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.
-AN OPEN LETTER TO FULL CRY READERS AND ALL PLOTT HOUND ENTHUSIASTS FROM BOB PLOTT-
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.
September 3, 2010