By Steve Fielder
Strike and Stay - The Story of the Plott Hound
Review by Steve Fielder
Strike and Stay – The Story of the Plott Hound is the brand new book about my favorite hunting breed, the Plott. The work is authored by Bob Plott, the great, great, great grandson of German immigrant Johannes Plott, the man credited with bringing the breed to America in 1750. The 188-page, perfect bound, soft cover volume features the unique art work of Elizabeth Ellison whose composite drawing of a Plott dog is a blend of several different Plott dogs as well as her own unique perception of the breed. The cover is striking and is the harbinger of excellent things to come as one turns to the first page.
The book consists of twelve chapters and an interesting and well-written foreword by noted Plott historian and fellow North Carolinian to Bob Plott, John Jackson. Strike and Stay showcases the writing talents of Bob Plott and is augmented by several historic photos of the breed and of the family that engineered its success throughout the volume.
The book is unique in that it at last represents an entire volume devoted to our breed, with the added bonus of being written by a member of the Plott family himself. Therein may lie the book’s initial appeal to readers. As one begins to turn the pages, the story of the Plott and the Plott family comes to life in an informative, authoritative way but also in a manner that reveals the author’s sincerity and candor as he seeks to find for himself the answers to his family’s history and to that of the breed of dog for which the family is so very well known.
I found particularly interesting the way Bob Plott drills into the bedrock of Plott dog history and exposes not only the when’s and where’s but also the how’s and why’s of the breed’s origins and its progress from the mid 18th century to today. Unlike the typical genealogy buff with an insatiable thirst for family history, Bob Plott wants to really know the history of the breed and isn’t satisfied to merely accept the belief that the Plott dog is a German breed brought to the country 200 years ago. As a testament to the research Plott has put into this project, he pinpoints the location of Plott dog origins to the “right bank of the Rhine River in the Black Forest.” Likewise he accepts that Elias Plott and his sons Johannes and Enoch were indeed gamekeepers in their native Germany, but also takes that premise to a new level, describing in detail the highly dangerous and critical role of the game keeper and emphasizes the importance of breeding dogs that perform up to the demanding rigors of the job. He then paints the believable; if perhaps untraceable version of Plott family history that explains the motives by which Johannes and Enoch are persuaded to embark upon their fantastic voyage to the New World. It’s this kind of attention to detail that makes Strike and Stay such an enjoyable and informative read to the lover of the breed.
Considering the “why’s” of the breed’s origins, I found Bob Plott’s description of the game keeper’s job particularly interesting. He writes, “The gamekeeper job or wildheger, as it is known in German, was not only difficult and dangerous but also required a wide variety of skills. He not only had to police his employer’s property, but he also had to control and destroy unwelcome animal and human predators that could kill or infect his employer’s domestic stock. To further complicate the job, the gamekeeper was bound by a strict, ancient honor code that they were all sworn to adhere to. Any kill he made on a hunt must be a quick and clean one, and under no circumstances was a wounded animal ever to be left to run away and die a slow death. There could be no exceptions to this rule.” Plott leaves the reader with the clear conviction that the type of dog a German gamekeeper would breed and keep would have to meet or exceed the demanding requirements of the job or else. Most lovers of the Plott dog will find comfort in the knowledge that the history of the breed rests on these firm foundations as evidenced by Bob Plott's thorough and convincing research.
Bob’s depiction of father Elias’ emotions as he gives his blessing to his sons' quest, knowing that he will likely never see them again hit home to me and helped me to connect the dots down through 200 years of Plott family history to today in ways I hadn’t considered before. This human side of Plott history authenticates the sincerity and credibility of Bob Plott’s own emotional investment in the project as he attempts to record not only his family’s history but that of the family’s most-prized heirloom, the incredible Plott dog we have today.
Another noteworthy example of the uniqueness of this book is the way that Plott wounds, if not completely slays some of the sacred cows found in Plott dog history. Plott historians and students of the breed prior to Strike and Stay have generally accepted the premise that the Hanoverian Schweisshund is the probable ancestor of the Plott dog in Europe. Plott accurately points out that “schweisshund” is a generic term for bloodhound in the German language. I have long believed that the Plott is a mixture of many strains of hunting dogs refined through the last 200 years in the fiery heat of battle with dangerous game among the laurel hells, razorback ridges, and lofty balsam peaks of the southern highlands. Bob Plott tends to agree.
In Strike and Stay, he leans upon but does not fully trust the Hanoverian theory to support a belief in the origins of the Plott dog. “Yet, even today most major dog organizations, kennel clubs and publications,” Plott writes, “stick to the simple safe answer that the Plott hound is a direct descendant of the Hanoverian hound and leave it at that, which to some degree is true. I do not, however, believe that to be entirely true, although I do believe that the Hanoverian plays a part, a very big part, in the bloodline. As Lawrence Plott said in 1983 and John Jackson in 2007, the Hanoverian is the closest thing we have that can be compared to the Plott hound of today.”
The photographs in Strike and Stay are outstanding. My personal favorite is of Von Plott in the chapter titled “The Big Five,” in which the last of the famous hunters and breeders of the Plott family is shown with three Plott dogs, Jake, Maude, and Boss. The dogs are uniform in size and type and display precisely the Plott dog I try to emphasize in the Plott seminars I conduct across the nation as part of the educational process for conformation dog show judges. This photo was taken in 1920.
Readers will particularly enjoy the chapter titled The Big Five, a tribute to the fountain heads of the breed in the 20th century. Bothers John and Von Plott, Gola Ferguson, Howe Taylor Crockett, and Isaiah Kidd are featured in this don’t-miss chapter for those with a craving for bigger than life heroes that framed the history of the breed. The fact that I was alive before any of the Big Five Plott breeders died, and had the opportunity to meet and talk with three of them endeared this chapter to me but younger readers will do doubt catch the magic in their stories as well. John Plott died in 1959, followed by Gola Ferguson in 1962 when I was junior in high school. I had the tremendous opportunity to hunt with and to learn from Isaiah Kidd who was a close friend of my father’s and was privileged to meet Von Plott and to speak many times with Taylor Crockett at Plott Days as well. Readers will enjoy and benefit equally from the fascinating stories of these Plott pioneers, handled expertly by Bob Plott’s pen.
Another highlight of the book is the chapter devoted to the period of time ranging from the 1940’s to the 1960’s which Plott chooses to call “The Golden Age.” It is during this period the Plott achieves registration with the United Kennel Club and some of the breed’s most colorful and influential breeders and fanciers make their contributions to the breed. Plott dogs really hit the big time during this period and Plott covers the era in an expert and entertaining way that the reader will enjoy.
Strike and Stay is not a volume about raccoon hunting with Plott dogs and may disappoint some readers looking for historical information on the breed’s rise as a formidable opponent to the other coonhound breeds on the Nite Hunt circuit. The focus here is on the Plott as a bear dog. In fact, the author devotes an entire chapter titled “Hunting the Black Bear” to the subject.
Perhaps more so than with any other segment of Plott dog enthusiasts, Plott’s book will appeal to history buffs. Strike and Stay is the most in depth expose on the breed to date and a work that no serious Plott enthusiast should ignore. From it’s origins in Germany to it’s new found home in America, the Plott dog’s history, purpose for being, and astonishing achievements as the premier big game hunter in the canine world, are examined, explained, and extolled in this volume. From this point forward, anyone that calls himself a dedicated fancier or serious student of the Plott breed will not be able to do so with any measure of sincerity without having first read this book.
I highly recommend this volume to anyone with a genuine interest in one of the dog world’s most fascinating breeds.