A DOGGONE HEADACHE


As farmers during the 1930's in southwest Arkansas, we always had several dogs around the place. They were each suited for a particular purpose; treeing squirrel or coon, catching hogs, etc.

This was during the time of 'Free Range', when folks were legally permitted to let their cattle, goats, sheep, and hogs roam and forage freely throughout the area. Each family identified their own animals with a unique mark, which was registered in their name at the County Seat. My family's registered mark was a swallow-fork and a crop off each ear.

Just down the road from us lived a man named Harris, who owned a bulldog he'd named 'Bulger'. He used it primarily for catching up his open-range hogs in the late fall, when it was time to fatten them up for winter slaughter. That bulldog was a fine catch dog for feral hogs; but in its owners' opinion, Bulger was the best dang coon dog in the whole county. Papa had a very different opinion of the critter, though.

The problem was, when the other dogs treed a coon, their baying and barking would excite the bulldog to such a frenzy, it would go berserk, turn on the other dogs, and try to kill them. It was a vicious animal, and not to be trusted around other dogs. Papa looked askance at having it anywhere near him.

When we wanted to go on a coon hunt, Papa would step out on the porch and blow his hunting horn. Our coon dogs would pile out from under the house or from the barn, eager to go. One night, Papa tooted his horn and, before we could get out of the back yard, we heard Mr. Harris coming down the road, his knee-high 'gum' boots just a-popping.

When he arrived, he was leading his bulldog on a piece of soft cotton plow line. Papa told him, in no uncertain terms, that he did not want that bulldog on the hunt. Mr. Harris asked us to wait until he could go tie up the bulldog, because he really wanted to go coon-hunting with us. Shortly he was back, without Bulger.

Papa turned our dogs loose in the nearby creek bottom, and they quickly struck a scent. Before long, they had a coon treed. What a beautiful sound! All those different dogs, each with it's own voice, harmonizing together on a clear, cold, moonlit night. It was a sound to make the hair stand up on your neck.

Before he could get to the dogs, Papa knew there was trouble! From their yelping and screaming, he guessed that the bulldog had got loose, and was fighting with our dogs. Sure enough, when we got there, Bulger had one of Papa's best coon dogs by the throat in a death grip. It was all we could do to get the dogs separated; then Mr. Harris tied Bulger to a tree, using the remnants of the plow line that it had already gnawed through, back at home.

The coon had crawled into a hole in the hollow tree, and it was necessary to cut the tree down to get him. Papa took to it with his double-bit axe and toppled the tree. Then he enlarged the hole with his axe, making it big enough for the dogs to have access to the coon. Papa liked to use each hunt as a training exercise for his younger, less experienced, dogs.

Mr. Harris pleaded with Papa:

"Let Bulger have 'em! Lemme put ol' Bulger in there, Abb!"

Maybe Mr. Harris didn't know just how mean and ornery a full-growed, yeller-back boar coon can be, hemmed up like that. Papa finally said all right, and Mr. Harris undid the bulldog's tie-rope.

"Git 'im, Bulger!", he sicced.

The bulldog made a bee-line for the tree, jumped up on the trunk, and shoved it's head over into the edge of the hole. Papa had been fed up with that contrary bulldog for a long time, and this was a chance for 'get-even' that he wasn't about to pass up. Papa muttered under his breath:

"Yeah...git in there, you sorry -----", as he placed his boot against Bulger's rump and shoved the bulldog down into the hole on top of that ferocious boar coon. Mercy on a pore boy! Business picked up!

The bulldog's ears were cropped real short, a common practice amongst owner's of that breed. Bulger's ears were so short, in fact, that the coon couldn't get a 'good purchase' on the dog's ears, until he turned his own head sideways and gnawed with his side teeth.

Bulger was trying to back out on the deal, but the coon was having none of that. It clung tenaciously to the stubby ears of that bulldog. Bulger was making some bodacious sounds inside that hollow tree.

Papa hollered: "Git 'im, Bulger---'at's the way, boy!" (The rest of us were rolling on the ground laughing our heads of.)

Finally, some of them took pity on the poor bulldog, grabbed him by the hind legs, and dragged him out of the hole. The coon came out with him, just like they were a 'matched set'. The coon clung so tight to the bulldog's head, it looked like Bulger was wearing a 'Dan'l Boone' cap! It took a while to get them separated.

A few weeks later, Papa decided to go coon hunting again. He walked out on the back porch and blew his huntin' horn. Papa wasn't surprised to hear Mr. Harris' knee boots clompin' down the gravel road. When he walked into the yard, without his dog, Papa asked him:

"Where's yer bulldog at?"

"Awww, Bulger's got the headache too bad to go huntin' tonight."

"Wa'al, I've heard a lot of things in my time", Papa said; "but I ain't never heard tell of a dog gettin' a headache."

Mr. Harris replied:

"Wa'al, when you blowed that horn, Bulger scooted under the house like his tail was on fire, and it sounded like his head hit every damn floor joist under there!"

Copyright 1988

Sam Elmore