I uncovered some fascinating information about a favorite sport of men, and even women, in Robeson County, N.C., during the late decades of the 1800s and early years of the 1900s.
While doing genealogical research on my third great-grandfather, Charles Upton Spivey, generally called Charlie, I learned about fox hunting in the area . I used to gaze at Charlie’s faded picture as my curiosity was sparked by the family stories told by my great-grandparents, Rudolph and Esther Lewis. I began genealogical research when I was 12 and am still searching as I go about my adult life. When I found out my great-great-great grandfather was a fox hunter, I began to investigate fox hunting in Robeson County in those long-ago decades before I was born.
Although fox hunting is out of fashion in Robeson County, it is still popular in Moore County, where several hunts are held each year. It is a sport brought over by early settlers from the British Isles. Many people have seen fox hunting in historic movies showing men and women in red riding habits riding together behind the hunt master and hounds. While this is the usual format for fox hunts, I found that, at times, the hunts in Robeson County were more casual, with little prior planning. Although hunts were usually held in November and December, there are reports of them being held year-round.
Newspaper reveals more
While searching The Robesonian for information about Charlie, I found in the Jan. 29, 1925 issue a letter about him as a fox hunter. R.F. Kinlaw of Howellsville wrote that his cat was killed by dogs belonging to Hampton Jackson, William Bryan Jr. and Charlie Spivey while they were on a fox chase. Kinlaw wrote that he would miss the cat because he had never found one as good at destroying rodents before this one.
Reading about the fox chase led me on one of my favorite exercises, wandering around history. I wanted to find out if fox chases or hunts happened a lot in Robeson County. I spent hours looking through editions of the county paper and found fox hunting was a sport enjoyed by men and women of all ages and backgrounds in the county.
I found that fox hunts around Christmas and New Year’s Day were a favorite part of the holiday activities. Here is a wonderful account of the 1923 Christmas hunt by William Kemp Culbreth, one of the founders of the Robeson County Fox Hunters Association:
“Christmas morn, while the hearts of the children were filled with joy for the good things grand old Santa Claus had placed in their stocking, the sportsmen were listening with wide-open ears for the blowing of the fox horns. With the toot of the horns, the howl of the hounds filled with joy the hearts of many, and for miles around the hum of the auto, the blowing of fox horns, the clatter of hoofs and the rattle of buggies could be heard.
“From east, west, north and south they were making their way to the banks of the old Lumbee (river), and the clocks were striking six. The writer started for the scene while the sun was shedding its beautiful light on the trickling waters … the old and the young, the rich and the poor, all for the Christmas race, all hearts full of expectation of a glorious chase. The writer is sixty-seven years old and he has never seen a better race.
“Before the sun was up the hounds had old Reynard (Reynard the fox was medieval Europe’s trickster figure, a nasty but charismatic character who was always in trouble but always able to talk his way out of any retribution.) going with 36 hounds in chase and 100 men, boys and girls all enjoying the sport of the exciting chase.
“For three hours the sport went on and upon the public highway in sight of two hundred sportsmen the old fox was captured alive and is awaiting another chase of joy. All went home filled with joy and to heart’s content to enjoy a good Christmas turkey for dinner. So closed the great annual fox hunt of the Robeson County Fox Club.”
The Rev. S.E. Mercer wrote in the Jan. 6, 1905, issue about a fox hunt in which Red Buck was a guest. It is interesting how in the old newspapers people are called only by nicknames, with the writer not realizing that there would be a time when just that nickname would not be sufficient to identify the person.
So as I read old articles, my desire to know about the nicknamed people led to more searching. Red Buck was the name that Henry Edward Cowan Bryant was most often known, as he was the Washington, D.C. correspondent for The Charlotte Observer, New York Herald and Boston Globe. Bryant also taught school in Alfordsville in Robeson County in 1894.
Another article read: “We were in Maxton last Friday night. There was a sensation. Red Buck had come. Yes, Red Buck was really out in the country two miles distant. He brought with him some highlanders of Mecklenburg, descendants of the very men who signed the famous Declaration of Independence. Ere the sun had dawned next morning we were on our way. A brighter and more lovely day we never saw. The fields were soon glistening in the morning sun. The world was beautiful and the air was crisp and bracing.”
After a successful chase, Mercer wrote more about Red Buck: “He is a great fox hunter, he loves the bass notes of his horn but when his clear, lusty, exciting, penetrating voice rings out on the morning air, every dog in the pack is stirred to do his best. If you want to have a jolly good time in a fox hunt, get with Red Buck.”
The more I researched fox hunting, the more interesting the findings were for me. The girls at Southern Presbyterian College (later Flora Macdonald College) in Red Springs held fox hunts.
In January 1911 it was reported that the college girls enjoyed their hunt when at 4 a.m. they could be heard singing on the way to a special train chartered to take them to the scene of the fun, Mill Prong, about 10 miles west of Red Springs. They returned to the college about 1 p.m., “tired but radiant, for the fox had been caught.”
Another of their hunts took place on Monday, Nov. 4, 1912, “when ninety-six people left the college at 4 in the morning on a private train heading to Bowmore, a railroad stop just before the one at Mill Prong. After arriving, it was not long before the leader blew his bugle followed by the sharp yap of the hounds. It was not until eleven that three foxes were found and the pack split in two for the chase.
“The girls had a great feast after the hunt, digging potatoes out of Mr. W.F. Williams’ potato patch, roasting them in hot ashes and cooking bacon on the end of a stick. They ate this with bread, apples and ginger cakes, voting it the best feast they ever had. At four in the afternoon they returned to Red Springs desiring to do it all again.”
In early July 1912, J.B. McCormick told of a great fox chase when he put his pack of hounds in Cole Camp Swamp, and the foxes began to bark at the hounds. The dogs managed to chase several foxes the size of house cats but none were caught. Despite the hot weather, he said that those attending enjoyed a day of music and fun.
Early November 1914, Parkton was the site of an evening fox chase, including five buggies, two people on horseback and a dozen on foot, with 19 trained Robeson County hounds. The chase led into Cumberland County, where others joined in the fun. By midnight it was decided that the fox had deceived the splendid pack.
The end of February 1915, the Lumber Bridge Hunters, including Malloy, McCormick and Everett, enjoyed an all-night chase, reporting it as “the finest race of the season with more than twenty hounds. Only problem was the fox was an educated one, who succeeded in make an escape.” In December 1919, a hunt was held in the Orrum area that lasted 18 hours “until two in the morning with the fox outsmarting all the hunters.”
Indicating the considerable interest in fox hunting by Robeson County folk, I discovered more than 20 additional accounts of the sport in old Robesonian editions. This inspires me to suggest to my readers that family research is likely to bring surprises and enjoyment and will also help preserve the story of our county.