SB Nation

William Browning | January 16, 2013

The last cockfighter tells all

A man I will call Clyde won his first four-cock derby on a cool spring Saturday at a place called The Milk Dairy in Tickfaw down in Tangipahoa Parish., La. Then he drove back home to Mississippi. He unloaded “830,” “Red Wire,” “836” and “Mr. Big Stuff” from the back of his Dodge and put them in their pens. A fifth bird, “The Experiment,” had traveled to the derby but true to his name he did not make it back. These things happen.

Clyde was alone and it was after midnight. Still, a celebration was in order.

For more than five years he had been breeding, training and conditioning roosters. This was his first
derby win.

For more than five years he had been breeding, training and conditioning roosters. This was his first derby win. A fifth of Jack Daniels was opened and a radio was tuned to a classic rock station. Then Clyde put a tape in a camcorder and walked through the darkness from his trailer to his rooster pens. As a single bulb hanging from the ceiling lit the room, he began videotaping “Mr. Big Stuff.” The cock had won the fourth fight of the day’s derby and sealed the victory. He took a wound or two – there was a fresh, quarter-size gash on his head – but was alert, looking back at the camcorder’s lens with the quick, brief movements chickens make.

With the camcorder on his shoulder, Clyde, high on whiskey and his first win, began talking.

“Yes sir. It’s, hell, way after midnight. We fought today and I want y’all to know that Mr. Big Stuff was the man. He was the man. I got all the other roosters put up. I’m telling ya. Mr. Big Stuff. Oh God. I love it. I love it. God what a thrill today was. Mr. Big Stuff. Four and oh. Won the derby. I floated all the way home. Mr. Big Stuff. I love it. Time for me to go to bed. I want y’all to know – Mr. Big Stuff.”

The next morning, as roosters crowed and dew was fresh, Clyde carried his camcorder out in the yard again and sat on a chair in front of it. Loxy climbed onto his lap. Other than the chickens she was his only companion and he scratched her head and told her she was a good dog. Then he straightened up, shook off the hangover and told of his roosters’ performances in the derby.

“The first rooster they called up was 830. 830 had a tough time. Hurt his leg pretty bad in the main pit. Leg’s still hurt pretty bad. But the fight went like 40 minutes. Never really was behind but the fight was in doubt for a good while. But he held out – stayed on that rooster, stayed on that rooster, stayed on that rooster. Finally killed him. Then they called up Red Wire. Red Wire came out, his usual dominating self. Just – boom, boom, boom. Back and forth. Pitting’s over with. We pumped. They called up 836. Hey, it was a rooster fight. They both come to fight. After about the third pitting, had him knocked down. Finished him off in the drag. Not very long later, called up Mr. Big Stuff. He come out, knocked the rooster down after about four pittings in the main pit. Stayed on him, stayed on him. Four and oh. Won the derby.”

At this point Clyde doubled over at the waist. It was elation washing over. When he composed himself, and rose up again in his chair, he finished the story through a smile.

“Hey it was wonderful. It was wonderful ... just couldn’t be no better. We set up there with our friends ... just couldn’t be happier with the roosters. Excellent roosters. Just, it was just – could have been the biggest thrill of my life. Probably as excited as I have ever been. Bunch of our buddies were there ... but anyway. It was cool. I’m going to cut this off now. Our first four-cock win. It was great.”

Clyde made that video during the final spring of the 20th century, when cockfighting was still legal in a few states and memories were preserved on VHS tapes. He leaned back on a couch in his home recently and watched it again. As his slightly drunk and younger version described the win he nudged forward, eyes on the TV, and said, “That pumps me up right there.”

Cockfighting is an ancient sport. But its intricacies are hard to know. Men learn them not from books but from hanging around pits, mostly listening and then watching who they talk to. It began in Asia. The Greeks wrote about respecting the will of gamecocks. In America there is a story cockfighters tell: “Honest” Abe Lincoln’s nickname came not from a courtroom but a rooster pit, where as a referee he earned a reputation for fairness. And no matter if it is true. In the south, where cockfighting held strong for generations, cockers take it as fact. They carry the history along.

cockfightingPhoto credit: Sandor Weisz

Cockers see more, through the blood to something pure and noble that few others understand.

Animal rights organizations have fought the sport for years. People outside of cockfighting see it as deviant and inhumane for a reason. It is brutal and rightfully called a “blood sport.” But cockers see more, through the blood to something pure and noble that few others understand. A gamecock does not fight to live; he fights to kill.

Clyde’s brother, a retired military man living in New York City, asked him about cockfighting. He wanted to know about the sport and know his brother better. To answer him, Clyde bought that camcorder and a stack of Maxell tapes.

He usually recorded himself at sunset and sunrise. He liked the way that looked. Other times, a friend held the camera and followed Clyde around his game farm as he pointed at roosters, talked about how he got them ready and recent performances. Digressions abound. Clyde is happy to share his passion. Loxy, a mixed-breed with a yellow coat, makes many appearances.

He made about 20 tapes. Before mailing each one off North he made himself a copy. When he built a house on his property and moved in the tapes stayed in the mobile home, where they sat for a decade. Clyde got them out a few weeks ago.

“I don’t like going in there anymore,” he said. “Full of snakes. I’ve seen more skins than snakes, but still. Look, when I went to get my antenna cord out of there that time, I had it kind of wrapped around some of them vents and all. And when I went up there to get it off, there was about a six-foot skin on the fucking roof. I’m going, ‘Are you kidding me? On the fucking roof man?’ But anyway.

“You raise chickens you going to run into a lot of snakes,” he said. “Trust me on that.”

● ● ●

Clyde is tall, a lifelong bachelor with a beard in his early 60s. I consider him a friend. By trade he is a mechanic. He was wearing overalls the first time we met. That was years ago and I’ve never seen him wear anything else. When we lived in the same town and I saw him a lot, when he wasn’t turning a wrench or smearing grease on whiny joints, he kept his hands in his pockets and slouched a little. Because he wore glasses with lenses that darkened in sunlight and always a cap, it was hard to know what he looked like. He moved deliberately. Strangers can feel uncomfortable around men like that and say too much to fill things in. But Clyde never seemed the type to worry about coloring in silences. His skin fit well and he generally kept quiet, only speaking when he had something to say. He chewed Red Man tobacco.

“I think you'd be opening up a can of worms.”

He also fought roosters. Mutual friends told me that. I never brought it up. It is not a thing non-cockers bring up to cockers. But a long while had passed since we saw each other regularly and I decided to ask.

Over the telephone, he paused. It sounded like he swallowed something before answering. “I think you’d be opening up a can of worms.”

He was talking about law trouble. The sport is now illegal across the United States and hardly tolerated. He loosened when I told him I wouldn’t use his real name. We set a time to talk.

The directions: off the two-lane highway onto gravel, hang a right after passing under two power lines. The driveway twisted through a pine forest. There was mud. When Clyde’s place came into view on the edge of a clearing he was waving from the porch. There was more gray in his beard but he mostly looked how I remembered. Overalls, a flannel shirt, Echo-brand cap and those glasses. His eyes were still hard to see.

In the field in front of his home he greeted me with a handshake and a genuine smile. I told him how much I envied his home, which is surrounded by woods and 10 minutes from the nearest town. He had asked me to bring a VCR – he doesn’t have one anymore – and I pulled one from the backseat. Walking to his porch he told me to be careful of a hole, hidden by leaves, at the bottom of the steps. Then he opened his door, lit a Pall Mall and began telling how he was an 18-year-old with $2 in his pocket the first time he attended a cockfight.

Cockfighting was illegal in Mississippi but the penalties were mild and in some places the law looked the other way. His best friend took him to The Pony Ranch, a place on the Gulf Coast with a roof, bleachers and concessions.

“We got drunk as shit,” he said, “as we did during most things back then.”

The gambling pulled him in first. Two men named Henry and Wayne fought roosters that day. Wayne’s was a Whitehackle with power. Henry’s was a Hatch with speed. Clyde’s friend knew Wayne, so Clyde put his money on the Whitehackle and after a fight that lasted an hour and a half, it won.

“Then I had $4 in my pocket,” Clyde said. “Been hooked ever since.”

“A game rooster has two goals in life. Fuck every hen. Kill every other rooster.”

At most rooster derbies men – cockers, gamblers and those passing time – surround a main pit, where each fight begins. Cockers hold roosters from behind, squeezing their breasts tight. To let one get away can hurt. Cockers have sliced hands. They “bill up” their roosters before a fight – take them in their arms, lean toward one another and get the roosters face to face. This creates tension.

“A game rooster has two goals in life,” Clyde said. “Fuck every hen. Kill every other rooster. That’s it.”

After billing up their roosters cockers hoist them toward one another, back and forth, like two furious pendulums, until the referee decides they are ready. Then the cockers step back behind a cornmeal line and let them go.

Fights happen in bursts, in the air, when the two birds meet. Wings flap, legs lift and swipes are taken. There are gaffs – toothpick-thin, razor sharp metal knives about two inches long – fastened over the spurs on their legs. They aim for the other’s chest. If one hasn’t been killed within a half-hour or so, the fight is moved to the “drag,” a side area, so another dual can begin in the main pit.

cockfightingPhoto credit: Vijay Chennupati

Men in the crowd place bets with one another before each fight, hollering out their odds and waiting for takers. There is usually a scoreboard where everyone can see a cocker’s record that day. If 50 men enter a four-cock derby there could be hundreds of bets. Clyde usually took a notebook and if a man he bet wore a cowboy hat, then Clyde would write “cowboy” beside the amount wagered. He wanted to make sure he could identify who he needed to settle up with.

Most were honest. “Rooster fighters ain’t the upper echelon of society,” he said. “Shit I shouldn’t say that. Most of ‘em just ignorant. There were some good guys.”

For 20 years Clyde went to derbies as a spectator and gambler. Winning $300 was success. Losing that much was disaster. Sometimes he and his friends pooled their money to place bigger bets. They called their collective money “the cow.”

There was a Mississippi place called The Piney Woods that was hard to get to if it rained. Birds Of A Feather and The Milk Dairy were both in Louisiana. Christy’s Pony Ranch was on the coast and there were so many other places with no names at all.

Somewhere in there Clyde moved to Texas for a job. But on weekends, from December through late spring, the season for cockfighting, when the birds were not molting and could fight, he would drive back to Louisiana and meet friends near Lafayette. They would stay at the Holiday Inn and go to fights and afterward go eat and drink.

Sitting on his couch beside the tapes he made for his brother Clyde remembered things he had almost forgotten. He told story after story. He told how he drank so much at Uncle Elmer’s Crawfish Kitchen in Breaux Bridge, La., one night that he had to go sit in his car. His friend told him that later that evening he heard a young man tell a sheriff’s deputy that some big, tall guy wearing overalls was hanging out of a car in the parking lot. The deputy, his friend reported, told the young man, “Hell. He’s probably drunk. Leave ‘em alone.”

He told about going to a place in Mississippi and when he asked the owner what to do if the law came the owner said, “Then we just having a poultry show.” The law did come and a screaming cocker urged everyone not to run. “Shit,” Clyde said. “I hauled ass.” No one was arrested. Clyde, in fact, never got into any law trouble.

Eventually he bought some land in Mississippi, moved back home and within a few years had roosters of his own.

“I couldn’t raise ‘em in Houston,” he said. “You hear how much noise they make. Neighbors complain about that crowing at daylight. But I had a place then, and finally got some pens built. I never bought a rooster. I never bought a rooster. Albert gave my buddy a rooster to give to me. See, Albert was fighting ‘em for Jimmy and Jimmy wasn’t there. He told Jimmy that the rooster won the fight but died. He had to say that ‘cause Jimmy didn’t want anybody to have any of his blood. Then my buddy gave me some hens and we started raising ‘em.”

● ● ●

At Clyde’s place I sat in a broken recliner. A Jim Beam sign leaned against a window. An “Obama? Yo momma!” bumper sticker was above another. Between them a wooden clock, fine-carved and painted like a red gamecock, hung from the wall. It had a polished finish and glistened, despite a layer of dust. If Clyde remembers right it cost about $70, came from Oregon and he bought it because his friend had one that he always liked.

Buster, a Hatch, was his first gamecock.

“I don’t even remember what happened to Buster,” Clyde said. Then he handed me a faded and typed six-page feed tutorial someone had given him. Diet is important. Roosters weigh about five pounds and must weigh within two ounces of one another to fight. The author of the tutorial suggests feeding cocks a combination of oats, wheat, split peas, long grain rice, corn, popcorn and barley from November to April. The other six months, while the birds molt, are the same, minus the corn, plus sunflower seed.

What roosters eat during the week before a fight is most important. This is “point feed” and every cocker has an opinion on what is best. Some, for example, say sardines. Others red beans. Clyde laughed.

“That’s bullshit,” he said. “One guy says this, the other that. Well, like me and my buddy used to say, the guy who says you got to feed ‘em red beans on Tuesday is saying that because all he’s got to eat on Tuesday is red beans.”

Some of the tapes wouldn’t play. Dust and the passing of time had ruined ribbons. One that worked outlined Clyde’s point feed of boiled egg whites, corn and white rice. In the video he is in his chair at daybreak talking about how hard it is to get a rooster’s diet right the day of a derby. As he talks, over his shoulders, Loxy crosses a field.

“You see, he can’t be full of food,” he said. “You can imagine, you don’t want to eat a big ole plate of spaghetti and wrestle somebody. But if you ain’t ate nothing, you ain’t got no strength. So it was a fine line from when he comes to the pit and he was empty, and when he had enough and still felt good. If he got too far along without no food, he would ‘go over,’ as we called it. You’d weigh ‘em at seven in the morning and if they fought ‘em at two or three in the afternoon, they probably lost another ounce ‘cause they probably shit. See, if they shit and they got big, green globs in it, that means they still got a lot of food. When it gets down to about the size of a nickel, white, not milky, but like gravy – when their shit is like that, oh he’s ready. He’s perfect.”

But feed only takes a rooster so far. Success is in the bloodline.

“We used to say that 90 percent of conditioning starts with a good rooster. You can’t win the Kentucky Derby with a mule. If you don’t have a good rooster, one that can cut, and that will stay if he gets hurt, you whistling in the wind. You can’t do shit,” Clyde said. Then, quoting a famous breeder, Clyde said a rooster must have “‘the unquenchable desire to kill.’ It don’t matter if both his legs, both his wings, one of his eyes – that motherfucker still trying to hurt that other rooster.”

Ducking and running are signs of bad blood. If a rooster ducks during a fight it is like “signing a death warrant,” Clyde said. “Quickest way to get killed.” Running instead of fighting at a derby is even worse. “That’s horrible. People laugh at you,” he said.

cockfightingPhoto credit: Trey Menefee
A cocker has to eliminate bad blood from his game farm.

A cocker has to eliminate bad blood from his game farm. When Clyde suffered a series of derby losses and suspected bad blood, he would have what he called “great purges.” He and a friend would spend half a day walking the farm, “cranking” chickens – holding their heads while whipping their bodies in a circular motion until their necks break. The remains were left in woods halfway between Clyde’s home and the nearest paved road.

He distinguished bloodlines by punching holes in the webbed feet of bitties, or babies, with a specific pattern.

“What you do, or what I would do, you got these bitties born. You know the momma and you know the daddy ... and I have a toe punch is what they call it – just a little round punch. And you’d punch in their feet. And then when they all got turned out and mixed together ... when you go to catch ‘em, you would look at their toes and know who they were. And if you find a good breed line, you try to do it again.”

He carefully documented each birth and parentage in a notebook. His spelling is strong. His handwriting is simple.

Black Water and A.M.

Hatched: 5/16/00. Punched outside right.

(turned loose)

11 born

1 lost so far

1 given away

#48 and Hatch rooster

Born: 5/2/99. Punched inside right.

1 sick

I kept 6 of these for slave girls

All other either given away or Loxy or vermin

Snakes, foxes, weasels, wild cats and raccoons killing bitties could be a problem. Hawks, too. On one tape Clyde showed me he is sitting in his yard, mid-afternoon, talking about a win, when roosters start crowing frantically and Clyde looks up to the sky.

“Oooh,” he said. “I’m afraid that was a big ole hawk that flew over. Oooh I hope not ... see with them little bitties running loose, we do not need a hawk in the air.”

Loxy sometimes ate bitties.

“Only disagreement we ever had,” Clyde said. “She knew she wasn’t supposed to do it but she did it anyway. Couldn’t help it.”

When a bittie reaches the age of one, it becomes known as a stag. When a stag’s spurs are longer than a nickel’s width, he is a rooster, ready for pittings, but before Clyde took a rooster to a derby he would fight him as a stag. This began about the time a rooster named Noah died.

“Noah ducked a lot,” Clyde said. “I knew he ducked. We fought him down at Birds Of A Feather. Naturally, he got killed. As we was leaving the pit I said to my buddy, ‘Ole ducking Noah.’ And my buddy said, ‘Next time we have a fucking rooster we know’s going to duck, why don’t we save that $50 and just kill him our self.’“

So Clyde would fight stags on his farm. Sometimes he would take them to another cocker’s yard and see what they could do.

“I was a firm believer in seeing a rooster cut before the money come out,” he said. “I didn’t like to fight roosters that hadn’t been fought ... that was kind of unheard of. But that’s how I found out who could cook.”

Journal entry from ‘99:

On May 31 I carried 14 stags to Barron’s ... I only made notes on the ones that came home. Of the black roosters, 4 came home. #26 went about 8 pittings. Put a lot of heels in opponents head. Killed the other & looked pretty good but did some ducking. #46 was a burner. Killed opponent in one pitting. #47 went about 5-6 pittings, killing opponent, looked good. #36 was a burner too. Ricky had a good one & we stopped it before one of them got killed. One of the black roosters squalled & ran. I didn’t have enough intelligence to check his punch to determine his age. #28 (1st radio) killed his opponent in 6-8 pittings. Ricky said it was the best rooster I showed. The other Radio got caught early. He didn’t quit, showed gameness, but I had to stop it to save him.

Losers were usually cranked.

Clyde told about a stag that ran. He was about to crank him when his buddy talked him out of it.

“I told him, ‘But that rooster’s a donkey. Let’s go ahead and kill him now.’ He wouldn’t let me. I said, ‘Well I’m gonna put a little piece of red wire around his leg. He ever acts like that again, he’s gone.’“

That rooster shook his running habit, won a few fights and earned his name, “Red Wire.”

There are bloody barrels and piles of dead roosters
at derbies.

Until his roosters won a fight or maybe separated themselves from the rest by a strong personality, they were known by a numbered band tied around their legs. Clyde bought a roll of 100 of these bands. They happened to be 800s. He tied them around stags’ legs as they matured. With each name came a history, a story.

From a ‘01 journal entry:

Our third fight was number 835. We met Loggerhead. He had an ace and the fight only went a couple of pittings. We thought we lost.

There are bloody barrels and piles of dead roosters at derbies and 835, presumed dead, was tossed in a pile. Less than an hour later Clyde walked by and glanced at a heap of dead chickens. There was 835, alive and alert, standing in the pile.

The journal explains:

Turned out we only had a gizzard shot and was asleep and not dead. We rattled Loggerhead, which showed 835 cut him pretty good. When we fought 835 next, he was wrecked again and lost an eye. He simply turned his good eye toward his opponent and started working him. The fight went probably 40 minutes in drag with 835 showing enough to earn his way into brood yard retirement. No quit, toughness, cutting ability and ... an unquenchable desire to kill.

835 became Bad Eye and, Clyde said, “All my roosters that were ever any good came from Bad Eye.”

Derbies were on Saturdays. This was “pudding time,” Clyde said. I didn’t understand what that meant. “The proof is in the pudding time,” he explained. “On Saturdays it was pudding time.”

He usually fought at The Milk Dairy. He chose which roosters made the trip by watching them close. He looked for active cocks, ones clucking and pacing, because a listless, stagnant cock was “not feeling it.” A caged hen usually made the trip “to get the boys worked up,” Clyde said. He would load up and drive his Dodge pickup down on Friday evenings.

“I always thought it was quite an advantage that my roosters didn’t have to travel that morning,” he said. “‘Cause you got to get ‘em up before daylight, carry ‘em. If you’re driving two or three hours, that’s not good. I’d go down and try to get there right at their normal time to go to bed on Friday night. Put ‘em in their stalls, put a lock on the door, and me and my buddy would go and eat a Chinese buffet.”

cockfightingPhoto credit: Dindo Borlasa

About five years after Buster and the hens came Clyde began having success. It took a while to figure out his point feed. “I killed some good roosters not feeding ‘em enough,” he said. But he got it right, bred a solid bloodline and won that first derby. He won others during the next five or six years, stacked a few trophies and earned a minor reputation. At the places he took his roosters, regulars knew his name.

But he only kept a small farm, usually between 10 and 20 roosters ready to fight. He did not have time for more. He had a fulltime mechanics job and could only condition roosters in evenings and on weekends.

Cockers with larger operations, one with hundreds of roosters, fed their families by conditioning and breeding roosters. It was a fulltime job for them. They made a good living and were assured good finishes at derbies.

“Pete-O was one of the guys up there name’s,” Clyde said. “We was sitting up in the stands. He had three or four entries every time and somebody, looking at the scoreboard, said, ‘Pete-O, how you come down here and go 14 and oh in your first 14 fights?’ Ole Pete-O said, ‘Well, you got to step in a lot of chicken shit.’“

In the long run, he never made money. That's not what he was after.

It was a pastime for Clyde. Winning a four-cock derby – $100 entry fee and four roosters to fight – meant taking in about $900. In the long run, he never made money. That’s not what he was after.

Clyde let cockfighting go when things began pulling apart.

It began with Hurricane Katrina. On that Monday morning Clyde watched from a window as a handful of his roosters, loose after their pens were blown away, fought in the rain and the wind. With no gaffs on their spurs they sparred a while, their feet in mud as the hurricane tore the South apart. Only a few died. But things were not the same.

Cockfighting was illegal in every state then, and after 15 years, Clyde quit.

Then the friends who had always helped slipped away – moves and marriages – and cockfighting began feeling more like work than fun.

The final straw came in ‘07, when Louisiana voted to outlaw the sport. Cockfighting was illegal in every state then, a felony some places, and after 15 years, Clyde quit.

● ● ●

It was cool the day I visited but warm sunlight came through Clyde’s windows and he offered me some chili. After he quit cockfighting he kept a few roosters and hens and enjoyed the eggs. Eventually, though, the ones vermin didn’t get he gave away.

One of the last things Clyde told me, between puffs from another Pall Mall, was the creation story.

“God was making the world and he took a break and he kind of disappeared. And the Devil came walking up, started messing with God’s stuff. And there was a rooster there and he knew that was wrong. So he went and tried to stop the Devil. Naturally, the Devil kicked his ass – snatched his head into a bloody mess. Well, ‘bout that time God came back, run the Devil off. He saw what the rooster had done and he picked him up. And he had all his different bowls and his makings and his ingredients and he took that water of courage, cleaned his bloody head. He took a little bit of nobleness, cleaned off his breast. That’s where the game rooster came from. He was bathed in courage, in nobleness. And he don’t quit.”

Men still pit roosters, maybe at places Clyde once knew, betting, swapping stories and buying good bloodlines, but what’s left of the sport in the U.S. has gone underground. Cockers cherish their tradition. They admire toughness and gamecocks, they say, were born to fight.

cockfightingPhoto credit: Vijay Chennupati

There is no guilt at a pit. “What I tell people is I had a friend who worked at a chicken processing plant and they had, hell, I don’t remember the number, something like 240,000 chickens a day show up. And don’t none of them go home,” Clyde said. “These roosters out here have a chance to go home and live a long, fruitful life.” His voice was rough and confident. He coughed and shrugged his shoulders. “You know, maybe that’s just justifying it for myself. I don’t know. It is a blood sport. It ain’t for everybody.”

Now you can’t tell there was a game farm on Clyde’s land. I noticed homes being built nearby. “They’ll put up a red light soon,” he said with disgust. Twenty-five years ago he had no neighbors. He is losing that solitude.

Loxy is also gone.

“I had her 14 years,” he said. “Longest I ever had a dog. She just disappeared one day. I leave my doors open when the weather’s not too bad. She’d come in. I saw her that morning. But when I left for work I didn’t see her. I thought that odd. When I got home, she wasn’t here. I never saw her again.”

Then he drew himself up and looked at that gamecock hanging on his wall clicking out time. He soon had to be getting to work, but was in no hurry.

Clyde seemed to enjoy remembering his chickens, hearing his voice on the tapes speaking their names out loud again. Pretty Boy and Frostbite. Black Water, Blackie, Donald and Abe. A.M. and F.M. and B.A. and Moe. Brown Red and Isis, Moses and Albert. Mopsy, Flopsy and Cotton Tail and of course Red Wire and the others. But he enjoyed telling their stories more. Most times rooster tales ends in the pits and Clyde did not flinch when he got to that part.

Mr. Big Stuff was different. The son of Bad Eye and F.M. had feathers the color of freshly spilled blood and Clyde talked about him with rare fondness.

He earned his name when he was young, when a group of stags were loose with a rooster in the yard. The stags all hid. Clyde said as soon as he put the rooster up, “this motherfucker comes walking out of the bushes like he’s grown eight inches. He was cock of the walk.” He became Mr. Big Stuff.

His attitude earned him that name. What earned him a special place in Clyde’s heart was winning. He worked quick, ignored his own injuries and won a string of fights. At derbies, roosters fight in the random order they are called. At two different derbies Mr. Big Stuff had his number called for the “money fight” – the fourth and final fight of a four-cock derby. Both times he sent Clyde home with the purse.

But gamecocks are always one loss from death and one Saturday at The Milk Dairy Mr. Big Stuff lost. Clyde said it was a good fight.

“There ain’t a horse that can’t be rode, there ain’t a man that can’t be throwed,” he said. “We met a hell of a rooster.”

When it ended Clyde dropped Mr. Big Stuff in a barrel with the other roosters who lost that day and drove home. It is easy to see him drinking whiskey and feeding Loxy in the dark after he got back. But he doesn’t remember what he did.

What he does remember is getting up as the sun rose the next day, on Sunday morning. He went outside and lowered an American flag on a pole in his yard to half-staff and videotaped it for his brother and told him about Mr. Big Stuff one last time.

That tape was beside him on his couch as he spoke. It is one of the ones that no longer plays.

Lede Photo Credit: Vijay Chennupati

About the Author

William Browning, a University of Mississippi graduate, is a reporter whose work has received an APSE award (2011) and been listed as a notable selection in The Best American Sports Writing (2013). He is a fan of Vic Chesnutt and the Oakland Raiders. He can be reached via Twitter at @wtbrowning.