Last month I drove 400 miles from Louisville, Kentucky to Tuscumbia, Alabama; deep into the Heart of Dixie. There I met up with my friend Marilyn Jones, a travel writer, working on several articles for Alabama Living.
Thanks to the kindness of Colbert County Tourism & Convention Bureau Executive Director Susann Hamlin and Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourism Association VP of Operations Angie Pierce, Marilyn and I were able to tour Helen Keller’s Birthplace, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Rosenbaum House, Jack-O-Lantern Farm; Belle Chèvre Goat Cheese Creamery, and dine at George’s Restaurant, OH!Bryan’s Family Steak House and Cracker Barrel.
Despite visiting all of these must-see sites, for me the true intention of this trip was to visit a cemetery like no other — Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Cemetery (aka Coon Dog Cemetery) on a mountaintop in Cherokee, AL.
The cemetery became the best kept secret in the Cumberland Mountains in 1937 when Underwood buried his beloved coonhound named Troop because it’s where they hunted together for 15 years. And the memorial cemetery began.
At one time, the burial spot was a popular gathering place for coon hound hunters who would gather to share stories, chew tobacco, plot their next hunting strategy and compare coon hounds. Legend has it those stories would begin and end with Troop — half redbone coonhound and half birdsong, known in the region as the best.
Soon other hunters began to honor their coon dogs when they died by burying them here. Today, more than 300 coon dogs from all over the United States are buried here. Headstones are made of wood, sheet metal, granite and small boulders marking the last resting place of these beloved canines. There are monuments to Blaze, Squeak, Daisy, Hammer Tyme Red, Lucky, Copperhead Boy, Southern Blue Rocky, Queen, Ruff, Red Rusty, Black Ranger, Boone, Crackerjack, Preacher, Flop, Strait Talk’n Tex and hundreds of others.
Key Underwood marked Troop’s grave with a rock from an old chimney and chiseled the dog’s name and date on it using a hammer and screwdriver. A special marker has since been erected in Troop’s memory.
Hunter’s Famous Amos — a coon hound that was named Ralston Purina’s Dog of the Year in 1984, is buried here as are several World Champion coon hounds.
Only coon dogs — a breed developed for their keen sense of smell to track animals — can be buried here. According Garden & Gun magazine, your coon dogs must have treed a raccoon. To prove it, the owner must “present a letter testifying to the fact that someone in addition to you saw your dog tree a raccoon.” If your coon dog is not AKC registered, you will need three witnesses, according to the magazine.
A spokesman for the Tennessee Valley Coon Hunter’s Association once put it this way… “A dog can’t run no deer, possum — nothing like that. He’s got to be a straight coon dog, and he’s got to be full hound. Couldn’t be a mixed up breed, a house dog.”
While interviewing with a reporter once, Key Underwood said he received a letter from a woman in California who wanted to know why other breeds of dogs weren’t allowed to be buried in the cemetery. According to Colbert County Tourism, he responded, “You must not know much about coon hunters and their dogs, if you think we would contaminate this burial place with poodles and lap dogs.”
Have you ever had a beloved pet that stood out over all the rest? And how did you honor them after they passed away? I’d like to hear about it.
Until next time….