White Oak Mountain Ranger: Talley Ho

  • Sunday, January 22, 2023

“If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and man.” - Mark Twain

“If it’s good enough for Beagles, it’s good enough for me.” - Richard Littlejohn

“Snoopy didn’t start out as a Beagle. It’s just that ‘beagle’ is a funny word.” - Charles M. Schulz

“Talley Ho! Talley Ho! Talley Ho!” This cry was repeated, with an urgent amount of gusto, repeatedly, rapidly, until the scrambling swarm of anxious, tail wagging, short legged little Beagles arrived.

We had just traipsed, for at least two good hours, flogging downed trees, stomping sundry sage brush clumps and shredding our brush busting attire on a rather serious series of impenetrable briar patches. This arduous hike encompassed crawling over every other conceivable lair where any cotton tailed rabbit could conceivably have a hide from predators. Hours spent with little to no effect.

The pack owner explained the dearth of rabbits, “Rabbits are the shad minnows of the dry land environment. They’re the primary quality food source for most predators. Snakes, hawks, owls, house cats, bobcats, wild dogs, coyotes, foxes, all feast on rabbits like big fish feast on shad minnows. This looks like prime bobcat country. That cat won’t move on until he’s cleaned his plate. You’ll never know he was around until you find where he’s buried his next meal.”

Talley Ho! And the dogs responded immediately, excitedly, tails vibrating with an extra shot of enthusiasm. Not that their tails had been unenthusiastic for the last few hours, but this use of Talley Ho had motored their bloody tails into a new state of frenzy. All of this dense brush flogging had finally paid off. The rabbit was only glimpsed for scant seconds, but it was enough to alert and over joy the squirming dogs. The dogs apparently understood old English. Talley Ho!

Now I’m a novice when it comes to the use of the term Talley Ho. I thought this Talley Ho, was reserved for fox hunters of the British Isles; men and women of landed aristocracy. Upper crust gentry, mounted aback a fine jumping horse. The English and Scott upper classes, leaping hedges on horseback in search of adventure, danger. Rich men and women, who as a class of bored socialites, needed amusement and found it chasing after a pack of fine fox hounds, each well mounted, all the while dressed in red and black fox hunting finery.

Somehow, Talley Ho didn’t quite fit with my conception of the use of the words, set here in a nastily tangled briar thicket in Bradley County. The dogs understood. The race was on.

According to Wikipedia, Bradley County was named after Colonel Edward Bradley, born in Sumner County. He died in 1829 after serving as a military officer, veteran of the Revolution, the War of 1812 and the Creek War. Bradley and Andrew Jackson co-owned race horses after they had whipped the British and the Creek, before they invented the Trail of Tears. After Bradley’s death, a movement arose to perpetuate his memory. The Tennessee General Assembly created Bradley County on February 10, 1836, naming it in his honor. Bradley County was Cherokee land.

I doubt Ole Edward ever said Talley Ho. ‘Skit em Luke!’ Maybe ‘Fetch em up Bob.’ But, Talley Ho was as new to me as it probably was to the Cherokee and Ole Edward.

I was learning something about 13 inch beagles here. Midnight, Chigger, Martha, Moses, Daisy and one other dog, that for the life of me, I cannot remember her name, ran that lone rabbit for four solid hours.

Uphill, downhill, into holes and out of holes. To our very feet, two maybe three times. Easy shots. No shots. No guns on this trip. No slingshots. No bows and arrows.

This was all against my many years of boyhood training. Chasing rabbits and not at least shooting at rabbits, is against every single bit of training that I ever received. After a lifetime of chasing rabbits with every conceivable weapon ever designed to kill rabbits, from slings, to sticks, to scatterguns, this experience was just simply way out of character for me. See the rabbit, let the rabbit run, enjoy the dogs. It took all day to get over this conflict.

Who wouldn’t enjoy seeing small, methodical, well-bred and intelligent hounds lose their minds? It was a glorious sight to behold. The dog breeder, who just happened to be a member in good standing of the Dog Breeder Hall Of Fame, was teaching me the fine art of 13 inch Beagle champions. Line breeding, selective breeding, dogs that will not chase deer, dogs that win high dollar competitions; competitions that pay big prizes to include a ton of Purina delivered to your house that takes a forklift to get a pallet of it off the truck. The Hall of Famer had been deep into mastering the breeding of championship quality dogs for the last four or five decades.

These are dogs that other breeders offer astronomical sums of money to infuse your bloodline into their bloodline. Big dollars spent, in order that they can win AKC sponsored contests that pay big bucks for championship rabbit chasers. Plus, they win pallets delivered with a ton of Purina. Hall of Fame, means Hall of Fame money for the sale of promising pups.

My first dog was a big beagle. He was a bonehead extraordinaire when it came time to quit whatever it was that he didn’t want to quit. He’d run a rabbit until you ran him down and put a leash around his loud throat.

He enjoyed a good fight with other dogs. He didn’t seem to care if they were bigger or faster. He loved a good challenge. He adored chickens, freshly thrown morning newspapers, sleeping on my mothers sofa. He loved to drag his rear end on the front lawn, rear feet in the air, pulling his stink hole along like he was on a sled. My hunting buddy and I wedged him between us on a Honda Fifty and terrorized rabbits all over the county, via a Japanese motorcycle.

This dog had no manners, what so ever. He looked like he might have been fairly well bred, but he was a hoodlum, a born and bred gangster. If some English Fox hunter had shown up, this is the dog that would have gone over and crapped on his horse and then whipped four or five sissy foxhounds. Then, with little to no hesitation, he would have hiked his leg and sprayed the nearest knee high English riding boot.

This old dog would never have been considered for the cover of Houndsman Magazine. He most definitely would not have understood or responded to Talley Ho.

My conversations with most dogs included ‘fetch,' ‘hunt dead,’ ‘leave it,' ‘no,’ ‘stop that,' ’get off of the couch,' etc. etc.

Mostly, this dog training conversation includes, but is not limited to, a rather lengthy list of words that look like something like this when you see them in print………’#$%^, or……. When I really needed get an important point across to some dumb dog in our extensive training sessions, ‘^&*@ $%^’. I guess that pretty much amplifies my failure at Hall Of Fame level dog training and attempts at well bred-ness?

This day in Bradley County, I was witness to a long line of a breed of dog with culture and manners, desire and drive. Squirmy, methodical, little sounding hounds, that sucked scent from the earth like short, four legged, vibrating vacuum cleaners.

Their voice wasn’t the deep throated, haunting tune of the big hound. These dogs were only 13 inches high. Their excited voices somehow reminded me of a sound that more closely resembled the squeal, or panicked cry, of young ladies caught in some embarrassing, but hilarious and uncompromising catastrophe.

But, these little dogs had volume transcending their diminutive stature. The kind of vibrating song that makes every Beagle fanatic smile. The kind of tune that magically takes you back in time. That melody that you somehow had misplaced. But, when suddenly you hear it again, you’re transported back. Back to a time that you will never lose, misplace or forget again.

How is it possible that dogs can do this? How is it that dogs got this way? How long has it been since the first man or woman managed to domesticate the first dog? From that line, how long must it have taken to breed a 13 inch Beagle with the heart of a champion that makes us smile?

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WOMR Note: Send comments to whiteoakmtnranger@gmail.com

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