THAD WINDSOR AND SHERIFF “BOB” SHORT Famous Delaware Coon Hunters
(From February 1916)
Next to his family and his church (and his strawberry fields at Oak Orchard) Sheriff Robert Short, of Milford, Delaware, loves the sport of following the dogs on a real coon hunt, the best of anything on earth and Thad Windsor believes that the next thing to heaven on earth is a trio of well trained coon dogs, a congenial partner, and favorable weather with good hunting grounds, and this was what he had gotten together for this especial hunt; and it was some hunt.
For years in Thad Windsor’s hunting, he was known as a “game hog.” He hunted almost every night and captured coons and ‘possums without regard to size or season; but, he realized by this method that he was breaking up the sport in this part of Delaware, and since then he has followed the plan of trailing and limiting the number of coons captured, and regarded the breeding season. His dogs are trained by himself, and their comfort is looked after as carefully as are the horses in the stables – in other words, he is a real sport-loving hunter.
A hunt was brought to a critical point during a conversation between Ex-Sheriff Bob Short and Thad Windsor, when the former was in Milford and in the yards of the Windsor Hotel they were looking over the dogs. With critical eye to the points of the hounds, Bob said – “Confound! If I could only once more go out with some dogs which would even come near holdin’ their end of a chase up with dogs like my old ‘Track,’ or ‘Tramp,’ or even the old bitch I used to have, why it would be a real happiness for me, but there ain’t no such dogs no more.” Thad replied, “Well, if you ever went out and followed them three dogs for a night you would forget that you ever owned a dog that you thought could trail a coon.” “Well, young man, it’s all right for you to talk, but you don’t know what you are talking about. Your dogs may be all right as far as they go, but when it comes to real coon hunting dogs, they don’t grow today to equal them dogs of mine. Why confound you, them dogs of mine were able to do about everything but talk. Why dog’gone it, I can take you to swamps where there is real hunting and plenty of coons, and give you a chance to show what them hounds of your’n can do.”
That was sufficient conversation on that subject for Thaddeus, who will back his hounds to the last ditch, and then and there it was arranged that the pair of them should, at the first opportunity when the weather was favorable, hie to the swamps and demonstrate each to the other, the truth of the statements each had made.
In December (last month) Thad phoned to Sheriff Bob at his home in Georgetown, to get himself ready for the coon hunt-and he did all right. He telephoned to the place where they were to go, directing that “Old Lem an aged negro who knows the swamps of his section of country as well at mid night as at noon day, to get his fixin’s for the hunt of his life.
After a three hours’ railroad ride, they left the cars at what is known as Scarborough Switch, where an automobile met them and their dogs, and they were conveyed to their destination in a half hour’s ride. Their stopping place was a large mansion near the Chinquoteague Bay, and they were welcomed by a friend of Sheriff Short, who was one of those broad-shouldered, red-faced, good-natured bachelors, who’s name is Captain Bill Truitt, and who lives alone with his servants in this fine old place.
But let Thad tell the story from here on. It is as follows:
Entering a large room where a great fire place with a roasting heat from burning hickory logs made us feel comfortable, we soon were at home. In a few minutes the colored servant and the cook asked us to come out to dinner. As the door opened the fragrance of that dinner caused Sheriff Bob to wipe his mouth with his big bandana handkerchief, and step lively to reach the seat assigned to him. It might be just as well to draw the curtain at this point, but that wouldn’t be fair to our host or the cook, and especially the latter. Just think of this as a menu for two real men-yes, two real hungry men, to work on. Here ’tis: Old fashioned oven pone, Chinquoteague oysters so large that I had to cut each in half; fried fresh fish, wild duck and all the fixin’s and PUMPKIN PIE two inches thick -yes, all of that
Well, I did my best to hold my own with that pair of giants they sat half leaning over the table with Annie pouring gravy, forking over the fish and the pone to the plates of her employer’s guests but nature fixed the limit, and like a well fed baby, I felt like rolling over and going to sleep, before they had finished. Good folks, you can’t imagine how that table looked when we finally abandoned it for a smoke in the big room.
“Well, dog’gone a man who will fill his own belly, then forget to look after his dogs,” was a side remark from one of the giants which floated to my ears and I aroused myself long enough to inform the speaker that he was about a half day behind my class, for I had seen to it that the dogs were properly fed (not too heavy for hunting) before we ate our dinner. They don’t catch Thad napping with gormandized dogs to hunt wit; I feed them myself and I know their condition. We sat by that fire smoking our old corncob pipes, and swapped yarns until it was time for the raccoons to be stirring from their beds and then we started to the country store where we were to meet “Old Lem,” our guide.
While standing listening to idle talk about the store, a voice from outside said, “Ise ready boss,” and then met “Lem” with his old gray mule hitched to a horse cart. Before starting, I want to describe “Old Lem.” He is one of those old time darkeys of a type now seldom seen, and he looked to weigh about 180 pounds; but, on inspection his size was mostly old clothes, and just how many pairs of pants, or how many shirts and coats he wore, only a complete disrobing would disclose.
I will not attempt to say just how many pairs of pants “Lem” had on, for, to use his own words, “Boss, I puts de small ones next to me, and keep puttin on ’til de big ones fit, and if dey got a hole in de knee, I turns dat hole to de back.” He is a native of that section, and I regret that I did not get a photo of our excellent guide as a memento. But “Old Lem” knows his business as a guide and as coon hunter, and don’t you forget that.
We loaded the dogs and lanterns into the cart with wraps, etc., and started for the swamps, where, a half hour later, we stopped on what they called Rattlesnake Road, in a swamp of that name, and there we hitched the mule and turned the dogs loose.
It was only a few minutes when we heard the bass voice of “Pilot” which was soon accompanied by the soprano of “Ned” and “Trim’s” tenor. After a short chase they treed and we found a nice fat opossum, which we would have left to himself up the tree, but “Old Lem” wanted that particular ‘possum for his “fambly back dar.” Continuing through the swamp it was “little Trim’s” notes which told that the dogs had again struck a trail along the edge of a marsh and the three took up the chorus.
“Well,” said Sheriff, “Them dogs certainly have got sweet notes and carry a fine trail; they sure do.” This was partly to himself and partly general conversation.
It was a “ringtail” (raccoon) all right, that time. He went out in the marsh first and then back to the swamp for awhile then he made a few circles and returned to the marsh, and then after a half hour’s hard running we heard the scream of a coon, which “Lem” interpreted to us, by saying, “Mr. Coon am sayin’ to dem dogs, ‘le’go, youse tarin’ my jacket.” I knew it would be a short fight, for “Pilot” ends them quick, so I waded out into the marsh and found the dogs had ended that hunt.
The next coon started in a very few minutes afterwards, and lasted for an hour and a half, with the dogs in hot cry all the time, and that coon was a wise old guy; but he was up against the wrong bunch of dogs that time, and when the end came they had followed him to the opposite side of the creek, where we had recover the carcass daybreak.
We were having good hunting, but I wanted Sheriff Bob to hear those dogs bark up a tree with a coon above them, and “Lem” suggested that “if de gem’mens want to hunt dat way, we better go to de beaver swamp.” So we went and gathered two more opossums on the way. Reaching the woods and swamp, we had not gone over one hundred yards into it, when “Pilot” again. opened on another trail which led along a corn field and back into the branch, where the chase soon became hot, and he soon treed. “Lem” couldn’t climb and the two giants were not expected to do so, so it was my lot to do the trick, and we soon had that coon.
We then started for the mule and cart with our game, and on the way we heard “Ned” whining on one side of the stream, while little “Trim” was doing the same on the opposite side; they were both on the trail of the same coon, for they met further up the branch, and there “Pilot” opened with them. “Old Lem” put us wise to this animal at once by saying, “Boss, dem dogs have got dar match dis time, for hunters have been after dat coon for five years, and him been run from midnight to day, and he won’t climb.”
But he did climb, and for the last time, after nearly two hours running. He finally went to his bed tree, where we smoked him out, and “Pilot” did the rest.
With tired dogs and tired men we reached home near morning, to find a pot of hot coffee and more of that old fashioned pone bread waiting for us- Let’s draw the curtain here.
Then, after a short sleep, Captain Bill took us down to his oyster beds on Chincotague Bay- a half mile from his home, where he has ten thousand bushels of oysters planted, and we gathered a bushel or so to take on his power boat to an island, where we built a fire and had an oyster roast.
The following night was devoted to another hunt, which was equally successful, and on that occasion we were accompanied by a neighbor, Mr. Short, who came in his automobile after hearing that we were there hunting. We went to another place more distant in the automobile that night.
After another great night’s sport we started for the machine and loaded up to return. The crank was whirled again and again. First one and then another took turns at spinning the crank shaft, but there was no answering explosion. The batteries were as dead as the coons, so we built a fire and sat around it for the rest of the night. We had to send for new batteries before we again reached our guest’s home.
Loaded with game, and regretting to leave our friends, we started for home, and as I bade Sherriff Short goodbye, he quietly said: “Well, Thad, them dogs are nearly as good as old ‘Track’ and ‘Trim’.” Yes, they sure are. Sherriff Short is now thinking of going to Florida for a fishing and hunting trip; if he can get Isaac D. to accompany him.