The sad news arrived yesterday morning, via friends on Facebook, that Northern Virginia Horse Country’s most-admired huntsman, Melvin Poe, had passed away at his home in Hume at the age of 94. I suppose we were all expecting it. Last year, when the anniversary of his birth arrived in late August, there were gleeful reports about Melvin celebrating his birthday, on horseback as usual. When there was no such story this year, we began to worry.
Melvin’s longevity, and extraordinary ability to ride and even to jump a horse at such an advanced age, had been noteworthy objects of envy and admiration throughout hunting circles for years. Melvin would occasionally ride with us, car following the Old Dominion Hounds, and when we’d leave the car to take up an observation position, I’d often find myself left behind, despite being almost 30 years younger, walking carefully and favoring a bad knee afflicted with damp weather arthritis, while Melvin could scramble up a hill as nimbly as a goat.
I grew up in the mountains of Eastern Pennsylvania, where hunting and fishing were treated by many like religion, and though Melvin’s native Virginia milieu had a different sporting emphasis, on hounds and fox hunting rather than trout and deer, nonetheless, I recognized Melvin at once, on making his acquaintance, as a kindred sporting fanatic.
We tended to hang out together at hunt meets, banquets, and hound shows. I last saw Melvin on Election Day of 2012, at the Episcopal Church Hall in Delaplane. We had both turned out to try to vote down Caliban, and we stood around together talking hunting for a long time. I remember that along came a lady member of a couple of local hunts from down the road in Markham who asked our advice about dealing with a skunk which had intruded into her horse barn. (Melvin and I recommended shooting the trespasser carefully in the head, from a safe distance.)
Melvin had been working as professional huntsman for Old Dominion back when I was attending grade school. He left Old Dominion in 1962. I think he hunted hunted briefly for Piedmont and/or Middleburg, but before very long took to carrying the horn for Orange County (possibly the toniest Northern Virginia hunt). He was Orange County huntsman for decades, and his tenure there gained him national renown. Peter Winants published a Derrydale Press book on Foxhunting with Melvin Poe. A documentary film, produced in 1979, called Thoughts on Foxhunting, starred Melvin and preserves a living record of his remarkable dialogue in the field with hounds.
Melvin retired from Orange County in 1991, but continued to hunt the neighborhood around his farm in Hume, and occasionally the vast Ohrstrom domain in Bath County in the Western mountains with a private pack made up of ill-favored, misshapen, or misbehaving hounds culled by local packs. Their quality didn’t matter in the least because Melvin could get any hound to cooperate and hunt well.
We had the opportunity to go out with Melvin and his Bath County Hounds back in 2009. More frequently, we car-followed the Old Dominion Hounds with Melvin. I remember in particular one day when, I can’t remember why, Melvin and I were separated from Karen and we’d gotten in a spot well ahead of the pack when one fox after another began popping out of cover and dashing off to our left. Melvin let go with the most extreme example of the Rebel Yell (preferred by true Virginia aborigines to a mere “Tally Ho!”) I’ve ever heard. Melvin gave me a fishy look for standing there silently, so when the second fox appeared, there I was, imitating Melvin and Rebel Yelling away with him. What a memory!
We will miss him.
Fauquier Times obituary
Norman Fine’s Obituary
Chronicle of the Horse: “No One Else Can Hunt Like Melvin Poe.”
Let’s have John Tabachka blow “Going Home” for Melvin.