History of the Kearney Whitehackle
by M.D. Chesbro in 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 became 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 suburb 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 separately, 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 forty minutes of steady fighting against his noble white tailed 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 February, 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 preceding 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."