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May 15, 2021

Note to readers: During these difficult days for many people, Clare and I have been considering what we might do to help those in need. We have decided to continue our support for the charitable nonprofit organizations that are serving our community. Each week in this space, I will ask you to consider helping one charity. This week, please volunteer or donate, as you are able, to Spartanburg Humane Society, Animal Shelter in Spartanburg County, 150 Dexter Road, Spartanburg, South Carolina 29303, (864) 583-4805.

“If you want to go to Boykin, you have to start somewhere else. You can’t get there from here,” said Carl Bostick, as he kicked back in a rocking chair. Carl, a surveyor from Irmo, South Carolina, and an Admiral in the Lake Murray Navy, is a member of the Boykin clan. It was Carl who introduced me to the Boykin Christmas Parade, the village surrounding Boykin Mill Pond, and Alice Boykin’s restaurant.

Whenever Carl and I get together, swapping stories is our favorite pastime.  Recently, Carl related a story that is an essential part of South Carolina lore.

Near the beginning of the 20th century, a hunt club in Boykin, South Carolina, had a serious problem. Duck hunters plied the tributaries of the Wateree Basin in small skiffs. The boats were fine for duck hunting, but they were not big enough to accommodate a large dog such as a Labrador retriever. Frequent mishaps occurred when large dogs leapt from the small boats, tumbling unsteady hunters overboard into the cold, cold water.

Allen Jones Boykin, Carl’s great-grandfather, and L. Whitaker Boykin, Carl’s, great-uncle, determined that a smaller retriever would be far more suitable. They set about the task of developing a smaller breed.

Alexander L. White, a Spartanburg banker and avid sportsman, frequently traveled to Kershaw County to hunt with the Boykin family. He had been the victim of several unfortunate spills into the Wateree River, the unwelcome result of a large retriever rocking the boat. In 1911, as he departed Sunday morning worship, Mr. White, a member of a local congregation in Spartanburg, found a stray dog begging for food near the church door. He took the bedraggled brown pup home with him and named him Dumpy. He soon discovered that Dumpy was intelligent and had quite an aptitude for hunting.

Alexander White was eager to correspond with Whit Boykin to tell him about Dumpy. Arrangements were made for the little brown dog to travel to Kershaw County. Dumpy was a passenger onboard the train at Magnolia Station in Spartanburg. The dog was met in Camden by Whit Boykin.

Dumpy, a male, was penned with a female Water Spaniel named Singo. The result of that breeding was the first litter of Boykin Spaniels.

I decided to make a trip to Boykin, South Carolina, to learn more about our state canine. I invited Carl to go along as my navigator and tour guide. Our son Kris, who is married to Carl’s daughter Patrice, went along as a chaperone. Both our wives thought we needed somebody to keep us out of trouble. Believe me. There is not much trouble to get into in Boykin.

On a muggy August day, we set out for Boykin. Carl was right. We did have to go somewhere else to begin. We started at the home of Beaver Hardy, one of Carl’s Boykin cousins.

The Old King’s Highway, now state road 261, is a picturesque route through the heart of the Palmetto State. Historic Boykin is a short detour through expansive farmland. The village of Boykin is a semicircle of shops situated near a millpond.

At Boykin Mill Pond, travelers can visit a 19th-Century restored gristmill, watch as brooms are handmade, and enjoy a meal at The Mill Pond Steakhouse. Boykin is home to the last Civil War battle in South Carolina, fought in April 1865. A monument in memory of all soldiers who fought in the battle stands on S.C. 261.

One of the shops near the pond is Alice’s Restaurant, actually a combination country store and short-order grill. It was the place where we met Baynard Boykin.

Dr. Baynard Boykin was the grandson of Whit Boykin, the original breeder of Boykin Spaniels. He was a graduate of Clemson and a former faculty member in the School of Horticulture. Baynard reminded me of a Wateree Swamp cypress, tall, tan, and stately. He was a man who has aged well. Dressed in crisp khaki pants and shirt, he was pleasant, a man with a quick wit and a contagious smile. He had the strong sense of place of one who knows the land, the water, and the history. He impressed me as the epitome of a gentleman farmer.

Baynard recounted the story about the little brown dog that followed Mr. White home from church in Spartanburg.  Baynard’s grandfather found a suitable companion for Dumpy when the stationmaster at the railroad depot in Camden presented Singo to him. To this day, no one really knows where Singo came from.

Baynard’s stories included family history. The Boykins lost everything during the Civil War.  They got most of it back by marrying Yankee wives. He remembered living through the Great Depression as a boy. His family survived by working as hunting guides for wealthy Northerners. He sold some of the first Boykin pups to those same hunters for ten dollars each.

He had a tale about Dixie Boykin, who bought an elephant to plow the expansive cotton fields. There was another story about Alice Boykin, ever the entrepreneur, who convinced a fellow from New York that he really didn’t want the pick of Beaver Hardy’s litter of Boykin pups. She persuaded him, instead, to purchase the runt of the litter. Kris and I listened for hours as Baynard and Carl ricocheted yarns back and forth.

There were hunting stories, of course, always extolling the virtues of the Boykin Spaniel. The dog’s keen nose and eagerness in the field make him an exceptional retriever of upland birds as well as waterfowl. Baynard told about how the spaniels were used, back in the old days, to drive whitetail deer and wild turkeys through the swamp.

The Boykin Spaniel loves water and is an excellent swimmer. The hunting boats used on the Wateree River were homemade three-piece section boats with a shallow draw. The Boykin Spaniel was bred to be a small retriever. The breed is known as the dog that does not rock the boat. Beaver Hardy took a pair of Boykins to Louisiana on a hunt. The guides there asked where they might purchase “some of those little brown poodle dogs.”

The confusion with the poodle and other breeds actually endangered the Boykin’s bloodlines. Baynard recalled a Camden veterinarian, Dr. Peter McCoy, pushed to have the breed recognized. The Boykin Spaniel Society was founded in 1977, sixty-five years after Whit Boykin brought Dumpy and Singo together.

In 1985, Act No. 31 of the State Legislator designated the Boykin Spaniel as the official dog of the State of South Carolina because it is the only dog that was initially bred for South Carolina hunters by South Carolinians.

In July 2005, the American Kennel Club named the Boykin Spaniel Society the Official Parent Club of the Boykin Spaniel.

The Boykin Spaniel has a typical spaniel face with smaller, higher set ears and a straighter muzzle. He sports a brown coat with generally wavy hair, natural camouflage for a hunting dog. The tail is docked, or cropped, preventing enthusiastic wagging from alarming game birds during the hunt. The yellow-amber eyes are a trademark of the Boykin Spaniel. Though each dog has his or her own personality, the breed is known as pleasant and obedient, loyal and intelligent. As a hunting companion or a family pet, the Boykin Spaniel represents our state well.

Baynard and I shared one more story. I am sure the story is apocryphal, but, because I am a Baptist minister, it seems worth the telling.

Years ago, three Presbyterian ministers from the Upstate planned to duck hunt in the Wateree Basin. Because they were unfamiliar with the area, they decided to hire a suitable guide. A fellow pastor from Kershaw County suggested a member of his church. The pastors arrived and spoke with the guide. When they learned his fee, the ministers were hesitant. The guide said that he could reduce the price if they were willing to hunt with an inexperienced dog, a newly trained Boykin Spaniel.

The pastors agreed.

After several days of hunting in which they bagged their limit of ducks, the ministers complimented the guide on his retriever. The Spaniel had performed beautifully. The guide offered to let the Presbyterian clergymen name the dog. They dubbed him Elder.

Each year at the same time, the ministers scheduled a hunt with the guide. They always requested Elder as their retriever.

Then one year, the Presbyterian Church scheduled a required conference that conflicted with the planned hunt. Because the three Presbyterians did not want to relinquish their annual hunting slot, they offered their reservation to three Baptist pastors. The Baptists accepted.

The following year, the Presbyterians returned for their regular week of hunting. When they arrived, they immediately noticed that Elder was not with the guide.

The clergymen insisted, “We want Elder as our retriever.”

“No!” said the guide, “You don’t ever want to use that dog again!”

“Why not?” the ministers asked in dismay.

“Well, you fellows sent those Baptists down here last year, and they messed up that spaniel.”

“But how?” they asked.

“Those Baptists didn’t like the name Elder, so they changed his name to Deacon. Now all he’ll do is sit on his tail and holler.”

Even a fine Boykin Spaniel can be ruined if he runs with the wrong crowd.

This column is a slightly edited version of an article first published

in Sandlapper Magazine, September 2008,

Kirk H. Neely is a freelance writer, a teacher, a pastoral counselor, and a retired pastor. He can be reached at

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