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Posts Tagged ‘Cuban bloodhound’

The image above is of “Spot,” one of the two Cuban bloodhounds that was used to guard the POW camp at Andersonville, Georgia, during the Civil War.

Andersonville was a notorious POW camp, where nearly 13,000 Union POW’s died of malnutrition and disease– something like the Confederacy’s gulag. The commandant at that particular POW camp was a German-Swiss failed revolutionary, Heinrich Hartmann (“Henry”) Wirz.

To deal with escapes, Wirz kept a pack of man-hunting dogs. These were largely slave-hunting dogs, which were sometimes called “nigger dogs,” that were often used to track slaves that ran away. Most of these were just mongrel foxhounds, bloodhounds, coonhounds, and curs, but in many parts of the South, another kind of dog was often used.

This dog was the Cuban bloodhound.

Now, let me disabuse you of a common misconception:  Cuban bloodhound had very little to do with the heavy scent hounds that were derived from the Medieval lymers, dogs that tracked cold trails on leashes or “lyams.”   The lymer bloodhounds were never particularly aggressive dogs.

The Cuban bloodhound was quite different. It was derived from a large bulldog-type that was native to Iberian Peninsula. The Spanish used it throughout the New World, along with other large aggressive dogs, to subjugate Native Americans and to control slaves and those laborers bound to the haciendas.

Cuba was very much a slave society, only abolishing it in 1886, and all slave societies have certain features. Among these is the need for a very strong state (as in Weber’s definition of state). No person wants to be a slave, and if you ever have a situation where there are large numbers of people who are being held in slavery, the region is always in a state of war. Slaves often run off, and they often conspire to form rebellions against those who are holding them in bondage.  To keep slave revolts under control, it was always necessary to have well-organized units that were expert at fighting. This is one reason why the Confederacy had much better soldiers during the Civil War.  Many of the soldiers who fought had already seen battle against minor slave rebellions.

The Cubans used this type of catching mastiff as part of their arsenal against their slaves, and the Cuban bloodhound would have remained solely in Cuba had the Maroons not revolted in Jamaica.  Jamaica was given to England in 1655, and the Spanish slaveholders who lived there freed their slaves as the English took over.  Slavery had been very hard to establish in Jamaica, and many Spanish slaveholders had a hard time keeping their slaves under control.  Those they brought over from Africa would often run off and join the remaining Taino in the mountains.   The Taino were also held as slaves on the island, but as was the case throughout the Caribbean, the native people were not resistant to European diseases and many died while they were being held as slaves. Those Taino who remained hid out in the mountains, often raiding plantations.  Many African slaves joined up with the Taino, and they gave the Spanish lots of trouble in Jamaica. When the English took over, the slaves the Spanish colonists freed and those Taino and Africans hiding out in the mountains caused them even more trouble.

There were two wars against the Maroons, and the English were never able to control much of the island’s interior.

Until the colonial government ordered “bloodhounds” from Cuba.  In 1736, it was decided that each army post should have a bloodhound to dog Maroons, and by 1737, the First Maroon War, which lasted 52 years, was ended. The dogs were a very effective tool of oppression and war, and when the Maroons rose again in 1795, more bloodhounds were brought over to crush that revolt, which lasted only a month.  Much credit has been given to those dogs, but in reality, things were much more complex.  The English and British had to make massive concessions to the Maroons just to keep the peace, but the bloodhounds were about the only tool that the Europeans had that gave them any advantage.

But at the time, the Cuban bloodhounds became famous in the English-speaking world for their use against rebellious slaves and Indians.

In 1835, the United States became embroiled in the Second Seminole War. Seminole situation was similar to the British experience in Jamaica. Slaves were escaping from plantations and joining up with hostile Indians, and having heard of the supposed successes that came from these bloodhounds in Jamaica, the Florida Territorial government purchase Cuban bloodhounds to use against the Seminoles. The dogs were credited with catching only two Seminoles, and the Florida territorial government actually charged the US Army $2,500 for their import and upkeep. John Quincy Adams, the former president and outspoken opponent of slavery in the House of Representatives, threw a fit on the house of representatives for this bill.  He suggested the dogs be sent to Maine ASAP so they could be used in a possible war with Britain over the border with New Brunswick, and the US government needed to be careful. It might have to pay these bloodhounds a pension!

The dogs then became relatively common throughout the South, even if they were of no use against Native Americans, they were very good at catching slaves. This was the bloodhound that was portrayed as a villain in the abolitionist literature, an unfortunate historical misnomer that would later tarnish the name old lymers that we also call “bloodhound.”

During the Civil War, at least two of the dogs were used to guard Union POW’s. There were probably more of these dogs used for this purpose, but the two at the Andersonville Prison were the best known.  When Andersonville was liberated, a photo was taken of Spot. I cannot find a good copy of it online, but it is from that photo that the above image was produced.

Spot was a big dog.  He stood three feet at the shoulder and weighed 159 pounds. With that size and disposition, he was quite a dangerous animal.

Having looked at several depictions and descriptions of the Cuban bloodhound, the closest I can get to a modern-day equivalent and possible relative is the Presa Canario.  The Presa Canario may be derived from Spanish catch dogs that were brought to the islands. This catch dog could have the common ancestor with the Cuban bloodhound, or it may be that the Cuban bloodhound was derived from the catch dogs from the Canary Islands.

The exact history of the Presa Canario isn’t all that clear, and there is a persistent theory that the Presa Canario is derived from an indigenous mastiff-type dog that was there before the Spanish Conquest. Supposedly, the Canary Islands, which are derived from the Latin word for dog (Canis), are named for this dog.

I am not sure if the Presa Canario is an ancient mastiff from the Canary Islands or is the result of imports from Spain.  I don’t think the official history of these dogs has experienced much rigor, so one should rightly be skeptical.

However, I do think it is likely that the Cuban bloodhound was a very close relative of the Presa Canario. It may have even been the same dog. It’s just the Cuban dog was used in the New World and got some ancestry from other New World dogs.

That’s probably why Spot was some form of merle. Merle doesn’t exist widely in the mastiff family, and I doubt that it was widespread in Iberian mastiffs. As you may know, I am skeptical of the theory that the Catahoulas and other merle curs are derived from Spanish mastiffs. I think their merling comes English cur dogs and perhaps– though never proven– the proto-Beauceron that may have been in Louisiana. Crossing bulldogs and mastiff-tupe dogs with curs is old hat in the South, so it would have made sense that Cuban bloodhounds would have been bred to curs to make merle attack dogs.

After slavery was abolished following the Civil War, the need to have these big attack dogs disappeared.  There are some theories that these dogs disappeared into the bulldog and “pit bull” types that were much more common, but even if they did, their contribution to these breeds is probably quite trivial. The Southern bulldogs that are now established breeds aren’t like Cuban bloodhounds at all, and the Cuban dogs were much larger and much harder to control than one would have ever wanted in a pit fighting dog.

The Cuban bloodhound was the real dog of war, and after the wars, it became a tool of oppression in slave societies.

This is one breed whose extinction was probably a good thing.

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The slave-catching dog that was infamous in the South for tracking down its victims and savagely mauling them was the Cuban bloodhound.

It was most likely derived from the Spanish war mastiff (a derivative of the Alaunt) with maybe a tough of greyhound or scent hound blood.

Drury has a depiction of this dog:

Cuban bloodhound

Note how similar this dog is to the dogs in “The Hunted Slaves” by Richard Ansdell.

These dogs were usually just called bloodhounds in the US, and their infamy spread through the world.

Now, the actual bloodhound of Europe received some of that bad reputation. That breed of bloodhound is a pack hound. It is quite docile and gentle. It has a great nose, and if someone can stand living with a rather large, active dog that is driven more by its nose than a desire to please its people. (These dogs are not “Ol’ Duke” from the Beverly Hillbillies. They do require a lot of exercise.)

So when one reads accounts of bloodhounds savaging people, especially escaped slaves trying to escape the oppression of their captors, one must remember that the bloodhound in question is the tracking mastiff from Cuba.

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While everyone is looking at my evidence on the bigfoot hoax, I think I’ll look into another inconsistent story. This is the story of the bloodhound cross in the golden retriever. It has one source, and no documentation. Lord Ilchester was the main source for the pedigrees of the retrieverthat Elma Stonex used in her book. Ilchester wrote an article in Country Sports and Country Life that first exposed these pedigrees and kennel records to the wider public. It thoroughly debunked the Russian origins of the golden retriever. If the Caucasian Owtcharka had been more common in the West at this time, this theory would have been debunked immediately.

However, Lord Ilchester’s records include something that seems a little out of place. Most of the records of the Guisachan kennel go from 1868 to 1889, and in no place is there a mention of a bloodhound being added to the cross. Supposedly, this cross happened after 1889, and according to Lord Ilchester, were “rather savage.”   The actual records of this cross was written down a piece of paper and was lost.

Lord Ilchester was just a child when these crosses supposedly happened, so I can forgive him for not knowing what exactly went on. The 1st Baron Tweedmouth was Lord Ilchester’s uncle.

I’m a trained historian, and I am somewhat schooled in canine color and behavior genetics. Historians can only use evidence for which there is proof. Lost pieces of paper are not evidence. However, the golden retriever is the only breed of dog I know of that has these records of its origin. Most dog origin histories are full of lore and unsubstantiated rumor. However, bcause of the incomplete nature of the evidence behind the supposition of the bloodhound cross, I cannot accept this as true historical record.

Secondly, scent hound retriever crosses are usually more scent hound than retriever. Those that are majority retriever tend to lack biddability and retrieving instinct. I will refer you to Merle’s Door by Ted Kerasote, a wonderful book about a Labrador/Redbone Hound cross. Merle looks more like a retriever than most hound/retriever crosses. He is a clever dog, but he’s not that biddable. He also refuses to retrieve or even mouth anything. Also, I saw a cross between a black Labrador and a bluetick coonhound a few years ago. Blueticks are descended from the Grand bleu de Gascogne, a French hound that closely resembles a bloodhound. This dog looked like a black bloodhound. It acted like one, too. Very stubborn. My guess is that the bloodhound would be the last thing you’d want crossed into your working retriever lines. You want retrieving behavior and biddability (trainability, smarts, and ability to take direction). None of these behaviors exist in most scent hounds.

Further, in domestic dogs, short hair is dominant to long hair. A cross between a bloodhound and golden retriever would have short hair. No pictures of short-haired goldens exist, except those that were early crosses with the Tweed water spaniel.  The dogs that are supposedly part bloodhound have longer coats than goldens appearing in later generations. I think that instead of a bloodhound, that a large Newfoundland or a large way-coat with close large Newf ancestry was crossed in.

Also, bloodhounds are not savage and never were. The breed known as a bloodhound is really the Chien de St. Hubert, developed as a tracking pack hound in Ardennes in Belgium. St. Hubert was the patron saint of hunters, who was originally the son of the Duke of Aquitaine. One day, he was hunting a stag, when a stag supposedly approached him and told him that unless he repented, he was going to hell. The stage then instructed him to meet the Bishop Lambert to receive instruction. Hubert became a bishop, and eventually an abbey was built in his honor in the Ardennes. The monks who inhabited this abbey bred large scent hounds as they hunted the forest in veneration of Hubert. These scent hounds were given to the King of France as tribute, and they eventually wound up in the hands of many European nobles. France and Belgium were already recognized as the birth place of scent hounds, which were developed there by the Ancient Celts before the Roman Conquest. White St. Hubert Hounds or Chien de Saint Hubert were called Talbot, and probably played a role in developed white and spotted hounds like the Billy, the Porcelaine, and the spotted foxhounds of England. All scent hounds were pack dogs and were not aggressive towards people. Today’s bloodhound/St. Hubert Hounds/Chien de Hubert are genial but stubborn dogs, as they were in the late nineteenth century.

They also do not come and never did come in the recessive red color that golden retrievers have. They come in a masked red. Sometimes, this mask is smaller or not noticeable. I am not sure of the genetics of it, but I do know that when a malinois was crossed accidentally with a golden, brindle and back pups resulted. It seems to me that this is what you’d get if you crossed a red bloodhound with a golden retriever. Goldens are a red to yellow recessive with black skin pigment. Many dogs that appear the same color have a different genotype than this, and when crossed with a golden, very often you get black or strangely colored offspring.

Thus, I am very skeptical about the bloodhound cross in the golden retriever. I have never seen a golden that looked anything like a bloodhound or acted anything like one either.

As for bloodhounds being savage, this comes from Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. The novel is an attack on slavery in the United States, and the pivotal scene is when the bloodhounds belonging to the slave master chase after the escaped slaves who are escaping across the frozen Ohio River. These dogs are savage. This isn’t the same breed as St. Hubert’s Hound.  In the Slave South, as recounted by Mark Derr in A Dog’s History of America, Latin American “bloodhounds” from Cuba and Brazil were purchased to track and savage escaped slaves and Indians.

What are these bloodhounds? The Cuban bloodhound is actually a mastiff-bloodhound cross, derived from Spanish war mastiffs that were brought to Cuba to tear native Cubans apart and then tear into Cuban slaves once that practice became established on the island. It was also used by Captain Henry Wirz at the Andersonville Prison Camp to tear into escaped Union soldiers during the Civil War. This breed is now extinct.

However, the Brazilian bloodhound still exists. It is now called the Fila Brasileiro. It still has the old type mastiff aggression, and it does look a lot like a bloodhound.

Bloodhound/St. Hubert’s Hound is on the right. The Fila is on the left.

Confusion between these two types is why we once thought bloodhounds were aggressive.

And neither played a role in the development of the golden retriever as near as I can tell.

Bloodhounds were crossed into setters, however, and perhaps the Tweed water spaniel. Through these breeds there may be an indirect link with the bloodhound and the golden retriever. But it is indirect.

Hounds may have been crossed into early retrievers, before they split off into the various strains. Sir Francis Grant has a painting called “Shooting Party-Ranton Abbey”  of two retrievers working for the Earl of Lichfield. The one on the right looks like collie derived retriever with a long, black and tan coat.  The one on the left is golden colored, which is a bit of a shock– most retrievers in the 1840′s were black. It has long ears and a slightly domed head. It has been suggested that this dog is derived from a bloodhound. However, it could be a St. John’s water dog crossed with a setter that had bloodhound ancestry. This dog does have longer hair than the short-haired St. John’s water dog, suggesting some setter ancestry. Early Irish setters often had heavier heads than the current breed, so it may just be a setter and St. John’s water dog-derived retriever.

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