While researching and writing about the advent of field trials in the UK and America, I came across the following report from a field trial held in Tennessee at the Belle Meade Plantation in 1877. Published in “The Country” magazine on November 24, 1877, it offers some fascinating insights into an era during which American sportsmen were trying to figure out how to adapt English field trial rules and traditions to their own native terrain, game and hunting styles.
After several years of debate in the press about how trials should be run in America, what rules should apply and how judges should choose the winners, a sort of hybrid system was finally established. Locally-bred ‘Natives’ and imported ‘blue bloods’ would run in trials based on English principles, rules and point system that had been modified to suit American tastes and hunting styles.
For example, in England, birds were not shot in field trials and dogs were not required to retrieve. In the new American trials, birds were shot, by the handler or by a gunner, and retrieving was required…for Setters. Curiously, Pointers were not required to retrieve at all. It seems that at the time, Americans felt very strongly that all Setters should retrieve. They believed that Setters were ‘improved spaniels” and where therefore naturally inclined to retrieve and were equipped with a thick coat well suited for the task. Pointers, on the other hand, were not considered natural retrievers and their coat and skin were thought to be too thin to resist the hazards of tough cover.
In England, field trial dogs were trained to ‘drop’ (lay flat on the ground) when a bird flushed and/or when a shot was fired. In America, most hunters and dog breakers (trainers) did not train their dogs to drop at all. In fact when two prominent English breeders challenged the Americans to an international field trial in 1874, one of the main bones of contention was the issue of ‘dropping’. Americans were against it, the English for it. Ultimately, the trial never took place, in part due to the ‘dropping’ issue. Yet in the report below, it appears that a number of American dogs did indeed drop to flush and/or to shot.
Finally, the following comment, about an 8-month-old pup running in the trial, really illustrates a major difference between modern trials and those of the past. The reporter wrote: “She shows a high order of training, and if she lives (emphasis mine) I predict you will hear from her favorably in future trials.” Today, thanks to modern veterinary medicine and vaccinations it is almost certain that every pup in any given litter will survive into adulthood. In the past, it was anything but certain. So when the reporter wrote “if she lives”, he was simply reflecting the fact that, at the time, infectious diseases where rampant and breeders could expect to lose half, or more, of their young dogs to distemper, parvo and other ailments.
THE TENNESSEE FIELD TRIALS OF 1877: FULL DETAILS OF THE COMPETITION .
FIRST DAY — MONDAY, NOV. 12TH.
This the first day of the Tennessee Field Trials of 77 opened auspiciously. No better weather could have favored them. Arriving at the grounds of "Belle Meade," the princely domain of Gen. Harding, only one of the three judges advertised — Mr. Bergundthal of Indianapolis— put in an appearance. The Executive Committee were called together, and Gen. Jackson of Tennessee and Dr. J. B. Alex ander of Henderson, Ky., were appointed to act in the places of the absentees. An ample number of horses were provided for the judges, reporters, etc., and all moved off to a stubble near by.
Floss, a field-trial puppy, owned and handled by Joseph H. Dew of Columbia, Tenn., was drawn to run first, and with her Kitten, an Irish puppy owned by Mr. F. H. Bierbower of Maysville, Ky., and worked by W. W. Tucker of Arkansas, were put down at 9:45 to begin the Puppy stakes of '77. Both showed good training. The first point was scored by Kitten. Floss soon after on scattered birds made a flush, going rapidly down wind. Moving on a short distance, she scored a good point. The bird was flushed and she dropped to shot. Twenty yards away she pointed again; but discovering her mistake she moved on, thereby saving the penalty of a false point.
After some time had elapsed she again pointed in stubble. The bird was ordered flushed and was killed, she retrieving in good style. Kitten then scored a false point, Floss following with another. Passing from the stubble into woods, no birds were found there, so we re-crossed the fence into stubble again; and passing down through the bottom, Kitten made a fine point on a covey. This was followed by another flush by Floss, Kitten following suit. A covey was then flushed by horsemen, and flying into woods alighted in some switch cane, a hard place for dogs. In this difficult cover Floss soon scored another flush and Kitten a point and a flush, thus completing their score.
Skip, owned by Mr. I. Kemp Hughes of Franklin, Tenn., and worked by Mr. Gettings of Nashville, and Berkley, belonging to the St. Louis Kennel Club and handled by Mr. Whitford, were next put down in stubble. Berkley was the first to score a flush. The birds lit in cane in an adjoining woods. Here Berkley scored a point; following it with two flushes he was withdrawn, with privilege of being put down again if it should be seen that he had any chance to win. It was soon found out that Skip was very sick and totally unfit to run. She was therefore withdrawn before any score was made.
Mr. P. H. Bryson's Gladstone was then put down in the cane, and in forty minutes ran out the score, making his full five points in grand style, in one of the hardest places a dog could be placed to do work. His performance throughout was first-class, and he will be marked high on all points; and I predict him winner of Puppy stakes.
Afton, owned by Mr. J. Davidson and worked by him, and Ida, of Mr. Campbell's kennel, handled by Mr. Mackey, were next ordered to try conclusions. Afton soon made two flushes in cane; Ida then scored her first point, followed immediately by another. Going out of the cane Afton made a point in heavy orchard grass, Ida and Gladstone backing; bird flushed and killed by Mr. Davidson, Ida breaking shot.
Passing over into stubble, Afton was given a false point, the penalty being incurred, I think, by the over-caution of Mr. Davidson. Soon after Afton pointed a covey. Ida found a single bird and Afton backed her. This bird was flushed and killed, dropping over a fence. Ida retrieved it in good style. Afton after a short while was withdrawn, with privilege of being put down again if he had any chance to win. Ida scoring another point, made her total five. This ended the first day's work.
SECOND DAY — TUESDAY.
Another fine day, and the judges get to work by 9:15. First down was D. Bryson's King, a Plunket-Kitty puppy, worked by Mr. Winford. Second was Champ, owned and worked by W. W. Tucker. They were put down in stubble, both working nicely. Soon Champ picked up a wounded bird and voluntarily retrieved it when 20 yards away from Mr. Tucker; but coming directly to him, he made a fine point with the bird in his mouth — surely a very creditable performance. The bird was flushed and killed, and retrieved to order in good style.
Going only a short distance, he scored another point; then, moving on, he should have had another on a fine covey; but through the working of Mr. Tucker he succeeded in scoring a lost opportunity; 20 yards away he found another covey, adding another point. The bird was flushed and into cane when he scored his last, and a good point. King then did all his work in the cane — a very hard place— and succeeded in scoring four good points and backing St. Elmo, who had just been put down when on a good point.
Moving on, King took scent of a running bird; and roading well, was just in act of settling down to a point when the bird flushed, finishing his score. St. Elmo scored his second point on a single bird, and directly after ward found another single; now, only wanting another point, he was carefully worked — too much so. Passing out of cane into orchard grass, he flushed a single bird. Biddy, belonging to the St. Louis Kennel Club — worked by Mr. Whitford previous to this — put down and made a point and flush in the cane. After St. Elmo's finish, Biddy in rapid succession made two flushes, and destroyed all chance for a place. This ended the Puppy stakes.
Bryson's Gladstone will win first with sharp contest. For second and third places — by Ida, Champ, St. Elmo and King— all are well up in their scores. Throughout the Puppy stakes there has been but one break-shot and not a single chase after birds, which speaks well for a high order of training. I predict Mr. Dew as winner of trainer's prize in Puppy stakes.
A fine lunch at noon is again spread, and afterward come the champion racers. At one o'clock Nellie, the winner in Iowa Trials — owned and worked by Mr. Sanborn — and Hela, worked by Mr. Gettings, were ordered down. The spot was a clover field, and here the crowd had a fine view of good work, Nellie exhibiting herself well, showing a high order of training and quartering her ground splendidly.
Getting close down to a ravine she made a fine point on a covey. The birds were flushed by Mr. Sanborn and one brought to grass by Mr. Davidson, Nellie retrieving to order. Going up the ravine Hela made a grand point, backed by Nellie. The bird was flushed but not killed. Going on, Nellie scenting a bird and just coming to point, a bird flushed a moment too soon, a lost opportunity for her. In rapid succession she scored three more points and was taken up. I think she will be placed.
Hela scored another point and directly afterward added a flush, which he should have pointed, to his score. Joe, Jr., was put down when Nellie completed her score. He soon made a point on a single bird, which was flushed and killed, and then retrieved in good style. Hela then added a point and soon after two flushes, ending his score and chance to win. Joe, Jr. , did fine work and soon completed his score, in all five good points. He must win one prize, possibly first. He is by Elcho out of one of Mr. Campbell's native bitches, and is a fine young dog.
Countess and Whip were next down, the former owned by Mr. W. A. Wheatley of Memphis and the latter by P. H. Bryson of the same place. Countess was first to score a point. Whip next made a flush in very open ground. Going into a cornfield being fed down to hogs, a hard place, General Jackson rode up a covey. A single bird left was pointed by Whip, and another near by Countess. Whip next made a flush and Countess another point, followed by a flush. Whip then scoring a point in cornfield and afterward a flush in open woods closed his score. Countess closed her score also by a good point.
The next down was Clip, owned by Mr. L. H. Smith of Strathroy, Canada. Put down as she was in a plat of dry grass, part of which had been repeatedly gone over by men and dogs, she had little chance to start off well, considering her fast way of going. She made two flushes and was taken up. Flirt, run by W. W. Tucker, and Sank (by One-eyed Sancho), handled by Mr. Gettings, were put down at 4:30 in stubble. They did nothing, except that Sank scored a false point.
The day opened a good one, with Sank and Flirt down. Flirt first made a good point and Sank directly after another, well backed by Flirt, but he quickly followed with a flush in the switch lane. A little further on Sank found another covey, scoring a point. Having one more opportunity he soon made a flush on scattered birds and was then taken up, Flirt quickly afterward making a point, and next chance another point, backed by Chester, now put down. Flirt then made a flush and she was taken up, her score standing four points and a flush, with one false point on demerit side. Sank's score was two points, a flush and two false points, and ordered up by the judges.
Chester and St. Elmo were running together, the former handled by his owner, Mr. David son, the latter by Mr. Ackerman. They were put down in a cornfield being fed down to hogs, a bad place. Chester first flushed a covey down wind and they were marked down in woods adjoining. Chester then made a good point, the birds being flushed to order. Moving on he found — well, a bird in a difficult place under bank, and scored another point, which, however, he followed with a flush soon after on very open ground. Chester was then taken up.
When the bird above mentioned was shot over Chester, St. Elmo scored a break shot, and showing such wonderfully slow pace he was for the present withdrawn, as it was found, after marking his outside points, he could not win. The dog, from fear or something else, seemed afraid to go, although he backed and pointed stanchly.
P. H Bryson's Gladstone, worked by J. H. Dow, and Mag by her owner, L. R. Morris, were next put down on scattered birds. Gladstone was the first to make a point. The bird was flushed and killed by Mr. Dew and was well retrieved to order. Next a break shot, and then a point followed by a flush. After a long tramp Mag found a covey in clover and stubble, scoring a point, followed by one on single birds; scoring then in quick succession two flushes, she was ordered up. Gladstone was also ordered up. Mr. Campbell's Tom was put down, and quickly flushing was ordered up.
Up to this time some fine scores had been made, and when flushes and demerits had taken off as much as 10 points no dog could win, and they were always ordered up. Capt. Henry's Pride of the South and D. Bryson's King, worked by Tucker, were put down. Pride quickly ran out his score, though he had a hard place to work in — very tall weeds and ground nearly bare. His first was a score, next an almost unavoidable flush, followed by roading and three successive points on single birds. He showed fine speed and style, well co ering and quartering his ground, and Capt. Henry may well feel proud of him.
King scored four points and a flush, but his carriage being low, as most of the Irish setters here, he did not score enough on marks outside of points to win, although he was placed fourth in nineteen entries. His last opportunity was a flush in cane, a place that many be fore him had fallen quickly in.
Mr. Campbell's entry, Buck, Jr., was next down, and before going far she scored a false point — a penalty of three — followed by another in less than 100 yards, making afterward a point and then a flush; and the judges knowing she could not win a place, she was ordered up, and Mr. Campbell's Floss and the St. Louis Kennel Club's entry, Berkley, worked by Whitford, were put down.
Passing into stubble and rag weed, Floss first found and pointed a covey. The birds were flushed and one killed by Mr. Campbell. Floss dropped to shot, bird fell over a fence, but it was well retrieved. Berkley in another direction pointed a covey. The birds were flushed but none killed. Berkley dropped to wing and the birds were marked down in cane in the woods, into which Mr. Whitford objected to going. Berkley was then ordered up and Spiero was put down with Floss in the cane, but no birds were found. Crossing through woods into clover and stubble, Spiero soon found a covey, and Pride was brought up to back, which was well done — birds flushed and one killed, Pride retrieving well. Spiero was very stanch on his point ; the birds marked down in woods, Floss first finding but made a flush near a tree in short cover. She dropped nicely to wing. It now getting to be near dark both dogs were ordered up.
After a good rain last night, with weather rather threatening more, a start was mode at 9 a. m. Spiero and Berkley were put down again in clover and stubble, both showing good speed and fair quartering. Spiero making a flush and Berkley a false point, both dogs were ordered up. This closed the running in Champion stakes.
The first dogs drawn to run in Brace stakes were Whip and Gladstone, owned by P. H. Bryson; put down and worked by J. H. Dew. They showed magnificent pace and style. Whip was first to find a covey, and was grandly backed by Gladstone. Just here very fine roading was exhibited, and none present can ever forget the grand style exhibited by Gladstone.
The birds were flushed, flying far away to a deer park of General Harding's, most of them lighting in the trees, the ground being almost bare of cover. Whip first made a flush, followed by one by Gladstone. The dogs were then taken up, and crossing a meadow were again put down in a cornfield, which was drawn blank. A stubble and an other cornfield gave the same result. Passing into another Whip made a flush on some scattered birds down wind, and they were then ordered up.
When all had partaken of a fine lunch, furnished by General Jackson, time becoming limited, it was agreed that each judge, Alexander and Jackson, take a pair each to work them, Mr. Bergundthal having been called home by a telegram. Both judges having seen Mr. Dew handle his dogs, they had a standard to judge others by for the trainer's prize.
At 1 :20 p. M. Hela and Sank were put down by Dr. Alexander, Mr. Gettings handling them, General Jackson taking Mag and Dash, owned and worked by Mr. L. K. Morris of Ohio. Sank and Dash were first drawn through stubble and then corn. Passing out into stubble again Sank found a covey 300 yards away, holding his point well until all were up. Hela backed him well. The birds were flushed and two killed by Mr. Gettings. Hela retrieved well; Sank only fairly. Moving on 50 yards, Hela found a covey, which was flushed to order and well marked down in stubble. Here Sank made a flush, followed by his making a second one. Passing out of stubble to a hill-side, Hela flushed three birds, which finished their chances. Score, two points and three flushes. They were taken up at 2:30.
Mag and Dash, in the lower end of stuble, found a covey, scoring a point, followed by flushes enough to put them out of the contest, and they were ordered taken up. General Jackson now took St. Elmo and Spiero, and Dr. Alexander Mr. Campbell's entries, Floss and Tom, Jr. Drawing a stubble blank, Floss, in a small corner of grass and shrubs, made a false point. Recrossing into stubble Tom, Jr., scored a flush on single bird. Passing out of the stubble through woods and into a cornfield, Floss dropped on a point which proved a false one. Sixty yards away Tom made another. Nothing was found in the cover, and the dogs were taken up at 4:45. This ended the work of the day. St. Elmo and Spiero scored as follows: Passing through a stubble into grass and weeds, each made a stanch point at the same time. The bird over St Elmo was flushed by Mr. Ackerman and killed by Mr. Davidson, Spiero hold ing his point stanchly. Twenty yards away the bird was killed, and falling over a stone fence both dogs were sent for it, St. Elmo retrieving well. Passing through woods the horsemen flushed a covey, and afterward two flushes in underbrush by Spiero, he dropping to wing both times. The balance of the woods and the cornfield were drawn blank. Soon after, St. Elmo scoring a false point, followed by an other flush, the brace were ordered up, and this ended the day's work.
All were anxious now to get through. The first dogs down were Countess and Flirt, bandied by Tucker, General Jack son taking charge of them and Dr. Alexander of Berkley and Thorstein, worked by Mr. Whitford. Thorstein was terribly out of fix, showing plainly the effects of his late attack of distemper, and should not have been worked. He reeled along in his work, and all advised Mr. Whitford not to run him, as it was only endangering the life of a valuable dog; but he would do it, and the brace were put down in clover and stubble. Drawing blank a large field and passing into a patch of briars and weeds, Thorstein flushed a covey and they were marked down in woods adjoining, where Thorstein and Berkley each flushed a single and were taken up.
Floss and Countess were put down in stubble, and drawing it blank passed on beyond into briars, where two birds were marked down from the covey found by Thorstein. Countsess first made a flush and dropped to wing. A wood was then drawn, Countess first finding, and was nicely backed by Flirt. This proved a false point. Going into short cane Flirt flushed and dropped to wing. Tucker winging bird, Countess broke shot and charged to order. Afterward Countess found and pointed stanchly a covey, where Flirt flushed them. Countess again found, scoring a point. The bird was flushed and killed by Tucker, Countess dropping to wing. A bird was then flushed by Tucker and killed, which Countess retrieved in good style. They were then taken up.
Clip, owned and worked by Mr. Smith, and Pride of the South, by Capt. Henry, were then put down in open woods, where they showed great speed, fine quartering and good breaking, prompt always to obey commands by whistle and motion. Nothing was found in the woods, but going into stubble Clip first found a covey and was backed by Pride. Birds killed, and each retrieved in good style. Pride was first to find a single bird, but almost at same moment Clip pointed another twenty yards away. In rapid succession the other points were made, Pride making the last, backed by Clip, and completing the first full score, and they are almost sure to run up full in all points and should reach the maximum; but of this the judges decide.
Gladstone and Whip were then put down to finish their score, having one more opportunity to point. It was quickly done by Gladstone finding a single bird, backed by Whip, both stanch. The bird was flushed and killed by Mr. Dew, Gladstone retrieving well. They were taken up, and the last brace, Buck and Joe, Jr., were put down, worked by Mr. Campbell. Going about 200 yards Joe, Jr., found a covey. The birds were flushed but none killed, lighting over in high weeds. Joe, Jr., found scattered birds. They were flushed and two killed, each dog retrieving one when ordered. Fifty yards away Buck found a covey, pointing well. The noise of horses and talk causing birds to run away in sight, both dogs commenced and did fine roading. Coming to point again more than 100 yards away the birds were flushed and marked down. On the scattered birds two flushes were made, ending their score, closing the running of the braces at 11:30.
There were now four puppies to run in the St. Louis Kennel Club stakes for puppies under twelve months of age. Champ was favorite in the pool selling. Those first drawn to be run not being near, Mr. Davidson's Tyne and Mr. Tucker's Champ were first put down. Champ was first to find a covey in cornfield. He pointed stanchly. Birds flushed and one killed by Tucker, and it was well retrieved by Champ.
Moving on in edge of cornfield Tyne made his first point, which he stood firmly. The bird was killed and retrieved. Birds lighting out in woods in the briars and cane they could not be found, except two by Champ; one was stanchly pointed, the other flushed. It now being lunch-time, the dogs were ordered up. The usual good lunch was provided by General Jackson. After a half hour's delay, all being anxious to get through, the four pup pies, Davidson's Tyne, Tucker's Champ, Dew's Bill and Hughes's Skip were put down, overlooked by judge and two assistants selected.
Champ was the first to run out his score, which finally stood three points and two flushes. Going through clover and weed field he found and pointed a single bird. Skip, coming along the bottom, found and pointed a bird, Rill backing. The bird was flushed and killed by Mr. Gettings and fairly retrieved by Skip, both puppies dropping to shot.
Rill was next to find and point a covey stanchly. The birds were flushed by Dew and not shot at. Skip next found and pointed a single bird. Rill followed with a flush, Skip doing the same. Crossing into woods Rill found and pointed a covey stanchly. Bird shot and dropping 100 yards away, moving on, Rill found and retrioved it well. Going into stubble she pointed on two birds, completing her score. Mr. Dew may well be proud of her. She is of the Field Trial breed; a Whip-Fanny puppy, and but eight and one-half months old; color, black, white and tan. She shows a high order of training, and if she lives I predict you will hear from her favorably in future trials. Champ is also a good puppy, with good pace and style, but in this race was not in good command. To finish the score,. Skip ran out hers first, and making another point and flush was taken up.
Tyne was only one left now. She pointed a covey in cane, and after some nice roading the birds were flushed to order. She was then sent on, when she flushed a single bird, dropping to wing. She next pointed a bird stanchly, which was flushed and killed by Mr. Davidson. Being next ordered on, she pointed a brace, Skip backing. The birds were flushed by General Jackson, when he made a right and left, bringing down both birds in good style, which closed the Field Trials of '77 at 3:30 p. M., Friday, Nov. 16th.
Reviewing the trials and things connected with it, I cannot close without thanking the officers for many kind attentions, in promptly furnishing the many things needed to carry them on — horses, lunch and servants were always provided and ready at the right time. Daily all were kindly received and well treated at the princely home (Belle Mead) of General Harding. I suppose the usual battle of blue blood and native will after this be fought on paper. Summing up in the different stakes I find the following: Thirty natives ran, the winners scoring 275 2-3 points, two of them one-half bloods, Joe, Jr., and Ida. The winners in 23 blue bloods scored 350 1-2 points, and all of this by the Field Trial breed, numbering 14. I heartily endorse every decision rendered by the judges. Mr. J. H. Dew of Columbia, Tenn., received the Trainer's prize of $25, gold, in both the Puppy and Brace stakes, Mr. Sanborn getting it in the Champion stakes. The final award stands as follows, the fractions being caused by each judge keeping a separate score — the totals are added together and divided by three. Sixty-six is the maximum:
PUPPY STAKES, FOR DOGS UNDER 18 MONTHS.
P. H. Bryson's (Field Trial) Gladstone. 64 2-3.
W. W. Tucker's (Native) Champ, 52 1-2.
G. W. Campbell's (Native) Ida, 50 2-3.
CHAMPION STAKES— ALL ages. G. W. Campbell's (1/2 Native, 1/2 Blue Blood) Joe, Jr., 02 2-3.
Capt. Pat Henry's (Field Trial) Pride of the South. 58 2-3.
W. A. Wheatley (Native) Countess, 57 2-3 and divided.
D. C. Sanborn (Field Trial) Nellie, 67 2-3 and divided.
S. H. Smith's Clip and Capt. Henry's Pride of the South (Field Trial), 66. G. W.
Campbell's Buck and Joe, Jr. (Native), 62.
P. H. Bryson's Gladstone and Whip (Field Trial), 51.
ST. LOUIS KENNEL CLUB STAKES.
J. H. Dew's Kill (Field Trial), 62 1-2.
Another correspondent writes us as follows: — The fight is over, and now I give you a few incidents of it. No one can imagine what a Field Trial is like until they have seen one, and followed the dogs from early morn until the last order of "take your dogs up, gentlemen" is given.
The great contest undoubtedly lay between the "Blues" and the "Natives." Now the question is, what is a blue-blooded dog ? My answer is, one that has been bred pure, from generation to generation, in order to improve and perpetuate the good qualities of his ancestors. Granting this to be so, then truly there are "blue-blooded natives," as witness the performance of the renowned Guidos, the Campbells and the Tuckers. Their owners may well feel proud of them, for truly they possess nearly, if not quite, the speed and style of the English blues. But in this trial we must be guided by results, and the palm must be given to the English "blues."
The Irish "blues," I must say, showed badly. Mr. Whitford, of the St Louis Kennel Club, had, to begin with, no confidence; Thorstein had been sick over a week, and he had had no chance to work his other dogs. Thorstein will yet, I believe, come to the front. Mr. Colburn's Sank did not come up to his great reputation, as he was considered the most dangerous dog in the race. Mr. Jenkins's Hela will, with more practice, prove a good one; the style in which he backed and pointed was the prettiest picture in the whole trial, unless I except Dr. Speir's St Elmo and Speiro when they were down together in the Brace stakes, as they each pointed a single bird within ten yards of each other. It was a magnificent piece of work, and it was thought by many they would be winners; but Spiero does not possess the hunting powers of St. Elmo, or the pace.
St. Elmo is a grand, promising dog. Mr. Davidson's trio showed some beautiful work, and I think if they had been let out more a better record would have been credited to them. Guido's Countess ran in the worst part of the day, and probably if she had been down in a better time she might have credited Guido with a first; as it was, she is an honor to any one.
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