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History of the Blueface Hatch by Lou Elliott (1977)

Posted by Bama Red on April 21, 2011 at 10:20 AM

History of the Blueface Hatch by Lou ElliotBy Lou Elliott(1977)

For you folks who never knew Sweater, a brief background sketch might be of interest. He was born southwest of Oklahoma City near Chickasha about 1905. For much of his early life, he stayed with his uncle, Dave Lane, a druggist in Oklahoma City. Dave Lane was one of the best of the old time chicken fighters. In the early 1920's while Sweater was still a teenager, he handled a main of cocks from Frank Perry and Sap Barrett against the legendary Henry Wortham - and won with his last four cocks to win the main. This was at the old Shell Creek Pit near Sand Springs, Oklahoma. Sweater was a professional cocker in every sense of the word. Except for a short hitch in the military service in World War II, he spent his lifetime working with game fowl. He was in great demand as a feeder and handler, and he spent considerable time with John Madigan, Walter Kelso, Jack Walton, etc. With his conditioning method, he could build stronger thighs on a cock than any feeder I ever knew - they would be as hard and big around as the average man's wrist. They were so strong that his cocks frequently broke their own legs. As a handler, Sweater never missed a trick, legal or otherwise. It is fitting that he died in the pit with a gamecock in his arm - at the Boxwood Pit in Virginia on 19 December 1959. Sweater had hundreds of chickens raised for him each year but until he moved to North Carolina in 1954 to work for Percy Flowers at Pineville Farms, none of them were specifically called the Blueface family.

That is, no particular combination of bloodlines could be pointed out as Blueface to the exclusion of all others. They were all simply referred to as McGinnis Reds or Grays, depending on the color. Sweater never advertised his fowl, didn't like to sell them and almost never did, but he gave most of them away. His usual breeding method was to place a cock and six hens on a farm walk where they could reproduce freely. In the fall, Sweater would pick up what stags he wanted and tell the farmer to eat the rest of them. Thus a great deal of Sweater's stock was available to anyone who knew where he walked his fowl. Many so-called Blueface families today are based on fowl obtained from these farm walks and contain not a touch of the McLean hatch usually associated with the name Blueface. The bloodlines that Sweater used in various combinations and which appear in some of the modern Blueface lines include the Madigan Texas Rangers, which I believe are primarily the old Joe Wingate Brown Reds. When Sweater was in charge of Madigan's brood yards in Houston in the late 1930's, a great many of the cocks and hens were carrying a fourth or more of this Texas Ranger breeding. When Madigan died in 1942, Kelso and Japhet inherited his fowl which were all shipped to Kelso's place in Galveston. Sweater set up the various brood yards and Kelso and Japhet alternated in choosing which ones they wanted. But Kelso didn't like the Clarets not to mention the Rangers - so Sweater took what he wanted of those. Sometime later, Sweater decided he needed more speed in his fowl and someone sold him a family of Three Spurs from Washington State. These cocks had a normal spur plus a rudimentary spur above and below it. I know of at least one modern family of Blueface that show this trait and some of the cocks cannot be heeled properly until these small spurs are clipped off. I understand the black Sumatra Jungle Fowl and their descendants have this odd spur formation.

Sweater fought a lot of the Sam Bigham fowl - a Marsh Butcher/Claret cross. This is one of the sources for the rare white leg that shows up in some Blueface. He also had some Kearney stock he got from up North. A particular favorite of Sweater's was his Jim Thompson Mahoganies, as bred by Bob Lang of Long Island, New York. Sweater called these Thompsons his secret weapon and left them in oklahoma when he went to North Carolina. He didn't know how the deal with Percy Flowers would work out, and he was hedging his bets by leaving the Thompsons and several other yards of his "seed stock" with friends he trusted. He left some of his McLean speed stock with an old Okie friend in Arizona and most of the Thompsons with Billy "The Barber" Atchley of Oklahoma City, who in turn supplied Sweater with some really good Butcher fowl. After Sweater died, the brood yards he left at Pineville deteriorated and much of the reason could be a lack of access to these Oklahoma seed stock fowl. In addition to these red fowl, Sweater raised a lot of grays - primarily Madigin Regular Grays but also some from Frost and Kelso. These were frequently combined with various red fowl, and the resulting offspring were either McGinnis Reds or McGinnis Grays even though they were full brothers but different colors. I have a picture I made of a full plumaged gray cock in 1949 while visiting Sweater and Lun Gilmore at Jack Walton's place in Dallas. Sweater told me that all his battle cocks that year were carrying some of this cock's bloodlines. Incidentally, note that this is Lun, not Lum Gilmore, which is the way it is normally spelled. Much of the material this article is based on came out of that meeting. I believe that Gilmore was Jack Walton's brother-in-law and I will discuss his role in the Blueface story later on.

Until now, I haven't discussed the "real" Blueface. The fowl I have mentioned in the previous paragraphs do appear in many of the modern Blueface lines, but Sweater wouldn't have considered them the real thing. To properly describe the evolution of the Blueface, I first have to establish the historical perspective. To do this, I have to mention two other profesional cockers: J.D. Perry of Oklahoma City and the inimitable Max Thaggard who is still pitting them around Guthrie, Oklahoma. In the early 1940's, the team of J.D. Perry and Karl Bashara was the "class" entry at all the Oklahoma Pit's. Karl's Shufflers and J.D.'s ability as a feeder and handler made a combination that was hard to beat. When C.C. Cooke of Oklahoma City bought "all" of the Sandy Hatch fowl for $2,500 and then joined forces with E.W. Law in Florida, they hired J.D. to run their show. J.D. crossed Cooke's Hatch with Law's Clarets to make the now famous Hatch-Clarets that revolutionized long heel cocking. "Power/Speed Blends" became a household word - at least in the cockhouse. About the same time, Max Thaggard bred an old one-eyed Frost Gray cock (that Bobby Manziel had given him) over some brown red hens. The resulting offspring became the "Vibrators," the greatest infighters (cutting to the breast) that I or most likely any man ever saw. For a too brief period, they were unstoppable. After losing all too many fights to the Hatch-Clarets and those speckle-bellied Vibrators, Sweater started out to go them one better. He came up with the bright idea of combining the Hatch-Claret type fowl with the Gray-Brown Reds and beat everybody. Sweater's friend Lun Gilmore had a sickly looking, pale headed old buff hen that normally would have been killed, but she was supposed to be one of the very few good Hatch chickens to ever leave Ted McLean's place. Presumably she was carrying some Morgan Whitehackle breeding, as many of the McLean fowl did, because on rare occasions she would produce some spangled looking offspring. However the Jim Thompson fowl on which the original Hatch were based also produce about 10 percent spangles and sometimes even a pure white. In fact I have seen White Hatch fowl that their breeder was reluctant to claim as Hatch for fear others would accuse him of poor record keeping.

Lun may have got this hen from Pete Frost but they both shared her so to speak. Frost got McLean to send them a Hatch cock to mate to this old hen. McLean owed Frost a favor but he wasn't too happy to see his bloodlines scattered around. So he sent them a cock all right - a little 4:02 blinker peacomb bird he intended to kill anyway. When this little runty little cock was sparred, he really put on a show. He could hit as hard as a shake. These south Texas boys were used to seeing the shotgun type cocks, and one that that could hit so hard was something new. They bred him to the old pale headed hen just to see what the pair would produce. That first year they raised about 20 chicks and fought the stags with mediocre success. One of the few that won was rattled and would turn dark in the face when he was sparred. Sweater took this "Old Blueface" cock to breed to some hens he liked that were a mixture of Madigan Gray and Leiper Hatch. Thus was started the first attempt to breed a family of Blueface, although they were not really called by that name. It was that first old pale headed hen that really started things. It so happened that most of her chicks also showed that sickly pale face. Somebody told Sweater that the old hen was a disease carrier (Leukosis) and that he ought to kill her and all her offspring. Sweater didn't like those "damned blue faced chickens" but he wasn't ready to give up on them. They all had well rounded bodies and felt good in his hands, they just looked pale - even the cocks in good condition. Sweater took some of the "damned blue faced chickens" to the poultry experts at Texas A&M College to see what was wrong. After some tests, they told him the chickens were perfectly healthy. The pale head was caused by an inherited genetic abnormality. To get rid of it, Sweater would have to raise a lot of young stock and keep the red faced ones for his future brood stock. That year, Sweater and his friends hatched over 500 chickens from the old hen and her daughters. They only produced two red faced pullets - no stags.

When J.D. Perry left Cooke's employ in 1948 to go to work for G.A.C. Halff at Quien Sabe Ranch near San Antonio, he took the best of the Hatch fowl with him. These Hatch were primarily the Jim Thompson/J.W.E. Clarke/Kearney bloodlines with an added touch of this and that. The McLean fowl were the same basic bloodlines but showed less of the yellow leg breeding. The pea combs came from the old Boston Roundhead that was in the Duryea fowl which appears in the pedigrees of both Clarke and Kearney families. The Kearney stock at that time was a combination of his Irish Brown Reds and Whitehackles, plus the Duryea and Joe Wingate stock. So this was the source of the green legs. At any rate, Sweater and J.D. traded some Hatch fowl, and in 1958, J.D. was advertising Blueface for sale. The pure McLeans were comparatively slow, single stroke, ground fighters. They had the suicidal tendency of sticking their necks out while reaching for a billhold. A cock like that just doesn't win many fights in first class long heel competition. So Sweater tried various crosses with those "damned blue face chickens." Most of the crosses produced just average fighting cocks. A few showed promise but wouldn't pass their good qualities onto the next generation. The one cross he tried though that seemed to add just the edge he was looking for was with Karl Bashara's Shufflers. He also got some Brown Reds from "old Man" Starnes of Konowa, Oklahoma. I had always heard this was and old Irish family of Brown Reds but my buddy for 40 years - Old Lunch Money, himself - recently published an article quoting Mr. Starnes as saying his fowl were just the Bashara Shufflers with a touch of Madigan Gray.

Sweater also got the D.H. Pierce Wisconsin Red Shufflers from various other breeders. By trying out many different combinations, he developed just the right combination of Hatch/Shuffler and his other bloodlines that he could win with. And win he did. He set a fantastic record in the five short years he was working for Percy Flowers in North Carolina. In 1957, he entered the Lally Memorial Stag Derby in Pennsylvania. This was the premier short heel (1-1/4" gaffs) event of each year. This was the first time Sweater ever conditioned cocks for a short heel event and the first time he ever conditioned a full show of stags for a major event. (None of the major pits in the south ever scheduled stag derbies or touranments. So Sweater had always fought two year old cocks.) He won nine, lost one to take first money. The one loss was to a Jim Thompson stag owned by Bob Lang, who was responsible for one of Sweater's seed stock lines. The short heel men said the 1957 win was a fluke and that Sweater wouldn't have a chance next time. So he entered the Lally in 1958 and won it by the same identical score, nine wins and one loss. Now the boys were convinced that this Okie was pretty foxy so they decided to keep their and not enter the event in 1959.

The pit management finally got an entry list together though, and sure enough Sweater didn't win this time - he only took second with eight wins and two losses. As a final tribute to a real "chickenman" I can think of nothing more appropiate than the words "Spectator" used in describing Sweater's stags at the 1957 Lally Memorial Derby. Remember that these stags were the direct descendants of those "damned blue faced chickens" produced by a sickly face, pale headed old hen and a runty little 4:02 cock that had been destined for the chopping block. "The best the north and the east could produce was lined up against them, and they made a runaway of the show. They were fast, terrific bucklers, hard hitters, good cutters, aggressive finishers. Their legs reached out a mile with every stroke, they delivered their blows with a snap, and usually every punch landed where it counted. The only fight they lost was a quick one shot affair to the brain in the first few seconds, which sort of thing can and will happen to everybody who is meeting top grade fowl." (written by Spectator, 1957).

Comments on Lou Elliots Article Regarding the History of Blueface HatchBy Gus Firthiof, Sr. (1977)

I read with interest "The Blue Face Story" by Lou Elliott. Someone has misinformed him about some of the data contained in the article. Here is an example: Madigin's Texas Rangers did not contain any of the Joe Wingate brown Red blood. The Rangers do not come Brown Red, but dark black-reds with an iridescent green sheen and luster to the feathers on their backs when the sun shines on them. The hens are some crow black, some crow black with dark reddish hackles. All dark legs, all 100% straight combs. Sweater McGinnis never was in charge of any brood yards of Col. Madigin's at Houston, Texas because Madigin did not breed any of his fowl there. His fowl were raised in Canada, at Niagara Farm, where he had caretakers to look after them the year 'round. After over 35 years of research I have come to the conclusion that the Duryea Whitehackles did not contain any Boston Roundhead blood. Many of the Duryea cocks are golden yellow birchen in color, with yellow legs.


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