Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Graveyard
Coon Dog Cemetery Monument.jpg
Coon Dog Monument[2]
EstablishedSeptember 4, 1937
4945 Coondog Cemetery Road, Colbert County, Alabama, US[1]
Coordinates34°37′48″N 87°58′01″W / 34.63009°N 87.96698°W / 34.63009; -87.96698Coordinates: 34°37′48″N 87°58′01″W / 34.63009°N 87.96698°W / 34.63009; -87.96698[3]

The Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Graveyard is a specialized and restricted pet cemetery and memorial in rural Colbert County, Alabama, US. It is reserved specifically for the burials of coon dogs. The cemetery was established by Key Underwood on September 4, 1937. Underwood buried his own dog there, choosing the spot, previously a popular hunting camp where "Troop" did 15 years of service. As of August 2014, more than 300 dogs were buried in the graveyard.

Criteria for burial are fairly well established, albeit being subject to interpretation and application. Only bona fide "coonhounds" are to be buried there. The exact measure of that standard depends on breeding, experience and performance; and seemingly depends on who and when the tale is told and the determination made.


Troop's grave, the oldest in the cemetery
Troop's grave, the oldest in the cemetery

Key Underwood established the cemetery on September 4, 1937, interring his coon dog, Troop, in an old hunting camp[4][5][6] located in rural Colbert County, Alabama, US. The closest town is Cherokee, Alabama.[7][8] At the time, Underwood only intended to bury Troop in a place they had coon hunted together for 15 years. The memorial was a serendipitous afterthought.[9][10] Underwood buried Troop there, three feet deep, with an engraved old chimney stone for a marker. Later, other bereaved hunters followed his example when their dogs died, and the cemetery flourished as a result.[9] [11] The entrance is marked by a statue of two coonhounds treeing a raccoon.[12][4][13] During a 1984 interview with columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson, Underwood said that burying Troop was doing "something special for a special coon dog". Allowance of mere pets is contraindicated. "It would reveal that you must not know much about coon hunters and their dogs, if you think we would contaminate this burial place with poodles and lap dogs."[14][10][15]

Dogs must meet three requirements to qualify for burial at the cemetery:

To be sure, being a full blooded coonhound from a recognized breed — i.e., "Redbone, black and tan, English bluetick, English redtick, Plott, Treeing Walker, and various combinations of the above" — is a plus. But "many non-AKC breeds of Southern hunting hounds (such as our native frontier hounds, the Black Mouth Curs, Plott Hounds, Catahoulas, and Mountain Curs)" may be admitted, but then must be proven to meet all three of the criteria, and have no fewer than three witnesses who will attest that they have seen the dog track and tree coons single-handedly.[19]

Headstones and markers in the cemetery range from homemade metal and wooden monuments to more intricate marble engraved stones, akin to human gravesites. [17] They range from humble and home made to relatively well-crafted and ostentatious. Each reveals a touching story and makes a tribute.[20] Some have epitaphs, such as "He wasn't the best, but he was the best I ever owned". The interred dogs include many notable hunting dogs such as Hunter's Famous Amos, Ralston Purina's 1984 Dog of the Year.[13] It is the only cemetery in the world specifically dedicated to coonhounds.[9][21] By 2014, over 300 dogs were buried in the cemetery.[11]

More generally, There are two monumental sculptures.[22] It is a tourist attraction, albeit well off the beaten path.[23] Maintained by the Tennessee Valley Coon Hunters Association, it receives nearly 7,000 visitors annually.[24] Visitors are encouraged to sign in to the guest book on premises.[25]

The entrance is festooned with warning signs, some pocked with many bullet holes, which advise visitors of surveillance by the neighborhood; another forbids lighting fires, and stresses only coon dogs buried with permission are allowed.[26]

[27][9][10][13] [28]

"Remembrances of dogs past happen a lot at the cemetery. Tears are shed, for they're more than dogs. They're more than pets. They're friends. More – they are family members. Funerals befitting a family's grand matriarch happens up on the hill a handful of times a year because some of the dogs there are grand matriarchs. Families bury their own, like Key Underwood did that sad Labor Day."[27] The seriousness and solemnity of being interred at the memorial[29] is illustrated here:

"A group of solemn men, dressed in black mourning coats and hip boots, wearing carbide lamps on their heads stood beside a mound of soil and a freshly dug hole. A hunting horn sounded and the bay of hounds filled the air." Four outiftted pallbearers "... walked slowly toward the gathered crowd, a small wooden box carried between them".[30]

"The last lines of William's eulogy memorialize the relationship between hunter and dog:

"'...he knows in coon dog heaven he can hunt again when the sun goes down and the tree frogs holler. May the bones of Ole Red rest in peace, through the mercy of God and may the coon hunters light perpetually shine upon him.'"[30]

Caretaker and contact person for the cemetery was Janice M. Williams,[22] aka the "Coon Dog Lady", who is the cemetery board's president. She was the first reported person to actually "count the graves scattered across that pastoral acre: 307 as of January 2014. She keeps it presentable (without care the forest quickly encroaches)."[31]

As the 75th anniversary of the cemetery approached, coins and replica service medals started to be left on the graves.[32]

The cemetery evolved, as has the sport of coon hunting. "These days hunting's about competition... Used to, people hunted [raccoons] for their hides or in the Depression, they ate them, but we don't shoot [raccoons] anymore." Dogs are supposed to be independent, capable of hunting on their own, and "honest, meaning it won't run deer or rabbits; and it'll stay put, meaning it'll stay no matter rain, a storm, or another dog aggravating it," says Lee Hatton, grounds caretaker. A United Kennel Club title requires beating other champions and "It takes 100 hard-earned points to become a champion."[33]

The facility is officially recognized as an historic cemetery by the State of Alabama.[34]

The memorial's thematic purpose has been summarized:

"Twelve years is a long time to be loved like that, and it’s a good life for a dog. It’s a good life for anybody. This is the only graveyard I’ve been to that was less an acknowledgment of death than it is a celebration of what almost certainly was, grave for coon dog grave, a damn good life."[19]

Labor Day

Travis Wammack entertains the crowd at the 2007 Labor Day Celebration
Travis Wammack entertains the crowd at the 2007 Labor Day Celebration

Every Labor Day the Tennessee Valley Coon Hunter's Association sponsors a gathering at the cemetery in a tribute to the inauguration of the cemetery on Labor Day in 1937. The celebration includes bluegrass music, dancing, barbecue and a liar's contest.[35] Admission is free to the public, but donations are accepted and help defray upkeep expenses. In 2014 eight Redbone Coonhound puppies were sold at the gathering, with proceeds going to upkeep. The gathering is often attended by local politicians.[27][36]


Popular culture

The cemetery was featured in the movie Sweet Home Alabama, but the producers used artistic license to relocate it to south Alabama.[38] The film's protagonists go looking for the graves of dogs named "Bear" and "Bryant", an homage to Bear Bryant the football coach.[39]

The cemetery and the Labor Day gathering are remembered in song by Milan Miller.[40][41]

In 1987, an authorized 50th anniversary Case knife souvenir was sold to honor the dogs and the cemetery.[42][43] With new graphics and subject matter, the promotion was repeated to honor 75th annniversary in 2012.[42][44]

See also


  1. ^ Young, Jennifer (December 26, 2020). "The World's Only Coon Dog Cemetery Is Hiding In Small Town Alabama And It's As Weirdly Wonderful As You'd Expect". Only in Your State. Retrieved April 11, 2022.
  2. ^ "Pictured Here".[dead link]
  3. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Key Underwood Coondog Memorial Park
  4. ^ a b Harwell 1983, p. 7170.
  5. ^ "Coon Dog Cemetery". St. Joseph News-Press. June 12, 1969. Retrieved March 5, 2011.
  6. ^ Cuhaj 2019, p. 33.
  7. ^ Elder, Tracy (February 16, 2011). "Tim Horton and Colbert County Tourism unveil new marketing project". WAFF (TV). Archived from the original on February 23, 2011. Retrieved March 5, 2011.
  8. ^ McNulty, Timothy (October 1, 1978). "It's the doggonest cemetery around". Chicago Tribune.
  9. ^ a b c d "Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Graveyard". 2007. Retrieved July 6, 2009.
  10. ^ a b c "Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Graveyard Tuscumbia, Alabama (AL), US". virtualglobetrotting. October 2010. Retrieved April 10, 2022.
  11. ^ a b Kazek, Kelly (August 19, 2014). "Legendary Coon Dog Cemetery to once again host Labor Day celebration with live music, crafts, barbecue". The Huntsville Times. Huntsville, AL. Retrieved August 20, 2014.
  12. ^ Ferris 2010, p. 27.
  13. ^ a b c Finch, Jackie Sheckler; Martin, Gay N. (September 2, 2014). Jackie Sheckler Finch (ed.). Alabama Off the Beaten Path: A Guide to Unique Places (Ebook). Guilford, Connecticut: Globe Pequot, GPP Travel. p. 62. ISBN 9781493014095.
  14. ^ a b Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Graveyard.
  15. ^ "Beloved hunting dogs buried in northern Alabama". Daily Mountain Eagle. May 2, 2021. Retrieved April 11, 2022.
  16. ^ Desmond 2016, pp. 88, 269.
  17. ^ a b "Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Cemetery: Alabama Legacy Moment" (Video). Alabama Public Television. June 30, 2017. Retrieved April 9, 2022 – via YouTube. In order for a dog to be buried at the site, the Coon Hunters' Association must verify that the dog is an authentic coon dog. Although a pedigree or a specific breed is not required for qualification, the dog must have been a hunting dog and must have hunted raccoons exclusively.
  18. ^ "Coon Dog Cemetery Photo Gallery". Underwood Dog Memorial Graveyard.
  19. ^ a b Evans, Erik (June 17, 2019). "FILED UNDER: MISCELLANY 68 Things to Love About Alabama: The coon dog cemetery". Retrieved April 12, 2022. A place like no other for some of our best friends.
  20. ^ The Cemetery Detective (April 25, 2011). "Key Underwood Coon Dog Cemetery – Cherokee Alabama". Retrieved April 14, 2022. The Coon Dog Cemetery tombstones and epitaphs will make any animal lover shed a tear.
  21. ^ "Coon Dog Memorial Graveyard". Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area. July 21, 2018. Retrieved April 15, 2022.
  22. ^ a b "Coon Dog Cemetery Historic Site or District". Tennessee River Valley. Retrieved April 10, 2022.
  23. ^ "10 of the Most Interesting Pet Cemeteries in the United States". March 10, 2022. Retrieved April 11, 2022.
  24. ^ "This Day in History: September 4, 1937". Alabama Living Magazine. September 4, 2019. Retrieved April 12, 2022.
  25. ^ The Bucket List With Meg (2015). "If I Ever Have A Dead Coon Dog". Kicking The Bucket List With Meg. WordPress. Retrieved April 14, 2022.
  26. ^ Hoppes, Ian (July 7, 2015). "Entertainment: I went to the Coon Dog Cemetery last weekend and this is what I found". Retrieved April 13, 2022.
  27. ^ a b c Shipley, Jonathan (November 20, 2021). "Here Lies Troop". Dog News. p. 90. Retrieved April 10, 2022. Only Coonhounds Need Apply at Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Cemetery in Tuscumbia Alabama
  28. ^ Elliot, Debbie (September 7, 2015). "NATIONAL: Hunting Dogs Can Spend Eternity At The Coon Dog Cemetery". Morning Edition. National Public Radio. Retrieved April 10, 2022. You have to have three references that have to contact us and have actually witnessed the dog tree a coon by his self.
  29. ^ Sutton, Keith (February 11, 2009). Coon Dog Cemetery: Hunting dogs are laid to rest in the Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Graveyard. Outdoor Life. Retrieved April 12, 2022.
  30. ^ a b Kazek, Kelly. "Coon Dog Memorial Graveyard". Retrieved April 10, 2022.
  31. ^ Wallace, Daniel (April 2014). GOOD DOGS: Alabama's Coon Dog Cemetery. Garden & Gun. Retrieved April 10, 2022. Deep in the Alabama woods at the base of the Cumberland Mountains lies a cemetery like no other.
  32. ^ Staff (September 3, 2013). "The mystery of the Coondog Cemetery headstone coins". Quad Cities Daily. Retrieved April 11, 2022. TUSCUMBIA- The Mystery of The Coondog Cemetery coins on the headstones started when coins started appearing on top of the headstones at the Coondog Cemetery southwest of Tuscumbia about six months before the 75th anniversary in 2012. In addition to various coins, replicas of service medals were also left.
  33. ^ Helderman, Jennie (August 29, 2016). For 79 Years, Americans Have Been Burying Their Hunting Hounds In Alabama. Country Living. Retrieved April 12, 2022. This Labor Day, thousand will head to the Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Graveyard to pay their respects.
  34. ^ "The Alabama Historic Cemetery Register as of April 4, 2022" (PDF). Alabama Historical Commission. Retrieved April 11, 2022.
  35. ^ "The Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Graveyard – Tuscumbia, Alabama". The American Festivals Project. Retrieved April 10, 2022.
  36. ^ "Coon Dog Cemetery". Exploring Alabama. Retrieved April 10, 2022.
  37. ^ Clemons, Alan (August 31, 2016). "Alabama's Famous Coon Dog Cemetery Celebration Set for Labor Day". Clembone Outdoors. Retrieved April 12, 2022.
  38. ^ Kristoff Alabama News Center, Anne (August 30, 2017). "Alabama's Coon Dog Cemetery celebrates 80 years this Labor Day weekend". Retrieved April 14, 2022.
  39. ^ Credendino, Chris (August 3, 2014). "Sweet Home Alabama: Then and Now – 12 Years Later". Retrieved April 14, 2022.
  40. ^ Miller, Milan (March 9, 2018). "Coon Dog Cemetery" (Audio). Retrieved April 13, 2022 – via YouTube.
  41. ^ Miller, Milan (February 4, 2018). "Coon Dog Cemetery Trailer from the EP Timepiece" (Video). Retrieved April 14, 2022 – via YouTube.
  42. ^ a b "Souvenirs". Coon Dog Cemetery souvenirs.
  45. ^ Presnell & McGee 2015, p. 118.
  46. ^ Blakeslee, Sandra (August 29, 1997). "Kentucky Doctors Warn Against a Regional Dish: Squirrels' Brains". The New York Times. Retrieved April 18, 2019.
  47. ^ Rettner, Rachael (October 15, 2018). "Man Dies from Extremely Rare Disease After Eating Squirrel Brains". LiveScience. Retrieved April 9, 2022.


Further reading