Illustration by Jazelle Lieske

New Mexico Dept of Tourism Announces Removal of Listings of Indian Pueblo Feast Days Featuring Rooster Pulls

Our protest against the New Mexico "rooster pull" hit the headlines the week of May 8 in The Santa Fe New Mexican, the Albuquerque Journal, and the Associated Press. A "rooster pull" is a dismemberment ritual conducted by certain Native American pueblos (villages) in New Mexico in which contestants tear live roosters apart before spectators. Here is a coverage update.

Santa Fe New Mexican: "A deluge of letters and telephone calls to the state Department of Tourism has persuaded the department to remove listings of feast day rooster pulls at three Indian pueblos from future editions of the state vacation guide. 'I empathize with a family showing up and not knowing what a rooster pull is,' John Garcia, the state tourism secretary, said Monday." He said, "We're pulling the listing from future issues of our Vacation Guide because it's not something we want tourists to see."

"Rooster pulls formerly were common in Northern New Mexico, according to State Historian Robert Torrez. Torrez said he's never seen one but that his grandfather told him of participating in rooster pull competitions in the 1920s and 1930s. 'From what I've read, there wasn't much left of the rooster by the time it was over,' Torrez said.

"In a rooster pull, a live rooster is buried in loose dirt up to its [sic] head. Horsemen then ride by and, leaning down from the back of the horse, attempt to grab the rooster. Torrez said that it was his understanding that once a rider gets the rooster, other participants try to pull the bird away. The idea is to keep the horseman with the rooster from crossing a finish line with the bird in hand.

"'Part of it is whacking your opponent on the head with the rooster,' Torrez said.

Albuquerque Journal: "Essentially the events lead to boys and young men--either on horseback or on foot--skirmishing over a live rooster. Sometimes the competition begins with a rooster buried to its [sic] neck or strung up with a rope. Participants then try to grab the rooster, and the bird often is torn apart in the process.

"Jose Jojola, a member of Isleta Pueblo just south of Albuquerque, said rooster pulls conducted by the tribe resulted in broken bones for riders and horses and led to fights among competitors. 'You're riding at full speed sometimes. There are a lot of horses out there. It could injure someone permanently or you may have to put a horse down.'

"Rooster pulls were introduced to New Mexico by the Spanish hundreds of years ago. The Spanish also introduced Roman Catholicism to the Indians, who have made rooster pulls part of their activities on feast days held to honor particular Catholic saints. At Acoma Pueblo, the dead rooster is considered a sacrifice to the saint being honored. The idea of abolishing the events is unacceptable, said Lloyd Felipe, pueblo secretary. 'It is a religious ceremony for us,' he said.

"Rooster pulls are popular for another reason, said a second member of Isleta Pueblo who spoke on condition of anonymity. 'When you're young, it's fun,' he said.

"So far, no pueblo has announced an end to its rooster pulls. But Acoma Pueblo officials said Wednesday that they would close the pueblo's rooster pulls to non-members because of the controversy.

"Felipe said there has been a general lack of understanding about the religious and cultural significance of rooster pulls. 'It would be like we are constantly trying to explain it,' if the events remained open to non-members, Felipe said." Elisabeth Jennings, Executive Director of Sangre de Cristo Animal Protection, Inc., replied in an op-ed to the Albuquerque Journal, 'I find it extremely disturbing that people like Lloyd Felipe, Acoma tribal secretary, say, 'We have no need to justify our religious and cultural foundations.''"

Cynically, Father Richard Olona, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, told the Albuquerque Journal that while rooster pulls aren't a part of Catholicism, which believes "all God's creatures should be treated with respect and not abused," he added that "he is neutral on the rooster pulls, saying the object is not to torture the chickens. 'I would not consider it abuse in that context' of traditional celebration, Olona said."

Associated Press: "Karen Davis, founder of the animal rights group United Poultry Concerns of Potomac, Md, responded, 'To cite tradition and culture as an excuse for cruelty is ridiculous.'"

What Can I Do?

  • Please thank NM Tourism Secretary John Garcia for removing listings of Indian feast days featuring rooster pulls from future editions of the state vacation guide. Tell him, however, that until you have been assured that the rooster pull has been permanently banned in the New Mexico pueblos, you will not vacation in New Mexico. Contact: John Garcia, Dept. Secretary, Tourism Dept., 491 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe, NM 87503 (ph: 1-505-827-7400; fax: 1-505-827-7402).

  • Tell The All Indian Pueblo Counsel that until the rooster pull is permanently banned both publicly and behind closed doors, you will not support Native American rights or charity organizations or visit the Pueblos or purchase Native American products and that you will inform the Native American organizations about your decision. Tell the counsel how disappointed you are in people whom you formerly appreciated. Contact: Chairman Harry Early, The All Indian Pueblo Counsel, 3939 San Pedro Drive NE, Albuquerque, NM 87110 (ph: 1-505-881-1992; fax: 1-505-883-7682).

  • Urge your Native American friends and relatives to demand an end to the rooster pull. If you are of Native American descent, stress this fact in your protest to the media, the tourism department, and the Pueblo Counsel.

  • Order the VHS video, Fiestas of Blood, produced by Fight Against Animal Cruelty in Europe. It shows roosters being hung on clotheslines and beaten to death and chickens having their heads pulled off by galloping horsemen to cheering crowds in Spain. Air it on your local cable and public access stations so that people can see what kind of a "celebration" the "rooster pull" really is. Order from United Poultry Concerns. $20.

Summit for the Animals Condemns Rooster Pull

At the annual Summit for the Animals, April 6-8, 1995, the Summit, which is the national convention of organizational leaders of the animal advocacy movement in the U.S., comprising millions of members throughout the country, formed a unanimous consensus that, until the "rooster pull" has been officially banned, New Mexico will be excluded from consideration as a future meeting site for the Summit. Summit participants will encourage their members not to visit New Mexico. In a declaration sent to The All Indian Pueblo Counsel and the NM Tourism Department in April, the Summit noted that its annual meeting was held in Albuquerque in 1993, and that participants will add New Mexico to the list of most popular states for the annual Summit meeting as soon as the "rooster pull" has been consigned to the annals of history where it belongs.