The Brothers Poe
Foxhunting has been a tradition on the eastern seaboard of the United States for many generations. Since the mid 1900’s two of the most famous names in the foxhunting world are Melvin and Albert Poe Melvin and Albert were born into a family of 10 children in Hume Virginia. Melvin in 1921 and Albert in 1931. Their childhood was spent working on the family farm and when asked how they got into hunting they both replied “to eat”. As youngsters they hunted rabbit, squirrel, coons, deer, and other game. The family kept 6-8 hounds that were “multipurpose”. They could hunt coon one night and rabbit the next day. Sunday was the day for fox hunting as you could not shoot game on the Sabbath. From this hunting tradition grew the famous Poe Brothers. Their father rode his “hunter” but they were left to ride the work horses whenever they went fox hunting. Albert says his father would get on his hunter, let the hounds out, move from one hill to another and listen to the hounds run. He knew the way the fox would travel so he only covered a few miles while Melvin and Albert would end up covering many more miles to follow the hounds.
Melvin and Albert say that growing up in the small community of Hume had the greatest influence on their lives. They were related to most of the people in town and friends with the rest. They rode ponies, bikes, or drove a buggy to get where they were going. There was a special sense of community in Hume and a great hospitality. There were “no bad influences like cussing and drinking”. They had a well regarded baseball team in Hume and Melvin brags that he was a “right good baseball player”. They actually sent 2 boys to the “big leagues”. Albert fondly remembers an uncle who would come from Warrenton to Hume and take him to the race track in Charlestown. A very circuitous and long route but he knew Albert loved the horse racing. Melvin was in the Army during WWII and had a “good time” which he attributes to growing up as an outdoorsman and being a Boy Scout. Albert was too young to go off to war, he kept up the hunting tradition at home.
Melvin returned from the war and soon heard that Old Dominion Hunt was in need of a Huntsman. His family had worked for the club in different jobs and Melvin had always wanted to hunt the Old Dominion hounds. Things were very different after the war and many of the hunting members were Remount Officers stationed near Front Royal. Melvin started hunting with old Dominion as an apprentice to the Huntsman. He credits the Whip( Huntsman’s assistant) Guss Riggs for teaching him a great deal about mounted hunting. Melvin soon took over the pack and a legendary career was born. He hunted the Old Dominion Hounds for 16 years. In 1962 he and Old Dominion parted ways and he had his feelers out for a new position. Mrs. Mills of the Orange County Hunt in Middleburg saw his ad in the Chronicle, called the Master of Orange County and said “Go hire that man”. Melvin was hired right away. He was Huntsman for the famed Red Ring Neck Orange County Hounds for 30 years. He retired in 1992. His hounds were well known and Melvin is extremely proud of the pack he developed at Orange County. When Melvin retired a celebration was held with luminaries from all over the hunting world including the likes of Ben Hardaway and Senator John Warner. Melvin has not totally retired, at 87 years young he continues to hunt a pack of hounds on the Bath County land owned by George Ohrstrom. He keeps the hounds at his home in Hume, travels 3 hours to Bath to hunt.
Albert’s career in hunting hounds began to blossom while Melvin was away during WWII. Having accumulated a few hounds from the Huntsman at Old Dominion he began breeding his own hounds. On Sundays Old Dominion pack and Albert’s hounds would hunt together. When Melvin came back from the war and took over the Old Dominion pack, Albert whipped-in for Melvin on Sundays. Albert had a job in Mr. Hinckley’s stable that provided hunt horses to Washingtonians. He trained the horses and this reinforced his love of horses both hunting and racing. One of his other jobs was artificially inseminating cattle around the area. While on a farm one day he heard that Piedmont Hunt in Middleburg needed a huntsman as theirs had been badly injured in a traffic accident. Albert immediately applied and in 1954 Joint Masters Mrs. A.C. Randolph and Mr. Paul Mellon hired Albert as the huntsman. This was a real honor as there were 28 applicants but Albert’s history of working as whip, to a now well known Melvin, won him the job. He was, at 23, the youngest professional huntsman in the U.S. Albert hunted the Piedmont hounds, and managed Mrs. Randolph’s farm Oaklee until 1972 when he and Mrs. Randolph had a parting of the ways over his increasing interest and success in horse racing. Experienced and well known fox hunters will tell you that during that time Albert developed and bred the finest and most athletic pack of fox hounds they had ever ridden behind. Ret. Huntsman Oliver Brown of Rappahannock Hunt says that Albert had good sound theories on pack maintenance and breeding of hounds to maintain good hunting lines. Ret. Huntsman Jake Carle of Keswick Hunt believes that Albert was a purist in pack development. They both feel Albert is the most outstanding breeder of American Foxhounds in our time. Incredible praise from men who know their business. This praise verifies what Albert views as his greatest achievement.
When he left Piedmont Albert turned his attention to his already successful race horses. He had won major steeplechase races such as The Iroquois in Kentucky. He began training, race riding and out riding at the track. He had great success in racing, but his horses kept getting claimed. He was getting low on race horses and about this time Randy Rouse of Fairfax offered Albert the Huntsman position at Fairfax Hounds. He hunted the Fairfax Hounds for 4 years. During this period he started their Point to Point and built the course. In 1980 after hearing that the Middleburg Hounds huntsman had quit Albert applied and was hired immediately. He stayed with Middleburg until 1995. At that time he had 35 hounds of his own, 10 horses, and 20 cows. His job became raising yearling horses and cows, making hay, and as always hunting his hounds. For the next 3 years he hunted his own pack on Sundays with permission of the landowners in the Middleburg country. Though Albert is now officially retired he rarely misses a Point to Point, Steeplechase race, or Hound Show and when hounds go out he is there listening.
So what makes these two men from Hume, Virginia literally world famous as Huntsmen.
They both say it is their longevity but other houndsmen verify it is their methods of training and making a good hound. The Poes believe that starting hounds as puppies is important to teaching good skills in fox hunting. Their packs were not separated by sex in the kennels as both men feel that the dogs and the bitches have to get along as they have to hunt together. Their experience has taught them that 40 hounds is the number they like for a day of hunting. These men can tell you what those hounds are doing by their voices—running the track, tailing, or just babbling. They both felt that if a hound had any faults they would not go into the breeding program and they would breed outside of their pack for specific attributes. They would sell or give hounds to other hunts to help enhance their pack. Melvin says “If I gave you a good hound I made a mistake”, but many a huntsman has been thrilled to have a hound from either gentleman. They train their hounds that the “top dog” is the huntsman otherwise you cannot get them to do what you want them to do. Both men say that they could take a pack of up to 100 hounds out by themselves and have no problem.
Melvin feels that conformation is most important and then nose. He kept puppies good enough to show and then worked them into the pack. He was always successful at the Hound Shows and one year at Bryn Myr his hounds won every class on the bench and also the pack class. At the Virginia Hound Show he has been almost as successful. Today neither man misses any of the hound competitions.
Albert breeds for nose and his packs have always been known for their speed and their ability to hold the line of the fox scent
When asked the best means to keep their hounds from running deer they replied in unison “shoot em”. By that they mean with pellets. They know when hounds are running deer as the fox runs a path and the deer doesn’t. Both got “good” advise from an old Huntsman “If a hound runs a deer shot ‘em once on the flank, if they run again shoot ‘em again, and if they run again shoot ‘em between the eyes.”
Both Melvin and Albert believe you should be quiet and slow when you put your hounds into the covert. They see no sense in warning the fox that you’re coming by yelling and blowing the horn. Once you have the fox out and running they want their hounds to stay on the “track”. The hounds are taught to run with their heads down so they do not overrun the line.
The Poe Brothers legacies as a Huntsman are many fold but personally Melvin feels that he helped develop good landowner relationships. He would help the farmers in any way he could and he involved them in the fox hunting. Albert says his legacy is that he helped hunt clubs in America with developing their pack and their hound breeding program. He says “anybody can hunt a good pack of hounds but it takes years to develop a good pack”. Indeed both men’s hound lines can be found in packs all over the U.S.
They have an obvious devotion to one another and the sport they have loved, shared and enhanced for so many years. Even today as they did for decades of hunting they call each other in the morning to discuss the scenting possibilities for the day. If you have not had the privilege of riding behind either man in the pursuit of the ever elusive fox then make that a priority because as Albert says “you better hurry, Melvin’s not getting any younger”.