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Wednesday, 22 December 2010

A cowboy's best friend



General George Armstrong Custer, famed for his defeat at The Little Bighorn was something of a dog lover and his passion for hunting with his staghounds, actually Scottish deerhounds, named Blucher and Maida are well documented. Other famous westerners with a passion for the dogs was Teddy Roosevelt.

Custer loved his dogs and as well as hunting he would take the hounds into battle with him - in fact Blucher would be killed at the Battle of Washita River, which saddened Custer more than the loss of 21 of his soldiers. Maida was later killed by friendly fire during another Indian skirmish.

Custer would often use the hounds to hunt buffalo and he wrote of one instance where his two beloved hounds brought down a young bull. The dogs had the bull but the beast refused to fall and put up a tenacious fight. Custer had to run to the aid of his two dogs and slit the bulls throat.

Theodore Roosevelt also used staghounds during his Dakota Territory ranching days in the 1880's and the future president was rarely seen without his hounds.

There is much debate over the actual breed of Custer's dogs - he himself called them staghounds but many have suggested that they could have been lurchers. However Custer's dogs were undoubtedly Scottish Deerhounds - originally bred to hunt red deer or stags in Scotland and the breed were one of the earliest European breeds to arrive in the New World.

There were many differing breeds of dog in the Old West and because of the way of life the dogs would often run wild and breed as nature intended, so bloodlines became diluted and the majority of animals running around during this period were of mixed breeds.

Custer himself owned a kennel of over forty dogs of various breeds. Some of these were Walker Hounds (American Foxhounds) but most were sight hounds which included Greyhounds, Scottish Deerhounds and Russian Wolfhounds. The Greyhound was one of the earliest breeds known to man and it is thought the dogs first came to America with the Spanish adventurers in the 1500's.

George Washington actually owned a huge greyhound called Azore.

"The true way to kill wolves is to hunt them with greyhounds on the great plains. Nothing more exciting than this sport can be imagined." Teddy Roosevelt.



The staghound remains a popular breed to this day but, although well bred, the breed is not recognised as a pureblood. They are a tough breed and the typical life span of the dog is between 12 and fourteen years.

2 comments:

Ron Scheer said...

This is a little known fact about the West. Hunting with dogs was a common pastime. Also when the wolf was a widespread predator, wolfhounds were in demand on the ranches. I keep coming across references to them in accounts of frontier life written 100 years ago.

Brian Duggan said...

The third image of the soldier/rancher(? ) with several hounds is wonderful and one I've not seen before. Can you tell me the source or any info about it?