Thomas W. Murphy, Murphy Whitehackles

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Thomas W. Murphy

Early Stags By (Frank Shy) Narragansett

Forty or fifty years ago Thomas W. Murphy was invincible in stag competition. He won 49 stag mains without a loss against top competition. In cock mains he won a good majority, but with his stags he was unbeatable.

In time, competition got wise to his method of superiority. What Tom was doing was to hatch out his stags in his basement in March or early April, make his stag mains in late February or early March when his own stags were approximately a year old and his opponent’s stags were only 10 months, or less. Tom would not make a stag main after May 1. He had lost all his advantage by that time.

After a while “the boys” got onto the system and started to hatch out their stags earlier and earlier. Today I notice a tendency to hatch out stags in January or February, or even in December. This is not so good. Like all other developments, we are apt to carry a good thing too far. The advantage comes in fighting a year old stag against a 10 month old stag, but not necessarily by merely having an older stag.

I learned this the hard way some twenty five years ago when I was fighting in a big stag derby in Scranton, Pennsylvania in mid-June. My prize stag was a little 4-04 hatched in March which I thought was invincible. To my great disappointment I could not use him in the derby because he was too small. No other stag entered was smaller than 4-08 and I was not willing to concede that much weight with so small a bird. After the two day event was concluded in which I did not win much, if anything, I found a fellow who had a little 4-02 which I could match and hope to recover some of my entry fee. But the fellow would not fight for much; said his stag was only 10 1/2 months old, so I gave him odds to get the match which I was sure would be a walk-over. To my astonishment he licked the daylights out of my 15 month old stag!

Years later I learned the reason. After a stag has been cooped for over seven months he becomes coop stale and starts a pre-mature moult, although such moult may not be apparent. He is not nearly as good in the pit as he was two or three months previously.

So you fellows with the early hatched stags plan to fight them early when they are eleven, twelve, thirteen months old. Don’t wait until they get fourteen or fifteen months old. They are going down hill by that time.

More-or-less, the same thing applies to fighting stags against cocks. If you have some real early hatched stags, say December or January, you can fight them against cocks in November or December and do pretty well because at such time the cocks are not yet fully recovered from their moult and you have an advantage. But don’t try to do it after January 15, by which time the cocks are at full strength and much stronger than stags.

Date of Death: March 20, 1967

Murphy Whitehackle

by Full drop {October 1969}

Unfortunately Mr. Murphy was a reticent man, not only about chicken his chickens but everything in his life. He considered his affairs his own business and saw no reason to discuss them with any others, particularly acquaintances. Had he been willing to discuss his experiences with game chickens, he could have passed on some information to fraternity that should have been and, I believe, would have been of tremendous value to all of us, particularly in regarding to breeding.

From the time I first saw him at Troy, NY , fighting a main, in late 1920’s until 1942 , he showed consistently the most uniform fowl I have ever seen show. Don’t misunderstand me, he could be and was whipped quite often. but, he won a big majority of his mains and win or lose, his fowl looked and fought alike. As I recall, he won, during his career in cocking, forty-nine stag mains and lost none.

But let’s go back to the beginning, and please remember much of what I write is hear say.

I was not around ninety years ago when he was born, but I am beginning to feel I was. In spite of the fact he was part owner of Schley and Company. A large brokerage firm.

He was born only Long Island, NY. And at the age of 14 he began working around the harness horse track near his home. The owner of the horses and the trainer to a liking to him helped him in many ways. After he got to driving, some of the owners, who were in one-way or another interested in the stock market, gave him tips on the market, helped him financially.

Many of the Horsemen were interested in cockfighting. And, at the time, when Murphy descended two get into it on his own, cocking was in full swing the in and around you New York City.

Presumably, he had made his mark has a harness driver and had money to do what he’d please. It was said at one time three or four horses owners he drove for had deposit in Syracuse, New York bank $100,000 which he could draw on at any time for he saw a horse that, in his opinion, would do them some good. Eventually, of course, he became one of the greatest harness horse drivers of all times. As far as I know, he bred no horses at any time. He bought what he thought were good ones in broke records with a great many of them can.

When he got ready to go into cocking in a big way, he, of course, needed good fowl to go began thus began, what some have called, the quest internal. He could have gotten fowl from most anyone he desired the beginning of the independent nature he wanted his own and didn’t want anyone to know what they were, or where they came from. He’d begin buying fowl here and there and got exactly nowhere. From the little I knew of Murphy, I am convinced no one ever knew, or ever will no, exactly what his fowl where or where he got them.

There are two stories about it. Nick Downes, an old Irish man who worked for him for 30 , claimed the Murphy fowl were Lawman Whitehackles. John Hoy, a great cocker around 1900 until his death in 1929, work for Murphy for seven years as a feeder and, Hoy was associated with Billy lawman and had the Lawman Whitehackles and muffs. He took some of the fowl to Murphy’s place and a great many of the a more breed, raised and fought by and for Murphy. And, after hoy left Murphy, some of the fowl remained. They were the fowl Murphy continued to raise and fight.

Another version of the a Murphy fowl is this; a horse men visited Murphy onetime and went to a main he was fighting. This was before Hoy which to work for Murphy. He lost the main, and the Horsemen who knew something of cocking told Murphy his fowl were no good, and if he intended to continue main fighting he would have to get something better. Murphy told him he knew that, but did not want to get him from Friends or men he would be fighting against, and he didn’t know where else to get them. The Horsemen asked him if he was willing to pay a good price for fowl and he told him he would. Then promised to get him some good ones. Not long after that, 15 chickens arrived, either five Cocks and team hens or ten Cocks and five hens, from Long John Murphy of Ontario, Canada. A bill came with them for $1,500. I know that Murphy did get out from Long John Murphy on several occasions, because his son is still very much alive and knows about it. At the time in Canada, there was a family of Whitehackles fowl that were saved to have been some of the best fowl to land there. They came to Canada from Ireland, and long John had some of them, although he wasn’t the man who imported them. Long John Murphy also had some Duryea fowl. As I recall, Long John Murphy’s son said he sent Murphy, at one time, 12 Cocks that were half the Whitehackles blood and half the Duryea blood.

So, the readers can take their choice as to have the T.W. Murphy fowl were bred and where they came from. It is not only possible, but probably, that Murphy combined the blend of the Long John Murphy and Lawman Whitehackles was to make his own family.

As stated above, the Murphy fowl were very uniform in every way, looks, fighting style and gameness. They were sort of a rusty red with white in wings and tail, call straight comb and all yellow legs and beaks. I have heard that some of his fowl came with white legs, and that he killed them. It was also said when fowl was shipped to him from anywhere he removed the shipping labels so no one would know where they came from. I can believe that as he was one of the most secretive men I have to ever know.

One time, he was fighting Marsh a main at Troy and to be surprised if everyone came in with a main of stags that looked as though they might be red quills or crosses of red quills. They whipped Marsh six straight fights and won the main. No one ever knew what they were or where they came from, or if Murphy raised them, or got them from some else. no one ever saw him again with fowl that looked anything like them.

Murphy Whitehackle

By Frank Shy (Narragansett)

The exact composition of the Murphy Whitehackles will never be known. Tom Murphy undoubtedly was the greatest short heel cocker in the history of American cocking. During one span of years he won 49 consecutive stag mains without a loss against the finest cockers the country could produCe.He also was the least communicative. He followed to the letter the old Biblical admonition “let not your right hand know what your left hand doeth.”

Nick Downes, his long time cocker trainer, may have known more or less of the Murphy Whitehacle bloodlines but Nick has been dead for many years, and he was never much of a talker in his lifetime either. All of Nicks successors, and they were numerous, were kept in complete ignorance of the Murphy bloodlines and breeding practices. One such man complained,” I never know what is going on around here. He switches the cocks and hens around in the brood pens so often I can’t keep track of them, and I no idea of which eggs he keeps and which ones he destroys.

One time Mr. Murphys telephoned me requesting a certain cock to breed. I had given the cock to another friend, but recalled him for Mr.Murphys use. A few weeks later I spent the night at Mr. Murphys home where we spent considerable time looking over his numerous cocks, stags and brood pens.Not once did he mention the cock I had sent to him, nor did I see him. Then Mr. Murphys was called to the house to answer the telephone. At that same time I heard a cock crow behind a high solid board fence. I lifted myself up the fence in order to see over it, and there was my cock in with two beautiful hens. He never referred to the mating, nor did I. That’s how we got along together.

“When I was a boy (which would have been in the 1880) there was an old Irishman who lived about 10 miles from my home on Long Island who had two old Whitehacle hens which I had my heart set upon. I used to walk over there at every opportunity to look at them. But the old man would not let them go: said he would not part with them for less than $50. The only way I had to earn any money was to shoot quail which I could sell for 25c a pair. It took me a long time to save $50 but I finally made it and went over there to claim my two hens. The old man was reluctant to with them even then. Said I should take two take two young hens or pullets, but I said no, that I wanted those two particular hens. Then he said he could not catch them because they roosted in the tall trees near his house. I said I could clime trees. So I climbed the tree and got the two hens under each arm, and they were the foundation of my fowl.

Mr. Murphy never told me to what cock he bred the two hens, or how the breeding operation was conducted during the succeeding years. Just that and nothing more. But when I first knew him in 1920s he had a strain established of uniform black red fowl which were well high invincible. Terrific fighters and cutters with gameness to spare. Nick Downes was his cocker at that time, and as I look back upon it, much of the success properly should be attributed to Nicks superb conditioning procedure.

Mr. Murphy was a master breeder. One of the greatest in the annals of American cocking. Unfortunately he divulged few of his breeding secrets to anyone. Least of all did he divulge them to the men who worked for him: Jimmy Chipps, Andy Thomason, Hohnnie Monin, Hienie Mathesius. He quarreled with all of them to the end of his days. And did everything in his power to keep them ignorant of his methods.

One time, twenty odd years ago, he sent me one of his choicest stags to breed. He crated and shipped the stag himself, and requested me when returning his shipping crate to send it from a different location in order that his help would not know where the stag had gone. So I drove 50 MILES to another express office in order to keep MR. MURPHYS employees in the dark as to the stag whereabouts.

Incidentally, the stag was a great disappointment to me; He had a tremendous body, but short hackle and a short tail with great long curved bill like some of those seashore birds you see.I called his “The Curlew” after one of them. He lived only one year before he developed a huge canker on his neck and died. But before he checked out, I bred him in late August to a fine spangled Whitehackle hen which belonged to a friend of mine. Only four chicks same from the mating, two stags and two pullets, which on the day hatched I placed in a coal hod and took over to my friend, since I did not want to bothered with late hatched chicks. But these four little “Curlew” made history. All four were bred extensively for years. One pullet when mated to a Blondy Rollan cock produced stags which won the Lally for Joe Morgan over Sweater McGinnis when Sweater was at his peak. Other offspring from these Curlews won many matches in the Claymore for me, and more offspring were big winners throughout New England for years.

All of the original blood is gone now except for mere traces here and there, but it goes to show of that master breeder. Thomas W. Murphy.

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