THIS OR CHICKEN THAT!
Juan was a
young Mexican I met while working for W. Lee O’Daniel at the big radio
station XEPN across the border from
His occupation was watching automobiles for a small fee for tourists
while they enjoyed a radio program. His older brother operated a hand
cart where he sold chicken sandwiches and a few other delicacies. They
had still another brother who was a policeman and their parents owned a
café on the main street.
Someone had dug
a round hole about ten feet in diameter and two or three feet deep. Juan
told me that the chickens fought in the pit. Two men approached, each
carrying a rooster. They were talking to another man in Spanish. Juan
told me he was the referee and they were getting their instructions for
the first fight. I looked around me and I saw several other men working
with their roosters. They were tying some sort of spike on their legs.
"Those are very sharp," Juan explained.
"They fight until one of the birds dies. Sometimes it doesn't take
very long." Another man was going about in the crowd and people
were handing him money. He was making some kind of notation in a black
book. "He is taking bets," my interpreter explained.
"Would you like to bet?" I told him I would watch a little
before I did any betting.
Both of the roosters were red, but one was of a
little lighter color. The two men had now entered the pit, along with
the referee. I was surprised to see them approach each other and dance
around pushing their chickens together. This seemed to be irritating the
birds and they were flapping their wings, pecking angrily at each other
and squawking a little. Juan told me that they held them by the legs to
stay out of the way of the knives. The men were called
"handlers" and each one took care of his bird. They called
this preliminary activity "billing" and I supposed that was
because they were using their bills to peck each other.
They had marked about a three foot square on the
ground in the center of the ring, and a long line on each side of the
pit. The lines were about six feet apart, and the handlers went to the
lines on opposite sides of the ring., each holding his bird. The referee
said something, and they lowered their chickens to the ground and turned
them loose. Juan told me that this was called "pitting" the
birds They flew at each other and started flapping their wings and
trying to jump on top of each other, striking with the spurs like
trained boxers. There was a continuous fluttering and jumping, the wings
apparently serving to balance the birds as they went into the air and
landed on each other. Juan told me that they called this
"shuffling". There was a lot of blood on the ground, and I
figured that one or both of them was injured. I expected the referee to
stop the fight, but they kept on going.
Suddenly, they both lay flat on the surface,
struggling a little, but apparently unable to separate. "They are
hung up," Juan said, "One of them has the spurs stuck in the
other. The referee will call for the owner of the stabbed bird to remove
the spur. This is so the opponent won't do further damage to the bird by
twisting the knife." He was right. One of the handlers reached down
between the chickens and apparently removed the reason for the hang up.
He lifted his bird carried it to a position behind his line. The
opponent did the same on his side. Each looked his bird over, and
decided to continue to fight. The referee called on them to pit their
birds again, and once more they flew at each other. The injured bird
landed a lucky hit when they came together, and I saw an eye disappear
and blood start rushing from the head of his opponent.
The fight didn't last much longer. They hung up
again, and when they were separated bother were bloody and neither one
was able to get up. The rooster with the bad eye was pecking into thin
air and the other was apparently out of it. The one eyed one quit
pecking and the referee held him up and said something.
"He declares that one the winner," Juan
told me. "The last one to peck wins when both are disabled."
Both handlers were inspecting their chickens, and one of them threw his
bird out of the pit. The other did the same. When they hit the ground, I
was surprised to see Pedro pick up both of them and carry them toward
the pot he was heating water in. "Let's go," said Juan. "
We will help Pedro pick the chickens."
Still a little shocked, I followed Juan to the pot
area. Pedro was wringing the chickens' necks. One of them was flapping
half-hearted on the ground and the other lay still. Pedro tossed the
still one in a small tub and started pouring hot water over it. He
reached down occasionally and pulled at the feathers. When they would
come out freely all around, he handed the bird to Juan. He laid it on
the end of the wagon bed and started pulling the feathers out. I stood
He was finished by the time Pedro brought the other
one, and they exchanged birds. While Juan was plucking the feathers from
the second one, Pedro was cutting the first one open and removing the
internal organs. When he had finished with both birds, he took them on
the wagon and laid them in the wooden barrel. With a gallon syrup
bucket, he dipped into a big sack of white stuff and started pouring it
over the dressed bodies. I asked Juan what that was. "It’s a
mixture of salt, sugar, salt peter and a few other herbs and spices.
They will keep in that barrel for weeks when packed in layers of that
Another fight was about to start. The losing bettors
had paid their debts and were placing wagers on the next fight.
We ate our lunch (chicken, of course) and the fights
continued until mid-afternoon. In every fight, there was a chicken for
Pedro - sometimes two. One handler took an apparently strong and healthy
rooster and wrung his neck there in the pit because he chose not to
fight. Juan told me that a rooster that didn't fight was never kept and
was executed on the spot. Of course Pedro made good use of him
I have never attended another chicken fight, although Juan invited me a
few times while I was there. I have never cared for chicken after
attending the first fight, and more especially I haven't cared for the
distinctive flavor of the salt packed chicken. They served that special
chicken in the family cafe and had some odd sounding name for it. Many
people ate it and liked it - just as I did at first.
I have never forgot Juan, though I never saw him or
heard from him again Neither shall I forget the distinctive taste of the
"barreled" chicken sandwiches and Pedro's ground rooster