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The Uses of Native American Dogs, Explorer Dogs and...

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The Early History of Dogs on the Frontier – Where Curs and Feists Came From

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Editor’s Note: Throughout the history of America, dogs have played a major role in the everyday lives of explorers, early frontiersmen and Native Americans and continue to do so today. When families first settled here, everybody able in the family had to work the family farm. So, they used a different kind of babysitter. The teenagers and the adults would leave the children playing in the front yard and their dog on the porch, watching and protecting the children and the house, while Mom, Dad and the older kids plowed, planted and picked crops.

At the end of the Phillips’ family squirrel hunt this past winter, one of my granddaughters asked Tim Cosby, “What kind of dog is that?” pointing to Cosby’s squirrel dog, Mig. Cosby smiled and answered, “He’s not only a squirrel dog. He’s a Kemmer Cur. His ancestors were here in America long before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock. Native Americans owned dogs as far back as we know about the history of this country.

“Native Americans used dogs to hunt with and to protect their families and their teepees when on hunting expeditions or warring with other tribes. They also had dogs pull the first American-made trailers called travois, made of two sticks lashed together with a small platform on the back for the Indians to load the things they wanted to move. Often when the Indians fought one another, they took the dogs into battle with them. Some of the Indian tribes even raised dogs for food.”

My granddaughter, a dog lover all her life, quickly rolled her eyes and announced, “Oh! That’s terrible.” Cosby continued, “When the first explorers arrived on American shores, they brought dogs with them that were different from what the Indians had. Probably one of the most-overlooked critters in influencing American history was the dog. Back then and even today, there were cur dogs like Mig and feist dogs smaller than Mig. The cur dogs weighed 30 pounds or more, and the feist dogs weighed less than 30 pounds.”

My grandchildren were fascinated as Cosby, a blackpowder hunter and squirrel dog trainer, told them more tales of the dogs of the frontier when 400 years ago, settlers from across the world brought their dogs with them when they came to the New World. Those dogs mixed with local Indian dogs and the French and Spanish dogs of explorers to yield cur dogs and feist dogs. Many of these breeds remain today and are used for hunting squirrels, raccoons, bear, feral hogs, mountain lions and opossums.

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Tomorrow: The Uses of Native American Dogs, Explorer Dogs and Dogs of Colonial America

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