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FHL WEEK, April 20, 2017

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Tot Goodwin Speaks


Jefferson "Tot" Goodwin whipped-in to Ben Hardaway for over twenty years, then in 1989 became huntsman of the Green Creek Hounds (SC). He’s the only black MFH in America. From a new book, Foxhunters Speak (The Derrydale Press, 2017), here is one of fifty interviews conducted by the author, Mary Kalergis.

Mary will be signing her books at the Virginia Foxhound Show in the Foxhunting Life booth. Come visit!

tot goodwin.kalergis.crop

My granddaddy and dad always hunted dogs, and I started hunting the beagles every weekend when I was about eight years old. Now my granddaddy was a horseman. He used to break and train horses right outside of Columbus, Georgia. He died before I was old enough to really ride, so as a kid, I never had the opportunity to ride any nice horses. My parents had mules that plowed the farm. As a little boy, I never heard of mounted foxhunting. We hunted coons, rabbit, and deer on foot and ate everything we caught. There were sixteen kids in my family, so we never wasted any food.

I was born in 1944. One of my older brothers worked for Ben Hardaway, and I used to like to hunt on foot with him. When two of his July hounds ran out in the road chasing a fox, I was able to get ahead and stop a tractor-trailer before it ran over them. I think he really appreciated that, and he gave me a job grooming his horses. I can still remember Sparkle and Sanction, especially Sparkle, with her curly hair—she looked just like a white collie. She was a heck of a foxhunter. After I’d been his groom for a while, he asked me if I wanted to learn how to ride, and I jumped at the chance. He asked his trainer, Ann, to give me lessons. Well, the way she gave me lessons was by putting me on top of the young horses to get them saddle broke. She’d lunge ’em for a while, then put me on and let us go. I got bucked off many a time, but I did learn how to ride. To this day, I’m not too crazy about the Connemara/Thoroughbred cross. They put me on the ground too often!

By the time I was in my early twenties, I was a pretty good rider and started whipping-in for Hardaway. Back then, there was very little traffic on the roads, and when it got dark, we’d just ride on back to the barn, knowing the hounds would get back to the kennel to get fed in the morning. Once he started hunting in Ireland, he started packing up his hounds and expecting them to be more biddable. Elsie and Tom Morgan came over from Ireland to hunt with us and taught us a lot about their ways of pack huntin’. Back in those days, we had a lot of foxes everywhere. We just expected to catch one every time we went out. Nowadays, the coyote have run the fox just about clear off, and so now foxhounds around here hunt coyote instead of fox.

Back when I was whipping-in for Hardaway, a hound hardly ever got away from me. I’d just push ’em on to the rest of the pack if they weren’t where they were supposed to be. When the pack would split, it was my job to figure out what hounds weren’t running with the huntsman and get them back to the hunted pack. Heck, a lot of times I don’t even think he’d know they’d split. Back when I started hunting, if you got after something, you could go. In 1965, landowners didn’t mind so much if you hunted through their property, and there wasn’t nearly so many roads and traffic.

I was fortunate to get the opportunity to hunt all over the world with Mr. Hardaway, and I picked up a lot of helpful knowledge along the way. I’m probably the first black person to ever foxhunt in Ireland. I’d whip-in for Elsie Morgan when I was over there, and she was so well regarded that no one ever bothered me. Times have changed quite a bit, but in the foxhunting world, not so much. I’m the only black MFH in America right now. Just the other day, a group of us from Green Creek were having breakfast together before the meet, and someone came up and asked me, “Do they let you hunt, too?” I could say, “Well, since I’m huntsman and Master, if I don’t go, they don’t go,” but I don’t go that route. I just say, “Yes, I go too,” and leave it at that. I learned a long time ago to just keep my head down and be polite. Back at Midland, when I used to get the Hardaway horses ready before the meet, I’d be in my overalls as the barn help. Then I’d be in my hunt staff riding clothes out whipping-in, and I swear I don’t think a lot of folks who saw me in the barn beforehand even realized I was the same person out hunting. Most folks just see what they expect to see.

I think my family was proud of all the opportunities that foxhunting gave me. Before I started traveling with Hardaway, no one in my family had ever traveled much. When we weren’t in England and Ireland, we spent a lot of time traveling around the country, especially with the Virginia hunts. Every October, we’d go stay up there a solid month and hunt around everywhere. Melvin Poe and Buster Chadwell were two of my greatest inspirations. I learned a lot watching those two men hunt hounds. We went up to Essex to  get Chadwell to help us deer-proof our hounds, and that pack he had back in the sixties was one of the best I ever did see. I had all kinds of crazy adventures working for Hardaway. One time, he sent me to Texas to pick up a load of fox and bring ’em back to Georgia. Now, of course, it was just as illegal then as it is now, and no one would do it now, but everybody had to do it back then because the mange and rabies had pretty much wiped out our fox population and the coyote hadn’t shown up yet. Dealers selling young fox sprang up out West to meet the demand. Those dealers dealt in a little bit of everything— rattlesnakes, bear, boar, you name it—and they’d sell it to ya. Well, I was driving through Mississippi with another black fella named Leroy, and we had about thirty fox in cages in the back of the van. We got pulled over by the police, and when they asked us what we were carrying in the van, Leroy spoke right up and said, “Corgi puppies.” The cop even shown his flashlight back at the cages, but I guess he believed us because they just let us drive on.

I worked for Mr. Hardaway for over twenty years, but after a while, I think he felt dissatisfied with me. I think there comes a time when a young man has to move out on his own. Once you taught them everything you know, it’s time for them to go, but I was so tore up when he first fired me. I didn’t know if I wanted to hunt anymore, even though I got several job offers right away. I went in the logging business with my brother for a few years until Dick and Peg Secor asked me to help start a fox pack in 1989, which we named Green Creek Hounds. I agreed to come up for four weeks, and I’m still here. The territory in this part of North Carolina felt like home. John Burgess was also a Joint Master along with the Secors, and I just loved working with them. Peg had some Piedmont American hounds, and I had some Midland-bred Julys, and that was the formation of the Green Creek pack. I’m not much interested in a drag hunt. Foxhunting to me is all about jumping live quarry, but I will lay a drag of fox urine and oil to train the puppies before the season begins. Meanwhile, I’ll pick up any dead fox or coyote I find on the road and keep it in the freezer until I’m drag hunting the puppies. Then I’ll thaw out the carcass and place it where they can find it at the end of the run. It’ll really make ’em keen.

Now, with radios, my whips are always calling me and telling me they have two couple over here or three couple over there. Well, I don’t need to hear that—I just need them to get those hounds packed up with me. It’s not the huntsman’s job to pick up what he’s doing and go running after hounds spread all over. That’s the whipper-in’s job. The Green Creek Hounds are probably a tougher pack than I really need, but they are the type of hounds I really like. They’ve been bred for their keenness more than their biddability. When they get rolling, you can’t really stay with them. A horse can’t get through the woods as fast as a hound. We only hunt two days a week and these hounds need to hunt, so I usually take the whole pack of thirty couple out every time we go out. Trouble is, my whips have a hard time pulling them up if they are running on something. A lot of people whipping-in today have never hunted without a radio, so they don’t know how to use their ears like we used to do when we had to rely on our own instincts.

When I got to Green Creek twenty-five years ago, you could do some serious hunting without bothering anybody or putting your hounds in danger of getting run over. No matter when or where I’m hunting, I always prefer a bi*ch to a dog hound. The females are always the keenest hunters. But a good dog hound pulls his weight and when the pack really gets to rolling, you want a mixture of voices to ring out through the hills. Seems like the females are best at chasing, but the dogs do most of the catchin’. The females absolutely hate a male fox and when they get on one, they’ll run him to death. Now I suspect that a dog fox probably leaves a stronger scent. I know a pregnant fox is hard to chase. Hounds won’t half run it and if they do get on her trail, she’ll usually just jump in a hole. I suspect they don’t have much scent at all. Once the fox vixens are bred, I’ve heard they will run to a dog fox and he’ll lead the hounds away from her. If that happens, I guarantee ya he’ll take you on a chase out of the country! It seems like when fox are chased, it’s like they enjoy it. They know they have the advantage over the hounds, who have to run with their noses on the ground.

Now because coyote are pack animals, they’ll pull a trick or two on ya. I’ve seen a coyote lie down flat in the grass when they get tired and a fresh one jump up and lead the hounds away from the original hunted coyote.

I guess because of all the years traveling with Hardaway, I still love to travel to other hunts every chance I get. I’m going to Belle Meade in a few days to hunt with Epp Wilson. He used to hunt with Hardaway’s Midland hounds a lot when I was a young man. I go to a lot of hunts and help them get problems straightened out. I did that last week down in Lowcountry. I like going in somewhere and helping someone out. It’s a challenge and gratifying when you can help out. I guess if you do something all your life, you learn a thing or two along the way. I always appreciated it when folks helped me out, and I like to do the same thing for other folks.

I’ve been lucky to live a life where every morning when I get out of bed, I’m looking forward to my day. Training and hunting hounds is my life’s satisfaction. The more time you spend with your hounds, the better pack they are. One thing I love most about my wife, Colleen, is she loves my hounds, and they love her too. I trust an animal’s instincts about people. They know who to trust.

Posted April 18, 2017