Pat Tillman — American Hero

There was much to admire about Pat Tillman, the athlete. He was a superb football player who despite all odds not only made it to the NFL, but became an all-star. Tillman played the game with a fierce sense of abandon that even his opponents respected and admired. Clearly he loved the game and he played it with passion. 

But there was even more to admire about Pat Tillman, the man. Unless you have been living under a rock, you know the story of how Tillman gave up a lucrative professional football career to become a U.S. Army Ranger and how he was killed in action while serving in Afghanistan.

But you probably don’t know that Pat Tillman was a devoted husband who married his high school sweetheart, as well as a beloved brother, son and friend to his family and comrades.  He would have probably made a great father himself, had his life not been cut tragically short.

And you might not know that Tillman was extremely intelligent, articulate and very well read. Though by most accounts an athiest, Pat was a nevertheless a spiritual man who took the time to read and study all branches of religion. He had read the Book Of Mormon, the Koran and the Holy Bible, as well as books about Hindu and Buddhist beliefs.

Tillman forced his friends to think outside the box by challenging their beliefs and thought processes with stimulating questions and in-depth conversations.  He seemed to be on an almost constant quest for knowledge.

Tillman never allowed his own star status to go to his head. He remained approachable and friendly to anyone willing to talk with him and he truly seemed interested in what others had to say. Perhaps most impressive is how Pat always looked out for the less fortunate and often defended them from bullies. 

He got in some serious trouble in high school for beating up an older guy who had been picking on a mentally challenged boy. His arrest almost cost him his scholarship to Arizona State.

But Tillman made no excuses for his troubles and he hid nothing about the arrest. He lived a life of proud transparency and he kept no secrets from anyone. Pat contacted the college coaches, made them aware of the issue and the circumstances behind it. He was prepared to face the consequences.

After reviewing the situation, Tillman not only kept his scholarship, but he went on to an illustrious career as an All-American at ASU. And the older boy that he beat up later became his good friend.  

 I never knew Pat Tillman personally. I want to make that very clear. But Tillman apparently had that unique quality that made it very hard NOT to like him. I first  heard about him when he was playing at ASU and I came to really admire him then.  Shortly after that I read a compelling profile about this free spirited athlete in Sports Illustrated. It was then that I truly became intrigued with him and began to follow his career closely. 

Later I worked with a guy who had went to high school with Pat. He regaled me with stories of Pat’s teenage exploits.It was then that I realized that Pat Tillman was much more than just a great athlete. Much, much more. I had admired him initially for his fierce, rugged style of play, but I later came to admire him even more as a person. According to my friend, Pat was a local legend long before he ever made the NFL.

And his legendary status had little, if anything to do with his athletic abilities. People loved his passion for life and his compassion for others –especially those less fortunate.  Folks were drawn to him –and understandably so.

He was a man with charisma. Tillman lived life to his absolute fullest. There was literally nothing physically that he would not try. He squeezed every second out of his all too short 28 year life span.

Tillman cared little for material things. He did not watch much TV and preferred music, books, and good conversations with friends to videos and computer games. Even after he was in the NFL he often rode a bicycle to practice, and his preferred motor vehicle was an old rag top jeep.

But it was growing up as youth in rural California that really molded Pat Tillman, the man. And he used that solid support foundation of family and friends– before all else — as a launching pad for a successful athletic career.

At the peak of that career, Tillman and his brother both gave up their athletic endeavors to become US Army Rangers. Pat refused all interviews once he joined the military. And he and wanted no publicity for simply doing something that he felt was his duty. He gave up a multi-million dollar NFL contract to defend his country.

The Tillman brothers wanted no special treatment and emphasized that their sacrifices– and the sacrifies of their family–were no different than any other American soldier. They trained hard and earned their Ranger tabs and served tours in Iraq before eventually being deployed to Afghanistan. 

By the time of this deployment Tillman had become somewhat disillusioned with the war in Iraq. He felt strongly that the war was unethical. He became even more disgusted when the routine rescue of Pvt. Jessica Lynch was falsely portrayed as a feat of epic heroism and used by spin doctors to promote the war. Tillman knew the truth–he was on the team that “rescued” Lynch.   

Little did he know then that his own death would result in an even bigger government cover-up. We all now know about Tillman’s tragic death from friendly fire. Pat’s family made it very clear that his death was no greater loss than that of any other American soldier who has died for our country. They were adamant about that and have made it abundantly clear.

But they did want to know the truth about what happened to their son and brother. They deserved that much –but they did not get it.

Pat’s mother, Danny, would not rest until she found the truth. She enlisted a former special forces soldier– with two children in the military himself– to aid her in this effort.

She eventually did find the truth and it was heartbreaking. She wrote a book about it and a documentary movie has been made about it. The book is called Boots on the Ground and the movie is simply called Tillman.

I strongly suggest that you consider reading and watching both. I have made an effort to avoid politics and religion in this blog. I know that I am walking a fine line here and that I am breaking my own rules. But hey, it’s MY blog. And the American people, regardless of their political leanings, need to know the truth about what happened to Pat Tillman.

Because not only was the cover-up and fabricated stories about his death a criminal act, it was just as importantly an insult to all who have served and died for our flag.  

And when you watch this movie and read this book–particularlly the movie — you will understand in very clear terms that this was no low level cover-up. This came from the top of our government food chain–the very top. Make no mistake about that.

I watched in disgust as some of our highest ranking military officers, along with Donald Rumsfield, lied to congress. And our cowardly congressman not only allowed them to do so, but  seemed to encourage it. And I watched in sadness as the Tillman family had to personally witness this disgrace in the same room.

But thanks to Pat’s mother, at least the Tillman family now know the truth. And perhaps now they can find some closure and take some solace in that. I hope and pray that they can.

Because regardless of your political leanings, if our government was willing to do this to a high profile millionaire athlete, they sure as hell would do it to your child or mine.

And I firmly believe that Pat Tillman would want us to know that. Moreover, I hope that Pat Tillman’s death was not in vain, and that he can rest in peace now that the truth is known.

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Doc Watson

 I mentioned how much I admire the work of Doc Watson and his late son Merle in my last blog. Recently I have been reading a nice biography of Doc that makes me admire him even more–if that is possible. More on that on another day. 

Doc and Merle were (and are) two of my all-time favorite artists –and they always will be. I can say that with a great deal of confidence because I have enjoyed their music for as long as I can remember–and I still do today. How many artists can you truly say that about?

Think about it for a second. There will always be music that we liked at certain times in our life–maybe even loved. And at that particular time, for whatever reason, we thought it was the best ever. But then six months or a year later we hear it again and wonder why we even liked it. Has that ever happened to you?  

But some artists are timeless. My passion for them never changes no matter how old I am or what is happening in my life. Doc and Merle are like that. So too, are Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Senior, Otis Reading, Sam Cook, the Allman Brothers, the Beatles, Marvin Gaye, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Jimi Hendrix and a few others. 

They fall into that rare category of musicians that you just never get tired of. And while their music is always great, sometimes the same song will speak to you in different heartfelt ways at different times in your life.

I suspect that some of this is due to the timeless nature of their music. But I think it is also because our perceptions of different things often change as we get older. A song that meant one thing to us when we were teenagers, takes on a totally different spin when we have kids of our own. I think this is partly what makes these artists and their music so special.

But it is more than that. Because what we are seeing in these artists is something akin to a miracle. Work so good that it deserves special recognition as a true piece of classic art. Music so amazing that it is like gazing upon an original Davinci, Picasso or Michaelangelo (sp.) 

Guy Clark said it best in his great song Dublin Blues:

I have seen the David

I’ve see the Mona Lisa too,

And I have heard Doc Watson

Play Columbus Stockade Blues.

I can’t add anything to that or say it any better. Play on Doc, play on.

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More Music Suggestions…

Thanks for all the great feedback to my Music blog. I also received several emails about it and several requests and suggestions from other folks too. All were greatly appreciated.

Today I am going to give you another even longer list of artists to check out. Some of you probably know them already. Some of you don’t. You probably won’t like all of them–and that’s ok. But I think they are all worth checking out.

Here they are, please give me your feedback and suggestions of your own:

Allison Moorer, Tift Merritt, Shelby Lynne, Guy Clark, Jim Lauderdale (graduate of South Iredell High) the Gibson Brothers, Robert Earl Keen, Charlie Robison, Bruce Robison, Kelly Willis, Fred Eaglesmith, John Cowan, Pat Flynn, New Grass Revival, Darrell Scott, Stephen Bruton (RIP), Walter Hyatt (RIP), Backsliders, Subdudes, Buddy Guy, Michael Cleveland, Billy Joe Shaver, Randy Kohrs, Buddy Miller, Julie Miller, Randy Waller, Infamous Stringdusters, Steep Canyon Rangers, Cadillac Sky, Charlie Sizemore, The Big Dogs, Robin Rogers (RIP), Fred McDowell (RIP) Junior Wells (RIP), Jeff White, Keb Mo, James King, Hal Ketchum, Larry Sparks, Little Milton (RIP), Warren Haynes, Government Mule, Jelly Roll Johnson, Andrea Zohn, Solomon Burke (RIP), Delbert McClinton. Mavis Staple, James Otto, Dry Branch Fire Squad, Drew Emmit, The String Cheese Incident, Michael Reno Harrell and David Childers.

If I die today, I will die happy knowing that I got to experience these great musicians–and none more so than Doc and Merle Watson. I saw Doc and Merle many times before Merle’s tragic death, and in fact saw Merle’s last N.C. appearance with Doc the Saturday night before he died.

Doc has carried on bravely with Jack Lawrence and now Merle’s son Richard, since Merle’s death. But as awesome as those guys and others are–there will never be another Doc and Merle Watson.  Check anything out with those guys on it and you will be glad you did! Thanks for reading.

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Music, like dogs, family, writing and books, is a subject near and dear to my heart. I will readily admit that I have no musical talent–none. I can’t play the radio without getting static, and as the even older saying goes, I can’t carry a tune in a bucket–though God knows I have tried.

 And anyone that has ever seen me driving down the road in my truck has probably gotten a good laugh watching me singing alone at the top of my lungs. Hopefully, for their sake, they could not actually hear me!

My lack of musical talent can probably be attributed to two things — a terrible voice and my broken up hands. The voice is just hopeless, no voice teacher could ever help it. And my hands are so busted up from years of sports, cold weather hunting and kick boxing, that it is difficult to hold a pick or fret strings properly.

Yes, I guess I could learn to play the drums or a horn, but coming from a long line of fiddlers, string instruments– mainly guitars, mandolins, fiddles –have always been my primary interest. If I can’t play one of them–and I clearly can’t–I will just remain a fan of those that can.

Having worked in record stores while in college and shortly after, and having grown up in the era of classic rock I have been blessed to develop an extensive collection of music and to see many great artists in live concerts–especially back when I was a kid. Go ahead, just name anyone, I bet I have seen them– Led Zeppelen, The Who, Eric Clapton, the Eagles, Mountain, Allman Brothers, Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Steve Earle, Sly Stone, Sam Bush, Gatemouth Brown and even Jimi Hendrix. Yep, seen them all and hundreds more too.

And being blessed to grow up in the  south I got to see great regional and national artists like Doc Watson, Ralph Stanley, Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, Wayne Henderson, Tommy Jarrell, Cephas and Wiggins, Rev. Gary Davis, Etta Baker, Guy Davis, Max Drake,  the Nighthawks, C&M Traveling Show, Bud Crisp and hundreds of others on a fairly regular basis.

So while I will readily admit to having no musical talent myself, I feel like I have been exposed to some of the world’s best musicians and I like to think that as a result I have some pretty good taste in music. 

The late, great Townes Van Zandt–one of my favorite singer-songwriters –once said that there are two types of music, the blues and zippity-do dah.

I would tend to agree with that, but I would take it a step further. I think there are indeed two types of music–good and bad. And unfortunately it seems like now days that the bad far out weighs the good. 

At the risk of sounding like an old man, which I guess I am rapidly approaching—what are people actually thinking these days? Country music? Give me a break. Country music today is like AM top 40 bubble-gum rock of the 60′s and 70′s –it sucks.

 I saw today where one of the last remaining true  modern day country artists–Alan Jackson– got dropped from his label. To paraphrase a real country song, who is gonna fill his shoes? Jamey Johnson is the only real country guy left–and thank God for him, but he won’t last long in corporate Nashville.

The other old guns like Haggard, Strait, Jones, Nelson, Jennings, Kristofferson, and Cash have all either died out or lost most of their audience–though God knows I love them all and always will.

And what’s left? Taylor Swift? Lady Antebellum, Sugarland? All talented folks but they remind me of the Monkees, the Archies, Bread and groups like that from the AM rock days. All form and no substance.

That ain’t country–who is going to fill their shoes? 

Well, brothers and sisters, there is hope. There is still some great music out there, but you own’t find it at your local Walmart or Target. You will have to look hard for it. But it will be worth your effort.

None of these people that I am going to tell you about will probably ever make the VH-1 or CMT Top 20 and that’s a good thing. Many of them you have never heard of–but you should. Because they have more talent in their pinky finger than most popular artists do all combined.

For the sake of time, I am not going to categorize them or make any specific comments about them. Some would call them rock, some bluegrass, some country, some blues, some soul–I just call it good.  But check them out yourself, you will be glad you did–and you will be helping out people who are truly artists. here they are with more to come later:

The Steeldrivers, Jamey Johnson, Kevin Welch, Hayes Carll, Slaid Cleaves, Balsam Range, Band of Heathens, Chris Knight, Paul Thorn, Dehilia Low, Malcolm Holcolme. Gary Stewart, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Steve Lewis, Katy Taylor, Scott Freeman, Shawn Camp, Harley Allen, Laurie Lewis, Kate Mckenzie, Mary Gautheir (sp) Webb Pierce, Tim O’Brien, Blue Highway, Patty Loveless,  Roseanne Cash and David Olney.

More to come later, but please, please listen to and support this GOOD music. Write me if you have any questions or comments about them. ENJOY!

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Old Fort Program

We are honored to do historical programs all over the southeast about Plott hound history and southern mountain culture. They are almost always enjoyable — some more so than others — and I almost always learn something new and/or make new friends at every program.

The program this past Saturday in Old Fort, N.C. at the Mountain Gateway Museum, was a perfect example of that. Moreover, it was a perfect example of a diverse group of people meeting and working together to share and support a common goal — perpetuating the legacy of the Plott hound.

It all started with the Director of the Museum– Terrell Finley. Terrell not only set up the exhibit beautifully, but he incorporated local Plott legends –such as the Marion Allison family, along with other local Plott hunters— successfully into the exhibit. By doing this Terrell ensured that the regional part of the breed history was not forgotten, and he made it more attractive for local folks to want to be there.  

He then provided a nice meeting area for us to do our program, with seating for about 80 people, and he advertised it well. The end result was a well-attended program that was enjoyed by all who attended. Kudos and thanks to Terrell on a job well done.

And while all of that is impressive and much appreciated, there is something else worth mentioning that is partially the result of his hard work. There was unity among this very diverse crowd, and that in itself is impressive and often unusual.

We had hunters, non-hunters, pet lovers, APA members, NPHA  members, historians, tourists, and blue collar and white collar professional folks consisting of men, women and children of all ages all in attendance. And more importantly, they were all in attendance peacefully and happily sharing their passion for the Plott breed.

I found this unity to be truly inspiring and refreshing. At a time when it seems increasingly difficult to get diverse groups of any kind in one room to peacefully discuss anything, we were all able to enjoy an afternoon of good fellowship and working together to support the dogs we love. 

I was really encouraged by all of these wonderful people on Saturday. It gave me new hope that we can continue to work together–regardless of our differences — to ensure that the Plott breed remains strong for centuries to come. 

Regardless of our club affiliation –APA, NPHA, UKC, AKC, or whether or not we approve the buckskin dog or not – the only thing that really matters is doing what is best for the future of our dogs. And the crowd at Saturday’s program inspired me to believe that we can do exactly that. Thanks to all who attended and for your wonderful support and feedback.

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Please note: This article was originally submitted to Full Cry Magazine as a rebuttal to several of their columns in September 2010. Due to the length of the article they would not publish it. But I can. Hope you enjoy it.


Dear Plott Hound Enthusiasts and Full Cry Readers,

I want to commend John Jackson for his excellent response to Mr. Richard Martin in the August 15, 2010 edition of Full Cry Magazine. While I mean no disrespect to Mr. Martin or his sources, I think John made a very compelling rebuttal to some of their comments.

John Jackson and I are close friends, and we think a lot alike. We have hunted together, raised some dogs together and shared a lot of good research and stories together. None of those things make us special. But one thing that I have always admired about John, and that I have tried to emulate, is his objectivity in his historical research. John always strives to offer two sides to every story, but more importantly, John always seeks the truth. And not just the “tall tale truth” enjoyed around a campfire –though that is often entertaining – but truth that is factual, truth that can be documented and substantiated from multiple legitimate resources.

As I have already stated, I do not know Mr. Martin or his sources personally, nor do I mean them any disrespect. I do not doubt for a second that Mr. Martin and his sources are all superb hunters and houndsmen—far better than me.

And I would certainly not waste one minute of their time or mine, arguing about their allegations regarding Von Plott, Taylor Crockett or Plott hounds in general. Based on Mr. Martin’s “Just Bear Hunting” articles from November, 2009, June, 2010 and September, 2010, their mind is clearly made up already. There is nothing that I can say –or anyone else for that matter – that will change their minds. They have spent their entire lives forming their opinions and they are certainly entitled to them—as I am to mine.

Quite frankly, I generally steer clear of arguments of this nature. It is a no win situation similar to differing opinions on politics or religion. Nothing I can say or do will change their beliefs, so why bother?

However, that being said, I think that I owe it to the general public to point out some areas where I disagree with these gentlemen, as well as a point or two that I actually agree with them on. I intend to do this not by insulting them or calling them “BS artists” –as they have done to Von Plott and Taylor Crockett. Nor do I intend to cast doubt upon them personally. That is not my nature and would not be honorable.

But instead I prefer to refute their arguments by simply examining some documented facts. Once this documentation has been evaluated, the general public can then form their own opinions as to the accuracy of our stories –and I believe that they will. I also think that someone should defend these late, great, breed icons as they are no longer around to speak for themselves.

Let’s start with the allegations that Von Plott wasn’t much of a hunter. I respectfully disagree. I think Von Plott was a great hunter and I would offer the following evidence that supports my opinion:

-Frank Methven has probably done more to promote the Plott breed than any man alive today. Frank is a great writer. He is the author of multiple books and he wrote a column about Plott dogs and bear hunting for over 50 years. Frank was also a master bear hunter and the owner of many great Plott dogs. His integrity is beyond repute.

Frank’s family was from Kentucky and owned a hunting cabin in the mountains of western North Carolina. His Uncle John Methven was eighty years old in 1976 when he wrote Frank a letter about an early bear hunt with Montraville Plott and his son Von Plott. It reads in part as follows:

It was 1908, I was 12 years old at the time. The family that lived near our cabin was named Plott, they raised hunting dogs that were called the Plott dogs. There was a Plott boy on the bear hunt that was my age –his name was Von. I believe that the name of his father was Mont.

Von Plott was 12 years old in 1908. This is the first documented proof of Von Plott bear hunting –but it would certainly not be the last. He had a NC hunting license from at least 1924 until 1979 – I have copies of them – as well as hunting permits for New Mexico, Colorado and Michigan. And there are hundreds, probably thousands of photos from these hunts. I own over two-hundred photos of this type myself. However, if we are to believe Mr. Martin’s sources, all of these photos were taken with bears killed by a Cherokee Indian named Amos Big Meat. The facts prove otherwise.

But just having a license or hunting photos does not make you a hunter. Consider these additional documents and letters that offer more substantial evidence:

-October 1, 1934, written permission from J. Welch of Swain County allowing Von to bear hunt on his property.

- Von’s brother, Robert E. Plott, of Amarillo, Texas, writes Von in 1934 commending him for killing several bears that year, one specifically on Fork Mountain in Haywood County.

-On December 5, 1935, pro baseball executive Branch Rickey writes Von thanking him for their record breaking Hazel Creek bear hunt. Rickey states that Von ran over 12 miles in one day and added that he would rather hunt with Von Plott than anyone else in the world. It is worth noting that Rickey was a man accustomed to evaluating professional athletes – this is how he made his living. He signed Jackie Robinson to his first professional baseball contract. The man clearly knew talent. He had the money to hire anyone, anywhere in the world to guide him – and he often did. Yet he says Von Plott is the best hunter he has ever been around. And he had no reason to lie about it, his opinion was totally unsolicited. That’s a pretty strong statement. Rickey and Von would later hunt together again out west.

- On November 9, 1937, Taylor Crockett writes Von inviting him on a bear hunt to the Slick Rock area of Graham County, N.C.

-In a letter dated December 17, 1937, W.P. Wood of Richmond, Virginia, writes Von thanking him for guiding him on a Hazel Creek bear hunt and adds “Thanks for helping me get my bear.”

-In a letter dated December 5, 1937, John Garrison of Asheville, N.C. writes Von thanking him for guiding him on Hazel Creek and for bagging his bear.

-James Oliver Laws and his father Jim were both well known western N.C. bear hunters in the 1930’s. They lived on Hazel Creek and were employed as guides and game wardens for the hunting club there. James Laws said in a 1985 taped interview that Von and Little George Plott were on ALL of the bear hunts there—“Me, my daddy and the Plotts were on ALL the bear hunts up there—we didn’t miss any. And we knew everything they was to know about bears. We knew the day before what a bear was going to do that night.” Laws added that he, Von and Little George Plott were the “mountain runningest hunters” that he had ever seen.

Laws also tells of the 1935 hunt with Von and Little George Plott where Laws and Little George (among others) were arrested for killing a bear in the park –albeit with a rangers permission. This story is told in detail in my third book – Legendary Hunters of the Southern Highlands.

And finally, Laws tells of hunting with Von and Little George in Bone Valley (near Hazel Creek, N.C.) in 1937. Von Plott told the identical story to the Foxfire staff in 1976 –so while Mr. Martin may doubt Von, his story is corroborated by James Laws. On this hunt, Von saved Little George from a bear that had run him up a tree. This story is also detailed in my third book.

-Two years later in 1939, the Waynesville Mountaineer newspaper publishes a photo of a 487 pound bear killed on Eagle Nest Mountain in Haywood County. Both Von and Little George Plott were in this hunting party. And the caption with the picture states that this is the same bear that had run George up a tree in 1937 –he recognized the scars and markings on the bear. I have a copy of this article and photo.

- It should be noted that by 1935 Von Plott had been bear hunting for over 25 years. Despite that fact, some, if not all, of Mr. Martin’s sources that disparage Von were only about nine years old at that time. How could they speak knowledgably about anyone or anything at such an early age? And even a decade later these sources would have been only in their teens – yet we are supposed to consider them as experts on the subject? As senior citizens today they are undoubtedly experts on many topics, but simple math will tell you that these men were still children when Von Plott and Taylor Crockett were in their hunting prime. But that is only an opinion, let’s get back on track.

-The front page of the Asheville Citizen Times on Sunday, January 4, 1942 has an extensive article, with several photos of the Plott family, the Laws family, and the legendary Mark Cathey, among others, on a Hazel Creek bear hunt. The article states that there were three bears killed on this hunt – one by Von Plott –and further adds that Von had killed 14 bears prior to this hunt.

-I have three copies of letters from Hack Smithdeal written to Von Plott in 1943. In each of the letters Smithdeal speaks of past hunts with Von and his plans for future hunts together. Furthermore, he writes of dogs that he has bought from Von, and asks about specific dogs that Von still owns.

- On November 1, 1943, N.C. Wildlife officials notify Von in a letter that he has been granted a permit to bear hunt in the Sherwood Forest Wildlife area. It is interesting to note that this area is located near the headwaters of the Pigeon River in southern Haywood County – the exact same area that Mr. Martin’s sources say that Von Plott never hunted in.

- I have a map from a 1947 bear hunt that Von went on with Hack Smithdeal to Missaukee County, Michigan.

I have at least 30 more letters from 1948 to the late 1960s verifying bear hunts that Von was on. And keep in mind that all of these letters are written TO Von Plott – they are not FROM him. So this documentation was totally unsolicited by him and no one can claim that he exaggerated them or made them up himself. Nor can they say this is simply my own opinion.

C.E. “Bud” Lyon of Lake City, S.C. hunted and bred dogs with Von Plott for over 20 years – from 1958 until 1979. He has even more documentation and can provide first hand accounts of scores of hunts that he went on with Von Plott. Mr. Lyon and Plott hunted often in North Carolina as well as in Michigan. Mr. Lyon tells a great story of Von killing a bear while in his late 70s. Bud will gladly share his stories and documentation with anyone that asks.

Mr. Lyon told me this about Von in 2007:  “The old man would get the happiest look on his face when his dogs struck a bear trail. And he would not stop until the bear was bayed or killed. I have seen him often run all day, without stopping to eat or rest, and even as an old man, he would be the first one to the bear tree.

Mr. Lyon’s statement alone is enough for me. But there is more.

John Jackson spent a good deal of time with Ronnie Creaseman before his recent untimely death.  Ronnie was close friend of Von’s and one of his last dog handlers. Ronnie was widely recognized as one of the best big game hunters ever in western N.C. He was a guide at the legendary Blue Boar Lodge in Graham County for years. I am sure that Ronnie shared many stories about Von with John Jackson and many others. I have multiple pictures of Ronnie and Von hunting together.

Rex Suddreth was another of Von’s hunting partners and dog handlers. He is still alive and can verify Von Plott’s hunting exploits. I would think that Andy Blankenship, Clay Jones, Ira Jones, Charles Gantte, Danny Hooper, Floyd West, Jim McGha, Rex Patterson, and many other superb modern day hunters could verify them as well.

Now, does this prove that Von Plott was the best all time bear hunter that ever lived? No. Does it prove that Von Plott was the equal or better than the hunting icons that Mr.Martin refers to? No.  Nor do I presume that any of this documentation will change the minds of Mr. Martin and his associates.

But I do think that it makes a pretty convincing argument that Von Plott did a lot of bear hunting in his lifetime. And while Mr. Martin and his friends may disagree, I think it makes an equally convincing case that he was also among the best bear hunters of his era. However, I will let our readers formulate their own opinions.

I would readily agree with Mr. Martin that the bear population had been thinned out by all of these great hunters by the late 1940s. And while Mr. Martin’s friends may have killed out all of the bears along the upper forks of the Pigeon River there were nevertheless a lot of bears still being killed in the N.C. mountains during this time and elsewhere as well.

Jim Gasque was a renowned outdoor writer in the 1940s. In 1948 his classic book Hunting and Fishing in the Great Smokies was published by Alfred A. Knopf publishing company. A quick review of his book and a check on some wildlife records indicates that:

- 11 bears were harvested on just 2 hunts in 1947 in Graham County, N.C.

- Four bears and two boar hogs were killed near Lake Santeetlah (also in Graham County) on a 1948 hunt.

- Hunting was still allowed on Hazel Creek, N.C. in 1946 with a permit, and Gasque reports that seven bears were killed there in just a few days that year.

- A 600 pound bruin known locally as “Big Black” was killed in the Slick Rock wilderness area, also in 1946.

Gasque writes of a host of legendary guides from that area and notes that many of them favored Plott hounds or Plott hound crosses as their hound of preference. Gasque also interviewed Von Plott in his book and we will discuss that shortly.

Mr. Martin is also correct that the formation of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park provided a sanctuary for bears to hide. But the bruins were roaming outside the park as well and they were being hunted and trapped there too. Haywood County farmer and inn owner Tom Alexander lost more than 10,000 dollars worth of cattle to bear attacks in 1948.

There are numerous accounts of this from the late 1930s to early 1950s, so there were indeed still plenty of bears around. In fact, the problem was so bad that it made national news in 1952. The Saturday Evening Post Magazine published an article on September 20, 1952, entitled “Bears are No Darn Good!

Perhaps more importantly we should note that Von Plott was also spending a considerable amount of time hunting in far western North Carolina, eastern N.C., S.C. and Michigan – not just Haywood County. So there were still plenty of opportunities for Von and his dogs to hunt bear, and as we have already noted, there is ample documentation to prove that he did exactly that. And it could be argued that with the bear population being as low as it was back then, that only the best hunters of that era were harvesting bears. Clearly Von Plott was one of them.

Let’s move on to discuss Von Plott’s dogs of the late 1940s. If we are to believe Mr. Martin, then it would seem that by 1948 the Plott hound was for all practical purposes extinct. If I understood him correctly he maintains that Von owned few, if any, Plott dogs at that time.

UKC registration records show—and I have copies – that Von Plott registered no less than nine pure-bred Plott dogs under his own name between 1947 and 1950. In addition he registered 14 other Plott hounds under the name of his son Bill Plott. That is a total of 23 registered Plott hounds – 14 of them females and the rest males – during a time that Mr. Martin states that Von had no Plott dogs at all.

There are actually some earlier registrations than this, but I do not have copies of them, so there were certainly more dogs than I have stated. However, I am only providing numbers that I can personally document. And there were undoubtedly unregistered dogs as well, but again, for the sake of absolute accuracy, we will not even discuss them.

That would lead most people to believe that Von Plott did indeed have Plott dogs during that time. And of course, he registered scores of dogs after that right up until his death in 1979.

Von’s brother, John Plott, lived just up the road from him. John Plott registered 23 pure-bred Plott hounds on his farm between 1946 and 1948 and 12 more between 1950 and 1959. I have copies of his papers as well. So even if Von Plott did not have any dogs, John Plott certainly did.

Von and John’s brother, Sam Plott, of Chatsworth, Georgia also had a fine pack of Plott hounds at this time. And at least one of them –Great Smokey – was among the originally registered Plott hounds from 1946. Big George Plott of Plott Creek also had at least one registered Plott dog at that time as well – I have a copy of his papers. That is a conservative total of almost FIFTY Plott hounds registered to the Plott brothers between 1946 and 1950.

I am sure that Mr. Martin would argue that all of these dogs were falsely registered. I find that hard to believe. Nor do I believe that Taylor Crockett’s dogs were falsely registered. But that is simply my opinion, let’s stay on track.

And let’s not forget the numerous Plott hounds owned and sometimes registered by Plott brothers Hub, Cody, and Jim Plott in Maggie Valley, nor the dogs of Gola Ferguson, Taylor Crockett, Isaiah Kidd, the Orr family the Cable family, the Wiggins family, the Denton family or hundreds of other mountain clans.

Not all of these dogs were registered, but some of them were. Are we to assume that their papers are all false too? I don’t think so.

Writer Jim Gasque visited Von’s farm in January, 1947. Gasque randomly chose three adult Plott dogs to examine, along with a four month old pup. On page 183 of his book Hunting and Fishing in the Great Smokies, he describes a dog remarkably similar to the old-time dogs that Mr. Martin’s friends said they prefer:

They were large boned, with broad chests and medium ears. The four adults measured 24, 25, and 27 inches, while the pup measured 17 inches. The adults weighted between 45 and 60 pounds.”

Gasque describes their color this way: “The color of the pure strain of these hounds is dark molish or bluish, with more or less brindle mixed in. Some of them are almost a solid color, while others have a prominent brindle chest and a greater or lesser belt of brindle across the back. About 10% of his pups are buckskin.”

Was Gasque lying? I doubt it. What reason would he have to lie? He did not sell, breed or regularly hunt with Plott dogs himself.

I have copies of Von Plott’s rabies records from January, 1939. His vet vaccinated 8 Plott dogs and one Airedale at that time. The Plott dogs all weighed between 35 and 50 pounds – five were 50 pounds, 2 weighed 40 pounds, and one 35 pounds. Their colors were listed as dark brindle, light brindle, brindle and brindle with black saddle.

What does this prove? Perhaps nothing. But Von’s dogs in 1939 clearly did not change much between 1939 and 1947 did they? And they sound a lot like the old time dog that Mr. Martin favors and that according to him, Von Plott supposedly did not have.

Regardless of whether you think the registration papers are valid or not, it certainly would seem to me that there were plenty of Plott dogs on Plott Creek in 1947. And as I said previously, and as I wrote in the APA 2009 Yearbook, many other mountain families had fine Plott dogs until the 1970s and beyond—the Denton family and Hub Plott are two classic examples that have both been profiled extensively in my books

So even if Plott Creek was barren of Plott hounds – and I don’t believe that for a second – there were still plenty of genuine Plott dogs across the southern mountains. Plus there were hundreds, probably thousands of Plott dogs across the United States by 1950. Let’s look at how they got there, and let’s start in the beginning:

-Von Plott never claimed to know the specific origins of the Plott hounds – nor have I. He only said that our ancestors brought them from Germany and that the dogs were refined in America. See page 19-20 of my book Strike and Stay for a specific quote about this. Like Von, I believe the breed originated in Germany and was refined and built up in America, this too is described in detail in my first book. And this American refinement of the breed took place in the 18th, 19th and early twentieth centuries. Modern day hunters had very little to do with it. They just helped perpetuate it.

Clay and Ira Jones of Whittier, N.C, have raised and hunted their outstanding Plott dogs in western N.C. for over half a century. Ira said it best: “If it’s not broken, you don’t need to fix it. We inherited a great dog. It is up to us not to mess it up. Litters are bigger today and food and medical care is better, but the dogs of today are no better than the dogs 100 years ago. We just need to keep it going.”

I totally agree –but that is just my opinion.

- However, that being said, I made it very clear in Strike and Stay that I do not subscribe to the traditional theory of the five original Plott dogs never being out-crossed for almost 300 years. This would be impossible in a sterile lab setting, much less on the American frontier. See page 34-35 of Strike and Stay for a detailed explanation. I also quoted breed expert Robert Jones on this subject.

So on that topic, Mr. Martin and I can agree. I am not sure where his statements about Plott dogs coming off Noah’s Ark or Plott dogs milking cows, come from. I have never said that and I don’t know anyone that has.

I do believe that the early Plott dogs were remarkably versatile multi-purpose animals. I have provided specific examples of that in all three of my books. John Jackson has well documented this subject too, as have others. And I do believe that mountain families like Ira and Clay Jones have been instrumental in the perpetuation of the breed.

-The evolution of the Plott breed from Henry Plott on down to Von Plott and his brothers is well documented. We know that Von’s father Montraville, was largely responsible for expanding the Plott hound legacy across the southern mountains. Scores of mountain families –just like the Jones clan – had these dogs and stayed true to them for years. That is indisputable.

But let’s get back to the facts about Von Plott. Von raised his first litter of pups when he was 6 years old in 1902.

-Von inherited his father Mont Plott’s dogs in about 1916. Reportedly this was only five dogs, but supposedly Von had additional dogs of his own.

-Von shipped two pups to his relative E.C. Monteith of Swain County in 1917. I have a copy of the shipping receipt.

- Frank Palmer of Andrews, N.C. wrote Von about buying or trading dogs on December 3, 1924.

-Dr. E. S. English of Brevard, N.C. confirmed purchase of Plott pups in a letter to Von dated March 21, 1929.

- William Worley of Birmingham, Alabama wrote to Von on February 10, 1929, saying “I know you have the old stock and I want to order pups from you.”

-On November 17, 1934, Von shipped 2 pups to his brother Robert E. Plott in Amarillo, Texas. They were valued at fifty dollars each.

- A.M Clarke of Ocoee, Florida writes on May 12, 1935: “I have heard of your dogs and I want to buy some.”

-Tom Loveless of Arizona writes Von on June 12, 1942, that he wants to order Plott dogs to hunt grizzly bears with.

- A Mr. Bennard of Morristown, Tennessee, confirms shipment of pups, one male and one female, in a letter dated April 10, 1942.

- Hack Smithdeal confirms dog purchases and hunting plans in letters dated January 1, 1943, and 2 letters from January 18, 1943. Smithdeal later verifies these transactions in a 1980 taped interview with John Jackson

-In a 1944 letter, LM Patton orders his first Plott dogs from Von Plott. These dogs would be the foundation stock for Patton’s famous Midwestern Balsam Kennels. Patton would later have the first Plott dog officially registered by the UKC.

- Bill Shelbourne, the manager of Blue Hill Farms in Tazewell, Virginia, writes on May 14, 1944 that he then owned 15 Plott dogs—all purchased from Von Plott, John Plott or Hack Smithdeal. He adds that he is very pleased with the dogs and that he wants to order more. He further comments about the tenacity of the dogs and that “you boys have done a wonderful job in breeding your dogs.”

-By 1945, Homer Wright, a former farm hand on Von’s farm, had Plott hounds firmly established in Washington State. Haywood County native Mark Reece, who got his Plott dogs from Mont Plott, was among the first to take them west in about 1907.

-On December 28, 1945, A.F. Stegenga writes and orders dogs from Von. He paid 175 dollars for a female and 150 dollars for a male. This was a substantial amount of money in 1945, yet Stegenga did not hesitate to pay it.

-On January 24, 1946, Mr. Stegenga confirms receipt of the dogs. Stegenga’s dogs were among the first Plott hounds officially registered by the UKC. This is the same A. F. Stegenga that according to Mr. Martin stated that Von Plott either had no dogs at this time, or that they were of inferior quality.  Clearly Mr. Stegenga’s letters further prove that Von indeed had Plott dogs in 1946. And it seems odd that he would pay top dollar for these dogs and register them if they were of poor quality.

I could go on and on, but that is enough. Again, all of these letters were sent to Von Plott and were not solicited by him.

What does this prove? Maybe nothing. But it certainly seems to me to indicate that there were plenty of Plott dogs being bred and sold on Plott creek in the 1940s – a time when according to Mr. Martin they were supposedly near extinction.

I have copies of at least one hundred more letters between 1950 and 1979 from breed icons such as Bennie Moore, Dale Brandenberger, and many others inquiring about, or confirming the purchase of Von Plott dogs.

And it should be noted that Dale Brandenberger is another source that Mr. Martin quotes as being dissatisfied with the quality of Von Plott’s dogs. Yet I have letters from Brandenberger in 1960 and 1963 that state otherwise. Brandenberger commends Plott on his dogs and comments on great dogs that he has purchased from Von in the past. Why would Brandenberger write these letters to a man he did not respect? I could go on and on, but enough is enough.

Moving on, I would further state that Von Plott was certainly no saint. He had flaws just like the rest of us. He had a hot temper; he cursed profusely and he often drank heavily – especially in his younger years. And like a lot of Plott family members – then and now – he would fight at the drop of a hat.

I have no doubt that many folks did not like Von Plott for exactly these reasons –and understandably so. And I suspect that there are those that dislike him simply because of his dogs or a bad business transaction pertaining to them. Anyone that has ever sold a significant number of dogs has had similar problems, you can’t make everyone happy – that’s just human nature.

But none of those faults make Von Plott any less a hunter or master dog breeder. Nor do any of those faults diminish the remarkable contributions that Von Plott made to perpetuate the legacy of the Plott dog breed. Whether you like him or not, the evidence I have presented speaks for itself. It is not personal opinion or conjecture – it is documented fact.

In conclusion I would add that I think I have provided ample documentation—all coming from other people, not me – to prove that Von Plott was indeed a fine bear hunter and that the Plott dog was not extinct on his farm in the 1940s.

I do not expect this to change the opinion of Mr. Martin or his friends. Their mind is made up and nothing will change it. They are entitled to their opinion, as I am to mine, and I respect them for it.

But it is easy to knock a dead man who is no longer around to defend himself. I think we owe it to Von Plott and Taylor Crockett to lay the facts out for your readers to make their own decision –and I have no doubt that they will.

John Jackson knew Mr. Crockett well and has defended him eloquently. I totally agree with John regarding Mr. Crockett. I don’t know if his dogs had any bulldog in them or not. But I do not believe for a second that he would ever falsify his registration papers nor is there any proof that he did. That’s enough said on that.

And finally, I do not intend for this to be a running battle in print with Mr. Martin or anyone else. Mr. Martin has stated his opinions, and I have stated mine. Nothing else needs to be said.

However, if anyone would like to contact me personally to further discuss these topics I am easy to find. I do not intend to spend another minute arguing about this in magazines or message boards. Let the documentation speak for itself and let the readers make up their own minds.

Thank you for this opportunity to speak my mind and defend my family and our dogs.


Bob Plott

September 3, 2010

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Official breed standards have been hotly debated for years.  The American Plott Association (APA) and the American Kennel Club (AKC) both recognize the buckskin color in their breed standard, while the National Plott Hound Association (NPHA) and the United Kennel Club (UKC) do not.

We’ll save the color debate for another column.  Let’s focus instead on the size issue.  All four organizations have similar size standards – yet they seldom enforce them.

A quick look around any field trial, bench show or hunting camp will provide examples of mammoth sized Plott dogs.  Some of these hounds stand over 3 feet tall and weigh 100 pounds or more – all far exceeding normal breed standards.  Yet this is deemed acceptable by the governing bodies of the above mentioned organizations.

Apparently as long as the dog is properly registered, it can be as a big as a horse.  Advocates of these jumbo sized canines maintain that the Plott hound of today should be bigger than those of the past.  They believe that improved medical care, diets and better breeders have resulted in a new super-sized Plott dog.

Others further argue that the old-time Plott would have died out were it not for modern day breeders who refined and bulked up the breed.

I respectfully disagree.  Certainly modern improvements have contributed to a larger, healthier dog – maybe 10 to 15 percent bigger.  But to attribute a 50 percent increase in overall size to these advances is absurd.  Look at other breeds.  Is there any pure bred canine today 50% bigger than they were forty years ago?  No. So why is it acceptable for the Plott breed?

Ira and Clay Jones have raised Plott hounds in western N.C. for more than half a century.  In my opinion their dogs are classic examples of a Plott hound – and they meet the breed standard.  Ira summed it up best: “If it’s not broken, why fix it?  We consider ourselves to be stewards of the breed.  It’s our responsibility to maintain and perpetuate what the old-timers started – not change it.  It was near perfect to start with. It’s our job to keep it that way.”  I totally agree.

Recently I reviewed Von Plott’s 1939 dog vaccination records.  They were fascinating.  What’s so interesting about rabies vaccination records?  They provide a clear snapshot of the size and color of every Plott dog that he owned during that year – a time that many breed historians feel the breed was in their prime.

Yet his records clearly indicate that he did not have a dog – male or female – bigger   than 55 pounds during that time.

What does this prove?  Maybe nothing.  But with substantial amounts of this type of data to use as a benchmark, it is hard for me to believe that the physical size of our dogs has doubled in 71 years.  I can understand the occasional big dog. But these are exceptions – not the norm.

Consider any species –animal or human.  Have we seen that sort of across the board size increase?  No.  In my opinion, when you see disproportionate size increases of this nature, something genetically or medically has changed.  That’s not good for the breed.  And that’s why I don’t believe the size standards should be changed—though I strongly advocate having the UKC and NPHA to revise their color standards to accept the buckskin Plott.  But that’s a story for another day.

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Von Plott once described hog hunting as a quick way out of the dog business.  He would use his Plott hounds only for bear hunting.  Plott had seen too many of his prized dogs killed or mauled by hogs to continue to hunt them.  He even warned two of his skilled younger protégés –Rex Suddreth and Ronnie Creaseman – that he would stop providing them with select dogs if they insisted on using them for hog hunting.  Both younger hunters continued to hunt hogs, and remain even today some of the best hog hunters ever seen in the southern mountains.

Nevertheless, through the efforts of these younger hunters, along with breed icons such as Taylor Crockett, Gola Ferguson and others, the Plott hound was eventually recognized as a premier hog hunting breed.  But it did not start out that way –not by a long shot.

Today, due to modern innovations the sport of hog hunting is safer than it was in the era of Von Plott.  Nevertheless, it remains a very dangerous sport for both hunters and hounds.  With hog populations and the popularity of hog hunting at an all-time high, I thought it might be worthwhile to discuss the very first time that Plott hounds were used for hog hunting.

Wild boars have only been in the southern mountains for about one hundred years.  They are not a native animal to the region.  Occasionally domesticated pigs would escape to live as feral hogs in the wilderness, but they posed little, if any, threat to the general population or environment.

That changed drastically in 1912.  The Whiting Manufacturing Company stocked their 1,600 acre hunting preserve on Hooper Bald in Graham County, N.C. with a variety of exotic big game animals –including European boar and bear.  It proved to be a disastrous decision.

The hogs were probably from Germany, but were tagged as Russian boar by local mountaineers.  Several of the bears were purchased from a large zoo and often raided the clubhouse for food, much to the chagrin of the hunters sleeping inside.  They were quickly shot or trapped, and the remainder escaped to the wilderness, as did many of the other animals.

However, contrary to popular belief, the Russian Boars were not among these escapees.  The hogs immediately took to Hooper Bald like ducks to water.  By 1920 the boars were out of control – at least 100 of the hogs inhabited the preserve, many of them weighing over 300 pounds.  They loved it there and had no reason to leave.

It was then that Cotton McGuire, the manager of the club, a notable local hunter and Plott dog man, decided that something had to be done.  McGuire planned the ultimate hog hunt.  Once the date was set, several famous hunting clans converged on the mountain-top hog lot with packs of hunting dogs—mostly Plott hounds.  As skilled as these hunters and their Plott hounds were, they clearly underestimated the boars.

Chaos quickly ensued as the boars charged the dogs and the hunters.  The hunters had seldom seen an animal that given an option, actually wanted to fight their hounds.  This was a big game animal that in fact seemed to prefer fighting to running.  This was unheard of, and it forced them to totally re-think their approach to big game hunting with hounds.

Only two hogs were killed, but at least 12 prized Plott dogs were killed or severely injured.  Many of their masters sought refuge in nearby tree-tops to escape the wrath of the wild hogs.  As the sounds of gunfire, screams, curses, squeals, and baying dogs enveloped the mountain; many of the surviving boars ripped their way through the fence and escaped the game refuge.  These animals quickly found a home in the rugged mountain terrain. They bred like rabbits and today have spread like wildfire across the southeast.

The sport of hog hunting with Plott hounds had a less than auspicious start that terrible day less than a century ago.  But after a rocky start, boar hunting eventually became the favorite big game animal among many Plott hound enthusiasts, and it remains so still today.  It is probably a good thing, as almost a century after their introduction in N.C. the animals have become a major nuisance to both farmers and environmentalists’ across the south.  And the Plott hound now plays a major role in helping control these savage beasts all across the United States.


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Well, I never thought I would be doing something like this –I never even knew what a “blog” was, until recently.  But then again, I never thought that I would ever write 3 books and get a contract for a fourth one either!  And it’s pretty safe to say that none of my high school or college teachers and classmates would believe that the long haired boy in their classes (me) could write his name, much less write a book.

Nevertheless, I am glad that things have turned out like they have, and I have been extremely fortunate and blessed. We’ll talk more about that in future blogs, but in the meantime it might be worthwhile to review the house rules of Bob’s Blog.  And since it is my website and my blog, and since I pay the bills for both, they are my rules and they are not negotiable. Here they are:

1. Don’t waste your time or mine talking about religion or politics.  I will happily discuss either topic with you personally anytime, anywhere.  But this isn’t the place for it. I respect your beliefs and hope you will respect mine, so let’s leave it at that.

2. I welcome your questions or thoughts about Plott history, Plott dogs, mountain history, music, or our programs.  If I know the answer I will give you my opinion.  If I don’t know the answer I will tell you that I don’t.  But either way, I will not bash or degrade any other breeders, hunters, their dogs, or any other individual or organization.  If you are looking for a gossip board, or a place to talk trash about folks, then you have come to the wrong place.  Those negative boards and sites are plentiful on the internet – have fun visiting them. But that foolishness has no place here.

3. If you want to bash me personally, do it to my face.  I am not hard to find and I can make it real easy for you to find me if you feel the need to do so.  But again, every post on this blog will be reviewed by me before it is posted, so any negative remarks about me, my dogs, or anyone else will be immediately deleted– so please don’t waste your time.

4. Keep the profanity to yourself.  I am no prude, but this isn’t the place for it.

5. If you want to advertise or endorse a product then you will need to pay for advertising space.  Contact me directly about that.  On the other hand if you just want to provide a product review about your new tracking collar, your new gun, new dog food, or favorite new CD or book, that is perfectly all right.  That’s something that we can all benefit from as long as it is done correctly.

6. No spam.  No exceptions.

That should about cover it—that wasn’t so bad, was it?  If we need to add more rules we can do so later.  One more thing: I promise to not bore you with mindless posts about my mundane every day life.  No one cares about what time I wake up, go to bed or when I take a shower etc.  My intentions are to only post when I feel the need to say something that might be worthwhile or answer a question.  Ok, let’s get started.  Have fun and visit anytime—as long as you follow the rules!


If you want to find out more about me, my books and programs, or if you are simply curious about my Plott pedigree, then just check out my website – It’s all right there– and I will be happy to answer any questions for you, either here on the blog or by email, so fire away.

You can also see some great photos on my Facebook page and on the Fans of Bob Plott’s Books Facebook page. Please feel free to join or “friend” both of those pages. And of course, I will answer your messages or questions there too.

It might be worthwhile to explain how I actually came to write three nationally published and award winning books. And hopefully it might inspire someone else to give it a shot. Because believe me, if I can do it, so can you.

Those that know me will verify that I have always been a voracious reader and history buff –especially southern mountain history and 18th century history. And as a Plott family member, Plott history and the story of our dogs has been a life-long passion –it’s who we are.

However, it’s also fair to say – and those that know me will verify this as well — that I was probably the least likely of all my classmates and friends to ever become a writer –especially a published writer. Perhaps I was a bit smarter than I looked or acted, but I did just enough in high school to get into college and graduate. I am not proud of that, but it is the truth. And it’s also worth noting that I could be something of a smart-aleck, or as I preferred to think of it back then –a rebel. But I was definitely a rebel without a cause. I am not sure now just exactly what it was that I was mad about, but I could usually come up with something.

Once I got out of college I focused my efforts on the great American dream of getting a job and making as much money as possible. You were not supposed to like the jobs back then—and I certainly did not – you just had to be good at it. And I guess I was pretty good at it as I made a good living in textiles for over a quarter of a century. In the meantime, I married a great woman –Janice– and we had a wonderful son–Jacob. Life was good, but something was missing. I just did not know what it was.

But let’s back up a bit. I saw a David Holt show called Folkways on PBS in about 1979. It changed my life. Here was a guy—from California no less –talking to mountain people that I actually knew, promoting their positive traits and skills instead of the usual negative stereotypes. And he was making a living doing it! Now, that was my dream job.

Over the next decade I spent every spare minute I had doing research on our family and our dogs. I already knew quite bit but I wanted to know more. I also visited every old-timer I could find and taped their stories –folks like Stanley Hicks, Ray Hicks, Willard Watson and Raymond Pressnel.  I was David Holt without the camera crew and TV show. These stories, combined with family lore and childhood tales from old timers like Granville Calhoun, Moses Owle and others that I met as a boy in Bryson City, truly impacted my life. Moreover, it provided a foundation and an education that would later prove useful in my writing.

Please note that I wasn’t doing any of this in anticipation or preparation for writing a book. That never even crossed my mind. I was doing it because I loved it. It was my passion. It was therapy and stress relief from jobs I mostly hated. But perhaps most importantly, I made many dear friends and gained even more credibility among my mountain friends and relatives as I did my research.

More than anything else, it was just fun! The more research that I did, the more I wanted to do. Every nice person I met seemed to lead to several more that were even nicer and more knowledgeable. In 1993 the birth of my son only increased my desire to know more about our history. I wanted him to know even more about our family and our dogs than I did. But writing a book about it still had never even occurred to me.

Enter George Ellison. I had read George’s columns in the Smoky Mountain news for years. I don’t recall the exact date that I first contacted him, but I suspect it was around 1999. We began exchanging emails and he wrote an article about me in his weekly column. We were kindred spirits and became fast friends. Later we would enjoy numerous outings in the Great Smokies. Soon he became a mentor and father figure to me.

Like David Holt, George, his wife Elizabeth and their children had carved a nice life for themselves doing exactly what they wanted— and in the process promoting positive images of mountain culture and mountain folks. This was the missing piece of the puzzle! If they could do it, maybe I could too, but how?

Sometime in late 2005 George and were hiking looking for a big Indian cave near the headwaters of the Nantahala River. It was a great day and it was then that George told me that I needed to write a book. I scoffed at the notion. “Write about what?” I asked. “Write about what you know—Plott hounds. I think people would read it,” he replied.

I wasn’t so sure. But George continued to encourage me. My response finally was, ok, I will do it, but only under two conditions –one, I won’t write it without a national publisher and a book contract, and two, I wanted George to serve as my editor.

I had no doubt that George would help me edit it –he is just that type of guy, a darn good friend. But I never thought in a million years that he could really help get me a contract. I had heard all of the nightmare stories about great writers never getting published. If they could not get a contract, a novice like me certainly could not. And I had neither the time nor the money to write a cheaply done self-published book.

So I was fairly confident that was the end of that idea. I was flattered that George had confidence in my writing ability. However, I was equally confident that he could not find a publisher to take a chance on me. I was off the hook – or so I thought.

About two weeks later George called and asked if I had gotten a book proposal from the History Press. The History Press had published George and Elizabeth’s books, and they had a good reputation for doing good work. And with several offices in the U.S. and one in England they were definitely the real deal. I had not gotten the proposal yet, but received it a couple of days later.

I filled it out, George approved it, and I mailed to the History Press. Within a month I had signed my first publishing contract to do a book on Plott hounds. Fortunately I had most of the research already done, so that was a big advantage. But now I was faced with an actual publication deadline –I had a book to complete and I was still working a full time job, plus all the other obligations of life.

Nevertheless, I dove in head first and went to work. Being extremely naïve, I figured if my contract called for a 220 page book—which it did—then a 400 page book would be even better. So I happily and proudly submitted my first draft of over 400 pages. The publisher did not even look at it. They instructed me to cut it back to the contracted amount, and I did. This was lesson number one in my school of hard knocks writing education.

Lesson number two would prove to be even more difficult. George had warned me that he was a tough editor. In fact, he had cautioned me that I would need some tough skin to survive the process. He had lost a couple of friends who were unable to take his constructive criticism without hurt feelings.

I assured him that he was doing me a favor and that I could withstand anything he could dish out. After all, I had trained professional kick boxers and fought myself. I could take the heat. And quite honestly, I thought I was a pretty decent writer already. I would just need a little fine tuning. Or so I thought.

I submitted my final draft for George’s review and gave him a couple of weeks to dissect it. We then scheduled an editing appointment in his Bryson City office for 8:00 AM the following Thursday. I figured that we would be done before noon, grab some lunch and spend the rest of the day hiking. Boy, was I ever mistaken.

We started at 8:00 AM sharp, stopped about 30 minutes for lunch and I staggered out of his office about 9:00 PM that night. Yes, that is PM –not AM. I had taken the literary beating of my life for about 12 hours. I may have taken a worse whipping, but I don’t remember it. There was not a single page without red marks or comments –not one!

Even the passages that I thought were pretty dang good glistened in red ink. But George patiently went through each sentence, paragraph or page and explained his thoughts and reasoning. I was amazed –not just at what I needed to correct, but even more so at the wealth of knowledge that George so graciously shared with me. What a gift!

I learned more about the craft of writing in those 12 hours than I had learned my entire life. And I still have a hell of a time with commas! But that isn’t George’s fault, it’s mine. Anyway, I headed home beaten and battered, but better for it. I then set out to correct my mistakes and learn from them. And I think I did.

About two weeks later George and I met again for the final edit and it was not nearly as painful. I then submitted the work to the publisher, and thanks to George’s efforts had what they call in the trade a “light edit.” In other words, they made almost no corrections or revisions—again, thanks mostly to George.

George Ellison also edited my second and third books. And the process for each of them was not nearly as lengthy or as painful –only a couple of hours each. Both of them were accepted with light edits from my publisher as well. So hopefully I learned something.

If I did learn anything – and I know I did – it’s all thanks to George. If I didn’t, then the blame goes entirely on me. I still have a hard time with commas. I am giving consideration to just not using them at all. But that would be cheating and incorrect.

I am sharing this story with you for a couple of reasons. One, I want to recognize George’s role in whatever literary success I have enjoyed. He not only encouraged me to write and taught me to be a better writer, but he also helped me get a publishing contract. None of this would have happened without him and I am forever in his debt.

But the other reason I am sharing this story is to encourage other writers to give writing a shot. Maybe you won’t be as lucky as I am, but who knows? You might be the next Charles Frazier or Ron Rash. And even if you aren’t, you should never do it just for money or fame. You must do it because it’s a passion. It’s something that you have to do. Even if no one else ever sees it, it is still important that you do it –but only if you truly love it. That’s the key.

Sorry to be so long winded. Start writing right now if you truly love it. And don’t ever let anyone stop you, no matter what. Most of all, have fun doing it!

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About Bob

Bob Plott is a North Carolina native who can trace his family roots in the Old North State back to 1750, when his great-great-great-grandfather Johannes Plott arrived here with five of the family hunting dogs. These dogs would later become renowned as the premier big game hunting dog breed in America – the Plott bear hound.

Bob wrote a history of the breed – Strike and Stay – The Story of the Plott Hound – that was published by the History Press of Charleston, South Carolina in late 2007. Strike and Stay was awarded the 2008 Willie Parker Peace N.C. Historical Literary award and it has received outstanding reviews.

His second book, A History of Hunting in the Great Smoky Mountains was published in late 2008.

Bob’s third book, Legendary Hunters of the Southern Highlands, was published in October 2009.  He is now working on his fourth book which will be out in October 2011, as well as writing articles for several magazines such as Carolina Country, Wildlife in NC and Smoky Mountain Living and the AKC Gazette.

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