Popularly known as the Coon Dog Cemetery, the Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Graveyard was established in 1937. A sign on the site claims that it is the only cemetery of its kind in the world. Nestled in a remote area of Colbert County known as Freedom Hills Wildlife Management Area, near the Natchez Trace and the community of Cherokee, the cemetery is the final resting place for more than 150 coonhounds. Despite its remote location, nearly 7,000 people visit each year. Although the land belongs to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Tennessee Valley Coon Hunters Association oversees the cemetery.
Key Underwood, a hunter from the area, founded the graveyard, although this was not his original intention. When Underwood's coon dog and longtime hunting companion, Troop, died the day before Labor Day in 1937, Underwood decided to give him a fitting burial. On September 4, joined by several companions, Underwood buried Troop where they all loved to camp and hunt—a pine bluff known as "Sugar Creek." Underwood marked Troop's grave with a large stone bearing Troop's name and birth and death dates, which Underwood engraved with a hammer and chisel. Several years later, Underwood's brother buried one of his coon dogs at the same spot, so the men decided that they needed to protect the site. They leased the area from a lumber company that owned the land at that time and named the cemetery the Key Underwood Memorial Graveyard.
The cemetery's more than 150 interments feature headstones made of wood, granite, and natural stone. Many of the grave markers are hand chiseled by the owners, but some have been made professionally. Visitors can enjoy the decorative elements of the graves as well as the dogs' colorful names and epitaphs. In addition to the individual markers, a granite monument of two dogs barking up a tree marks the entrance to the cemetery.
For many years, word of mouth was the only way that people found out about the Coon Dog Cemetery. Modern media, especially the Internet, has increased the cemetery's profile, however. In 2002, the movie Sweet Home Alabama included a scene featuring a recreated version of the Coon Dog Cemetery. In addition, several articles, entries in guidebooks, a Web site for the cemetery (and hyperlinks to it in others), and inclusion in the Colbert County Tourist and Convention Bureau's brochure has increased visits to the site and requests for interments. Several world champion coon dogs and Hunter's Famous Amos—a hound that was named Ralston Purina's Dog of the Year in 1984—rest in the peaceful graveyard. The cemetery is still open for interments, and people from all over the United States contact the Tennessee Valley Coon Hunters' Association about burying their dog in the Coon Dog Cemetery. 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. A witness must authenticate this claim. Qualification may also be achieved by asking a member of the Tennessee Valley Coon Hunters Association to view the deceased coonhound and to verify that its attributes meet the qualifications for burial in the Coon Dog Cemetery.
The Colbert County Tourism and Convention Bureau in Tuscumbia provides directions, offers a printed color brochure, and sells official Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Graveyard t-shirts and ball caps. Revenue from the sales contributes to the cemetery's maintenance. The Tennessee Valley Coon Hunters Association hosts a celebration each Labor Day to mark the founding of the cemetery. Entertainment includes music and a liar's contest. During the celebration, the graves are cleaned and decorated. The Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Graveyard is open every day during daylight hours.
Published January 9, 2008
Last updated March 22, 2013