Training And Conditioning The Fighting Rooster in the Mirror
Controversial cockfighting still exists in certain cultures and countries, despite having been outlawed here in the U.S. and other countries. Many believe cockfighting is a cruel blood sport that pits two roosters against each other. Spectators place bets, and the fight ends after one or both roosters die.
Here in the U.S. cockfighting is illegal in all states. It is a felony in 35 states and can net you as much as a $10,000 fine and five years in jail. Yet, in some parts of this country, you'll still see game roosters being raised openly for fighting, in states where it is a felony charge.
This is the true story that took place in Chandler, Arizona of one of those participants involved in the sport and the fate that he met. Long before animal rights activism was something we have all heard about -- the sport was part of a marital war between my grandparents. One believed it to be a time honored sport or art, the other believed it to be cruel.
The Day Andy Died
Sometime near dawn, Daisy slipped loose of Vern's nightlong bear hug and hauled her swollen self out of the bed. This heroic act was one of self-preservation. Watching the sun come up were precious moments, even if it was accomplished while hand scrubbing his only work uniform in an old horse trough.
They were cherished moments of solitude, hopefully lasting long enough for a sweet dream of a better life, while praying that a mere dream, would be enough to get her through another impoverished day. Indeed, these moments were not to be wasted and lost by sleeping late.
Her morning accomplishment had become so routine, that her squeaking exit off the metal bed frame, no longer woke her husband. Moreover, to her way of thinking, on this chilly January morning, it didn't matter if her baby was due yesterday, chores still had to be done. The chickens still needed to be fed, the eggs still needed to be collected, and she needed to get her younger brothers ready for school.
After building a fire in the Majestic cook stove, twenty-two year old Daisy padded barefoot across the dirt floor of the two room wooden frame. Dirty feet went hand-in-hand with the life they had come to live. Poor they were, like most folks in 1932, she supposed.
The chilly winter morning didn't need the missing window to seep inside. Just about every corner of their rental, had a view of the outside where the joints of the walls should have, but didn't meet. More often than not, in usually blistering hot Arizona, keeping the cold out wasn't the problem. Keeping the outside out was the bigger problem, due to the realities of a large populations of scorpions, who preferred to wander in and out at will.
Noticing that the water trough was covered with a thin layer of ice, Daisy hurried across the yard to gather up Andy, her pet rooster and his eight hens. Andy and his harem were more than pets. They represented security. Eggs were food and egg money bought other food to feed a hungry husband and two boys. Sometimes the eggs represented the only food in a given day.
Now fully awake, Daisy remembered chickens don't tolerate the cold well. As expected, she found all of the hens huddled in conference, not contently in their nests tending to the business of laying eggs. She knew she had to act quickly. Her makeshift Arizona chicken coop was draftier than the "should have been condemned" shack of its inhabitants. Suddenly, her heart leaped in alarm as she realized her rooster was missing. She called out, "Andy, old boy, where are you?"
She should have realized before dawn, that Andy hadn't awakened her with his usual crowing. Crowing was the job Andy did best. He crowed to announce his territory. He crowed to let his hens know he was there to protect them. He crowed, just on the remote chance another rooster was within earshot, and challenged that mythical rooster. Andy crowed so much, that ever joking Vernon, always ready to torment Daisy, had acquired steady stream of rooster ruminations.
Vernon's ribbing always began with the same dry observation and complaint, as he cussed, "Quit your @#%^ squawking! Why that damn rooster crows when he crows, only THAT rooster knows!"
However, the real battle between Andy's existence and Vernon was in his eyes, the fact that Andy was a prize specimen of game foul, wasted in service, as Daisy's pet. Daisy had forbidden Vernon to put Andy in his cock fighting ring.
Vernon was a devotee of the millennium-old pastime of cockfighting, having come by the somewhat lucrative hobby naturally, as any Cajun of man of his era. At age twenty-three, he was already a lifelong cocker. Since the ripe old age of seven, Vernon bred, raised, and fought roosters. He was a popular local breeder and handler.
With Vernon's conditioning methods, he could build stronger thighs on even the puniest of cocks. He swore by his Cajun secret recipe for feeding fighting roosters - plenty of garlic, shotgun powder, and onions to increase their aggression.
States Where Cockfighting Is a Felony
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
Vernon just knew that Andy was destined to be a great star in the world of roosters. He was a magnificent cockscomb, sharp spurs, a fighting spirit, and a loud "cock-a-doodle-do" and was more than able to disturb the entire desert before dawn. He could hit any opponent as hard and fast, as any Arizona venomous black-tail rattlesnake.
Vernon and Andy had secret - a huge secret, hidden from Daisy only. Whenever his young wife was away from home, he would spirit Andy away from the hens for "training." Behind her back, Vernon affectionately called Andy, "Gros Rouge" and they were a fighting team.
Vernon had a special chicken run he'd built for his fighting roosters. He'd wrap a red bandanna on the end of a stick and tease the bird, making him run up and down the incline of the cage. The walls of the run had holes in them, made especially for Andy to peck through to reinforce his neck and pecking reflexes. Vernon would lay a cup of food on the other side of the hole, just close enough to entice the feisty rooster.
He'd even purchased fancy Navajo hand-made silver gaffs for Andy. These pointed gaffs were of the "slasher" variety. They were easily attached to the rooster's legs with melted wax and tape. Designed to inflict puncture wounds that bled relatively little, despite producing lethal wounds, they were ideal for prolonging the fight. The longer the fight, the more the wagers Vernon could hope to win.
Furthermore, whenever Daisy was away, Vernon would toss Andy into the air at least one hundred times a day. This was to build up his wings and get him used to flying and landing. The worst part of the secret, was that he would sneak Daisy's prized ornate gilded mirror from the house. In that mirror, Andy thought he saw another rooster and that rooster wanted to fight him.
The Reflection in the Mirror
The mirror was the only item Daisy was able to keep after her mother's death. As an orphaned child runaway, she had lugged that mirror from Missouri to Arizona. It was all she had left to remind her of beloved mother, besides a few pictures. Her husband knew that there would be hell to pay if she ever caught him using it. This only sweetened the fun of the secret fight training sessions.
Now, Andy had striking green shimmered black plumage, marked by a long flowing multi-colored tail and bright pointed feathers on his neck. He would dart after anything that moved, whether a scorpion, snake, or an unaware visitor, then do violence with his mighty beak. He was the only enemy of Vernon's vicious cur dog, and the only living thing the dog was afraid of.
On that fateful January morning, as Daisy briefly looked around for her pet rooster, she spotted a shiny pile of feathers, looking quite like someone had melted a giant glistening dark chocolate bar on the ground. With a sudden spurt of energy, worthy of any pregnant woman past her due date, a horrified Daisy ran to the mound.
She cried, "Oh Andy, what have I done! I should have brought you in . . . . I had no idea it would get so cold last night."
She looked him over. Her rooster now had blackness and yellow oozing blisters on his formerly bright red comb. Knowing he was clearly going to die, if she didn't warm him up quickly, she bundled him up in her apron and headed for the equally in danger hens. After putting the hens in an old wooden box, still lugging both baby belly and Andy rolled in her apron, she laboriously carted all to the front door of the cabin.
The whack of the door, the crash of the heaved box, and the frantic squawks of the hens - were the sounds her men folk woke up to that winter morning. To further add to the commotion, Daisy quickly slammed firewood into the stove box, lit the fire, and loudly clanked the burner well lid down, all in a manner befitting of the emergency. That is when, her water broke. And with that, Vernon, now half-awake, took one look and ran shirtless and barefoot for the mid-wife.
I'll Take Care of the Chickens, You Take Care of the Baby
Once back with the mid-wife, along with his mother and his sister - Vernon began the age old waiting game assigned to men during childbirth. After a few moments of husbandly hand-holding and sweet nothing words, he decided to wait outside. His parting words to Daisy, when he left her to her womanly duty, was to promise, "I'll take care of the chickens, don't you worry."
True to the nature of childbirth, her labor was long, exhausting, and bloody. However, in the end, her reward was a beautiful healthy little girl, that she and Vernon would name, Virginia Lee. Their short-lived joy, however, was marred by one simple unthinking act for which Vernon would never be forgiven.
While Daisy was in labor, Andy and the hens seemed to somewhat revive themselves once warmed. Surveying the rooster's damage, Vernon determined that the cure was simply a matter of a little Vaseline on the cock's damaged comb. Since, it took some time for his daughter to make her appearance, and he was left with some time on his hands, he decided to "train" Andy, one last time before hopefully entering him into a fight later that night.
Vernon was certain this was his lucky day! What better way to celebrate the birth of his first child, than to win a big wager in the ring. With that on his mind, Vernon propped up Daisy's beloved gold gilded mirror along a fence, back behind the shed. Momentarily distracted by his wife's birthing screams, he failed to stop the rooster when he should have. For the first and the last time, Andy finally won the fight. The mirror was hopelessly shattered. Moments later, a bloodied and weakened Andy also met his fate.
January 5, 1932
Thus, all in the same day, a sacred promise was broken, a child was born, and a beloved pet lost his life. The arguments that would follow for years to come, proved the old adages: "The rooster makes all the noise, but the hen rules the roost! The rooster may rule the roost, but the hen rules the rooster! - at least until he forever walks out the door."
Fast forward to more than seventy years later, when Virginia Lee, never having heard the story, curiously asked ninety-nine year old Daisy, "Mom . . . . Can you tell me about the day I was born?"
Virginia was quite touched to see tears in her mother's eyes, thinking her mother remembered her birth, as a special moment in her life. Then, the elderly woman, said with great sadness and a tear running down her cheek: "That was the day my pet rooster, Andy died!"
Why Cockfighting Is Outlawed
- Roosters, even the ones who survive the fight, suffer injuries.
- Game roosters are forced to fight, not matter how tired or hurt they become.
- Typical injuries: Broken bones, internal injuries, and pecked out eyes.
- Use of gaffs or steel blades, looking very much tiny ice picks are designed to inflict severe injury.
In Ancient Times
- Cockfighting was popular in ancient cultures in Greece, Persia, and Rome.
- It has long been disapproved by both clergy and animal lovers.
- It's recorded history dates back to before the time of Christ.
- Indeed, ancient Syrians considered the game rooster a God.
- In Sumatra, the bird was worshiped with it's own temple and rituals.
Housing of Game Roosters
In certain states, you'll see many game roosters tethered by one leg near their shelter. Usually, these shelters are plastic barrels that have been sawed in half, corrugated tin shelters, or wire cages on the ground. The only time they are not chained is when they are fighting or being conditioned to fight.
Some Breeds of Roosters Will Naturally Fight
Do You Know?
Roosters cannot crow if they cannot fully extend their necks.