Gypsy Bob, part II

Continued from Gypsy Bob, part I

By this time, I knew two of the family stories about Gypsy Bob had some merit:

First, he had indeed exhibited and won at Westminster.

Second, he was indeed a foundation dog for the breed.

But was he truly the first field trial champion? Had he remained undefeated in his lifetime? The AKC assistant librarian suggested I come down to the library and dig. Records that old are not yet online, and they are all a jumble. As I lived in Oregon, then, I never did make that trip. Perhaps that would be a good day trip now that I’m only a couple of hours away.

I started digging again on the internet and discovered the Chesapeake database (http://chessiedb.org/). The Chessiedb is a wonderful community effort, with folks sending in pedigrees and photos for both historic and modern dogs. The entire site is independently maintained. It took a bit of digging, but I finally found him: Gypsy Bob, his upline and his entered downline, many with photos. http://chessiedb.org/cgi-bin/pedigree.pl?op=tree&index=14394&gens=5&regname=Gypsy%20Bob  If you click back on Bob’s ancestors, you’ll see the documentation goes back to the 1860’s, some of the dogs having such simple names such as “Todd’s Bitch”. I also discovered that our dog was listed as three different dogs (three different spellings) in that database. I wonder how common this is in the older records of all dog breeds? As I’ve discovered on Ancestry, it’s certainly true in human genealogy!

The problem with pedigree databases is that, while it is easy to go up (back into history), it is much harder to go downline. I still couldn’t tell if Bob’s line was still alive today. Now, both my folks had made it quite clear that, while they missed having a dog about, they were greatly enjoying the freedom of not being tied to the house after so many years. So while my original intention of finding them a Gypsy Bob descendent had gone by the wayside, finding out Gypsy Bob’s real identity had grown into something of an obsession.


Knowing that I was digging for Gypsy Bob information, the entire family knew if they found anything to do with dogs in their family records, it was to come to me. My mother, bless her soul, had saved the pedigrees for all of the pets we’d had in my youth. Most of these dogs came from well-documented lines, and I was easily able to track them on Chessiedb. And what a surprise, but every single one of them was descended from Ch. Gypsy Bob! Of course, he was many, many generations back, but lo! there he was.Gypsy Bob had some very famous progeny. Cheequa Buff, a son, was the first Chesapeake Bay Retriever to win a Group 1 placement in the AKC. Cheequa Buff was born in 1923, three years after the Harpers purchased Bob. It may be that Bob was studded out, or it could be that G. Harper bred him. One day, I’ll go to the AKC library and find out. Interesting stuff!

FC Skipper Bob

FC Skipper Bob

The first Field Championship in the Chesapeake record books was earned by Skipper Bob, a grandson of Gypsy Bob out of Ch. Prince of Montauk (a Bob son). Further,  Skipper Bob’s daughter Shagwong Gypsy was the first bitch to earn a Field Championship. Now, family lore says Gypsy Bob was actually the first Field Champion…so again, a trip to the AKC library will help out with this conundrum. In addition (or should we say, prior to) AKC registration, Bob was registered i

n the “Field Dog Stud Book”…perhaps that belonged to a venue that offered a Field Championship and/or conformation titles. (There were other kennel/field/sporting clubs before the AKC, just as there are many other US kennel clubs today.) Or perhaps the family lore simply lost a few words over the years, i.e., “Gypsy Bob (‘s grandson and great-granddaughter) earned the first field championships in the breed”. Oral tradition is much like the old game of “telephone”–the original telling can get pretty garbled.

Before she passed away, I asked my grandmother (Jack’s widow, then 101 years old) if she knew what had happened to Gypsy Bob. She had never met the dog, but she thought he might have been sold to the Belmonts. It seemed incongruous to me that the family would have sold him, so I wondered if she got the time frame backwards. Perhaps he was first owned by the Belmonts? George Washington Harper had purchased Bob after meeting him at the 1920 Westminster Kennel Club show. Apparently, he was being shown by a handler, and the Belmonts most assuredly would have put their kennel dogs with a handler.

Once again, I wrote to David Frei at the Westminster Kennel Club. Here is his response:

In 1920, Gipsy Bob was listed as an entry in the Miscellaneous Class (Chesapeake Bay Dog, the only one entered) with the owner listed as Everett M. Pulley.  The dog’s registration number is given as 247345, DOB: June 22, 1917.   By Trusty Boy x Everett’s Water Queen. And with a sale price listed of $200. No other entries listed in the Harper name that year that are evident.

The dog was not entered in 1919 (no Chessies were entered that year).

He was also entered in 1921, one of four Chessies owned by Mr. Harper.

I am attaching copies of the pages of the catalog from 1922-23-24.
There were no entries in the years following from anyone named Harper.

The Westminster records show that Gypsy Bob won Best of Breed three of the four years he was entered. The first year, 1920, he was the sole entry of his breed in the Miscellaneous Class, owned by Everett M. Pulley and available for sale at the price of $200. This must have been the year George Washington Harper fell in love with the dog and brought him home for his kids. Bob was then not quite three years old and Gale was fourteen.

Gale took the lead at the 1921 Westminster show, when Bob was 3-1/2 and Gale was only fifteen. That was the last year the Chesapeake was in the Miscellaneous Class, competing against the Italian Greyhounds and English Springer Spaniels. Gale and Bob didn’t have a very good showing, finishing fourth behind three ties (first, second and third all had ties–those were the days!).

In 1922, there were four entries: three dogs and one bitch. Placements were 1) Gypsy Bob, Jr. (bred by Gale Harper), 2) Barney Google (also bred by Gale Harper), and 3) Ch. Gypsy Bob.

The 1923 show had a very large entry of Chesapeakes, primarily from the Harper and Chesacroft (Willliam Hurst) kennels. Gypsy Bob took a second to John Hurst’s “Nero”.

In 1924, there were only three entries: the same three males that had placed in 1922. This time, the order was reversed from the 1922 judging 1) Ch. Gypsy Bob, 2) Barney Google, and 3) Gypsy Bob Jr.  Well, they say a class result is the opinion of one person for those particular dogs on that particular day.

Did Ch. Gypsy Bob win Westminster? Yes, he won Best of Breed (BOB) there three times. In these early shows before the Group system, all BOB winners entered the ring to compete in Best in Show. To date, no Chesapeake has won Best in Show at Westminster. Was Bob undefeated in his lifetime? Apparently not, but he had a long and fruitful show career and taught young Gale the ropes.

Did Gypsy Bob found the Chesapeake breed? Well, sort of. The breed was established at least 100 years previously. Gypsy Bob was one of the first Chesapeakes registered with AKC, and as a champion of record who produced very successfully, his lines spread throughout the US, Canada and England. Today, there are probably no Chesapeake Bay Retrievers in the world that are not descended from him.

Was Gypsy Bob the first field champion? Not in the AKC, but perhaps in a different venue. He certainly was a very useful Eastern Shore waterfowl dog. His grandson and great-granddaughter also inherited that working build and drive, garnering the first AKC field champion titles for dog and bitch.

George Gale Harper at Wesleyan University

All good things must come to an end. 1924 was Gale and Bob’s last Westminster. Gale turned 18, and by autumn he headed to Williams College to study engineering.

What happened to Gypsy Bob and the other dogs after Gale departed? It is quite possible that Bob, a great show dog and even better producer, was purchased by the Belmonts (whose primary breed was the Labrador Retriever) for their kennel as my grandmother (who never met the dog) vaguely recalled. In the 1920’s George Washington Harper was a lead lawyer for the Belmont estate. In addition to a common interest in dogs, the Harpers and Belmonts were acquainted through business. But it just doesn’t sit right for me: who could give up such a great dog?

One clue lies in a pamphlet self-published by Gale after Gypsy Bob’s 1928 death, Gale published a 6-page pamphlet called “The Chesapeake Bay Dog: The Coming Breed” . (If anyone ever runs across a copy of this pamphlet, I’d about give my eye teeth for it!). In it, he states that the family is still breeding on the family farm outside Worton, MD. “He was the finest animal we have ever known and one of the best friends we ever had.”  We also have photos of Bob at the family residence in Short Hills, NJ. I’m guessing Bob lived out his days with the family.

In all, they had quite a run, that Harper boy and his dog. And although the Chesapeake historians have completely forgotten them, Gypsy Bob and Gale’s breeding program on the Eastern Shore certainly changed the course of the registered Chesapeake Bay Dog breed.

And should I ever have the opportunity to find a nice Chessie pup for my folks, knowing it was descended from the great Gypsy Bob, a tie back to the family heritage, would just be the icing on the cake.

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3 thoughts on “Gypsy Bob, part II

  1. Dyane Baldwin says:

    I know where you can see a copy of that booklet you mentioned on CBRS. You might even be able to trace another relative because if I recall correctly, the way it was copied was from an original owned by the person.

    The dog Gypsy Bob was NOT a field champion of any kind as there were NO field trials or competitions that were held for retrievers by AKC or any other organization until 1932. This dog was dead by then.

    Dyane Baldwin
    Former historian American Chesapeake club.

  2. Thanks, Dyane, the Field Dog folks say no CBR has taken a field championship with them. Who knows…it’s been such an interesting search! Going through the genealogy files for our (human) family, I have a few pics of Gypsy Bob bringing in water fowl.

    I would love to see an original copy of that little booklet!

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