There are probably more quail per acre on the 33,000 acres of the Dixie Plantation at Quitman, Ga. than anywhere else in the south. It is not surprising, then, that one of America's oldest and most distinguished field trials for pointing dogs, the Continental, has been run for 27 years on this vast private preserve that straddles the Georgia-Florida border north of Tallahassee. What is surprising is that the Continental owes its existence to a patrician sparrow of a woman who knew little about running a field trial until she was well past middle age.
Eleanor Rodewald Livingston looks as if she would wilt with the first wistaria, but she shoots a 12-gauge Purdy shotgun like a man and can sit in a saddle eight hours a day. She inherited the Continental, along with Dixie Plantation, from her broker husband in 1950.
Under the guidance of Gerald Moncrieffe Livingston, the Continental had become a prominent part of the tradition of south Georgia. When Livingston died, two months before the trials' scheduled 55th running, its long history appeared at an end. There seemed little likelihood that Mrs. Livingston would have the desire or the ability to take over the Continental.
"My husband liked nothing better than to watch good dog work," she recalls, "but when we went to a trial I usually paid more attention to the horses." Chiefly because she thought the upcoming Continental would be a fitting memorial to him, Mrs. Livingston reluctantly agreed to run it for one more year. She's been running it ever since.
One by one, Eleanor Livingston assumed other responsibilities on Dixie Plantation. With the help of her general manager, George A. Evans, she took on the care of a herd of 80 registered Santa Gertrudis cows, a dozen breeding bulls including a 2,600-pound champion sire, 200 head of an experimental Santa Gertrudis-Hereford cross, 50 Jersey cows that daily produce more than 75 gallons of milk for Borden's, a bevy of red Duroc hogs that grow choice hams and bacons for the tables of the plantation, and a bird-dog kennel from which came a liver-and-white pointer that won the national championship in 1950 and 1953. Excellence is the only standard permitted in Mrs. Livingston's empire. Alongside her Evans-managed bird-dog kennels are the Labrador runs of her renowned retriever trainer, Dave Elliot. Across the way are the stables run by Trainer-Showman J. B. Smith, which have housed some of the greatest Tennessee Walking Horses in the country. Not to be outdone by his fellow champion-makers, Mrs. Livingston's bench show trainer, Pat Norwood of Athens, Ga., has spent the better part of this season guiding Ch. Tar Baby of Whitehall along a spectacular ascent to the top of poodledom.
Hunger for perfection is characteristic of Dixie Plantation, and it is a characteristic that stamps the pointer trials. This year the 68th running of the Continental began in the worst weather of the century. A tornado, whipping through nine south Georgia counties, pounded the plantation with winds, drenched it in two inches of rain. And the moment the rain stopped, the cold began.
By the time Handler Fred Arant Jr. of Barnwell, S.C. ran a 7-year-old white-and-lemon pointer named Resthaven Spunky Bill for Harold Crane of Washington, the thermometer had risen to 57 and things were better. Like a magnet picking up pins, Spunky swept through seven finds and a contact to become the winner.
Spunky Bill's victory was not based solely on bird finds. He was also judged on the way he went about making them—enthusiasm, thoroughness, stamina and style. It is the measure of these qualities that distinguishes a champion, and at the Dixie Plantation's Continental the standard of championship is high. It is a standard set largely by Dixie's own spunky chatelaine, Eleanor Rodewald Livingston.