Mark Graham

Pico de Gallo

For reasons I can't really explain, I've always wanted to write a story about cock fighting. So when I heard that a man in Blanket, Texas was shutting down his cockfighting school I realized this was my chance.

I went into the story with certain ideas about cock fighting. I grew up on a farm, so what I think about killing animals is a little bit different than a lot of people I work with. I've dehorned cattle and gutted chickens and castrated horses. I also know that roosters are naturally territorial and aggressive, no matter what the Humane Society says.

I was never much for killing animals though. A few years ago I went home for a cattle drive on my dad's ranch. One night a cousin asked me if I wanted to go shoot some jackrabbits with some of the boys. So we got in his truck, which was outfitted with a big spotlight, and took out across the desert. Every time he spotted a jack rabbit darting in front of our headlights, he would stop the truck and shine the spotlight on wherever he had last seen the rabbit. As soon as it darted out from behind the sagebrush, whoever had the gun would blast away. I have to admit, there was a certain thrill at first, but after a while I began to feel sick to my stomach, especially when my cousin hopped out of the truck to finish off a jackrabbit that was still alive by kicking off its head.

I was thinking about this as I was in Jal, New Mexico about two weeks ago watching my first cock fight. I was in the main arena, and I had been watching chickens kill each other for a good hour. It wasn't as bloody as I had anticipated, but it was upsetting to say the least, especially when roosters that were going stiff with rigor mortis were forced to keep fighting.

As I was leaving the president of the New Mexico Gamefowl Breeders Association stopped me. "So what did you think, really?" he asked.

"Well, it's not something I would do, and I don't know that I'd go to another cock fight, but I don't know that I'd make it illegal either," I told him.

He nodded his head. "Well, it's not for everyone. Some people like to hunt, and some people like to fish. This is what we like to do, and we have a right to do it."

As I drove down the bumpy dirt road that led back to Texas, I thought about everything I had heard about cock fighting, from both sides. The Humane Society was right. It was a bloody sport. Roosters were thrown into trash cans when they were still living. Others were made to fight when they could barely breathe. What did it say about a society that was entertained by animals killing each other? Nothing good, that's for sure.

And I thought about what the cock fighters had told me. That their roosters didn't even fight until they were two years old. That up until that point they were fed and cared for better than any chicken headed for the grocery store. And if they won they would usually become a brood cock, spending the rest of their lives (maybe another 15 years) having sex and getting fat. Grocery store poultry, on the other hand, lived 57 days maximum, in cramped, sterile conditions, and then they were hung up by their hind legs and beheaded. If I were a rooster wouldn't I rather be a gamecock? At least I'd have a 50/50 chance of a long life.

Finally, I thought of the Chicken Man on his farm in Blanket, Texas. I thought of the way he held his roosters in his arms and petted them softly like they were his children. Who was I to say that cock fighting was wrong, and that horse racing or bull fighting wasn't? Maybe his roosters were just doing what God put them on this earth to do.

I didn't know what to think. All I knew is I felt sick to my stomach. I had seen enough killing for one day. -- Jesse Hyde

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