The Bluff City Shooting Club was organized in Memphis in August 1873. Nine months later, the club called for Tennessee sportsmen to meet in Memphis for the purpose of organizing a Tennessee State Sportsmen's Association, a state chapter of the National Sportsmen's Association.
At the convention, members decided to host the first-ever field trial in America.
Field trials, as we know them today, began May 1, 1866, near Stafford, England, and they proved a considerable success before they were introduced into America.
The association distributed programs nationwide announcing that a bench show and field trial for pointers and setters would be held Oct. 7, 1874, on the Greenlaw Plantation, located 6 miles east of Memphis.
Ten dogs entered and an Irish setter named “Knight” owned by H. Clark Pritchitt of Nashville, Tenn., won.
When the trials left west Tennessee after 1876, Pink Bryson, a Memphian, and a member of the association, was determined the trials would eventually return. He was elected president of the National America Kennel Club in 1881.
Through his diligent effort, Bryson persuaded the club to locate the 1881 field trials at Grand Junction, Tenn. Aiding him in laying out the grounds was James Avent of nearby Hickory Valley, Tenn.
As the years passed, bird dog fanciers were clamoring for a true national championship, so on Feb. 10-12, 1896, the first-ever National Field Trial Championship (NFTC) was run at West Point, Miss., and was won by “Count Gladstone IV,” an English setter.
In 1900, Grand Junction hosted the championship because of a smallpox scare at West Point.
Two years later, the Ames Plantation near Grand Junction became the annual site of the championship, and it was not until 1909 that a pointer (Manitoba Rap) finally won the crown.
Grand Junction has been, and is, the most historic field trial grounds in the United States. On every hill and valley in a radius of 5 miles, a contest among the great dogs of the past was held.
The incomparable Gladstone cavorted over these hills and valleys and set the standard of bird dogs so high that it has been a struggle since then to equal that high standard. Napoleons only come along once in a lifetime. So it is with bird dogs.
Few have yet classed with Gladstone — “the greatest field trial dog” that ever ran, according to many of the old-timers.
Gath made many first-class dogs finish behind him as he swept the deck of all contenders in his day. Had he lived a few years longer, he would have left many successors to perpetuate his name.
The great Count Noble won victoriously here. The mighty Gladstone Boy sniffed the scent of game and lost and won on these grounds.
The greatest sire of his day, Roderigo, whose blood courses through the veins of many of the setters of today, was first proclaimed “King of Setters” here.
The marvelous matron and winner Sue showed many dogs how easy the trick was done and won shekels and fame at Grand Junction.
The grand bird finder and field trial winner, Bob Gates, sent the blood coursing through the veins of all spectators who saw him point coveys to single birds on the sandhills thereabouts.
Comanche Frank, with his excellent nose, nailed the birds far and near. Many dogs that met him went down in defeat, and he was almost invincible on a good day. Moreover, who can forget Sioux?
Winner of eight NFTC, Avent, before his death, was asked to name the 10 greatest field trial dogs. Nine were setters: Count Gladstone IV, Gath, Roderigo, Topsy's Rod, Sioux, Antonio, Tony Boy, Mohawk II, and Momoney. The 10th dog was the pointer Comanche Frank.
The 110th anniversary championship will start Feb. 13 at the Ames Plantation. If you attend, be sure to visit the National Bird Dog Museum.
Wayne Capooth — outdoorsman, writer, and physician — has hunted extensively in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas for 50 years and has written four books. On the Internet, go to www.waterfowling.org.