This old photograph is being marketed that of an Irish water spaniel, but it’s actually something much cooler.
Irish water spaniels were commonly used as retrievers in the US, but the McCarthy type of water spaniel was invariably liver in color.
And it never makes one double click on an image to make one wonder if a dog is actually a golden retriever.
Here’s a close-up of the dog’s head. It’s very retrievery:
I think this animal is a red Winchester retriever, a type of long-coated retriever derived from the St. John’s water dog. It was said to have come from Ireland, but it may have been nothing more than a regional Irish variant of the early curly-coated retriever. Such dogs were in demand among waterfowl hunters in America, and retrievers that were born liver or gold/red in color got exported to fuel the market hunters’ demands on Chesapeake Bay.
This red Winchester type is sometimes regarded as a type of long-haired Chesapeake or a breed that got absorbed into Chesapeakes, which occasionally do have long-coated pups.
We could have made at least three breeds out of the types of retrievers out of what became the Chesapeake Bay retrievers.
This particular dog was photographed by Edward Payson Butler in Reno, Nevada in 1886. People settling in the West in those later days liked to hunt. The Frontier was just about to close off entirely,and people who had made their fortunes in places like Nevada were eager to get improved hunting dogs from back East or Europe.
This red Winchester retriever would have been a prized possession and obviously cherished member of the family,
I should note that there were several names for this dog: brown Winchester, red Chester, and brown Chester.
One story is that the retrievers that founded this strain came from a British ship called the HMS Winchester that was said to have brought the red, long-coated retrievers out of Cork to America’s Eastern Seaboard.
Which of course, brings us back to the Duggan family water spaniels, which were also from Cork.
Maybe this type of water spaniel is the ancestral red Winchester type that was then crossed with the endemic Chesapeake duck dogs to found the red Winchester, which then got absorbed into the modern Chesapeake Bay retriever.
America’s retriever culture relied much more heavily on water spaniels and regional variants than the UK retriever culture. We preferred liver and yellow/red/gold dogs over black ones, while in Britain, the preference was for black ones. Golden, Labrador, and flat-coated retrievers have long, carefully documented pedigrees, but you will not find these documents in regard to curly-coated retrievers, Chesapeakes, or any breed of water spaniel.
We produced dogs like this one.
Just as our coonhounds were likely mostly drawn from the rejects English Old Southern hound packs, which were deer and hare specialists, our native retriever was drawn from the rejects of a culture that was obsessed with producing black retrievers.
Our hunting and shooting culture is very different from the Motherland. We are a nation born of conquering pioneers, not of decaying feudalism.
We were once a nation filled with game, and compared to the British Isles today, we are still teeming with wild beasts.
We didn’t need a dog to say that we were up-and-coming. We needed a dog that had a purposed.
Until the frontier closed.
And well-to-do people began to sport hunt as a homage to a past that once included a Davy Crockett, a Daniel Boone, and a Lewis Wetzel.
This is where we are now.
Sport-hunting begat the modern conservation movement and then the science of wildlife management, and as America has grown wealthy, we’ve been able to save many species. We’ve been able to keep a bit of the frontier wildness about.
We may not have the zapovedniks of Russia, but we still have enough wild or even “feral” places about.
And here, people can keep dogs like this red Winchester’s descendants and take him or her into the places that remind one of that storied past.
It’s never going to be the same, but it is a reasonable enough facsimile.
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