By Clay Newcomb
Roy Stiles was nine years old when he first went coonhunting with Plott hounds. It’s during this magical time period in a child’s life that they are the most impressionable. These impressions often last a lifetime and help fashion future passions. Roy’s father planned to buy him a registered Plott puppy, but three years later tragedy would strike and change those plans. When Roy was 12 years old, his father was paralyzed in a tragic accident. Afterwards, the family struggled financially and Roy’s boyhood dreams of a Plott pup were crushed. However, a seemingly scripted destiny would unravel for Roy in few short years.
When Roy was 19 years old he went to Western Carolina University to study to become a teacher. In years past, Roy’s grandfather had been a good friend of the iconic Plott breeder Gola Ferguson before he passed away. Mrs. Ferguson was still living in Bryson City. Roy’s father called her to see if she knew of any places for rent that Roy could board in. Mrs. Ferguson said, “Well, I live in this big old house all by myself. If he’ll mow my yard and pay half of the electric bill, he can stay here with me.” According to Roy, “From that day forth she took me in like I was her own son. She was a very special lady.”
Roy stayed with Mrs. Ferguson for a year before she too passed away. However, before her passing she found out that Roy wanted to get a registered Plott puppy when he graduated from college. She contacted a good friend of her husband, Bud Lyons. Bud still bred hounds from Gola Ferguson’s famous line of Plott bear hounds. She told him to “get Roy a puppy” when he got out of school. Neither Roy nor Bud would forget the petition of Mrs. Ferguson. Four years later, in 1968, Roy would call Bud Lyons and get his first registered Plott puppy.
Roy’s trained his new Plott, which he named Tige after Gola’s famous female, for coonhunting. Roy hadn’t ever bear hunted, but Tige would indirectly put him on his first “bear hunt.” Roy recalls, “We were coon hunting one night and Tige struck a bear track.” The dog ran the bear all night long and Roy left the hound with the intent of coming back in the morning. Upon his return at daylight, Tige had the bear bayed on the ground. “The dog was on three legs when I got to them, and the bear was probably 400 pounds. All I had with me was a .22 rifle.” The situation got sticky, but Roy was able to retrieve the dog without having to kill the bear. The dog proved to have lots of grit and stay power, which would be the hallmark of the Plotts that Roy would own for the rest of his life.
Some years later, Roy’s Plott named Black Jack would be the first hound he trained on bear. Once while Black Jack was a young hound, Roy lost him on a bear hunt on a Saturday night. As the crow flies, he was hunting 25 miles away from his home. Roy spent Sunday looking for the dog, but couldn’t find him. Amazingly, the dog showed up at Roy’s house on Monday evening. “The dog had an amazing homing instinct,” Roy said. “Black Jack was my first dog that gained a lot recognition as an outstanding bear dog.” Black Jack would later be the sire of the best bear hound that Roy had ever owned.
Roy’s Black Jack was a top Plott stud dog in the mid-to-late 1980s. People from all over country heard of Black Jack’s reputation as a bear hound. “I finally had to start turning some people down, and only breeding him to proven Plott females. People knew they could sell pups if they bred with Black Jack.”
In the mid-1980s, Roy was looking for a top female to outcross with his line. He ended up with a well-bred female that he got from John Jackson. He named the gyp Stiles Cheeta. She was out of Brushy Mountain Chris and Weems Plott Punie. Punie was out of a famous Plott cross – Weems Plott Butch and Weems Plott Jill. Interestingly, Brushy Mountain Chris’ sire was Horne’s Cascade Boulder, which was a littermate to the famous Cascade Big Timber.
In early 1988, Roy bred his Black Jack dog to Cheeta. Black Jack was out of Plott’s Crickett Lynn and Plott’s Jock. Crickett was out of Blanketship’s Reb and Plott’s Creek Lady. Jock was out of Plott’s Doc and Plott’s Ozark Ruby. Needless to say, the dogs both went back to solid bear-hound stock. On May 5, 1988, Cheeta birthed a litter of puppies. As he hoped for, this litter of dogs would produce some outstanding hounds and one that would end up being his best ever.
Roy had always been partial to younger people that were looking for Plott hounds. “When I was kid we couldn’t afford a Plott, so I always wanted to help kids get a Plott puppy if I could,” Roy said. “I actually gave Susie to a young boy that wanted to start coonhunting. The dog started killing his grandmother’s cats and running too wide. I ended up getting the dog back and I gave the boy another dog.” The first year that Roy had Susie back, he took her to Canada and killed eight bears in six days. She was on every bear. Roy would later register the dog as Stiles Plott Susie II. A legend in the making had been “reborn.”
After coming home from Canada, Roy took Susie to the coast of North Carolina and she was on six bear kills in short order. Later in the winter, in the mountains of North Carolina, she was in on eight more bear kills. Roy recalls, “She was on over 20 bear kills in one year. That year she became a bear dog.” From this point on Susie would begin to separate herself from the pack and do what only great dogs can do. Time after time she would prove herself to be grittier, have more intelligence, and have more desire than her peers. On an average bear race and tree, you might not be able to tell the difference between a legend and a “good” bear dog. However, over the course of time she proved herself to be exceptionally consistent at doing the extraordinary.
Early on in Susie’s career, before she was proven, Roy was hunting in the mountains of North Carolina with Susie’s half brother, Rowdy. He was a very cold nosed dog and was slowly working a track alone. Roy decided to give him some back up, so he led Susie to the actual track in the mud that started the race. “I turned her loose and she headed towards a gap in a totally wrong direction from the way Rowdy and the bear were headed,” Roy said. He tried to call her back and was upset that she hadn’t gone on to help Rowdy. “Ten minutes later we heard Susie coming through the gap, and she was 30 feet behind the bear! After she came by Rowdy followed in behind her.” She had an uncanny ability to find and jump a bear when other dogs couldn’t.
Roy recalled a hunt with David Allen in North Carolina in the early 1990s. They turned loose on a track and the dog quickly ran a bruin into a bear sanctuary. The dogs treed the bear but they couldn’t locate them. Roy and Allen ended up leaving at 2:00 a.m. Roy drove a school bus and had to be awake by 4:00 a.m. Roy said, “I woke up, drove the bus and taught school all day.”
At 4:00 p.m. the next evening, he made it back to the bear sanctuary and located Susie’s whereabouts using his tracking system. “She was on a ‘shin bone’ ridge in area that had been clear-cut. It was rugged and thick. It was the kind of place you didn’t want to have to go into.” At 7:30 p.m., using his track box and antenna, he slowly moved in to where Susie was. She wasn’t barking and he suspected the worst. Roy recalls, “I’ve never seen anything like what I saw when I moved up to where Susie was. To be honest, I thought she was dead.” There was a 10-foot circle beaten to the ground and there laid Susie on her belly with her head up. Ten feet from her was the bear sitting on his haunches with his tongue out. The archenemies both sat still and stared at each in a stalemate. Roy said, “I slipped in on my hands and knees from behind Susie and grabbed her by the tail and she nearly ate me up!” When Susie finally recognized her master, she calmed down and the bear simply turned and ambled into the clear-cut. She had been on the bear for around 36 hours.
Roy said, “Susie was the kind of dog that if she pulled on the leash and whined – she had a bear.” Like most good houndsman, Roy knew the signals of his dog. She had a notorious “double bark” that always signaled a jumped bear. With excitement in his voice, Roy said, “I knew when I heard it that she had the bear.” Roy always bred his dogs for their nose, grit, stay power, and tree power. Susie had it all. In the mountains of North Carolina they did a lot of free casting the hounds and walking in the mountains. “You might only come across one track in a days walk. You had better have a dog with good nose that can work that track,” Roy said.
Roy once recalled a hunt in Wisconsin where his hunting partners turned their hounds loose on a bear bait. The track was exceptionally cold and after some time it became clear that the dogs couldn’t work it, and they were ready to move on. Roy was a guest on this hunt, and being from the south it wasn’t in his nature to be pushy. However, it didn’t stop him from asking if he could turn out Susie to see if she could work the track. A bit reluctant, the other houndsman agreed to let her try the track. Roy turned out Susie and another Plott pup and they disappeared into the timber. In short order Roy heard Susie open. And in no time he heard her famous double bark! The pair jumped the bear as the other houndsman asked Roy what they were running. Directly another hunter came from down the road and told the bunch that he had seen the two Plott dogs cross the road right behind a bear!
Susie’s Final Hunt
In the fall of 1995, Susie was 6.5 years old and was in her prime. She already had a decorated hunting career. Roy was hunting in the mountains of North Carolina, along with a few others, when they saw a bear track going up a bank. They turned a few dogs loose, and they took the track down the mountain.
The dogs were having a rough time with the track, so Roy turned out Susie to see if she could help. Surprisingly, Susie took the track up the mountain, opposite of the other hounds. After they examined the track a second time they realized the old bruin was moving up the mountain, not down it. “It was a cold track, but after sometime I heard Susie double bark and I knew she’d jumped it.” They quickly turned some other dogs to give her some help. The dogs took the bear to the top of the mountain and then over on the backside out of hearing. Roy said, “It was about 2 miles to the top of the mountain and it took us about two hours to get up there.”
Upon arrival at the top of the mountain, they located the hounds treed, but still a very long walk back down the other side. They had an older gentleman with them that day, and the whole party knew that he wouldn’t be able to make it to the tree. It was already getting close to dark, and they were a long ways from the dogs and the truck. Roy wanted to go to the hounds, but being the gentleman that he is, he volunteered to walk with the old man back to the truck while the others went to the tree to kill the bear. As Roy recalls, “We didn’t have a flashlight and it got dark on us. We walked back to the truck using a cigarette lighter.”
Meanwhile, the others in the party got to the tree to find several of the dogs already cut up pretty bad. It was a mean bear, but they’d managed to get it up the tree. Unfortunately, the shooter made a poor shot and the bear came out alive and running. The dogs, including Susie, took after the bear, and that would be the last time she was seen alive.
The dogs chased the bear into a thick, swampy area where they bayed it up on the ground. When they arrived at the bay, Susie was dead. The bear broke the bay and they were never able to find him. Susie’s hunting was over. Back at the truck when Roy heard the news, he was heart broken. “I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t shed a tear,” Roy said.
Like many good bear dogs, Susie’s hunting ended too early. However, she produced multiple litters of outstanding bear hounds. One of her male pups ended up being a well-known dog named Stiles Plott John Henry. There is no doubt that Susie was one of the best female Plott hounds to ever lay a pad in the mountains of North Carolina - who knows, maybe even in the country. The beauty of human memory and abstract thought is a wonderful thing when remembering great hounds. This is all that is left of many legendary bear hounds. However, there is no doubt that many legends are alive today and being made for tomorrow’s hunts. Stiles Plott Susie II will certainly go down in history as a legendary bear hound.