Aurore Eaton's Looking Back: Mayor William Clarke and his hunting dogsBY AURORE EATON
February 10. 2014 4:32PM
Mayor William C. Clarke was a many-faceted man. Like his father John B. Clarke before him, he was an influential newspaper publisher and editor. Although John avoided direct political involvement, William embraced the public life. He served on the Manchester School Board for seven years, and was a representative to the New Hampshire Legislature for a term. He was the first person born in Manchester to be elected Mayor, and won the 1894 mayoral election by the largest vote received by a Republican candidate in the city up to that time. His great success as the chairman of Manchester's Semi-Centennial Celebration in 1896 and his even-handed leadership style earned him wide support. He would be reelected three more times.
William and his brother Arthur shared their father's great passion for sports. Baseball, horse racing, target shooting, and hunting in the woods of New Hampshire were favorite hobbies. For them the fall season was the time to hunt birds. William Clarke, in particular, was legendary as an expert "wing shot," which meant that he primarily hunted game birds when they were in flight. These included woodcock, quail, partridge and grouse. The key to success for a wing shooter was to hunt with a talented dog ahead of him. We learn the amusing stories of some of William's hunting trips in an interesting narrative that he wrote for his family and friends entitled "Days Afield." The continuing theme in his stories is his great affection and appreciation for his dogs, whether they were good hunters or not.
William Clarke's first dog was Max. He originally specialized in hunting squirrels, but was later trained to track birds. He was a medium-sized black and white setter with large silky ears. He was a good tracker, but had a bad habit of running towards the birds as soon as a shot was fired, instead of waiting for the command to retrieve. Then there was Burke, an Irish setter who was aristocratic in bearing and thoroughly lovable. Unfortunately, Burke was a terrible hunter, as he thought his job was to chase the birds away. One of William's favorite dogs was Belle. He wrote, "Belle was small in body and light in limb and her style was the embodiment of beauty and grace. When she walked, trotted or ran it was as if her little legs were treading upon cushions." She was a good hunter who responded well to whistle commands and was a wonderful house dog.
The greatest bird dog that William ever owned was Prince, a rugged brown and white English pointer. He was the most intelligent dog William ever knew, and seemed to have an innate understanding of bird psychology. As William wrote, "In my mind he was a monarch among dogs … I think I am justified in saying that on the whole he could out-wit and out-general more birds than were able to fool him." Once he tracked down a bird or a flock, Prince would stop and point, maintaining a rigid position until he was commanded to retrieve.
Prince was devoted to William. One winter William went on an ice fishing trip for a few days and Prince missed him terribly. On the day that William was to return, his wife told him, "Your master will be coming home today!" The dog was so excited he took off and didn't come back. When William arrived home, and learned that Prince was missing, he figured that the dog must be out looking for him. He scoured the neighborhood, downtown Manchester and the train station, but there was no sign of Prince. William was in despair. On the way home he decided to stop at his office at the Mirror to pick up his mail. He asked the clerk, "Have you seen Prince?" William was thrilled to learn that Prince had arrived at the office door that afternoon, and had cried to come in. He had been waiting patiently under William's desk for several hours. As William wrote, "Prince never received a warmer welcome than he got from me then and there and when we got home together every member of the family joined in embracing Prince and calling him affectionate names."
Next Week: A Valley Cemetery Story – The Manchester Women's Aid and Relief Society..
Aurore Eaton is executive director of Manchester Historic Association; email her at firstname.lastname@example.org