Respectfully dedicated to the memory of Warren Edward "Tex" Tilson, the founding father of this hunt.
Various parts of this document were compiled by Julia H. Lindsey and Wilson E. D. Shepherd. Digitized and with additions by Cynthia J. Morton.
In the years between World Wars I and II, horses became an integral part of Virginia Military Institute, and were used in the training of aspiring cavalry officers. It was the opinion of the U.S. Army that every commissioned officer should know how to ride, particularly those serving in the cavalry. To that end, a stable of 60 horses was established for this training. When the horses were not being used in military maneuvers or evening parades, they were made available for recreational use by the cadets. Included in the uses were polo, horse showing and just plain pleasure riding in the ring or on the trails at White's Farm.
In 1938, Henry Foresman, Jim Wheat, along with some other cadets and faculty members at VMI, initiated an informal foxhunting organization. A pack of hounds was procured and maintained at the post stable under the supervision of Sergeant Ed Hanson, the NCO in charge of the stable. On weekends during the school year, drag hunts were conducted, mostly at White's Farm. Some members of the VMI Hunt were invited and participated in hunts as far away as New York and South Carolina where they rode horses supplied by the host hunt. When hunting at VMI, General Kilbourne, the Superintendent, hosted the hunt breakfasts. In 1940, Mr. Plunket Stewart, President of the Masters of Foxhounds Association, gave VMI provisional approval to become a recognized hunt. Unfortunately, this short experiment came to an end in December of 1941 with the commencement of World War II. Sergeant Hanson, who remained at VMI all during the war years, maintained the stables and moved the pack of VMI hounds to his home.
Following WW II, the equestrian scene returned to Rockbridge County. VMI started up its troop, polo team, and horse show team again, and Liberty Hall Stables was established. The wheels behind the Liberty Hall Stables were W. E. "Tex" Tilson (a football coach at Washington & Lee University), Henry Foresman (a returning veteran and law student) and Iris McNeil (local horsewoman). The seed for the formation of a formal fox hunt was germinated by these three and Tex's secretary, Viola Wise. Tex and Viola were introduced to the sport by Lloyd Howard and Austin Bishop who were at the School for Special Services at W&L right after the war. Lloyd, a member of the Bedford County Hunt, continued his encouragement long after his return to his home in Lynchburg.
In 1947, an organizational meeting was held in Tex's office above McCrum's Drug Store. Present at this meeting were: Tex, Viola, Henry J. "Hank" Foresman, Col. F. H. "Pinky" Barksdale, James M. Dunlap, Mackenzie Tabb, and Russell Robey. At this meeting, Tex was elected Master even though he was almost totally ignorant of foxhunting etiquette and procedures. His personal secretary, Viola, was in turn elected to be the Hunt secretary. The Rockbridge Hunt was born.
With these new officers in place, things began happening. The remaining hounds from what had been the VMI hunt were turned over to Tex by Sergeant Hanson to form the nucleus of the Rockbridge pack. A kennel was built for them at Tex's ranch, Broadview, where the original hunt lodge was also located. With a great deal of help and support from their friends, Hugh Sproul, Jr. and Forest Taylor from Glenmore Hunt, and Mr. and Mrs. Carl Hopkins, Dr. Clarence Keefer, Dr. Robert Cox, and Dr. John Potts from the Bedford County Hunt, the Rockbridge Hunt began to take form. As the membership grew, the Huntís territory was enlarged from Tex's expanding ranch to include many surrounding landowners' properties. For the inaugural hunt in 1948, the field included members of the VMI and Southern Seminary horse show teams. In the beginning, Tex and Jim Dunlap were the whippers-in for the hunts which were generall drag hunts. The basic philosophy of the leadership was to show everyone a good time with the involvement of youth being an important feature. To assure a good time, Tex was know to secret a bottle of bourbon in a number of tree stumps in the hunt territory.
As has been mentioned before, Tex was not very familiar with fox hunting. He did learn that the master should be attired in a pink coat, so he obtained one from a friend in the Glenmore Hunt. [This is hard to imagine Ė Tex was quite tall.] Tex was very pleased with his new purchase but was surprised to learn that he could not display the Glenmore colors on it. With that in mind, Hank Foresman was detailed to determine what the colors should be and to obtain sufficient wool cloth to satisfy the needs of the members. Hank dutifully accompanied his mother to a yardage store in Philadelphia which she had patronized for many years, and selected from their remnants the yellow and green colors which represent the Hunt today.
For short periods of time, Jimmy Johenning, Bea Tyre Campbell and Tex's son, Jim, were Masters. In 1952, Tex became Master again and for several years during the 1950s he was Joint Master with Norris Scaggs while Viola was the Huntsman. It was also during this period that Tex and Viola were successfully showing their horses all over the state. At one point they attempted to enter their horses in the Virginia Field Hunter Championships [begun by Farmington Hunt Club, near Charlottesville, in 1957], but were refused entry because our Hunt was not recognized [by the MFHA]. Of course, this did not sit well with Tex, so the decision was made to obtain official recognition for the Hunt.
Being Recognized and Growing
The first requirement to become recognized was to enhance the size and quality of the pack. Our Hunt was fortunate to be the beneficiary of some fresh hounds thanks to Fletcher Harper of the Orange County Hunt. Billy Wilber, of the Warrenton Hunt, graciously provided some needed advice to Tex and Viola about what was necessary to gain admission to the national foxhunting organization. Dr. Nicoll of Charlottesville inspected the kennels and the hounds and also hunted with Rockbridge. He was impressed with how the hounds responded to the huntsman and hunted. As a result of this inspection, in 1960 Rockbridge was registered, and in 1962 it was recognized. This event opened the door for the Rockbridge Hunt to compete for the Virginia Field Hunter Championships. The Hunt competed for 20 years with Tex winning only a reserve championship during that time. However, in 1983 the coveted championship trophy was brought to Rockbridge by Ariadne Pantaze riding her horse, Martini.
In 1967, Tex began relinquishing some of the Hunt responsibilities by jointly sharing the Mastership with Viola, who still retained the position of Huntsman. After a short period, Tex stepped down as Master, but was soon made Honorary Master. In the early 1970s, Dr. Howell Epperly and later David Bolen were Joint Masters with Viola for short periods of time. In 1973, Joe Allen Conner became an honorary huntsman for one year, after which Viola resumed the position of Huntsman until 1976 when the current huntsman, David Conner was asked to take charge of the hounds. In 1982, Gene Clapsaddle was elected as a Joint Master with Viola who resigned the position in 1983. She, too, was named an Honorary Master at that time. [David Bolen served as Joint Master with Gene Clapsaddle. On Geneís retirement from that post, William L. "Buck" Heartwell served as Joint Master. In 2000, Cynthia J. Morton became Joint Master. She has remained the solo Master since David Bolen's retirement after the 2003 season. Both Gene Clapsaddle and David Bolen were made Honorary Masters.]
Of great importance to the history of the Rockbridge Hunt was Tex's organization in the early 70s of The Hunt, Inc. This corporation purchased 709 acres from which 12 lots of approximately 20 acres each were subdivided. The Rockbridge Hunt purchased one of the lots and the other eleven were sold to various individuals. The profit from these sales went to developing the roads within The Hunt, Inc. area. It is agreed in these sales documents that the owners will permit fox hunting on their properties and will allow the right of first refusal to the Rockbridge Hunt when offering their lot for sale. [Actually, all existing landowners within the corporation are offered first refusal and Rockbridge Hunt is one of those.] The Hunt, Inc. was set up as a home base for the Hunt. There was already a large barn on the Rockbridge Hunt lot but a show ring and kennels had to be constructed. The original landowners in The Hunt, Inc. decided to sell an extra lot, the proceeds of which were given to the Rockbridge Hunt in order to build a club house. Additional funds were raised for the project and it was completed in 1973. Three years later, a huntsmanís house was erected. The hunting territory continues to include The Hunt, Inc., Broadview Ranch, and surrounding farms.
Thanks to Ben Hardaway, Master of Midland Fox Hounds of Columbus, Georgia, Rockbridge Hunt now has a whole new pack of Crossbred hounds, either given to the Hunt by Ben or bred from his hounds.
The membership now exceeds 100, including not only Rockbridge County residents, but some members as far away as Kingsport, Tennessee and Franklin, Virginia. As always, hunts are held on Wednesdays and Saturdays from October to late March.