American Field

Performer from the Past

Mary Montrose

Aug 05, 2019
Mary Montrose

In the early Autumn of 1916 there appeared upon the bird dog horizon a handsome white and liver pointer bitch whose every line and curve suggested classical beauty. It was not her good looks nor her excellent symmetry that made her famous, however; it was her deeds; and they came thick and fast.

Her very first appearance in the prairie trials presaged the fact that she was destined to adorn one of the brightest of field trial history’s checkered pages. Her name was Mary Montrose.

She soon began to attract attention by her brilliant performances and from the disinterested followers of the field trial circuit she gained the sobriquet of “Peerless Mary”, for she was indeed peerless. A few of the narrow-minded who had dogs in competition during those years of Mary’s triumphs, however, spoke of her in far different terms; she was called “Erratic Mary,” “Crazy Mary,” Blinking Mary” and about every other epithet that a vicious, diabolical envy could invent. But it is ever thus with man or dog. It is not the small or the lowly that draw forth adverse criticism, but the great and the exalted. Let a man come into fame and his critics assail him; let a dog become a prominent winner in field trials and he is charged with every fault listed in the category of short-comings.

Despite her critics, however, Mary Montrose won three National Championships, two Chicken Championships, one Derby Championship and fifteen or sixteen other places in the three short years that she was before the public, for it must be remembered that Mary Montrose was retired when she was but a few days past five years of age. Her record for the length of time that she was in major circuit field trial competition has never been equaled, nor has any other dog ever won a National Championship in his or her Derby form. But that was the record of “Peerless Mary” during her short, brilliant, scintillating, spectacular career.

Others may place what estimate they wish upon this marvelous daughter of Comanche Frank and Lorna Doone, but after due consideration and careful analysis, matured in the perspective of nearly seven years since she faded from the picture, I shall always consider her the greatest field trial performer I have ever seen. I do not say that I never expect to see another as great, for in this game of field trials with its kaleidoscopic changes and its unexpected denouements, many things may happen and another peerless one may be waiting just around the corner, but up to the present time Mary Montrose occupies the center of the stage. Other dogs have longer records, due largely to the fact that they have been in competition a greater number of years, but Mary’s achievement sparkles among the galaxy of great ones with a luster that the ages cannot dim.

Mary Montrose was whelped January 2, 1915, consequently she had every advantage, as to age, to qualify for Derby material. Her breeder was F. M. Jones of Virginia, but early in life she became the property of R. K Armstrong, then of Barber, North Carolina.

At about this same time Bob Armstrong secured several other good puppies as Derby prospects and among them were Royal Flush and Comanche Rap. Bob had no intention of going on the circuit when he acquired these puppies, but the more he saw of them the better they looked.

The late Judge J. J. Graham of Syossett, Long Island, became interested and it was in his name that these Derbies began their public career in September, 1916. Comanche Rap was sent to J. M Avent by Armstrong and he sent Royal Flush to Herbert Fishel to run in the Southern Ohio Puppy trials. The latter won that stake and after the trials I wrote Bob Armstrong congratulating him upon showing such a good puppy. “Wait till you see the others,” was his terse reply.

Armstrong went to the prairies himself that year, taking with him Mary Montrose, Royal Flush, Sunkist, Mike O’Leary and several others. Mary was his favorite; no doubt there was good reason for it. She began her career in the All-America Derby and drew a bad course. She had little opportunity to show her best wares there, except to prove right from the beginning that she was perfectly broken, In those days broken Derbies so early in the season were much more of a rarity.

Years before it was taken as a matter of course that even the Derby must show a certain amount of training, but in the mad rush for so-called class which came with the beginning of the present century, this was entirely overlooked and more than one dog went through the entire circuit showing perhaps nothing but the poorest excuse of a “flash point” now and then. These puppies of 1916 and1917 did much to counteract the belief that Derbies cannot be trained without taking all of the natural quality out of them and Mary Montrose was the chief exponent of the prefectly finished high-class Derby.

Very early in her career she demonstrated that she was very wide, bold, courageous and independent. She proved further that she had marvelous style and character on point and that she would hold her birds and remain steady to wing and shot as well as any fourth season all-age dog.

There was something especially attractive in the way she went out and hunted her country, being a large, nearly all white pointer she loomed up on the horizon like a piece of moving marble statuary, and it seemed that she possessed an almost human knowledge that she was playing to the galleries, for many of her finds were made far out on a long cast and there she posed perfectly intense until her audience came up. This happened on so many occasions that the saying became trite that Mary made her points for the benefit of the spectators.

One such occurrence took place the very next week after her first appearance in the All-America Derby at Denbigh, North Dakota when she ran in the Continental Derby at Towner. This performance was not only spectacular, it was perfection.

During the early part of the quail season of that year her half-brother, Comanche Rap, was beating her quite regularly, but by the time of the United States trials in January, 1917, she was practically invincible.

She won the United States Derby at Grand Junction in another of her spectacular races and then, not having been entered in the National trials at Calhoun, Armstrong took her out to Vinita, Oklahoma for the trials there.

It was in November that she and the others in the Armstrong string had changed hands and were now the property of William Ziegler of Noroton, Connecticut, but the dogs remained in the same hands as they were at the beginning of the season.

Mr. Ziegler made plans to see his new string of field trial dogs which he bought to perform on the western plains, but at the last moment business prevented and he sent Joseph Crane and Herbert A. Tomlinson. This was their first sight of the dogs which in later years they were to handle.

Mary was fully up to her best form for this series and again she carried the galleries away by her magnificent performances.

She won the Southwestern Derby and was second to Candy Kid in the All-Age Sake, and following this came the Derby Championship of the All-America Club. In this stake, Mary ran a two-hour race that gave the public some idea of her as a long-distance dog, for she was going just as fresh and as strong at the end of the time as when she started. Once more she made several of those spectacular poses out on the skyline and again she showed the training of the five-year-old. She won this title of Derby Champion, while her brother, Royal Flush, was runner-up.

The week following this came the National Championship at Grand Junction, the stake having been deferred for nearly a month owing to inclement weather that prevailed at the time of the original date.

It was a long jump from Vinita, Oklahoma to Grand Junction, Tennessee. Five or six of us made the journey together and among them was Joe Crane, who, having had a taste of this field trial game, was determined to see the finish of the season in order to report all the happenings to his boss.

We arrived at the little field trial town in Southwestern Tennessee on Sunday afternoon. The drawing was made that evening and brought out a field of thirteen, composed of nine English setters and four pointers.

The stake this year was full of interesting work and many an exciting race was run. Among them, Comanche Rap, also a Derby in age, was well up among the best ones, but Mary Montrose ran her usual spectacular race. She ranged those sedge-grown hills like a veteran; she handled perfectly and her sensational attitudes on game were the admiration not only of the galleries, but the judges, for they gave her the title of National Champion without a second series.

Thus, at the age of two years and one month, this marvelous daughter of Comanche Frank and Lorna Doone carried away an honor that has never before nor since been won by a dog of Derby age.

Two weeks after that her owner, William Ziegler, showed his string at the bench show of the Westminster Kennel Club in New York. Mary went through the classes and won the winner’s purple, proving that at least to that judge she represented correct form combined with utility, which, in the final analysis, should be what we are striving for in the breeding of our pointers and setters.

At a dinner given by Mr. Ziegler during the New York show, the Dexter Memorial Cup, which is the trophy of the National Championship, occupied a conspicuous place on the table. Bob Armstrong, when called upon to say a few words, pointed to the trophy and in effect said: “Actions speak louder that words. Mary won that cup this season as a two-year-old, but before she ends her field trial career she is going to win it outright.”

His prophetic words came true, for Mary Montrose went on record as being the first pointer or setter that ever won the National Championship trophy three times!

The next season was Mary’s transition period and like many another brilliant dog she did little or nothing to enhance her standing in field trial circles. She was just as fast, just as wide, just as impressive as ever, but her high-strung, temperamental nature was obviously off pitch; a discord seemed to exist somewhere and she needed to be adjusted and attuned.

One outstanding feature in the story of Mary Montrose is the fact that she seldom or never received an award that she did not win decisively. In this she was unlike most dogs that have made a reputation and continue running. During Mary’s entire field trial career I doubt if there were more than two places that she received which did not meet with the entire approval of the galleries, for her wins, as a rule, stood out so forcibly that there was seldom a question.

But Mary seemed to be looked upon as a super dog and more was expected of her than the less conspicuous ones. The result was that she was frequently not given her just dues. Judges are sometimes unconsciously swayed by a dog’s reputation and he is given opportunities that he is not entitled to; by the same token they (judges) occasionally err in the other direction and Mary seems to have met with more than her share of this class.

At the close of the season of 1917-1918, Mr. Ziegler placed all his dogs in the hands of Joseph Crane and Herbert Tomlinson. It was the latter to whom the task of piloting Mary on to further victories was assigned and the trust was a most important one, especially when such a high-strung piece of bird dog mechanism is involved.

Tomlinson had to study his charge carefully and Mary, on her part, found conditions entirely different. The two appeared in the All-Age Stake of the All-America trials and Mary was given second, but if any dog ever won a stake clearly and decisively in the first series Mary  Montrose did for she was metaphorically as far ahead of that field as the sun is from the earth. The dog that was placed over her on this occasion was continued on down through the circuit of that season, but he never won a place again.

Mary Montrose did her share of winning as she continued on down through later trials, but she was uncertain and more temperamental than ever. Tomlinson never knew from one moment to the next what he might expect of her.

A week or two before the National Championship he took her back to his own training grounds at Archville, North Carolina where he worked with her constantly. When Mary Montrose came back to Grand Junction and went down in this most important stake she was all dash and fire, but she handled to perfection and her work on game was one hundred per cent perfect.

Owing to Mr. Jim Avent’s illness during the time of the Championship, all of his dogs were withdrawn from the stake, which left only seven competitors, but I always thought that this performance of Mary’s was one of the best of her career. She carried away the title of National Champion for a second time and went home to North Carolina with her proud handler to await the opening of another season.

The Manitoba trials began at Starbuck, Manitoba on August 15, 1919. Mary Montrose was awarded second to Jersey Prince in the All-Age Stake, but this is one of the two races where she received more than her just dues, for while she ran two class heats, she was placed on her range and speed; she did not show on game. The best of class races look drab and colorless where a dog is placed on his going qualities alone.

She came back in the Manitoba Championship, however, ran her heat shortly after luncheon on one of the warmest afternoons that a prairie race has taken place, showed great staying qualities and perfect work on chickens and thus won out in brilliant form.

The next week she won the All-America Championship on Hungarian partridges at Spokane, Washington. On both occasions Comanche Rap was runner-up.

She continued on the circuit and her final win was the National Championship which opened at Grand Junction, Tennessee on January 19, 1920, where she produced another of her spectacular three-hour performances. The dog closest to her was Cobb’s Hall, the good son of Rigoletto, owned by baseball great Ty Cobb and handled by Chesley Harris. A second series ensued between the setter and pointer, Mary Montrose emerging the winner.

The first series was concluded and these two were called to run off the finals. Then a snowstorm arose and the running of the second series was deferred to February 13.

The two dogs were put down at one o’clock. The afternoon was cold and the ground frozen stiff. It was a great race, but  Mary was at her best and for a third time carried away the coveted honor in field trials.

By reason of this superlative performance, she gave the time-honored Edward Dexter Memorial Cup outright to her owner, William Ziegler, Jr. There were twelve starters in the event, eight English setters and four pointers.

Thus ended the field trial career of Mary Montrose. Two years later, in the fall of 1922, she died in the kennels of her owner at Noroton, Connecticut, leaving not a single son or daughter to perpetuate a name that will always loom large out of the fog and the mist of the years that pass and make new field trial history.

[Of interest is her bird score in her three appearances at Ames in the National Championships. In her three hours in 1917, she tallied 4 bevies and 4 singles; in 1919, her three hours netted 9 bevies and “several” singles.  In 1920, her total time down amounted to four hours, 55 minutes. Her bird count: 12 bevies and 5 singles.]

Mary Montrose had one son out of a litter that was whelped while she was still the property of Bob Armstrong, but lived to be only one-year-old. She was bred several times after her retirement from public competition but without success.

Win Record of Mary Montrose

3d—All-America FTC Open Derby (F) 1916

1st—Continental FTC Open Derby (F) 1916

2d—Independent FTC Open A-A (F) 1916

2d—Continental FTC Open Derby (F) 1916

2d—Southern FTC Open Derby (F) 1916

1st—United States FTA (S) 1917

1st—Southwestern FTC (S) 1917

2d—Southwestern FTC (S) 1917

Wr—Derby Chmp Assn. (45-Min. Qualifying Heats; One-Hr. Fifteen Min.

Finals (S) 1917

Wr—National Field Trial Chmp. (S) 1917

2d—All-America FTC Open A-A (S) 1918

1st—Georgia FTA Open All-Age (F) 1918

1st—Continental FTC (F) 1918

3d—National FTC (S) 1919

Wr—National Field Trial Chmp (S) 1919

2d—Manitoba FTC Open A-A (F) 1919

Wr—Manitoba FTC Chmp (F) 1919

Wr—All-America FTC Chmp (F) 1919

2d—Continental FTC Open A-A (S) 1920

3d—All-America FTC Open A-A (S) 1920

Wr—National Field Trial Chmp (S) 1920


(S) First six months of year

(F) Second six months of year


Edward Dexter — 1826-1901

Reference in the foregoing feature was to the Edward Dexter Memorial Cup awarded to the winner of the National Championship.

Edward Dexter was the first president of the National Field Trial Champion Association. He established the Charlottesville Kennels that housed such foundation pointers as Hops,  Mainspring, King of Kent, Pontiac, Jingo, Rip Rap, et al.

Edward Dexter was instrumental in abolishing the practice of breed specific stakes, i.e.: for setters only, or for pointers only, declaring that the “short-haired breed had to prove its merits in direct competition with the then more successful setters.”

With the interests and welfare of the field trial game and the National Championship close to his heart, in 1899 he began arrangements that saw the transfer of Charlottesville Kennels and the presidency of the Association to Hobart Ames, who would serve from 1901 until his death on April 22, 1945.

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