Busted: the Chinkapin Game Club, 1963
On March 9, 1963, Sgt. Richard T. Davis and his Baltimore County Police force exited Jervis Marshall’s barn having made two arrests, written 67 summonses, and seized 11 dead chickens. The chickens or more appropriately, gamecocks, were the unfortunate victims of the Chinkapin Game Club (CGC), an illegal gambling ring operating in various barns around Baltimore County. When the police raided the barn at 11 p.m., there were an estimated 130 people present, some of who slipped out of back doors or squeezed through broken windows to avoid getting pinched. The other 65 who did not get away had their names printed in the pages of The County News Week, a Towson-based weekly that then served Baltimore County.
While today cockfighting is not thought of as an issue in Maryland, the sport is in fact a prevalent part of the state’s darker history. Cockfighting in Maryland dates back to its colonial youth, as the sport travelled along with European migration. The sport seemed to diminish in popularity during the 19th century due to its gruesome content. However, a Baltimore Sun article published in 1937 highlights that cockfighting was still flourishing in Maryland’s farmlands. John Arnold wrote that the fights were, “part of an elaborate well-organized sport… with small arenas holding as many as 500 spectators.” He also noted that authorities were well aware of the rings, but imposed little to no resistance against the organizations. Arnold noted this oversite was most likely due to the sport’s popularity amongst Baltimore County’s elite.
Cockfighting rings operate much like horseracing. People of means purchase a bird or several birds and pay a handler or “feeder” to mold them into gamecocks. Roosters of particular breeds are selected by handlers based on strength, agility, and aggression (the Baltimore Top-knot was bred specifically for cockfights). These men then trained the birds in a fashion similar to boxers via sparing matches, exercise, and diet. Once a feeder determines a cock ready to fight, usually around 2 years old, they will enter the bird into a wagered fight. Gamecocks are generally retired by the age of 4 (the average lifespan is 15-20 years), but this is of course if they are lucky enough to win all of their battles as any loss means immediate death.
In the weeks before a fight, the feeder will pluck body feathers, trim tail and wing feathers, and clip the wattle (the flappy red jowls) as a means of increasing its chances of victory by decreasing areas the other bird can attack. The feeder’s final fight prep is the addition of the spur. Roosters have natural bone spurs on the backs of their legs and to make these weapons more lethal, feeders file the spurs down and attach metal ones. Again like horseracing, money can be wagered by spectators on the outcome of each match. In ’63, the CGC had enough local popularity that it handed out schedule cards and even scheduled memorial fights for one Harry Keller (unknown).
For his involvement in the CGC, the court fined Jervis Marshall $150 (about $1000 today) for “maintaining a disorderly house and animal cruelty.” Marshall’s accomplice Joseph Woolford received a similar fine of $100 for animal cruelty. Of the other 67 men summoned, none appeared in court. All simply paying the fine of $11. Current Maryland state law deems cockfighting a felony and punishable by three years in prison and a max fine of $5,000. Possession of a gamecock is a similar offense, while spectators are charged with a misdemeanor. (Ben Koshland)
Arnold, John. “Cockfighting In Baltimore County: In the Darkened Barns Of The Gentry The Mains Still Continue,” The Baltimore Sun, May 30, 1937.
Crews, Ed. “Once Popular and Socially Acceptable: Cockfighting,” Colonial Williamsburg Journal, Autumn 2008.
“Cockfighting Charge Laid To Two Men: Police Surprise 130 In Raid On Heated County Barn,” The Baltimore Sun, March 11, 1963.
“Feathers Fly as 69 are Arrested in Police Raid of Cockfight Here,” The County News Week, March 14, 1963: p.1.
“2 Are Fined In Cockfight: 67 Others Forfeit $778 In Collateral In County,” The Baltimore Sun, Mar 23, 1963: p.32.