What is Cree Hackle
The Cree Hackle Mystery
By : Ed Gallop
A European fly tier temporarily living in Alaska introduced me to Cree hackle in 1978. It was an absolutely beautiful white, ginger/brown, and black chevron patterned feather that was rare and only available in Europe. I wanted one but couldn't justify the cost of over $200.00.
After retirement I moved back into the country in Virginia where I was raised on a farm. My memories as a youth sparked an interest in livestock which included breeding chickens. I raised Barred Rocks (grizzly), Brown Leghorns, Rhode Island Reds, Andalusians, Araucanas, and about a half dozen more species for eggs and for good fly tying hackle. I never forgot about the beautiful Cree hackle so investigated the possibility of breeding them.
My investigation started out fruitless. The experts at large egg production companies never heard of them so that was a dead end. I asked experts at genetic hackle companies (who raise feathers for fly tying) and, although they sold what they claimed was Cree, they couldn't give me the name of the species. What they had was a hybrid resulting from breeding grizzly with brown chickens. That was not the Cree I had seen long ago.
Out of frustration I contacted as many special interest breeders I could find. They bred to win ribbons at shows and several were very knowledgeable of rare breeds. I was told there is no such breed as "Cree" but there was a species in Spain called Crele with the feather pattern I described. I was given contacts for breeders in Spain because it was the only location where Crele were known to exist. Here is what I discovered.
What Is Cree Hackle?
The following is Ed's opinion based on gathered information.
It may differ from other opinions.
The word "Cree" was not derived from the Native American Cree tribe as has been speculated. It is actually a misspelling of the Spanish word, "Crele", which are pronounced very much the same.
Crele is not a species of chicken. It is a "type" of a species (sub-species) of chicken known as "Penedesencas". It's origin is western Spain and I know of no other area where the species is known to exist.
There are different types of Penedesencas: Wheaten, Black, Partridge, and Crele. As soon as I saw a picture of the Penedesencas Crele I knew instantly it was the origin of the European "Cree" hackle I had seen many years ago. The picture above isn't of very good quality but it is the only one I have available at this time.
The "Cree" hackle you find available in fly shops and catalogs are more than likely a hybrid resulting from breeding Barred Rocks (Grizzly) with Brown chickens. The results are a brown grizzly. Although not a true Cree it is called by that name. Pictured is a Whiting 100(left) and a Whiting Cree (right). I do not have a Whiting True Cree to photograph.
I personally crossbred my most beautiful Barred Rocks with my most beautiful Brown Leghorns. The results were brown grizzly but most capes and saddles were splotched with white or dark brown. It took several hundred hatchings to come up with one that was a solid color. It was a beautiful prize rooster that I named Creel. This would indicate that the quality brown grizzly known as Cree is not easy to obtain.
In order to raise the healthiest chickens possible I allowed them to free range during the day and locked them away from nocturnal predators. However, shortly before I was able to breed "Cree" to my best hens it fell victim to a day feeding fox. Only a few feathers were recovered from the area of struggle, that led a path to the edge of the forest.
For the next few days I could see the fox resting on a hill about 200 yards away in a field, in plain view of my back porch, watching over his flock of chickens. After a few attempts to get within rifle range I managed to get close enough to take him with a 22 rifle. I tied a lot of flies with it's fur but would rather have had Cree's feathers.