Though it is not a term commonly heard today, a century and a half ago, if you had asked a sheep farmer in the areas of Southern West Virginia or Eastern Kentucky what the best sheep dog was, he would have told you without hesitation, “well that’s a Stump-Tailed Dolly!”
This dog, described as having long tangled hair and a docked tail, is believed to have originated from the Briard breed, and was introduced to the region by Johann Dahle, a Hessian mercenary who served with the British against the colonists in the Revolutionary War. After the war’s end he fled to the Western slopes of North Fork Mountain in a rural area of Virginia (now West Virginia) where he raised sheep and other livestock. Legend has it that his prize sheepdog, Melisande, was actually stolen from General Lafayette himself.
Melisande was pregnant with a litter at the time of her “liberation” and from that litter descended a line of sheepdogs that came to be known as “Stump-Tailed Dollies” from their cropped tails and the Anglicized pronunciation of Johann Dahle’s surname. (Some of his descendants in the area go by Dahle, many more changed the spelling to Dolly generations ago.)
The tune’s authorship is unknown but it was widely played among the fiddlers of this area (many of whom were Scots-Irish sheep herders) beginning as early as 1830. Variant titles include “Stumptail Dolly,” “Stumptail Dog,” “Stumptown Dolly,” or just “Dolly.”
The dog breed itself seems to have largely vanished from the area along with the sheep farming it supported, though some believe that the infamous “Logan County Devil Dogs” were descended a prize English Mastiff that escaped from the “Indian Water Medicine Show” near Madison in 1868 and bred with a Stump-Tailed Dolly living in that region.