Photograph of Mr. Black and his dog, from Garden City, Alabama
By: Joe Mayfield
U.S. Legacies: March 2005
People that live on a farm, or in rural areas, understand the fun of hunting in the great outdoors, once said to be the "Sport of kings," it's a sport that's hard to explain to a city dweller, they lack the ability to comprehend what the sound of a full throated "Bay" of a good Black and Tan coon dog sounds like. A hunter knows the sound of his dog's "Bay," even though that dog is miles away, it's like the drama and music of an opera, and that sound carries over hills and mountains as the hunter rushes to his dog's location.
There is a mountaineer's type relationship with the sport and man's love of his dogs, and more times than not, he could have purchased a pick-up truck for what he paid for just one really good dog. The sport also requires lots of physical dexterity, coupled with running through underbrush while carrying a spot light. (No gun.) My hunter friends laugh when I tell them how a city fellow couldn't handle a sport such as this, considering they run and hide when a truck arrives to be unloaded, providing they're not already sleeping in the men's room.
The sport of coon hunting also developed a form of competition where by the hunters/dog owners could come together at a given location, and have time trials, and the winners would receive different prizes. The prize could be anything from a sack of dog food to a ham or turkey, depending on how well the sponsor co-ordinated the event. Signs advertising the occasion could be seen in small towns, or found in newspapers so as to have a large attendance, as was always the case. (See two photographs of coon dogs)
These competitions were called "Coon-On-A-Log" and were held where there was a body of water, such as a small lake, (Sportsman Lake in Cullman, Alabama) or a local pond, or the old water falls in Blount Springs, Alabama. My first "Coon-On-A-Log" occurred in 1956 at Gile Comb's pond in Stepville, Alabama, and there must have been over one hundred dogs entered to compete. Each dog had a number painted on both sides of their rib cage in order for the spectators to know the dog's name, and the name of the owner. A live coon was placed into a cage mounted onto a floating platform, the platform, about 5ft. by 5ft. floated atop two 55 Gal. drums. The cage protected both the coon and dogs alike, and for an added safety precaution, two men were in a flat bottom boat floating on the back side of the platform. Each dog would be clocked with a stop watch, starting when the animal hit the water, then swam out to the location of the coon, and as I recall, 45 to 50 seconds was a very good time trial, and upon reaching the cage, the dog was required to get onto the floating platform. While all this was taking place, almost every coon dog present would be baying to get into the water and show how good they were, be it a "Black and Tan," or "Red Bone," or even "Blue Tics" and "Treeing Walking." These hounds have a sense of smell beyond belief.
I recently talked with Mr. Ray Black, son of Billy Ray Black, and Grandson of Mr. Demp Black, all of Garden City, Alabama. This family is famous throughout the South for their fine coon dogs, and sportsmanship. Ray told me of his Granddad's most renowned coon dog, "George," a "black and tan," and of the coon on a log events held at the old Water Falls, in Blount Springs, Alabama.
We talked about our love for the dogs as well as the hunt, and Ray told me of the trips made to states outside of Alabama to compete with their coon dogs. Ray seems to favor the Black and Tan, but said that the Treeing Walking breed is making a name for themselves, I would enjoy hearing their voice, based on Rays experience, I'm sure this breed will indeed be in big demand.
Every Labor Day, the Tennessee Valley Coon Hunters Association throws a big party at the only coon dog graveyard in the nation; it's in Tuscumbia, Alabama. This festival has taken place since Sept. 4th, 1937, when Mr. Key Underwood buried his legendary coon dog, and today over one hundred coon hounds rest in this "Freedom Hills" cemetery. Each year, hunters and their dogs arrive to pay respects to the departed coon hounds.
I want to thank Mr. Ray Black for his time and input for this story, as well as the example he sets for future hunters.
By: Joe Mayfield
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