My Mentor, My Friend  

Rita & Vernon Traxler
with son David's dogs, Bob & Creole

I would like to introduce you to my mentor, Vernon Traxler. Vernon was born in Lake Providence, Louisiana, in 1924. In 1927, his family moved to Brandon, Mississippi. On a trip to the Sandy Lake area of Jonesville, La., Vernon, now 6 years of age, was introduced to a yellow/brindle bob-tailed cur puppy belonging to the Indians. Vernon took that puppy home, and as far as I know, this was the beginning of the bob-tails in the Catahoula lines today.

In 1932, at the age of 8, Vernon killed his first deer. The yellow dog was with him at the time. He had been hunting squirrels when this enormous deer came bounding out from the river bottom. Vernon shot the deer with both barrels of his shotgun. Unfortunately, there were three men using dogs to chase that very deer. When they appeared, the yellow dog fought with the other dogs until Vernon called her off. One of the men offered to buy that dog, but Vernon refused, telling them that she had puppies if they were interested. Impressed with the spunk of both boy and dog, the men decided to give the horns and a hind quarter to Vernon, and a friendship began. One that would prove valuable years later. That friend was Judge Dale of Natchez, Ms., who later bought one of those puppies from Vernon.

When Vernon turned 13, in 1937, his family moved back to Lake Providence, and eventually on to Ferriday, Louisiana. Vernon's life was full of mischief and hard work. He was brought up hard, and he understood the meaning of Hard Work. Parties were not a lot of things that Vernon attended, but one day, at the age of 18, he went to a friend's party and met Rita. This would later prove to be the foundation that Vernon needed. You see, Rita graduated from High School in August of that year, and they were married in October.

The war with Japan had begun, and on the day of his 19th birthday, Vernon was inducted into the Navy and sent to sea. He was made a gunners mate/cook. His first ship was sunk, and he was one of the few survivors. He was placed on his second ship, the U.S.S. Brown, a destroyer escort, and returned to action. This ship was hit by a torpedo, causing injuries to his right foot. The ship was crippled and could only attain a very slow speed. There were 15 others on board who were also injured. A decision was made that three of them needed amputation, but no doctors were on board. Vernon was one of the three. They drew straws to see who would go first. Vernon drew the shortest straw and would be last. Before they could make the amputation on Vernon, the other two died. Vernon refused to let them work on him and waited until he was home. On his return home, and in spite of this injury, Vernon went to work in the oil fields of Louisiana for a short time, but he didn't like it. He left that job and began working at the Armstrong Tire, Co., and it was during this time that Vernon had his right leg amputated below the knee as a result of the injury he had received aboard ship. In addition to holding this job, he also worked at the Windemere Plantation, farmed his own land, owned and ran a grocery store, raised Catahoulas and Walker Hounds, and made time to coach the little league baseball team. Vernon lived on Lake Concordia in Ferriday, La. for 42 years, with Rita always at his side and ready to get into whatever was necessary. She will tell you that he was a hard man. Hard, but Just.

Rita decided to go to college and get her teaching degree. She graduated with her son David at the same time. She taught elementary education, Grades 1-8, for eight years. She tells stories about Vernon, and he just smiles all the while she tells them. What kind of man is Vernon? Well, Rita will tell you in these words, "I wouldn't take a million dollars for him, but I wouldn't give a dime for another dozen like him". I guess that just about explains it all.

During his stay in the Ferriday area, Vernon managed to keep 100 female Catahoulas on a 10 acre area that he called his kennel. Raising Catahoulas then was just as good a business, if not better, than raising cattle. You see, a Catahoula will outwork most men and do the same job in half the time, so his dogs were always in demand. There are stories about his dogs and of course David who seemed to be able to get the dogs to do almost anything.

When I met Vernon, Rita told me, "Son, if Vernon is talking, take whatever he says with a grain of salt, but if he is talking dogs, make book on it". That advice proved to be more valuable to me in the future than anything I have ever received. It's because of his experiences and "at home" experiments with these dogs that I have the foundation to be where I am today. You see, Vernon was one of the few people who kept records of his dogs' breeding and transactions long before there was any registry. There were a lot of hand written pages with breeding, intended breeding, and don't ever do this again notations. His, as well as a few other Catahoulas were first registered with the Animal Research Foundation in Quinlan, Texas. His records, along with those of Kline Rushing and a few others, helped to establish the record keeping foundation of the National Association of Louisiana Catahoulas.

There is a whole lot more to this story and a good bit of history that has been left out, but you get the general idea of the man who helped me learn to breed and raise Catahoulas. I've written this article as a tribute to Vernon, who for one reason or another, has been overlooked by a whole population of Catahoula breeders. There are some who will sing his praises, and others who will not, but I want to say that if you ever had the opportunity to know Vernon Traxler, you should be thankful for whatever information you gained from him.

Vernon, you are a great teacher, although not always patient; a hard worker; and an excellent provider. Perseverance was written around you. Most of all, you are my friend.THANK YOU.

On Monday, February 7, 2011, at 3:15 a.m., at the age of 87, I lost the best friend anyone could ever have asked to have. I'll miss you!

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