Gamefowl History: The Legacy of Bowen Roundheads

Gamefowl History: The Legacy of Bowen Roundheads

Bowen Roundheads
by Narragansett (1973)

Most famous strains of game fowl take their names from the men who originated the families. In the case of the Bowen Roundheads the name came not from the man who created them, but rather from the one who destroyed them.

Myron J. Bowen lived in Cold River, New Hampshire, just across the Connecticut River from Bellows Falls, Vermont, which river forms the boundry between the two states. Since Cold River had no post office, Mr. Bowen’s mail was always addressed to Bellows Falls, Vermont. He was born in 1870 and died in 1955 at the age of 85. He was active in cocking circles right up to the day of his death, which classifies him to us of the present generation as being one of the real old timers.

M.J. as his many friends affectionately knew him, was a typical chicken man. He did not know the first thing about breeding, rearing, conditioning, heeling, handling or any phase of the sport. He just loved game chickens and loved to fight them and talk about them. And how he could talk about them! They were his sword, shield, buckles and Bible all rolled into one. Through his extensive enthusiastic correspondence with prominent cockers from one end of the country to the other, his fowl gradually became associated with his name even though he contributed nothing to them other than their downfall.

M.J. had a heart bigger than all outdoors. Any cocker who visited him or corresponded with him and spoke favorably of his fowl got the choicest stock on his place at the time. Nothing was with held. If you praised his great production brood cock, you got him. Either for nothing or nearly nothing. Eventually such generosity proved his undoing, or at least the undoing of his original fowl. Those of you who read this and received fowl from old M.J. can be sure of one thing, you got the best he had at the time. If you got fowl bred after 1940, the strain was going downhill, but there was still enough of the original Roundhead blood in them to make them valuable, for the originals were the greatest, the most uniform, the most potent family of game fowl I have ever known.

Unfortunately, few men knew about or procured any of the original Roundhead stock of the 1930’s. And those who did, including myself, did not know enough to breed them pure. I doubt if there is in existence today any fowl containing over 15 percent of that original blood, probably not that much.

So what were the original called today? Bowen Roundhead as they are.

The originals came from Henry Bradford, Senior, of Benningotn, Vermont. Probably Mr. Bradford himself would not claim that he originated them, but where they came to him, I don’t know. His son, Henry E. Bradford, was still living in Bennington, Vermont, the last I knew and may still be alive.

Also there was a family named Statia of that same city, ftaher and sons, who were the Bradford’s cockers both senior and junior. Some of them may still be there, though even the boy would be in their 70’s or 80’s now. Other than these few individuals, I know of no one who would go back farther than the original Bradford, Senior, Roundhead fowl.

Mr. Bradford referred to his fowl as the Sanders Roundheads. They were a distinctive type, typical of what were known as the Boston Roundheads from Marblehead, Mass. Bright red plumage, jet black breasts and tails, fiery red eyes, and bright yellow legs. I never saw a white, brown, ginger or any other colored feather on them: very tight, tough feathers. In fact they were so close feathered that they were heavier than they appeared to the eye. Feathers were relatively long and full for Roundheads, though they did not have the heavy shawls and tails of some squareheaded strains. Bodies were round and short coupled from front to back that gave them excellent balance. Never a slab sided one. In station, above average. The legs and bone structure on the light side, but tough bone. The hens a light wheaten color, almost creamy. Fan tails were firmly set on. A little on the high side and above average for Roundheads. Tight, tough feathers. Both hens and cocks seemed a lot heavier and fuller in hand than they did on range.

In disposition the cocks were fiery and aggressive both in the pie and on the yard. Those fiery red eyes meant just what they said. Old Bowen used to say, “Don’t ever get one of these cocks mad at you. He will never forget or forgive. He will come for you as long as he lives.” I’ve seen one fly twenty feet through the air to get at a stranger who approached his coop. Handled carefully and respectfully they were gentle enough. Except when they were with hens in the breeding season. At such times they did not any males in their brood pens – you or anyone else.

In the pit they were aggressiveness personfied. All they had in mind was to kill that other rooster as quickly as possible. Many times this proved to be a handicap. For often they would fight themselves out before putting the opponent away and become helpless. They were strictly a single stroke fowl. The only family of Roundheads I ever knew to possess this characteristic. Their blows were delivered with a snap and fast. Always landed in perfect balance, ready to snap the next lick; high-headed, quick breaking. I never knew one to give other than his full effort to the last breath. To the very end they hit to kill, not just to defend themselves or to ward off the opponent.

So these were the round-headed fowl which M.J. Bowen inherited from Mr. Henry Bradford, Sr. upon the latter’s death in about 1930. To these hens he bred a wonderful Shelto Roundhead cock that Henry Bradofrd, Junior had purchased for large sum. You may ask, “How come Bowen got these fowl?”

Well, Henry Bradford, Jr., married Bowen’s daughter, and young Henry had that typical Vermont independence developed in him to the point where he was unwilling to carry on the family cocking tradition with his old man’s fowl, but was determined to establish a reputation of his own with fowl of his own. He did right well at it too, especially after he teamed up with Otto Kozgarten who lived nearby in New York state. Anyhow, young Henry gave his father’s fowl to his father-in-law, Myron J. Bowen. What happened to the rest of the original fowl I never learned. Mr. Bradford, Sr. had an extensive cocking operation and all Bowen got was a pen of hens and this one cock. Maybe young Henry killed all the rest. He was the kind who would. I never heard of anyone else getting any of the fowl after the father’s death. People were funny about theuir fowl 40 or 50 years ago. They would kill every bird on the place rather than have a feather get to anyone else. That’s sort of hard for us to understand today but it was standard practice then. I remember one old fellow telling me he would kill any man who stole one of his hens. He meant it too. You or I would not give a dime for one of them but that’s the way he felt about it. The Bradford’s were immensely wealthy so they could do as they pleased.

The Shelton Roundhead cock lived for only two years. Accordingly, for the next six or seven years or so, all the breeding was to the Bradford hen side of the line. This breeding operation Bowen conducted in a haphazard manner. He never single mated or kept any sort of records, he just put them together and let nature take its course. He was not even selecetive of the individuals bred. “What difference does it make?” he used to say. “They are all the same blood.” As a result of this lack of selectivity and by indiscriminate inbreeding, by about 1939 or after six or seven generations, the fowl started coming smaller, more nervous and fragile, fought themselves out quickly and no longer had the body strength to match the dynamic spirit (They got broken legs, wings, and all that sort of thing.).

In order to beef them up he got a Saunders Roundhead hen from Georgia. This new blood did beef them up too. The offspring came larger and stringer and won more. But the character of the fowl changed with it, both physically and in disposition and fighting style. They were good, but they lack the sterling qualities of the original Bradfords. These were the fowl Bowen was selling everywhere during the 40’s. The recipients almost universally had good success with them. There was still enough of the original Bradford in them to make them valuable, especially in the early 40’s.

Then the indiscriminate matings and non selective inbreeding started all over again and since he did not have as sound stock to start with as he inherited in 1930, by 1945 the family was pretty shot.

It’s a pity too, for the original Bradford or Saunders, or Boston Roundheads as Bowen got them in 1930 were the greatest fowl for crossing inot a line that I have ever know. Even in the late 40’s enough of the golden virtues remained to revive many a faltering family if you got hold of the right individual. At least I don’t know of any and I had it available to me 100 percent for years but did not recognize its value until too late.

Old M.J. was a grand old guy: honest, honorable, generous and loyal. I wish it were possible to turn the clock back 40 years for him, for me and most of all for the marvelous Roundhead fowl on his farm beneath the towering white pines at Bellows Falls.

How our family of Lacy Roundheads has been carried on by friends and me since 1942,
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