Please welcome guest author Bob Plott. Plott is a third great grandson of (Johannes) George Plott, who first brought the Plott bear hounds to America in the mid-18th century, and he is a great-great nephew of Henry Plott who introduced the breed to the Great Smoky Mountains in the early 1800’s.
Plott is the author of five award winning books – Strike and Stay – The Story of the Plott Hound (2009), A History of Hunting in the Great Smoky Mountains (2008), Legendary Hunters of the Southern Highlands (2009), Colorful Characters of the Great Smoky Mountains (2011) and Plott Hound Tales: Legendary People and Places Behind the Breed (2017) – all published by the History Press.
We’re pleased to present a selection from Plott Hound Tales, which looks at the breed in relation to outlaws and lawmen, celebrities and common folks –and everyone in between. And regardless of their backgrounds or locations, the people described in the book all have two things in common – a passion for the Plott breed, combined with a wonderful and colorful story. “These Plott legends, and places, are all rich slices of pure Americana,” says Plott. “To me, that is what makes these mountain people, dogs, and places truly special – and it is why Plott dogs and Plott people are truly a breed apart from all others!”
Bear hunting was what the Plott clan and their legendary hounds enjoyed most –and young Jack Edwards could not wait until he was old enough to accompany the men on his first bear hunt. Jack was only ten years old at the time of the famous Branch Rickey Hazel Creek Hunt in 1935.
He grimaces as he remembers his disappointment in not being allowed to participate although he remembers hearing all about it. Edwards did get to meet Rickey and described him as a kind and generous man who personally gifted the lad with a St. Louis Cardinal baseball jacket. Jack adds that he kept the garment for years as one of his most prized possessions.
It was in 1937 that Jackie finally went on his first bear hunt, and it proved to be a memorable one. The Plott family were close friends and hunted often with Osley Bird Saunooke, former Marine and professional wrestler, who won his first world championship title belt that same year. Saunooke later became a popular principle Chief of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee, and even today, Jack fondly refers to him as “the Chief.”
Saunooke, a full-blooded Cherokee, was a giant of a man, standing six feet and six inches tall and weighing well over 300 pounds. The Chief was a man of many talents. He loved to hunt, and was a skilled storyteller with a huge appetite for life.
“The Chief could really keep you entertained. We’d hunt all day near Soco Gap and Black Camp Gap –all over the reservation – and then sit around the campfire at night eating and listening to stories. The Chief would roast potatoes, turnips and onions –all cooked together underground with a fire over it –and barbeque a slab of meat to go with it. No one ever went hungry in his camp. We always had a good time.”
Little George and Jack would walk twelve miles one way with their dogs from Plott Creek deep into the Plott Balsams and meet John Plott, Chief Saunooke, and their Indian friends near Soco Gap. The boys were in incredible physical condition and thought nothing of walking that far, not to mention strenuously hunting for a few additional days in harsh terrain.
They worked as drivers with their dogs, finding the bear sign and driving, or running the bear toward stands, where the older hunters – or standers – usually shot them. John Plott, already in his early sixties at that time, was one of these standers, and killed a bear with his Stevens shotgun on this trip.
More memorable hunting trips soon followed –including several to the fabled Hazel Creek Clubhouse. Jack says that a family friend –he believes it was Ed Lambert – had a flatbed truck that was used to transport them to Hazel Creek. There were no dog boxes to transport the animals, just a pack of hounds riding in the back of the truck with Little George and two other hunters. Ed Lambert drove the truck, and John Plott rode shotgun, with Jack sitting on his lap in the cab of the pick-up. On other occasions Jack says that they took two or more vehicles –usually a car or two –along with the truck, and sometimes the dogs rode inside the car with the hunters.
It was a long, arduous trip, taking a full day to cover a total of almost ninety miles of twisting, narrow mountain roads, most of them unpaved. The first leg of the journey was thirty-five miles to Bryson City. There, the party turned right onto old N.C. 288 – a dirt road – and continued another forty miles to the town of Proctor, and then about nine more miles up rough logging roads through the small community of Medlin to the Hazel Creek lodge.
Jack remembers the massive lodge as being comfortable, but nothing fancy, with three solid meals prepared for them daily by a male employee of the Club who always wore a kerchief tied around his head. (You can clearly see the cook in the background of the classic Plott dog hunting photo just above. He is walking behind hunting guides Little George Plott, Kay Wilson and Taylor Wilson, all pictured in the foreground, along with their great Plott hounds.) Edwards also remembers Hazel Creek manager Jim Laws and his son, Oliver Laws well –we’ll talk more about them shortly.
Little George killed one bear on this Hazel Creek hunt with his trusty Mauser, and Jack says that the hide from that bear is shown tacked on the barn behind Jack in a photo with Maj and a pack of Plotts. Jack had to stay home and work on the farm during two other famous Hazel Creek Hunts in 1935 and 1937, although he remembers vividly hearing about them.
Edwards remembers a problem with local authorities after an unplanned out of season bear hunt in 1941. Little George had been called into active military duty at that time and Jack was only sixteen. A bear killed several head of cattle on their farm in February of that year and John and Jack took matters into their own hands.
Their pack of Plott hounds struck a hot trail on the nearby Winchester farm as the dogs made quick work of the marauding bruin and treed it in no time. John Plott killed the bear with his shotgun as young Jack leashed up the dogs. News quickly spread of the kill and John Plott was soon charged with hunting out of season.
Jack says on the day of their trial it seemed like they were the only ones in the courtroom NOT charged with selling or making liquor. The judge that day was none other than Felix Eugene Alley, an iconic barrister born and raised in the mountains of western North Carolina. Alley was renowned for his keen legal mind, his folksy wit and musical skills as a banjo player and ballad singer.
Judge Alley sympathized with John Plott’s plight and acquitted him of formal charges, but charged the elder Plott five dollars for court costs.