The sport of mounted fox hunting in America can be traced to Colonial days. The red fox, commonly associated with fox hunting, was imported from England in 1730. Gray fox were hunted prior to this. In the diaries of George Washington, there are frequent fox hunting references; it was a favorite sport of his. Here in the “new world” fox hunting enjoyed popularity in its highest concentration in Virginia and Pennsylvania. As a result of the Westward Migration, this activity came to Boone County with our earliest pioneers.
Mounted fox hunting season in early Boone County was traditionally observed mainly in the winter months. Despite the cold, our local participants were a fiercely competitive bunch. Awareness and interest in the success of various packs of foxhounds was widespread, based on the frequent coverage found in our local papers. The human participants also garnered attention regularly, though they often were mentioned with less enthusiasm than their four-legged hunting partners.
The gold-standard of foxhounds in Boone County in the 1880s-1910s belonged to A. B. Whitlock, of Constance. He was held in high esteem for his hound-breeding and training. Whitlock was also a “master of foxhounds,” managing the organized hunts, and was often a participant himself. Other leading fox hunters in the area were from the Gaines, Kirtley, Riley, Piatt, and Terrill families. These families also held hunts on their lands along the river from Constance to Petersburg, often hosting participants from as far away as North Dakota.
Though the competition and excitement of the chase certainly was a factor, these men also came to wager. Betting was an accepted practice, and hinged upon the quality of the dogs, who were truly doing the hunting. These dogs were often given whimsical names, such as: Cloudy, Parole, Dutchman, Boomer and The Bard, to name a few. Though the names were quirky, the dogs’ abilities and attributes were reported on in the newspapers with reverence. A writer for the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1892 made frequent mention of the beauty and prowess of the animals, all seemingly a credit to good breeding. The dogs of A. B. Whitlock’s pack, for example, are described as “superior, speedy and thoroughly game hunters.”
The sport is still practiced here today, but the emphasis is on the chase, not the kill, unlike in the past. Another noteworthy change in the sport in our area is the emphasis on horsemanship. Though the hunt is still heavily dependent upon the training of the hounds, horse and rider now feature more prominently in hunt clubs’ focus. To borrow an old saying, some “ride to hunt” while others “hunt to ride.” Tally Ho!
Hillary Delaney is a Local History Associate at Boone County Public Library. She is a Boone County native, but has also lived in Richmond, VA, where she attended Virginia Commonweath University to study journalism. Hillary moved back to her hometown of Florence in 2007, with her husband and two children. Her lifelong love of all things historic brought her to her current position at BCPL.