American Field

Tommy Olive Remembers

By Robert Franks | Jul 17, 2021
Photo by: Henry Reynolds, Memphis Commeral Appeal. From left: Tommy Olive and Hoyle Eaton with 1969 National Champion Red Water Rex on the steps of Ames Plantation Manor House.

DeWitt, Ark — Tommy Olive was destined to play an integral part in the golden age of field trials. He was placed by providence in just the right spot at the right time, with the right people, to have hands-on experience with arguably some of the greatest pointers of all time.

The greats of the sport he idolized as a boy and then trialed with as an adult are growing fewer by the year and beg not to be forgotten. Mr. Olive’s time with the sport did not encompass a lifetime but did leave an impact that will live on for years to come.

Today, now living in Texas, Mr. Olive blow off the dust off the field trial bible of years gone by to recount precious memories as if they happened yesterday.

“I grew up hunting with my uncle and another guy who was kind of like my daddy. He had beagle dogs, and my uncle had bird dogs. I was following them around when I was six years old and remember my uncle’s dogs pointing, him handing me his twelve-gauge, and then telling me to kill a bird. I walked up and shot, hit the ground, and the birds kept going. After that trip, I got a bird dog on my own and trained him all by myself.

“My family had a small dairy farm and sold milk to the locals. Mr. Dick Brown, a Booneville businessman, was a regular customer. Mr. Brown started noticing my dog and wanted to know who trained him. I said, ‘Well, nobody did. I just got him to doing some stuff.’ The little dog was almost all white, just like White Knight. He wanted to see him point some birds, so I took him out, and he couldn’t believe it. He said, ‘You need to be in the bird dog business!’ I was still pretty young at the time and thought he was just paying me a compliment. When I got a little bit older, he came out and again told me I needed to get into the bird dog business. During that time frame, he brought a dog to me, and I trained it for him. That’s basically the way I started, as Dick Brown, Hoyle Eaton, and Billy Morton were all good friends and friends of mine.”

Mr. Olive rubbed shoulders with some of the best handlers and dogs to ever run in field trials. Mr. Jimmy Potter of Selma, Arkansas, recounted a conversation he had with Mr. Olive many years ago concerning the training of Red Water Rex and Riggins White Knight and which led to the following:

When asked about wild bird hunting these two National Champions while working for Hoyle Eaton, Mr. Olive laughed and replied, “It’s something I did with all dogs. If you were down on the ground with them pointing birds, killing birds, and making them retrieve, it just seemed like it did something for those dogs. That’s the way I always trained mine before I even thought about a field trial. I continued it right into a dog’s field trial career. Sometimes Hoyle didn’t like what I did, but when he found out it was working, he changed his mind completely.

"When Red Water Rex pointed, he got everyone’s attention; he was such a great dog to look at. I think a lot of that came from me bird hunting him on foot. After I started bird hunting him, I hardly ever had to get on to that dog at all. He was very laid back, but in a trial, Rex was bound and determined to find more birds than the dog he was braced with. You could tell it by looking at him.

“Of the dogs I campaigned, the one that stands out was a young dog owned by Mr. Henry Berol called Berol’s Paul Gundy. Mr. Berol owned Di-Lane Plantation in Georgia when I went to work for him. He had wanted me to come over there for years. I really believe that I could have won the National with that dog. There is no doubt in my mind. He was the top qualifying dog the first time I ran him at the Continental. Those birds down there in the finals get mean late in the day, and I think I was the last dog to draw. The birds were flying on him, and he jumped and cost me going to the National with him the very first year. He was a super great dog.

"When Mr. Berol passed away, they told me I would be able to keep the kennel open. Very shortly after his passing, I had the flu for about two weeks, and when I was better, his wife closed the kennel and sold the dog. One of the judges bought him, and the dog was run over and killed at a trial. He looked a lot like Red Water Rex and had his characteristics. He was as good a bird dog as I ever rode a horse behind.” [Berol's Paul Gundy was later (1976) acquired by the late Hank B. Oldham of Pittsburg, Kansas, who changed his name to Even Money and handled him to five placements.]

As with interviews with Hoyle Eaton and Billy Morton, Mr. Olive’s voice sharpened when asked about Riggins White Knight.

“Riggins White Knight was by far the smartest dog I have ever seen or heard of. Before he ever ran in a field trial, we had taken him to a veterinarian in Baldwin, Mississippi, where he was going to spend the night in his office. He was by himself in the office when came a severe lightning storm. He got out of his cage, busted out a plate-glass window, chewed through a cyclone fence, went across Highway 45, was cut all to pieces, and managed to find somebody to help him. Soon as they saw the dog, they called the vet, and he got him back to the clinic and sewed him up. From that day on, because he was by himself when the storm came, he had to ride with us in the cab of the pickup and sleep with either me or Hoyle in the bed.

“He was just like a kid to me and Hoyle. You could take him to a field trial and stay in a motel room, go back the next year to the same motel, and he would remember the room we stayed in the previous year.

"An instance that sticks in my mind was Carbondale, Illinois. They would make the field trialers park in the back because of the trucks. When we got there, I just let ole Bud out because he would walk beside you wherever you went. When we went in a glass door to get into the motel, Bud went all the way down the hall and was waiting on us by the room we had stayed the year before

"To top it off, Joe Hurdle had watched him run many a time, and he accused me of riding him on my saddle after he was getting older. It actually cost him winning a field trial. I told him, ‘Mr. Hurdle, I promise you I did not ever have Bud on my saddle.’ He said, ‘Why was he gone so long, and when you came back he was right behind you?’ I tried to explain to him how I had caught that dog hiding behind a tree resting when he got so old that he couldn’t stay in front of the gallery like he wanted to. He would rest a minute or two and then come out wide open. This happened several times.

"One time was west of Saint Louis, Missouri, where they had the old bunkers for the army. The last year Bud ran, he would go around behind those bunkers and take a rest. When I would ride past him, he would take off for the front again. Riggins White Knight was amazing. It didn’t make any difference if it was blizzard conditions or so hot you could hardly breathe, he was one of the only dogs I ever saw that would not even hesitate or slow up. When other dogs would slow up, he just wouldn’t. He was that determined to please people. He was just a one hundred-percent people dog.

“Red Water Rex was not a totally different dog, but he didn’t go burning the field up like Riggins White Knight did. White Knight had one speed, and that was wide open. Rex would pace himself, and he was a smart enough dog that he could tell when he was getting too hot or he was having trouble. And you could notice him slow down just a little bit, but it would never keep him from finding birds. He would still go out there and point as many or more birds than any dog in existence. He just had a different demeanor to him, and I guess it was like having one kid that liked to be wide open and run a hundred miles an hour all the time and having another kid that would like to stop and think about what he was doing. That’s one way I always thought about them. They were very temperamental dogs, but above all, both of them wanted to please. That was very unusual to have two dogs like that in one kennel.

“There was a puppy out of Bud that I think would have been better that him; his name was White Knight’s Bullet. He came down with something in his blood that the veterinarians at Auburn University could not identify, and he died real young.”

[White Knight’s Bullet’s dam was Bar Lane Dot. She was sired by TheArkansas Ranger and produced 24 winners with 113 placements among them. In his short career, Bullet placed eleven times, with notable wins in the 1965 Border International Derby, 1967 Missouri Open Championship, 1967 Southwestern Championship, and the 1968 Quail Championship Invitational.]

As far as a performance to remember, Mr. Olive put Red Water Rex and Riggins White Knight up there with the best when they won the National Championship.

“When Riggins White Knight won the National, it was bitter, bitter cold. During that cold snap, for some reason, the dogs absolutely could not smell birds. I found ole Bud twice pointing in gullies that were fifteen or twenty-foot deep. How in the world that dog could get down in those gullies, find birds, point, then me be lucky enough to find him, I’ll never know. The finds in the gullies were when you could really see the gallery and the judges perk up. That’s when I knew we had it won. Rex did not have the stamina of White Knight, but he had a way of coming alive toward the end of a brace and streak in front of the gallery. I think it comes from a determination that not all dogs possess. It was instilled in both Rex and White Knight, where they just would not quit. Sometimes in Canada, I’d have to run a horse half to death to pick them up and stop them from running.”

When asked about interesting stories, these two stood out. “In the late summer after breaking camp in Canada, we would stop in Solon Springs, Wisconsin, and run in the (Northern States) trial. It was on the way back home and gave us a break from the long drive back. We had a dog running in a brace, and the cover was thick. I had my horse going, and when I say going, I mean going. All of a sudden, a black bear ran out of the bushes straight in front of me. The horse went airborne, and how I stayed on him, I’ll never know.

"Another story was at a trial in Carbondale, Illinois. I was running a dog, and the course was very muddy. The dog had been lost, and I was trying to get back in front of the gallery, which had made its way about a half mile in front of me. The horse and dog were running wide open when the horse stepped in a gopher hole and started down. For some reason, when I started down on the right side, the saddle caught my leg. The horse did a flip and landed right on top of me. The only reason it didn’t kill me was because the ground was muddy. The calf of my leg was tore in two, and I had a couple of broken ribs. When it happened, the dog stopped and came back and then both of them took off and left me out there.

“I was so lucky during my field trial days as all of us worked together as a team. We got along with each other, and I think pretty much everybody. Mr. Dick Brown had a big part in the success of the three of us. We all knew each other’s families and went to each other’s houses and ate together all the time. In one sense, it was just a big family.”

Many thanks to Mr. Tommy Olive for taking the time to share his stories and knowledge of a time of legendary dogs and their handlers.

[Copyright, Robert L. Franks—2021.]


Comments (1)
Posted by: Steve Standley | Jul 22, 2021 10:32

Great article.

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