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The Great Fox Hunt of 1879

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News, October 1, 1933


The Great Fox Hunt of 1879

By Howard Burba


Announcement of the Miami Valley Hunt and Polo club that it contemplates a revival of fox hunting furnishes new proof that things do run in cycles. Fifty-four years ago Dayton wasn’t talking about anything else.

            It has been years since this once popular sport was given any special attention in the Miami valley. But the mere mention of fox hunting to those sufficiently gray of hair to be called “old timers” brings a flood of memories of the one big hunt, staged in 1879, when a new record was set for public interest in fox hunting in Ohio.

            They were still “riding to the hounds” in the Miami valley in 1879. But that sport was confined to a select few of the more well-to-do citizens of that day. Not many were financially able to boast a pack of blooded fox-hounds and the necessary mounts for carrying on this sport successfully. When a fox hunt to hounds was arranged it included in its personnel but a mere half-dozen or so of hunters. The general public, unable to participate, had to be content with listening to the bray of the hounds and wishing it was able to participate in what it termed a “rich man’s game.”

            Then along in the spring of 1879 a little gathering in the back room of Gus Sander’s liquor house on the north side of Third st. just east of the City National bank building, took up the subject of fox hunting. Gus himself was an ardent sportsman, an outdoor man of the old school. It was at his suggestion that a move was started for a grand fox hunt in which everyone could participate, and in which hounds would be barred. The more members of that little group talked about it the more enthusiastic they became. Soon they had fashioned the groundwork for what later proved to be an event memorable in local history and one which provides most interesting reading now that a Dayton organization is discussing a revival of it.

            In an old newspaper file of Monday, March 10, 1879, we find the announcement that “full arrangements have been made for the great fox hunt next Friday, and everybody is invited to join in the fun.”

            The editor made it plain that women and children would be welcome to participate; that no one would be allowed to enter the lines with either dog or gun; the prey - if any - must be taken with the bare hands.  Then we learn of the lineup, the details of which had required a good many sessions of the promoters in the tap-room of Gus Sander’s thirst emporium.

            Dayton fox hunters were to form one of four divisions, in command of “General” Gustav Sander, said division to drive from the Smithville rd., which formed the west line, south from the Bill Kemp rd. past Bonner’s schoolhouse to Beavertown. The division was instructed to assemble at the courthouse promptly at 8 o’clock on the morning of the hunt. There, it was explained, parties who did not possess private conveyances would be enabled to hire express wagons to transport them to the lines.

            A second division, in command of “General” Ed Newcomb, was to drive from the north line – the Swigart pike running east from Beavertown to Mt. Zion church. Their orders were to assemble at Beavertown at 8:30, there to dismount and deploy the line. “General” Thompson Hawker was in command of the third division, or east line. They were to assemble along the road running from the Bill Kemp rd. to Mt. Zion church, and Zimmermanville was their place of formation. “General” J. W. Kemp was assigned to command the fourth division, to drive from the Bill Kemp rd. east from the Smithville pike to the road running north from Zimmermanville. And the assembly place for this fourth division of an army that was to form a perfect square was at the old “Aley” church.

            The colors of the field marshal were chosen, the stars and stripes winning without an opposing vote. Gen. Sander’s colors consisted of a red pennant with a white star in center; Gen. Newcomb’s a blue pennant with a white star in center; Gen. Hawker’s a white pennant with blue star in center, and Gen. Kemp’s, of red, white and blue.

            At the center of the drive a white flagstaff had been placed. On top of Boroff hill the “Battery” was stationed, consisting of an old cannon from the Soldiers Home, the firing of which was to serve as the signal for all four divisions of the army to move forward. The advance was to be made steadily toward the center, drawing in the lines by gradually decreasing the intervals between the hunters.

            “Every man,” read a printed announcement, “must supply himself with either a whistle, toot-horn, bells, tin pan, horse-fiddle or some such article to raise a racket. All noise must be suppressed until the advance is ordered; then the more racket the better. As the lines approach the centers, officials must be careful to strengthen every weak point. The bugle will sound a halt when the ring is about 100 feet in diameter, then if the drive has been successful and the foxes are in the ring, a dozen boys will be given five minutes to catch the fox. Then, after a rest of five minutes, a detail of two from each company will be sent in, and so on until the fox is caught.

            “In no case must he be injured, for if a fox is caught he will be kept a week and then turned loose for a regular fox chase with hounds. Care must be taken not to in any way injure fences or other property, especially growing wheat. After the signal gun all movements will be controlled by the bugle calls, and for this purpose a signal corps has been organized and will be assigned to duty with each division. It is expected that farmers and hunters will avoid crossing through the territory that is to be hunted over and that in going to the assembly place of the several companies all will use the public roads. Vehicles and spectators will not be allowed within the lines, but may follow in the rear of the lines as they advance along the roads.”

            With this announcement before the public, the promoters of the great fox hunt set about the selection of officers, and the formation of an organization to direct the drive. There was no dearth of material from which to select officials. It appears that everybody in Dayton wanted to have a part in the hunt. Finally the organization was announced as follows:

            Chief of Staff – Milton Miskelly. Commissary General C.C. Green; assistants, Hal Matthews, Celestine Schwind, Adam Schantz, A. McConnell, T. J. Weakley, James H. Ritty, Andy Weingartner.

            Signal Officer – W. H. Kette.

            Paymaster General – Jonathan Kenney; assistants, John Allen, Charles McDaniel, George Butterworth, Charles Mead.

            Judge Advocate – Henderson Elliott; assistants, John M. Sprigg, Lee Brumbaugh, A. W. Kumler, Charles L. Vallandigham, Wick Bellville, D. A. Haynes, S. R. Smith.

            Medical Director – Maj. Hal Smith; assistants, Nick Jacobs, John Washington, George J. Wright, Peter Eagle, E. A. Lafee.

            Aide–de–Camp – Brig. Gen. George W. Houk.

            Brigadier Generals – W. D. Bickham, Harry Hall, D. B. Corwin, L. Butz, jr., John Sheehan, William B. Nesbitt, Emanuel Schultz, Isaac Pollock, Robert Williams, jr., William Sander.

            Colonels – George Neville, Charles Phillips, S. J. Patterson, Al Mays, Peter Weidner, J. H. Eckert, R. D. Hughes, John W. Harris, Joseph, Legler, J. Z. Reeder, S. Goodman, George S. LaRue, Andy C. Nixon.

            Majors – John A. Miller, August Sharpe, Charles E. Pease, E. F. Stoddard, John Mumma, W. P. Levis, George D. Mayes, J. H. Pritz, John Rowe, William Bean, John L. Baker, P. O’Connell, Al Beebe, Mike Nipgen.

            Captains – A. A. Thomas, Harry Fuller, Charles Freeman, Michael Shafor, Ludwig Haas, John Runk, George Fryer, R. F. Seitner, George W. Heathman, A. Scheibenzuber, Joseph Cavender, A. M.  Weaver, David T. Mills, Joseph Cotterill, Hurd Anderson, Amzi Gilbert, T. C. Kidd, B. Farrington, C. L. Brown, James P. Wolf, Cal Slater, John H. Winder, M. Olt, L. W. Jordan, Harry Gillespie.

            Field Officer – John B. Hoglen.

            On Wednesday before the event there appeared in the local papers columns of “official orders” issued by the four commanding “generals” at the head of the divisions. Some of these serve to show the spirit of the occasion and the vast amount of fun Dayton citizens were getting out of the event. We find among them, for instance, the following:

            “Ad Knecht is hereby appointed chief of artillery, with the rank of colonel.”

            Joel O. Shoup is hereby appointed field correspondent for the west line division, with the rank of captain. For bravery he will be promoted.”

            “Redmond P. Sage is hereby appointed paymaster of the west line.”

            “Samuel Craighead is hereby appointed attorney general and he will be obeyed and respected as such. Robert M. Nevin is hereby appointed as his assistant.”

            “This officially denotes that Dr. J. S. Beck is hereby made surgeon. He will make his headquarters with the Jackass Battery, on Cheat Mountain, near Shakertown, and wait there for further orders from headquarters. Dr. William Egry is hereby appointed assistant surgeon.”

            “Wm. F. Trebein is hereby appointed quartermaster general, with rank of colonel, and must have a full supply of clothing and boots for the whole division to last the entire campaign and not work off any second-hand goods. He is also commanded to secure only good horses, sound and with good eyes.”

            “L. Butz, jr., is hereby ordered, as commander general of the west line, to provide a full supply of cheese sandwiches. There will be no excuse for sandwiches being more than one week old.”

            “John Voorhes and Julius Ogier are hereby appointed scouts of the west line, John Ralston and Tom Helriggle as drum majors; Samuel Boltin as chaplain.”

            "John Hagerman is hereby ordered to assume command of the Jackass Battery, with headquarters on Cheat mountain near Shakertown, facing the Little Miami river. The following are also ordered to report for duty in the Jackass Battery: Jake Eckert, Jake Greene, Jake Pritz, John Seise, Thos. Knecht, Pete McGowen, Chas. Ross, Dennis Regan, Hal Smith, Ben Knecht, Sam Richards, Toney Stephens, Jos. Troupe, John Comstock and Frank Knecht.”

            "By order of Field Marshal Harris, the following adjutant generals are hereby appointed for special duty: Harry Lowe, J. D. Whitmore, Harry Lytle, John R. Fletcher, George Dornbusch, A. Newsalt, R. M. Parmely, Frank Keifer, John Warner, A. A. Humphreys, J. St. J. Clarkson, John T. Barlow, Wm. H. VanSkaik, George W. Smith, Sugar Stanley.”

            But the “official order” which doubtless attracted the most widespread comment was the one issued over the signature of “Gen. Gustav Sander” and countersigned by “Ashley Brown, Adjt. Gen.” It appeared in print on the morning of the big drive. It reads:


            “Army of Fox Hunters,


            “Friends, Countrymen and Fellow Citizens – One hundred and eight years ago today this place was nothing but a howling wilderness. One hundred years ago today these grand forests and plains were treveled by the bear, wolf and wild Indian. Less than 100 years ago today our grandfathers were the hunters of these grand forests and plains, and at the end of each campaign they had for their spoil the pelt of the wolf and bear and the top-knot of the Indian.

            “Friends and Comrades, our forefathers were men of nerve and endurance and fought their way through the woods with club and musket and left the glorious inheritance to us. Maintain their courage and valor in the chase for game! Comrades, we have not the opportunity to contend for as grand a prize as our forefathers, for the bear, the wolf and the wild Indian are meandering their way west toward the setting sun. We must take what is left for us – the wild fox – and while we glory in the spirit and go into the chase with courage, we must not forget that the fox has rights that we as hunters are bound to respect. Therefore I admonish and caution you not to use any but legitimate means to take the games. This is a grand fox chase, and if we can’t run him down on the square, let him go in all his glory for future and more gallant soldiers to challenge.

            “Friends, Countrymen and Comrades, we must not know the word fail. The eyes of the world are upon us and the people expect every man to do his duty. Your mothers, wives and sweethearts will rejoice in your success. Therefore, I admonish you, follow your noble leaders and they will lead you to victory.

                        “GUSTAV SANDER,

                        “General Commanding.”


            Dayton took a day off on Friday, March 14, 1879. Stores and shops were deserted. Downtown streets were packed with citizens anxious to see the “mustering in” of the army of fox hunters. Third and Main was a bedlam of excitement for a brief half hour or so, and then the army got under way, marching down S. Main and out to the Shakertown pike, with such a band of stragglers as no other army in all history could boast.

            It is impossible to imagine what transpired on “the field of battle.” We must leave that picture for the “war correspondents” under Joel Shoup to draw. How well they did the job we find in these words, under a glaring black-type head, in our paper of the day following the big hunt:

            “A cloudy, threatening morning with a keen wind that cut like a whiplash did not deter the fox hunters yesterday from their purpose of scaring up all of the breed in the adjoining country. When Samson – if this reporter is not mistaken in the man – went out to capture the foxes, to whose tails he tied fire-brands, he was not more energetic and determined than the company that assembled yesterday.

            “The preparations had been conducted on a grand scale. Generals, colonels, captains and aides had been appointed and a plan of campaign mapped out with greatest care.

            “It was a formidable body of men, numbering over 2000 souls. Many a commander has gone into battle with more timid hearts that beat beneath the coats and jackets of this army. Like the militia of the Revolution they were undisciplined, but there were ‘spirits’ enough among them to have turned the tide of defeat into another Winchester.

            “There was the gallant field marshal in his own buggy dashing from one point to another, dispatching his aides in all directions and commanding those who showed signs of wavering. The generals dashed to and fro and the hosts of aides and captains clattered up and down the roads amid clouds of dust as thick as battle smoke, halting only now and then to drop a passing word or enjoy a ‘smile’ with their comrades.

            “Most of the recruits of the west line were from Dayton. They were the quick and ready boys from Oregon and Slidertown, the keen and wary old sportsmen of the Sharpshooters’ association and the pale and intellectual faces of representatives of the bar. They were provided with police whistles, penny trumpets and tin horns and when they marched the birds circled and caroled above their heads and the bullfrogs croaked melodious beneath their feet. The north line was largely composed of the boys from Texas (North Dayton) each carrying an antiquated tin pan. They played an accompaniment to their voices that would have struck a Fiji islander dumb with envy. The Texas boys were supported by the stout men of Harshmanville, and on their right came Gen. Hawker’s rugged denizens of Greene co. They wore sleigh bells, cow bells and dinner bells strung about their bodies, jangling mellifluously as they marched.

            “The south line under Gen. Newcomb was the wonder of the day. They were the burly men of Beavertown, old and skilled fox hunters. They carried huge conch shells whose deep tones vibrated through the woods like the arch-angel’s trumpet.

            Montgomery co. has never witnessed go glorious a company on its soil and probably never will again. The signal for advance was a cannon fired from Boroff hill. Some irregularity ensued when the cannon refused to go off as intended, but the army advanced on bravely and the sound of bells, shells, whistles and conchs made the air resonant. The army proceeded over briar and brake, marsh and bog with indomitable precision. It was a rough and wearisome route, and though the will was strong the flesh was weak and the difficulties would not have been surmounted had not a ration of crackers and cheese and a draught of ‘Kentucky valor’ been issued to sustain the inner man. Thus invigorated, the lines pushed forward once more and the girls from the farm cottages held their breath as they listened to the strains of harmony that ascended to the sky.

            “Suddenly there was a prolonged blast from the conch shells of the Beavertown line. It was followed by a deafening shout and word went down the line that two foxes had been scared up. A few moments later another shout came up from the east line, and two more had been unearthed. The excitement doubled and every man blew his whistle or horn until his cheeks puffed out like bladders. But as suddenly as the foxes appeared, they vanished.

            “The circle was now closing in and only Boroff hill intervened to bring the recruits face to face. Boroff hill is a tall, steep rise six miles south of the city on the Shaker farm and is shaped like an old-fashioned beehive. The forces were now clustered round the base of the hill, weary and chagrined, when suddenly a cry arose.

            “There she goes!”

            “A red body was discovered gliding through the underbrush on top of the hill. There was another deafening shout and the very hill shook with the vibration. For a time the hill seemed alive with men and the shouts and cries and blowing of whistles and beating of pans made such a noise as has not been known since the fall of Babel.

            “One of the captains reached the summit and drew a sword. In the next instant it would have descended on the animal but for a tall Shaker, whose beard floated in the breeze, and who lived on this farm. He threw himself upon the captain, saying:

            “Don’t kill him; it’s my little pet dog!”

            “Fortunately at this instant another alarm was sounded and a real fox was seen trying to sneak away. It entered a hole, only to be torn out, and passed to Field Marshal Harris, who stood up on his buggy seat and held it aloft that the multitude might see.

            “The day’s sport ended here and the army dispersed. There are some malicious persons who would ridicule the results of the day and even go so far as to tell a mysterious story of a man with a bag which contained a fox from the Soldiers Home who was seen to drive off and return with the captured fox. But this story is a base insinuation and without truth.

            “These are the facts. The fox was captured by an old black hound that had broken through the army’s lines, a hound by the name of ‘Trail,’ and owned by Rafe Sutton of Greene co. But the body of the fox – it died while being brought to the city – can be seen by the curious at Gen. Sander’s place on E. Third st.”