Bob Mitchell: Famous actor visited Butterfield

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

With autumn set to arrive the middle of next week, it might be appropriate to relate, or repeat, a story about a famous movie star visiting Butterfield for a purpose that might appear strange for some folks.

Bringing a reminder to me about this one was an old-time western movie commercial I saw recently that was touting one of his flicks.

His name was Robert Taylor, one of the big box-office stars of his era. He happened to be an ardent quail hunter that found himself without a bird dog. Now, if you have ever been in this situation you can understand the problem, if not, you have no idea of the feeling you can possess.

Taylor had heard the reputation of an Ozarks birddog breeder and trainer, Thurman A. Prier, whose kennels were in the eastern part of Butterfield. Taylor had some of his people get in touch with T.A. and arranged a trip to Barry County to watch some dogs work.

Now this was back in the days when Barry County was a Mecca of quail hunting and the party of Taylor, T. A. and his brother Herb Prier first worked some young dogs on caged birds near his kennel location.

Then to the field

Like any knowledgeable quail hunter, Taylor wanted to see dogs in actual field action, which in those days was not a problem. So they were off on a real quail hunt in Barry Countyís best locations where they had nothing but success, and a couple of Prierís pointers were in their best action for the hunt. From these two pointers, Taylor made his choice.

That evening, during dinner at Rainbow Dinner House, Taylor was staying at Rainbow Motel, owned respectively by Forrest and Oscar Hutton.

T.A. called me at the conclusion of the dinner for an interview and photo of him and Taylor.

The popular movie star was receptive to an interview, having nothing but praise for T.A. and his kennel of quail dogs. One thing he wouldnít talk about during the conversation was the price of the dog he had purchased in Barry County.

Another hunt

Taylor was treated to another hunt the next morning to better familiarize himself with the dog and his departure was a quiet departure from these parts.

Memory wonít stretch that far, but there is a possibility that this process didnít ever occur again. On this occasion, the first dog had worked out so well that another pointer was shipped to Taylor. Again, like the first one, no price was quoted.

During a number of quail hunts with T.A. in later years, he finally leveled on the price he received for the dogs, only after a pledge the number would never to be repeated.

County quail heavy

In those days, a hunter without a dog was simply a lost person. T.A. and Carol Chenoweth were the leading breeders of the era. The latter was one of the leading Field Trial Judges of the area. He raised English Setters, which got me into the breed.

There was considerable pressure on quail in these parts during these days. Conservation Commission action at one time set a split season for Missouri, the southern area opening first. Well, this put a rush on the south district, with the north area lands mostly under lease during the later in the year season.

This obviously didnít find much pleasure in the state and the divided dates for quail season were promptly erased.

Changes in land use, primarily the arrival of Fescue in the area, which actually opened the cattle industry to the county, plus the removal of fencerows throughout the county virtually erased the Bob White Quail from their former habitat.

Programs for restoration of quail, in Barry County were never forthcoming, although a couple of efforts toward this end were locally proposed.

Last promotion

About the last promotion of Quail Hunting had also to do with fishing on the first sports show booth to advertise this portion of Table Rock Lake, arranged by Cecil Davis and Gene Cooper, Shell Knob resort owners. They contacted Herschel Stehlik, Truman Baker and myself to meet them at Eagle Rock on a certain day with dogs as a successful quail hunt, they were to provide the fish, depicting anglers and hunters meeting on the lake.

A large color transparency of this gathering was on the booth. Max Field had made the photos.

This was about the final hurrah for the possibility of quail hunting in Barry County as it is obviously more important to large landowners to run cattle and those holding smaller acres arenít interested in having hunting on their property.

So, the memories of Quail Hunting in Barry County will have to remain in photos framed or in drawers or in the minds of those of us who are beyond hunting days in the first place.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat. He is a 2017 inductee to both the Missouri Press Association Hall of Fame and Missouri Southern State Universityís Regional Media Hall of Fame.