INTERVIEW WITH LESTER HUGHES
INTERVIEW WITH LESTER HUGHES
In the last issue of the Times, we gave a brief introduction to one of the ‘living legends’ of the dog Game, ‘The Old Mountain Man’. We now present part II of “The Old Man on the Mountain”; an interview we conducted with Lester Hughes in November of 1990, in which Mr. Hughes talks about-among other things-some of his early matches, and some of the ‘modern greats’ he’s seen in action….
“I Started fighting dogs when I was a teenager,” Mr. Hughes began; we were sitting at his kitchen table with him and his wife and had asked him how got into bulldogs.
“Back then everyone had some kind of dog, and there was always a dogfight going on somewhere around here. I had a big Collie then, supposedly a Purebred but looking back, I imagine there must’ve been some Bulldog in him because he had a big ole head with big lips and must’ve weighed about seventy-five pounds. His name was “JACK”. We used to take him all over the County and he had whipped just about every dog in the area that anyone had. One day, me and my uncle were sitting with JACK on the riverbank by the road here, just a dirt path that you could take a horse or maybe a small wagon on. Anyway, after a while a man came down the road with a short-haired dog. He was from Tennessee, and we’d heard his dog was supposed to be a real mean fighter. He went down the road to the old country store down the hill, I guess, and a little while later we saw him coming back up the hill. He spotted us sitting there with our dog watching him, and called out, “Boy, hold your dog, this is a pretty bad dog I’ve got here.”
Me and my uncle looked at each other, kinda grinnin’, and my uncle called back, “I believe this one can take care of himself.”
“Hold your dog”, he repeated, “this one’ll hurt him if they get in a fight.” I believe I sort of put my hand on JACK’S neck, like I was gonna hold him, and the man walked past us. I waited till he’d gone another twenty feet or so, let go of JACK’S neck, and said “Get him, JACK!”, and JACK did, but it was the worst mistake JACK ever made….”
Mr. Hughes shook his head and a rare smile crossed his face. “You couldn’t see the smaller dog for the cloud of dust”, he continued, “but when it cleared what we saw was JACK on his back. The other dog had a good Stifle hold and JACK was starting to sing a little. It wasn’t too long before JACK wasn’t doing ANYTHING anymore, but singin’. After the old man had gotten his dog off poor JACK, I asked him what kind of dog it was. He told me his dog was a “Pit Bulldog”, and that was the very first Pit Bulldog I ever saw. It was about six months before I got a Bulldog, I don’t know whether the first few I had were much good, but they won some backyard fights. If one quit, we’d just put him back on his chain and say, “He’ll do better next time”, because bulldogs were pretty rare back then, around here. I got my first good dogs from a man in Tennessee that the old man I’d met that day with JACK told me about. We had some terrible fights, and the only conditioning those dogs ever got was hunting with us in the woods. We’d never even heard of a Treadmill back then.”
Mr. Hughes told us that when he first began seriously matching dogs, most matches were fought by “Old Country Rules” or “Country Style”. In his own words, “We used to just let’em fight until one guy’s dog would quit, or one guy’d go in and get his dog, that used to be the rules we had a long time ago.” One of the first dogs he matched was his old “RANGER” dog, a son of Cotton’s BULLET; “I was matched into some fellers from around Smithfield. When I showed up with my dog, nobody really knew me, and man! They had money. They wore rings that looked like they’d be worth my whole house here, and gold tie clasps. I didn’t know whether I was even gonna get to fight my dog, or not, in other words, they didn’t want to fight for what I was willin’ to bet. Then some feller stepped up and backed me, his name was Whitey-somethin’ or another, he asked my a little about my dog, and then announced, “Gentlemen, any of those of you that wish to bet, step over here and let me have your names and who you are.”
Some of them just sort of looked down their noses at this man, as if to say, “you think you have that kind of money?” So he reached down his Front pocket and brought out a roll of bills this big.” (He gestures with his hands a wad the size of an orange) “It looked like it was all one-hundred dollar bills. Then he said, “If that ain’t enough, I got some more in the other pocket, and if THAT ain’t enough, I got more in the trunk of my car!” RANGER won the fight pretty easily in fifty-eight minutes, and Whitey had them all lined up, payin’ him, when it was over! The fight had been set up by a man named Huey Hicks, Jack Kelly would remember him, and a short while later Huey brought me a dog he wanted to Match into the same people. I believe the night he brought him here, that dog weighed 91lbs. We matched him at 78lbs , country style. What I didn’t find out until after the Match was over was that this dog had been whipped six months before, by the very same dog we were putting him on! That ole dog’s name was “DUKE”; he was a big, black son of BIG BOY Huey Hicks owned, and the only way he’d fight was country style. Evelyn worked him for that fight.”
At this point, Mrs. Hughes spoke up, “He was so big, he could have dragged me off, but he’d been obedience trained and would just stand while you put the Harness on him. Then he’d jump up on the slatmill and work it like crazy. He was as big as a calf. He was so well-trained a woman or a child could Handle him”, Mr. Hughes adds, “except when it was time to take him to the Pit. It took William Cable, Bruce King and myself to bring him.” His wife chuckles. “They all three had to carry him, one his middle, one his back end, and one his Front, and the one that got the Front had to hold his head real good. If his head was turned loose, he’d bite you.” “He was making a kind of screaming noise, deep down, in his throat, it was scary to hear.” Mr. Hughes continues, “L.P. conditioned and handled the other dog, and boy, there was no way I was supposed to win. They were pretty confident, their dog had already beaten this one once, and had all kinds of odds on the fight.
We turned them loose and DUKE went across and grabbed that dog. I don’t think there was a hair of that other dog touching the ground for about a minute or so.” Mrs. Hughes adds: “That old dog stayed in there over three hours-you know how long that is. It went so long they wanted to let Lester step out and change handlers, but the only reason DUKE was stayin’ in there was because Lester was talking to him and encouraging him.” If I’d left, he woulda left, too. At one point, L.P. said, ‘Why don’t you get out of your dog’s way and let him leave?’ So I said, ‘O.K., I’ll get out of his way.’ And stepped to one side. That dog came over to where I was standing and looked at me, then looked back at the other dog, who was layin’ down. Then he went back and grabbed the dog’s throat and Started shaking him again.”
“Another time, DUKE was down, and Lester was on his knees with his face right up to DUKE’S, talking to him,” Mrs. Hughes said, “DUKE got back up-Lester must’ve talked him back on his feet, and L.P. turned to the crowd and said, ‘I don’t know what Mr. Hughes is telling this dog!” Mr. Hughes and DUKE won the fight; at three hours and twenty-five minutes, the other side decided their dog was dead and gave it up.
“Old RANGER, I don’t know how many HE won Country Style, but he whipped everything we ever put on him. That son-of-a-Bitch would attack me, if I didn’t do what he wanted. I remember one time I had him on a twenty-foot chain out behind the barn; I approached him and noticed as I came up that he had a wild look in his eye. I wasn’t really sure whether he intended to be friendly or bite me, but as I got close he came at me, wide open, and I saw he was going right for my face. At the last minute, I turned away. Evelyn has gotten me a new winter coat for Christmas, and RANGER hit the Collar of the coat and tore a big strip about five inches wide, down the back; he had it on the ground, shakin’ it for all he was worth. His wife makes a fist and imitates hitting someone with a ‘right hook’, “When RANGER lunged at him a second time, Lester hit him like this, and that dog’s eyes rolled back, his tongue fell out of his mouth, and he fell flat”
“I knocked him out cold and thought I’d killed him. When he came to, he was just as friendly as a puppy. I believe that dog had ‘flashbacks’ or something; most of the time he’d love me to death, but every now and then he’d look at me like, ‘who the hell are you?’ One time I was coming along with the feed bucket , back then those five gallon pails were metal, not plastic, and he went after me again. I swung that bucket and hit him over the head so hard I thought I’d killed him, knocked him out cold, again. He woke up and acted like nothing ever happened. Another time, I was working him on what we call the ‘Merry-Go-Round’. I’d put a chicken in a cage on it for him to chase. He ran it hard, got it going so fast the whole thing came apart in pieces. I beat him to the chicken, but he decided he was going to take it, anyway. Man! We had a terrible fight that day!”
Mrs. Hughes added, “You could never Turn your back on RANGER, at least I never did. You never really knew what was going on in his head.” She turned to her husband, “Remember that night RANGER got loose and jumped on a dog down by the river?” Mr. Hughes nodded. “It was pitch dark and the middle of winter. RANGER had just about drowned the other dog. I waded into the creek and near froze to death, getting them apart.”
Up to this point, Mr. Hughes had been smiling and chuckling as he reminisced about DUKE and RANGER, but now he turned serious again. “I didn’t used to see much danger in one that was vicious; I knew a Bulldog could hurt a man, but I don’t think I really realized how bad; I wasn’t afraid of one. Now I’m a lot more wary of a man eater; they can really hurt you, even kill you. I honestly don’t believe that a grown man could get a 65lb Bulldog off without a weapon, if it decided to attack him.” We asked Mr. Hughes about some of the famous Pit dogs he’s seen fight, and how he would rate them, starting with CH. RASCAL: “Man, he was a Bulldog. He won 5 contract matches and several more off-the-chain, but couldn’t be recognized as a Grand Champion because he lost his first fight. I refereed that fight; it was 105 degrees that day and RASCAL got hot and didn’t Scratch. He didn’t quit fighting, in other words, he did NOT Cur. I’ve seen a lot of dogs do that, and a lot of people holler, ‘he’s a cur!’, but if one don’t Scratch it don’t necessarily mean he’s a Cur. There’ve been many dogs destroyed as curs that weren’t. I did see a dog that could put RASCAL behind, even the one that he lost to died less than a half hour after the Match. I put a dog on him once, a real hard-biting dog out of BIG BOY that I’d never seen ANY dog put behind. RASCAL put him behind, and kept him behind, for over an hour until he quit. RASCAL fought any style, but liked to work the head. He could overcome any style of one that was put on him. I think that there are as many good dogs going back to CH. RASCAL as any dog that’s been bred in the last 25 years.
The STOMPONATO dog was supposed to be very closely related to RASCAL; same sire and their dams were bred the same. I know that the bloodlines seem to go real well together. Susie was off STOMPONATO and produced some good ones bred to RASCAL JR. STOMPONATO was a well-built, good looking dog, I never saw him rolled, in fact I’d heard two different stories on the dog; one was that he had won two in Mexico, and the other was that he was cold. I don’t know whether he was cold or not, but a lot of good bulldogs today carry STOMPONATO blood. BUSTER was another one I heard two different stories told about; that he’d won one, and that he was cold also. John Shivar bought him from Maurice Carver, for a fifth of whiskey, I heard. He kept BUSTER either two weeks or two months and then he died. Loposay got the dog and he died after keeping BUSTER for about the same length of time. I bred to BUSTER when he was very old, but didn’t get any pups. He sure produced some good ones; his daughter GR. CH. MISS RAGE killed every dog she went into but one, and she killed that one too, the second time she beat it. I saw MIDNIGHT COWBOY go; he was a little black dog, short and kind of bowlegged. He was really a good dog, one of the best, in my opinion. I’d put him in the top ten of all the dogs I’ve seen fight. He bit good and hard, not as hard as some dogs I’ve seen, but hard enough to win. I saw CHIVO kill a dog of Billy Collins’ in less than 30 minutes, God, he was a Bulldog! I’d say he was also about one of the best I’ve seen.” Mr. Hughes also named GR. CH. BOOMERANG as one of the best, “He was an Ace.” He said, but he feels the hardest biting dog he ever saw was GR. CH. ZEBO. “CH. HOMER was a hard biter, but ZEBO was the hardest. His fights never went very long, which tells you he was biting hard enough to kill his opponents. They claim GREASER didn’t die; I don’t know if he did or not, but I never did hear anyone more tell of him, even though they say he was retired to stud. There wouldn’t have even been much competition in that Match if GREASER hadn’t had a 3lb advantage.
I saw the old TRAMP Red BOY dog go, he beat me, one time. He was a good, solid Bulldog. Some people say he couldn’t bite, that he won because he had no real competition. Huey Hicks brought a big Bitch to me that he wanted to Match into Red BOY, and I did, and for about 45 minutes it looked as if she was going to kill Red BOY right there in the Pit. Then he got to biting on her head real hard, and head could bite HARD. He stopped her in one hour and seventeen minutes.
That was the only time I ever matched a female against a male, and it wasn’t my Match. Even back then it was unusual, and I don’t believe in it. It isn’t fair to either one, there are times when a male won’t fight a female as hard, most of the time the female would have the advantage because of that, and a female won’t always fight a male as hard as another Bitch. That’s just my opinion, someone else might feel different.”
Mr. Hughes also saw the great CH. HONEYBOUNCH in action, and told us, “I believe she was one of the best bitches I’ve ever seen. In her first Match she beat a dog that I conditioned and handled, killed it. I refereed her next Match, against a Bitch named BONNIE. She killed that one, too.” We were somewhat surprised by his answer when we asked him about Finley’s CH. BO; if he’d seen him fight, and if he was a very Game dog: “No”, he replied, “he refused to Scratch in Front of between 75 to 100 people when he lost his second fight to VINDICATOR. I wouldn’t say he was a rank Cur, in fact VINDICATOR was probably the only dog that could have beat him.BO got on VINDICATOR’S head for the first 15 minutes or so. He had a very good mouth and was biting hard. But then VINDICATOR Started to work on his Front legs real bad; he’d work on first one, then the other, then back to the first, and so on, and BO did start singing a little. L.P. bet Bob $100 that he wouldn’t Scratch, but he did make his Scratch and Bob picked him up. He refused to go across on his Courtesy Scratch. When he stood the line, my exact words to Bob were, “Bob, walk over to the other corner and see if he’ll follow you.” He did, but BO just turned and faced into the corner of the Pit. BO went on to win 5 or 6 more matches after he quit that time.
I didn’t see GR. CH. SNAKE fight, but James Crenshaw told me he was a hell of a dog. CH. JEEP was a good, Game dog, but I’ve seen better. I don’t want to take anything away from him, he just wasn’t ‘the greatest dog of all time’ like some people say he was. He was real Game, any dog that will go 3 hours and 45 minutes is. I know some people have said that he couldn’t have taken the same abuse he dished out in that Match; he was ahead in that one right from the start, but he had proven in his Match with the WEINER dog that he could come from behind to win. I didn’t see that fight, but I heard WEENIE had him confused for a good part of that Match. WEENIE was a funny looking dog; he was ‘one dog high and two dogs long’. I’ve seen a couple of dogs built like that, that could really bite hard and had a lot of driving power to them.”
We asked Mr. Hughes who was the hardest biting dog he’s seen since GR. CH. ZEBO, and the hardest biting Bitch: “The hardest biting dog I’ve seen in the past 10 years or so would be CH. HOMER. As far as I know, no dog ever went a half hour with HOMER and lived. He also killed several dogs in rolls before I matched him. The very best, and hardest biting Bitch I’ve ever seen is GR. CH. SPOOKIE, out of HOMER and SUSIE. I bred SPOOKIE and schooled her out before selling her to Ricky Jones. During that time I got rid of several dogs I don’t think I gave a fair appraisal of; I had rolled them against SPOOKIE and they looked bad, but SPOOKIE was so good she made every dog she went into look bad. The only dog I ever saw look good against her was the Bitch Bobby Hall matched into her, JEANETTE. She fought even with SPOOKIE for over an hour. SPOOKIE took a terrible head-chewing, but was in the other bitch’s Chest most of the time. She did Stop her though; she refused to Scratch at 1 hour and 45 minutes. I’ve heard people say she couldn’t Scratch, but she could have gone across.”