Long before Columbus first stepped on shore, there were dogs in America -- millions of them. In fact, prior to the arrival of the horse, the largest pack animal in North America was the dog, and it was employed to haul travois with hide, meat, tents, and cooking utensils from one camp site to another, as well as to guard camps from large predators (wolves and mountain lions) and to alert if people approached.
Contrary to popular story, dogs were not used much for hunting as their presence was far more likely to spook game before it came within arrow shot than to find it. And, of course, that is still true today; an archer that went into the woods to deer hunt with a dog by his side would be considered a fool. Deer are taken with stealth over game trails, and that was as true 500 years ago, as it is today.
And yet, there are a few exceptions to the generalized rule that dogs were not used for hunting, but for guarding, hauling, companionship, and (yes) even food. In areas where there were buffalo jumps (i.e. cliffs where buffalo could be stampeded off to their death), dogs were employed to spook herds forward. And, of course, in the very Northern part of the U.S. where winter ice and robust beaver colonies were common, a particular type of smaller Indian hunting dog could commonly be found.
This dog was smaller, longer in body, and shorter in leg than the larger, more traditional wolf-like Indian dogs seen in the West, and was used to slid into beaver dams in winter to help drive the beaver out and onto the surface where they could be speared.
This work was always done in winter because it made access to beaver dams easy, while the solid ice over the water prevented the beaver from being able to flee under water. In addition, beaver is an animal loaded with fat, which spoils quickly in summer, but keeps easily in cold weather when the added calories are most needed.
Shown, above, is an Indian Beaver Dog captured on film in the 1920s somewhere in Maine.
Below is another Indian Beaver Dog captured on film, at about the same period of time, by the late great photographer George Eastman, who later went on to found the Eastman Kodak company, based in Rochester, New York. This dog, photographed in the Genesee Valley, is very similar to dogs which can still be found in the area among the Seneca people.
For example, the picture below is of a dog named "Froth" once owned by Mildred Kondolf, whose great grandfather, Mathius Kondolf, was manager at Reisky & Spies, the brewing company which, after the end of Prohibition, became the Genesee Brewing Company
Froth was four generations removed from "Sachem," a dog purchased by Mathius Kondolf from a Seneca tribal elder around 1900. Around Sachem's neck in the picture below is the good luck amulet the dog was wearing the day Kondolf purchased him. Inside were said to be two beaver penis bones and a small blue rock. The contents of the amulet were to show worshipful respect for the beaver, the penis bones a hope for prolificness, the blue stone a hope for clean water and hard ice.
Today, Genesee Valley Beaver Dogs are still used to help source commercial materials for the perfume trade, both beaver castoreum and, oddly enough, the whale ambergris sometimes found floated up along the beaches of the Eastern North Atlantic.
Pictured below is "Charlie," a modern Genesee Valley Beaver Dog owned by Tyler Muto.
Charlie is retired from the perfume trade (the perfume "Charlie" is named after him) and he now works at Buffalo's K-9 Connection dog training facility, where he casts a gimlit eye over all.