Armies during the Civil War.

Guided around by the library’s Liz Tobey and Lisa Campbell–both hound followers and researchers–I quickly found that the NSL has a lot more to offer than its treasure-trove of rare sporting books and personal papers. It has a first-rate art collection, including pieces by Munnings, Franklin Voss, Michael Lyne, and Lionel Edwards, among countless others. It has sculpture, including a small Herbert Haseltine bronze depicting his idea of the perfect Thoroughbred. It houses the late Paul Mellon’s collection of weathervanes, which range from the beautiful to the whimsical. It houses a complete collection of The Chronicle of the Horse, whose office is right next door, numerous bound volumes of the old sporting magazines that proliferated in the US in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and shelves, almost as far as the eye can see, occupied by years’ worth of the red-bound annual Baily’s hunting directory. And there are audio and video materials, including videotapes and DVDs of foxhunting in England, Ireland, and the U.S.

Theodore Roosevelt's handwritten manuscript for "Riding to Hounds on Long Island," published in The Century magazine in July 1886.

Want video of the Scarteen in full cry across Ireland? They’ve got it. Need some insight into the development of bits and stirrups? It’s there. Photos of Walker or July hounds in the late 1800s? Check. Looking for biographical details of the four people who compiled the records that became the American Stud Book for the Thoroughbred? Right there on the bookshelf. Joseph B. Thomas’s hunt diaries? In the archive boxes downstairs.

You get the idea. (And, by the way, there’s a print of Iroquois just off the entrance foyer!)

In addition, the library hosts seminars, lectures, readings, art exhibitions, and film screenings.

It didn’t take me long to realize that my two-week stint here will only allow me a glimpse of the works worth studying in depth, so I think another trip will be required!

From the stacks

My task is to find interesting history about hounds and how huntsmen through the ages have bred and trained them, developing a mutual language between huntsman and hound that allows them to work together in the hunt field. As I come across interesting pieces over the next two weeks, I’ll excerpt them here on the hound blog.

Today, I spent a lot of time poring over two old texts. The first is George Tubervile’s The Noble Art of Venerie or Hunting, published in 1611. I’ve only just waded into his advice to huntsmen, but already I’m struck by what hasn’t changed in hound training over the centuries:

“A Good keeper of hounds should be gracious, curteous, and gentle, loving his dogs of a naturell dispostion, and hee ought to bee both well footed and well winded, as well to fill his horne as his bottell: the first thing which he ought to do when he riseth, is to go see his hounds, to make their lodging cleane, and to dresse them as the care shall require.

“… The keeper must fill two great bagges or pockets with small bones, and other good morsels, as … horse feet fryed, fatte roast meats, and such like, that he shall breake all into small gobbets into his bagges, and hang one bagge about his own necke, and give another unto one of his companions. …

“Afterwards every man shall take a fayre wand in his hand, and let one go before to call the hounds unto him, another shall come behind which shall jerk them forwards, and if there be two others, they shall go on ech side, and so all foure together shall go lead the hounds through the greene Corne fields and through the meadows, as well to feed them as for to teach them to know their voice, making them to passe through the heards of sheep and other such like beasts to accustom them, and to make them know them.”

Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason wearing the biscuit bag, still a standard feature of working pack kennels everywhere.

The modern bagge of "dogges delicates"after a morning's hound walk

Turbervile describes an early exercise to teach the hounds to hark to a huntsman’s holloa: the huntsman walks some way away (Turbervile suggests “a crossbow shot’s length”) while his whippers-in hold the young hounds. Then the huntsman should turn, blow his horn, and call to his hounds. The whippers-in should let them go then, and when the hounds rush to their huntsman, he will give them their reward:

” … When they are come to hallow, the huntsman must take his bagge of victuales and cast unto them all the delicates, crying and comforting them as the Art requireth: then when hee shall see that they have almost done eating of their reward, hee shall give sign or token to his companions that they beginne to hallow, the which (having not stirred from the place where they uncoupled their dogs and having another budget or pocket of delicates and dogs dainties) shall begin to hallow on their side, and to blow their hornes to make the dogs come unto them.”

It’s interesting that, in this early style of hunting in England (presumably based on the French style, because hunting with hounds was imported from France by the Normans) the huntsman isn’t the only one carrying a horn and holloa-ing to the hounds. That eventually changed in England, but I’ll have to find out more about how they still do things stag-hunting in France. Still multiple horns? If so, how are they used now?

Hounds are everywhere at the library.

From another ancient source, a vivid description of the fox. The book is a heavy tome called The History of Four-Footed Beasts, by Edward Topsell, published in 1607. Now, far be it from me to be skeptical of descriptions painstakingly collected by the “chaplaine in the Church of Saint Buttolphe Aldergate,” but, well, I do have my doubts about some of his animals! The gorgon that graces an early page, for example, is shaped like a horse, has scales like a lizard, has the coiled tail of a snake, cloven hooves like a cow, and a mane like a lion. Just saying.

Of foxes, Topsell had this scary observation:

“If the urine of a Foxe fall upon the grasse or other Herbs it drieth and killeth them, and the earth remaineth barren ever afterward.”

But some of his descriptions are more reliable: “He stinketh from Nose and taile.” I’ll buy that.

Topsell's version of a fox in his History of Four-Footed Beasts

And Topsell gave plenty of time to dogges, especially houndes, in his book. Intriguingly, he described night-hunting hounds whose activities sound very like the kind of hunting still done from Texas to Ohio, where hunters let their hounds out at sunset and sit around the campfire while the animals hunt until dawn. The point in their case is to hear the hounds’ voices carrying through the woods or up and down the valleys. But in Topsell’s account, the hounds called night curs or Canis furax ran silent while hunting “conies,” small hares, by scent:

“… At the mandate and bidding of his master fleereth and leereth abroad in the night, hunting Conies by the aire. … During all which space of his hunting, he will not barke, lest he should be prejudicial to his own advantage. And thus watcheth and snatcheth up as many Conies as his master will suffer him, and beareth them to his masters standing.”

The History of Four-Footed Beasts was probably my favorite read of the day both for the fantastical nature of its information and for its terrific drawings.

Topsell's rather malevolent-looking hunting hound.

The hapless cony in The History of Four-Footed Beasts, or what our beagle Harry would call "a fat, slow, juicy rabbit."

From more recent texts, we have two great American presidents, both avid foxhunters. George Washington appears, from the sporting notes he made in his diaries before the Revolutionary War, to have hunted every chance he could get. And we know that some of his hounds were French, because on Aug. 24, 1785, he noted a gift he received from a Revolutionary ally: “Received Seven hounds sent me from France by the Marquis de la Fayette, by way of New York, viz. 3 dogs and 4 Bitches,” Washington wrote.

Washington had about 12,600 acres to hunt over during this period. He kept his own kennels, and there are hints of the frustrations many Masters and huntsmen have experienced through the ages. There are worries over rabies–at one time Washington feared his entire pack had become subject to “madness,” and he was obliged to shoot a seemingly rabid dog that happened into some of his hunting hounds one afternoon. The breeding program at Washington’s kennels also was at times haphazard, resulting in some head-exploding (and sad) moments for the Master:

June 22, 1768: Musick was also in heat and served promiscuously by all the Dogs, intending to drown her Puppys.

March 24, 1769: Returned home from my journey to Frederick, etca., and found that the Hound Bitch Maiden had taken Dog promiscuously; That the Bitch Lady was in Heat and had also been promiscuously lind, and therefore I did not shut her up; That Dutchess was shut up, and had been lind twice by Drunkard, but was out one Night in her heat, and supposd to be lind by other Dogs; That Truelove was also in the House, as was Mopsy likewise (who had been seen lind to Pilot before she was shut up).

March 26, 1770: Countess a hound Bitch after being confined sometime got loose and was lind before it was discovered by my Water dog once, and a small foist looking yellow cur twice.

On the other hand, a remarkable day’s hunting could set everything right again.

Jan. 23, 1770: Went a hunting after breakfast and found a Fox at Muddy hole and killed her (it being a Bitch) after a chace of better than two hours, and after treeing her twice the last of which times she fell dead out of the Tree after being therein several minutes apparently well.”

His hounds, presumably, thought this was manna from heaven.

Theodore Roosevelt's bound original manuscript for an article about foxhunting on Long Island

Theodore Roosevelt, writing in 1886, called Yankee foxhunting “certainly the most exciting and perhaps also the manliest kind of amusement to be found east of the Mississippi River.” He broke his arm while out on a blistering run with the Meadowbrook Hunt. By Roosevelt’s estimate, the field that day covered 10 miles, jumped “somewhat more than 60 fences” (the highest in the country being five feet and a half inch), and had only two checks.

The physical challenge of such rigorous riding in the hunt field had practical effects, Roosevelt argued. “If in 1860 riding to hounds had been at the North, as it was at the South, a national pastime, it would not have taken us until well on towards the middle of the war before we were able to develop a cavalry capable of withstanding the shock of the Southern horsemen,” he opined.

The proliferation of drag-hunting in the Eastern U.S. at that time perplexed the English, who saw no point in it. But Roosevelt, perhaps with a touch of defensiveness, explained it as an unsurprising, even necessary product of the new robber-barons and entrepreneurial class:

“Once or twice a week they can get off for an afternoon’s ride across country, and they then wish to be absolutely certain of having their run, and of having it at the appointed time; and the only way to ensure this is to have a drag hunt. It is not a lack of foxes that has made the sport on this side of the water take the form of drag-hunting so much as the fact that the majority of those who keep it up are hard-working business men who wish to make the most out of every moment of the little time they can spare from their regular occupations.”

The researcher's tools at the National Sporting Library.

Time on the hunt field, drag or otherwise, is always welcome. But I confess I found Roosevelt’s explanation disheartening, revealing a sort of industrialization of even the great natural art of hounds and hunt: hunting like clockwork, on a fixed and speedy schedule. But isn’t part of the joy of watching hounds work found in leaving the workday’s assembly-line pressures behind, of getting back to the fields and woods and streams, enjoying the hounds as they perform the way that we know, from Turbervile and Topsell, they have performed for centuries, on their own instinct and training and without an artificial schedule pressed on them?

More from the National Sporting Library stacks as research continues!