The Beasts of the Prairies

The following is an excerpt from an article published in Putnam's monthly magazine of American Literature, Volume 5, Issue 29 - May 1855. The subject is the coursing of deer with Greyhounds.

Coursing With Greyhounds

This is brilliant sport, superior to any hunting in America, except, perhaps, the regular Carolina fox hunting in the pine woods. You go out upon the prairie, well mounted, with your dogs in the leash. They are a cross between the greyhound and some heavier and fiecer race, and, if right, will run into and pull down a buck single handed. It is a fine morning in December, and the surface of the prairie, blackened with the autumnal fires, is covered with patches of white frost. The air is clear and bracing, and as we ride out of town and emerge upon the open prairie, our horses, anticipating the well-known sport, prance gaily about. Our company consists of about thirty horsemen; some armed with pistols, others with rifles or double guns. We have five large half-bred greyhounds, tawny and brindled, with deep chests and strong limbs; three couple of foxhounds, who ever and anon utter their impatient bay; two or three terriers and a crowd of curs. We push out into the prairie, steering south, towards Blue Island, where we expect to find a herd of deer. (This is supposed to be 1840). On arriving at the timber, five or six hunters, with the dogs, take the lead, and the rest of the field follows as it best may through the timber. We keep along through the grove for a couple of miles, when the word is given that deer are ahead, and we are desired to spread ourselves so as to drive them out of the grove on to the large prairie south, where the dogs can run to advantage. Here let us remark, that it is dangerous to let greyhounds run in the timber, as they are very apt to kill themselves by running against trees. Slowly and carefully we proceed, with the fox-hounds in advance, their deep voices showing the route we are to pursue. At length, we come out of the grove, and spy the deer, ten or twelve in number, bouding away over the prairie about a mile off; not much alarmed, as yet, and occasionally stopping to look behind at their pursuers.

"Now men," says our leader, "spread yourselves, and go!" The greyhounds are slipped, and start at full speed, followed by the crowd of shouting riders and yelling curs. The deer take alarm at once, and, after making two or three very lofty bounds, as if to try their limbs, they set off at a rate which would seem likely to carry them out of sight, very soon. We go at our best pace for about a mile, when the field begins to grow select. First, the big gray, with the butcher on him, gives out, and a canter is all that can be got out of him. Next the bay colt and the black mare, hired from a livery stable, and ridden by two spruce looking young clerks, are brought to a trot, blowing heavily. Now those three Germans, rigged out "en grand chasseur," with guns strapped to their backs, game bags large enough to hold a well grown fawn, and hunting horns round their necks, have pulled up their tired nags, which have hardly got a puff in either of them, and procedd with great deliberation to light their pipes.

"Halloo! Mike! is your mare done?"

"Sure and I no call to them craturs wid the horns, and why would I be breaking the ould mare's heart this way?" said the Irish drayman, who, being of a sporting turn, and owning a nice gray mare which was quite fair for a quarter race, had engaged her in a business for which she was not quite able.

Five or six more begin to show "bellows to mend," and gradually to drop astern, as we get along into the prairie, and it is evident that the deer are making for the next grove, some five miles further. We had run them about three miles at a killing pace, when the state of things was as follows. About a quarter of a mile behind the deer are the greyhounds, running on a line about ten feet apart, and evidently gaining on the chase. A quarter of a mile behind them are the fox-hounds, close together, heads and tails well up, with a breast-high scent and a full cry. Just behind them comes Major D., on a thoroughbred chestnut horse, who goes as if he could keep that stride to the Mississippi. Then, side by side, came Dr. C., on a powerful bay Morgan, who looked as if the pace was a little too good for him, and the writer, on a mare of the Major's raising, called Creeping Kate; she was by his sorrel horse, which is directly descended from Henry and Eclipse. No wonder, then, that she can run a little, though she is over ten years old. Straggling behind these come half a dozen of the best mounted of the field - the rest, with the cur dogs, are nowhere.

"Will they get to the grove, Major?" said I. "Not all of them, I reckon," he replied, turning half round in the saddle, "if those greyhounds are good for anything." "I'll answer for old Spring," said I, "that is the brindled dog on the right; he will make his rush directly, and then you will see the fur fly."

Just then, as if by mutual agreement, the five greyhounds extended their front so as to be on the flanks of the flying herd, then increased their speed, till in ten minutes they were abreast; then they began to close up with the deer. Now the chase is most exciting - deer and dogs are both doing their best, while we have to ply the spur to keep our places in the hunt. At this moment, old Spring makes his rush, seizes the big buck by the haunch and capsizes him; the other dogs follow his example, and the prettiest kind of a skirmish ensues - deer and dogs rolling over in the snow, kicking, striking, biting, and growling. Those of the deer who were not seized by the greyhounds scattered in all directions, and Dr. C., pulling up his not unwilling horse, got a double shot at about sixty yards. One he knocked over and the other he missed. Seeing a young buck going off alone on a course which would cross my track, I start to head him off. He bears off to the right, but after a run of two hundred yards I close up within twenty yards of him, and give him a ball from my pistol, behind the shoulder; he falls, and I ride up to give him a shot in the head, and have dismounted for the purpose, when up he jumps with his hair all standing the wrong way, and comes at me. Fortunately, however, I have a loaded pistol in my belt with which I give him a ball through the brains. Then, cutting the deer's throat, and having with some difficulty persuaded Kate to allow the carcass to hang across her back, I mount to ride in search of the rest of the party.

The whole thing was over, I soon saw, as I approached the group of horsemen near the grove. The greyhounds had killed three, Major D. had shot one with his pistol, Dr. C. had one, and two of the outsiders had killed one each; eight in all, out of a herd of eleven.

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