EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part one of a three-part series.
In 1950, John M. Olin, leader of Winchester Ammunition and chairman of the board of the Olin Corporation, fulfilled his dream: Establish a quality hunting dog kennel and training facility as well as a hunting preserve to promote the sport of duck and upland game hunting, shooting and development, game management and conservation.
Olin’s chosen site was a 650-acre tract of land 12 miles north of East Alton, also home of Winchester Ammunition and Olin headquarters. The farm landscape was that of gently rolling hills, hardwood forest and fertile cropland.
The kennels were established in 1950 and two years later, the hunting preserve was founded. The dogs selected were English setters, English Springer spaniels and Labrador retrievers.
Olin’s passion for Labradors had begun in the 1940s when W. Averell Harriman, secretary of state under FDR, introduced his friend Olin to the black dogs. Harriman and Olin’s devotion and dedication to Labradors not only promoted the breed to the American sportsman but advanced field trial competition and selective breeding.
Of all the stars and celebrities (see part two next week) that graced the grounds of Nilo, no one could have imagined that a “black dog” would be the one to make Nilo Farms legendary and known worldwide. The dog’s name was King Buck.
Mr. Olin witnessed the rookie Labrador retriever compete in field trial competition and recognized his potential. He purchased the dog for a record price of $6,500 in 1951. Many believed Olin was crazy; little did anyone know that Buck would become the Babe Ruth of the dog world.
As a pup, Buck had won a near-death battle with distemper. He was small by Lab standards but under the guidance and training of Cotton Pershall, Buck began his road to fame. Pershall once said, “King Buck seemed to have some power of knowing the competition . . . and always came through, winning trial after trial.”
He became the first Labrador to win back-to-back national championships in 1952 and 1953, establishing a “still standing” record by completing 83 national championship series out of a possible 85.
The dog was also a natural in the wild. Olin commented, “Buck was one of the finest wild duck retrievers I have ever seen. He was beautiful to watch.”
In 1959, Maynard Reese, acclaimed Iowa artist and two-time winner of the Migratory Waterfowl Stamp Art Competition, earned King Buck his final mark in history. Reese’s watercolor, depicting Buck with mallard drake in mouth and ducks flying in the background marsh, became the federal duck stamp. It was the first time a dog ever appeared on a U.S. stamp and King Buck is the only dog to grace a duck stamp, or ever will, as contest rules now state “waterfowl only.” Reese’s color portrait of Buck is proudly displayed above the fireplace in the Nilo clubhouse.
The cowboy rider on the galloping horse is an American icon and if you use your imagination, you’ll see a “black dog” following close behind.
Larry Reid is host of “Outdoors with Larry Reid” which airs Sundays at noon on WBGZ Radio, 1570 AM.