It all started with Troop.
Faithful as they come, he was the hunting companion of Key Underwood for more than fifteen years, a coon hound as good as any. When the day came that Troop had treed his last raccoon, Underwood wanted to say goodbye to his favorite canine in a way that was fitting of all he had meant.
So, on Labor Day 1937, he found a piece of rock from an old chimney, chiseling out his beloved coon dog’s name and dates of birth and death with a screwdriver and hammer, and buried Troop in the small town of Cherokee in northwest Alabama, amid the Freedom Hills and their favorite camp.
Nearly eighty years and more than three hundred coon dogs later, Troop’s final resting spot has become a sort of mecca for coon hunters and their beloved breed. They come from all over the United States, most in a state of grief after losing their companions, to lay them to rest in a small world that understands what they’re going through—among the few that know what these dogs meant.
While a lot has changed since Underwood laid Troop to rest, some things just seem to stay the same. Propped up or stuck in the ground by any means necessary, makeshift grave markers tell the names of those that lie beneath—Bear, Night Ranger, Preacher. For some, that’s all that’s needed. Pennies mark graves where visitors felt a connection, perhaps through shared grief or maybe a distant memory, or maybe just a fellow coon dog lover. For others, formal headstones mark graves with words needed to be said: “In loving memory,” “He wasn’t the best, but he was the best I ever had.”
Most people that visit the Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Graveyard are in a bit of awe. They say they haven’t seen anything like it, because, quite frankly, there isn’t anything else like it. There are pet cemeteries, where locals lay to rest their beloved pets, but there’s no other coon dog cemetery, a place to pay your respects to the breed. Underwood once told a story about a woman writing to him to ask why he only allowed coon dogs at the cemetery. One can imagine his response came with a chuckle, or maybe an indignant laugh. But it was honest, “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.”
And understandably so. Coon dogs, which include Redbones, black and tans, Treeing Walkers, etc., aren’t mere show dogs or lazy companions. Perhaps Elvis said it best when singing of hound dogs, “You ain’t never caught a rabbit and you ain’t no friend of mine.” Well, coon dog, if you ain’t never treed a coon, you ain’t getting buried here. They say it must be proven that the dog is indeed a coon dog – claimed by the owner that he treed a coon, a witness that saw the dog tree a coon, and the final decision by a member of the cemetery who has seen the dog.
It might sound silly to some, but to those loyal owners, it makes perfect sense. And it did to Key Underwood when he laid ol’ Troop to rest beneath the shady trees of Freedom Hills—a burial he had earned through his faithfulness, as did all the dogs who came after him. One visitor described it best: “An early fall breeze was ruffling the treetops, and I felt I could almost hear the baying of the hounds. I think I would prefer to be buried in the companionship of these hounds than in the company of my human counterparts.”
SEE MORE “COON DOG CEMETERY” PHOTOS HERE