Tuesday, February 10, 2009


A.L. "Leak" Bevil to Campbell & Lynn Loughmiller in Big Thicket Legacy:
“What we call a cur dog was just a general mixture of dogs. They had dogs of all kinds and descriptions, took the best ones and interbred them, developed the cur dog, and the strain breeds true, the best dog in the world.”

* * *

This is Cate's daddy, Coker's Dorcheat Tiger, with his boss, Greg Coker, after winning the treeing competition in the 2006 UKC Black Gold Challenge, in Dover, Arkansas. (As you can see here, and probably already suspected, tree dog competitions aren't real tweedy.) Tiger is a Mountain Cur, mostly of the Kemmer bloodline.

This is a purloined photo of Smoky, Luisa's new cur puppy. (Luisa, I didn't think you'd mind.) We've all been fussing over Smoky for the past several days. If you haven't yet read his story and registered your unqualified approval and support, please do so at once or else your status as a sure-enough dog nut may be called into question.

Luisa made an executive decision: "He is a Mountain Cur. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it."

Given Smoky's appearance, I'm inclined to agree. And this:

"Smoky has one of those barks that's more of a single, sustained roar."

Well, yeah. Sounds about right.

At least one commenter suggested that there may be some Plott Hound in his lineage. Could be. There may also be a some Treeing Tennessee Brindle. I could go on.

No matter. I'm sure he's a cur. I've seen a few.

In 1957, when Riley Daniels, of Georgia, Woody Huntsman, of Kentucky, Dewey Ledbetter, of Tennessee, and Carl McConnell, of Virginia, founded the organization that would become the Original Mountain Cur Breeders Association, they were less concerned with establishing a breed than with preserving a once common general type of herding and hunting dog that nearly disappeared after World War II as mountain people began leaving their subsistence way of life for steady wages in cities and towns.

Take a look at some of the old photos on the OMCBA website and you'll see that the old-time mountain curs varied greatly in appearance, and, I suspect, working style. No doubt, the old-timers were pretty open-minded about style, so long as the semi-wild cattle and swine got bunched, penned, and marked and the 'coons and squirrels ended up in the pot.

And I seriously doubt that the old boys would have hesitated to bring in hound or shepherd blood if they thought it would produce a better cur-dog. Today, we tend to think of the mountain cur as a specific breed or type. The old-timers were simply breeding curs for working conditions in the Southern Appalachian mountains. Had you asked a mountaineer what kind of dogs he ran, he would not have said, "mountain curs." He'd have answered "cur-dogs."

The National Kennel Club recognizes the cur's varied lineage. While it lists specific cur types such as the Mountain Cur, Leopard Cur, and Yellow Blackmouth Cur, the NKC also has a category for the general working cur of recently mixed heritage. While breeders of treeing curs must keep accurate records, the NKC standard specifies a height of 18 to 28 inches and a weight of "over 30 pounds." Eye color? "Green, blue, or brown." Coat color? "Any color variation is acceptable." Tails? "Any length."

What, then, does the standard absolutely require? "The Treeing Cur must show strong treeing ability in the hunting area(s) of squirrel, coon, boar, bear or cat. Their hunting ability must prove them to be more than just an average dog. "

One of the best hunting dogs I've ever known was a treeing cur owned by my buddy Donny Lynch. Molly was a quarter treeing Walker and three-quarters mountain cur - a typical treeing cur mix. She looked just like a big mountain cur. In fact she looked a lot like Luisa's Smoky. And she was a little more open on the track than your average mountain cur, and deadly on squirrels and 'coons. Whenever she'd bark or give a little yelp on a cold trail, Donny would smile and say, "There's that Walker dog showing through."

So, Luisa, is Smoky a mountain cur? I suspect so. I'm almost certain he's a cur-dog in the broad sense. Take him up to your cabin, and then he'll be a cur-in-the-mountains.

That's all the old-timers ever wanted.


Matt Mullenix said...

Goes well to notion that dogs are best viewed as "types" than breeds; or rather, that a dog's job should be the most important part of his description... More resume, less pedigree!

That said, in temporary eddies of genetics a finer type might swirl to the top and float there for a while. Call this an Elhew pointer, or whathaveyou. But if you then close that eddy and make a pond of it, your pointer or my whippet might just end up at the bottom of it: Best In Show. :-)

Henry Chappell said...

Well said, Matt.

I should say that I'm not against careful line-breeding to set or reinforce certain traits. I'm not sure that we could even maintain well-defined types without it.

That said, I suspect that some very, very "fine," (tightly bred) working bloodlines produce a lot of culls, some of them with really gruesome problems.

It'd be interesting to know something about Bob Wehle's percentages. Then again, he's such a towering and beloved figure in the shooting dog community, I'm not really sure I really want to know.

Matt Mullenix said...

It's a suitable topic for margarita discussion at Gregg's. I'm sure he knows some inside scoop on Wehle's dogs. (Or will make up something entertaining!)

Incedentally, Gregg and I have a funny conversational style---his hawk theories stem from years of dog work (he's flying his first bird), and my dog theories come from years of hawk work. Together we figure we know just about everything. You'll be quite well informed, I'm sure.

Henry Chappell said...

That should work out about right since my wife and daughter theories come from years of being ignored by dogs.

Matt Mullenix said...

Ha! Yours too!?

Luisa said...

Henry, this is too cool for school. I'm glad to see a photo of Tiger, especially since you and your Cate first got me obsessed with... er, interested in cur-dogs.

For the record, Smoky's 40 lb now, and about 6 months old. Keen as can be - I can't wait to take him up the hill ;~)

Matt's comment ["a dog's job should be the most important part of his description"] sums up the working border collie. The working registries [ISDS, ABCA] will register a good stockdog on merit if he can work to a sufficiently high standard — no matter what he looks like.

Smoky and I thank you for the mentions!

Gregg Barrow said...

(Or will make up something entertaining!)

You are paying attention!

Great post Henry!

Henry Chappell said...

Thanks Gregg! I'm definitely looking forward to this great meeting of ...um... "creative" minds.

Gregg Barrow said...

Thanks Henry,

Soo and I are really looking forward to it.
We just ripped out more carpet and took down a few more doors (the decorator comes the week after ya’ll leave :-)). No way to spin it, we are a mess.

My creative mind just survived another B’day and is suffering under the burden of the mounting years
I’ll defer to my favorite trainer when it comes to participation in stimulating conversations.
“If ya'll have any questions, please feel free to go ahead and answer them!”
Delmar Smith

Luisa, Smokey is a knockout, and a sure bet to be the substance of future blessings. As another member of the “dog poor” frat, I am constantly reminded of this.