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AMERICAN DOG SHOW HISTORY
Began June 4, 1874
by Louis A. Fallon - Photos Courtesy of Pam Guevera
June 28-29, 1859 was the date of the first officially recognized dog show of the modern era, which took place in New Cornmarket at New Castle-on-Tyne, in England.
Our British cousins once again led the American Colonials in both the first dog show as well as the first nationally recognized association of dog owners.
The Kennel Club (United Kingdom) was founded in 1873 and the colonials followed in 1884 by whelping the American Kennel Club.
A valid argument can be made that the British and American Hunt Clubs held competitions of dogs chasing the fox or other game hundreds of years before 1859. Indeed, thousands of years ago our ancestors utilized their dogs in hunting game with the prize being food to eat instead of today’s silk ribbon or silver trophy. But for the purpose of this article we shall speak of the time-honored tradition of proving that “my dog is better than your dog” by grooming and presenting our canines to a qualified dog show judge versed in animal husbandry and breed standards.
The 1859 (England) dog show was for the Sporting breeds of Pointers and Setters only. The Show Committee consisted of a Mr. W.R. Pape, Mr. Tom Reed, and Mrs. John Shorthose. Women have been a part of the wonderful sport of dogs from the earliest time. Author William Arkwright, in his immortal dog classic, The Pointer and His Predecessors, quotes a letter he received from Mr. Pape, in the letter, Mr. Pape writes, “I got up the First Dog Show that was held in New Castle, 1859”. Citing that source, this information would safely enable one to conclude that Mr. W.R. Pape was the first recognized Dog Show Chairperson, also eligible for the honorific as First Trophy Chairman due to the fact that Mr. Pope also offered all the trophies, which were guns from his own gun factory.
Over a century ago, before today’s instant world-wide communication, people wrote letters or waited for the weekly newspaper or monthly dog magazine to find out details of the winnings at a dog show. The dog show had been well established in England and Europe for fifteen years before any organized effort was made towards putting on a dog show in the United States. The major reason for the fifteen year delay was the American Civil War of 1861-1865. We were planning for the war, fighting the war, and then recovering from the economic toll with no time to plan for a dog show.
Mr. P.H. Bryson, of Memphis, Tennessee was a Civil War veteran who was released after the War ended so he could “go home to die so that he might have a decent burial”. This wounded, weak and emaciated soldier weighed only 110 pounds and could not walk 100 yards without stopping to rest. When he reached home, his family physician, Dr. D.D. Saunders, advised that he take all the outdoor exercise that he could stand. A wise physician for his day, the good Dr. Saunders recommended a Bird Dog and a gun, stating that hunting would be an incentive to outdoor exercise. The weak, but courageous soldier acquired a “bobbed-tail Pointer” and a “pin-fire gun” and walked out into the rolling fields of Tennessee.
At first, Mr. Bryson could not walk far but his strength slowly began to improve. Mr. Bryon bagged one bird, then several, then a small bag of birds. As his gun eye improved, his hand held steady and with the help of his loyal bird dog he brought home even larger bags for the table. Mr. Bryson went from 110 pounds to 210 pounds and in time completely recovered, thanks to the exercise with his bird dog.
As time passed and Mr. Bryson became a more avid sportsman, he switched from Pointers to Setters. With his brother, David Bryson, they imported some of the world’s finest Setter bloodlines. The Bryson Setter Kennels of Memphis, Tennessee, gained national recognition and acclaim. Then, the old soldier began a new campaign – a campaign for Dog Shows in America. Mr. Bryson was the first man in America to advocate, through writing in sporting journals, the holding of dog shows in the United States of America. Mr. Bryson did this through that highly respected sporting journal, TURF, FIELD AND FARM. The Field Editor for this Journal at that time was Colonel Frederic Gustavus Skinner. Colonel Skinner was himself an avid outdoorsman and one of America’s greatest sporting editors. In consequence he gave Mr. Bryson’s articles advocating dog shows top billing in his magazine.
P.H. Bryson, his brother, David Bryson, and Mr. W.A. Wheatley planned a combined Bench Show and Field Trial near Memphis, Tennessee for November 1874. The dog articles which Mr. Bryson had been writing were so challenging and convincing that they motivated other sportsmen in other parts of the country to also plan Dog Shows.
THE FIRST DOG SHOW was June 4, 1874 – Chicago, Illinois.
The Illinois State Sportsmen’s Association knew a good idea when they read about it and quite obviously borrowing their dog show idea from Mr. Bryson, they announced a Show for June 4, 1874 in Illinois. This was five months ahead of the Show that Bryson had planned for Memphis, Tennessee. The Illinois Show was for Setters and Pointers only. Since the Illinois show was in fact, the first dog show ever hosted in the United States, a detailed report is included herein. A sporting magazine, then called FIELD AND STREAM is on file in the Library of the American Kennel Club and also in the New York City Library. February 21, 1874 marks the beginning of FIELD AND STREAM. On March 27, 1875, the name was changed to THE FIELD, then June 3, 1880, it became the CHICAGO FIELD. Then, on June 2, 1881, the name was changed to THE AMERICAN FIELD, and the Journal has maintained that name to this very day.
The original FIELD AND STREAM carried a full report of that first American dog show in the June 6, 1874 issue. Please remember that at that time there was no central registry of reporting like AKC, there were no rules, no detailed program to follow – just good American sportsmanship and concepts of fair play. These dog sporting men and women were pioneers with a new concept in animal husbandry. Pay note of the detailed dog judges commentary about the dogs.
FIRST SHOW GIVING CLUB; ILLINOIS STATE SPORTSMAN ASSOCIATION
OFFICERS OF THE CLUB: President John V. LeMoyne, Chicago; First Vice-President, W.T. Johnson, Chicago; Second Vice-President, John L. Pratt, Sycamore; Secretary, Luther E. Shinn, Chicago; Treasurer, C.B. Miller, Geneseo.
EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE: Abner Price, W.F. Milligan, C.W. Marsh, R.R. Clark and E.T. Martin JUDGES: Hon. L.B. Crocker of Mendota, Illinois; John Davidson of Monroe, Michigan; and H.N. Sherman of Beloit, Wisconsin
ENTRIES, Twenty-One Pointers and Setters, SHOW RESULTS and judges comments on each entry are as follows:
Exhibit 1. Charles T. Frizell’s Random and Dolly, 23 months old, red Irish Setters, out of Milward’s imported black and tan Nelly, by LeMoyne’s imported Dan. Judges’ Report: “Fine pair red Irish Setters, good size, and style, fairly broken”.
Exhibit 2. Thomas G. Kaye’s Nelly and Dick, ten months, orange and white Setters, out of Fannie, by H.J. Edwards’ orange and white Setter, Don, unbroken. Judge’s Report: “Two very fine Setter pups, 10 months old, remarkable for size and intelligence for dogs of the same age and under. The committee think this pair of pups entitled to the highest credit of any represented”.
Exhibit 3. J.H. Whitman’s Patrick and Bridget, two years old, Irish Spaniels, bred by Richard White of Dublin, Ireland, imported 1873. Judges’ Report: “Good size and appearance, evidently a good pair of dogs, but committee had no opportunity to test them”.
Exhibit 4. J.H. Whitman’s Grouse, six years old, white Setter, bred by James Kennedy, Toronto, Canada. Not broken to retrieve. Judges’ Report: “Large, light Setter, very fat, great depth of chest, fine head, well broken and evidently one of the best dogs to breed from on the ground, immense power with good action”.
Exhibit 5. J.H. Whitman’s Frank and Joe, 3 years old, black and steel mixed Setters, bred by Hilliard, from imported Gordon Setters. Judges’ Report: “The committee, among so many well appearing dogs, find it hard to make an award, but incline to the opinion that this pair of animals are entitled to the highest marks of credit as the best pair of Setters exhibited”.
Exhibit 6. H.J. Edwards’ Spot and Dan, Laverack Setters; spot liver and white, imported by Maj. Foster of Quebeck, five years old, Dan three years old, lemon and white, out of half-bred Irish Setter from Canada, by Edwards’ Spot. Fully broken. Judges’ Report: “Medium size and style, probably the best broken pair of dogs on the ground. Owner entitled to great credit for breaking”.
Exhibit 7. H.J. Edwards’ Dan, red Irish Setter, bred by H. Miller, out of a red Irish bitch, by Miller’s lemon and white Setter Spot, two years old, partially broken. Judges’ Report: “A very handsome dog, well bred, and like the others, well broken”.
Exhibit 8. C.T. Pitkin’s Tom and Jerry, five months, liver and white Pointers, out of Crosby’s Flora, by Clark’s Spot. Unbroken, except house-broken. Judges’ Report: “Dogs of good size, well broken and handsome”.
Exhibit 9. J.F. Lawrence’s Rover, Spot and Gipsey, red Irish Setter, red and white Irish Setter, and nearly white, out of Irish bitch, by Edwards’ Laverack Setter Spot. Judges’ Report: “Very handsome puppies, showing excellent breeding”.
Exhibit 10. H.Batty’s Belt, one year old, black Setter, bred by Stafford of Madison, Wisconsin. Unbroken. Judges’ Report: “Large dog without pedigree or training, showing large bone and muscle”.
Exhibit 11. Mr. Mahoney’s Nell, two years, black and tan Gordon, with pups Countess and Duchess, by R.R. Clark’s lemon and white Dick. Judges’ Report: “For style and action, cannot be too highly complimented, medium size and good appearance. Best bitch exhibited”.
THE SECOND DOG SHOW JUNE 22, 1874 - OSWEGO, NEW YORK
It was planned by The New York State Sportsman Association. The report of this dog show is: “As there was no competition, there being but two dogs and one bitch entered, the committee deemed it advisable to return the entrance money to the exhibitors, Mr. A.L. Sherwood and N.W. Nutting. The committee desires to express the highest commendation of Mr. Sherwood’s orange and white pair of Setters, and also of a beautiful litter of puppies, their progeny, ten in number. All showing in a high degree all of the most valuable points in form and breeding. Mr. Nutting’s black and tan Setter dog is a magnificent animal in all points but having a white spot on throat as well as upon the breast, he cannot be admitted as a thorough-bred Gordon”.
THE THIRD DOG SHOW OCTOBER 7, 1874 - MINEOLA, NEW YORK
The Show was judged by the English Kennel Club rules. Following were the awards:
IRISH SETTERS DOGS: First, Duke, Hamilton Thompson special premium cup; Second, Pilot, R.L. Lawrence, diploma. BITCHES: First, Lady, H.S. Parkes, special premium cup; Second, Fanny, R.W. Reid, diploma.
GORDON SETTERS DOGS: First, Shot, T.A. Jerome, special premium cup; Second, Ponto, C.O. Doherty, diploma. BITCHES: First, Di, J.R. Tilley, special premium cup; Second, Kate, A.C. Waddell, diploma.
SETTERS OF ANY BREED DOGS: First, Dash, A.C. Waddell, special premium cup; Second, Count, M. Leavitt, diploma. BITCHES: First, Maggie, Nelson, special premium cup; Second, Nelly, E. Orgill, diploma.
POINTERS DOGS: First, Sam, A.C. Waddell, special premium cup; Second, Bang, J.Smith, diploma. BITCHES: First, Fanny, C. Porter, special premium cup; Second, Belle, A.C. Waddell, diploma.
THE FOURTH DOG SHOW OCTOBER 8, 1874 - MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE
Mr. P.H. Bryson, his brother his brother, David Bryson, and Mr. W.A. Wheatley succeeded in holding the first multi-event dog show in the United States. A combined Field Trial and Bench Show, sponsored by the Tennessee Sportsmen’s Association, the Show was governed by the English Kennel Club rules, and the Field Trial was conducted according to the rules of the English Field Trials. An extract of the Best of Breed and Best in Show winners follows:
The 1874 Memphis, Tennessee dog show judging for Best of Breed and Best in Show reached an emotional high that was not seen again until Elvis Presley performed here in the Twentieth Century. When the dog show judge was through reviewing the Pointers, he made his selections for Pointer Best of Breed, a Pointer Bitch named “MAY”, owned by Dr. D.D. Saunders. When he was through examining the Setters, he selected for Setter Best of Breed, a Setter Bitch named “MAUD”, owned by P.H. Bryson.
Then the moment of truth arrived. The spectators held their breath as both the old soldier and his physician with their respective bitches walked into the center of the dog show ring to compete against each other for Best In Show. The solemn faced dog show judge stepped into the ring, fully conscious of his responsibility. Dr. Saunders and his Pointer moved about the ring as one. The old soldier and his Setter moved with the same military precision he had learned on the Civil war battlefield. After thoroughly examining both dogs, the dog judge walked over to the Pointer, stopped, and ran his hands over the length of her back and down her thighs. The judge then turned to the Setter and examined her as well. The suspense mounted as the dog show judge stalked over to the table to record his decision. In his book the judge wrote, “Cup for best Setter or Pointer of any age or class of the Show, MAUD, P.H. Bryson”.
The dog show judge then walked back to the center of the ring with the trophy cup in his hand and pointed to the old soldier and his Setter bitch MAUD. The spectators at ringside exploded with applause, cheers and shouts of applause.
We are indebted to the AKC Librarian Ms. Barbara Kolk and her able Library Assistant.
1. Jessica Letizia, for her kind research assistance. The Library of the American Kennel Club is located at 260 Madison Ave., NY, NY 10016. Email James Crowley, 212-696-8234, Fax: 212-696-8252. Web: AKC Library. The Library is available to researchers by appointment only.
2. Memphis Kennel Club all-breed dog show catalog of June 2, 1974.
3. Dog articles by Dr. Braxton Sawyer.
4. Dog Shows: Then and Now, author Anne M. Hier (1999) Images In Print, publisher