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Cockfighting? Blame the English

News item: Arkansas Game and Fish Commission wildlife officers arrested 29 people on Sunday after discovering a cockfighting ring in Desha County. Officers were investigating several vehicles parked near a canal on Hilburn Road just off Arkansas Highway 138 near Kelso.

Cockfighting? Isn’t that something from ancient history? Maybe medieval times or at least out of the Third World.

Nope, cockfighting has been with us in Arkansas since there was an Arkansas. It is illegal. Participants are highly secretive, and seldom do you hear even rumors of cockfighting. Then once every few years, police of some sort bust a cockfighting scene, and the headlines shout.

In the recent case in southeastern Arkansas, the 29 adults were charged with cruelty to animals, and 10 of them were additionally charged with fleeing from officers. Wildlife officers Chuck Willis and Jonathon Byrd found 20 live chickens and 10 dead chickens at the scene. They found some farm equipment believed to be stolen.

In cockfighting, the loser is nearly always killed.

Cockfighting, abhorrent to most Arkansans, can be traced to Merry Olde England although some elements of cockfighting stem from Latin America, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society.

Yep, England, that nation we look toward for culture, ceremony, elegance. England is also the place that gave us dog fighting in several forms. Why, England’s old and familiar symbol is the bulldog which is a breed developed for participation in matches between a bull and one or more dogs. From this, dog versus dog events evolved.

In the early days of Arkansas, dog and bear fights were frequent. This is still with us in the form of chasing bears with dogs until the bear is cornered or treed. This factor is part of the reason no extensive eradication campaign against feral hogs has taken form yet in our state.

A few Arkansans make money from bear chases, even selling such hunts with the buyer having the choice of shooting the bear or killing it with a knife. Yes, it exists here in 2014 just like it did in 1840-ish Arkansas when a German writer, Frederick Gerstaecker wrote extensively about men going after bears with knives and told of one instance in which the bear was the winner in a fight to death.

Killing a bear with a knife is not against Arkansas law – if it takes place during bear hunting season.

Cockfighting today is a crime in all 50 states and a felony in 40 of the states, including Arkansas.

Yet, dozens of Arkansans breed gamecocks openly. This is not against the law. Not too many years back, a magazine about gamecocks was published in western Arkansas.

When news of the recent Desha County cockfight cases came forth, social media sites were flooded with comments. Most were from persons upset by the idea of cockfighting, but some were from supporters of cockfighting, some saying it is a cultural thing.

Yes, the good old English. They gave up cockfighting long ago but not before some phrases were crafted that are with us today.

Early in the days of aviation, the English named the interior of airplanes “cockpits.” That term is with us to this day.

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Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by e-mail at jhmosbycyberback.com.

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