An unexpected companion makes a lifelong memory

By Dr. Thomas Cloer Jr.
Special to The Courier

I absolutely love our Jocassee Gorges, a national treasure of our Southern Appalachian Mountains. My roots run deep in the gorges. My grandchildren represent the ninth generation of my family to love, adore and treasure the majesty and allure of such a jewel in our Upstate. My great-great-great-great maternal grandfather, Daniel Moody, came to the old Pickens District late in the 1700s and bought land on the Keowee and Toxaway portions of upper South Carolina.

One of my favorite places, as I grow longer in the tooth, and need a place a little more placid, is the beautiful and scenic Laurel Fork Heritage Preserve of the Jocassee Gorges. I have camped, hunted and fished there, in what is now the preserve, with many different people. One was a man who now has monuments erected for him in the gorges. Franklin Gravely, the legendary mountain man and game warden for whom the Franklin Gravely Wildlife Management Area in the Jocassee Gorges is named, was a frequent companion for decades. Franklin, his son, Mike Gravely, my dad, my son, Tom III, and I coon hunted the Jocassee Gorges for years.

A Surprise on Laurel Fork

Presently, one of my favorite trips to Laurel Fork Creek is to travel up U.S. Highway 178 to the point at which the Horsepasture Road or the access road to the Foothills Trail junctions with 178 north of Pickens. The Horsepasture Road continues west into the gorges until it reaches the Laurel Fork Gap at the very head of the Laurel Fork Heritage Preserve. By parking here in the gap, one can access the old Laurel Fork Road that runs along Laurel Fork Creek all the way down the preserved valley to Lake Jocassee. It takes me about 20 minutes on the Horsepasture Road before reaching the gap and the preserve. I then walk down the old Laurel Fork Road that I coon hunted for so many years.

I leave a pack with snacks and a drink at one of the creek crossings, and often travel far on down the valley to begin fly fishing back upstream. I catch all three species of trout — rainbow, brook and brown trout. The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources has done a wonderful job of preserving this pristine paradise. I frequently visit without ever encountering another human. I love the solitary trips in this Garden of Eden with nothing but black bears, wild boars, turkeys and beautiful trout. I was enjoying just such a treat when a large animal jumped into Laurel Fork Creek so close to me that water splashed on my surprised face! It was one of the largest black and tan coon hounds I had ever seen; the dog was really huge!

I tried to decide what sex the big, beautiful animal was. What I saw utterly surprised me. It was a male black and tan male hunting dog that had been “fixed.” Now, how many hunters do you know in the Jocassee Gorges who “fix” their hunting dogs? “None,” you say, and you are absolutely correct. Not going to happen! In the first place, hunters want to continue the blood line of good hunting dogs. Secondly, most hunters want their hunting dogs to be more eager, not less. I have been associated with coon hounds throughout my life. I am now in my 70s. I have never known hunters who neutered their dogs.

Getting Acquainted

The huge animal was a beautiful specimen. I immediately started talking to him, and he began wagging his tail and looking me in the eye. This dog was very different.

“Hey Boy!” I said. “I bet you are a lost hunting dog. The bear hunt with dogs just concluded here in the gorges. Laurel Fork Heritage Preserve is a hot spot for black bears! But that muffler repair of yours has me totally confused!”

As I talked to the big dog, I noticed he had no collar and no identification. Hunting dogs sometimes lose their collars after sticking their heads in holes when pursuing their quarry. When he made eye contact with me, I could tell his eyes were bloodshot; he had been lost for a while, and had lost much sleep. Instead of running up the creek, he walked slowly right beside and occasionally in front of me.

I said to the big dog, “Now listen, Scooby Doo! I walked in here to this heritage preserve to catch trout. I can’t catch trout if you walk in front of me and scare them. If you are going to walk with me, get here behind me where you won’t scare the trout.”

He turned his head sideways as he listened to me. Then, to my utter amazement, he walked timidly back behind me and looked up as to say, “Is this O.K? I don’t want to mess this up!”

The big beautiful black and tan then followed obediently behind me until I had my limit of trout. When I would look around and say, “You’re doing just fine, fellow,” he would look up at me with his big bloodshot eyes as if to say, “I just can’t mess this up!”

“I bet you will chomp down on some trout heads when I clean these fish,” I said.

However, the big beautiful hound wasn’t a bit interested in fish heads. Instead, he made him a bed near me in some lush creek moss and began immediately snoring so loudly that I could hear it clearly over the rustling mountain stream.

dogI finished cleaning my trout and packed them in wet rhododendron leaves within my creel. The big hound continued to snore even more loudly.

Courtesy Dr. Thomas Cloer Jr.
The author’s grandson, Dylan Cloer, with Baxter.

“If you are going with me, Scooby, you better get up from there, because I am traveling upstream toward my pack.”He opened those big bloodshot eyes, arose shakily on his tired feet and started up the trail with me. After reaching my pack, I said, “I have real food in here. If you will sit, I will give you some of it.”

Again, beyond all my expectations, he sat, turned his big head sideways and started to wag his tail. I knew there was something very special about the obedience and friendliness of this big dog. I opened the box of oats and honey granola bars, and I had one, and he had the rest of the box. The big boy must have been lost for some time. It took no effort for him to down those granola bars.

A Diversion

As I put on my pack and started up toward the gap and my truck, the big hound was walking right with me until I noticed where a black bear had just come across the old road. Immediately, the hair on his back stood straight, and he dashed off in the laurels bawling like a true black and tan.

“Well, I guess that’s the last I will hear of him,” I said aloud as I walked on up the trail. “What a strange encounter that was!”

I went on toward the gap and my truck. As I came close to my vehicle, I heard something like a horse running behind me. Sure enough, when the huge hound reached me, I petted him and he wagged his tail enthusiastically, but still courteously.

As I put my creel, fly rod and pack in the truck, the big hound climbed up on a high rock where I had parked. He then sailed through the air like a giant pterodactyl and landed in the bed of my truck. My little Ford Ranger truck shook when he loaded.

“I guess that settles it! You are definitely going home with me!” I said as I cranked my truck and headed back the old Horsepasture Road I had traveled so many times with Franklin Gravely and Dad, looking for our lost coon dogs.

Meeting My Wife

My wife, Elaine, loves animals to a fault. When I arrived at our home, the big hound sailed out of the truck before I even let down the tailgate. He ran to our door and sat wagging his tail and waiting for me to come and open it for him to enter.

“You beat all I’ve ever seen! You’re definitely no ordinary hunting dog,” I said as I opened the door for him to enter.

“Who is this? Oh! What a beautiful animal! Where on earth did you find him?” my wife asked as she petted and rubbed the big hound’s head. He soaked up all the petting and became even more active when she said, “I bet you are hungry. We have some dog food left over from keeping our son’s dog,” she exclaimed as she found the food and poured it into a little pail.

Gulp! Gulp! All gone!

“Oh mercy! I don’t know if we can afford him. I’ve never seen a dog eat like that!’ my wife laughed.

“I named him Scooby Doo because of his size. He’s been lost in the Jocassee Gorges, and has burned a lot of calories!” I declared. “We’ll have to find his owner.”

My wife put his food and water by a woven rug near our wood stove. The big socialite, however, seemed to want to be with us in our bedroom, not in another room. I awakened during the night and strolled to the bathroom. When I returned, there lay Scooby cuddled up to my wife.

“No sir! That’s my spot!” I told him.

He stepped off the bed before I moved my foot, and all his weight landed solidly on the top of my foot. I thought surely he had broken it.

Finding His Owner

“We’ll start by putting up posters about finding a large lost hound. I’ll make the posters on the computer and print them,” I told my wife. “Then, we’ll put them on Highway 178 where the Horsepasture Road joins Highway 178. We will also put them up toward Rosman in different store windows.”

The next week, I received a response. It was actually a neighbor.

“Tom, I saw your poster on the Horsepasture Road. Was that big dog fixed?”

“He was fixed,” I said, “and had no collar.”

My neighbor said, “He came to my camp when I was deer hunting, and he had a collar then. I looked on the collar, got a phone number, and wrote it down. He belongs to someone with a Brevard, North Carolina, address. Got a pencil?”

I got the number and called. A very nice lady in Brevard answered and exclaimed with delight!

“You have found Baxter! We’ve been worried sick about him! My husband will come tomorrow and get Baxter, and leave you a check.”

“Oh no! I should pay you!” I said. “That big dog has been the delight of my grandchildren ever since he arrived. He plays with children like he was another child.”


When Baxter’s owner, Mr. Paul Hawkins, came up my driveway, he stopped, climbed out, and called, “Hey Baxter! Where have you been fellow?”

Baxter was whining uncontrollably as he ran to Mr. Hawkins, stood on his hind legs and hugged his owner like a person. One could tell in a moment there was real chemistry between the two. They truly adored each other.

I first asked Mr. Hawkins exactly where he lived, and how Baxter got to me in the Laurel Fork Heritage Preserve of the Jocassee Gorges. Here is the scoop.

Paul and his wife, Pauline, are two lovers of art and entrepreneurs, originally from Chicago and Columbus, Ohio, respectively. I am very familiar with their two businesses. One at 36 S. Broad St. in Brevard is called Local Color. What a fantastic and clever idea this shop was! More than 150 local mountain artists and consignors bring their finest arts and crafts. There are also accessories and apparel galore. The two also own Coffee cArts Studio on the Rosman Highway, just outside Brevard. I stop there and eat the best of baked goods served with the finest coffees.

Paul and Pauline actually live off the Old Toxaway Road that reaches all the way down close to where the Fisher family tragedy occurred in the Jocassee Gorges in 1936. This is where Ben Fisher and his sons, Raymond, Odell and Otis, all drowned in the Toxaway River. Their bodies were brought up the Old Toxaway Road to a funeral home in Brevard.

I asked Paul and Pauline how two entrepreneurs and lovers of art would live at the very head of the Jocassee Gorges with a “fixed” black and tan hound. They thought Baxter might be mixed with “some kind of bird dog.” They further explained they thought neutering would have a friendly, devoted bird dog hanging around close to their property. I said that I thought Baxter was undoubtedly black and tan, a breed of long-ranging hunting hounds, and that his instincts had inexorably led him deeply into the majestic Jocassee Gorges.

As Paul and Baxter were about to leave, Paul turned and said to me, “You know, Tom, other than running off and chasing things, Baxter really has only one fault. When we have overnight guests at our home, if one ever gets out of bed for any reason, Baxter will claim that spot immediately. Oh, I forgot to mention that we also have Baxter’s big brother, who is longer and taller than he is.”

“You’re kidding! What’s his name?” I asked as Paul got into his car to leave.

“Gunther,” Paul said, as he looked back. “His name is Gunther.”


As this paper goes to press, we have some very sad news to pass along. Baxter, having lived the good life of a black and tan hound, and with the author, having enjoyed the beauty, grandeur and sheer wonder of the Jocassee Gorges of upper Pickens County, passed away peacefully in his sleep on a recent cool September night. Paul and Pauline Hawkins have our deepest sympathy for having lost one of the most amazing animals I have experienced in my lifetime.

About the Author: Dr. Cloer a is professor emeritus at Furman University. He and his ancestors have lived, worked, hunted, fished and loved the Jocassee Gorges since the early 1800s.