BLOODLINE is a podcast about the history and culture of the gamefowl community. From pre-prohibition period of legal cockfighting in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world, to the stories of current game fowl farmers, Bloodline celebrates the people drawn together across language and cultural boundaries to share a love for—of all things—a chicken.
Already ubiquitous when the earliest civilizations began to write histories, the sport and these chickens have followed the trek of human fortune, travel and trade around the world.
The ancestors of modern barnyard chickens, fighting cocks were domesticated and spread throughout the globe centuries before the animal became a staple in the human diet.
Wherever human civilization travelled, gamecocks went alongside them. This ancient relationship between humans and fighting cocks permeates the story of humanity, scratching its mark in the footsteps of most human civilizations.
Early Syrian and Persian civilizations gave religious significance to the fighting cock associated the birds with a religious deity of the time. The Persians would later make a name for themselves in the sport, producing the family of fighting fowl given the same name and coveted for it’s speed and quick ability throughout Mesopotamia.
This fact did not stop the Greek military leader and Themosticles from using a cockfight to spur troops as the Athenian commander orchestrated the allied Greek maneuvers that would lead to the definitive defeat of Xerxes at Salamis.
“These (saith he) undertake this danger, neither for their Country, nor for their Country Gods, nor for the Monuments of their Ancestours, nor for Fame, Liberty, or Children; but that they may not be worsted, or yield one to the other.”
The moment was significant enough to merit Athenians to make a law after the victory to celebrate the occasion once per year with a cockfight in the theatre.
The Romans are credited with introducing gamecocks to the British, whose love of cocking would eventually rival that of any civilization before or since. The sport enjoyed near-universal acceptance among all classes in England by the time King Henry VIII oversaw construction of the Royal Cockpit at Whitehall Palace in Westminster.
Schoolboys were given a cock-pence allowance for the regular contests held at school and officiated by priests in return for the losing bird. The sport was so favored among nobility that it was called the royal pastime. Pits were common throughout London, lending several of the city’s streets their names, and its popularity throughout the country would leave its mark on the English language, art and literature.
It’d follow the British and others to colonial America, where the sport is said to have been second in popularity only to horse racing, enjoying the patronage of George Washington as well as other founding fathers, presidents, statesmen and everyday citizens throughout the country’s timeline. Andrew Jackson was a well-known cocker, as was his Mexican contemporary Antonio López de Santa Anna.
During Santa Anna’s first presidency, American Nicholas Arrington loaded up a wagon train with supplies and his roosters and headed south to Texas, where he was met by the Mexican president’s forward guard. Arrington was taken to Santa Anna, where the pair battled roosters for the next several days. According to cocking lore, before Arrington left, he is said to have sold Santa Anna one of his cocks for it’s weight, 100 ounces, in gold.
These stories and many others provide a deep well to draw from for episodes of Bloodline. If you’d like to join me on the show, have a story to tell or know a good one you’d like to hear recorded, get ‘hold of me at JASidlauskas@gmail.com.