The Origins and History of the American Feist"
By Keith Holt
The origins of the Feist are perhaps, the most enigmatic of any American dog. One of the earliest, if not the earliest recorded reference to the Feist was by George Washington, circa 1770, whereby the dog was referred to in his diary as, "A small foist looking yellow cur." William Faulkner and Abraham Lincoln also made early references to the Feist. Despite a handful of historical references to the Feist, little has been recorded about their exact genetic origins.
There are competing theories as to the historical origins of the feist. One popular theory is that the Feist is the descendant of European (most likely British) terriers, crossed onto Native American hunting dogs. The Native American hunting dog x European terriers origin theory can probably only be applied to a handful of the older “strains” of feist and not so much the broader category of the “Treeing Feist” of today. Peculiarly enough, there is in the Southeast region of the United States, a pariah “breed” of dog, the Carolina Dog, which is believed to be a remnant of ancient Native American dogs. These Carolina Dogs, especially the black tri-colored, piebald individuals, bear some resemblance to a larger feist. The Native American dog connection to the Feist may or may not ever be established via DNA but the oral traditions implicating Native American dogs x European Terriers does at least offer a starting point in any investigation, regarding the genetic origins of the Feist.
Another popular view concerning the Feist’s genetic origins is that the Feist is simply a type. A type is similar to a breed in that there is a defined point of exclusion, that is, there are certain dogs that cannot “fit” (as if there were a very loose standard in play) into either category. A popular, historical definition of a breed is one where there is a group of domesticated animals, who share common descent and common characteristics. A type need not necessarily share common ancestry or common physical traits. Historically, types were most often utilized as hunters and or working dogs, i.e. hunters/ratters/cattle dogs, etc, whereby a dog’s pedigree or more commonly, the lack thereof had little to no importance. The dog or dogs in question were historically, severely culled and only the animals that displayed the desired characteristics and abilities were bred.
Today’s feist may carry a number of breed or type titles; Mountain, Bench, Pencil Tailed, Flop Eared, Traditional or Treeing Feist, others are the products of decades of line breeding and are, in some cases breeds of their own, like the Buckley Mountain Feist and Mullins Feist. Despite the relative purity of some strains, there are a number of Treeing Feist, who carry the genetics of the Mountain Cur as well as a host of other breeds. Depending on the particular registry’s standards, numerous breeds and their combinations may be registered as (Treeing) Feist. Whatever the exact genetics of a particular dog, the Feist remains a small to medium sized dog, with a relatively short coat, which is erect to button eared and contains therein, a great propensity to tree and or bay game.
NKC Breed standards for the Feist
These standards were adopted through the majority interest of owners and breeders of the Feist tree dogs. It is hoped that these standards will improve the ability of this old line American hunting dog. These standards are designed to help the buyers, breeders, and show judges to develop a more versatile and pleasurable hunting companion and family pet.
General Appearance and Coat
A well balanced, shorthaired, sturdy built small dog. This dog should be alert, attentive, and show a genuine hunting spirit, and should be a very loyal companion type dog. It should have a good coat of short hair, (no long or shaggy coat)
Head and Neck (teeth, jaws, muzzle, ears, and eyes)
The head should be well muscled, ears short, slightly hung down (flopped ears and straight ears are acceptable). Cocked ears are very desirable, with a long keen muzzle, neck short and strong. Teeth should meet with little or no overbite or under bite. Eyes should be alert and watchful.
Front Quarters (chest, shoulders, front feet and legs)
Good strong legs (bench legs acceptable). Chest and shoulders should be small, strong, and wiry indicating speed and endurance. Chest should be broad and deep with plenty of lung space.
Hind Quarters (hips, back, back feet, legs and tail)
Hips and back showing strength and good muscle tone, back slightly arched. Legs need to be straight or benched. Tail either long or stub (however long tail preferred).
Special Characteristics of breed
The Feist should appear very alert, well muscled, and eager to please the master. Primary colors should be white, tan, red, yellow to lemon, or any variations of these colors. Height standards for males are 10 to 18 inches, and females 10 to 17 inches. Weight limit for male or female dogs are up to 30 lbs. Oversized dogs are considered a fault. Dog should be virtually silent on trail and must tree only squirrel of coons.
Gait and Movement
The dog should move in a free-swinging gait indicating speed, strength, and endurance. The head and tail should be carried erect. Jerky or awkward movements are a serious fault. When hunting, the dog should be very alert and watchful.
The Feist should appear bold, confident, trusting and loving with its master, neither too shy nor too aggressive, with a strong treeing and hunting instinct. Courageous fighters of that game work with other dogs or work alone.