The Pointer in America
This story written by John Criswell was first published in a 1984 issue of Gun Dog Magazine. It is still well worth reading and archiving for future generations of field trialers.
Four-time champion Flush’s Country Squire, owned by S. H. Vredenburgh, trained and handled by John Rex Gates, is an outstanding example of the conformation we can expect in a pointer in America today.
Mr. Fiedler had been advised against it. His female, a pointer known as Lady Cyrano Rush, was bred as fashionably as could be, but she was gunshy, “rattle-brained and totally unbroken.” She was small, a “bundle of nervous energy.”
W. T. F. Fiedler had spent a great deal of time studying the pedigrees and breeding of pointing dogs, and sent Lady to Dayton, Ohio, to be bred to a dog he had selected. There were those who said it was fortunate that the male was 12. Lady had no pups.
The Kentuckian didn’t stop there. He decided to use one of the best broke hunting dogs in his part of the country — Gorham’s Rippie. He had a great reputation for finding game and he was descended from the best of imported bloodlines.
In April, 1906, the litter was whelped Mr. Gorham received a pup in lieu of a stud fee and the young male was later sold to a Winnipeg, Manitoba hunter also interested in field trials.
Ch. Manitoba Rap by Edmund Henry Osthaus
Less than three years of age, Manitoba Rap, Kentucky-bred, Canadian-owned, won the 13-year-old National Championship on the plantation of a man from New England at a place called Grand Junction in Tennessee.
It was 1909. Henry Ford’s new cars were the rage, and Katherine Hepburn was born. The pointer in America came of age.
For, until then, this was setter country.
All of the 12 renewals of the National Championship — and most of the few other field trials— had been won by setters.
Field trials at the turn of the century were little more than meets where owners of what the believed were the best hunting dogs of the day competed to see which found the most game.
How it was found, or how the dog looked doing it, was coming to the owners’ attention. The description of Manitoba Rap, which A.F. Hochwalt wrote, would make a hunter’s mouth water:
In action Rap was quick and snappy; all fire and steam. His nose was superb and he could catch the scent of game from almost impossible distances, and then the way he went to his birds — well, he never left any doubt in the minds of those who saw him that he was absolutely sure of what he was doing. His attitude on point were sometimes startling, for he “froze” in whatever position he might be in at the time of catching scent. Sometimes high headed, sometimes stretched out like an adder, at others doubled into a semi-circle, but whatever position he assumed he was always absolutely intense and rigid.
Rap’s win of the championship was against the largest field ever assembled to that time — 15 entries.
Lest someone doubt Mr. Fiedler’s judgment, it was also said of Lady Cyrano Rush that she was very fast and “she could find more birds than three average dogs put together,” but she never “handled them.”
And handling them — pointing for the gun — was everything.
Perhaps it still is.
Men have wondered about the pointing dog’s beginnings. Many a book has been written about him and his origins. There’s more available than most of us care to know.
But firsts, however, somehow seem to be important. When William Arkwright set out in search of the start of game pointing, he determined that the first mention in literature was by an Italian, Brunetto Latini, while living in exile in France. It was some time between 1260 and 1267. He wrote:
Others are brachs (dogs) with falling ears, which know of beasts and birds by scent, therefore they are useful for sporting.
So, they originated in Italy. Perhaps. Or, it may have been France. Spain has most often claim as the source. Mr. Arkwright isn’t sure. But they appeared in all three countries hundreds of years ago.
It was 400 years after the exiled Italian’s writing that a Frenchman, Jean Baptiste Oudry, painted a white and lemon female from the royal kennel of France pointing a pheasant. Her name was Blanche.
The Museum of the Louvre, where the painting hangs to this day, says the artist was a favorite of Louis XV and often went on royal hunts around 1700. The painting shows a long-legged, deep-chested female, clean of head, intently pointing with her short tail just below back level. She could easily pass for a daughter of Riggins White Knight — with a shorter, low tail.
For all of Blanche’s similarities to the pointers that hunters know today, it is the Spanish pointer that has received the publicity through the years as the source.
An engraving, or a set of them, in 1768, called “The Spanish Pointer,” showed a dog of heavy muscle, very short tail, bulky head and almost dark color.
However it happened, the pointer became an English possession. In 1722, a sketch was made that has become another historic landmark. It portrays “Pluto and Juno” and was drawn for a British publication, Rural Sports. Pluto was black, as were some of the early imports to the U.S. The female, Juno, was called a “remarkable” pointer for her day and her physical attributes — with short, low tail and head and a sharp stop — were to be called models.
“Pluto and Juno,” a J. Scott engraving done in 1802 from a sketch by S. Gilpin.
From the lords and kings of Europe, to the fields of England, the one thing certain is that they have been bird hunters for a very long time.
But some have the same view of this sort of history that Huck Finn expressed to his aunt when she tried to use Biblical references to improve his posture at the table: “I don’t take no stake in dead people.”
What about this dog we call a pointer that lives in backyards, kennels and hunting camps, on plantations across the country?
If his immediate past covers 50 years or so, and the win of Manitoba Rap was the turning point, it can be fairly said that it has been a very bright time.
It is the man who hunts—from the grouse woods to the prairies to the pinelands of the south and west Texas—who makes the surest test.
He needs a dog over which he can surely kill his game, a dog that will hunt for him, locate game and point it—and retrieve what is shot.
The pointer that is followed by the thousands in the field is the heart of the breed.
How he got to be a dog that is dependable in the required traits must be found in the record of his cousins who went to field trials, and whose bloodlines are much of the heart of the breed.
In the late years of the last century, sportsmen in New York and St. Louis and a few other points began importing pointers from England. They were used to upgrade the native pointing dog, though the noted Mr. Hochwalt says:
Correctly speaking, there is no such animal as a “native pointer,” but custom has given the term a definite sanction and now it is generally understood to embrace all those dogs, or their descendants which flourished in this country from Colonial times up to the epoch of the authentic importation which was about 1876, when official books began to be published for the registration of dogs.
Few of the names of those ancestors are even remembered. But one is still a household name. Rip Rap.
Ch. Rip Rap by Edmund Henry Osthaus
When a hunter sees a black-marked pointer, he usually identifies him as “a Rip Rap,” as if it were a breed unto itself. Actually the old black-marked pointer—hunter, sire, field trial winner—was heralded as “the best field pointer ever produced up to that time.”
Hochwalt said he and his littermates weren’t the handsomest, “but all of them had field ability far and away ahead of anything yet seen in America.” His legend is recalled through the Gunsmokes, the Blue Mondays and Highways of today.
Another landmark of that time was Croxteth. He came to this country in 1879 with the Rev. J. C. MacDonna, a liver and white dog “large in size, large in body, strong in bone and muscle and possessing a peculiarly long, lean head.”
Hochwalt pointed out that it seemed “peculiarly lean” because most were accustomed to the “rather cloddy” heads of other imports. That head also held “unusually light eyes” and that trait seen in today’s dogs may come from this old timer.
Ch. Croxteth by John Martin Tracy
Another characteristic that Croxteth had, which should be equally admired today, was his “sensational attitudes and manner in which he threw himself into his points as he caught scent of game.”
It was a requirement of the day: intensity.
The high tail wasn’t.
The early breeders of England thought the tail told a lot. Short tails indicated an animal of pure bloodlines. It lengthened when there were outcrosses to greyhound or foxhound. But even then it was still back-level or lower.
There is no question about the introduction of foxhounds into the British pointers in the years just prior to major importations. The subject is a tender one. It was so in 1895 when Mr. Arkwright speculated in an article about the old dog Bang having “alien blood.” He was threatened with lawsuits. He was vindicated by verification that the dog’s breeder “obtained the services of the late Lord Portsmouth’s staunchest foxhounds, and had introduced the strain into his kennel of pointers.”
Up to 1880, Mr. Sam Price was recognized as the pointer man throughout England. He owned Champion Bang, and received some huge figures for his dogs. The obvious hound-outcross marks that showed then: “fuzzy tail, the coat of two lengths, and the cat feet…a good single dog to shoot over, though rather soft…would never attempt to back…ran up the first brood of grouse and chased it out of sight, loudly giving tongue.”
Mr. Arkwright said he had tried “many of these dogs ‘with a dash of hound in them,’ and had found, when they work, that they take much more breaking than pure pointers, being unruly, uncertain, jealous of backing, hare chasers and seekers after foot-scent in preference to body-scent.”
The subject is a tender one still.
The carriage of the tail was not a great issue, or, to carry it high wasn’t, during the early years of this century. Hobart Ames, the eastern industrialist who built the Ames Plantation in Grand Junction, and so directed the history and development of the National Championship, believed the back-level was quite enough.
Ch. Seaview Rex
Then, along came Seaview Rex. He pointed with his tail straight in the air. He ran with it high and cracking—much in contrast to other dogs of the day—the dogs that Mr. Ames and his fellow judges elevated to the National Championship.
In spite of the Ames’ theories, the new style caught the fancy.
Handlers as well as owners fell in line, and hunters decided that it was more attractive to see a dog standing there in the woods with his tail up and intent, than at back-level. Some didn’t care much about that part of the dog and still don’t. They only care about whether he finds much game and will stay put until it is flushed.
As field trials divided into “all-age” and “shooting dogs” and there were more and more of both, loft of the tail has become an easy way for some judges to distinguish what they like and what they don’t. It’s easy and obvious.
But how did so many get so high so soon when the pointer was really a level-tail dog?
There have been reports in the American Field that Seaview Rex was from a dam that was at the time unregistered.
And, stories abound about the introduction of the hound to raise the tail in this line of pointers, or that. It is obvious from the high, curving carriage that the stories have foundation in fact.
Was it on the east coast, or was it in plantation country of Georgia and Alabama? There is no documentation as to where and when — just the obvious change that it did happen.
The vast majority of pointers are used in the hunting “industry.” And industry it is. There were—and are—private plantations that ring Albany and spread away from Thomasville in Georgia with large kennels, handlers and all of the accompanying frills of the down-south sport.
More and more businesses are using the sport to entertain their suppliers and business associations and friends on land they lease by the season or day. They hunt the pineland country horseback and in hunting buggies.
In the big ranch country of south and west Texas, the “industry” takes the form of leases. Time was when a hunter just asked and went on a friend or neighbor’s place. But those times have gone, and the land that was once hunted for free is now hunted for a price—by the acre.
Quail abound on the King Ranch, and that empire has leased sections to corporations that have established lavish kennels and housing for guests, hired professional guides—and bought many a pointer.
A season ago, the man who won more field trial championships than any other—John Rex Gates of Leesburg, Ga.—quit the road and joined that hunting industry. He established Quail Call Plantation where his guests pay to hunt game by the day. He provides a service that approximates the luxury of the private plantations that lie around the land he has leased.
Like no other, Gates understood the reason for field trial dogs, and how that part of the outdoor sport fit with the sport of hunting.
When he was handling dogs for the public, he won championships on the prairies of the north in numbers outstripping anybody else. In 18 summers alone, he won 23 prairie championships—equal to his father’s wins. (Since that time, John Rex’s younger brother Robin Gates has exceeded their prairie wins with a total of 26 as of 2017.)
With many of the same dogs that ran all over the vast prairies of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, he won championships in the piney woods of the south. They were dogs that could find and handle different upland game—and they had the stamina and determination to do it for a long period of time.
They were the obvious backbone of the hunter’s pointer.
The field trial champion—particularly the all-age dog—provided the fortitude to hunt for a longer time, and had demonstrated desire. What hunter wants to walk behind a dog that can’t hunt a decent part of the day—or all of it?
Breeders of these pointers have used various field trials as guidelines to select their broodstock of recent years — the last 30. There are those who look to the prairies for stamina. There are those who look to the southland for handling ability.
Just as Manitoba Rap turned the corner in 1909 at Grand Junction, wins there in recent times have assured male dogs great books of females. Bird hunters appropriately flocked to them.
Hoyle Eaton with Riggins White Knight, 1967 National Free-for-All Champion.
Riggins White Knight not only was a dog of great endurance, he found game in immense numbers — and he was solid white. He caught the eye and his production records are unequaled.
He was handled by D. Hoyle Eaton of northern Mississippi, a trainer who worked his dogs primarily for the Grand Junction-type country. He followed White Knight’s win with that of Red Water Rex. He, too, became a popular sire among hunters and field trialers.
Eaton also won with Miller’s White Cloud. His offspring showed up everywhere, the greatest numbers since his sire, White Knight. They did not have the field trial ability that his sire had, but they were followed afield by many a hunter.
Ch. Red Water Rex
Ch. Miller’s White Cloud
Since those early days in Spain and England, the literature on the pointer seems to agree that breeders who knew success chose the brashest to use as broodstock. They liked energy, speed, quickness—and stamina.
Field trials have provided a testing ground for those qualities.
Since the advent of the walking horse to the field trial, and the division of “all-age” and “shooting dog” categories, those that have continued to win the major, historic stakes of the prairies and the endurance stakes of the South have been most sought as broodstock.
There is a simple, tested theory that says dogs breed regressively as to stamina and range and desire. So, dogs of all-age range and purpose will get a higher percentage of useful pups—useful for hunting, field trial shooting dogs, and those very few for all-age competition. If that regression follows, it is presumed that the shooting dog is more likely to produce a hunting dog or his own like.
The exceptions are legion—the well bred male and female that did not perform up to trial standards yet produced offspring which did. It will happen. But it can’t be depended on.
Robert Wehle of New York set about to produce a strain of pointer that would be ideal for the gentleman to hunt behind. He stressed certain conformation and biddability, and practiced line-breeding. The Elhew dogs have known great success at the job of hunting.
Ch. Elhew Jungle by Iwan Lotton
If, as some contend, they lost some desire and stamina through the years, they have also provided with particular qualities of biddability when used with other strong-headed strains.
If you hunt at Quail Call in south Georgia with John Rex Gates it is most likely over a “Flush dog,” a descendant of the major-circuit dogs he and his father bred—Flush’s Country Squire, Oklahoma Flush, Paladin’s Royal Flush.
If you hunt on the King Ranch as a guest on one of their hunting camps on which Tony Terell is handler, it is likely to be over a descendant of the Fred Arant dogs from South Carolina, the off-spring of the prepotent A Rambling Rebel.
Or, if in late October around the coffee shop table the conversation turns to bird hunting, it is likely to turn to White Knight or Red Water Rex or Palarial Stormy Clown or one of the names that has made field trial history—for they are also the brag dogs of the quail fields.
And it all comes to a bottom line that was started as a trend in 1909 that has grown and grown. In the last 30 years, all of the winners of the National Championship, save one were pointers. Since 1960 on the prairies, all of the champions, save one have been pointers.
They endure not only afield.
John Criswell, who owned Whileaway Kennels in Stigler, OK, bred, trained, and judged some of the finest pointers in the country. He was a gifted reporter, wrote and published the book entitled “Cov” about Leon Covington. He was born in Oct. 3, 1931 in Tulsa, OK and died Oct. 16, 2015 in Stigler. He was elected to the Field Trial Hall of Fame in 1990.
Ch. Paladin’s Royal Flush by Iwan Lotton
John Rex Gates with Ch. Oklahoma Flush
Ch. A Rambling Rebel
Ch. Palarial Stormy Clown
Ch. Riggins White Knight by Iwan Lotton
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The Kennel Club was founded in 1873 in London, England. The first field trial was held in 1865 in Southill, England. No dog registered with The Kennel Club, then later the American Field, the AKC or the Canadian Kennel Club has ever been named “English” pointer. When the term was used by Hochwalt in, for example, “The Modern Pointer” it was in reference to dogs imported from England. Given our field pointers have been bred in the United States for about 142 years now, it is even less fitting to attach the word “English” to their name.