|Catahoula Cur with blue merle coat.|
(For decades, local historian and paranormal investigator George “Buster” Singleton published a weekly newspaper column called “Somewhere in Time.” The column below, which was titled “The dogs of DeSoto” was originally published in the Dec. 25, 1975 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)
When DeSoto came to the shores of America in the 1500s, he brought with him a breed of dogs that has survived the past few hundred years and has lived to become one of our area’s great hunting dogs.
It was the custom for an army such as the one that DeSoto commanded to carry all the supplies and provisions that were needed for a long campaign. These included iron and bronze needed for the making of weapons and implements.
Extra horses and cattle were also herded along with the army to replenish the cavalry with mounts and to furnish beef for the soldiers’ daily diet.
Along with all this, always bringing up the rear, was an enormous herd of hogs. Since the swine traveled so slow, and often were several days behind the moving army, a sizable pack of vicious dogs was used to herd the swine.
The dog that DeSoto chose for the awesome task of herding the rebellious hogs through the swamps and canebrakes was the ancestor of our present day Catahoula breed.
As DeSoto moved inland, his troubles grew worse.
As the resistance against his army, from both the hostile Indians and the elements, heaped death and destruction on his shoulders, DeSoto saw that his expedition was all in vain. Where once the thoughts of riches and wealth filled his mind, now sickness and death were ever-present.
DeSoto knew that if he should show any sign of weakness before his army, all would be lost.
So instead of turning south toward his ships that lay at anchor in the bay of Pensacola, he turned to the west. This was the error that cost him his life and the lives of most of his followers. During the first days of December 1542, DeSoto, stricken with fever, bid his remaining officers and haggard soldiers farewell and closed his eyes in death.
In the dark of night, DeSoto was buried beneath the waters of the mighty Mississippi, the river he discovered.
DeSoto’s dogs, which had followed his army for over four tiresome years, were abandoned on the banks of the great river.
Not much is known about the dogs of DeSoto for the next few years, other than that they became wild and untamed. They wandered through the bayous of what is now lower Mississippi and Louisiana, surviving on the land and by their wits, living the hard life that they were accustomed to.
French tamed dogs
In later years when the French made their way in the swamps of Louisiana, they found these wild dogs roaming at will across the bayou country. These wild dogs were eventually tamed and used to hunt the same wild hogs that were once appointed for their care.
Strangely enough, it was not the Spanish that these hearty dogs were named for. It was not from the pages of history that had been written in blood by their master that their name was derived, but from the French or Cajun that now roam the bayous and talked with a funny accent.
History doesn’t say a lot about the untold thousands of faithful animals that have made man’s passage across its pages easier. But the faithful Catahoula’s tracks are mingled with the ones that carried the banners, wielded the sword and discovered the rivers.
In victory or defeat, the rugged glass-eyed dog stood by his master, enduring the hardships – never complaining.
(Singleton, the author of the 1991 book “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” passed away at the age of 79 on July 19, 2007. A longtime resident of Monroeville, he was born on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County, graduated from Sweet Water High School, served in the Korean War, lived for a time among Apache Indians, moved to Monroe County in June 1964 (some sources say 1961) and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from 1964 to 1987. For years, Singleton’s column “Somewhere in Time” appeared in The Monroe Journal, and he wrote a lengthy series of articles about Monroe County that appeared in Alabama Life magazine. Some of his earlier columns also appeared under the heading of “Monroe County History: Did You Know?” He is buried in Pineville Cemetery in Monroeville. The column above and all of Singleton’s other columns are available to the public through the microfilm records at the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville. Singleton’s columns are presented here each week for research and scholarship purposes and as part of an effort to keep his work and memory alive.)