by Donald A. Skinner, VMD
Years ago much hype was made of the Blue Cap influence. But, what are they talking about; I am sure many who used the term Blue Cap had no idea of its influence. The continuing reference to this strain has continued, probably due to the dramatic influence in played years ago. Some of the modern-day kennels were reputed to the closest bloodlines going back to the Blue Cap strain, but how close was it?
General Rowett of Carlinville, IL was the first man to import Beagles from England that were to make a profound effect on the future of the breed in the USA. This took place in the 1870’s. He selected hounds from various estates giving special attention to fieldwork and for future breeding. The General must have had a good eye because his hounds had a uniformity of type and fieldwork never before seen by Beagle fanciers and were the cream of the breed long after the General’s death. Pottinger Dorsey and C. Staley Doub from MD are given the most credit for the promotion and continuation of the Rowett line, they were more interested in field work. The success of the Rowett’s caused an avalanche of imports, but only those selected by a houndman’s eye were of any influence. Even today the Beagle standard as adopted by the National Beagle Club, the country’s first club was based on the Rowett type, miniature foxhounds. The controversy was to go with the Rowett’s or the offspring of Ringwood, imported by Mr. N. Elmore of Granby, CT. Even though Mr. Elmore was a member of the standard committee, it was decided to adopt a standard more like the Rowett’s. Ringwood’s offspring had heads more of a bloodhound type. It was about the same time in the 1870’s that the Blue Cap strain, which more field oriented, was imported to this country.
Since the English standard allowed a height of 16 inches rather than the 15 inches adopted through the National Beagle Club, Mr. A.C. Kreuger of Wrightsville, PA imported Bannerman from the kennel of J. Crane of Dorchester to help reduce the size of many of the English imports and some of the native stock that were over 15 inches. It was well thought out because Bannerman hound hounds as small as nine inches in his pedigree. In fact Mr. Crane, through serious breeding, created a pack of small 13 inch Beagles that were quite contrary to the size of the majority of the English Beagles. Bannerman finished in the ring, but was not used much by show people as he was by field people because of being quite white. Perhaps today that is why the thirteen bitch class always seems to be the largest class at field trials.
That brings us to the appearance of the Blue Cap strain famous in the 1880’s and 90’s, so named for the brown and blueticking of the legs with tan heads. Since true hound colors promoted by show Beaglers were thought of as only tri-colored (black, white, and tan) it lead to a prejudice against the Blue Caps. Some felt the blueticking was from the old blue spotted harrier or a native small-eared foxhound. Whatever, the product was pure class. A more probable origin was that they came from the kennel of Sir Arthur Ashburnham, in England were imported by William Asheton, at that time residing in Virginia.
Hiram Card of Elora, ON, Canada developed the Blue Caps from Captain Asheton who lived in Canada in 1858, but at that time kept foxhounds. After moving to VA, he imported his Beagles from England. However, they were known to also excel in the field. Bannerman is reported to have crossed well on the Blue Caps.
Getting back to Mr. Card, he used Bannerman getting Blue Jacket. Blue Jacket had a coarse head and long body coming from his dam Kate, who was an inbred Victor. Card elt the Blue Caps became fixed the same way, but to a lesser degree. He felt Bannerman would shorten the body, head, and neck. Card hunted snowshoe hares and found the Bannerman’s couldn’t stay the trip. Jack B, the sire of Blue Jacket was a good one-day dog that wasn’t in it the second day, while you had to pull his other Blue Caps out of the hunt with leads. Card felt he had a dozen Blue Caps better than Jack so he sold most of his get south where they did well on cottontails. Elora Blue Bell, the dam of Jack, was a 12 inch, dark blueticked bitch as was many of the Blue Caps. But suffice to say that field qualities and coat color really are not inherited together. So it would seem the Blue Caps were divided into hare hounds and cottontail hounds through the influence of Bannerman. I wonder where the hare strain has gone? The kennels boasting of Blue Cap influence must have inherited the Bannerman influence, if at all.
Mr. Card had a philosophy held by many today, to quote, “I am not trying to breed the field trial kind. I want a dog to take a trail and follow it steadily, English style. Field trials are developing a lanky, light-boned hound that is all nose and legs. The handlers kick up the hare, the dogs are put on and charge after it like whippets. When it doubles back they are helped to find the trail again, and when the rabbit goes to earth, which it soon does, the judge gives the prize to the dog that ran the fastest.” Mr. Mac Leer of Tipacannoe Beagles responded to this thusly, “I find field trial winners make very satisfactory shooting dogs, and if Mr. Card will attend the National or Central trials next fall, I think we can show a kind of Beagle that he is evidently not familiar with; one that is not only able to take a trail and follow it steadily, but can catch a turn once in a while and kick up a rabbit occasionally, while brushing around.” It would seem to me that these gentlemen were using different formats on different species. Another Beagler in defense of Mr. Card states, “I know nearly all the strains of pure Beagles that have been introduced into this country, as well as some others and have yet to find the equal of the Elora Beagles as all round fielders that can drive in the style of the English hound on his native heath, six days a week on white hares, or 5000 hours a year on cottontails.” It would seem this person’s zeal for the Blue Caps is exaggerated since 5000 hours a year is nearly 11 hours every day. If this is true, we have nothing comparable today.
Mr. Card’s ideas on measurements are interesting. He states he measured his best show dog and his best field bitch. “ In the first place it is difficult to measure a dog twice alike. I took the show dog and measured him five times before I got two results to agree. After I got him to stand still I struck the same trouble in another place. Standing in natural position, head up, with tape strapped on his back, head and muzzle, he measured nearly three feet from nose to root of tail. With the tape alongside between the same points he didn’t go much over a foot, so I got help and put him in a straight lines nearly as we could. In this way he gave over the back with tape 28 inches, with the lumbar rule 26 inches alongside with either tape or rule 24 inches. Measured in sections, muzzle, skull, neck and body he figured up 27 inches. With stern up he showed an inch less than with the stern down. The field dog gave a similar class of results. How should they be measured anyway?” Shades of Paul Short and his weights comparative measurements were 14 inches at the shoulder. The dog gave muzzle 2 3/4 inches, skull 6 ¼ inches, and neck 4, with a body 14-27 inches. The bitch, muzzle 1 ¾ inches, skull 5 ¼, neck 4, with a body 15-26 inches. (using the two tape measurements as described above) Girth of chest dog 21, bitch 22. Forearm: dog 4 ¾, bitch 4 ½ inches.
Another quality that can’t be measured is that the bitch has the old-time, soft, dark, full eye and sweet expression; the dog has the sour face of the English foxhound. His love of fieldwork is expressed in his description of the fore mentioned bitch’s attributes. “The bitch has has been as well tried as any beagle I know of. Has hunted three of the species of hare that inhabit America, not to mention the red fox. She has been lost, strayed, stolen, lent and hired and hunted with every breed known in Canada. So far as I know she has always been near the front of the procession and never met the hound that could loose her or quit her Turned loose in the summer with a crack fox- hound , she put him out of business in six weeks, and had a fresh one going two weeks after, and it never phased her; she stood eight seasons of it and is sound today (1901). She has never been shown. Too long-bodied, light-boned and short coated.” (As were most of the Blue Caps.)
Now you know why the Blue Caps were so well thought of and respected. But which Blue Caps survived the longest, the hare hunters of Canada or the progeny of Blue Jacket that were sold south by Mr. Card. This strain was in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth. What present stud can directly trace back or what of those characteristics have been lost through indiscriminate breeding and fads? There are some computer geeks that are trying to extend pedigrees as far back as possible, God bless them. They may shed some light on a dark subject.