HOG PUNCHERS & HOG DOGS

By Hazel Oatman Bowman

      

In the words of Luke Moss, a Llano ranchman, heard driving is a thing of the past, but there will always be a need for hog dogs as long as hogs are raised on the range, because range hogs can not be worked any other way. There is just one way, and only one way, and that is with dogs.

Truly almost as much can be said about the hog-punchers of Llano County, through their praises have long been unsung, as have those of the valiant hog dog. This is due to the fact, perhaps, the method of working hogs with dogs in indigenous to a very small strip of country, namely, the post oak, granite section of Llano County and its near environs, where hogs are raised almost exclusively on the range and where hog-proof fences are found. In the farming area, for instance, hogs are raised in fields and are gentile, and the need of hog dogs does not exist.

True, dogs have been used by man since the beginning of time for the handling of livestock and the term stock dog is not uncommon. Yes as far as the writer has been able to learn, this specially trained type of animal, known as the hog dog, and the method of his use, in working and driving hogs, are not found anywhere save in Llano County and the immediate vicinity – the home of the post oak acorns, the sweet variety so palatable to and fattening for hogs.

Along with the resumption of hog activities came a revival of hog dog stories, reminiscent, to a great extent, of the old times when hogs were driven by the thousands in Llano County and were of the wild type which required the use of dogs. These yarns, told by the so-called hog men about the find hog dogs they have owned and their particularly remarkable feats – experiences that are common, every day occurrences in Llano County – sound fantastic and unbelievable. Even those which actually happened are as incredible almost as those which admittedly are highly exaggerated to begin with. These stories, like the hog dogs, also belong to the Llano acorn country.

The general principle of hog work is the use of a good drive dog in the lead. He stays out in front of the hogs, barks and plays around, making them fight back, as they are naturally inclined to do. As they make their repeated charges, the dog leads them on. Thus they can be driven easily in this fashion to any desired place. If a hog runs off from the bunch, the dog goes after them, catches him by the hind leg, or "hams him" flips him over, and leads him back toward the rest of the hogs.

Thus anyone, even a person not familiar with this method of handling hogs, can readily see that hog work is interesting. Ranchmen who like it describe it as the prettiest work in the world, and some even state that they prefer it to working cattle, which, they admit, is saying a lot. J. L. Renick says, "A good lead dog and one behind are worth a half-dozen men. One man can drive a bunch of hogs anywhere."

However, as opposed to this method, is the opinion of a neighbor of his, who argues that a dog should not be used in the read of a bunch of hogs. "The hogs will be wanting to fight him, and won’t drive well," he says, "if the dog behind barks, the hogs will turn and go in the opposite direction."

Hog men will speak often of the two different kinds of dogs _ the catch dog and the drive dog. Some dogs catch by the leg, some by the ear – but whichever method is used, they claim it does not take long for a dog to learn the science of handling a wild, frightening hog. Good hog dogs can be trained never to catch unless they are told to do so. A good catch dog has been described as one that is not afraid to go to the meanest hog in the world.

However, Joe Freeman claims that it is not a good policy to let a dog catch a hog. He gives this reason:

"They should bark around them and scare them, and make them think they’re going to catch them, and they’ll go on back with the bunch. If the dog catches the hog, he will get mad and refuse to go. He will fight till he gives out and then go off in the thicket and lie down and you can’t do anything with him. Once in a great while it is necessary to catch in driving or working hogs. Lots of people think that a hog dog has to catch a hog, but that’s far from a hog dog. If you want a dog for service, don’t let him catch. Dogs scare hogs by barking and they make them follow that way. Of course, there’s no objection to catching if the hog belongs to your neighbor and you want to get him before it gets dark.

"You want a dog that won’t quit a bunch of hogs, but will go ahead with them through a wire fence, or anywhere, and stay with them. When you get to a wire fence, and are not able to follow on horseback, if the dog quits his job, you lose your hogs. He must stay with them till you get there. I don’t think I ever say a hog dog that would bite a person. They’re not vicious."

The old-time hogs raised around Llano have been described as long toothed, long bristled razor-backs, as wild anything could possibly be. The prevailing colors were blue-black and a sandy red. Joe Freeman of Llano says, "In the early days there were worlds of hogs and they had to be worked altogether with dogs. They required a dog for everything we did with them. We used any and all breeds. The old-time wild hogs wouldn’t rally. They would continue running like Indians. It would take a Thoroughbred to keep up with them. There were some that it was not possible for any dog to run, no matter how good he was.

A.F. Moss, a veteran ranchman of Llano, relates: "The main way of handling the old wild hogs was to catch them. A good hog dog will hold onto a hog and risk his life. I’ve seen them get a wild hog hemmed up in the rocks, and they wouldn’t turn him loose till you got there if they bled to death. The dog would hold on until he would be so weak you would have to take some of your clothes off and wrap him up. In ten days he would be as good as new. If the dog has turned the hog loose, it would have been just too bad."

A story of the hog work carried on in the Llano section long ago would not be complete without the mention of the activities of the late A. P (Prichett) Brown and Ben Ligon, the latter having been an early day sheriff of Llano County. They are credited with being the first men to engage in the business on a large scale, and their operations at the turn of the century are best known by Seth Smith, 67, of Llano, who worked for them eight years, from about 1898 to 1906.

According to Mr. Smith, these men bought hogs in the Llano section, and as far west as they were to be found in any quantity. They began buying them in the fall when the mast hit, and drive them onto acorn range, where they worked them, throughout the winter. As they fattened, they were brought to Llano and shipped to market. They were usually ready for market by the first of January, and by the middle of February, all had been sold. Instead of the modern method of truck movement, the hogs were necessarily driven long distances, and during hog-working season the good hog dogs came into use.

In the winter of 1903-04 the Llano buyers started receiving hogs on the Colorado River, east of Llano and worked on through the county west to Castell. From there they drove the hogs through the Little Devil’s River country to the headwaters of the Guadalupe, thirty miles above Kerrville, where they wintered some two thousand head. There the acorns were of a greater variety then those found in Llano County.

In that rough country dogs were necessary, Mr. Smith relates, and they had to be good. One, a champion drive dog, known as Old Pup, was a Shepherd, owned by the well known Llano Pioneer, the late Louis Deats. Mr. Brown had two good drive dogs. They were slick-haired, and one was called Red. Mr. Ligon had a good Shepherd and Mr. Smith had Old Blue, a good drive dog, of Shepherd and hound cross, that was blue-speckled and small.

"These drive dogs had to be biddable but not too severe," Mr. Smith said, in recalling his days of hog-driving, "Go on, Catch, Come back and Look out, were the only words a dog understood. You take a drive dog that works in front – if he is back of the hogs and they get scared and you say ‘Go on,’ he won’t stop until he gets in front and he holds them there. They go to work then. If it’s a wild bunch, the dog will stay in front all the time and you can make him take the hogs anywhere. The wilder the hogs, the better the dogs like to work because the hogs will fight more. The dogs get more thrill out of it then. If the hogs are really wild, the men have to stay back out of the way when gathering them in the woods. When herd-driving them, you have to stay behind and keep moving them on like you do in driving cattle. Its just like trail-driving. Hogs are bad to drive in a big bunch. They slip out of the side of the heard. You have to have men flanking them, someone in the back and pointers for the herd, just like for cattle. If you want a dog to catch, you call ‘Catch’ or ‘Come back’, if you want him to come back. ‘Look out’ is something a dog soon learns to understand once he gets in a tight place."

In the fall and winter of 1904-5 they leased the masts belonging to A. F Moss and his older brother, the late C. T. Moss. The hogs were kept on the range and the crew of hog-punchers camped on Sandy Creek. Four or five men were kept working the hogs all winter, Mr. Brown and Mr. Ligon dividing their time with them. When they were not at work, their dogs were kept in camp and allowed to rest.

Mr. Smith describes the dogs that he and his contemporaries used as easily-trained stock dogs. Some took readily to training and turned out to be good, while others of the same stock were too hard-headed to train or were not interested in the work. They would rather run rabbits than hogs. The early ranchmen kept breeding up these dogs, using those that proved good as basic stock, until the natural characteristics and instincts, or those which they cultivated and developed as a result of their use and training, became fixed and hereditary.

"A dog is not hard to train if he likes the work. If he doesn’t you might s well give him away. Some young dogs being trained get cut by wild hogs. As they get older, they learn to be careful, especially if they get a few scratches. Sometimes even a good, well-trained dog will get hemmed up where he can’t get away and will be killed by a wild hog. There are only a few of the old hog-punchers left that were with the old bunch – there used to be a lot of us."

It is said that Albert Smith claimed that all good hog dogs originated out of his stock, and that his dogs were bred down for several generations. He and A. F. Moss were partners in the hog business for several seasons, from about 1895 on for the next few years, during which time Mr. Smith lived at the Enchanted Rock nearby and attended to all of the hog work.

"My father contended if you wanted to judge a dog and his prospects for making a good hog dog, all you had to do was watch how he carried his tail when working naturally with hogs out on the range," S. E. Smith ells. "If he carried his tail curled up over his back wile hunting a hog, he usually was not much account. But if he carried it dropped, that was a good sign. It’s pretty much that way, too. He always know just what his dogs were going to do. He had lots of patience. I’ve seen his dogs make some terrible busts, but he could take them and finally work it out of them."

To many ranchmen, a hog dog means a Lacy, so named for the late George Lacy, a pioneer of the Marble Falls section, who introduced this particular type of animal into the Llano-Burnet section around 1895. he brought the first Lacy dog from East Texas and adapted him to hog work, he being well known both as a hog man and a dog man.

Now, a majority of the hog dogs used in the Llano section have Lacy blood in them, and are direct descendents of this original cross of the blue and the yellow dogs. Indeed to many, a Lacy and a hog dog are one and the same. Kinley Murchison, who describes the Lacy simply as a good breed of stock dog, says, "People call a dog a Lacy if he looks at a hog."

"A Lacy will either be a valuable dog or he will blow up on you and turn out to be worthless. You are lucky to get one good Lacy out of a bunch. Sometimes one looks like a wonderful prospect, but when he is put to work, he takes a fit of running rabbits. A hog man doesn’t want a hog dog that will fool with a rabbit. That makes an old hog-puncher madder than anything for a hog dog to jump a rabbit. Sometimes the dogs get tired and figures that all the hogs he needs to work and takes off after a rabbit. When you get a bunch of hogs ready to pen, a dog can really get a fellow out of humor if he runs off after a rabbit. He’s so out of humor his dinner doesn’t even taste good."

A Llano stockman, who is considered exceptionally good at working hogs, uses Lacys, but states that there are other good hog dogs, such as Shepherds, some hounds and Collies, though the last names are considered by some to be too timid for hog work. He estimates that more Lacys will make good hog dog, taking them as a whole, than any other kind. Because of the expert training which the basic stock of Lacy dogs had from their masters, and due to their large amount of experience, their characteristics had been handed down by a rather careful breeding process, and even by inbreeding, which their owners claimed made for good stock in dogs, until most of the Lacys are "naturals". Even as young puppies they show a natural instinct for fighting hogs and often are found with a little pig hemmed up in a corner of the fence, barking and playing with it. Thus he begins his hole as a hog dog.

Luke Moss loves his dogs and his dog stories, and he love to tell them. He says:

"One thing in training a hog dog, you have to have more sense than the dog to start with. Lots of people don’t. I’ve seen some dogs that knew more than the man who was working them. It takes patience and training. The dog must be sensible and naturally good to start with. Collies usually are too timid; they get insulted and get their feeling hurt when they are scolded, and tuck their tail and run off. They have to be hard-headed."

Then A. F. Moss related a story showing the cleverness and ingenuity of the type of hog dog used on the Moss ranch. They were working a bunch of wild, skittish hogs, trying to pen them to cut out the salable hogs and mark the rest. Luke Moss was doing the work. His prize dog at the time was a Shepherd, named Herman, that barked and snapped at the hogs repeatedly, trying to get them to follow him through the gate, but of no avail. As some one has aptly said, "When you get to a gate and start penning a bunch of hogs, their heads are always on the wrong end."

In this instance the work of penning the hogs was left to the dog, Herman. In the bunch were an old sow and her litter of pigs. The dog snapped at the sow time and again, trying to get her to fight back at him as he barked and played around in front of the gate, but she refused to budge. Finally, Herman grabbed one of the little pigs in his mouth and ran through the gate, with the old sow right on his heels. Naturally the rest of the hogs followed her into the pen, and the dog jumped back over them and scampered out of the pen and out of their way, his job neatly done.

"That showed the dog was smart enough to know what Luke wanted him to do, and was smart enough to do it," said Mr. Moss. "That’s just one of the many occurrences that sound unbelievable, yet they happen every day in working hogs."

Mr. Moss also tells of the time when a pig ran off from its mother and the rest of the litter, and was trailed by one of the dogs, and brought back in his mouth, a distance of a mile and a half, to the rest of the bunch.

"Little pigs are born wild, like deer. As they get older, they get gentle." Said Luke Moss. "If they run off, it’s the dog’s duty to run after them, nip at them and get them back into the bunch. I’ve had a dog get 20 little pigs all back together in two minutes.

"With the right kind of dog you can drive any hogs, if they rally and fight, no matter how wild. The main thing is for a dog never to quit. That is something that won’t be tolerated—if you call on him to do something and he doesn’t do it. He must not work until he is tired, and then quit, but must keep on working until he hasn’t any life or strength to keep going. Dogs like their work. They show it by going back to the same place where they worked hogs last. They will always do that, and it shows they like their work, or they wouldn’t go back,"

This was proved once when a large her of some 2,000 hogs had been driven from the Moss ranch to the shipping pens in Llano, a distance of about seventeen miles. The main dog used on the drive was Jet, and a few days later he was found back at the shipping pens in Llano, where he had last worked hogs.

Joe Freeman tells a story about a group of hog men vying with each other as to which had the best dog. Each one told of his wonderful dog and how well he could trail. Finally, the party broke up when a man told of owning a dog that had such a cold nose that he took a back trail and wound up at the bed where a nine-year-old boar was born.

"It’s wonderful work. I’d rather work hogs if I have a good dog than do anything else. They’re the smartest things you ever saw. A drive dog is always in the lead. If he doesn’t go in the lead at first, he’s barred. He won’t be any good. It’s just instinct for them to go in front. They have lots of vim, and want to do something all the time. If you keep them tied u and don’t give them work to do, they will kill stuff, just because they want to do something.

Mr. Murchison tells of selling an extra fine hog dog to Gray Fowler of Llano. During trapping season the dog disappeared and was gone for several months. His owner advertised for him, offering a reward of $25 for his return. After some time had elapsed, the dog showed up again at the Fowler ranch with a short chain fastened to his neck. When Mr. Fowler learned who had been keeping the dog all that time, he asked why he did not return him and collect the $25 reward. The man replied, "Why, at that time I was making $25 a night hunting with him."

Carl Moss says that some men claim they can train their dogs to work without barking. "But I never did think that was a very good sign of an honest man—it sounds like he doesn’t want anyone to know he’s driving hogs," he surmised.

A young hog man of Llano ventures the assertion that a good hog dog can count just like a person. This is his explanation: "If hogs scatter and one gets lost from the bunch, a good dog knows it, and will leave and go after him. He will circle until he picks up the trail, and he will bring it back. If another one has strayed off in the meantime, he knows it and will go and bring him back. He can tell whenever there’s one missing, and he knows when he has all of them back together. That’s why I say a hog dog can count just like a man."

H.W. (Rube) Williams returned to his ranch home in Llano County in March to resume ranching, which he left shortly after the cattle slump in 1921 to take up polo. About the first thing he did after getting located on his ranch was to start looking for an experienced hog dog. He wanted another as good as the one he owned some years ago, he said. He marked his hogs cropped the right, and this particular dog was so good that he went into the woods and marked all the neighbors’ maverick hogs.

The expression that a good hog dog is worth more and a man is frequently heard. Indeed, there are times when the man must stay out of sight and out of the way entirely. If he rides up to a bunch of hogs on the range, they will scatter in all directions. But let a well trained dog rally them, drive them along for a while whichever way they will go, and soon they are going in the direction desired.

The same thing is true when penning hogs. It is impossible to force them into a pen; it takes a dog and his clever work. He may go through a gate twenty times or under and over a fence time and time again before he can get a hog to run at him. Finally, when one started, the others follow. The dog will not quit working until he is called out of the pen. Too, when hogs are turned out of the pen, the men should keep out of sight.

"Hogs will run from a man, but they won’t run from a dog," says Luke Moss. "Turn the hogs out with the dog in the lead and turn them over to the dogs to handle. Two dogs can do the work of several men. You can have fifty men but they’re no good without dogs. A team of two dogs are used generally. If there are more than two, they are ordinarily more severe. They usually all pile on one hog."

This fact was borne out very forcibly on one occasion when a group of men in a neighborhood got together to work hogs, each bringing his own prize dog. The result was that they lost all of their hogs. The dogs very promptly piled en masse on one hog, and let the rest of the bunch run off.

"You get to thinking a good deal of your dog," says Carl Moss, in telling about W. H. Ligon, a pioneer Llano stockman, who believes in taking good care of his hog dogs. It is his practice, at the end of a hard day’s work gathering or driving hogs, to return home late in the evening, carrying his dog up in front of his saddle. After being used over scattered pastures all day, the animal would be tired and footsore, and would while at the horse’s heels and seem not to want to follow as they started in toward home. Whereupon his master would take him up on his horse and carry him in.

Usually a harsh master has a poor hog dog. Yet that does not mean that hog dogs are not fighters. They have to be. Indeed, it is this fighting quality, indicative of a valiant heart, that make them the serviceable type of animal that they have proved to be, and many a gallant hero has given his life in the service of his master—performing for him, at his beck and call, this most dangerous of all ranch work.

REPRINTED FROM: A COLLECTION OF STORIES AND ARTICLES WRITTEN BY HAZEL OATMAN BOWMAN (1901-1951). Available through the Oatman Family Enterprises, at the Oatman Law Office. 915/247-4117 in Llano Texas.

This article, which has been substantially edited, was originally entitled "Hog Dogs and Their Ranch Uses" and appeared in The Cattleman, 1941.

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