By Mitchell Marks, Wildlife Biologist, Freedom Hills Wildlife Management Area
Located in the southwest part of Colbert County, Ala., on Freedom Hills Wildlife Management Area, is a plot of ground revered by raccoon hunters from across the United States. This area’s “hills and hollers” have been hunted by many a man and his four-footed companions – a special breed of hunting dogs known as “coon dogs,” which include American leopard hounds, black and tans, blueticks, English coonhounds, plot coonhounds, redbones and treeing walkers, among others.
One dog in particular, known as “Troop,” spent more than 15 years hunting these hills with his master, Key Underwood. Troop, who was half redbone coonhound and half birdsong, was well-known as the best around. And so it seemed only fitting to Key Underwood, upon the death of his beloved Troop, that a special resting place be found to bury the coon dog and honor his memory. The chosen resting place was historically a popular hunting camp where coon hunters gathered to plot their strategies and compare dogs with fellow coon hunters. Underwood knew that there was no place Troop loved more than the hunting camp. When Troop passed away on Labor Day weekend of 1937, his burial at this hunting camp marked the beginning of “Coon Dog Cemetery.”
Since that time, nearly 300 other coon dogs have found their final resting place in Coon Dog Cemetery. Guidelines were established to allow the burial of only bona fide coon dogs on this hallowed ground, rules that have been upheld since the cemetery’s inception. These guidelines are:
- The owner must present papers that the dog is an authentic coon hound.
- A witness must certify in writing that the dog is a coon dog, personally having witnessed it tree a raccoon.
- A member of the Friends of Coon Dog Cemetery must be allowed to view the dog to verify that it is a coon hound.
- A $100 burial fee is required, donated for the perpetual care of the cemetery.
For many years, the local Coon Hunters Association maintained the cemetery. In recent decades, they have joined forces with the Colbert County Tourism and Convention Board and the Friends of Coon Dog Cemetery to organize an annual fund-raiser, held each Labor Day, for the care and maintenance of this burial ground. Food and t-shirts are sold as part of the fund-raiser and people gather to listen and dance to the entertainment provided by local musicians. Fund-raiser participants are treated to a liar’s contest to see who can spin the most believable yarn. During election years, local and state political candidates are known to attend to drum up public support. Coon dog funerals have ranged from private affairs attended by only a few friends to large gatherings with many dignitaries. In recent years, some funerals have been attended by as many as 500 people, attracting the attention of newspapers, magazines and local television media.
To visit the cemetery: from Cherokee, Ala., go south on Mount Hester Road one-quarter-mile, turn left on White Pike and travel 9 miles; turn left on Coon Dog Cemetery Road. The cemetery is located 3 miles on the right in Freedom Hills Wildlife Management Area.