Buyin’ a Foxhound in the Arkansas Ozarks

My Daddy hung out in these Ozarks hills long before I was born…  It took awhile for the locals to warm up to him; if you can call it that. 

You see, in the 1950’s, there were enough moonshine stills in these hills that any outsider was considered a possible ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms) agent sent straight from the gov’t.  There wasn’t much room for “outsiders”. 

Still, my Daddy loved this area so much that after a time of gettin’ to know the locals through fishin’ the White River, occasionally they would let him into their “inner circles”…  well, a little bit, anyway.  Here’s one of my Daddy’s recollections from around 1955…  Hope you enjoy it. 

foxhound2
Arkansas foxhound circa 1940

 

One Way To Buy An Arkansas Fox Hound 

By Bob Watts 

Say “fox hunting” to most people and they immediately think of a passel of beagles who look like they had the same mommy and daddy, a bunch of people on horses who apparently ordered their red and white riding apparel from the same catalogue, at least one guy making as much noise as he can blowing on a brass horn, and a dead fox. 

And let’s don’t forget the brave young man wiping fox blood on his face. Apparently, killing a fox has something to do with him becoming a man. Really don’t understand this since he didn’t kill anything.  The fox was being chased by two or three dozen dogs barking as loud as they could, a dozen or so people riding gigantic horses, hollering and screaming as loud as they could, and let’s don’t forget the guy with the bugle who was blowing it as hard as he could.  If the fox died at all, it was probably from a heart attack. 

Now, have I ever been fox hunting with some of the locals? Nope. Guess one reason is that some of the locals didn’t trust me from the day I arrived until the day I left. Another reason is that I had no dogs to contribute to the hunt or moonshine whiskey in case anyone got a little thirsty. Guess I could have offered to bring some Coke or 7-UP but never got the opportunity… 

On the other hand, did I talk with some of the locals about what went on at the fox hunts around there. Yep. Here’s what they told me to the best of my recollection. Keep in mind that was over 50 years ago. Anyhow, a few of the good old boys and sometimes a few young ‘uns would apparently get together about dark, somewhere out in the boonies. A campfire was built, and the dogs were turned loose. And then the good old boys, with their guns, would follow the dogs right? 

WRONG! 

They would stay right by the camp fire and start listening. That’s right, listening. Seems like each dog had somewhat of a distinctive bark (they called it a voice) and the owners, at least in some cases, could recognize the bark of each of their dogs. They could also tell if a particular dog lost the scent, or picked up the scent, was just plain lost, or whatever. 

A little betting sometimes took place like, “I’ll bet you a quarter that one of my dogs picks up the scent before one of yours”. That’s right. The hunt is not a hunt at all. It’s just a bunch of good old boys sitting around a campfire, listening to their dogs, some drinking a little moonshine whiskey, and visiting. Some might call it gossiping but probably not a good idea down there especially if some fox hunters were within earshot. 

So what ended the “hunt”? Not sure. Maybe the dogs got so far away they couldn’t be heard. Or perhaps they ran out of things to talk about which is relatively easy for men to do. Then there is the possibility that one or more of them figured they’d had enough moonshine for one nite. 

Camping in Ozarks
Camping in Ozarks

 

So they would put out the camp fire, jump in their pickups, and go home. Wait a minute. Wait just a goldern minute. Go home? How about the dogs? You know, they’re probably all wore out from all that running and barking. Surely they would like to get back home for some fresh water, food, and a little shut eye. And isn’t there a dead fox around somewhere that needs picking up? 

Well, first of all, there’s rarely a dead fox. While these dogs are pretty good when it comes to chasing foxes and barking incessantly, they never seem to get around to the killing part. The reason is that the foxes down around Cotter almost always outrun the dogs. Was told it has something to do with the rocky terrain which favors the fox. 

As to the dogs getting back home that nite, forget it. When they get on the trail of a fox, they usually find some stamina they forgot they had, so they just keep on running and barking far past the bedtime of their owners. Next thing you know, tomorrow arrives and it’s now time to go round up the dogs. Now it’s true that I’ve never been fox hunting. But I have been dog hunting which is what you do the day after you go fox hunting. So here’s the way it went the one time I was invited to go. My host was a local named Cowboy. 

We drove out to about where the fox hunt occurred the previous nite. Then Cowboy pulled out a horn which I guess was made from a horn which used to belong to a steer or some other kind of critter. He blew it several times and then we started waiting. Sure enough, in a few minutes, one of his hounds showed up. Good grief! It was panting heavily and limping on all fours. Looked just awful. 

Cowboy gave it some water, then blew his horn again, and we waited another ten or fifteen minutes. No second dog. So off we went, drove about a mile and stopped again. On the way, Cowboy explained that the rocky terrain tore up the paws of the dogs bad enough that they had to be treated with some kind of homemade salve. It was something like two or three weeks before they were well enough to go running and barking again. 

The next two stops were totally unproductive. Now it was about noon and suddenly we were on an old country road that looked like it hadn’t seen a motorized vehicle in quite some time. After a while, we came across a log cabin like farm house that looked as if it came right out of “Shepherd Of The Hills”. For those of you too young to have seen this great movie, it was about hill people and how they lived about a hundred years go. 

Holy smoke! First off, didn’t see an outhouse. Surely they don’t — well, perhaps it’s out of sight behind the house. Something else I didn’t see was a power line or a propane tank or a telephone line. So how did they keep warm in the winter, cool in the summer, do laundry, wash and dry the dishes, provide power to the ice box and deep freeze, watch TV, and visit with the neighbors? Guess they just did the best they could. 

There was an old lady sitting in a rocker on the porch. 

“Morning Mrs. (can’t remember her name)” 

“Morning Cowboy.” 

“Don’t suppose you’ve seen any of my dogs?” 

“Yep. Got one tied up down at the barn.  Henry’s down there now.” (assumed Henry was her husband) 

“Well, I sure do thank ya.” 

She raised her arm in recognition but didn’t say another word. 

So it was down to the barn where Henry was fixin’ something. A few brief words were exchanged and then Henry said something like “Care for a little sip?” Cowboy replied in the affirmative and Henry disappeared into another part of the barn. 

Came right back carrying a plastic Clorox bottle. Oh no. Were they going to poison me? Turns out they weren’t. The bottle was full of what was apparently genuine moonshine whiskey probably made by Henry. 

Guess the purpose of using the plainly marked Clorox bottle was to keep casual observers from discovering the contents. Sure hoped they’d washed that bottle out real good before filling it back up. 

So the three of us squatted down and started passing the bottle. Now I had never learned to squat but figured I’d better learn real quick. By the way, that moonshine was delicious. 

Moonshine still in the Ozarks
Moonshine still in the Ozarks

Now let’s talk a little bit about Cowboy’s dog whose name was Max. As we approached the barn, Max stuck his head out of the entrance to see who was coming. When he saw Cowboy, did he come running and wagging his tail? Nope. He just squatted down as if he had done a bad thing and was hoping his punishment wouldn’t be too severe. 

Fortunately, Cowboy was not the punishing type. He just walked over to Max, patted him a couple of times on the head, then lifted up one of his paws and examined it. Looked just fine. Hmmm. 

Now only Max knew exactly what happened last nite. But Cowboy and I now had a pretty good idea… 

Believe it went something like this: 

“Good grief. I’ve only been hunting two or three hours and already my paws are sore. After all the hunting I’ve done over the years, the pads on the bottom of my feet are starting to look like big blogs of scar tissue. And did I mention that my throat is starting to get sore from all that barking?  Now it’s getting cold, and starting to rain – not exactly good for my joints. Hey, give me a break. I’m no spring chicken anymore. 

Hello, what’s this? Looks like a barn ahead. A good place to get out of the rain and take a short nap – you know, ten minutes or so. Heck, they’ll never miss me. And I am a little thirsty so I’ll get a drink out of that water trough. ————- Holy smoke! You’d think they would clean this thing out once in a while. Well, no use making a federal case out of it. It’s starting to rain a little heavier now, so I’ll wait a little and then go outside and find me a fresh puddle. 

Wow, does this hay feel good. Well, maybe 20 minutes. Heck, I deserve it. Zzzzzzzzzzzz. Oh no! Not now. Sounds like a couple of my buddies have picked up a new scent. They’re barking their fool heads off. Suppose I oughta go help ‘em. But they are probably a mile away. Could be they would have lost the scent by the time I got there. 

And besides, the fox could double back and head this way. If that happened, I would be in a perfect place to ambush the little devil. Yeah, the smart thing to do is to stay right here where it is nice zzzzzzz and warm zzzzzzzzzzz and dry. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.  Guess my 20 minutes is about up. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz To hell with the foxes! zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. 

Man with foxhounds in the Ozarks
Man with foxhounds in the Ozarks

Next thing I knew, we were headed home. As we drove along, I began to realize that this day turned out to be a once in a lifetime experience, at least for me. It was like being in a new world, a place that very few people know anything about. Reading about it or perhaps seeing something similar on TV or on a movie screen would have been one thing, but to be an actual part of it for a few hours was something so special that it was far beyond my ability to put into words. So I won’t try. 

Now if you can’t understand how this experience could be that special to anybody, make sure to tell your doctor next time you get a chance. Your condition may still be treatable. 

OK, started out to tell you one way to buy an Arkansas fox hound, so let’s get at it. Was having my usual breakfast at the Waverly Restaurant in Cotter, Arkansas and visiting with the owner Jim who was behind the counter. Suddenly there’s this guy standing next to me. 

“I‘m looking for a man they call Cowboy.” Actually, Cowboy was sitting two stools over. Jim didn’t say anything but nodded ever so slightly toward Cowboy. He apparently wasn’t sure that Cowboy wanted to be identified to a stranger. 

“Are you Cowboy?” 

Cowboy continued to look straight ahead and slowly replied: 

“That depends on who’s askin’”. 

At this point, you need to know that, back then, there were still some illegal stills operating not all that far from Cotter, so some of the locals figured that a stranger just might be from the Alcohol, Tobacco, & Firearms Dep’t. 

“Well, I’m Billie Ray Morton from Mountain Home.” 

“Oh yes, I’ve been expecting you. Have a nephew who works at the same feed mill you do and he told me you have a real good male hound dog you need to get rid of. So if he’s so good, why do you want to get rid of him? 

The ice was now broken. Billie Ray said that he had just accepted a new job in a city about a hundred miles away. He would be living with his brother and there was no place to keep the dog. Well, the two men started talking about the various characteristics of the dog including the type of “voice” he had. Gosh, didn’t know dogs had a voice. I thought they just barked. Then it was on to age, stamina, how fast its paws healed up after a hunt, the breed (can’t remember) and on and on. The price of the dog was $40. There was no bargaining. 

Cowboy asked if Billie Ray if could deliver the dog. The answer was yes if he could deliver the dog in two days about noon. Cowboy said ok and told the stranger how to get to his house. He also told him that he could be still out on the river fishing and if that was the case, asked him to just drop the dog off there. Said he had two hounds in a pen off one side of the house and when the new dog saw ‘em, he would stay right there until Cowboy got home. They both agreed that this would work. At this point, Cowboy gave Billy Ray $40, they shook hands, and that was it. 

I had just witnessed an almost unbelievable business transaction. I saw a man buy a dog he had never seen from a man he had never seen. There was no mention of a bill of sale. Nobody seemed at all concerned that the dog might run off after he was delivered or be stolen. And Cowboy was apparently not at all concerned that Billy Ray might run off with both the dog and the $40. 

So first chance I got, discussed all this with my friend Jim, the café owner. He had an amazingly simple answer to all my questions. It went something like this. 

“Bob, I’ve lived here most of my life and witnessed all kinds of small business transactions where there is no paperwork. What holds these contracts together is the good word of the folks involved. Down here, a man’s word is one of his most valuable possessions.  When a person starts getting the reputation that his word cannot be trusted, living somewhere else seems to become a lot more attractive. ” I wasn’t sure what he meant but decided not to ask. 

Men around the campfire in the Arkansas Ozarks
Men around the campfire in the Arkansas Ozarks

Now relax, I’m not about to give my readers a small lecture about the world becoming a better place if people would put more value on other people always being able to trust their word. I told the dog purchase story because I thought it was interesting. What makes it even more interesting is because it is true, to the best of my recollection.  Hope you enjoyed it!

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