Wednesday, 17 August 2011 12:15
By: Rodney Miller
When my oldest sister Jackie married Alfred Lee Smith he brought a new pastime to Paw Paw and the Miller family, fightin’ roosters. I grew up on a farm where we always had chickens for both their eggs and their meat but I had never thought of having chickens just for fightin’. Boy, did I have a lot to learn.
Al’s fightin’ chickens weren’t like your normal every day farm chickens. His birds were a breed of game chickens that were raised for one thing only, fightin’ and killin’ other roosters in a cockfight. And if you don’t know already, here are a few things about cockfighting and gamecocks you might find interesting.
Gamecocks possess congenital aggression toward all males of the same species. The chickens are given the best of care until they reach a fightin’ age. Their comb and wattle are cut off to keep the other roosters from getting a hold on their heads while in a cockfight.
A cockfight is a blood sport between two roosters (cocks), held in a ring called a cockpit. Roosters are conditioned for increased stamina and strength. The conditioning process (sometimes referred to as a "keep") is designed to, among other things, tame the cock so that he can be handled during a fight. The primary purpose of a keep is to ensure that the bird is physically and mentally fit for its upcoming match, similar to the conditioning a boxer or wrestler goes through. He even fed his roosters a special high energy diet and gave them a daily physical exercise.
Bets were often made on the outcome of the fights. Most of the fights were to the death or until the cocks endured significant physical trauma and the fight had to be stopped.
Al had high dollar chickens with fancy names. He had breeds called Hatch, Kelso, Roundheads, and Greys. His birds, when they fought for money, were equipped with either metal spurs (called gaffs) or knives, tied to the leg in the area where the bird's natural spur has been partially removed.
We couldn’t afford the fancy spurs (that often cost $100 dollars or more) so we fashioned ours from a coat-hanger wire and sewed them to the leather tongue of an old shoe. Sometimes we fought with the homemade spurs and they worked pretty good but they bent pretty easily. Most times we just sparred roosters with bare heels.
One day Al decided to turn one of his most prized roosters out bare heeled to strut the chicken lot and show our roosters just who was the boss. That was a big mistake. It didn’t take long for our biggest domer-necker to challenge the newcomer.
Al’s bird with his spurs trimmed to a nubbin’ was like a fighter without a weapon. Our domer-necker roosters, on the other hand, had two-three inches of hard, sharp natural spurs. Plus, it didn’t hurt that our domer-necker had about 3 pounds on his lean-mean fightin’ machine.
Al’s roosters could have probably killed our chickens if they had been outfitted with the spurs but without them our domer-neckers clearly had the upper hand.
Al found out our old farm raised chickens were a lot tougher than he gave them credit for. Our roosters weren’t about to tuck tail and run when the “new” cock came courting the hens.
The two warriors carefully studied one another with their neck feathers flared. Then, in and instance, they met in mid air and feathers flew as the large spurs of the domer-necker found their mark time and time again. What Al thought would be an easy victory for the gamecock turned into a mauling by the domer-necker.
After three or four more shuffles by our big rooster, Al’s gamecock tucked tail and run. I laughed and told him, “I think your bird has just chicken’d out!”
Al was mad, to say the least. So mad that he went to our house and got a high-powered rifle and made his way to the chicken lot. I thought he was going to kill his rooster for running scared but instead his sights turned on the champion domer-necker.
Ka-Boom! The gun went off. Feathers flew out of the opposite side of our big rooster like a shot into a feather pillow. He barely moved from where he stood. The victor was dead in an instant.
No one knew what to say. We all were kind of stunned. I was thinking, “He shouldn’t have to killed our rooster. He should have shot his chicken.”
Al learned several valuable lessons that day.
First of all: Size does matter. His gamecock was just too small to challenge the big domer-necker.
Second: If you’re a chicken, you never fight without your spurs on.
Third: A dominant rooster will fight like crazy when hens go to the winner.
And last: Never fire a shot off around a scared rooster. I think his ‘chicken’ never stopped running. Someone said they seen him a couple days later near Slate City. Said he was headed towards Mexico.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 August 2011 12:17
Wednesday, 10 August 2011 12:34
In my early years a neighbor of ours, Neva and Thee Riley, had a talking bird. His name was Joe Joe and he was a myna ‘minor’ bird. Joe Joe wasn’t your normal talking bird. He was more like a person because of his extensive vocabulary.
Back then, I had never seen a talking bird before. And if I hadn’t seen and heard him talking like a human, I would never have believed any story about a bird that could actually carry on a conversation the way Joe Joe did.
Neva and Thee lived across the dirt road from Mam Maw and Pap Paw Miller. Momma and Neva were friends even though Neva was quite a few years older than her. Neva was a kind and giving person and Momma loved to visit with her.
Neva’s sister had given Joe Joe to them I think just for companionship. And Momma, well every time she came back from visiting her was telling us about this amazing talking bird that Neva had gotten. The story was almost unbelievable. We begged and begged until finally Momma gave in and took us to see for ourselves Joe Joe, the talking bird.
The first time I saw Joe Joe he was in a birdcage on Neva’s front porch. As I walked up the steps Joe Joe let out a deafening “wolf-whistle” and said “Pretty girl”.
I told Momma, “That bird is crazy! I’m not a girl!”
Momma laughed and said, “He wasn’t talking to you. He was talking to me!” We both laughed as we made our way onto the porch.
Joe Joe quickly said, “My name is Joe Joe. What’s yours?”
I looked at Momma with my eyes and mouth wide open. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I then asked Momma, “Is he talking to me or you?”
I turned to the little bird swinging on the perch and said, “My name is Rodney.”
Joe Joe never missed a beat. He quickly answered and said, “Hello, my name is Joe Joe.”
As we sat down I was amazed with the little bird. It wasn’t long before the bird let out a sound just like the screaming of tires as if someone was burning tires on the road.
I asked, “What was that?”
The bird let out a little laugh and said, “That’s James Miller, James Miller”.
I guess he had heard a hundred times my Uncle James in his new Midnight Blue, 1965 Impala SS-396 taking off wildly as he left the driveway burning rubber. And I guess Neva or Thee must have said a hundred times as James left spinning the tires, “That’s James Miller!”
We would sit awhile and Joe Joe would say something else. Once I remember he let out a sound that sounded exactly like the ringing of an old telephone. The he said, “Hello! Yes, Yes, I know”, pausing between everything he said. Then he finished off his conversation, “Well I think, he will probably go to jail.” I’m sure he was repeating something Thee or Neva had said on the telephone at one time or another about Uncle James.
Sometimes Joe Joe would let out a cough that he picked-up from Thee. Neva said every morning, just after Thee got up, he coughed over and over and Joe Joe had learned how to make the coughing sound. He had it down pat. I’ll swear he sounded just like an old man coughing.
Joe Joe even sang “Old MacDonald” pretty good, especially the. “E, I, E, I, O part. He would sit on his little perch, bobbing his head up and down, whistling at everyone and coughing like he had lung cancer in between his conversation with us. He was the smartest bird in the world, I thought. I left the Riley home a big fan of Joe Joe.
Several months later Neva told Momma she wanted to sell Joe Joe. She told us her nephew had been visiting for an extended time and had the bird cussing like a sailor. Neva said, “Nedda (that was what a lot of people called Momma, short for Juanita), I can’t begin to tell you the words he has taught Joe Joe. People can’t even come to visit because of his black-yarding (which meant cussing).”
She told Momma that she would take $300 dollars for Joe Joe if she wanted him. But $300 dollars was like asking a million dollars to us. We just couldn’t afford the bird. I begged and begged but the price was way out of our range.
I think Neva sold Joe Joe to a friend of hers from Florida. And if my memory is correct, the woman gave her $600 dollars for him. I don’t remember what happened to Joe Joe after that. But I’ll bet he was in sunny Florida entertaining folks just the way he did on Paw Paw, stealing their hearts the way he did ours.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 10 August 2011 12:35
Wednesday, 03 August 2011 12:25
The story could just as easy by called “An Uncle’s Memories” because that’s where I got my story for this week, from my Uncle Thomas Miller. ‘Tommy’ now lives near Newtownsville, Ohio, just east of Cincinnati. Like most of Dad’s family, he moved to the North to find work just after graduating high school.
Tommy and his wife, Janis, were in last weekend for the wedding of his great-nephew, Chase Moore of London. After the beautiful ceremony in the church most of those in attendance gathered under a shelter for food, bluegrass music and family reuniting.
It was a beautiful day but hot and muggy, to say the least. After the dinner, Tommy came over and sit beside me and told me he had a story about my Dad I might be interested in. Of course, I was all ears.
He asked if I knew the story of how Dad came to own the piece of property where we grew up. I told him I knew he bought it from a fellow after getting out of the Army, but that was about it. Well, as Paul Harvey says, “Now, you’ll hear the rest of the story”.
Dad and his first cousin, William Sibert, enlisted in the Army in August of 1943 to help win the war with Germany in WWII. After boot camp, Dad and William were sent to different fronts in Europe. Dad ended up fighting in Italy and William in France.
According to my uncle, the Army had a program back then to help the families of the soldiers who were taken from their families to fight the bloody war. By contributing $22 a month via deduction from his pay, the soldier could obtain an income-tax exempt Government allowance of $46 a month sent home to his parents.
Dad signed up and the government sent Pap Paw Miller a check each month for $68.00 to help with the needs of the family. Pap Paw didn’t spend the money, though. He started saving it for Dad to have when and if he returned from the war. William, Dad’s cousin who enlisted with him, was killed in action in France.
In early ’45 a piece of land came up for sale on Paw Paw just above where Dad had been raised. There were 40 acres more or less (the deed calls for) and the man wanted $600.00 for it. The property also had an old, rough 3-room house on it.
Pap Paw Miller thought it would be a good investment for Dad’s money. Uncle Tommy said Pap Paw said, “Junior will probably just waste the money anyway.” So he purchased the land without Daddy knowing it.
After Daddy got out of the Army he thought his money was going to help feed his large family but was tickled to death when Pap Paw told him he was now the owner of a house and property.
The house needed a lot of work. I remember Daddy telling me that one of the rooms had been used as a chicken house complete with a three-tier roost stretching from wall to wall. But Dad saw possibilities and started cleaning out the chicken poop.
Not long afterwards Daddy met Mommy and they were married. Uncle Tommy told me the house was’nt ready to move into so they stayed with Pap Paw Miller until they could move out on their own.
As I’ve said before, Dad grew up with a big family. In a small 4-room house were Pap Paw and Mam Maw, Dad and my mother, and his 10 brothers and sisters (Mildred, William ‘Bill’, Edna Ruth ‘Bootie”, Ollie, Mary Lou, Rosa Belle, Tommy, Gilbert Ray, Dorothy, and James Edward). It was crowed, to say the least.
Uncle Tommy told me of a sneaky little trick they played on Dad not long after he and my mother moved in. Someone in the family tied a ‘cow-bell’ to the bedsprings underneath the bed of the newlyweds. He said everyone had a big laugh about it the next morning. That is, everyone except Momma and Daddy. Uncle Tommy of course, still laughed hard, slapping his leg, the memory as fresh as if it happened just the night before.
Not long after that, Momma and Daddy moved out on their own in the small little house that for over 60 years they called home.
After the passing of both of my parents, my brother Anthony and I bought the house from our other siblings. Now, we are the owners of the same little house that started with 3 small little rooms where my parents raised seven kids. Dad continued to build onto and remodel until the small house became a beautiful brick home.
In Momma’s last will, she asked that the property never be sold to an outsider and I will honor her wish. The 40-acres is now the home of the ‘Miller Cemetery’ where both my parents and my Uncle Lloyd will rest for eternity. And one day, it will be my resting place too. For on that little piece of land, it will always be the place I call home.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 03 August 2011 12:29
Wednesday, 27 July 2011 12:11
By: Rodney Miller
One of the best friends I have had in my life is a guy named Earnie Collins. Earnie is much like myself, an avid outdoorsman. If he isn’t working as a carpenter, you will find him in a boat casting for Muskie, climbing a mountain to his birddog on point or in a treestand with his bow or gun waiting on his next victim.
Earnie grew up on Crane Creek and had two other brothers, Richard and Eddie. His dad Orville, a preacher, was a logger. So Earnie was very woods-wise, to say the least.
My Dad taught me a lot about the woods but Earnie taught me a lot more. He can look at the woods and tell you were you would probably find a deer, were to look for ginseng, or where to find a sack full of morel mushrooms.
Earnie and I over the years have become as close as brothers. I couldn’t count the number of trips we have made in search of the elusive whitetail. We’ve hunted Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, Fort Knox, Bluegrass Army Depot, west Kentucky, northern Kentucky, and just about anywhere in between.
We used to save our vacation every year for a week of bow hunting at Fort Knox and had many good times there. But one time comes to mind as I think of the many trips.
It was probably 25 or so years ago. We had just put in a hard day of hunting and were headed back to the motel room for some much needed rest. We had just checked out for the day at Hunt Control and were driving up Gold Vault Road. We had stopped at the final checkpoint before leaving base and noticed traffic was stopped up the road with lots of people with cameras in hand outside their vehicles.
Driving up to the crowd of people we noticed seven bucks is a green field feeding about 100 yards off the road. Five of the bucks were trophies that anyone with a bow would have been tickled to hang a tag on. The area where they were in was a No-Hunting Zone but it was only a half mile or so ‘as the crow flies’ from where we had signed in to hunt the next day. We were so excited that night we could barely sleep.
There were seven of us hunting together for the week Me, Earnie, Richard, Eddie, Jerome Jarvis, Buford Jarvis and Keith Root. We had all devised a plan the night before our hunt to pursue the giant bucks we had seen that evening.
We drove to our hunting area hours before daylight, hid our trucks ad much as we could on the dirt road, got our gear together and like when you let a dog out of the truck, used the relived ourselves beside the trucks. Then we started out in the direction through the woods towards the honey-hole of bucks. It was a really dark night, I remember. Someone volunteered as the leader and the other six followed along in single file.
We walked and walked in total darkness afraid to turn on our flashlights for fear of being arrested by the Military Police for being in a restricted area. Earnie thought we were walking in a circle but no one listened. After about an hour, now hot and sweaty and wandering in the darkness, I noticed something white on the ground in front of us. Upon closer inspection I found the white substance to be toilet paper where one of our group had used the bathroom when we got out of the truck. I looked off to my right and saw our trucks parked only a few yards away. We had walked in a circle and had ended up back where we had started. Everyone cackled out laughing at each other but we were still determined to find those bucks before daylight.
Next, I told them that when I saw the bucks the evening before I had noticed a radio tower on a hill beside the field above the trees. In the distance, I pointed to a red blinking light in that direction. “Let’s walk straight towards that light,” I told them and they all agreed.
We were running out of darkness so a couple of the hunting party decided to turn on their flashlights to make better time. That was a big mistake.
We had only walked for about 30 minutes towards the red blinking light when we entered a firebreak in the vegetation near the field where the bucks had been. The darkness and quietness was suddenly broken with a super-bright spotlight shinning directly upon us. A voice came through a loudspeaker demanding us to “Halt! Who Goes There?” Too bad we never understood military commands.
We scattered like drug-heads in police raid. I ended up with Richard and Keith in close pursuit. We ran till we couldn’t run any more. When we stopped Keith had lost his eyeglasses and his quiver and arrows from his bow. Richard was worried to death about his two little brothers. He kept saying, “Mommy is going to kill me. I know they’re both in the stockade or jail. Mommy is going to kill me.”
We kept walking; afraid to yell to see if anyone else in our party was around. After a couple of hours of being lost we ended up behind a new car lot on Highway 31W. We hid our bows and treestands in the bushes out back and walked towards the busy highway. We must have been a sight to see all camo’d up from head to toe to the passing cars.
After about two miles of walking on 31W we finally made it back to our motel. Richard by then was a total wreck worried about his brothers he left behind and Keith, who had really bad eyesight, was tagging along like a 5 year old on a string following it’s parents.
We walked the stairs up to the second floor room and opened the door trying to figure out how to get back together with the rest of our group. Inside, low and behold, were Earnie and Eddie. Both had already had a shower and were resting on the bed. Richard ran in and hugged them both with a sigh of relief. He wouldn’t be killed after all. His brothers were safe.
Jereome and Buford showed up after about another 30 minutes later telling how they too were worried about if any of us had been nabbed by the military police early that morning. But all in all it was one of those moments that when we get together now we all still talk about and laugh about our close call.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 27 July 2011 12:13
Wednesday, 20 July 2011 14:40
By: Rodney Miller
I use to have a great fishing buddy, but now he’s gone. And like a lot of other familiar stories in life, he left us way too soon. His name was James Ellis Finley but most folks knew him only by “Pooch”.
I grew up close to the Finley family. I lived on Paw Paw and Pooch grew up in the house I now live in at Sibert. Pooch was almost 20 years my senior and when I was a young boy, he was already a young man. I never really got to know Pooch until I was a young man working at IGA.
Our friendship started I guess because we were both from Horse Creek. I knew his family well because my Dad’s grocery store was just a few hundred yards from Pooch’s home place. I saw his dad, Holt, almost every day.
Pooch was always full of life. He acted more like someone my age than the older man he was. Pooch just refused to get old. He was up early almost every day and bragged about his exercise routine he did every morning before work at 8 am. He worked hard to keep himself in shape.
Pooch loved a lot of different things. Some of them that come to my mind as I write this story are: Kentucky basketball (Pooch had season tickets and we went together many times), fishing, grilled rib-eye steaks (sometimes grilling them on the boat deck), and a good joke. Pooch loved my alter ego, radio character, Buckwheat.
He would listen every day just waiting for me to call in to see what I was up to on that particular day. He recorded every call I made to the Talk Show for many years. He then would play them back for me and laugh hard no matter how many times he played them over and over.
Pooch was crazy over music. He loved Country Music (especially Waylon Jennings), any song by Elvis, early Rock and Roll like Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels and last but not least, Tina Turner.
Many a time he would have “Proud Mary” blasting so loud on the radio I couldn’t hear myself think. And Pooch, well he would be laughing and singing along. He said that Tina had the prettiest legs in the world.
He also had a DVD of Elvis named “Viva Las Vegas” that he watched the same way, cranked way up and full screen. He was one of the first people I ever knew to have a large screen TV. And Pooch’s TV was a full 60 inches.
Pooch and I became good fishing buddies making the trip to Cherokee Lake in Tennessee many weekends. I would work all day at IGA on Friday or Saturday and Pooch would have the boat loaded and ready for me to go when I got off work. We would get to the dock about sundown and we would fish all night.
The first thing he taught me when I got in the boat was to turn my baseball cap around backwards. His 225 hp Mercury was always at full throttle throwing a “rooster-tail” high in the air as we skipped along the water.
Pooch was also one of the first people I know who had a fish finder. He bought a Hummingbird and we were testing it out for the first time one evening on the lake. There were three sizes of little “arcs” that showed fish floating across on the screen. Pooch wanted to know just how big the fish were that we were seeing.
“Rodney, dive out in the water and swim under the boat so I can see how big you are on the screen.” Pooch asked me with the boat sitting in 150 feet of water.
But crazy me said, “Alright,” and I took off my shirt and shoes, emptied out my pockets and dived in. I took a deep breath, swam down to about 10-15 foot deep and under the boat I went.
When I popped up on the other size Pooch said laughing aloud, “Hurry and get in the boat! The fish we are seeing are bigger than you!” Pooch didn’t have to tell me twice.
We always tied up the boat for the night at a pier under the bridge that crossed the lake at Bean Station. Many nights we would fill the live well to the top with white bass, stripers, and catfish.
One night I wanted to have a little fun with Pooch. I could “throw my voice” pretty good and make it sound like someone far away. Late one evening about dark the fishing was slow so I thought I would pull a prank.
“Hey guys!” I yelled out the front of the boat, “Where are you boys from?”
Pooch, thinking it was someone on the other side of the pier yelled back, “We’re from Clay County. Where are you from?”
I answered, “I’m from Clay County, too! Come on over!”
Pooch of course untied from the pier and proceeded to make the trip around the pier. When we got to the other side, Pooch yelled, “Where are you at now?”
“On the other side of the pier. I said I was coming over,” I yelled back, trying not to laugh out loud.
Around the pier back to the original side he went. But when we got there, of course, no fisherman could be seen. “Now where did you go?” Pooch yelled again.
“Over here, I was coming to meet you!” I answered back.
“Stay right where you are,” Pooch said, “I’m getting dizzy driving around this pier!”
I couldn’t keep my laughter in. I busted out and laughed until my side hurt. Pooch knew he had been had but he too, laughed until he cried.
On another foggy night on the lake we were heading back to the dock before daylight in really dense fog. Pooch, who knew the lake as good as anyone, was cruising along much too fast, as always. All of a sudden we went up on a sandbar and out of the boat we went about twenty feet. After realizing that no one was hurt bad, we laughed together about his knowledge of the lake. It took us 6 hours to get the boat back in the water.
It was hard for me to lose such a good friend so young. He told me on his deathbed that there was so much more he wanted to do. I didn’t really realize until the next day that he knew he was dying and me, well, it was hard for me to accept it. I really thought he would be all right.
James Ellis “Pooch” Finley died at the age of 60, February 22, 1991, at the St. Joseph’s hospital in Lexington. And after 20 long years, I still miss my good friend who loved life so much.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 20 July 2011 14:41
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