Friday Night at the Cockfights
One observers perspective
I attended three cockfighting events at "pits" near Bristow, Cleveland, and Chickasaw, Oklahoma in recent years. Of course I was against cockfighting but I went to find out exactly what these fights were like. The first time I went to a cockfight I was invited by a young lady, the niece of a pit-owner, who thought that by getting me to experience the excitement of a fight I would become endeared to the "sport of kings" as cockfighters call it. She was certain she could show me the folly of my opposition to "chicken fights".
Finding a cockfight to go to is not an easy matter. The aficionados of cockfighting don't exactly advertise their events or even the venues. About the only way to find out where the pits are is to know somebody in the cockfighting world or take out a subscription to "Grit & Steel", the cockfighters magazine. You won't find this magazine next to the candy and batteries at the Wal-Mart checkout stand. Even in Oklahoma where cockfighting is legal, the cockfighters like to keep a low profile.
Cockfighting pits, at least those in Oklahoma, look pretty much like any old barn in a field. You could drive by them everyday of your life and not know what goes on behind those corrugated tin walls. There are no signs announcing that you have arrived at the "Blockbuster Video Cockfighting Arena of Greater Bristow", just a nondescript gravel road leading off the blacktop. About the only giveaway that this is no ordinary farm building is the large parking area around the building. And on a weekend, more cars and trucks than one would expect to be encircling a remote barn.
At my first fight I naively sat down on the front row and began taking photos of the fighting chickens and their handlers in the pit before me. Big mistake. Seems that cockfighters are a tad camera shy. The scene reminded me of one of those Merrill Lynch TV ads where a fellow in a bustling crowd says "...and Merrill Lynch says..." and everyone freezes in their tracks to listen. The chickens were no longer the focus of the crowd of about a hundred spectators - I was. I was collared and whisked to the pit owners "office" where my film was destroyed, I was given a lecture on the connection between Jesus and cockfighting, and escorted to my car. My first cockfight had been a very brief introduction to the "sport". I still didn't get what Jesus had to do with cockfighting.
Not about to give up on my education quite so easily the next weekend I attended another fight at another pit some miles away from my previous debut. This time I sat at the back of the bleachers that surrounded the pit, sans camera and trying to fit in as best I could. I hunkered, elbows on denim, and pretended to chew. Two kids of about 10 years old sat next to me.
The first pair of cocks were brought out by their handler/owners - two men in ball caps and plaid shirts. The long steel gaffs or blades were already strapped to the cock's legs. The two men held the cocks face to face, bill to bill for a few seconds to get the birds properly agitated. At an unseen signal the handlers dropped the birds and backed off. The birds went at it, slicing each other to shreds for a few minutes. When one bird fell over and seemed to submit to the stronger bird the handlers picked the birds up and again held them bill to bill until they were both angry enough to continue the fight. The most severely cut and bleeding cock collapsed after another minute. The fight was over. The losing bird was jerked out of the pit and removed.
As the second fight started I turned my attention to the spectators. Most were men but a surprising number of women and children were in the crowd. Almost everyone in the crowd had been feverishly offering and accepting wagers on the upcoming fight. Even kids were standing, money in outstretched hands, calling out to others in the bleachers to accept their bets on the outcome. Gambling, illegal though it be, was an integral part of the cockfighting ritual so it seemed.
Behind the indoor bleachers was a snack bar. I didn't have much of an appetite by now but I checked out the menu. Sure enough, fried chicken was on the menu. So was everything else familiar to those of us who frequent bowling alley snack bars; Tater-Tot potatoes, nachos, and hamburgers. Children played under the bleachers just like I had at high school football games. It was a bizarre "family atmosphere".
After a couple of more fights I left. On the way to the
parking lot I noticed a young teenager standing next to a pile of bloody
feathers. He had a limp bird in his hand. He was cussing at this bird
which was looking back at him with one eye. The other eye was hanging
out of its socket. The young fellow was angry that his bird had let him
down by losing its fight. With an angry fwap the kid slammed
the bird down onto the pile of dead and dying cocks that had, according
to the cockfighters, lost with honor earlier that day.