For Old Limber, There Was No Place Like Home: Gov. Taylor Threatened Veto to Relocate His Dog to Nashville
Gov. Alf Taylor’s famed hunting dog, “Old Limber,” is arguably the most famous canine in Tennessee history. Alf was elected governor in 1920. It was his second attempt after losing to his brother, Bob, in 1886, in a good spirited campaign that became known as the “War of the Roses.” It was replete with fiddle music from both candidates. Alf and his supporters wore red roses while Bob and his followers adorned white ones. The white roses prevailed.
The famous brother-against-brother political campaign acquired its colorful name from the original 1455-85 “War of the Roses” conflict fought for the throne of England between supporters of two rival branches of the royal House of Plantagenet: the houses of Lancaster (red) and York (white).
“Limber,” which means “capable of moving, bending, or contorting easily; supple,” was aptly named. The animal supplied a good deal of material for his owner’s speeches during the storied campaign. The dog whose bark figured heavily in a political campaign in Tennessee was never tempted to leave his familiar abode in the Happy Valley region of East Tennessee by the bright lights and endless chatter of the state’s capitol where his master presided.
Alf’s ire was raised when reports began circulating that the legislature was contemplating an appropriation to provide a fitting home on the mansion grounds in Nashville for Old Limber. The governor firmly announced that he would promptly veto the proposition and keep his famous foxhound at home in beloved Happy Valley where he belonged.
In Taylor’s words, “Old Limber is being well cared for in a good home in East Tennessee and gets three square meals a day. He would not be contented in the city. He wants to be where he can occasionally survey the lofty mountains over whose heights he has many times chased a fox with the rest of the pack making music at his heels. Old Limber is nine years old and is too old to run now, but he remembers and often dreams of his past achievements. If you have never heard Old Limber in full cry, you have never heard music. He is gifted in every note and in a chase at one time or another will display all of them. You could distinguish Old Limber's voice from the rest of the pack eight miles away. That dog never lied to me in his life. He has never been known to yelp on a cold trail. Whenever the voice of Old Limber is heard, everybody knows that there is a fox around."
In addition to Old Limber, the governor's East Tennessee home place also boasted the presence of the famed canine’s son and grandson. By then, the son had taken his pappy’s place as pack leader. Alf would often remark that, while most things are easy to describe, there were not enough words in the English language to properly articulate the emotions generated by following a well-trained pack of dogs led by Old Limber behind a red fox across mountainous terrain.
During one memorable foxhunt in Elizabethton when Alf was 80 years old, a local newspaper said it best: “Once again the fiddler will fiddle his harmonious ‘hay-diddle-diddle;’ the huntsman’s horn will resound over beautiful Happy Valley; and the soulful bark of Old Limber, a famous hound of political history, will echo to serve notice that the trail of the red fox has been found.” The event drew 500 sportsmen including United States senators, congressmen and governors, all coming to pay tribute to Taylor. Uncle Alf, as he became known, was the man who made Old Limber famous throughout the nation. He was also one of the few Republicans elected governor of Tennessee.
When the dogs were turned loose, one of the hounds soon picked up the scent of a fox and the rest of the pack joined in. Around the mountain they circled, yelping and baying while each dog owner listened intently for the sound of his entry and thrilled at the syncopated music of the canine choir. However, the voice of Old Limber was not heard.
The dogs circled the mountain again with no audible utterance from Limber. Hours passed. Just as Alf's spirits were sinking, someone raised a hand and called for silence. Far away, barely audible, came the unmistakable voice of Alf’s dog. The pack dashed madly down the mountain toward their four-legged friend. Alf knew that Old Limber had the fox. The hunters rushed to the scene and found Old Limber clinging to a red fox that measured nearly five feet long.
Alf once learned that his opponent was referring to him as an old man who was too senile to effectively take over the reins of the governorship. Although Old Limber, the songs and the fiddle were not officially in the Republican platform, they had much to do with Alf's election. And they figured heavily in the April 13, 1928 foxhunt that honored Alf and Limber, who both resided in their beloved Happy Valley.