Rocky Jim Jr. has been an alligator wrestler for over 31 years. He learned from his father, Rocky Jim Sr., and comes from a family of alligator wrestlers: his grandfather, Bobby Tiger and his uncles, Bo Jim and Elvis “Tippy” Cypress.
Rocky dropped out of school when he was in the 6th grade and began working maintenance jobs with his father. He later worked in his brother’s workshop, and eventually began working as a handyman at the reservation.
One day, they needed an alligator wrestler for a demonstration and he jumped into the pit on an impulse, having learned from his father for years.
"A friend of mine was doing it but he had to leave. So he asked me if I wanted to do it and I said nope. Nobody knew I could even alligator wrestle. But he said, 'Come on, help us out!' I did it. Everyone was kind of surprised that I could do it, and it kinda stuck with me ever since," said Jim.
Now 44 years old, Rocky has been the premiere alligator wrestler at the Miccosukee Indian Village since he was in his 20’s. He was the featured presenter at the reservation up until a few months ago, when he was bitten by an alligator and decided to retire. He’d been bitten before, but it was this last encounter that brought him to the decision to retire after so many years.
"Common injuries are hits from the tail, bites and fingers getting jammed on the gator’s head. There’s also their claws, which they normally use for digging. Those can hurt, as well," said Jim.
He has a wealth of experience performing alligator wrestling demonstrations and has even performed traveling shows across the state. He has a variety of stunts that he demonstrates throughout the show, including his favorite, “the close shave with hand” during which he places his chin underneath the top of the alligator’s mouth while placing his hand inside. He has wrestled alligators of all kinds, and the biggest he’s wrestled was 13 feet long.
Rocky says he enjoys the opportunity to educate the public about alligators during his demonstrations and hopes to instill a sense of respect for these animals. He says that a good alligator wrestler never hurts the animal and always approaches with respect.
"It’s called 'wrestling' but we try not to be aggressive with them. It’s more like a conversation than a fight," said Jim.
This story was transcribed and summarized from an interview between Rocky Jim Jr. and the HistoryMiami South Florida Folklife Center as part of a research project exploring the question "What Makes Miami Miami?" The Florida Folklife Program, a component of the Florida Department of State's Division of Historical Resources, directed the project.
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