While binge-watching Ken Burn’s historic PBS series The Roosevelts last week, a photo of Theodore Roosevelt and his hunting dogs triggered a thought; there is a meeting room in my office called the Roosevelt Room. I knew the collection of sporting dog prints and detailed pedigrees that graced the walls had something to do with “Teddy” but after a decade of sitting through countless meetings starring at these prints, their origins had been lost on me. So I took a recent lunch break to revisit the treasures of the Roosevelt Room at the American Kennel Club headquarters in Manhattan.
As you turn on the light switch, you are greeted by the black ink on grey paper cover art for the collection “Celebrated Dogs of America, Imported and Native, by A. Pope Jr., published by S.E. Cassino, Boston.” Beneath the poster a framed handwritten note card from Mrs. Richard Derby of Oyster Bay, New York, dated May 1974, reads, “These prints of Celebrated Dogs of America were collected by my father Theodore Roosevelt when he was a student at Harvard in 1879.”
As part of 19th century gentlemen’s society, Teddy must have not only studied, but hunted with these sporting purebred dogs. Today, the 18 muted chromolithographs of original watercolors painted by wildlife painter Alexander Pope, Jr. (1849-1924) hang in a neat row, midway up the walls, circling the room, except where their flow is interrupted by an HDTV used for video conferencing.
Celebrated Dogs of America
Who made the cut in 1879? Celebrants included a pack of black and white fox terriers named Rattler, Vixen, Tyrant, Minnie, Nettle and Daisy; the Rose Tree Fox Hunting Club of Philadelphia foxhounds, and several champion pointers including Dan, a native whelp born 1876 and owned by Mr. John G. Heckscher of New York City. Under Dan’s striking pose it reads, “Dan’s performance in the field have won him a high private reputation, and it is claimed by his friends that as a retriever he has no superior in this country. His first performance at a bench show was in Springfield in 1876, when he secured first in the puppy class, and the following year received ‘very highly commended’ at the New York bench show.”
Trimbush, a Clumber Spaniel, whelped May 1875, had quite the pedigree. “Trimbush was bred by Mr. William Brailsford, head keeper to the Duke of Westminster, and was imported by Mr. Jonathan Tomas, jr., of New York. He is a perfect specimen of the breed and his superior could not be found in England at the time he was brought to this country.” Trimbush’s mother was Earl Spencer’s Sall, out of Earl Spencer’s Meg and Marquis of Exeter’s Beau, Beau’s sire being the Duke of Newcastle’s Rover.
It seems that big fancy names were not the rage back then. Take for example others in the collection, champion Red Irish Setters Elcho & Rose, Don the smooth-coated St. Bernard, Mike, the imported Irish Water Spaniel, Lofty the Llewellyn Setter Dog, Jack, the English Mastiff, and the white Bull Terriers, Spider, Grabb and Nellie, whose likenesses silhouetted against farm fencing made a pretty picture.
Historical Hounds in History
Some dogs had famous owners, like a pair of greyhounds named Tippecanoe and Prairie Girl. “Tippecanoe was a white dog formerly the property of General Custer and is a grandson of a great dog named Master McGrath.” Under the print a letter dated April 12, 1879, three years after Little Big Horn, from Mrs. Custer reads, “ Sir, I regret to say the pedigree of the imported hound General Custer received from Scotland has been mislaid among the papers in our home in Monroe, Mich. The pedigree of the dogs sent him from Canada we never had. I do not know whether the dog you own is from the Scotch or Canadian dog. We often had fifty in the pack of hunting hounds. I thank you for your kindness to the dog, and I am glad he has a good home. Very respectfully, Elizabeth M. Custer.”
Rattler and Belle, two Beagles, owned by J.M. Dodge of Detroit came with this explanation. “Foot beagles should not much exceed nine inches in height; they are now even used up to eleven and twelve inches, going a pace which requires a good runner, in prime condition, to keep up with them.” Did Teddy ever had to keep up with these quick Beagles as they chased hares across the countryside.
Bevis the Irish Wolf-Dog is my personal favorite. “Bevis is believed to be the only specimen of his breed in this country. He was bred in Ireland by a gentleman who has given a great deal of attention to bringing the breed back to its former excellence. (it being now nearly extinct). The dog was brought to America and shown at Westminster Kennel Club in 1879.” His description goes on to state “…The wild animals which he seemed powerful enough to conquer having long disappeared from the kingdom. The beauty of his appearance and the antiquity of his race are his only claims as he disdains the chase of stag, fox or hare.”
I wonder which dog was Teddy’s favorite? If you’d like to view the collection, drop me a line, it’s open for public viewing by appointment.