Wyandottes: The American Breed with an Indian Name and Eurasian Background

by
Edgar L. Petty, Jr.
Oklahoma City, OK

with permission from
SPPA Bulletin, 2001, 6(4):4-6

Silver Laced Wyandottes from People's Farm & Stock Cyclopedia, 1885

This article is my way of expressing appreciation and support to our fine Bulletin Editor, Ed Hart, for his work in editing and printing the excellent SPPA Bulletin. Also it is written at the request of my friend Claus Twisselmann, who for the past years has provided me with hours of sharing ideas and interests via telephone concerning his poultry projects, including development of the Barred and Dun Wyandotte bantams.

When I returned to Oklahoma in the spring of 1946 after serving in the U.S. Navy during WWII, my dad and I decided to start breeding, raising and exhibiting some breed of domestic poultry. Since he had raised the large fowl White Wyandotte during his teen years and liked them, he recommended this variety and breed as his first choice. We were living on three city lots in North East Oklahoma City at the time, so our space for raising birds was limited. My thought was that we could raise more bantam fowl in this space than large fowl. So my input was to breed and raise White Wyandotte bantams. We obtained our first breeding stock from Fred Mason of Des Moines, IA and later obtained other birds from Bob Robinson of Topeka, KS. It was with these birds that we started a venture with Wyandotte bantams which has lasted 55 years and continues in memories and conversations. During these years we have bred and raised not only the White Wyandotte bantam, which we exhibited with some nice wins, but also bred and raised all the recognized varieties, as well as introduced new varieties (such as the Dun and Khaki). My greatest joy is in developing new varieties in the Wyandotte breed and sharing information of mutual interest with friends. So with this background I hope to share a little of what I know about the Wyandotte as a breed and its history. In this article I will discuss the large fowl Wyandotte, as the bantam fowl Wyandotte came later and was developed as a miniature counterpart.

The Wyandotte is described in the American Poultry Association Standard of Perfection as a bird of curves. Wyandottes are well balanced, which means that the legs are squarely set under the center of the bird. The body is carried in a horizontal position on stout yellow shanks. Looking at the bird from the front, the legs are well spread and fairly heavy in bone. The shank is medium in length and the full hock can be seen. The breast is broad and full and the back is of medium length. The Wyandotte female shows a slight cushion, but not to the extent of appearing Cochin-like. The Wyandotte standard calls for an 8-1/2 pound cock, 7-1/2 pound cockerel, 6-1/2 pound hen and 5-1/2 pound pullet. Another unique characteristic of the Wyandotte is its good breadth of skull. In fact, it has a comparatively broader skull than the other breeds in the American class. The head has a bold appearance emphasizing the cobby appearance of the whole bird. The crowning feature is a rose comb, which follows the head and ends at the back of the head in a neat leader (the spike). The neck is short, well curved and well furnished with abundant hackle feathers. The hackle is well rounded so as to carry out the unbroken line of head and neck. The back shows a short space above the shoulders, which are level and then rise towards the tail, blending smoothly and evenly. There is no break where the back leaves off and the tail begins and for this reason the Wyandotte often appears to have a much shorter back than is really the case. The breadth of the back is carried out in the breadth of the body so that the sideline of the fowl as viewed from above appears smooth or even without indentations.

The wings are carried level and not too long, They are folded snugly and held up in place. The tail is fairly short and well spread. At the base, however, the tail is well spread. The sickle feathers of the male are to be pliable and of medium length so that they curve nicely over the ends of the main tail feathers, giving the tail a short cobby appearance. The top of the tail is on a level with the junction of the head and neck, which lines up with the earlobe.

The feathering of the Wyandotte is somewhat looser and softer than that of the other breeds in the American class. The strength of the web of the feathers in the Wyandotte is a must so the feathers will not be so fluffy as to give the bird a Cochin appearance. The Wyandotte is more compact in form, giving it that cobby appearance, which other breeds in the American class do not have (examples of breeds in the American Class are the Rhode Island Red and the Plymouth Rock).

The original Wyandotte was the Silver Laced variety. Its origins are somewhat uncertain. Some writers suggest that the Dark Brahma was used in the early crosses, while others refer to a breed called the Chittagong, which had Malay, Shanghai or Cochin, as well as the Dorking in its background. The plumage of the Chittagong was a mixture of yellow and brown, usually pencilled or spangled. Some of the earlier writers claim Brahma blood was used in the creation of the Chittagong. Writers tend to agree that the other breed used to create the Wyandotte was known as the Silver Sebright (not the bantam fowl by the same name). This breed appears to have had a laced plumage pattern. There does not appear to be any evidence of this fowl's origin except that it was an imported fowl. Several lines of thought exist as to its origin. The most accepted idea was that the Breda, Polish and Silver Hamburg (or Mooneys) were in the background of the Silver Sebright.

The four men credited with the development of the Silver Laced Wyandottes during the 1870s were H.M. Doubleday and John Ray of New York State, L. Whittaker of Michigan, and Fred Houdlette of Boston, Massachusetts. The Silver Laced Wyandotte was admitted to the American Standard of Perfection in 1883. The description of the type for this variety became the type of the other Wyandotte varieties which followed. The Silver Laced variety was a dual-purpose bird, producing brown-shelled eggs and yellow skinned meat. At the time they were exhibited and judged for type and plumage as well as egg production. Early records reveal they held their own in egg laying contests. Fred Houdlette wrote about 25 years later that the form or shape of the Wyandotte was his own idea and that he had the fight of his life to get his collaborators to agree to it.

While there were no rules on naming new breeds of fowl in the United States, most breeds are named for the locality where they originated. So there are Rhode Island Reds, Plymouth Rocks, New Hampshires, Jersey Giants and others. The Wyandotte breed name derived from a once numerous tribe of North American Indains. These Indians have a lengthy and interesting history. A few members of the Wyandotte tribe still live in Northern Oklahoma today. The logo for the Silver Wyandotte Club of America contains a drawing of an Indian tepee.

The Silver Laced Wyandotte variety is unique for its black and white color pattern of open white ovals laced with black. While the female has lacing on breast, wings, lower tail, and body plumage, the male has the lacing only on breast and under body plumage, with two rows of laced feathers across the wings. The male and female have white lacing in the hackle plumage. The male also has the white lacing in the lower tail and saddle plumage. Both male and female have solid black main tail feathers. The male also has white wing bows.

Joseph McKeen of Wisconsin was the originator of the Golden Laced Wyandotte. In 1880 he crossed Silver Laced Wyandotte females with a large "Black Red" patterned fowl called the Winnebago. The variety was admitted to the American Standard in 1888 and soon was regarded as being equal in type to the Silver Laced variety. The Golden Laced is the same pattern as the Silver Laced, with a gold oval laced in black.

The White Wyandotte is a true Wyandotte as it originated as a sport from the Silver Laced. This variety was standardized at the same date as the Golden Laced, in 1888. No single originator was credited with its development, although Fred Houdette, George Fowler and B.N. Briggs were the men chiefly associated with it. The White Wyandotte in the 1890s and early 1900s became one of the popular Wyandottes on the farm and at the poultry shows. It is a solid white color with yellow legs and beak.

The Black Wyandotte is another true Wyandotte as it, like the White, is a sport of both the Silver Laced and the Golden Laced varieties. Blacks were admitted to the American Standard in 1893. The earliest breeders were F.J. Marshall and F.M. Clemens of Ohio, who began developing them in 1885. This variety has not experienced the popularity in America that they have in England, Belgium, Holland and Germany. The Black Wyandotte is solid black in color with yellow shanks. The male has a green sheen when seen in bright sunlight.

The Buff Wyandotte was also admitted to the American Standard in 1893. In the U.S., a number of strains were developed by crossing Rhode Island Reds with Silver Laced Wyandottes, golden Laced Wyandottes with White Wyandottes, and Golden Laced Wyandottes with Buff Cochins. The most successful originator was George Brackenbury of New York. The Buff Wyandotte in the early 1900s was a popular variety of the Wyandotte family. It is a rich buff with yellow shanks. The male is somewhat brighter in buff color than the female.

The Partridge Wyandotte was orgiginated by O.E. Theim of Iowa and Joseph McKeen of Wisconsin, who crossed Indian Game, Golden Laced Wyandotte, Partridge Cochin and Winnebago. These birds became known as the "Western Strain." In New York state George Brackenbury crossed Golden Laced Wyandotte with Partridge Cochin and Golden Pencilled Hamburg to originate the "Eastern Strain." The variety was admitted to the American Standard in 1901. They were first called Golden Pencilled Wyandottes, and it would be well if this name remained as it describes the pattern of the female very fittingly. The color is dark brown except the female has the three pencilling marks on each feather of the body. The main tail feathers are black in both male and female. The male is marked as the Red Jungle fowl, only darker in color.

The Silver Pencilled Wyandotte was originated by George Brackenbury and Ezra Cornell of New York, who crossed Partridge Wyandotte males with Dark Brahma females and Silver Laced Wyandotte males with Silver Pencilled Hamburg females. They then amalgamated the results of these crosses. In 1897, Ezra Cornell wrote that the markings on his Silver Pencilled Wyandottes were superior to those of his Partridge Wyandottes. When he died in 1902 his enitre flock passed to E.G. Wyckloff of Australia. The variety was admitted to the American Standard in 1902. John Wharton of England first bred the variety to perfection. The pattern is that of the Partridge Wyandotte except the base color of the plumage is white. The female has the pencilled pattern while the male has wild Jungle Fowl plumage with white and black rather than red and black.

B. M. Briggs of Woonsocket, RI, developed the original Columbian Wyandotte in 1893. Mr. Briggs selected the name to honor the Columbian Exposition and World's Fair held in Chicago, IL, in that year. J. H. Devenstedt reported in the 1896 publication, Poultry Item, a history of the variety supplied by Mr. Briggs. "My name has always been associated with White Wyandottes, in consequence of my venture in breeding White sports from my Silver Laced variety, which appears occasionally in my broods. The rise and popularity of the White Wyandotte needs no words from me -- Nine years ago I sold a lot of White Wyandottes to an amateur fancier in Western New York who lived near me and who tried Barred Plymouth Rocks. By a mishap a cross was effected by a Barred Plymouth Rock hen and one of the White Wyandotte males, and as a result of the cross two females were hatched with clean legs, pencilled hackle and a body inclined to be white. I accepted this as a prophecy of something to come by having the general makeup of White Wyandottes with pencilled hackle and black tail, or a fowl having the color of a light Brahma and the type of the Wyandotte. I purchased these pullets, and in the following spring mated them to a fine White Wyandotte male and was pleased and encouraged by the result obtained. I could see the ideal fowl about to be realized." Mr. Briggs made it clear in his report that no Light Brahma was used in developing his stain of Columbian Wyandotte. In 1905, the year admitted to the American Standard, 115 Columbian Wyandottes were exhibited. The plumage of the Columbian Wyandotte is white lacing on black feathers of the hackle, black in the primary feathers of the wings, white lacing on black feathers in the saddle of the male, and black main tail feathers on the main tail feathers of both male and female.

The Blue Wyandotte was admitted to the American Standard in 1977. While I have found much on the development of the Blue Wyandotte bantam, I have found little documentation on the development of the large fowl Blue Wyandotte. The factor for blue plumage is found in a number of breeds, so it is a matter of crossing one of these with the Black Wyandotte to develop the blue variety. This blue is that of the Blue Andalusian, which is bluish slate with each feather having a sharply defined lacing in black.

Other varieties of Wyandotte are being developed which are not presently recognized by the American Standard. The nine varieties presented give the reader some idea of how the breed came to be and how the standard varieties were developed. What has impressed me is that while the Wyanodotte as a breed of large fowl originated in America, the breed has been accepted by breeders of other countries around the world and developed to the height of perfection. The Wyandotte large fowl and bantam are among the leading breeds exhibited today in German poultry shows.


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