Master Cockfighter

After more than 70 years, Mike Ratliff prepares to retire from his blood sport

"The Chicken Man?" the woman behind the counter asks. "Just go on up the road about a half-mile, like you're fixing to go out of town. Take a left, then a right. You'll see the chickens."

I'm at the Whistlestop General Store, the only business in Blanket, a Central Texas town with a population of 402.

Everyone, it seems, has heard of the chicken man. And sure enough, I find the house just where she said it would be, nestled behind an overgrown field where a herd of white goats are munching grass. I walk around back and knock on the door.

After more than 70 years, Mike Ratliff prepares to retire from his blood sport.
Mark Graham
After more than 70 years, Mike Ratliff prepares to retire from his blood sport.
Chicken huts on Mike Ratliff's chicken ranch.
Mark Graham
Chicken huts on Mike Ratliff's chicken ranch.

Mike Ratliff calls me in. He's in the living room, sitting in his recliner, feet propped up on the foot rest. His hands are folded across his little pot belly, and his clunky brown tennis shoes are covered in chicken shit. He invites me to sit and asks his wife, whom he addresses as Baby, if she can fetch us some root beer. He's got two jagged little scars above each of his eyes, one from a horse that kicked him in the head when he was 18 months old, the other from a hatchet his baby brother accidentally hit him with when he was five.

Up close, I notice he sort of looks like a chicken -- nose curved like a beak, long fingernails like talons, white hair that curls up under his hat like feathers. Across the room is Jarrel Hurst, a Ratliff protťgť. He's probably pushing 70, but based on his stature (stout) and his demeanor (no-nonsense), he could probably whup my ass if I ever crossed him. He's got his arms folded across his chest, skeptical of my interest in his friend.

Ratliff is perhaps the greatest cockfighter that ever lived. In 1968, he opened the only cockfighting school in America. Over the years he taught an estimated 8,000 students, some from as far away as the Philippines.

Then in November, at the age of 83, Ratliff announced he had taught his last class. The Humane Society rejoiced. They called it the end of an era.

"There's not many of us left," Ratliff says of the cockfighters he grew up with. "They're all gone. Dead. They're trying to make criminals out of the rest of us."

The sport is under severe attack, Ratliff says gravely. The Humane Society won't stop until it is completely eradicated from the United States. Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, once the friend of cockfighters, is now doing everything he can to outlaw it in his state, one of only two states where it is still legal.

There was a time you could fight cocks all over, Ratliff says. He fought them in Arizona, Oklahoma and pretty much every state in the South. Fought them in Texas, too, before it became a felony. He points to the long bank of trophies taking up an entire wall. "I've got 97 of them trophies," Ratliff says. "I just need three more to get 100. One of my students will get them for me."

Hurst smiles at his old friend. As they begin to hold forth on the sorry state of the United States of America, particularly its stance on cockfighting, I look around. It's more shrine than living room. Above the mammoth big screen: an oil painting of two cocks fighting. On the TV: the golden bust of a rooster. Next to the TV, nailed to the wall: a toilet seat with a rooster painted on it. Every piece of art, every throw blanket, every knickknack on every shelf is a tribute to cockfighting. Over in one corner of the room I notice a collection of Native American art. A small concession, I guess, to Ratliff's wife.

"People have no damn common sense," Ratliff says, sipping his root beer. "This thing is an industry, this cockfighting is, and it's a way of life. You see the Humane Society is so damn ignorant they don't know anything about common sense. This has been handed down since the beginning of the world. Since 5,000 years before Christ."

"People think these roosters, that we make them fight," Hurst says with a frown.

"They're born that way," Ratliff says. "It's inherited from their ancestors like we inherited it from our ancestors."

Hurst asks me what sort of story I'm interested in writing. They've read plenty sympathetic to that damn Humane Society. The way Ratliff sees it, city folks are all mixed up. They shudder at the thought of a racehorse busting a leg, or even a damn squirrel dropping from a tree. Don't they know how beef cattle are slaughtered? A bolt to the head. Chickens are strung up by their hind legs and beheaded. Nothing humane about that.

I explain that I've heard a lot of bad things about cockfighting, and that I've come to hear the other side. Hurst nods, not quite convinced.

"We have nothing to hide," Ratliff says, shrugging his shoulders, like a plea to his old friend. He pops a throat lozenge in his mouth. He's got a lot to say.


Mike Ratliff first discovered cockfighting in Cross Cut, Texas, when he was five years old. "My mother gave me a set of gamecock eggs, and I learned to count by counting them baby chicken eggs. One morning I went out and they had hatched. They was in a little pile, and their heads were real bloody. They had just been pecking each other, fighting, you know? And I was just fascinated by them. I wanted to know what it was that made them fight."

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12 comments
bebe1656
bebe1656

Im very proud of my self as one of the cocker and a smalltime gamefowl breeder in my country Philippines. After finish reading this articles, what a wonderful story about Mr. Mike Ratliff.Any one can give me the exact address where His gamefarm located in Blanket,Tx. Thank you more power....

Mharl_striker
Mharl_striker

I'm glad its legal in our country...proud to be a cockfighter...this is part of our culture and protected by our laws...

Xomox99
Xomox99

Not only Breeders of gamefowl need to UNITE, the Farmers, the grain mills, the Feed stores, the big name producers of feed, the Vendors of poultry products and the new cockers of today.Very one of these producers, merchants and breeders NOT TO MENTION the IRS will loss money. Uncountable millions.SO WHO IS GOING TO LEAD THE WAY TO A NEW WORLD ORDER OF COCKERS?THE GOVERNMENT WANTS A NEW WORLD ORDER OF MONEY AND GOVERNMENT LET'S BEAT THEM TO THE PUNCH.

Gani Reli
Gani Reli

As Ratliff says "probably just give them away but not just to anyone, I'll give them to a cocker".

Well, I am a cocker too, and it is legal in my country to own and fight roosters. Send some of them to me in the Philippines and I will take care of every single gamefowl I could get to continue the heritage and preserve the bloodlines to the best I could, he! he! he! But I am serious.

Thanks,

mark lee
mark lee

i want to purchase a set of of game hens. how do i do that from here?

aj
aj

the way i see it; all cockers must be united.we all have to think as one and fight for that reason. The humane society is a very strong organization. we can not fight them by just writing letters to our representatives, because it's just a waste of time.we all know that a lot of people in this country are being misinform about the matter. The group are bunch of liars, opportunistic fools that will stop at nothing to make millions... I strongly believe that by educating people about these birds it will help us all in the future.we just have to work together.......

joe
joe

i think cockfighting should be legal, because it is a way of life for many people and it is not cruel, and people do not make the roosters fight. they fight on their own, just like boxers and ufc fighters have the choice to fight, they are violent and cruel to each other, but it is not animal cruelty. some day everyone will see just how extreme the humane societ is, and see that the humane society really doesn't know much about animals, and the humane society are mainly after all the money they are getting donated to them, but yet they don't give any of the money to the animal shelters, the animal shelters get money from the taxpayers, not the humane society. john goodwin himself is a convicted felon, for burning fur traders homes, stores, and barns, he is also a high school drop out, all the humane society is worried about is getting money in their pocket.

thank you for your time

smyers.era
smyers.era

I know Mr. Ratliff may not keep up on this site with all the unecessary bs on it, but hopefully someone cool can just pass this on to him.

Just wanted to say hello and God bless you Mr.Mike Ratliff, from a couple of your O'l students! And we are honered to have been givin the opportunity to attend your, only one of it's kind, School. Our Graduation Certificates are proudly displayed on our Office wall next to the Trophys. Glad to hear you still have your General Cross's! I know you are of German decent, and honed and refined those Roosters with the same precision that the Germans did when they designed the Mercedes Benz! Anyone fortunate enough to be handed down such an amazing creature better damn well appreciate it! But you keep your beautiful birds for as long as you can. A wise man once told me they teach you alot about Life and they keep you healthy and happy! So live long and prosper Mike! Thanks for all that you have done for us, all the way to the Supreme Court you fought for our rights and won! You are an inspiration for fighting for, if nothing else, for what you believe in. We should all take note!

I understand that there are alot of people that don't care for the sport, I get it. But it's more than that, it is our very freedom as Americans that is at stake here. If they took our freedom away all at once, there would be a Revolution! So they are doing a little at a time, I guess so we won't notice it. I notice it! 

Signed, One of your best students, (once I learned the important difference between human chicks, and game chicks!) *Chuck Myers*, & following along with tradition, daughter, and second generation student, Sherri Myers.

 Still alive and kickin it out here in the good o'l US of A Oklahoma!

See you at the fights, where bein in the Pit's, is a good thing!

 

Old Roosters never die, they just get a new Cocker built!

smyers.era
smyers.era

Spell check, HONORED. They would not let me back in  to edit! ("~")

 
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