Master Cockfighter

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

He gingerly walks outside, with me and Hurst in tow. Riding the scooter he uses to get around his farm, we drive out to a row of holding pens where he once kept roosters that were in training. He points to a panel of sheet metal that separates two of the cages. There's a crude hole in the middle. The other day, he says, he came out here to find one rooster had pecked his way through the sheet metal to get to a rooster on the other side. By the time he found them, one rooster was dead and the other had lost its eye.

"See, we don't make them fight," he says. "It's what God put them on this earth to do."

He drives into the field and stops in front of one of the roosters. "This rooster will be 16 years old next spring," he says, pointing to the bird. "Now he'll hit you because he's miserable. When they get old, they don't want to be picked up." He steps from his scooter and reaches down to pick up the bird. "Come here, buddy. I know you know me."

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.

The rooster pecks at him, drawing blood, but Ratliff doesn't flinch. Instead, he cradles the bird and begins stroking its head. Before long, it's as calm as a cat in his arms. "I pick him up just to be ornery once a week or once a month because he's been a favorite. He'll die in my yard. I fought him one time 15 years ago."

He looks down at the rooster, which has closed its eyes. "He loves that petting. He's just like a woman, he loves to be rubbed."

"These birds are like my babies," he says, looking out across his yard. "I love them like they were my children."

Ratliff is done with his school, but his legacy will live on. He's got an instructional video that sells for $500. He suggests I attend a cockfight sometime, maybe at the Bayou Club of Louisiana, where they fight in an arena with glass walls. Or I could try the Legion Club of Jal, the pit he built so many years ago. There are illegal brush fights all the time here in Texas, and he hears about them, but I never will.

"If you ever do go to a cockfight, it will be unlike anything you've ever seen," he says. "Who knows -- you might even like it."


The Legion Club of Jal occupies a big white building not far from Highway 128, a lonely road that runs through southeastern New Mexico, just across the Texas border. From the highway, which cuts through mesquite and sage, the building looks like an old slaughterhouse. It is one of the last places in America where it is still legal to fight roosters.

On this cool January morning, a hundred men are gathered inside, talking bloodlines and chicken feed. They are oil field workers from Midland and flea market merchants from up the road in Hobbs. They wear coveralls and camo, steel-toed shitkickers and alligator-skinned cowboy boots. Chatting above the din of the crowing roosters, they lean on the waist-high railing of the drag pits, where the fights will end and the chickens finally bow their heads in the dirt and die. At the big metal door, where trespassers are warned to stay out, a little Mexican man sits hunched over a whirring machine, sharpening the blades that will be attached to the roosters' legs. Cigarette smoke hangs above it all.

A man with watery eyes and a perpetual frown waddles over to me and fishes two black-and-white photos from his pocket. "These are from when this pit was first built," he tells me. Like so many men here, he says Ratliff taught him the secrets of chicken fighting.

"To tell you the truth, I wish he wouldn't have said anything about retiring," says a man in coveralls. "The Humane Society had a field day with that one."

A little man named Eliseo Lopez nods. "The Humane Society, they're trying to kill us."

"They're liars," someone else says.

"They're communists."

"They're terrorists."

"Your ancestors fought chickens," Lopez tells me, pointing his stubby finger into my chest. "George Washington was a cockfighter. Abraham Lincoln was a referee. It's a part of your heritage."

"You're eventually going to have the biggest revolution the United States has ever seen because people are tired of their freedoms being taken away," someone else says. "Before you know it, hunting will be illegal."

It's nearly 2 p.m., and the fights are about to start. But first, the president of the New Mexico Game Fowl Breeders Association, Ronnie Barron, has something to say. He mounts the steps of a small platform and takes a microphone. Standing a few feet above the crowd, he lays out their plight. The last year was a bad one for the organization, he says. The New Mexico legislature nearly banned cockfighting. Governor Bill Richardson, once the friend of cockfighters, is now against us, Anderson says.

"The son of a bitch," the little man says through gritted teeth. "I don't even consider him Hispanic."

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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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