Winged watchdogs were Dark Corner favorites

Published 10:50 am Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Although a myriad of hound breeds—beagles, black and tans, blueticks or redbone coon hounds—were found along with some English pit bull terriers as family watchdogs in the early days of Dark Corner, they were bested as early-warning sentinels many times by a variety of winged creatures.

While dogs laid on the porch or in various locations in the yard or outbuildings at night, the winged watchdogs roosted high off the ground on limbs in nearby trees.

From this vantage point, their sensitive hearing could react to sounds or circumstances faster than a scent could reach the noses of the hounds. Grey-speckled Dominique and multi-colored Nankin chickens were favorite breeds on the small farms of ordinary folk. They were prolific producers of eggs and great-tasting meat for the table.

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But their worth as watchdogs made them even more valued.

This was borne out in one published account of Sheriff P.D. Gilreath and some of his deputies stealthily approaching the Holland Howard house, hoping to find two of the wanted Howard boys sneaking back from hiding to have a home-cooked breakfast.

Moving downwind very slowly to make no sound or provide no scent to arouse any dogs that might be present, they were pleased with their approach. That is, until the loud shrieking of alarmed, roosting chickens rang out from the edge of the woods and Mrs. Howard came out on the porch.

“Good mornin’, Sheriff!”

Chickens were outdone, however, by faster and louder shriekers—guineas.

These rounding, oblong-bodied birds with unusual and multi-colored heads had a frenetic yelp that sounded a piercing alarm whenever anything unusual occurred. For that reason, they were the best farm yard watchdogs.

They were more industrious, too. They fended for themselves, living on insects, seeds and various grasses and ground covers. They did not pick at the garden crops, only the insects they found on leaves and stems.

They were excellent control for wood ticks, flies, grasshoppers, crickets and a host of other insects. They were fearless, too. Quick to spot an approaching snake, they would attack and kill it. Mice and field rats were their prey as well, though their loud, shrill shrieking scared off these rodents in droves.

Editor’s note: Dean Campbell wished to include this correction.

My column containing lyrics to The Ballad of the Killing of Holland Howard (May 26, 2010), incorrectly identified the writer of the original lyrics as Charlie Nelson, son of Luther Nelson. The family name should have been stated as Benson.

My apologies to friend, Sam, and his other Benson descendants and to all you faithful readers of these tales.