In a small, grassy meadow, deep in the rich, thick wilderness of Freedom Hills, Key Underwood sadly buried his faithful coondog, Troop. They had hunted together for more than 15 years. They had been close friends.
The burial spot was a popular hunting camp where coon hunters from miles around gathered to plot their hunting strategies, tell tall tales, chew tobacco and compare coon hounds. Those comparisons usually began and ended with Troop...he was the best around.
Underwood knew there was no place in the world Troop loved more than that camp. It was only fitting, he decided, that Troop spend eternity there.
On that dreary Labor Day of 1937, Underwood said good-bye to his legendary coonhound. He wrapped Troop in a cotton pick sack, buried him three feet down, and marked the grave with a rock from a nearby old chimney.
On the rock, with a hammer and a screwdriver he had chiseled out Troop's name and the date. A special marker was erected in his memory.
Troop, who was half redbone coonhound and half birdsong, was known through out the region as the best. He was "cold nosed," meaning he could follow cold coon tracks until they grew fresh, and he never left the trail until he had treed the coon.
Out of one hunter's devotion to his faithfull coonhound was born the "Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Graveyard," which has became a popular tourist attraction and is the only cemetery of its kind in the world.
Other hunters started doing the same when their favorite coon dogs died. Today more than 185 coon dogs from all across the United States are buried in this spot in Northwest Alabama.
"When I buried Troop, I had no intention of establishing a coon dog cemetery," says Underwood. "I merely wanted to do something special for a special coon dog."
When columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson interviewed Underwood in 1985, he told her that a woman from California wrote him wanting to know why he didn't allow other kinds of dogs to be buried at the coon dog cemetery.
"You must not know much about coon hunters and their dogs, if you think we would contaminate this burial place with poodles and lap dogs," he responded.
Some of the burial ground's headstones are crafted of wood, some of sheet metal. Others are not unlike the stones found in a "normal" cemetery.
But, of course, the names of the deceased are different and so are the epitaphs.
For example, listed among the dead are Patches, Preacher, Smoky, Bean Blossom Bomma and Night Ranger. And etched along with these names are tributes such as, "A joy to hunt with" and "He wasn't the best, but he was the best I ever had."
Hunter's Famous Amos - a hound that was named Ralston Purina's Dog of the Year in 1984, is buried here as well as several World Champion coon dogs.
To qualify for burial in this unique cemetery, where more than 185 coon dogs have been laid to rest, it has been said that three requirements must be met:
The owner must claim their pet is an authentic coon dog.
A witness must declare the deceased is a coon dog.
A member of the Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Graveyard, Inc. must be allowed to view the coonhound and declare it as such.
"We have stipulations on this thing," said the late O'Neal Bolton, former caretaker of the Coon Dog Graveyard. "A dog can't run no deer, possum -- nothing like that. He's got to be a straight coon dog, and he's got to be full hound. Couldn't be a mixed up breed dog, a house dog."
Each Labor Day, the Friends of the Coondog Cemetery host a celebration at the cemetery. Entertainment includes music, dancing, food and a liar's contest. Time: 1 p.m. - 4 p.m. Official Coon Dog T-shirts, Cemetery Pins, and Camouflage Caps available to purchase.
You can find the Coon Dog Cemetery 7 miles west of Tuscumbia on U.S. Hwy 72. Turn left on Alabama Hwy 247, and travel approximately 12 miles. Then turn right, and follow the signs. For more information and directions contact Janice Williams with the The Friends of the Coon Dog Cemetery, Inc.:
For Burial Information, Contact The Friends of the Coon Dog Cemetery, Inc.
(256) 412-5970 and ask for Janice Williams.
ONLY COON DOGS ARE ALLOWED TO BE BURIED IN THIS SACRED SITE! No other organization is authorized to handle burials by the order of the Freedom Hills Wildlife Management & State Lands Division of Alabama.