John H. Madigin

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John H. Madigin

Hanky Dean, Dennis Mahoney, and John Madigin
Date of Birth:
Date of Death: September 14, 1942
Place of Birth:
Known For: Claret


John Madigin

Today, word reached us of the passing of John H. Madigin on September 16 in Houston, Texas. No details were given, Mr. Madigin must have been very close to 80 years of age.

There is no question in our minds but what the Colonel, as he was known throughout the length and breath of the land, is entitled to be rated the greatest breeder of gamefowl our country has produced. His famous Clarets and Greys, like himself, were known everywhere by everyone connected in any way with the sport. No one but a master breeder could have turned out a strain of fowl admired by one and all as the acme of perfection in gamefowl, year after year; uniform, beautifully built, consistent winners in the keenest of competition.

And now, a little about the Colonel himself. Where he was born, we don't know at this time. He began life as a telegraph operator and ended up a wealthy man, owner of the racetrack at Fort Erie, Canada. We do not know whether his interest in gamefowl began in the North or South. Many years ago, around Buffalo, New York, he became associated with Dennis Mahoney and Hank Dean, and we would guess the major portion of his gamefowl education was absorbed from these two past masters of the sport of cockfighting. After the passing of Mahoney, he and Dean did considerable fighting together. About twenty years ago, Phil Marsh of Fort Plain, New York, joined them to fight some of the greatest main in the North. After a few years, Marsh dropped back on his own again. Dean was growing old, and together they did but little fighting in the big main class in the North.

Madigin, however, during all this time, had been doing a lot of major cockfighting in the South each season, and had earned for himself and his fowl a reputation second to none and equaled by few. For a good many years, he was, in the opinion of this writer, just too good for the average Southern cocker. Not that he was never beaten, for he was, but he won more consistently. His fowl were always the same, uniform and dependable, and that is a hard combination to beat. In later years when some of his fowl got around in the South, and other cockers improved their own or got fowl nearly approaching the standard Madigin had unconsciously set for them, he found it tougher going. But still, as far as we knew, with the exception of a season or two, he always won a large majority of his engagements and battles.

Back around 1920, he became acquainted with E.W. Law and took a liking to him, and gave him as good as he owned in both his Clarets and Greys. As partners (not as many supposed, owner and feeder, for while Law fed them, he put up half the money), they fought in a number of International Tournaments (also mains) and won a big majority. Law, all this time, was doing a lot of big-time fighting on his own, and earned for himself the reputation of one of the country's greatest cockers; while Madigin continued to whale away in Texas and vicinity also, and occasionally in the North with the Deans. Practically all of his fowl were bred at his racetrack in Canada and shipped South to be walked. So extensive was his fighting that a great many cocks were required. It was a common thing for him to have as many as 200 on farm walks at one time.

The Colonel was probably as shrewd an all-around chicken man as ever lived. Men of vast experience have told us he seemed able to detect an injury in a cock in the pit before it became apparent to any of the spectators and often even to the handlers. When he knew he had an edge, the Colonel was a heavy bettor, and his keenness of vision and understanding of gamefowl paid him heavy dividends. Naturally of a strong mind and domineering nature, he was the boss in both his business and chicken contacts. Due to this attitude, he often had difficulty in keeping feeders and other employees, but he never changed. He knew all the angles of cocking, from breeding right up until the bird was carried out of the pit a winner or loser. Close-mouthed in the extreme, he would never discuss the breeding of his fowl with anyone but his most intimate friends, and they were few. He took the attitude that how his fowl were bred was strictly his own business. On the yard and in the feeding coop, he wanted them fed and cared for exactly as he wanted it done, no matter how good his man might be. In all fairness to him, it should be said, "He had no illusions or silly ideas. He knew the right thing to do and wanted it done his way." It was a common thing for him to walk along a row of cock pens, he knew every cock and all about him, and say to his man "How much that cock weigh?" "I don't know exactly." "Well, you should know. I fought him a year ago in a main in New Orleans at 5:02. He looks fat, get him out and weigh him." Invariably, he would be right. Incidentally, he had a perfect horror of gut fat in a gamecock. This, we presume, along with many other of his ideas, was a hand down from Mahoney; as was the idea of fighting no stags, or very few at any rate, and considering it a mistake to use any cocks unless he had been farm walked, etc.

Here is a little story to illustrate how strong minded he was (and one might even say, how ruthless, although we mean no disrespect). As we stated above, both he and Law often fought mains and tournaments together, and each of them did considerable fighting on his own. This story was never mentioned to me by either Law or Madigin but is authentic nevertheless.

About three years ago, Law made a main with Phil Marsh to be fought in New York state. He shipped his cocks up from Florida and fed them at a friend's home near Albany. Before he began feeding them, Madigin shipped Law two cocks, and said he wanted them fought in Law's main. He also told him the exacts weights he wanted them fought at. Understand, Madigin had no money in this main, but we presume he liked these two cocks, intended to take in the main, as usual figured his judgement better than anyone else's, wanted to bet on the cocks, and figured Law was obligated to him and wouldn't refuse his request. The cocks were put in the feed along with the others. When sparred, they, for some reason, weren't as good as the rest, at least Law had plenty he liked better. Also, the weights he was instructed to fight them at were not the exact weights he would have brought them to were they his own. His friend, a famous Northern cocker (who, incidentally, told us this story), suggested he throw them both out of the feed whether Madigin liked it or not. Law refused to do that saying he wouldn't hurt his feelings for the world. Both were fought in the main and both lost. As Law was beaten by a score of 6 to 5, it would be reasonable to blame the defeat on Madigin. No one ever did, that we know of, except the friend whose home the main was fed.

As stated, Madigin was no hand to discuss with outsiders the breeding of his fowl. When he did make a minor statement in this respect, he was sure to add, "This is for your information only!" He once wrote us that his Greys and Clarets were exactly the same in bloodlines.

He seemed to live in constant fear that someone might accuse him of having sold fowl. In justice to him, we are sure he never did. On the contrary, we know he gave away a great many cocks every year. He claimed he never let a hen go to anyone but Law, and O'Connor, who furnished the hen side of the original family. Personally, we have always suspected the Colonel of evading the truth in this respect, or else his memory wasn't what it should have been, or there are an awful lots of liars and thieves in the country; for literally hundreds of men claim to have Clarets. We believe a few of them actually have, which is beside the point. Mr. Law sold no Clarets and always said he never would as long as Col. Madigin lived. As far as we know, he kept his promise. On two different occasions, acting for friends, we offered as high as $75.00 for a choice trio. On each occasion, we were refused. At one time or another, he had working for him some of the best known chicken men and feeders in the country. To mention only a few of the long list: George Pogmore, Frank Heiland, Ernest Burford, Duke Hulsey, Gus Frithiof, and literally dozens of others whose names we don't know or have forgotten. Good as these men were before some of them ever saw him, we doubt if any of them were permitted to make an independent move around the chickens right up until his death. He wanted them fed, worked, handled, conditioned, and even caught in the coop exactly as he directed. We laughed when one of these men told us of Madigin standing watching him work a main. He was suppose to give each of them so many flies and runs. He got a big surprise when Madigin spoke up and said, "You only gave that one 79 runs, give him another." He had been counting them himself. This was four years ago, when he was about 75 years of age.

Four or five years ago, Law, or Law and Madigin together, we don't know which, made a main against Jack McNerny to be fought in New York. There was really a turnout to that affair. There must have been seven or eight millionaires present from here and there. Quite a few of the spectators came up from Texas and many other Southern and Western states. All the Northeastern states were represented. There was really money there, and one could bet anyway he wanted to, all he wanted to. Madigin was right at the pit side, and (having heard of the fabulous betting he did in the South) we watched him closely to see him "lay it in." Much to our surprise, he didn't bet a dime, that we saw, until the first pair came in. He bet $300 on that one and lost it. He didn't bet a cent the rest of the main, to our knowledge. As they lost it, it shows his shrewdness. Whether he figured the trip North for his main was too much for them, or whether he figured McNerny was a lot better that night, we don't know. All we know is he was smart enough not to make any of his $10,000 bets at that particular time.

Today, we consider Texas to be one of the three greatest cocking states in the country. We seriously doubt if there is one prominent cocker there whose fowl aren't from 1/4 to 7/8 Claret or Madigin Grey in breeding. And that's not all, probably 50% of the really good winning fowl in the entire country have from a little to a whole lot of Claret in them. Hard, snappy punchers, with their heads in the air all the time, they have a style and a swing to them most breeders just haven't been able to resist. Our guess would be, it hasn't hurt them any. We mean the infusion of that blood.

Clarets have always been our idea of the perfectly built and balanced fowl athletes of the gamefowl world. You don't get that kind and keep them coming that way by accident, and we often wondered how the old boy did it year in and year out. We stumbled onto an important part of it in a letter he wrote a few years ago. In referring to a hen, he said, "She's a good one, with a nice high breast." Right there is the secret balance in gamefowl....a high breast in both cocks and hens. A great many men who consider themselves good breeders haven't a really high-breasted cock or hen on the place. Most of their hens have back parallel with the ground. That alone convinced me he not only knew fighting cocks of quality, he knew brood stock, how they should be bred and how they should be built.

Yes, we'll give the Colonel credit. He was a really great breeder, the likes of which few of us will ever witness again. He knew the game from A to Z, and he played it hard and shrewdly for over half a century.

May his sole rest in peace.

Careful Methods

Grit and Steel, February 1959

Someone who is undoubtedly was a brilliant person once remarked that genius was simply the ability to take pains with a set task, or words to the effect. Nowhere does this maxim apply more fittingly than in the profession and, or, sport of breeding and fighting game fowl.

The careful breeder and cocker is the man whose fowl end the season with a creditable record, barring circumstances over which he has no control whatever.

It requires hard work and sometimes it becomes even irritating, but a good habit is as easy as a bad one, and strict care and attention to the smallest detail in a breeding and feeding program pays handsome dividends in our sport.

Think of the truly great men in the sport, men you know or have known personally, and the odds are that they are or were given to the unyielding habit of attending to the smallest detail as if the outcome of a big main, tournament or derby depended upon the single item. Perhaps the outcome did or will hang upon some apparently unimportant bit of work in the brood yard, the conditioning pen, in heeling or in handling. As carelessness might lose only one battle, that single fight may mean the difference between victory and defeat in a hard-fought event.

As one of the outstanding men who adhered strictly to these practices and made them pay well, we cite the methods of the late John H. Madigin of Houston, Texas, and Fort Erie, Canada. We refer to Madigin as he undoubtedly was one of the greatest men in the game we have ever known. Few men, as a matter of fact, were greater.

Many people who were not well acquainted with Madigin regarded him as a heavy “plunger,” a man who would take great chances, or long shots. Probably nothing was further from the truth. Madigin actually took few risks, or if they were risks, it simply was because he was opposed by better fowl and better men, at least for that particular match. He left nothing to chance in breeding, caring for, training, heeling and pitting his fowl.

Madigin was thorough in the minutest details and had little patience with those breeders and cockers whom he considered lax in their system. One particular man who is widely known for his many victories in the pit was never considered a top-notcher by Madigin. “He isn’t careful enough,” he told friends who pointed out the other man’s efficiency as a conditioner and handler. “He can’t last long with his way of doing things.”

Meticulous to the nth degree, Madigin demanded and obtained the thorough service from all who worked with him that Madigin believed necessary to raise and prepare game cocks for the pit. He never permitted the least bit of filth to accumulate in his pens and he never varied one inch from his training program.

When he went to the pit, he was confident that he had good fowl in excellent shape. He firmly believed they were heeled as expertly as human ingenuity could perform the job and he was positive that his pitting was as good, if not better, than anyone else’s.

Then – and only then – did he wager sums that staggered the men of his day. And he made money.

His example may be followed profitably.

MADIGIN FOWL

CLARET COLOR MARKS

Pure Blood Rare in these days. A Dark-Red Cock Isn’t Necessarily a Claret. True Strain Is Characterized by High-Strung Dispositions.

By Parsons of “Wild Acres”

Grit and Steel, September 1956

In a recent article in one of the magazines, the theory was presented that the White Dominique was infused into the Clarets.


The best way to check white fowl is to mate one with a strain that produces black females. If Dominique is in the blood, it will show quickly. In fact I have had fowl shipped me; the shipper stating he had Clarets which did not have the proper appearance for other than white color, it being not the regular color for a Claret, which is different from any other white. I have tested them in single matings and never found one of them to be a true Claret.


The first chicks to appear showed Dominique characteristics when crossed on a Shuffler hen. It is amusing to note how many think they have Clarets, conscientiously believing they have the real stuff, for they don’t know that they don’t know. Any one who knows the fowl can test, in a few moments’ sparring whether it is real or not. Clarets fight differently. They fly into a cock with no beak hold, their heels pointed as an expert swordsman points a rapier. They don’t want to bite their opponent, just want to measure the distance and kill him.


A Claret cannot be produced synthetically. Many honestly believe they have created the Madigin fowl by crossing darked-colored red fowl in some manner to get wine red chickens but they do not produce the true fighting qualities of the Claret at all. Clippers originally were 50 per cent Claret. Even Clippers, from true Clarets, will produce an occasional white.


In my opinion, there are few Clarets now extant and less than half a dozen breeders who own a pure Claret, unless they have recently procured them from one of the few breeders of the true stock.


An expert has almost the feel of the true fowl. As one prominent breeder used to say: “They go together like an accordion.” They down have hard bodies; have lot of feathers, are frail chickens except in leg and wing power; but have more kick than anything their weight; are intelligent, realizing their killing prowess is in that kick and that their beaks are primarily to feed themselves. They watch and feint to get their opponent out of position, then fly into him to tear him all to pieces without getting a scratch themselves, if possible.


There are extenuating circumstances often even caused by their handlers if they do not understand their handling. Their intelligence goes to the brood yard. They are aristocrats of the chicken specie. Rarely ever will you have one that will fight females. They chatter, talk and are perfect feathered gentlemen. If you have loose hens running around the coops, the outside hens will stay around the yard with a Claret cock in it. Some of the old fashioned strains are the bourgeois of the feathered tribe.


For four generations the family of the writer of this article has owed and admired spirited horses, dogs, and fowl. As far as one hundred years back, one ancestor kept game fowl at his slave cabins on his plantation. We were a family of attorneys and politicians and law makers, but the obsession for spirited chickens seemed to be perpetuated traditionally.


From the deepest research, experience and association with this strain of aristocrats of all game fowl, in this writer’s opinion, which of course may have little value, the Clarets, while thought to have been produced accidentally, were amply prepared to produce the greatest of all modern fowl.


It is a matter of common knowledge that a pair of fowl were casually thrown into a barn, the female stole her nest, raised nine stags and three pullets, they coming very regular, all deep claret-wine color, hence the name.


It was not entirely accidental that they were endowed with superior fighting ability, for on both sides, particularly on the female side, a pedigree of superior fowl existed. Her blood came from the best on both sides of the globe, carefully and intelligently produced by men who were past masters. The mother was a Herman B.Duryea Whitehackle whose sire won 19 battles, 14 of them in hands of Michael Kearney and 5 in England and Ireland for the Earl of Cromwell.


The sire of the Clarets, according to this writer’s research, was produced from a gray cock that fought at about 4.02. This particular cock belonged to a comparatively unknown boy at that time (in cocking circles) who I understand brought the cock to Mr. Deans to fight for him. Deans fought the cocks in good company several times. He won in such a creditable manner that Mr. Deans procured the cock for his own and then bred him to one of his good red hens, heavy in Mahoney blood. Mahoney lived with Mr. Deans for some time and died at his home. This produced the red cock that became the “daddy of the Clarets.”


Any of you have bred a light gray cock on fowl with white undercolor such as Whitehackle may have had the same experience as I; that a gray crossed on that sort of fowl might produce white birds, the gray being so near the white in color.


The father of the sire of the Clarets was a gray cock, the daddy of the Clarets being the only red out of a clutch containing six stags, the remaining five being gray. The white did not present itself immediately. The wine color was first, then gray, then some whites. The gray, I understand were among the first grays that Mr. Madigin ever owned. The grays fought like Clarets, which of course they were. Then came the whites which went back to the combination of Whitehackle blood and the blood of the Deans gray cock, which cock contained blood of Gilman Grey-Mansell pyle with other combinations.


Mr. Madigin liked the white color which was a beautiful ( what I call) , magnolia or pinkish white. The stags invariably showed a buff-brassback, which never occurs in any other color of white fowl. In fact, some of the chicks when hatched come almost pink.


In later years, I have heard that Mr. Madigin crosses some other white blood into his Clarets as the pure ones were getting small and inbred. If he did so it was entirely his own business as he was obligated to no one to perpetuate any fowl or color. He wanted a winner and liked those that looked well.


So far as runners were concerned, the Claret is one of the most sensitive and high-strung fowl. Coming from a long line of sensitive ancestry, particularly on the mother’s side they have definite characteristics. Just as a peacock, when he losses his feathers, will hide from his own females because he is so completely distressed, so will a game cock. The higher-strung the more sensitive and rightly so. It is sex and pride that makes him fight and he is at a disadvantage. Some of the gamest of bull dogs will carry their tails between their legs a good part of the time. A fight for them is serious for it means victory or death; a situation of which they are constantly aware. One who does not recognize the high spirit of the Claret fowl should never own one.


There is a story in circulation that Mr. Madigin bred a yard of fowl intentionally “dunghilled.” He trusted most of his friends with whom he was associated in horse breeding and let them have some of his good fowl as they were not competitors in cockfighting. On the other hand, he felt that some of his chicken friends were not as loyal as they could have been in keeping his fowl as his property and origination. It is told that he distributed some of his synthetic fowl to certain individuals to cure them of the practice of bothering him for cocks, breeding them back and selling them later as “pure Clarets.”


To scatter his best fowl promiscuously to those who would breed them back would have destroyed his opportunity to win as he would have been in competition with his own ability as a breeder. Although the general opinion, is that the hen produced the greater percentage of fighting prowess, it depends on the stamina of both parents. As unusually strong cock on a weak female with predominantly produce more of the male progeny’s qualifications.


My theory is that the white fowl were first produced naturally from the blood of the gray cock owned by Mr. Deans and that the mother of the Clarets with the white under color of the Duryea Whitehackle.


To this day, in breeding straight white Clarets, (which cannot be continued long as the feathers get too brittle and they get somewhat weakened; it is better to breed back to the dark colors) one will get an occasional gray feather and the first Clarets were bred 40 years ago. In my opinion, no outside blood was put in the Clarets except from two cocks from Mr. Marsh, strong in Lowman Whitehackle blood until 1935. The original white Clarets were a natural production.

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