It’s a dog’s life
A new book has been published that will be of particular interest to area hunters, outdoorsmen, and dog lovers. It will also be of considerable value to those concerned with the region’s human history.
The Story of the Plott Hound: Strike & Stay (Charleston SC: History Press, 2007; soft cover; 189 pages; $22.99) by Bob Plott is many things. It is above all the story of the evolution of a truly great American breed of dog that commenced when two youthful brothers, Johannes and Enoch Plott, brought five of their family’s hounds with them from Germany to America in 1750 and eventually migrated to Western North Carolina, where the breed was perfected and continues to flourish.
It is also a family saga — one played out against the background of this country’s history from before the American Revolution through the settlement of the southern Appalachian frontier and on down to the present day.
Wonderfully illustrated with hundreds of vintage photographs, it is a story chock full of noble dogs and the men and women who bred, hunted, and cared for them with ingenuity, courage, and love.
And it is the story that family member Bob Plott, the great-great-great grandson of Johannes Plott, is uniquely qualified to tell. Here is the way the account opens:
Elias Isaac Plott was tired and worried. Working in the Black Forest as a gamekeeper in all seasons, for years on end, had drained his stamina and weakened his spirit. The fatigue from his work seemed never ending, but this paled in comparison to his enormous emotional burdens. Plott was worried about his two teenage sons and what the future held for them. As a professional hunter he understood better than most his own mortality, but worse yet, realized the lack of future opportunities for his sons in a land seeped in centuries of feudalism ... Plott perhaps felt that he and his wife were too old to start a new life in a new world and that the boys were young enough to acclimate themselves quickly there ... Were there relatives or friends who Elias had already arranged to welcome the boys, offering safe refuge for these young strangers in a strange land? Or were they considering working as either indentured servants or craftsmen apprentices to bankroll their start in the new world? ... No one knows for sure, but as a Plott who grew up hearing the family story of my great-great-great-grandfather Johannes, I always believed that it happened the following way. I think that Elias Plott was simply hoping for a better future for his sons ... Since he had little or no money, I think that he gave them a generous parting gift of the only thing of real value that he had access to — his dogs. Whether or not that is true, we do know that Johannes and Enoch Plott took some of the family’s most valued possessions — five hunting dogs — with them to America in the summer of 1750. Legend has it that two of these hounds were buckskin colored, and the remaining three were brindle dogs ... And oh, what dogs they were! Even as special as Elias Plott knew those dogs were then, neither he nor his sons could have imagined that they would ultimately, over the next two hundred years, become one of the best, if not the best, breed of big game hunting dogs the world had ever seen — the Plott bear hound.
The book’s sub-title, “Strike & Stay,” is a reference to the innate instinct of a Plott hound to hunt in a certain manner. One observer described the trait as follows: “It would strike a bear trail and stay on it. And stay and stay and stay. There was just no quit.” Another observed that, “He had to stay and fight, he had to stay with the bear at the tree. This breed of dog won’t quit ... The man who isn’t game isn’t fit to have him.”
Much of the book carefully describes how, through the centuries, those very qualities were instilled into their Plott hounds in sundry ways by various legendary hunters. For those of us who aren’t particularly interested in dog breeding, the author has made past methods and ongoing controversies a readable and integrated part of the whole.
On board the ship from Europe to America (perhaps Philadelphia), one of the brothers, Enoch, became sick, died, and was buried at sea. Now alone, except for the dogs his father had given them, Johannes eventually made his way to the eastern portion of North Carolina. By the end of the 18th century, his descendents and their Plott-bred hounds had made their way into the mountains of North Carolina.
By 1801, “Henry Plott and his dogs were firmly established in [what is now] Haywood County [where] the beautiful surrounding area later became known as Plott Valley. The towering mountains overlooking the valley would eventually come to be called the Plott Balsams. Henry Plott later extended his holdings to about 1,700 acres in the vicinity that now includes most of the Waynesville, Pigeon and Hazelwood, North Carolina area townships. This is the area where the Plott hound would gain legendary status as one of the premier big game hunting dogs in the world.”
This is where “The Story of the Plott Hound” starts to unfold, illuminating, via the medium of one family and their dogs, facets of this region’s history and culture in a way that breaks new ground. There are, of course, the fearful hunting stories involving the dogs and the men (and sometimes the women) who followed them. But there are also the stories of families and friends and the joys and hardships they shared. And there are tales — both true and tall — involving characters like Quill Rose, Von Plott, Mark Cathey, Horace Kephart, Taylor Crockett, Alphonzo “Fonz” Cable, Mrs. Montraville Plott (who, when faced with the necessity, killed a marauding wolf with her frying pan), and countless others.
By way of disclosure, I need to note in closing that Bob Plott, who lives in Statesville, is a close friend of mine and that I helped him with some preliminary editing. Furthermore, my wife, Elizabeth, prepared the illustration of a Plott hound that graces the book’s cover. Nevertheless, despite these vested interests, I can recommend The Story of the Plott Hound: Strike & Stay to you without reservation.