Kearney Whitehackle

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By M.D. Chesbro (1920)

To the genuine lover of the game fowl, the history of strains that have become famous is always interesting, and as I have never seen an accurate and detailed history of the strain or family so widely known as "Mike Kearney's Whitehackles," I will give as fully as may be, the principal-facts concerning them, and the man who by his skill as a feeder and handler made them famous. It is not my intention to unduly glorify this strain, nor to contrast them with other families of games, but simply to state facts. And I may say, that in addition to my personal knowledge of the fowl many of the facts which I will record here were stated to me by Mr. Kittridge, Mr. Kearney, Mr. Coolidge and Mr. Wingate and in each instance where the statement to me was by word of mouth I immediately made a written memoranda (some of which are more than twenty years old) and are now before me, and from the basis of what I will write.

I will tell this story in order of time as that may make it more clear. The extensive plan occupying the central portion of the county of Kildare in Ireland and known as the Curragh of Kildare, has long been known as the sporting center of the Green Isle. Here racing, cocking, and all field sports were won't to flourish. Each village had its favorite trainers, jockeys, wrestlers, and foot racers, and favorite strain of game fowl. Sport in some form was the main business of the inhabitants and here was born Michael Kearney. While most of his relatives were devoted to horses, he bacame known throughout Kildare as a most successful breeder, feeder, and handler of cocks. His favorite strain were "beasy" breasted light reds with yellow legs and white underhackles, broad shoulders, compactly made cocks with heavy plumage. In the mains which were constantly taking place, the most formidable opponents of his light reds were a strain bred in a nearby village which were dark brown reds in color, dark underhackles, and dark hazel eyes.

These two strains were similar in fighting qualities and equally good, except that the brown reds heavier in bone and muscle. The sporting freedom which the people had so long enjoyed began to be more interfered with by the authorities, until just prior to the year 1870, cocking was entirely prohibited. Kearney refused to give up his beloved sport and emigrated to America bringing with him twelve of his favorite Whitehackle cocks. These cocks were very tame and on sunny days, were one by one allowed their liberty on the deck of the vessel, which arrived in New York in August. As there was no cocking at that season, it was not until the following winter that he fought and won a main using his imported cocks. The sport was extremely popular in New York and vicinity and soon the new comer was in the midst of it. He was very successful with his mains and made many friends and it was not long before he opened a road house and pit at Blissville; a suberb of Long Island City, having in the meantime taken out his papers as a citizen of the United States. Here for many years his cocks held sway, and mains were constantly being fought, sometimes two or three mains a week during the cocking season.

Each year, for several years, Kearney sent a man, (usually his uncle Bob Quinn) over to Ireland to bring to New York cocks and hens of both the light red Whitehackles and the dark brown breeds. The two strains were each bred separately and pure without any crosses, and were fought by Kearney in immense numbers. The Whitehackles were a medium weight fowl, the breast black streaked more or less with dark ginger the outer hackle a light red shading to light golden on the shoulders, the back a dark crimson, the wing long, wide, and hanging low, the tail wide and carried up, the shanks short and yellow, (never white) the body noticeably wide and short, neck medium length and the head short and broad with red eyes, and a thin single comb and white under feather. The hens were always wheaten color. As fighters the cocks were high headed, fast enough and game beyond the test of steel.

Around the pit was gathered a coterie of cockers whose constant cry was "gameness first." and the test that these little Whitehackles were put to by that crowd not only in mains and hacks but also for days after, were sufficient to prove to anyone that if there was such a thing on Earth as a strain that never produced a quitter, that was it. The brown reds were much larger, and heavier breed, low on the leg with tremendously broad powerful bodies, and very big thighs, but were not as fast and high strung as the Whitehackles, but were harder hitters and deep game. It was for one of these game cocks that Kearney named his race horse, "Hard Brown Red." After several years of breeding the two strains seperately, he concluded to cross them, and it was from this nick which came heroic little 4.6 cock who then blind and bleeding, but with his head in the air, won the terrific battle at Albany of one hour and fourty minutes of steady fighting against his noble whitetailed opponent.

These were the Kearney fowl up to 1886. Horace Brown, who lived at Peekskill, N.Y., was an old time cock fighter, a friend of Bill Clacker and the other worthies of the period from 1860. He was a great stickler for extreme gameness, along about 1881-'83 used to come into the law office and read with great interest the articles written by Joseph Wingate who at that time was having a controversy in the pages of Dixie Game Fowl and upholding the claims of 1 1/4 heels as the only game cock heel, and the old controversy never has been settled. In the beginning of the year 1883, Wingate took some of his cocks and went down to New Orleans where a cocking tournament was held in the first week of Febuary, and challenged all comers to fight him in 1 1/4 heels. Brown was so delighted with the gameness of the man and his cocks, that when Wingate returned to his home in New Hampshire Brown sent to Wingate and bought a trio of his fowl. The cock was a dark ginger in color with dark legs and had a straight single comb; one hen was a partridge color, the other a pyle. They were from Wingate's Irish (imported) McDermotts' strain. Brown bred them together in the spring of 1884.

Living in Peekskills at that time was Benjamin Kittridge, a wealthy young gentleman who had graduated from Harvard College the preceeding year. He was an ardent amateur sportsman, a crack pigeon shot and a successful yachtsman. He and his college classmates, Mr. Herman Duryea, then of Red Bank, N.J., and Mr. Raymond Belmont, of New York, during their college days had become interested in cocking at Frank Coolidge's place at Watertown, near Boston. As Brown was the cocking authority of his town Mr. Kittridge employed him to raise and fight cocks for him and they started with the pullets Brown had raised from the Wingate trio, and also fought successfully the main of stags. Mr. Kittridge sent to Wingate for a cock to breed over the pullets and purchased it - a ginger breasted white legged cock sired by Wingate's McDermott cock out of a white legged Gull hen bred by J.B. Squires. When put on the scales he balanced the seven pound weight and a silver dollar, so he was always called "Silver Dollar."

At the same time Mr. Kittridge and Mr. Belmont purchased some fowl of Coolidge, a cock and three hens. This cock was a broad backed low set cock with a black breast, light red hackles, daw eye, and yellow legs. He had long broad wings, and long heavily sickled tail carried up a widely spread. He had a smooth round head and was dubbed very closely indicating once a pea comb. One hen was a very light buff, with creamy to almost a white breast, light green legs, and high single comb; the other two hens were wheaten with single combs, yellow legs and spurs. It was stated that these hens were "sired by a Claiborne cock out of hens from Marblehead."

How the cock bred was not stated at the time, but the following statement by Frank Norton, of Boston, may throw some light on this cocks' breeding. "in 1864 John Harwood was head stevedore at East Boston docks for the Cunard Steamship Company. I lived next door to Harwood. One of the steamers brought over from England a trio of game fowl. The address and shipping bill of the fowl had been lost. The company kept them about three months and gave them to Harwood, he paying the shipping charges. Harwood gave the fowl to his friend Ned Gill, who bred and fought them. I knew Ned Gill and often saw these fowl fight, and frequently saw the brood yards. They were called Gill Roundheads or Boston Roundheads. They were light reds with black breasts more or less streaked with ginger. The hens were light wheaten color. All had yellow legs. After Ned Gill died John McCoy, of Marble head, Mass., got some of the Gill fowl and crossed them with John Stone fowl. McCoy was a very successful cocker in his days in the neighborhood of Boston. The imported trio had small round heads, pea combs, and heavy feathers. They looked like old time English full feathered fowl with a slight touch of Aseel in their makeup."

The Kearney and Duryea fowl

By: E. T Piper

There can be but little doubt in the minds of the students in the cocking fraternity that the gamest fowl in this country, not only today but as far back as any of us now living can remember, come and came from the vicinity of new York City. Lest some of the readers get gamest confused with best. Let us hasten to assure you we used the former. there isn't a doubt in the mind of this writer but what today or any day a main of cocks could be selected from most any part of the country and in long heels make the gamest fowl up there look very sick indeed. Ever in the short fast heels of today. We believe a main could be selected from among the better long heel fowl that could take the gamest fowl in or around new York. It`s a recognized fact among the more intelligent members of the clan that the gamer a family is the poorer fighters and cutters they seem to be. We wont go into the whys and wherefore of that statement just now. With hardly an exception the gamest families we can recall when their pedigree is traced back leads right to new York City. The few we can think of that were not descended from new York City were from not very far away and did a big shore of their fighting against the New York crowd. Examples? yes, we can give you a few ./ the gamest fowl it has been this writers privilege to see in the past 25 years were the so-called hardy mahoganies, The Hatch fowl the Albanies the Jim Thompson owl and very few others that is which filled the bill as deep game fowl in our book. Let `s see where some of them came from. The Hardys got their fowl from Jim Ford of Medina, New York. Ford got them through his brother who was a New York judge, he, in turn got them from John Madden of Kentucky, and Madden got them direct from Mike Kearney of long island, NY. the Albanys were half Hardy through a cock called the sneak and on the other side of Albany family there was some hatch blood, hatch too came from and lived all his life in or very near New York City. Jim Thompson lived at White Plains, N.Y. about 20 miles from New York City. His fowl were said to have been the result of a cross between an Adam Schreiber, Albany, N.Y. hen that Thompson had a man name Squealer Murray steal for him, and some old game stock down near New York City. they were a very deep game family, and of course the Hatch fowl were entirely New York stuff. There are plenty of winning fowl in both the north and south that seldom show bas actor, yet, we have not included then in our list of the gamest families. Those who are familiar with deep game fowl will understand why and when deep game fowl and New York are mentioned, Mike Kearney sticks out like a sore thumb. Kearney is said to have arrived in this country from Ireland in about 1870. He brought fowl with him and in a comparatively short time, was in the midst of cocking activities in and around New York. Either at or soon after his arrival, the type of heels preferred in that section were what later came to be know as slow heels. they where a regulation heel with a blade but one and one-quarter inch long in length. The blade was thick with the point more or less blunt. The rules used were known as New York rules, ten tens required to count out a cock and peck would break the count at any time. Under such conditions, deep game cocks were an absolute necessity and fighting ability and cutting ability were a secondary consideration. Just the opposite, incidentally, from today with our modern rules and faster heel. the mike Kearney whitehackles, brown reds and others were used to a certain extent as a standard to go by in measuring gameness, mike Kearney has been dead for many years, yet even today most of our gamest fowl can be traced back to his fowl. during the years E. W. Rogers published the warrior, 1927-1935, its pages were constantly filled with stories of the Kearney and Duryea fowl. nearly all of this was written by A.P. O`Conor, who contended Herman Duryea with whom Kearney was for years associated in cocking was the greatest gamefowl breeder of all times. The Duryea Whitehackles, the greatest family of gamefowl in this or any other country. That were according to O`Conor obtained by Duryea from a steamship agent in or near Boston and maintained in their purity by Duryea strictly by inbreeding for 30 years or more. During which time Duryea fought mains by the score and lost but one that one when his cocks took sick mike Kearney was Duryea feeder and caretaker,etc. in the past fifteen years we have at every opportunity questioned anyone we thought might have some information of this regard to either the Kearney or Duryea in the following we are going to tell you a few of the things we learned. Mike Kearney `s son Harry is still alive and while none of this information came to us directly from Harry, a considerable amount of it came from him indirectly. Several years a go in Troy, we met a Boston cocker who's name we have forgotten and who has since passed away. He was well-known on the game and was an ink salesman. Tom Kelly of Watertown knows who i mean. At any rate this man told me he visited Kearney on long island one time and told him he would like to see a pure Kearney Whitehackle, Mike reached in a peb and brought out a typical Whitehackle exept he had a round head and pea comb, he told mike he didn't know Whitehackles came pea comb. Mike said some of his did and offered no further explanation. It `s a well known fact the so-called Duryea fowl came both straight and pea comb. After Kearny `s association with Duryea when a pea comb cock was shown it was assumed by most men it was a Duryea cross, or a so-called straight Duryea. Today, Harry Kearney confirms the fact that their Whitehackles came from Ireland with both pea and straight comb just as Mike previously to the ink salesman. Further more and this came indirectly from Harry both him and his dad, Mike, preferred their Brownreds to their Whitehackles. Because that were gamer, stronger, harder hitters, although the Whitehackles were better cutters. They ran a solon and had nowhere but a small back yard in which to breed and raise fowl. until Mike hooked up with Duryea and took complete charge of the breeding and fighting of his fowl. Duryea had the fowl on his estate at Red Bank, New Jersey, and he, himself maintained a large racing and breeding stable in France. He spent considerable time there. Mike mated the yards at Red Bank and generally ran things with the fowl to suit himself. Duryea very much disliked a Brownred chicken and forbid mike to have any of them on the place. For that reason Kearny bred only a few and those away from Duryea `s place, Duryea also had at Red Bank some fowl he got from Frank Collidge of Boston which we believe to be Boston Roundheads. They were oriental cross of some sort, according to Kearney they were very strong fowl good cutters and fighters but no bitter {game} enough to suit Kearney `s. However as Duryea liked then, they bred some and used them along with their Whitehackles and some crosses of the two. If the above is correct as we have ever reason to believe it is, acutely there was never any such thing as a long inbred strain of Duryea fowl anywhere but in O`Conor mind. O`Conor claimed Duryea lost but one main in thirty years. While another writer in the warrior of that era contended Kearney probably lost more mains than any man that ever lived, in view of the above both men were wrong. Duryea lost may mains and Kearney had a share in both the winning and the losing mains. as we stated above for a period of five or six years the warrior contained reams and reams about the Kearney and Duryea fowl. Gamest on earth, best winning family in history, etc. when probably the truth is the so-called duress were nothing more than Kearney Whitehackles and some crosses of them on some Jap or Asil crosses from Frank Coolidge.

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