Some fun history today!

Originally posted October 2020

I am sick of politics! The political junkie has had it. Felt the need for a day off.

The sole topic today will be a history of cockfighting. A bit like politics. Both roosters going at each others throats to bloody the other.

Cockfighting is the sport of ancients, Presidents and common man. Though illegal, it is still considered a sport.

Roosters are trained to be killers, to hate other roosters. Their natural spurs are altered by adding on razor shop metal ones. The roosters are then ready to fight to the death.

Cockfighting is referred to as a blood sport because of the preceding.

Cockfighting had it’s beginnings sometime around 400-500 B.C. It was considered a sport.

The Chinese, Persians and Greeks were the first. Rooster owners were considered sportsmen and trainers. Much like horse owners and their trainers of today.

Spectators involved. They paid an entry fee to watch the fight and gamble on its outcome.

Three Presidents participated in and enjoyed the sport. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.

Over the centuries, the sport became illegal. Primarily in the 20th century. All States ban cockfighting.

In 2007, George W. Bush signed a federal law banning cockfighting.

Both State and Federal law carry severe jail time.

Two reasons are put forth as to why cockfighting is philosophically  illegal. First, it is gambling. Second, animal cruelty.

Key West and the lower Keys historically have been a home to the sport.

Roosters and chickens today walk around freely.

During the 1800’s, chickens became big business in Cuba. Breeders purchased varieties of Filipino Fowl from Spain. The Cubans created their own breed called Cubalayo. Their size and aggressiveness made them perfect for cockfighting.

In 1860, the Ten Years’ War began in Cuba. Cuba’s fight for freedom. Many Cubans moved to the United States. They brought their love of cockfighting with them.

Then came the cigar industry. Its success in Key West brought more Cubans and cockfighting chickens.

When Cubans migrated to Key West, an insufficient food supply existed. There was no U.S. 1 or railroad. Ergo, the Cubans also brought chickens for human consumption.

The chickens provided eggs and meat. They reproduced easily. Roosters and chickens are very prolific. The gestation period 29 days.

As Key West became more connected with the rest of the world and with the advent of local markets and supermarkets carrying chicken products, there was no need to raise chickens for food.

Most people stopped raising chickens. They freed them to wander wherever.

The chickens learned quickly how to survive on their own. They ate native insects, lizards, scorpions and worms.

Many believe the roaming chickens have also provided a benefit to the community. It is claimed they have minimized Key West’s cockroach population.

Key West outlawed cockfighting in the 1970’s. Cubalayo chickens were no longer of value. Most owners put the Cubalayos on the street to fend for themselves.

Roosters and chickens roamed freely. Nature took its course. Sex abounded. A chicken’s gestation time is 29 days. It did not take long for Key West to have chickens galore.

The marriage of the food chickens with Cubalayp ones resulted in what today are known as Gypsy chickens. The Gypsys are the ones running around Key West today.

Gypsys are a protected species.

The outlawing of cockfights has not eliminated the sport. Merely minimized it. There are still those who like to breed and train. Others who enjoy making money sponsoring cockfights. And those who enjoy watching and gambling as to the outcome of a fight.

Cockfights therefore do exist. Generally outside of Key West. In mangroves and other isolated places.

In 2017, a drug raid in Ramrod Key discovered 250 cockfighting chickens and fighting paraphernalia. The owners/operators of the cocks and fighting paraphernalia were arrested.

For some reason, present day cockfighting appears to be moving out of the Keys to mid Florida. In 2019, a raid took place in Summerland, Florida. Summerland being in Marian County. Fifty roosters were discovered.

The only place in Key West that I am aware of that had regular cock fights was the Gato House at 1209 Virginia Street. I could not ascertain the time frame. I doubt it could have been when the Gato family was residing there.

Gato moved out. Donated the house for a hospital. He had one condition. The hospital had to be named after his wife Mercedes. The Mercedes Hospital came into being.

The Mercedes Hospital closed down around 1942. It was vacant for a while. Then it was purchased and turned into a guest house. Today an apartment building.

The Gato House is the place where Key West’s most famous ghost resides. The hospital’s matron Maria Valdez de Gutsens. It is claimed she still walks the rooms and hallways of the Gato House.

The Gato House has a backyard. It was also constructed in such fashion as to have a center court. The cockfights probably occurred after the hospital closed. During the years the building was run down and overgrown with weeds.

Hope you enjoyed.

Have a nice day!


Poor Harry Truman. One of the greats. Accomplished what he did while living with his mother in law for 33 years. A woman described as a mother in law from Hell.


Margaret “Madge” Gates Wallace lived as a dowager. She was the top of the social hierarchy in Independence, Missouri. Raised and lived in one of the biggest homes. Her family had servants, lace curtains and Brussell carpets on the floor.


Truman came from the other side of the tracks. Literally. He was a farmer’s son and a dirt farmer himself till 33. He never graduated from college, could not seem to hold a job down after his farming days were over. Failed as a haberdasher. Lost a ton of money in a zinc mining operation that failed.


Bess was the well heeled granddaughter of Independence’s Flour King. As far as Madge was concerned, Bess made a colossal social faux pas in marrying Truman.


Truman could not afford a home for his wife Bess and daughter Margaret till he became a United States Senator. Prior thereto, he lived in his mother in law Madge’s home.


Madge thought Truman would fail as a politician. Told him so repeatedly to his face. Questioned his decisions while President. Even worse, she initially questioned his qualifications to be President.


Madge hated Truman. Never thought him good enough for her daughter. Even after he became President. He was unworthy of Bess. Madge never let Truman forget the low esteem in which she held him.


She never referred to her son in law as Harry or son. Always, Mr. Truman. Even after he became President.


She was a confirmed anti-Semite. Gave Truman repeated hell for recognizing the new State of Israel.


When Truman ran against Dewey in 1948, her opinion was that Dewey was the better man, that Dewey would trounce Truman.


She was critical with Truman firing General Douglas Mac Arthur. She thought MacArthur was “…..such a nice man.” She also said she could not “…..imagine a captain from the National Guard telling off a West Point general.”


Madge’s husband David stepped into his bath tub one day, put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. Madge could never cope following the incident. She considered her husband’s suicide a scandal. She became a prisoner of shame. From that day forward, she leaned heavily on Bess to take care of her. Truman assumed the responsibility also upon his marriage to Bess.


Truman did a good job. Especially since Madge’s dislike for him was obvious. When he was elected to the Senate, Madge came to Washington with the family. She and Margaret shared a bedroom in the apartment. When Truman became President, Madge moved into the White House where she had her own bedroom.


Madge died at the age of 90 in her White House bedroom. She had lived with the President and Bess for 33 years.


During his Presidency, Truman visited Key West a total of 175 days covering eleven separate trips. Not once did Madge join him. Fortunate for the President, perhaps.


Some further Truman background is in order.


Truman was raised and lived his early adult years on a farm. Working as a farmer. The Truman family moved to Independence when the President was 6. Independence in those days was at the edge of the American frontier. Men carried knives and guns. Fistfights common.


Truman’s mother taught him how to read starting at age 5. She sat him on her lap and used the family Bible as a text book..


When Truman was courting Bess, Bess’ home was far different from his. Madge’s family did not work with their hands. They had no debt. They did not worry about insects. A constant concern at the Truman farm home.


Truman was a good man. Obviously. An excellent President. An excellent son in law. He put up with his mother in law Madge’s abuse each and every year he was courting or living as man and wife with Bess.


I came across an article listing history’s six notorious mothers in law. Madge was one of them. Right next to Catherine de Medici.


Historians suggest Truman tolerated and took care of Madge out of respect for Bess. His love for her was so great that he bore Madge’s insults their entire relationship.






Amazing grace, how sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see.


There is a story that goes with these beautiful words and the song from whence they came. It starts with slavery.


Most are unaware that the Founding Fathers dealt with the issue of the importation of slaves to the United States in the Constitution. Article I, section 9, stated in effect that the government could not ban the importation of slaves for at least 20 years.


Why such was placed in the original Constitution is not certain. I suspect that the Founding Fathers, most of whom were slave owners, were of the opinion that twenty years would give them enough time to propagate additional slaves. Since slaves had a significant monetary value and one’s worth was often measured by slaves owned, it made sense that there had to be a time when no more would be permitted entry to the United States. An overabundance of slaves could conceivably diminish the value of each slave.


Twenty years passed. The Congress could not wait to pass a law banning further importation of slaves to the United States. They did it one year early in 1807. Thomas Jefferson was President at the time. He is also considered the Father of the Constitution. He supported the proposed law and did not hesitate in signing it. The law went into effect January 1, 1808.


From that day forward, the United States Navy was on the lookout for any ships that were attempting to bring new slaves to American shores. The Navy was kept busy. Slavery was a big business. It took till 1862 for the Navy to finally eradicate the problem.


Although the final three slave ships were captured in 1862 when the Civil War was already two years old, their capture had nothing to do with the Civil War. It was the result of continued enforcement of the 1808 law.


The last three ships captured were the William, Bogota and Wildfire.


The demand for new slaves was overwhelming in the 1700s and first half of the 1800s. They were needed for work in North and South America. It is estimated some twelve million were imported during those years.


Cuba was in need of great numbers of slaves. The sugar fields needed workers. It is estimated at least 100,000 slaves were delivered from West Africa to Cuba.


Slaves had to be replenished. Most of the slaves delivered were young. Teenagers. They did not live long. They were literally worked to death. The need to replenish drove the slave industry.


John Newton was a slave trader. A bad guy in his early years. Very bad. Mean. He was known by people acquainted with him as a despicable person.


On one of the trips across the ocean, Newton and his ship engaged a violent storm. Newton thought he was going to die. He learned to pray. He asked God to save him. God did.


Newton continued as a slave trader for a few years. However, his conscience was now bothering him. He quit his chosen profession and went to theology school. Newton became a minister.


In 1779, Newton wrote Amazing Grace. Not as a musical piece. Not as a song. But rather, a poem. His congregation would recite, not sing, the words at services.


The poem continued to 1835. At that time, someone put it to music. There was an English tune New Britain. It became the melody for Amazing Grace.


Prior to the 1960s, Amazing Grace had no particular popularity. Except in the black churches. It became a song of hope and redemption. An African American spiritual.


Then came the civil rights movement of the 1960s. The marches, the boycotts, the assassinations. Amazing Grace gained national prominence and popularity during that era.


It also became a top selling recording.


Willie Nelson, Elvis Presley and Tennessee Williams all recorded it. So did Althea Franklin and Judy Collins. And most recently, Susan Boyle.


Amazing Grace’s history began with the United States Constitution, the law of 1808, John Newton finding God, someone putting the words to music and finally the civil rights movement.


Today the hymn is sung everywhere. Both for the living and the dead. Warm and uplifting.


A walk back in history…..


Theodore Roosevelt. Unquestionably a great President! He also had a way with words. Gems. Some that he uttered have stayed with us over the years. A phrase maker he was!


Roosevelt was the first to call the White House a “bully pulpit.” Roosevelt recognized the great stage that was the White House. How it could be used to make a President’s views known worldwide.


Roosevelt was confronted with an uncontrolled corporate America. Perhaps as we face today. He went after corporate America and forced it to get in line. He referred to his way of going after the corporations as “…speak softly and carry a big stick.” He did!


Political lunacy existed in Roosevelt’s day, also. The extremists in each political party. He referred to them as the “…lunatic fringe.”


Roosevelt was asked in 1912 if he was going to run for the Presidency again. He said, “My hat is in the ring.”


The phrase actually originated in the Old West. Roosevelt was familiar with it and made it popular. In the West of old if a boxer was ready to take on all challengers, he would toss his hat into the boxing ring.


Last but not least is a Roosevelt gem that was born in 1907. Roosevelt was at the Hermitage visiting the Tennessee home of Andrew Johnson. He was served coffee.  He drank it down and exclaimed, “Good to the last drop!” The coffee was a local brew. It came from one of Nashville, Tennessee’s leading hotels. The Maxwell House. Within a decade of Roosevelt’s exclamation, the Maxwell House used his words to turn its coffee into a national brand. To this day. “Good to the last drop!”


I hope you have enjoyed this walk down history lane.