The Full Story
History of the Mill Creek Hunt Club
For nearly a century, eager riders and hounds gathered in pursuit of game through the open spaces of
Lake County, Illinois.The pre-season begins in early August and lasts until the Opening Meet (the Annual Blessing of the Hounds) in late September. Formal hunting continues through mid-December as weather permits. The pre-season is for members and horses to get conditioned for the upcoming season, but more importantly it is for the new hounds (those born last year) to learn how to hunt as a pack and to follow the correct quarry, namely the coyote. The Mill Creek Hunt does not hunt for the ‘kill’ as traditionally done in the UK, but is more interested in keeping the game healthy to run again and again. The Club is fortunate to have only three major landowners that allow for members and guests to enjoy their beautiful land that is made up of over 6,000 acres or rolling, wooded farmland divided by creeks. Panels, or jumps, consist of chicken coops,log fences, and post and rails.
The club began in 1897 as the Onwentsia Hunt and was located on the grounds of the Onwentsia Club in Lake Forest. It began as a ‘paper chase’ and was turned into a ‘drag’ hunt around 1904 under Vernon Booth, Master of Fox Hounds (MFH). Drag hunting is where the scent of a fox is used in a ‘drag’ that is laid for hounds to follow. Depending on how hard or light the line is…the hunt can be very fast as the hounds have an easy time following it and run full-out with riders keeping up.
In 1927, Prentiss ‘Pete’ Porter and Austin Niblack as MFH decided to move the club to Wadsworth under the name of Mill Creek Hunt Club (MCH). The new club facilities (house, stables, kennels) were designed by MCH member and renowned architect David Adler. After WWII, the Club re-opened after a three year hiatus under the leadership of Hulbard Johnston and Beth (Mrs. James) Simpson. The complexion of the hunt changed too. Live hunting was done during the week with drag hunting limited to Sundays.
In 1961, when William Wood-Prince became Master, the drag hunting was eliminated entirely and a new breeding program for fox hounds was begun. Prior to 1961 and following WWII, two separate packs of hounds were kept; one for drag hunting and one for live hunting. Both packs were made up of American Fox Hounds with a few Cross-Breds brought in. With the elimination of drag hunting, Mr. Wood-Prince imported breeding stock from the Fell country in England. With the Fell hounds and the hounds inherited from the ‘live’ pack, a new Cross-Bred pack was created. The fell strain helped develop the nose of the pack to enable hounds to find scent in the rather rigorous conditions of northern Illinois. During that era, the hounds and staff spent winters in Mississippi hunting lands there to stay fit and sharpen their hunting skills.
In 1981, with leadership being taken over by Harry Oppenheimer, who was joined in 1986 by Howard Simpson (son of Beth Simpson), the breeding program changed in scope again. The Fell hounds became too fast for the present country, so other strains of English blood were brought in to steady the pack. English born huntsman, R.N.S. ‘Richand’ Buswell was also hired to take the place of the retiring Daniel J. Murphy who had hunting the pack from 1958. Decades later, there was a need to change the traits of the pack yet again.
With the growth of Lake County came more road traffic, and it was necessary to develop a more deliberate and biddable hound that would be easier to stop as they might approach a road and that couldn’t outrun the hunt staff. This occurred around the time the club was led by John Larson, Roger Lane, and Keith Gray. Penn-Mary-Del (from the Pennsylvania-Maryland-Deleware) hounds, known for their keen nose, booming voice, and deliberate scenting behavior were brought in and crossed with the existing pack under the watchful eye of Professional Huntsman Brenda Yost who started at MCH in 1990. What has resulted is an excellent pack of hounds that are fully recognized fox hounds that are crosses of English, American, Fell, and Penn-Marydale whose performance match the northern Lake County territory perfectly.
While the practice of riding to hounds has inherent risks, the club has taken multiple steps to ensure the
safety of the hounds, staff, and followers:
the breeding and use of biddable hounds
state-of-the-art hound care and participation in cutting edge research for their well being
GPS collars to know their locations
the use of road whippers’-in to follow the hunt, aid when needed, and slow traffic
groomed trails, repairing of hazards as much as practical
requirement that approved headwear be worn by all, and accepting of protective vests
multiple fields led by experienced riders to safely meet the needs of all participants
Work continues by leaders to perpetuate the club. Facilities maintenance, hunt country improvements
(safer crossings, etc.), governance set up to reduce the financial burden on only a few, and the
continual evolution of the breeding of the hounds to ensure good sport, long/productive lives, and
temperament suited for the region.