Wherever humans have gone in the New World, dogs have been their companions, from the time people crossed the Bering Land Bridge some twenty thousand years ago.
In this remarkable history of the interaction between humans and dogs, Mark Derr looks at the ways in which we have used canines-as sled dogs and sheepdogs, hounds and Seeing Eye dogs, guard dogs, show dogs, and bomb-sniffing dogs-as he tracks changes in American culture and society. From the Spanish conquest of the Americas to the English colonial period, from the age of revolution to slavery, from World War II to the Vietnam War, Derr weaves a remarkable tapestry of heroism, betrayal, tragedy, kindness, abuse, and unique companionship. The result is an enlightening perspective on American history through the eyes of humanity's best friend.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Mark Derr is the author of several books, most recently Dog's Best Friend: Annals of the Dog-Human Relationship. He writes regularly for The New York Times, and lives with his wife in Florida.
Excerpt from A Dog's History of America: How Our Best Friend Explored, Conquered, and Settled a Continent by Mark Derr. Copyright © 2004 by Mark Derr. Published in September, 2004 by North Point Press, a division or Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.
TOURING THE OZARKS in 1818, the young mineralogist Henry Rowe Schoolcraft noticed that every hunter-meaning every settler in that rugged country-had six to twelve dogs. "A very high value is set upon a good dog," he said, "and they are sought with the greatest avidity." Schoolcraft thought the hunters he met a lazy lot for ignoring agriculture and their livestock, allowing whatever they might have in the way of horses, cows, and hogs to forage unattended in the forest, while seeking meat for themselves and their hounds. But at the same time, he had stumbled upon a signal truth: the long hunter could not have blazed the trails that opened the frontier or survived in his isolated cabin without his dogs. Schoolcraft had learned firsthand the futility of trying to hunt a black bear without a dog to tree it. He understood as well that a dog was needed to roust a bear from its den, to track it or other game when wounded, it fled, or to hold it at bay so the hunter, fresh out of shot, could kill it with his knife or a spear. That same dog served as a sentry around the camp and house. It was no wonder people remembered their favorite dogs and frequently told stories late into the night about their courage, the tone of their cry when striking a trail, their talent and sagacity, as if they were valued members of the family.1
At one time or another during the past 15,000 to 20,000 years, virtually all of America was a frontier for someone, and the dog played an essential role in its settlement, one that standard histories have overlooked or mentioned only in passing. Often dogs do not even appear in the indexes of early histories, although they occasionally leap from the text. They were ubiquitous, and invisible, taken for granted like beer and rotgut whiskey, cooking pots, the labor of women and children, the diseases that regularly ravished people and animals, even the lives of slaves and indentured servants. Truth be told, it has also along been considered more important for historians to focus on the grand sweep of events--the wars, famines, revolutions, political machinations, social and economic structures--that affect the lives of people. But times change, and over the past thirty to forty years historians have focused increasing attention on the daily lives of people as a way to gain clearer understanding of the past. It seems appropriate, then, to give dogs their book, one that recognizes their contributions to the settlement of America by successive waves of immigrants. Yet because dogs do not exist independently of human society, their story is finally our story as well.
* * *
IF DOGS DID NOT COME with the first people to enter North America from Siberia, they were not far behind, and by all appearances they have accompanied every explorer and settler since, except Columbus on his first voyage. For 10,000 years or more, dogs were the only domesticated animals in much of the Americas, and they were invaluable, their primary duties shifting according to the needs of their people. They were guards, hunters, fishers, food, pets, and commonly beasts of burden, sharing the weight of moving the camp and hauling firewood and meat with the women. At least one tribe raised them as foot warmers for arthritics, and another kept them, like sheep, to provide hair for weaving. Some Native American women valued their dogs more highly than their children; indeed, a tribe's survival sometimes depended on dogs. Not surprisingly, the dog figures in the creation myths of a number of tribes and frequently serves as a guide to the spirit world.
Bringing dogs on his second trip to the Americas, Columbus loosed them in the first pitched battles of the Conquest, and his successors never releashed them. Much is made of the Spanish advantage in arms, armor, horses, and ruthless devotion to destroying anything that stood in the way of their quest for riches. But they possessed as well dogs such as the Native Americans they encountered had never seen, fell beasts trained to attack and maul, to terrorize. Later, the heirs of the conquistadors turned the descendants of those dogs to tracking African slaves, creating in the process a tradition and breed that became prized in the antebellum American South.
English colonists learned from their Spanish competitors to bring mastiffs to the New World, but although they flirted occasionally with the notion of deploying them against Indians in the Spanish fashion, they invariably stopped short of doing so. African slaves were a different chmatter. Dogs figure every other way in the settlement of North America, and because the record is so rich, and their roles so varied, I have focused on that region, and more precisely on what became the United States, with some essential forays south and north, especially to the poles. Whenever possible, I have relied on firsthand accounts, contemporary news reports, and histories to provide a sense not only of the types of dogs present but also their uses and people's views of them. Uniquely among animals, the dog has accompanied people through all stages of history, changing in form and purpose--I should say, changed often by humans--to meet the demands of new circumstances. Thus, with the rise of agriculture and the domestication of sheep and cattle, the proto-dog of nomadic hunter-gatherers split into several types in the Old World--mastiffs, herders, companions, sight hounds, and various curiosities with dwarf legs, hairless bodies, and other mutations. In the New World, divisions appear in many cases to parallel geographic and tribal boundaries, but the operative word is appear.
Through what Darwin called conscious and unconscious selection, people around the world created dogs that suited their desires and needs, and the dogs, in turn, helped transform those societies by assisting in the domestication and husbandry of livestock and in hunting game for the table and other predators for protection. The trend accelerated in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when men began actively "improving" types of dogs and creating new ones through "scientific" breeding, bestowing on the creations value and powers far exceeding those of their rough-born forebears. With expanding industrialization, that trend became even more pronounced, and by the middle of the nineteenth century, coincident with the rise of the Fancy in England and the United States, people began arguing that the time had come to "civilize" the dog, to make it suitable by virtue of its pedigree, bearing, and behavior for proper urban bourgeois society. Dissenting voices were raised in celebration of basic dogs, just as they as they were, in support of the poor, of workers, slaves, women, children, and ultimately Nature. In effect, the dog came to embody the conflict between city and country, rich and poor, white and black, civilization and the wild, to assume an ambiguous position as an intermediary between worlds.
Those contradictions continue to this day, although dogs have been fenced, leashed, and corralled to such a degree that many of them leave the confines of their human house and home only for periodic trips to the veterinarian, if that. Professional trainers and certified animal behaviorists are available to help dogs and people adjust to the stresses of isolation and bad genetics--the result of too much inbreeding and sloppy overbreeding of purebred dogs. People seeking to keep their dogs exercised in a world of diminishing public open space frequently clash with their human opposites over off-leash walking or the establishments of "bark parks". These parks are often small, poorly maintained, flea-and-tick-infested canine ghettos that provide local park administrators with the illusion that they have done something positive to end the continuing conflict between the people who share their lives with dogs and those who fear and loathe them. The real need, of course, is for more large urban and suburban parks for dogs and people. But that runs well ahead of the story, which I have allowed dogs and people to tell.
The history also indirectly addresses several controversies regarding dogs. It has become popular of late to dismiss the dog as a "social parasite," a camp scavenger who ingratiated itself with a band of human suckers 15,000 or more years ago--in some versions, women were the suckers--and has been tagging along ever since. Even a cursory look at the role of dogs in human affairs, beginning with the first Americans, should lay that view to rest. Territorial protection and hunting are innate in the dog, as they are in the ancestral wolf. Once trained to carry a pack or haul a travois or sled, the dog had no choice but to transport goods. Dogs certainly had no more to say about going into the pot than did any other animal that humans chose to put there, and although some tribes did not eat them, others considered them a delicacy. Surprisingly, early European settlers and explorers, most famously Meriwether Lewis and all the Corps of Discovery except William Clark, readily developed a taste for dog, often, it must be said, of necessity. Some wolves and humans got together in Asia or Europe--not the Americas and probably not Africa--perhaps as early as 135,000 years ago, because they could help each other, and the tame wolves became dogs through a process that is still not understood. The species have been together ever since, although it appears that dogs have often gotten a raw deal.
While showing persistence over time and across cultures, attitudes toward dogs and the uses to which their talents are put have changed dramatically with the destruction of indigenous societies, the opening and closing of the frontier, the rise and demise of plantation slavery, and the transformation of America from a predominantly rural to an ur...
"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.
Book Description North Point Press, 2004. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M0865476314
Book Description North Point Press, 2004. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110865476314
Book Description North Point Press, 2004. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Brand New!. Bookseller Inventory # VIB0865476314
Book Description Book Condition: Brand New. New. Bookseller Inventory # A18194
Book Description North Point Press. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. 0865476314 New Condition. Bookseller Inventory # NEW7.0454271
Book Description North Point Press. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. 0865476314 New Condition *** Right Off the Shelf | Ships within 2 Business Days ~~~ Customer Service Is Our Top Priority! - Thank you for LOOKING :-). Bookseller Inventory # 2BOOK2P206701