Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Kill Devil Terrier

Some people seem to have all the luck.

First, Luisa over at Lassie Get Help, manages to find a genuine Shenandoah Mountain Cur -- a breed first made famous by Custer who had two of them during his Virginia campaign, one of them named Smoky, and the other Fire. Fire died at the Little Big Horn, but Smoky (the better dog, and a gift to Custer from Queen Victoria through Lord Buckley) survived. Until Luisa's magical find, I was sure the Shenandoah Mountain Cur was extinct.

Now Doug, over at the Harris Hawk Blog has managed to find what must surely be one of the last Kill Devil Terriers in existence -- a dog made famous by Orville and Wilbur Wright.

The first Kill Devil Terrier was acquired by Orville and Wilbur in 1902 at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina while they were waiting out the weather to test their second big glider.

The dog came to the Wright camp with a load of food rations. The old man who drove the food wagon out to the dunes came out with the dog, and no one noticed he did not leave with it until very late in the evening, when the dog appeared over a dune, just in time to lick the pots clean from the evening meal.

It was two weeks before the wagon returned with another provision of food, and during that time, Wilbur and Orville became very fond of the dog who not only kept rats and Grey Fox out of the rations, but who also served as a quick and ready wind sock.

Years later, Orville would note,

"The dog was key. Without him, we might have died long before we got off the ground, for we were terrible at gauging wind velocity. It was Wilbur who noticed that we never had any real success unless the fine fur along the dog's ears was riffling out in the wind. After that, we never flew without asking the dog's permission."

In fact,the absence of a Kill Devil Terrier at Fort Myers, Virginia is said by some to have been the cause of the first avian fatality in the world. While some blamed the crash on a crack in the right propeller, it was properly pointed out that everything was smashed after the crash, and that the absence of the dog, named Flyer, was only real variable from earlier successful flights.

After that, of course, it was considered bad luck by early fliers not to have some sort of representative of a Kill Devil Terrier with them at all times.

Some simply carried a small stuffed dog, or painted a small picture of a Kill Devil Terrier near their landing gear, but others -- particularly early barnstomers -- had the real thing with them whenever they traveled.

Over time, as technology progressed and superstition subsided, fewer and fewer avaiators took real dogs with them in their airplanes, and today many flyers have never even heard of a Kill Devil Terrier.

The last pure Kill Devil Terrier known to exist prior to Doug's discovery was owned by Amelia Earhart, who disappeared with her dog while flying over the Pacific in 1937.

What an amazing thing to rediscover a remnant population of these dogs still in existance, and just 10 miles from Kill Devil Hills, too!


Doug said...

Well written, your research skills are impressive.


PBurns said...

You can have your students figure out what part of this story is correct ;) There's enough truth here that dissecting it to separate nonsense from real history might actually be instructive on a couple of levels.


sfox said...

What my husband the aviation buff will be interested to know, as will I... is the part about the dogs really going up with the early flyers true?

And Amelia really had her dog with her? Had never heard that.

And there really is a Kill Devil Terrier?

PBurns said...

The bits about the Wright Brothers are real (including the bits about a dog named Flyer, the Fort Meyer crash, and the wagons full or provisions going out to the dunes). But the rest? Well, not so much. The Kill Devil Terrier was invented right here.

But is this story any different from any of the stories told about ANY of the dog breeds? People WANT to believe their dog is related to a special time and a famous place or person, and that it has special characteristics. We have all been sold such dog stories at one time or another -- and too often repeated them. Almost all are bunk. Dog dealers and show ring pretenders are worse that horse thieves and carnival barkers!

Now did I ever tell you the story about the dog that Rev. John Russell bought from a milkman?


sfox said...

*sudden feeling of leg being pulled*

Dave said...

Invent more stories! Dog owners NEED myths.

seeker said...

Now, Mr B. Be nice to that Reverend Fellow. We might need that story about him and his dogs in the future.

Debi and the TX JRTs