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Early History of the Leopard Cur by Rex Bowers

Being a Cur Dog fancier, we cannot help but to wonder how these intelligent and versatile dogs came into being. Who developed them? When? Where? And why? All have heard interesting stories, and read fiction books or even seen a movie, like Old Yeller, involving Cur dog, but where is the factual evidence to support all these wonderful tales from the past.

Although I believed all the "Word of Mouth" history on Curs. I wanted something more. Something with credentials, something based on recorded facts that cannot be disputed. I wanted some proof we could stand on, so I began my journey. Looking back, I am very fortunate! I live in the heart of Cur dog history!

In order to understand the early Cur dog our ancestors had, you must take a realistic look at the environment these people lived in, and the lifestyle they lived. The Cur dog was a family dog, a guard dog, a stock dog, and much more. But the earliest use for them was as a tool in predator control. History well documents the Cur dog and their use for this purpose.

"Forest and clearing, tall grass and dense bambo thickets, clear streams and abundant fish, turkey, ducks, swans, buffalo, wolves, bears and panthers. The soil is exceedingly rich on both sides of the Yadkin, inferior to no part of the northern continent. (wrote William Byrd, 1728).

The Moravians told of the abundance of fish and game. The "Moravian Records" Nov. 2nd, 1769 note, "That there were many bears and wolves about.....wolves and panthers caused heavy loss to early settlers. The Moravians noted the necessity for exterminating them......settlers in the Bethel Church section on Dutchman Creek had to carry torches at night to keep the wolves away......This is recorded history of Davie County, North Carolina.

Daniel Boone, and his father Squire, made their living collecting bounties on dangerous predators (bears, wolves and panthers) while living in Mocksville, North Carolina. (Then Rowan County). "On April 13, 1753, Squire Boone acquired his first tract of land in Davie County. This 640 acre tract was near where Elisha Creek joins Dutchman Creek" Daniel Boone is said to have made the statement late in life to the effect that "The forks of the Yadkin was the best hunting area he ever saw". The Rowan Court minutes records payments of bounties to him for killing wolves, wildcats and panthers. (History of Davie County, pg 29-30) Authentic portraits show Daniel Boone with Cur dogs.

Another famous hunter in this area was Wilburn Waters. He lived up near White Top Mountain. He was hired by the local settlers to exterminate the large predators in that area. It is well documented that he used Cur dogs in pursuit of these dangerous animals. Several good books have been wrote on the life of Wilburn Waters.

John Lawson, in his History of North Carolina, based on his expeditions of North Carolina in the early 1700's, often discusses hunting; "The bears here are very common, and bear hunting is a great sport....A dog fit for this.....the him by nose until they come up with him and then bark and snap at him till he trees, when the huntsman shoots him out".

Lawson also describes hunting panthers in the same manner, many references are made to trading furs with the native Indians while on his journey, which took him across the Yadkin River, near Salisbury. The bear and deer meat was often eaten, as stated in the Moravian Records, and the furs could be sold or made into clothing.

Now that we know how important hunting and the hunting dogs (Curs) were, we will take a look at where the first settlers in the Southern Appalachians came from. Most people would assume the English colonized the Blue Ridge area since they settled the coastal plains; however, very few English migrated westward prior to the revolutionary War. Germans and Scotch-Irish made up the majority.

Geographical difficulties prohibited much movement to the west by land and the rivers were not navigable, as first believed. Practically all migration came down from ports in Pennsylvania, through Virginia, into western North Carolina.

The "Forks of the Yadkin", near present Salisbury, was the "gateway" to the Blue Ridge Mountains. Settlers began migrating west of the Yadkin around 1746. Two main trails intersected in this area (now Davie County).

"The Great Trading Path" came down through central Virginia to the "Trading Fords" at Salisbury and of more significance was the "Great Wagon Road", also called the "Georgia Road", that came down through the Shenandoah Valley to Wachovia (a German settlement), then crossed the Yadkin at Shallowford, at Huntsville, then through Mocksville to intersect in Salisbury, with the "Great Trading Path". This trail eventually went to Georgia, thus the name.

As soon as the frontier was settled, other immigrants from England, Scotland and Germany began carving out a way of life that was denied to them in Europe. They were free to live a democratic lifestyle and worship God without oppression. These settlers soon learned to get along with the Cherokee Indians, who lived, in the Southern Appalachian area. Unlike western plains Indians, the Cherokee were very civilized, had government, a written language, and farmed. They also were great hunters, and had a dog similar to the Dingo.

The German and Scotch-Irish settlers intermarried with the Cherokee and they both learned from the other and lived a very self-sustaining lifestyle, farming and hunting. Their was a necessity for a dog that could serve many purposes at that time. These farmers usually kept several head of livestock. Most all had a "Milk Cow", from which they got their milk. Hogs were common as well. Instead of fencing in the livestock, they fenced in the house and garden plot, and let the livestock roam at will. Most family's had their own "mark", a notch cut in the ear. A good Cur dog could bring up the milk cow at milking time, catch the hogs when necessary, or pen down a chicken to be dressed. This same dog could tree wild game. In these dogs veins flowed the blood of the settlers stock dogs, hunting dogs, and the Indian dog. The description still fitting our Curs of today. A breed was developing! As the settlers moved westward and eventually across the country, the Cur dog went with them. When our government moved the Cherokee tribe to Oklahoma, on the trail of tears, the Cur dog went also.

In years later to come, the Cur dog moved and adjusted to the needs of the people who had them, thus forming different breeds of Curs. Obviously a different type dog was needed in different areas and situations. But a breed was born, an American breed. The great Cur dogs, which we have today.

By the early 1800's there was a very unusual breed of Cur dog in the Southeren Appalachians, used for hunting wolves, bears and wildcats. Later on they were used for hunting fox and coon.

These dogs were unusual in appearance and noticeably different from the typical hound used for hunting. They were short coupled, about 24 inches tall. Their heads were broad with a pointed muzzle, and the ears were short, set high, and were pointed on the bottom, not rounded. Their eyes were large, somewhat protruded, and many were glass eyed. They color of this breed ranged from tan, gray-tan, yellow, black with tan legs and head, and often had white ring necks and points. A good percentage came in "brindle" or "calico" pattern, giving them the name "Leopards".

The hair on this breed was long and thick, a guard hair with a furry undercoat. Often this coat was wavy and accompanied with a flag tail.

Several other "markers" were unique to this breed. A cowlick, or curl, either on their shoulders, neck, or atop their muzzle. Most all had red toenails. Also the gums and inside of mouth was black.

"The characteristics of these dogs were sprightliness, vivacity, great energy, uncommon speed, wonderful powers of endurance, or bottom strength, action and ability to travel without becoming footsore or leg weary. They traveled and hunted rapidly, always "looking out" as though they expected the game to get up in view at any moment. They possessed the faculty of "WINDING" their game, where its presence was detected by the atmosphere".

"They always cast ahead to recover a lost scent and kept their game pressed to the top of its speed all the time. Their notes were generally sharp but musical. They did not give tongue freely when running and were always truthful, never babbling about the confusion of the pack. They were all good TREE DOGS".

"These dogs had peculiar dispositions. They did not like to be handled or caressed. They were easily broken and trained and never had to be whipped more than once for a fault".

The unique breed added speed to the present dogs in Georgia as they were rapid trailers with ability to run tracks others couldn't start. Also, when the game was jumped, they ran heads-up, giving tongue tightly, a semi-silent trailer. Their great speed allowed them to drag down deer or heel a wolf to make the kill. Their voice was chop-mouth, some having a yelp or yodel. None having a long drawn-out bawl.

This breed with its strange looks and tremendous speed has been in the Southern Appalachian Mountains well over 100 years. Prior to the Civil War, they were kept in great privacy with little transaction.

After the turn of the century, these dogs were quite popular in western North Carolina and north Georgia. At least one well-known bear hunter crossed them into his bear dogs. The foxhunters, especially in Georgia, crossed them on to several foxhound strains to obtain their extreme speed.

This breed was known by several names, depending on who owned them, their use and location. A lot of secrecy has always gone with them and still does. However, their genes still exist in several of today's present breeds.


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