It was a cool autumn evening and they could hear the hounds about two miles away. Josh who was nine years old and his mother and father were sitting on the front porch of their cabin in the Ozark Mountains. They would sit out on the porch after supper and listen to the hounds trail and tree the raccoons. Josh knew all the voices of the different hounds in the area. When a hound would howl, Josh would tell his mother that was Rocket a Redbone or would say that’s Striker a Bluetick. Josh knew them all. Each hound had a sound of their own. Tonight, there were four hounds and they were trailing a coon. You could tell by the tone and intensity of the yapping dogs when the coon was treed. Josh and his parents didn’t like it when the hounds treed a coon fast. They liked to listen to the dogs’ music for as long as possible.
Coon hunting was a favorite pastime in the Ozarks and Josh’s father’s farm was right in the middle of some of the best raccoon country in the state. Josh’s father didn’t hunt anymore because of an injury suffered in the war. Once in a while, some of the men would invite Josh when they were hunting near the farm. Josh liked to hunt and to be around the hounds. He knew everything about coonhounds, all the different breeds: Walkers, Black & Tans, Redbones and his favorite the Blueticks. Josh didn’t have a coonhound of his own; they didn’t even have a dog on the farm. Coonhounds were prized possessions in these parts, and cost way to much money. His mother and father struggled just to keep the farm afloat. Along with helping work the farm, his mother sold eggs from their chickens in town. She was known as the “kind egg lady”.
Every year, they considered selling the farm and moving to the city. Josh often thought about having his own coonhound. He knew it would be a big male Bluetick and he would train him to be the best dog in the county. He thought how he would take that little Bluetick pup and train him everyday until he grew up to be a strong fast hunter. Josh knew his pup would be strictly a coon dog and not go chasing deer, rabbits or wild pigs that other hounds hunted. He saw how frustrated some men got when their hounds chased deer or started trailing other critters. He knew his dog would never do that. He knew who the best handlers were in the area and he learned from them. These men would tell Josh that when he gets his dog he should get a good Redbone or a Black & Tan. They all had their favorite breed. But Josh knew his dog would be a Bluetick with long legs and a deep chest so he would always be at the front of the pack. Josh also knew that it would be long time before he had enough money for a prime Bluetick pup.
Mr. Polk who was one of the best dog men around had a really good Bluetick female named Belle who had a litter of seven pups, six weeks ago. Josh would go over there in the afternoon and play with the pups. Mr. Polk would let the boy come over whenever he wanted. Josh would take the pups out into the fields and exercise them. It was fun for Josh and it gave Belle a break from her puppies. Josh had a favorite pup, a male of course, that was just a bit larger than the other pups. Sometimes, when Josh visiting the pups, men would come by and give Mr. Polk some money. Mr. Polk would then put a tag on the leather collar of one of the pups. Josh knew in two weeks all the pups would be sold and gone. But his big pup didn’t have a tag on his collar yet. Mr. Polk knew what Josh was thinking every time he put a tag on a pup and he wished that he could give Josh a pup, but he needed every penny he got from selling the puppies. Josh also knew another dogman that had a litter of Black & Tan pups. He would also visit these puppies and play with them, but he liked the Bluetick pups much more.
Just then you heard a loud yapping sound from one of the hounds in the woods. Josh looked at his father and said “that’s Lady and it sounds like she has the coon treed good”. Then the other hounds caught up to Lady and they all started yapping. Josh knew the hunt was over. Josh’s mom said “that’s it for tonight men, better get some rest there’s work to be done in the morning”. They all went inside and as Josh lay down he knew he would dream of hounds and raccoon hunting. In the morning, Josh did some chores before heading off to school. They only went to school for a half day in these parts because the children were needed to help on the farms. Josh didn’t care for school, he would much rather be outside in the fields or woods. It wasn’t that he was a bad student. He could read and write well and was good with numbers. Being good with numbers was also a curse for him because he would often figure how much a Bluetick pup would cost and how long he would have to save pennies before he could buy one. Sometimes, he felt like he would never get a pup. On his way home, Josh stopped by Mr. Polk and played with the Bluetick pups. He noticed that six of the pups had tags on them. Only a small female and the big male didn’t have tags. While Josh was playing with pups, Mr. Polk came outside. He said “Josh, a few of us are going hunting tonight. We are taking some young dogs out to see how they do. Would you like to come along”? Josh jumped up and said “you bet”. Mr. Polk told him to check with his mother and father. Josh knew they would say okay because it was Friday and there was no school tomorrow. They also almost never said no to him about hunting. They knew how much he enjoyed it. His father would remark many times how he wished that he could go too. Josh put the pup he was holding down and started to run home. As he was running he yelled to Mr. Polk, “See you tonight and thanks”.
When Josh got home, he ran into the house all excited and asked his mother if he could go with the men tonight. His mother said the same thing she always said. It was fine with her but he had to check with his father. Josh ran out the back door and into the field where his father was working. When he got to his father, his father was laughing. “I never seen a boy in such hurry to get to work” said his father. Josh, out of breath, with one of the straps from his overalls hanging down, told his father about the hunt tonight. His father acted like he was ignoring him and Josh’s face turned sad. His father laughed and said “I spoke with Mr. Polk this morning and he told me he was gonna to ask you to go”. Josh said “Well, I can go”? “Sure” said his father, “they are trying out some young Walker hounds down at Striker Hollow”. Josh took off running for the house. “Whoa there” his father yelled. Josh stopped in his tracks. “Where are you going” his father asked. “To get my stuff ready for tonight” Josh said. His father said “you have plenty of time for that after you help me and stack some wood for your mother”. Josh reluctantly agreed and went to work by his father’s side. His father tried to keep from smiling as he looked at his son. After the wood was stacked, Josh washed up for supper. His mother saw him just picking at his meal and said “go on, get out of here and pack your stuff”. Josh got up smiling and went to get ready.
His father said to his wife “I would hate to live with that boy if we said he couldn’t go hunting”. The wife looked at her husband. He said “I know that look and I wish we could get him a god too, but we just don’t have the extra money”. The wife said “I know but a boy his age needs a dog”. The father said “I know one thing, when the time comes and he does get a dog, there won’t be a dog in the county that’s more loved”. The father then said “Mr. Polk tells me that Josh is real good with Belle and her pups.” “Couldn’t Mr. Polk spare just one pup and we could pay him a little each month” the mother asked. The father said he would go see in the morning and see if something can be worked out. Josh came out; he had a heavy flannel shirt on, a lantern in his hand and an old knife on his hip. The knife had belonged to his grandfather who was a good dogman and hunter. Josh’s mother took some ham and bread from the table and put it in a sack and told her son to make sure he ate some of it and not to give it all to the dogs. Josh smiled. His father said that “Mr. Polk and the men were meeting by the bridge out near the fork in the road near the hollow”. “It shouldn’t take you long to get there”. The father knew Josh would be the first one there. His father said “your mother and I will be on the porch listening tonight”. “Whoop it up a little for me”.
Josh did get to the bridge first and sat down. He ate some ham and bread and put the rest away for the dogs. It seemed like he was waiting a long time and had hoped he was in the right place. Then, he saw two trucks pull up. There were three beautiful young Walker hounds in the back of the second truck. Josh went up to the dogs and started petting them. Mr. Polk came over and said “nice looking dogs aren’t they”. Josh said “they sure are we should have no trouble getting a coon with them”. Mr. Polk said “I hope so; all the men agreed that you get the first skin tonight and Mrs. Polk will make a nice cap”. Josh had a big smile on his face. Mr. Polk grabbed the leather leashes, got the dogs down and was struggling to hold the hounds back. They entered the woods and Mr. Polk said “turn em loose”. Josh did and the dogs were off. Josh let out a big “whoop”.
Back on the porch of the cabin, Josh’s mother and father were sitting there waiting to hear the dogs. The mother said “quiet tonight”. The father said “there are working young dogs so it might take a while”. Half an hour later, they heard the dogs howling. The father said “they’re on trail now”. The mother got up and said “the men will make sure Josh gets home alright, we’ll see him in the morning”. Her husband said “I’m gonna stay out here for a little longer and listen”. He wished he could be there with Josh and share the excitement. But he knew he would only slow them down. He pictured in his mind, Josh smiling and running after the dogs. The father leaned back and listened to the music from the hounds, his wife looking at him from the cabin window. When Josh’s mother and father woke up the next morning, Josh was still sleeping. They would let him sleep in a little late like they always did after a hunt. Josh’s father went to see Mr. Polk about a pup. As he was pulling up to the house, he saw a man get into a pickup truck and leave. Mr. Polk met Josh’s father in the front yard. They shook hands and Josh’s father said “I know how much my son wants one of Belle’s pups; I thought maybe we could work something out”. Mr. Polk said “there’s nothing I would like better but I just sold the last two pups”. Then, he said “tell you what, I’ll save a pup from Belle’s next litter for you and we’ll see what we can work out”. “Your boy deserves a good hound”. “You should have seen him last night, hooting and hollering and chasing after them dogs”. “He even gave them dogs most of the food he had brung”. “Nothing would make me happier to see him get one of Belle’s next pups”. Mr. Polk then said that Josh skinned the first coon they got last night and that Mrs. Polk is making him a cap from it. Josh’s father thanked Mr. Polk for his offer of one of Belle’s next pups and told him to thank Mrs. Polk for her kindness to make Josh a cap. He also asked Mr. Polk not to mention anything to Josh about their conversation. Josh’s father left and went back home.
When he got there, Josh was up and dressed. Josh came running up to his father and told him he skinned the first raccoon with is Grandpa’s knife. He made sure to tell him that he cleaned the knife off real good. Then, he told his father how Mrs. Polk was making a cap from the skin for him. His father listened and didn’t let on that he just left Mr. Polk and knew already. His father just said “I was listening to the hounds last night and they sounded good”. “I figured you had a good hunt”. Josh said “it took a while for those young hounds to pick up the scent but when they did they were off real fast”. “They treed the first coon in thirty minutes”. “They got another one about an hour later, it was a good night”. Josh asked his father if he could go over to Mr. Polk’s and see the pups and to see how the raccoon hide looks. His father said okay but not to be too long there’s work to be done here. Josh said he would make it fast and ran off. Josh’s mother came out and her husband told her what happened at Mr. Polk’s place. She turned and went back inside.
Josh ran up to Mr. Polk and asked “where’s the hide”? Mr. Polk said “it’s nailed to the side of the shed, lets go look”. Josh said “that’s a good one”. Mr. Polk said it will make a fine cap when it’s dry. Josh then asked if he could see the pups. Mr. Polk nodded. Josh got to the pups and saw that they all had tags on. Mr. Polk seeing Josh’s face said “a man from the next county over came by this morning and bought the little female and the big male”. “He’s a good dogman and will turn them into a fine pair of coonhounds”. So, now Josh knew all the pups would be gone next week. He tried not to show Mr. Polk that he was disappointed and said “well, I have to go now, there are chores to do”. Josh ran off, but he didn’t go straight home. He went into the woods and sat on a log by a small swamp.
While Josh’s father was working around the farm he saw a truck pull up to the house. He walked over and saw his wife talking to two men in the truck. He introduced himself and asked if there was something he could do for them. They said they were just passing through when they saw a dog on the side of the road. They figured they would check with some of the farms in the area to see if the dog belonged there. They said he’s in the back of the truck. Josh’s father looked in the bed of the truck and saw a black and brown pup seven weeks old. It had wirery hair and short ears. He told the men he doesn’t know who the pup belongs too. The men said that it doesn’t look like it’s worth much as far as a hunting dog goes and they will just let him go out on the main road and maybe he’ll find his way home. Josh’s father said that if they were just going to let him go that his son has wanted a dog for a long time and if they didn’t mind he would just keep him here. The men said “if you want him take him, he’s nothing but a cur anyway”. Josh’s father picked up the pup and the men drove off. His wife smiled at him and said “Josh will love him”. The father knew the pup was no Bluetick hound, he wasn’t even sure if the pup had any hound in him. With the pup’s coloring and course fur he thought it might have some terrier in him. The pup also had short legs. Josh’s father thought the pup would make a great farm dog. When Josh got home, his father said he had a surprise for him in the shed. When they got close, Josh heard the puppy whine from inside the shed. He looked at his father. His father said “don’t get too excited till you see him”. Josh opened the door and saw this strange looking black and brown pup with short ears sitting in a box of straw. His father said “I know he’s not a Bluetick but he’s yours if you want him”. Josh’s face had the biggest smile and he said “you bet I want him, thanks dad”. Josh called the pup and off they ran. Josh’s father was just about to holler to him and tell him about his chores, but didn’t. He just stood there and watched his son and that strange looking pup run off. When Josh and the pup got back to the house, his mother and father didn’t even mention that he forgot to do his chores. They just felt so good to see their son so happy. Josh had a million questions and he was asking his father them all at once. Josh said “Dad, I know he’s not a hound but do you think he has any hound in him”? “What kind of breed do you think he is”? “Will he get big”? Will his legs and ears grow”? “Do you think he has a good nose”? “Will he howl or just bark”? “Slow down” his father said, “there’s plenty of time to find those things out”. “Right now, you better get that pup something to eat and then wash up for supper”. His father asked “what are you gonna name him”? Josh said “I don’t know, I thought me and you could pick out a good name together”. His father said “get going”, he didn’t want Josh to see him teary eyed. His wife saw it, came over, squeezed his arm and said “I told you he would love that pup”.
After supper, the topic of a name for the pup came up. Josh said “I had some names picked out for a hound but they don’t fit this pup”. “It would help if we knew what he was”. Josh’s mother said “he looks like a little bear cub to me”. Then, his father said “yes, a grizzly bear cub”. “That’s it” said Josh. “I’m gonna name him Grizz”. With a name picked out, Josh started to ask his father questions again. Josh said “Dad, I know you think Grizz will only be a good farm dog but I want to teach him how to hunt coons”. “Will you help me”? His father said “I will help you the best I can, but I wouldn’t get your hopes up”. His father also said “there are some really good dogmen in the area why don’t you get their help”. Josh said “no, they would just laugh at me and Grizz”. “Alright” said his father “but you and Grizz just get to know each other for a week or two and then we’ll start training.
For the next two weeks, the only time Josh and Grizz weren’t together was when Josh was in school. During that time, Grizz was in a pen in the barn. About five minutes before Josh got home from school, Josh’s mother would let Grizz out of the pen and he would run down the dirt road, stop at the main road and wait for Josh to come home. When Josh got in sight, Grizz would run to him and they both would run to the house. Josh would have a little snack and then they both would go out into the fields. Josh would work with his father and Grizz would run around playing. Josh would watch Grizz go around with his nose to the ground and he would say to his father “look dad, that’s a good sign Grizz is sniffling the ground”. His father would just say “we’ll see”. One day while out in the fields, Grizz started to chase a rabbit and Josh stopped him right away. His father said “tomorrow we start training your dog”.
That evening, Josh and Grizz went over to visit the Black and Tan pups. They were younger than Grizz but bigger. Grizz thought to himself, “Look at these dogs, no hair, long skinny legs and ears that almost touch the ground”. “I hope I don’t look ugly like them”. The Black and tan pups tried to bully Grizz but Grizz gave as good as he got. While visiting, the pups’ owner came out and saw Grizz. He said “you finally got yourself a dog, huh Josh”. “Yes sir” said Josh, “his name is Grizz”. Then, Josh asked the man if his father could have a raccoon skin. The man said “you’re not gonna try and train that mixed breed to be a coonhound, are ya”? Josh looked up and said “yes sir, we are gonna try”. The man said “I’ll get that skin for you” and chuckled as he walked away. Josh looked at Grizz romping with the other pups and said “we’ll show them won’t we Grizz”. Just then, one of the Black and tan pups let out a huge pitched howl. Grizz backed up and let out a real deep howl. Josh was surprised, he had heard Grizz bark before but this was the first howl. When they got back home, Josh gave the skin to his father and told him how Grizz howled. Again his father said “we’ll see”.
For the next few months, Josh and his father trained Grizz everyday. Grizz
would pull on the skin; chase it when Josh pulled it on a rope. Grizz would
find it when they hid it in a tree. Grizz had developed a real good deep
howl and a deep yodel. He had also grown. Not as big as a Bluetick or a
Black and Tan but he was the size of a small Redbone. He would have been
bigger but he still had short legs. But they didn’t stop from running
a fast trail. One night, they were all sitting on the porch listening to
the hounds in the distance. Grizz would occasionally stand up and let out
a low howl. It was as if he was answering the coonhounds. After about an
hour, the hounds treed the coon and the music was done for the night. On
their way inside, Josh’s father said “I think it’s time
we see what Grizz can do with a real coon”. “He’s about
nine months old now and ready”. “We go hunting tomorrow”.
Josh said “he’ll do fine, Dad”. His father said “we’ll
They traveled for about an hour and were deep into the woods. The father said “okay, turn him loose”. Josh reached down and released Grizz. Grizz took off with his nose to the ground. Josh’s father told him to try and keep up with the dog. The father would try and stay as close as possible, but would be slower because of his leg. Josh took off running and just then Grizz let out a loud low howl. Soon, Grizz was howling and yodeling real well. Josh and his father both knew Grizz was hot on trail. The father only hoped it was a raccoon and not a deer. Grizz was trailing for a while now and Josh was running hard to keep up. From where Grizz’s howling was coming from the father figured if it was a raccoon then that coon would go to a tree in an area he knew. Having a hard time keeping up, the father took a shortcut to where he thought the coon would be treed. When the father got there, he saw Grizz trying to climb a big Swamp Maple. Josh hadn’t caught up yet. When Josh got there, he saw Grizz pawing at the tree and then he saw his father standing off to the side looking up. Josh yelled “he treed, he treed one”. His father said “maybe but I don’t see any coon up there”. Josh lifted his lantern up as high as he could but he didn’t see any coon either. They walked around the tree looking up all the time but couldn’t find any raccoon. The father said “okay son, leash up your dog and let’s head home”. “But there has to be a coon up there, just look at Grizz” Josh said. “Get your dog and lets go” his father said. Josh got Grizz but had a hard time pulling away from that tree. While they were walking out of the woods, Josh said “Grizz did good didn’t he dad, he’s gonna be a good coonhound”. His father kept walking and said “we’ll see”. When they got back to the cabin, Josh’s mother was waiting for them. She said to Josh “I was listening to the music and Grizz sounded real good”. Josh kind of half smiled and said “but we didn’t get the coon”. His father told him to put the rifle away, give Grizz some water and get cleaned up and to bed. His wife looked at him and asked “how did it go, how did Josh do, will Grizz be a good coonhound”? He put his arm around his wife, led her into the cabin and said “we’ll see”.The next two times out, Josh, his father and Grizz got three raccoons. Josh was real proud but had a hard time reading how his father felt. For several months now, Josh was hunting with Grizz by himself. His father said he didn’t want to slow them down. Grizz was doing well and only one time did they come home without a coon. Josh’s mother and father would sit on the porch and listen to Grizz hunting. They knew his howl very good by now and could tell if he lost the trail or if he had a coon treed. The mother would smile while listening to the music Grizz would make, but the father would just sit and not say anything. Josh had a good collection of hides by now but they never told the other men in the area that they had been hunting. Josh always hunted in the area his father told him to and never ran into other hunters or dogs.
One day, Josh’s father said that Mr. Polk was going to be hunting down at Striker Hollow with Belle. Mr. Polk invited him and Josh to come along. Josh said “great”. His father said “I think we should bring Grizz with us to see how he stands up to old Belle”. Josh was surprised and scared but said “okay”. The next night, Josh, his father and Grizz met Mr. Polk at the bridge by the fork in the road. Mr. Polk looked at Grizz and then looked at Josh’s father. Josh’s father said “the boy has been training him to hunt coons and we would like to see how he does if it’s alright with you”. Mr. Polk said “fine, let’s go”. They went into the woods and Mr. Polk said “release the dogs”. It wasn’t five minutes when Belle picked up a scent and was howling. Within thirty minutes, the coon was treed. When they approached, Belle and Grizz were trying to climb that tree. In less than an hour, they had a coon. Mr. Polk said “Belle did real well and Grizz wasn’t bad either”. Mr. Polk was ready to go when Josh’s father said “it’s still early why don’t we try again”. Mr. Polk said “sure, Belle could use the work”. They let the dogs go. This time twenty minutes went by and no howling. About five minutes later, they heard Grizz let out a howl so loud it scared them. He was howling and yodeling and trailing a coon. They still hadn’t heard from Belle. A short time later, Belle joined in. Josh’s mother was on the porch listening to the music. She could tell Grizz was the first to scent and that he was out in front. She sat there just smiling and smiling. Twenty minutes later, the coon was treed. Mr. Polk came up to the tree and said “if I didn’t see it with my own eyes, I would never believe it”. “That dog of yours was the first to scent and led all the way”. “You did a good job training him Josh”. “He might not be the purest or the fastest or the smoothest coonhound I have seen but he is a hunter”. They leashed the dogs and walked out of the woods as one surprised man, one proud father and one very happy boy.
The next week, Mr. Polk came to the cabin. He was met by Josh, his mother and father and Grizz. Mr. Polk said that tomorrow night there was going to be a hunting contest for dogs in the area. First place will be a pup from Belle’s next litter. For five dollars, you can enter and hunt. Josh looked at his father and said “five dollars is a lot of money”. His father said “yes it is". "That’s why I have been saving a few cents a week since we got Grizz”. “If you would like to enter Grizz, I would be happy to pay the five dollar entry fee”. Josh said “you bet”. Mr. Polk said “fine, then we will see you tomorrow night”.
When they got to the meeting place the next night, Josh and his father and Grizz went to sign in. The mother said she would stay home on the porch and just listen. While signing in, the other men there started laughing at Grizz and said to his father “you’re not really gonna enter that dog in this contest”. Just then, Mr. Polk came up and said “I wouldn’t laugh so fast boys, I’ve seen that dog work and he’s not half bad”. After paying the five dollars, Josh, Grizz and his father went and stood by Mr. Polk. Josh looked around and saw Belle, Lady, two of the Black and Tans that Grizz played with when they were puppies. Then he saw a man with two Blueticks, a large male and a large female. Mr. Polk said to Josh “that man is from the next county over and that male and female are the pups from Belle’s litter”. Josh and Grizz walked over to the man, Josh said “I remember your Blueticks when they were pups”. The man said “they have turned into real good coonhounds”. Then he asked Josh “is that dog of yours a coonhound”? Josh said “he may not be a pure coonhound but he is a hunter”. The man said “he’ll have to be real good to beat these hounds”. Josh looked up and said “we’ll see”. The night went well for everyone and every dog. There wasn’t a dog there that didn’t tree at least one raccoon. When totaled up the scores, Lady won with five coons. Belle was second with four. Grizz was third with two coons. They thanked Mr. Polk who said “I’m sorry you didn’t win I know how much you have wanted a Bluetick pup”. Josh said “that’s okay, one day I’ll get that Bluetick hound pup and me and Grizz will teach him to be a good coonhound”. Mr. Polk smiled. As Josh, his father and Grizz were walking away, Josh said to his father “Dad, I’m sorry you put up five dollars and we didn’t get first place”. “But we’ll come back next year and Grizz will win”. His father put his arm around Josh’s shoulder, smiled and said “we’ll see”
Stories by Frank Rescigno. All
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