Chicken Man

Jimbo Bradshaw scratches out a living in cockfighting

On the way to Galveston, Santa Fe is little more than a clearing in the woods. The few streets bear letters of the alphabet but seem to proceed at random, and Jimbo Bradshaw is pretty sure "the goddamn town was laid out by drunks on a napkin."

Jimbo's particular pasture is reverting to wilderness. On the side of the road, he lives in an old trailer, surrounded by all he holds dear: the four pickups, the two refrigerators, some cans and tools and mechanical parts, everything in an advanced state of decay. His companions are six dogs of vague origin, 18 inbred cows and roughly 300 chickens. Jimbo is proudest of the chickens but says it takes everything he's got to keep them alive.

He vaccinates them and administers antibiotics. After 20 drowned in a heavy rain, he rearranged the cow manure to raise the level of the land. When the Spanish rooster collapsed in the heat, Jimbo ran with the bird into the air-conditioning. He held it under a fan and even soaked its feet in ice water. "I did everything but kiss his ass," Jimbo rued, "and the sumbitch still died."

All of this he does before dealing with the predators. "Chickens are the mullet of the land," he explained. They were put here to be eaten, and nearly everything eats them. Because fire ants will kill a hatchling before it's out of the shell, Jimbo poisons the fire ants monthly. Mosquitoes can bleed a chick dry, so three times this year, Jimbo has mixed malathion with his lawn-mower fuel. But he can do nothing to prevent nightfall. The rats come then to eat the eggs, and the owls arrive with the raccoons, coyotes and wolves to devour everything else. Jimbo cannot calculate how many predawn mornings he has rushed out "into that wet-ass grass in my underwear," carrying a rifle. Often he has left the problem to his dogs; more than once the problem has been too large. He shakes his head remembering the discovery of a dead dog, and how "the goddamn buzzards already ate everything but her head."

When the predators eat his chickens, Jimbo knows it is in accord with the law of the jungle, which may be the only law he has never questioned. "It's always been the strong who survive," he says. "That's just the way of the world." But Jimbo and his chickens have worked a deal on the law of the jungle. He is not breeding chickens to become anyone's meal, but to do what a chicken does least well of all, which is fight. Jimbo Bradshaw claims to have some of the meanest killer chickens around, and there are people who will pay for such things. The deal is this: If the chickens will fight for Jimbo, Jimbo will fight for the chickens. In this way, they may both survive a little longer.


He is 55 years old but looks 70. Jimbo's eyes assess you without betraying emotion, and the weight of everything he has ever eaten seems to hang from his stomach.

It was not Jimbo's fault that his mother and father were poor and "bighearted," in a country where strength is money. A long time ago, his father was a painter in Galveston, and Jimbo explained that all painters back then were alcoholics: The lead in the paint would damage their brains, and the brain damage would lead them to drink. His father supplemented the family income by hunting and selling raccoons. Jimbo recalls a primary diet of red beans and baked raccoon and the most delicious tomatoes grown in the waste of his father's 27 dogs.

He was physically a sound human specimen. As proof of that, he says he was captain of his football team in junior high. Academics, however, failed to hold his interest, and in the tenth grade Jimbo dropped out. He had a painting job to work that paid $1.50 an hour and "never thought I'd see a poor day."

Jimbo painted the Lipton Tea Building. He painted the Shriner Burn Center and the Flagship Hotel, the Galveston Daily News and quite a few buildings at NASA. But his claim to fame, he believes, is the brush he had with Bum Phillips's house. Jimbo speaks of the soft carpet there in tones others reserve for the Taj Mahal.

Painting was a contract job, and it was hard and often not steady work. Jimbo learned to get by on "wit and grit -- what I begged, borrowed or stole." At one point, like his daddy, he turned to the woods for his living. He spent a season up on Gator Lake, trapping raccoons and otters and bobcats. The coonskins he sold for $1.50, the heads for $1 and the "Arkansas toothpicks" for 50 cents. "A lot of people don't know a coon has a bone for a peter," but Jimbo did.

Jimbo lived with relatives and borrowed from neighbors. He found deals everywhere. He bought a "damn good refrigerator" for $30, and found a friend who would sell his employer's gas allotment for half price. Jimbo liked to tell people that he ate only steak. What he didn't always say was that the steak was marked down and on the verge of spoiling.

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