Posted by ESC on August 25, 2002
An inquiry about this phrase was posted in 2000. I got some new information and wanted to share. (See last paragraph.)
UNTIL THE LAST DOG IS HUNG - "The earliest appearance of this phrase in print that we have been able to locate is in a novel by Stewart Edward White. Called 'The Blazed Trail,' it was published in 1902 and contains this line: 'They were loyal. It was a point of honor with them to stay 'until the last dog was hung.' White spent much of his early life on the frontier, first in the West, later in the Hudson Bay country. We would hazard the guess that the original 'dogs' hung were of the human species and that the reference is to the kind of vigilante lynchings known as 'necktie parties' in the early West. Nowadays, of course, the expression is most often heard in reference to the inevitable two or three people at every cocktail party who hang around everlastingly -- 'until the last dog is hung' and the host shows them the door." From the "Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins" by William and Mary Morris (HarperCollins, New York, 1977, 1988).
"Even now things that people thought of as regional attitudes and expressions come straight from the Senecas. When anybody from around here wanted to say they were still present at the end of a big party, they would say they had 'stayed until the last dog was hung.' Most of them probably had no idea anymore that they were talking about the Seneca New Year's celebration in the winter, where on the fifth day they used to strangle a white dog and hang it on a pole, Nobody had done that for at least a hundred years." From "Dance for the Dead," a Jane Whitefield novel by Thomas Perry (Random House, New York, 1996)