A year ago last January, I spent my mornings and evenings moving a herd of seventy-five yearling steers. I over-nighted the herd in my barn lot. But each morning, I would move them about a half-mile to a crimson clover pasture. Those steers would liked to have run me and my horse half to death. It was then that I decided I wanted a good working dog.
I wanted a dog like one I used to own named Pete. Pete got his name for Uncle Pete, a man who spent his entire life in the saddle. Pete made a living running cattle for the Bobersons of Cumberland Mountain range. John Boberson had a ranch in Sequatchee Valley at Pikeville in the great state of Tennessee. I used to go up there every fall and stay a week or two buying stock steers. Uncle Pete would ride the range with me. He was already past eighty-years-old then. Out on the range, Pete always carried a pair of heavy-set, black and tan “Mountain Shepherd dogs” as he used to call them. Those dogs had a glossy black coat, a tan spot above each eye, and a tan bar across the chest.
Uncle Pete knew the mountains and he knew which cabins would take care of us at night. Pete’s black and tan dogs would sleep at his feet each night, they were loyal to a fault. Often times we’d be sleeping in a single-room cabin with a whole family in the same room. Sometimes even three or four children. But those mountain families gave us their best. And boy was that fat meat, beans, molasses, corn bread and coffee good! Everybody in the Cumberland Mountains knew Uncle Pete was good people. But in those mountains and hollows, a stranger riding alone might not live to tell the tale. Pete knew where all the stills were and kept a jug of mountain dew in each side of his saddle bags. But he never got into it too much. On any given day, Pete might have carried two or three thousand dollars in those saddle bags. Although he could not read or write, Pete could account for every penny. He would buy steers and tell you exactly how much he paid for each one of them. Uncle Pete and me, or sometimes Pete by himself, would buy three-to-five rail cars of steers, corral them up, take them Pikeville, and then ship them home. We had no fences and no roads. Only winding mountain paths through thick woods. Those two black and tan dogs did it all while we rode the path behind the cattle. Never lost a steer.
Uncle Pete worked and trained the dog I named after him. I brought him home with me and kept him for years. Until he grew old and died. He was not only almost human; he had more cow and sheep sense than any human I ever knew. And that includes me. I have owned a lot of stock dogs since, of different breeds, but I have never been satisfied with any of them. Pete the mountain shepherd dog ruined me. In my experience, no matter how many you own, you don’t get to own many top dogs, or horses for that matter, in one lifetime.
Today, I live as I did back then. In Williamson County on a phosphate soil, bluegrass section of Tennessee’s Central Basin. I raise barley, tobacco, Hereford cattle, sheep, and hogs on the same five-hundred thirty-two acres my father operated. My father called it a farm, but I call it a ranch now that it is practically all improved pasture. A little more than twelve years ago, I noticed an advertisement in the fine print of a Texas newspaper. The ad had been placed by John Blankenship of Murfreesboro, Tennesssee. It stated that Mr. Blankenship and his wife raised English Shepherds about twenty miles from me. Although I didn’t know anything about them then, the dog’s photo in the ad looked like Pete. And that made me want one. So, I drove over there the next day. I told Mrs. Blankenship that I wanted a well-bred, trained dog. One old enough to go to work right away. To my satisfaction, I saw that all her English Shepherds looked like Pete. She let me have a grown dog named “Bozo” that she had brought from Texas. But, she told me we was an injured dog and might not be able to do the work I needed done. She wanted me to take a pup, but I didn’t have time to wait. So, she let me take a mama dog named “Shag of Tennessee”. I raised a litter of six pups out of her. The Blankenships helped me pick the best male pup from that lot, and they let me have a girl from their best female, “Old Shep”. Now, I have these two pups, six months and five-month-old. Believe me, I have eighty steers that are tough! But these two pups and me on a good horse are getting the job done. They are both natural heelers, as any good working dog must be. I have taught them several commands, which they execute well. I find them to be intelligent and gritty, especially the female who is a low heeler.
We are having a rodeo at our county seat of Franklin, Tenneessee on May first and second. The Blankenships want me to work my pups in the arena. They are going to have some of their dogs there to put on an exhibition. It will be something new here in Middle Tennessee. But it should go over well and be a big advertisement for the English Shepherd breed. The farms of Williamson County, Tennessee are being turned into ranches. We have fine improved pastures on our phospate-lime soil. Several Texas ranchers have moved in here. There will be an increased demand for good working dogs. But, as I see it, we need more trained dogs. It takes work to make a good stock dog. If my pair of pups turn out to be good, I will raise some pups to sell locally. But, they must heel low and work, or I don’t keep them. I’m afraid I’m not as good hearted as Uncle Pete was.
I find English Shepherds are also faithful companions. Last fall, I was on one horse leading another when their legs got tangled and we all fell like a ton of bricks. Somehow, I managed to roll out from under them. But I was shook up pretty good, and with a dislocated shoulder. Shag and Mrs. Ogilvie were both riding along, and Shag stayed with me while my wife got help to take me to the hospital. Shag laid her head on me and whined. She knew something was wrong, and she growled at the man who came to pick me up. So now, my pups are my constant companions when I’m not on a horse.
My hobby has always been riding fine harness horses, but I have narrowed that down to a few riding horses. My oldest boy, Bill, is a partner with me now. I could not operate without him. My middle boy Walter Jr. will graduate with an accounting degree from University of Tennessee in June. And my youngest boy Jim doesn’t know what to do yet. My daughter Katherine married a Yankee, but he’s a good guy in spite of that. They live in Stillwater, Oklahoma where he is a professor at the A&M college. I have only my wife Kathleen and a grandchild, five-years-old, who ride horseback with me. We all love the country and would not live anywhere else. Never made a dollar except on the farm. We haven’t got much, but enough to live on. We are just plain farm folks that love animals.