Europeans brought hunting dogs when they began their exploration of the North American continent. Mountain Curs and American coonhounds were the most prominent imported breeds. With the exception of the Plott, all breeds of coonhounds have a common ancestry deeply rooted in the English foxhound. Many of the breeds were introduced to North America by prominent colonial settlers like George Washington, an avid fox hunter.
The first mention of hounds in America appears in the diaries of men serving under the explorer Hernando de Soto. Soto used the hounds for hunting Indians rather than fox, raccoon, or rabbit. In 1799 Moravian missionaries Abraham Steiner and Frederick C. De Schweinitz came to Tennessee to bring the gospel to the Overhill Cherokees. They traveled across the state to Nashville and kept a journal of their observations and adventures. At a spot near where the Caney Fork River meets the Cumberland River, they encountered “numerous companies of people that were on a bear hunt,” and noted that often one hunter “had 12 to 15 powerful dogs with him.” They took lodging with a settler named Mr. Shaw, who made his living selling provisions to travelers. Schweinitz noted that Shaw's “possessions of special value consist in hunting dogs, of which he regards the worth of a well-trained one as being as high as that of a horse.” (1)
The American Black and Tan, Bluetick, English Coonhound, Redbone, and Treeing Walker were all developed early in the state's history and were used for bear and raccoon hunting. Early settlers also used the dogs for protection. Today these dogs are used for either raccoon hunting (still popular statewide), bear hunting, or for show in field trials, where they are judged for speed, agility, barking, treeing, and tracking abilities.
In 1852 a black and tan hound named Tennessee Lead was stolen and taken to Madison County, Kentucky, where he became the foundation sire of all Walker, Trigg, and Goodman foxhounds. These three strains make up the major portion of what is today called the American Foxhound by the American Kennel Club.
In the late 1800s quail hunting preserves became popular for sporting gentlemen. Hunters used well-bred and -trained bird hunting dogs to compete for titles and money. In 1902 Hobart Ames, of North Easton, Massachusetts, bought four hundred acres near Grand Junction, where he hosted the first annual National Championship Field Trial. He built the famed Ames Plantation and eventually bought up to twenty-five thousand acres for use as one of the country's most renowned hunting preserves. Since that first event, bird dog clubs across the country hold annual qualifying events that lead to the national contest. The kennels located on the plantation have produced some of the world's most famous bird dogs. Today Grand Junction is the home of the National Bird Dog Museum, where forty breeds of pointing, retrieving, and spaniel breeds are honored.