Sunday, April 01, 2018

The True History of the American Pocket Lurcher

The North American Pocket Lurcher is a breed of dog that first found fame at the New York rat pits run by Christopher "Kit" Burns prior to the closing of his establishment in 1870

Unlike most breeds of dogs, the origins of the North American Pocket Lurcher are well established, as the first two dogs were given to the famous side show celebrity midget General Tom Thumb (born Charles Sherwood Stratton) in 1844, after the diminutive performer for P.T. Barnum was attacked by a poodle owned by Queen Victotoria, shortly after his presentation to the Queen by Barnum.

Thumb, who stood barely three feet tall, managed to fend of the poodle with his walking stick, but the Queen was understandably mortified and offered Thumb a pair of puppies from an accidental mating between one of her Italian Greyhounds and one of her Jack Russell's.

Rushing in to close the deal, P.T. Barnum said he and Thumb would be honored to take care of the dogs, who would be treated like royalty -- or at least as best as America could provide.  

This, of course, later turned into a bit of a joke as the pups, when grown, were used for ratting, first in the damp basement of Barnum's famous American Museum on Ann Street, and then later at Kit Burns' rat pits at "Sportsman's Hall" located at 273 Water Street, just five blocks away.

Thumb would enter Burns' Sportsman's Hall with four or five dogs on a leash, often drunk from a single tall beer, his boasts and bets backed up not only by the intense ratting prowess of his dogs (ratting dogs competed against each other based on weight classes), but by the brooding presence of the 7-foot-ll inch giant "Colonel" Routh Goshen who often accompanied him on his ratting runs.

P.T. Barnum's American Museum burned to the ground in 1865, and Kit Burns' rat pits closed in 1870. 

General Tom Thumb died in 1883, and the five remaining dogs he owned at the time of his death were dispersed to friends, most of whom did not keep up the line. One dog reportedly went to Goshen, and another to Anna Swan the "Quaker Giantess", while the three remaining dogs went to Kit Burns' son-in-law Richard Toner, known as "Dick the Rat" for his willingness to bite the head off a live rat for a small fee.

Until recently, it was thought that the North American Pocket Lurcher had gone the way of the Dodo and Sonny Bono, but it turns out there are still a few around, as the discovery of this one-year old, seen below, makes clear.


Teresa said...

Good on you for saving a nearly extinguished breed! I'm all for that kind of thing, some years ago I helped saving the Short Tailed White Patched Portuguese Water Dog. Lovely dogs they where... lots of history in them too... or at least, lots of stories.
By the way, love your blog.


PBurns said...

I am just waiting to hear from the haters, who will note I make NO MENTION of the miniature ponies and carriage also given to Thumb. Then there will be the veterans who will point out that General Thumb and Colonel Goshen were military frauds who never served.

PipedreamFarm said...

pocket lurcher?

I didn't know pockets were such a nuisance that we needed to specifically breed dogs to hunt and kill pockets.

5string said...

What a romantic history. You are so lucky.

It's a shame that evil capitalist PTB was involved! Karl Marx would've been perfect.

Pishkeen said...

It's really great to see enthusiasts take an interest in such precious breeds. I myself am a true fan of the Ontario Spotted Collie, which is easily identified by it's white and black spotted paws, and distinctive ear placement; the right ear is always pricked and the left ear always folded. Not to be confused of course with the Manitoba Spotted Collie which has the left ear always pricked and right ear always folded. The Ontario Spotted Collie's temperament is also much more managing and alert as the breed was developed in suburban Ontario for the express purpose of herding children and cats.

PBurns said...

You see? I knew I was not writing enough! Karl Marx is involved in a tangential way. This breed of dog was noted for stealing money out of the pockets of working people when they were at bars, hence the term "running dog capitalist". Didn't know that did you? The dogs were trained by the bar patrons to be " velcro" dogs always eager to jump in your lap and nose at your pockets. In order to facilitate the scam, bar owners found that putting laudanum in the booze helped make people nod off and lose the focus of their concentration -- hence the term "opiate of the masses". When the Harrison Narcotics Control Act of 1914 was passed, it became harder to get laudanum, and when Prohibition kicked in a little later, the work of the dogs disappeared and the breed all but died out.

geonni banner said...

No. No. No. You see, the breed's original name was "Pocket FLASK Lurcher", for the dog's propensity to tipple. The characteristic erratic gait was the breed's defining characteristic. They were commonly found in pubs and saloons, until prohibition kicked in. Then the "flask" was dropped from the name.

The breed fell into obscurity until it was resurrected by temperance ladies who had fallen "off the wagon". Naturally they could identify with the neglected little booze hounds, and took them to their bosoms.

The rest, as they say, is history.