Eugene Reynal was the quintessential 19th-century gentleman. He was very aristocratic, autocratic, and most conscious about whose company he
kept. Despite his arrogance, he was quite shy. Proper dress and deportment were the supreme virtues in his life.
God help the man or woman who came hunting with him who was not correctly and immaculately turned out! Woe betide the employee who did not offer him the proper deference his status demanded!
He viewed life only in black and white with no middle ground. Were you of his class, you were either his friend or his enemy. His life was lived by an extremely rigid code that could have been drafted whole from early 19th-century Britain. There were gentlemen, gentlewomen and then there was everybody else.
Reynal was born in New York City in 1877, a direct descendent of Count Eugene Sugny, aide-de-camp to General Lafayette during the Revolution. He was a lackluster student at several private schools, and as far as we know did not attend college.
His family was quite wealthy, and Reynal was born into the gilded age, a heady and dramatic time of conspicuous wealth and consumption. The industrial and mercantile fortunes that had built up since the Civil War blossomed, and America’s first leisure class looked to Great Britain for inspiration. Reynal shot into this life full bore.
Hounds and hunting captured Reynal’s soul at a young age. For the first time he found something he was good at and would become renowned for. His passion was a true one, based not on show but on a deep love for the sport itself.
This passion was infectious, and Reynal and two of America’s nascent premier houndsmen–Fletcher Harper and Ned Carle–bound themselves together into a tight-knit clan of adventurous young sportsmen. Through Reynal, both of these men eventually found their way to Millbrook, playing an important part in laying the foundations of the Millbrook Hunt.
In 1898, at the age of 21, Reynal became master of the Fairfield & Westchester Hounds, quickly discarding the harriers and replacing them with English Foxhounds. These foxhounds were hunted until the pack disbanded in 1911. He held the mastership through 1909.
[But] in early 1908, while on a hunting trip in Britain, Reynal became captivated by the boundless joy and drive he saw in several of that country’s Beagle packs.
The small hounds drove their quarry with the greatest vigor, and he admired their plucky spirit and cry to no end.
Even in 1910, Reynal could see that the Westchester [N.Y.] area was developing, and that hunting on the scale he wished to practice was fast becoming more and more difficult. Casting about for some new country, he was told of the great expansive farms of Dutchess County, and of Millbrook in particular. On the 18th of October he shipped his Beagle pack to Millbrook by the Dover train, having heard that the European hare population was in need of some hounds to keep them in line.
He was met at the train by James Cooley, a sporting correspondent for the New York Herald, who was also secretary of the Millbrook Hunt. The next day, records Cooley, they had “great sport by a magnificent pack, much regretting darkness calling it quits. Reynal said he would like to take a hunting box up here another year and hunt with us. Wish he would.”
Reynal was short in stature but possessed a terrier’s courage. He was incensed that America was leaving Britain to fight alone [in World War I] and took a steamship to France in 1914, hoping to enlist in the Lafayette Escadrille. When they wouldn’t have him due to his eyesight and age, he joined the Morgan-Harjes Ambulance Corps for 1914-1915, seeing much action at the front. With America’s entry into the fighting in 1916, he switched to the Remount Corps, procuring horses for the army in Spain.
He suffered an acute attack of appendicitis in 1918 and was shipped home for an operation. The delay almost killed him. At a critical point in the operation his heart stopped for three minutes, and the doctors literally had to pound him black and blue to get it started again.
Before going overseas, Reynal deputized his daughter Jeanne as acting master, and the hounds hunted as always.
The hare population in Millbrook was enormous at the turn of the century. Charles Dietrich, founder of a company that evolved into Union Carbide, had fenced in 2,000 acres of land on the edge of the village in the late 1800s.
Dietrich attempted to re-create a bit of Bavaria, his native country, within the confines of this preserve. All sorts of European game was imported, including the hare for which Millbrook became famous.
Reynal’s feuds could be legendary. Joseph B. Thomas, an outstanding proponent of American foxhounds, came in for particular enmity. This great hound man, author of the classic work Hounds and Hunting Through the Ages, was invited to hunt the Millbrook country by Oakleigh Thorne in 1925. Thomas’ hounds had the great effrontery to run their fox through a field that Reynal was drawing his Beagles.
In Reynal’s eyes this was a regrettable though not terrible event. What got his ire up was a letter from Thomas stating, “I will let you know where I am drawing next so your hounds won’t interfere in the field.” Reynal frothed at the mouth over this discourtesy from a parvenu visitor to Millbrook.
The incident was the nail in Thomas’ coffin. When Thomas rented the Vail farm in Verbank–in Reynal’s country–Reynal became virtually apoplectic. It grew so intolerable that when the 5-year lease was finally up, Reynal bought the farm to keep Thomas out of the country, and renamed it “Craven Lodge Farm”–and also as a sly swipe at his enemy.
The worst feud, however, was a short-lived one, which almost split the hunting community of Millbrook in two. When the divorce of Margaret Thorne from Ned Carle was announced, Reynal’s loyalty to his friend Carle was so great that he wrote a letter to Oakleigh Thorne withdrawing from the Thorne family and their guests all invitations to hunt with his packs. Thorne was the squire of Millbrook, master of the Millbrook Hunt, and a man of immense integrity and generosity who was liked by all. The hunting community was horrified at being asked to take a side, for many hunted with and liked Reynal as well.
After a few months of this, Carle was apprised of the situation and, aghast, went to explain things to Reynal, who apologized for having misunderstood the situation and reinstated the invitation. Peace was restored to the Millbrook valley and hunting fields.
Reynal had a severe drinking problem. It was probably used as a crutch to make up for his inability to forge or acknowledge deep-rooted emotions of love and compassion. His childhood was seemingly devoid of all affection, and throughout his life he was haunted by a feeling that he was loved by no one.
When drunk, there was no one meaner or more self-destructive. After a fierce row with daughter Roxanne, he sold three of her ponies, vowing she would never hunt with him again.
Dr. Howard Collins, master of the Millbrook Hunt in the ’30s, vainly attempted to get Reynal to curb his drinking. Collins was one of the few men for whom Reynal had total and absolute respect, but this was not enough to get him to heed the advice.
After a day’s beagling in August 1931, and after wining and dining his friend Henry Perry, Reynal decided to drive to the city. He reportedly took both hands off the wheel to light a cigarette–as he was accustomed to do on horseback after a hunt–and his Nash Lafayette flipped over on its side. His arm was pinned beneath it, broken in five places. People stopped and tried to help, but he would have none of them. “I can park anywhere I want,” he exclaimed irritably.
Finally Ferris, Reynal’s farm manager, came, and Reynal didn’t want him to help either. Ferris ignored Reynal’s ravings, pulled the back seat out of the car, and placed it atop the damaged auto. He then extracted Reynal and laid him on this makeshift bed.
People gathered to watch, among them John Place, who declared loudly that the bleeding Reynal was about to die. With that, Reynal got off the seat, belted the man in the mouth, said, “You first,” and got back up on the seat again.
But Reynal was generally kind to other people’s children. In South Millbrook there was a farmer who had a son who was an epileptic. This boy loved seeing the Beagles go by and would often become so excited that he’d have a siezure. On several occasions when this happened, Reynal whipped off his hunting tie and used it to tie the boy’s tongue down till the seizure abated. He would mutter with great concern, “Hurry boy, hounds are moving on. . . “
Possibly, though, the boy whose attention he caught the most was young Morgan Wing. Wing’s father said he thought the boy was born in a whelping pen, and he supported his frequent forays to meet with Reynal. Reynal probably found in young Wing a prot