The Pit Bull in America – Part 3

A series of articles presenting information, documents and stories about the development of the breed and its relation with the Old Family dogs.

The Pit Bull in America – Part 3.

Once introduced the foundation of American Pit Bull Terrier breed and the arrival of Irish dogs to the United States, we can now discuss it’s evolution.
Over the years the Old Family Red Nose strain with its unique characteristics and temperament, has earned the passion of American breeders, the Irish blood began to spread throughout the United States.
Great breeders such as William J. LightnerRobert “Bob” HemphillJake WilderBob Wallace and Dan McCoy among other achievements have become famous for preserving this unique genetics.

In January-February 1975 issue of “Bloodlines Journal”, the famous dog fancier and writer Richard F. Stratton wrote an article about the red, red-nosed dogs.

No one really knows when these dogs first came to this country, but the great breeder William J. Lightner once told me that his grandfather raised them before the Civil War. It is quite possible that they were even here during the Revolutionary War. In any case, it is clear that dogs of this breed came from various parts of Europe, specifically Spain and Sicily. But little is known about these earliest importation’s, because nothing was written about them. (Books and periodicals containing information about dogs were rare in those days.) Their existence can be inferred from artwork, however. The most famous importation’s were from Ireland, and were generally made by the Irish themselves after they emigrated to this country. (The bulk of the Irish pit dog importation’s coincides or closely follows the great Irish migration that resulted from the famous potato famine.) Most of the Irish dogs were small and very closely inbred, but their gameness was proverbial especially that of the group of strains that was the “Old Family Reds” (just one segment of the Old Family bloodlines) is reprinted from Bloodlines Journal. It has always seemed to me that the good old Pit Bull is a breed that is at once primitive and futuristic. He looks no more out of place in the ancient landscapes of 16th century paintings than he does in the ultra-modern setting. It is beyond my capabilities to imagine an end to him, for every generation seems to supply a nucleus of hard core devotees completely committed to the breed. In any case, you can look into the murky past, and you will find it difficult to discern a beginning place for the breed, and, fortunately, the future seems to threaten no demise either. Ours is a breed that has a definite mystique. Part of it, no doubt, stems from the fact that it is an old breed and deeply steeped in tradition.

Old strains are a particularly fascinating part of this tradition, and the Old Family Red Nose is one of the better known old strains. The appearance of the red-nosed dogs always attracts attention, but it takes a little getting used to for some people to consider them truly beautiful. However, no one denies that they radiate “class.” Characteristically, a dog of the red-nosed strain has a copper-red nose, red lips, red toe nails, and red or amber eyes. Some think the strain was bred for looks. Others consider any dog that just happens to have a red nose to be pure Old Family Red Nose. It is hoped that the following will dispel such notions. About the middle of the last century there was a family of pit dogs in Ireland bred and fought chiefly in the counties of Cork and Kerry that were known as the “Old Family.” In those days, pedigrees were privately kept and jealously guarded. Purity of the strains was emphasized to the extent that breeders hardly recognized another strain as being the same breed. For that reason all the strains were closely inbred. And whenever you have a closed genetic pool of that type, you are likely to have a slide toward the recessive traits, because the dominants, once discarded, are never recaptured. Since red is recessive to all colors but white, the “Old Family” eventually became the “Old Family Reds.” When the dogs began coming to America, many were already beginning to show the red nose.

The “Old Family” dogs found their way to America mainly via immigrants. For example, Jim Corcoran came to this country to fight the world heavyweight champion John L. Sullivan, and stayed to become a Boston policeman. He sent for dogs from his parents back in Ireland, and his importation’s and expertise as a great breeder have earned him a prominent place in American (Pit) Bull Terrier history. Many other Irish immigrants also sent back to their families to request for dogs, and the “Old Family” and related strains became firmly established in the United States. At this point, there are several factors that are somewhat confusing to a student of the breed. For one thing, the term “family dogs” was used in two ways: It could mean a strain of dogs that was a family unto itself that was kept by a number of unrelated people in Ireland, or it could refer to a strain of dogs that was kept and preserved through the years by a family group. However, the old Family Reds seem to be of the first category. Another point that arises is that with all these importation’s from Ireland (and there were importation’s from other countries, too including Spain), where do we get off calling our breed the American Bull Terrier! Well…that’s a point! The breed does not really belong to any one country or even any one era! However, I don’t believe many people are in favor of changing the name of the breed even though it is not strictly an American breed. For that matter, it is not really a Bull Terrier, either! But the name American (Pit) Bull Terrier has become part of that tradition we were talking about, and I think most of us prefer to keep it as a formal name for the breed. Back to the Old Family Reds.

The first big splash made by the red noses was back around 1900 when the great breeder William J. Lightner, utilizing Old Family Red bloodlines, came up with some red-nosed dogs that really made a name for themselves. Now Llightner once told me that he did not breed for that red-nosed coloration. In fact, he did not even like it and he only put up with it because the individual dogs were of such high quality. Eventually Lightner gave up the red-nosed strain when he moved from Louisiana to Colorado, where he came up with a new strain that consisted of small dark-colored dogs with black noses. He had given up on the other strain because they were running too big for his taste and because he didn’t like the red noses. At this point in our story we come upon a comical, but highly respected, figure in the personage of Dan McCoy. I have heard old-time dog men from all over the country talk about this man. Apparently, he was an itinerant fry cook and not much of a success in life judged by normal standards, but he didn’t care about that. What he did care about were Pit Bulldogs, and he had a wealth of knowledge about the breed. His uncanny ability to make breedings that “clicked” made him a respected breeding consultant and a most welcome guest at any dog man’s house even if he had just dropped off a freight train! Always with his ear to the ground regarding anything that involved APBT’s, McCoy got wind of the fact that an old Frenchman in Louisiana by the name of Bourgeous had preserved the old Lightner red-nosed strain. So he and Bob Hemphill went to that area, and with the aid of Gaboon Trahan of Lafayette, they secured what was left of the dogs. McCoy took his share to the Panhandle of Texas and placed them with his associates L.C. Owens, Arthur Harvey and Buck Moon. He then played a principal role in directing the breedings that were made by these fanciers. And from this enclave came such celebrated dogs as Harvey’s Red Devil and Owens (Fergusons) Centipede. Hemphill eventually kept only dogs of the re-nosed strain.

According to Hemphill, it was McCoy who first started using the term “Old Family Red Nose” for the strain. Another breeder who was almost synonymous with the red-nosed strain was Bob Wallace. However, Bob’s basic bloodline was not pure Old Family Red Nose. But in the late 40’s he was looking for the red-nosed strain in order to make an “out cross.” (Bob was a scrupulously careful breeder who planned his breedings years in advance.) Unfortunately, he found that the strain was nearly gone, most of it having been ruined by careless breedings. He managed to obtain seven pure red-noses of high quality whose pedigrees he could authenticate. The strain subsequently saved for posterity and in the 1950’s became the fashionable strain in Pit Bull circles. In fact, it was Bob Wallace himself who wrote an article in 1953 called “There Is No Magic in Red Noses” in which he tried to put a damper on the overly enthusiastic claims being made by some of the admirers of the strain. No more fervent admirer of the Old Family Reds ever lived than Wallace, but he obviously felt that the strain could stand on its own merits. Many strains have been crossed with the Old Family Reds at some time in their existence. Consequently, nearly any strain will occasionally throw a red-nosed pup. To many fanciers, these red-nosed individuals are Old Family Red Noses even though the great preponderance of their blood is that of other strains. Sometimes such individuals will fail to measure up and thereby reflect undeserved discredit on the red-nosed strain. However, as Wallace said, the red noses should not be considered invincible either. They produce their share of bad ones as well as good ones just as all strains do. As a strain, the Old Family Red Nose has several things going for it. First, it is renowned for its gameness. Second, some of the most reputable breeders in all Pit Bull history have contributed to the preservation and development of the strain. People like Lightner, McClintock, Menefee and Wallace, to mention just a few…

…“Regardless of one’s historical perspective, these old amber eyed, rednosed, red-toe-nailed, red coated dogs represent some of the most significant pit bull history and tradition that stands on four legs today.”

A name quoted in this article by Richard F. Stratton aroused my curiosity and after a long search, I was able to gather information and bring here for you first hand.
I invite you to know a little about the story of Bob Menefee, a reference for great breeders such as Dan McCoy, Bob Hemphill, Pete Sparks, Joe Corvino, Clyde Mason (married to Menefee’s daughter) and others.

Bob Menefee in the black hat converses with Bert Clouse

I noticed the surname “Menefee” repeating many times over the years.
In an article named “Dogmen and Bloodlines” by Jack Kelly, he mentions that his first match was using a dog of the line Menefee, winning over a Corvino’s dog.
In a interview held with Sonny Sykes for the “American Pit Bull Terrier Times” magazine, when asked about how Joe started in the dogs, he said that among other breeders, one of the foundations of Corvino’s work were dogs bought from Menefee, even saying that the best combination Joe ever made was between the dogs Feely and Menefee and that was basically what gave birth to Trahan’s Rascal and Tudor’s Dibo.

…Stratton wrote that book about all those people from that part of the country, but what ever happened to the people from New York or from Chicago? If it really comes down to it, all the good ones come from Illinois. You can trace every one of them back, and they all go back to BOUNCER, GIMP, and DIBO and all that stuff. These dogs were Corvino, Feely and Menefee. In Chicago, you had all the good dogmen like Feely, Pat Conroy, Patty Mallet, the Farmer Brothers and so many others. — Sonny Sykes

In an interview for Randy Goodman, the eccentric Pete Sparks gave a controversial answer about Maurice Carver and Joe Corvino when asked about how they registered his dogs.

Peggy Harper would give Carver one of her staffs. If it would fight, he would breed them and put whatever papers on the dog he wanted. You know, Joe Corvino was the same way. He would buy a whole litter from Gene Fulkerson for $7.00 a pup and would sell you any blood you wanted out of this same litter. — Pete Sparks

Gene Fulkerson old Ad. (Centertown, Kentucky)

Whether this statement is true or false, Faulkerson’s dogs came from Lightner, Hemphill and Menefee bloodlines (Fulkerson’s Aster, Fulkerson’s DixieFulkerson’s Pepper), which validates part of the statement made by Sonny Sykes.

Fulkerson’s Aster. Sire: Menefees Max. Dam: Mason’s Moll.

Pete Sparks himself worked with dogs that came from this Menefee x Lightner cross (Sparks’ Audrey and others).

Gene Fulkerson old ad in January-February 1958 issue of “Your Friend And Mine” magazine.

It was not just Pete who alleged that Joe Corvino created fake papers, in that interview held with Sonny Sykes he also shared some similar stories.

– Who made the pedigree with Teddy up and do you know if Sorrells knows about this? (Editor)

“I don’t know who made them up and I don’t know if he knows about it, but he will know it now. You see, TEDDY had a big reputation. I matched TEDDY into Al Offer and won in 2 hours and 14 minutes. At that time he was already 7 years old and no teeth left. He was a game dog but DUGGAN II was a good dog too. TEDDY died in February 14, 1964 and I’m telling you the truth he was never bred to those bitches. I will tell you something else, too, about GOING LIGHT BARNEY; Joe sold his sire (a dog called Booger) to Morris Rootberg for a guard dog. Rootberg wrote Joe a letter asking for a guard dog and Joe had a different type of dog for different kind of people. So he sold him this dog which was not out of his fighting stock. Joe put the dog’s papers on his name then sold him to Rootberg. Then next Rootberg sold his restaurant and moved to California and bred that dog to a Corvino female named Crazy Mary and that breeding produced GOING LIGHT BARNEY. His father was not a Corvino dog!” — Sonny Sykes

– Why would Joe put false papers on a dog? (Editor)

“Because he knew that some people that asked him for a guard dog or a pet wouldn’t match them anyway.
That’s how he felt about it he would just polish up the dog by putting another pedigree on him, that’s all.” — Sonny Sykes

In August 1953 issue of “Pit Dogs”, the famous “Old Family” breeder Robert “Bob” Hemphill wrote a beautiful article named “A Lily to the Living” where he describes the importance of Bob Menefee’s and Clyde Mason’s work.

Mr. Bob Menefee and Mr. Clyde Mason

Dan McCoy once told me that whenever I saw the name “Bob Menefee” on a pedigree, to get out my stud book and study the breeding and matings behind the Menefee dog and I would learn what means to be a careful breeder instead of a haphazard breeder. I have done that.
I pass on McCoy’s advice. Bob Menefee has bred some truly great dogs, he has done it by carefully studying the bloodlines behind the matings made and then by selecting outstanding individuals as brood stock. To know Bob Menefee is to like him. He is so correct around a contest, so unobstrusive so thoughtful of the other fellow, you will not know he is there unless you ask him out. If he has an interest in contesct, just wate him do the washing and you will learn what it means to whash a dog thoroughly and correctly he handles the opposing dog easily and correctly, always showing the utmost consideration for his opponent, he nevertheless does a job thoroughly and competently. I like the bull sessions around the conventions and contests; they add spice and good fellowship to our sport, but to have a quiet, serious por-wow with Guys like Bob Menefee is to tap the source of gems of wisdowm in this rugged pit dog game. If the newcomer in the game seeks accurate, truthful, factual information and is so fortunate as to know Bob and a few others like him, he will be years ahead to keep both ears open and LISTEN. So Bob here’s your Lily. We hope to see many more of those Menefee bred ones go down the line that the good ones do, and we hope you will be there to enjoy the fruits of your patient and intelligent effort.
We cannot properly call Clyde Mason a new comer but we could hardly give Bob Menefee a Lily without mentioning his side-kick. If I had the job of nick naming the Guys I know in this dog game I would call Clyde “Ole Up-And-Coming” for he is exactly that. Clyde has a kennel of real pit dogs. He has some of the real oldtime bloodlines and he is producing some individual pit artists that can comete on equal terms with anything being bred today, Clyde is a sucessful business man. One of those rugged, outdoor individuals with a world of energy and innate love for the game. He does not back off from matching anyone and one of the most admirable things about Clyde is his frankness. When he advertises a dog “oppen to match” ow when he says he will match, he means exaclty what he says. No maneuvering around, no bull shooting, no publicity seeking and NO BACKING OUT. He will give any man a match and lay his dough on line. This fellow does his own conditioning and handling and he does a good job of it.
He isn’t looking for any advantages in or out of the pit that are not a fair part of the contest. One of those Fellows who usually bring his “Better Half” along and I personally think his lucky, for Mrs. Mason is one of those rare Ladies, interested, interesting and a world of enthusiasm for our sport.
Clyde here’s your Lily; just keep things going the way you have them well started and you will straddle many a winner that will make the crowd cheer and your own heart sing.

Bob Menefee mentioned as one of the grand old man of the game along with names such as Joe Corvino, George Saddler and Earl Tudor. (Your Friend And Mine Magazine)

After an incessant search to find dogs today that can be traced back to this legendary breeder I found that the sire of the famous GR CH Adams’ Kingfish came from the pure Menefee stock of Clyde Mason, the same blood that later give birth to the famous CH Gaines’ Turtle Buster bloodline.

GR CH Adams’ Kingfish (sire of GR CH Stubblefield’s Buddy, CH Kingfish Kid’s Trouble, CH Adams’ Candy ROM and many other great dogs)

It is clear that Bob Menefee played an important role in the development of the breed in the United States, a name that should never be forgotten.

CH Gaines’ Turtle Buster

But where did he come from? When was he born? Their dogs were mostly bred with dogs of the Old Family Red Nose strain, could they have shared the same old Irish blood? These are questions that we still need to answer.

I hope you have enjoyed this journey through the history of the breed, my goal with this article is to promote the study and research of the American Pit Bull Terrier, feel free to contact me, we can both learn and discover new pieces of history together.

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*All images and information used on this article are from my research through the archives of: | | American Pit Bull Terrier Times Magazine | Pit Dog Magazine | Your Friend and Mine Magazine

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