Foxes and “foxes”

Red fox, by Rob Lee.

EVERY so often the houndbloggers like to cross over to the hounds’ hunt field rivals, the fox and the coyote, and today it is Charles James’s turn in the spotlight. To get you in the mood for fox tales, we recommend this link to you. It shows a series of three truly remarkable fox photographs that Virginia photographer Douglas Lees took on New Year’s Eve while out with the Orange County Hunt. Enjoy!

Foxes were not the first-choice quarry for mounted hunters with hounds. When the first hounds started hunting stags and the first beagles began with hares, foxes were considered such vermin that they were even beneath hunting with hounds, and no king really would want to be seen putting his hounds on such a lowly line as a fox’s. But farmers, understandably eager to protect their poultry and lambs, no doubt would do what they felt needed to be done. I’ve read that the earliest recorded attempt to hunt a fox with hounds was in 1534, when a Norfolk farmer set his dogs after one.

On the other hand, Chaucer (who lived circa 1343 to 1400) wrote an earlier verse depicting “dogges” of various types running after the fox that stole away with Chanticleer in the Nun’s Priest’s Tale. By the 1300s, mentions of “fox-dogs” have crept into royal records in England, suggesting that foxes were by now at least occasionally hunted, even if they were not yet preferred to deer. An 1833 edition of New Sporting Magazine has an interesting description of this, as follows:”From the accounts of the Comptroller of the Wardrobe of Edward the First, for 1299 and 1300, we may form some estimate of the small degree of repute in which fox-hunting, if indeed hunting it can be called, was held at that period. The fox-destroying establishment of that monarch consisted of twelve ‘fox-dogs’ (terriers not unlikely), with one man and two boys. The master of these fox-dogs’ and his two assistants were allowed sixpence a day, or two-pence each; and three-pence a day for a horse to carry ‘the nets’ was allowed from the 1st of September to the last day of April, which a half-penny a day was paid for the keep of each of the dogs. From these items it appears that the expense for men and dogs was the same all the year round, except that the huntsman and his two whippers-in received each a new suit at an expense for the three of thirty-four shillings and four-pence.”

“The whole concern,” the author writes, “savours so much of rat-catching.”

A not-very-dangerous and not-very-stinky Christmas fox.

In any event, hunting the fox–exclusively and on formal terms–eventually did catch on, and in a big way. England’s oldest foxhunt, the Bilsdale in Yorkshire, was organized in 1668 by George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. (A point of interest: that pack today now has a hunt country covering about 300 square miles. I know, I know–and I’m betting they’ve never heard of a McMansion before, either)

The general view of foxes as noxious vermin is made very clear indeed in a book we’ve quoted here before, Edward Topsell‘s The History of Four-Footed Beasts, published in 1607. Of Reynard, now considered our hounds’ beautiful and noble rival on the field, Topsell said: “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.” And also: “He stinketh from Nose and taile.” Well, all righty, then. Mr. Topsell liketh not the Foxe, we presume.

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

Regarding the fox’s “stink,” we have found a little note in the slim 1951 volume The Way of a Fox by Douglas St. Leger-Gordon. He says: “A path used by dog, wolf or fox is punctuated by intelligence depots where each passerby picks up the news, learns something about the identity, sex and general history of the last comer, and leaves a memento of his or her own visit. … A fox’s intelligence depot  is always indicated by the strong musky scent which is as permanent as that of wood-smoke about an old-fashioned hearth. … Contrary to common belief, a fox does not diffuse its strong personal odour upon the air as it passes along in the same way that a glamorous lady exudes ‘Evening in Paris,’ nor is it correct to assume when catching a vulpine whiff that the creature has recently crossed the road or path. One seldom winds a fox where it has been seen, nor does experience bear out the convention that the smell–for it is quite distinct from scent–rises after a while and becomes perceptible to human senses.more important still, the strong taint that assails the nostrils when near some port of call (and nowhere else, I think, under normal circumstances) has nothing to do with the ordinary bodily odour of the beast. … Like cats and many weasels, a fox only gives forth its overpowering aroma at moments of intense agitation, as when attacked, or under the influence of strong emotion.”

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The houndbloggers would be interested to see what scientists have learned that might contradict–or vindicate–this view in the years since 1951.

But within six decades, between The History‘s publication and the Bilsdale Hunt’s formation, the fox had become appreciated for its guile and resourcefulness, and for the challenge it presented on the hunt field. This has led not only to countless interesting, and sometimes heartbreaking, and usually very chilly and often quite damp, hours on the hunt field for many, many generations since. It also had produced a rich history of Reynard’s exploits and how they foiled (or failed to foil) the hounds. We give you one from Cuthbert Bradley, a Hound Blog favorite.

“Wheeling sharp to the left, hounds ran hard leaving Quarrington on the right, across a flat strip of arable country. Here the pilot, evidently meaning to reach Rauceby, was headed by a sheep dog, and turned for Silk Willoughby village, where an open cottage door offered a welcome shelter after a quick hunt of 20 minutes. A baby lay on the hearthrug in front of the fire, while her mother busied herself about the house; the fox jumping over the infant went up the chimney. The alarmed mother had the presence of mind to slam the cottage door just as hounds dashed up, or possibly there would have been a tragedy. Gillard was quickly on the scene with hounds, all apologies for the rude intrusion of the hunted one; and the villagers came running up in eager curiosity, flattening their noses on the window pane. …

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Caine Croft, the whipper-in, climbed onto the roof peering down the chimney-pot, where he could see the fox sitting on a ledge. A clothes prop was borrowed, and Cox of Ropsley, a keen foot-hunter, out on every possible occasion with the Belvoir, went into the house with Gillard and Mr. James Hutchinson, to get hold of the fox. When Cox eventually appeared in the doorway, holding the sooty form at arm’s length–after his teeth had been through his coat sleeve–the village yokels fled out of the garden as though they had caught sight of the devil himself. Carrying the fox into the open he put him down in an adjoining field, and after dwelling a moment or two, he shot away, like an arrow from the bow.”

The Royal Artillery “Fox”

Today, of course, the English no longer hunt live foxes, but only the “stink,” slopped in liberal doses on a drag. To see what this new “fox” looks like, click on the video below from the 2011 Boxing Day meet of our local hunt when we are in England, the Royal Artillery Hunt on Salisbury Plain. The “fox,” mounted this time with the drag swaying from the thong of her hunt whip, appears at about the 24-second mark.

As for the smell, we didn’t get close enough to whiff it (the camera allows us to zoom). Customized recipes for drag scents seem to be pretty numerous, involving everything from aniseed to fox’s urine (the latter features in the Chiddingfold, Leconfield, and Cowdray Hunt‘s drag, which nearly causes huntsman Sage Thompson to vomit after he sniffs a bottle of the drag-line’s mixture in Michael Slowe’s documentary “Hounds and the Huntsman,” available here). We haven’t asked the Royal Artillery how they make theirs!

A couple of notes about the Royal Artillery. The hunt has a wonderful history and still remains very true to its deep roots in the British military. They drag-hunt over Salisbury Plain, which also is the main domestic training ground for British soldiers, and in this video you will see some of the features of that unusual hunt country. You’ll see the field gallop past a “village,” an unoccupied collection of buildings used for various military training exercises and one of the military features that dot the Plain. The RA Hunt does not have any jumps to leap, but that’s not to say that their hunt country isn’t challenging, because it certainly can be, in a most unconventional way. There are the foot-deep tank tracks that criss-cross the land and which must be negotiated diagonally if you’re to get over them safely, as well as slit trenches that can appear almost without warning and the occasional bits of ammunition (some potentially unexploded, as the sign in the video warns) and missile wire!

And if you’re wondering why their huntsman is wearing a green coat instead of the expected red one, that’s a hat tip to the hunt’s former life as a harrier pack. Huntsmen of beagle, basset, and harrier packs traditionally wear green.

The houndbloggers have hunted with the RA Hunt a few times and count those days as among our happiest and most interesting. Before we leave the subject of the Royal Artillery entirely, we should note that one of its staunch followers, Estelle Holloway, died not long before the Boxing Day meet featured in our video. We have quoted her excellent book Hounds, Hares, and Foxes of Larkhill several times here and value it as a great resource concerning the RA Hunt’s fascinating history.

The Year That Was

So how did the blog do in 2011? If you’re interested in our annual statistics, there’s a link to our stats report below. The upshot is that you all helped the hound blog reach new heights in 2011! The blog was viewed about 39,000 times in the course of the year, mostly by viewers in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. The most-viewed post of 2011 was The Eider Has Landed, our report of Eider’s arrival at Beagle House on Jan. 16, 2011. (Eider, understandably, is pretty excited about this, but he’s not letting it go to his head.) The year’s top five posts of the year, in terms of views:

1. The Eider Has Landed (Jan. 16, 2011)

2. MFHA hunt staff seminar, part 4: Wiley Coyote (April 26, 2010)

3. Beagles, bassets, and dozens of running bunnies (with two videos!) (Feb. 28, 2010)

4. St. Hubert and the Blessing of the Hounds (Nov. 3, 2009)

5. Houndbloggers Abroad: Hunting’s historic clothiers (a tale of goss, coodle, and ventile lining) (Oct. 28, 2009)

To see the stats report, click on the link below this box:

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 39,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 14 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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The red ring-neck hounds

WHILE we were in Virginia earlier this fall, the houndbloggers got a chance to meet the Orange County Hunt’s pack of red ring-neck hounds. Alas, the hunt’s Mastership preferred that we not take any video, so we couldn’t give you a view of these interesting American hounds.

Since then, though, we’ve come across this short video online. It’s a preview for a documentary made some time ago about the former Orange County huntsman, Melvin Poe, who more recently hunted the hounds at the Bath County Hunt’s private pack and is the subject of the book Foxhunting with Melvin Poe, by the late Peter Winants.

In the documentary preview above, you’ll get a great view of these distinctive hounds. It’s easy to see how they got the name “red ring-neck”! I’m no expert on this strain of American hound, but I believe they were developed by William Skinker, who hunted the Orange County Hounds in the early part of the 20th century.

The Skinkers are an old Virginia family, and near where the Orange County hounds met the morning we saw them is an area called Skinkertown. William Skinker appears in MFH Henry Higginson’s book, The Hunts of the United States and Canada: Their Masters, Hounds, and Histories, which also has this interesting note about the Orange County Hunt of the time (Higginson’s book was published in 1908, just after the Great Hound Match of 1905):

It will be seen that the Orange County Hunt practically maintains three packs: the English pack at Goshen, N.Y., an American pack at The Plains (Va.), and a third pack of English and American mixed. The American pack is hunted by Mr. William Skinker, Jr., while Claude Hatcher, at Middleburg, has shown excellent sport with the mixed pack …

The mixed pack Higginson refers to here is, in fact, the Middleburg Hunt. The Middleburg Hunt has a close connection to the Orange County hounds; it was County MFH John Townsend who established the Middleburg pack in 1906.

The horn is one way to communicate with hounds. Voice is another.

But back to Mr. Poe. In addition to the red ring-necks you’ll see in this video, it’s also interesting to note the sounds Poe makes when communicating with his hounds. A huntsman’s language with his or her hounds is fascinating and traditionally has as much to do with tone and octave as it does with actual words. But it most certainly does have meaning to its intended audience, the hounds.

In Winants’s book, Poe put it this way: “It doesn’t make a damned bit of difference what you’re saying, just so you’re communicating with hounds, and I sometimes whistle  softly when trying to sneak up on a fox.”

The hounds have their own sounds, of course. Back in the 1600s, George Tubervile described them thusly: “Hounds do cal on, bawle, bable, crie, yearne, lapise, plodde, baye, and such other noyses.” But that’s a story for another day!

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.

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.