Here’s how the UKC-sponsored Grand American came about, in the words of one of its founders, Jim Mathis of Denmark, written in 1989.
There were only a few competition hunts being held in the Southeast in the early ‘60s, these being only of club size. The writer had visited a number of Midwestern states to both competition hunt and water race coon hounds, and as a result came to know most of the leading national hunters.
Many of these prominent hunters expressed their desire for a hunt in the South during the winter, as snow and other weather conditions prevent much winter hunting in their states. Having brought the world championship coon hound water races to Anderson in 1963, 1964 and 1965, this writer began soliciting ideas for a big hunt to be held in South Carolina.
A panel of leading national competition hunters was formed, along with some prominent hunters and game officials in South Carolina. The original group consisted of the following from South Carolina: Lynn Anderson and Jack Vallentine Sr., Orangeburg; Jim Bass, Florence, Powell Felder, Holly Hill; Ralph Hendrix, Greenville, B.G. Horne, Charleston; George Ross, Dalzell; Hugh Still, Barnwell; Jim Mathis, Denmark; and James Webb, Columbia.
Out-of-state members of the group were Bob Alexander, Virginia; Dave Branthoover, Ohio; Jim Carpenter, Herbert Smith and Hal Steward, North Carolina; Dave Dean, Michigan; B.C. Drain, Ohio; J.C. Ellis and Joe House, Kentucky; Ernest Grigg, T.C. Jones and Raymond McClure, Mississippi; Harry Hitt, West Virginia; James Merchant, Illinois; Billy Merriweather, Tennessee; Laverne Miller and George Wilkinson, Indiana; Fred Moran, Pennsylvania; Fred Rahr, Wisconsin; and Paul Sheffield, Georgia.
The above group was later enlarged to become known as the National Nite Hunters Association. Many of the above group were consulted by telephone any times by the writer as the hunt was planned.
Knowing that the Orangeburg area would be an ideal geographic location for a big hunt, the writer was invited to meet with the then-rather-new Orangeburg Coon Hunters Association, Lynn Anderson, president. Most of the area hunters had no idea of what a big competition hunt would involve, so some were lukewarm in their acceptance. Anderson promised they would train 30 judges for the predicted 75 we would need for the first hunt if the hunt would be staged in Orangeburg. His offer was accepted.
Not having an organization to sponsor such a hunt, the writer personally budgeted $10,000 to finance the planned event. Advertising costs were expected to be high for the first hunt. City of Orangeburg officials were consulted about the proposed hunt, but city officials and the Chamber of Commerce were very reserved in their response, since they knew little about this particular sport, and expressed doubt about its national appeal. We decided to do it on our own, so the Orangeburg fairgrounds were selected as headquarters and a Mr. Hughes gave permission for their use.
The hunt name was suggested by Mrs. Joe House of Kentucky and adopted. The first hunt was scheduled for Jan. 7 and 8, 1966. Heavy advertising in the Coon Hound publications was begun, along with visits by the writer to many club meeting in the South, seeking their cooperation.
Some 250-275 entries were received for the first event, but many S.C., N.C., and Georgia hunters had to pull their dogs by necessity to aid in judging or entries would have been higher. The “30” area judges promised turned out to be only four, as none had been trained as promised. Facing an immediate first hunt failure because of the unexpected judge shortage, the following groups came forth and made the hunt a success:
A. Game wardens: Hugh “Tator” Still, area game warden supervisor, immediately rounded up some 20 to 35 game wardens to primarily guide casts, with some knowing the hunt rules well enough to judge.
B. Hunters Chapel Deer Hunting Club, Bamberg. (The writer was a member there). Some 20 guides were made available and a few were qualified previously to judge.
C. Greenville and Anderson area hunters. Some 20 skilled judges came fourth at our call. Ralph Hendrix was of great help in this matter.
D. Florence and Sumter clubs combined to provide some 15 skilled judges. The new Charleston club provided some 10 skilled judges.
E. Some North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio and Indiana hunters scratched their dogs and judged. When we still came up short, F. Jack Vallentine Sr. used his influence to gain a few more locals.
Delays in lining up all casts with judges caused some hunters to leave the clubhouse late, but generally the first hunt went well.
The first hunt was won by Robert Graves of Hilton Head. Hunters from some 15 states participated. The first Master of Hounds was Berton Oney of Ohio. Cost of the hunt was around $5,300 less than we expected. Most motels were filled, restaurants were busy, coon hunters’ wives shopped and the officials of
Orangeburg were greatly impressed. We never had to pressure them again.
Shortly after the first hunt, the writer met with all clubs in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia to ask them to become a part of the event. As a result, the Grand American Coon Hunters Association was formed. It consisted of all clubs from the above-defined states, and from those clubs the first group of officers was elected to lead the hunt.
Representing National Nite Hunters: Jim Mathis, chairman
Grand American officers: Ralph Hendrix, president; Paul Sheffield, VP; Herbert Smith, secretary and treasurer.
The Grand American officers and National Nite Hunters met regularly to plan the hunt for the next year.
Second-year entries were between 350-400 dogs, and everything went well. All clubs fielded their quota of judges, guides and hunt officials as committed.
The hunt was now in the black and firmly set.
The American Coon Hunters Association licensed the hunt as a qualifying event for the World’s Champ hunt held annually at various points in the United
States, usually about the center of the USA. The writer retired from active competition hunting and coon dog events in the early 1970s, but surely enjoyed the sport.