Black and Tan

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Pic courtesy of southernoutlaw (Curtis Smith)
Pic courtesy of southernoutlaw (Curtis Smith)
Pic courtesy of southernoutlaw (Curtis Smith)
Pic courtesy of southernoutlaw (Curtis Smith)

by J.C. Miller (1969)

Since I frequently get requests for the breeding of my Black and Tans, I will try to comply to the best of my ability. The Back and Tan strain was originated by George S. Smith in Washington, D.C. just about 100 years ago. He was a friend of the Eslin Brothers and a few other men that combined to fight many mains along the east coast. At that time mains were very popular and most cocks were fought that way. Smith did most of the walking of the cocks and was interested in the mains. In that way, he had the use of any of the fowl belonging to the Eslins. In making the Black and Tans he bred a Redhorse cock over Redquill hens and also a Redquill cock over redhorse hens. Both crosses proved to be extra good so he continued to hold the blood at about 50/50. The Redhorse blood came from what was supposed to be a strain of cocks from Lord Derby in England. These were black-red and brown-red with dark legs and large, dark eyes and long, tough plumage. They were powerful built cocks and wicked cutters.

The Redquills were a cross of Redhorse and a strain of light red cocks with dark eyes and mostly green legs and bred very true to color. In build they were very similar to the Redhorse. A saloon man in Washington, Harry Middleton made the same cross and fought them very successfully and advertised them for many years as Middleton Rusty Reds. In reality the Black and Tans resulting from this cross was actually 3/4 Redhorse and 1/4 Redquill which left them showing plainly both sides of the cross. In color they came very few black-red, mostly brown-red with few gingers and a very few that came true Quill color. An interesting feature, if two quill colored fowl were bred together they would nearly all look like pure quills. The hens are a solid rusty black, some with straw neck, some whippoorwill ginger and quill color. The cocks are well built, broad backs, long thighs and low set spurs. They have long, tough feathers and a very proud carriage. They are rather nervous, high strung cocks and I never liked to sell them to a beginner as they could be made bad man-fighters. For me they seldom went to the drag as they always tried for a quick kill. They could cut well in most any length or style of heel except the extremely curved blades.

Most cockers will look at their color and quickly reach the conclusion that they are "speed" cocks but in checking their breeding it is easy to see that they are pure "power" cocks. The Black and Tans had the enviable reputation in the east of winning many mains and losing very few. Smith and the Elsins took their cocks through the south and won practically every main. Then to Mexico with about the same results in both gaffs and slashers. When I was a boy I lived near a man that ran a saloon and was a very enthusiastic cocker. He was not in a position to breed any cocks but bought all that he used. He always fought mains, hacked only the ones left over from the mains. He bought most of his cocks from George Smith and did well with them. In each shipment he got several brown-red cocks that seemed to be extra good and asked what they were and was informed that they were Black and Tans. About that time he found that I was crazy about game cocks and I became welcome to his cock house at any time. He asked how I would like to raise some Black and Tans and when I agreed he sent to Smith and got two hens. He mated them with a 6.0 cock that had won several times for him and gave them to me. For several years I raised them and let him fight the stags. Several years past and this saloon man contracted TB and sold out and moved to Arizona where he did not live too long. When he left, he gave me the few Black and Tans that he had left. About that time I became aware of the advantages of single mating and from then until I retired, single mated my fowl. For the big breeder that makes a business of selling fowl this practice is too slow to produce many fowl so they flock mate and depend on artificial incubating and brooding.

I bought a farm with timber, grain fields, running water and kept many cattle and horses which made an ideal range for game fowl. This farm was also over half a mile from any other farm buildings. Around here there are many canning factories and they use many migrant workers of mostly Mexican birth and they are great on cock fighting. Some of them came to me to buy cocks and I found that they were fighting in slashers. After they went home they still sent for cocks. That was my introduction to slasher fighting and that was several years before shipping slasher cocks became a big business here in the U.S. I think it was in 1955 that I sent Maynard Mann and the late Jim Gooch several Black and Tan cocks and hens. I did not hear from them for several years, when a letter came from Mann saying that he was winning with what cocks he could match but that they were coming so big that he could not get them matched. He said that he had over 40 stags that were already shakes and too young to pen. He wanted to know if I could use them. It happened that at that time I had customers to take every cock or stags that I could raise and would take light weights. I showed Mr. Mann where to place his cocks and stags and I think he has still never caught up with his orders. Don't take this as a free plug for Mr. Mann as he has an ad every month in Grit and Steel. In the spring of 1945, a group of local cockers came to me and asked me to build a pit knowing that I had an ideal location for a pit less than a mile off a state road and a quarter mile from the road in the edge of a woods. The pit was ready for the 1946-1946 season and for 20 years it was operated with no trouble or interference. I don't think a man ever came that failed to get a cock matched or his money covered.

After listing the good qualities of the Black and Tans the reader may wonder why they are not so popular as some other strains. One is as I mentioned before is their disposition. The cocks are hard to handle and are easily made man fighters. The hens are exceptionally mean when brooding chick and are apt to kill several while trying to protect them. Also the hens even while on a walk will start fighting and one or both will be dead if not found in time. Chicks with the hen will start fighting and practically eat each others head off. The light reds and greys that are so popular now are easier to condition, stand confinement better and the hens and chick are easier to handle. Many of my customers were experienced cockers and fought for high stakes. When they got good cocks they hesitated to tell where they got them. They simply fight them as Brown-Reds. I also feel that several well known cockers have incorporated more or less Black and Tan blood into their strains. Smith Black and Tans should not be confused with another strain originated quite a few years after the Smith strain gained their well deserved popularity. This strain started by an eccentric cocker in Maryland, faded after a few years. In giving the history of a strain quite often after it is published one or more persons will appear with a very much different version. To this I will say that what I have written is what George Smith personally wrote me.

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