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Idaho History: Cockfighting and dog fighting were legal in the 1860s

Discussion in 'Pit Bull Roots & Heritage' started by Vicki, Feb 6, 2011.

  1. Vicki

    Vicki Administrator Administrator

    Idaho History: Cockfighting and dog fighting were legal in the 1860s

    BY ARTHUR HART - SPECIAL TO THE STATESMAN
    Published: 02/06/11

    In February 1864, at its very first session, the legislators of Idaho Territory passed an act “For the better observance of the Lord’s Day,†to prohibit “theatrical presentations, horse racing, gambling, cockfighting, or any other noisy amusements on Sunday.â€

    Cockfighting and dog fighting were popular in Idaho mining camps at the time, especially in winter, when placer mining was shut down for lack of running water.

    This item appeared in the Idaho World on Dec. 3, 1864: “There is to be gay sport at the Pony Saloon tonight. All the dogs in the Territory will be on the rampage — to say nothing of certain belligerent roosters who are being shod for the occasion.â€

    The natural spurs on a rooster’s legs were “shod,†as the World writer put it, with long, razor-sharp steel spurs.

    These fights were usually to the death, and so bloody that the “victor†often died of its wounds soon after. In January 1865, the World reported that Idaho City and Placerville had witnessed a “well fought†battle between two “representative dogs†of the two towns. Idaho City’s dog won a purse of $250 for its owner in a fight that lasted an hour and 10 minutes.

    Whether staged or not, dog fights drew a crowd in any town. The World noted in April 1865, that, “The city is full of very interesting dogs, which afford a deal of amusement to all idlers in the street, and if you watch close you can find every vagrant in town, for no sooner does one dog attack another than these fellows all give yell and those who think will get there in time, rush for the scene of the action.â€

    The Tri-weekly Statesman reported a Boise dog fight in October 1866, and ended the item with this comment: “It seems to us that people could find a much more intellectual amusement than engaging in a dog fight. Very low pastime, boys.â€

    Back in Idaho City, the World editor took a different view of these contests: “Sport. — During the week there has been a good deal of sport in the way of rooster debates, with gaffs and beaks in which sundry ounces of gold dust have found new owners, and some of the heeled and cut-combed combatants have been eternally silenced from crowing …â€

    In 1868 the paper reported: “A splendid cockpit has been fitted up in Claresy’s saloon, where the sporting boys have big fun on Friday and Saturday evenings. For four bits, admirers of that style of pastime can have a chance to make a ‘scratch’ besides amusing themselves for the whole evening. Two fights, each for $80 a side, will come off tomorrow evening, and there is at all times an open barter ‘for your little chicken in de middle ob de ring.’ â€

    For the several hundred single placer miners idled by winter, the choices of amusement were severely limited. Saloons, of which Idaho City had plenty, were the social centers of the town. In January 1869, Matt Zapp, owner of the Bank Exchange saloon, advertised the opening of a new cockpit, and that he had “a fine lot of pure game cocks, imported direct from Europe, ready to be put into the ring. Admission free to all. Come and see the sport.â€[0xa0]

    A later report in the World said “The boys had a good time and bet their money freely.â€

    There were dog fights in Idaho City saloons as well that winter. Two men bet each other $150 that their dog could beat the other. “The fight lasted 51› minutes, Foy’s dog winning. He killed Thompson’s dog in the ring, but died himself on Tuesday morning from the injuries suffered.â€

    In Boise in the 1870s, the Statesman thought inciting dogs to fight a “cowardly amusement,†but reported that cockfights were being held in John Earley’s Main Street saloon. “The coops in the room are well supplied with the gamest kind of game chickens, which are all spoiling for the fight which is to come off. Rare sport may be anticipated.â€

    The paper apparently considered inciting dogs to fight cruelty to animals, but had no such sympathy for chickens.

    The conviction of football star Michael Vick for dog fighting in 2007 and his subsequent prison term created national awareness that these cruel sports were still being staged. A number of Idaho cases of cockfighting and dog fighting were investigated by police, but convictions were hard to obtain for lack of evidence. In February 2008, dog fighting in Idaho, formerly a misdemeanor, was made a felony. By March, it had been made a felony in all 50 states.

    Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. E-mail histnart@mindspring.com.

    Idaho History: Cockfighting and dog fighting were legal in the 1860s | Idaho History | Idaho Statesman
     

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