Barking — "giving tongue" — just for the noise of it did not come naturally to the breed. "The Newfoundland Dog in his native country, seldom barks," wrote Thomas Doughty (1793-1856) in his Cabinet of Natural History, "and that, only when much provoked."4 "His utterance," the author continued, "appears an unnatural exertion, producing a noise between a bark and a growl." That may have been true of the Newfoundlands within Doughty's acquaintance, but it doesn't sound that way today, coming from a descendant many dog-generations distant from the early 19th century. Nevertheless, it is still very difficult to tease a Newfoundland into barking for no apparent reason.
Knight, only five months old when this photo (Figure 5) was taken, would sound a full-throated woof when the doorbell rang, or when someone unfamiliar entered his environment, but his master was present, so he was quickly at ease and making friends with the stranger.
Lewis's "very active strong and docile" canine companion also possessed another of the breed's much-vaunted attributes, a "partiality for water, in which he appears in his proper element, diving and keeping beneath the surface for a considerable time."5
On the day (5 July 1804) the expedition "came to for Dinner at a Beever house," Seaman, apparently unbidden, "went in & drove them out." It may have been the dog's very presence in the water that spooked the rodents, but it could be he actually dove down to one of the submerged entrances and stuck his head in to browbeat them into flight.
Seaman surely earned his keep with his affinity for water. He swam into swarms of migrating gray squirrels crossing the Ohio river, picking off a few fat ones for his master's dinner. He chased and caught a pregnant pronghorn doe in "a fair race." He caught another "goat" swimming across the Missouri, "drowned it and brought it on shore." He retrieved wounded deer on several occasions. Waterfowl were irresistible challenges: "My dog caught several [geese] today, as he frequently dose," Lewis remarked offhandedly. On another occasion Seaman's eagerness nearly caused him to bleed to death when a wounded beaver bit him on a leg and punctured the artery.
The downside of the Newfoundland's primary talent is a tendency to be undiscriminating about which rescues are desirable. The painter Landseer illustrated that with his amusing "Friends" (1824), in which a dripping-wet all-black Newfie proffers his frowning mistress a child's toy sailboat he has just fetched from a nearby pond.
Perhaps another feature that impressed the Shoshones on that August day in 1805 was Seaman's size, compared with most Indian dogs. Although Lewis had occasionally mentioned Indian dogs on the way up the Missouri, they must have been rather ordinary-looking, for he took no pains to record any details. Later he penned a concise description of the typical Indian dog west of the Rockies: It was, wrote Lewis,
unusually small, about the size of an ordinary cur; he is usually parti-coloured, amongst which, the black, white, brown, and brindle are the colours most predominant; the head is long, the nose pointed, the eyes small, the ears erect and pointed like that of the wolf; the hair is short and smooth, excepting on the tail, where it is long and straight, like that of the ordinary cur-dog.6
The zoological history of Indian dogs was still a murky subject among naturalists at the time, and the study of it was considered a matter of obvious importance. Benjamin Smith Barton, in an article on "Native Dogs of North America" concluded: "We are not yet prepared to give an exact genealogical history of the Indian Dog. We are compelled to mix conjecture with fact. The anatomical structure of the animal should be examined. But whatever may have been the origin of this breed of dogs, I am disposed to think, . . . that the savages found it in the woods, and that it has existed as a distinct species, or breed, for a very long period of time."7
Lewis left us no clues as to Seaman's physical features, but in the late 1820s John Godman compared a typical Newfoundland with Lewis's description of the Indian dog. The Newfoundland dog, he concluded,
has a broader and more expressive visage, and a blunter nose, . . . the orbits of his eyes have more prominent superciliary ridges, the ears are broad, soft and pendulous, and the whole body is more robust, and covered with long, soft and glossy hair. On the tail the hair is still longer than on the body and forms a handsome brush, which appears to greater advantage when the animal is in motion, as it is then carried slightly curbed upwards at its extremity.8
From a human's perspective, those "prominent superciliary ridges," or eyebrows, undoubtedly lent the dog's countenance a more serious, intense — even thoughtful — expression than that of more ordinary dogs.
Thomas Doughty gave some typical measurements of a Newfoundland, and indicated their significance:
A full sized Newfoundland Dog, from the nose to the end of the tail, measures about six feet and a half, the length of the tail being about two feet; from one fore foot to the other over the shoulders, three feet four inches; round the head across the ears, two feet; round the upper part of the fore leg, ten inches; length of the head, fourteen inches. . . . This Dog is not remarkable for symmetry of proportions, and his motions are heavy; consequently, he is not distinguished for speed.Doughty, 1:53. In the mid-18th-century mongrel denoted either a mixed-breed dog of uncertain parentage or, more specifically, the offspring of a wolf and a dog.
However, the British traveler Edward Chappell, claimed that by 1818 "the . . . true breed has become scarce, and is rarely to be found, except upon the coast of Labrador."9 "The generality of the Dogs known under the name of Newfoundland, both in England and this country, are only half bred." Lewis left us no specific information from which we might deduce Seaman's size, but he did remark (6 November 1803) that he had paid $20 for him—half a month's salary for an Army captain—which suggests that Lewis knew dogs well enough to be qualified to make an intelligent choice. During the expedition he occasionally compared a new species of quadruped with a familiar domestic breed or type. For example, he noticed that the sea otter "when fully grown is as large as a common mastive [mastiff] dog," and he likened badgers to "ternspit" dogs—long-bodied, short-legged canids.
Some authorities have maintained that the Newfoundland originated in eastern Canada in the 1700s when ships' dogs bred with wolves. Another theory was that the Newfoundland was "a mongrel that bred with Esquimaux and Indian dogs; but this opinion is evidently erroneous, as he differs from those varieties in the form of his head, and the general robustness of his figure." On the other hand, the Newfoundland was known to breed "with all the known varieties of the domestic dog, and also with the common wolf."10 Seaman went missing at the mouth of the Yellowstone on 25 April 1805, and because of it Lewis must have spent a wakeful night. "My dog had been absent during the last night," Lewis recalled painfully, "and I was fearfull we had lost him altogether, however, much to my satisfaction he joined us at 8 Oclock this morning."11 Back down the river a ways they had seen wolves herding some bison into position for some kills. Did Seaman recognize those wild canids as his kind? Perhaps he was just in the mood for some companionship. Anyway, he was home in time for breakfast.
But what about his final disappearance on some undocumented date? Could he have gotten lucky again, and — sagacious as he was — felt a compulsion to commit to the pack, and the pack's wandering ways.
- 1. At least one 18th-century naturalist rejected the thesis of the breed's uniqueness. Thomas Pennant (1726-1798) wrote of the dogs of Newfoundland in general: "It is not certain that there is any distinct breed: most of them are curs, with a cross of the mastiff: some will, and others will not, take the water, absolutely refusing to go in. The country was found uninhabited, which makes it more probable that they were introduced by the Europeans." Arctic Zoology, 2 vols., 1784 (Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1974), 1:39-41. Pennant's conjecture remains arguably acceptable to at least one authority. Desmond Morris, Dogs; the Ultimate Dictionary (North Pomfret, Vermont: Trafalgar Square Publishing, 2001), 670.
- 2. William Jardine, ed., The Naturalist's Library, 42 vols.; Vol 19, Charles Hamilton Smith, Mammalia; Dogs, Vol. 2 (Edinburgh: W. H. Lizars, 1840), Plate 3.
- 3. Ibid., 133-34,
- 4. John and Thomas Doughty, The Cabinet of Natural History and American Rural Sports, 2 vols. (Philadelphia, 1830-32), 1 (1830):54. Internet Archive, http://www.archive.org/details/cabinetofnatural01phil (accessed November 11, 2010). The Newfoundland, presented as a retriever, was the only domestic canid discussed by the Doughtys in either volume.
- 5. Ibid.
- 6. This is from Biddle's paraphrase of Lewis's original journal for 16 February 1806; that was all anyone had to go on until Thwaites published the complete journals in 1904. Lewis himself wrote "usually," not "unusually."
- 7. The Philadelphia Medical and Physical Journal (Philadelphia: J. Conrad & Co., 1804-1808), vol. I, part 2, p. 3. Quoted in William Guthrie, A New Geographical, Historical, and Commercial Grammar; and Present State of the Several Kingdoms of the World, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Johnson Warner, 1815), 1: 294.
- 8. Godman, 1: 254.
- 9. Edward Chappell, Voyage of His Majesty's Ship Rosamond to Newfoundland and the Southern Coast of Labrador. (London: J. Mawman, 1818), 141.
- 10. William Guthrie, A New Geographical, Historical, and Commercial Grammar; and Present State of the Several Kingdoms of the World, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Johnson & Warner, 1815), 2: 294. The Newfoundland, "as a watch Dog . . . is far more intelligent, and more to be depended on than the mastiff." Doughty, Cabinet, 1 (1830): 54.
- 11. Moulton, Journals, 4:66.