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A visit to the Chicken Ranch
The Chicken Ranch as it looked the day we got run off with a shotgun
Rainy Days and Starry NightsOctober 23, 2013 3,164 views 5 comments
We were just sightseeing on the Chicken Ranch. We meant no harm. We were on our way from Hurst in North Texas to San Antonio to take my mother and daddy home, who had been visiting us that week.
We had been driving and had finally found the Chicken Ranch in Fayette County near La Grange on that warm spring day in 1974. We had driven down C.R. 130 to get to the notorious Chicken Ranch. Interested in history like my daddy and I were, we wanted to see this famous place.
You may ask, famous? Why? Did they raise chickens on the ranch? Well, no, but they had lots of chickens and they ate them. The Chicken Ranch was a typical Texas farmhouse with whitewashed siding and some outbuildings. But it started as a “business” that was known as a brothel in the town of La Grange in the early 1900s.
It quickly became known as a nice place that catered to politicians and lawmen and didn’t serve drunkards. But when people started complaining that it tarnished the moral ambience of the town, the madam bought 10 acres outside of La Grange, which had a farmhouse on it. As business expanded she added more rooms and finally it was a large rambling white farmhouse with 14 bedrooms. The entrance was at the back of the house. There was not a sign or any light to designate that it was none other but a rambling farmhouse.
The brothel got that name because during the Depression the men didn’t have money to pay so they would bring a chicken that would be their way of paying, and the girls had fried chicken every day to eat. There was a large chicken pen in the side yard that you could see, with lots of chickens.
The madam passed away in 196l. One of the girls bought the ranch from her and renamed it Edna’s Fashionable Ranch Boarding House. That was how she advertised the business. But it didn’t have a sign on the place anywhere. But evidently everybody knew where it was and what it was, in Fayette County.
In 1973 we had heard on the news that a Houston television reporter, acting on an anonymous tip, had begun an investigation into the Chicken Ranch. After a very brief investigation, the ranch was shut down for good. It made the news all over Texas. I was surprised to hear this place existed. After all, I was a naïve country girl from Wilson County. I had to see for myself this so-called Chicken Ranch!
So that’s why we were in La Grange that day in 1974. The Chicken Ranch had been closed a few months before. When we finally found the place, we could see the house from the road, but saw a lane going up to the house. The place looked deserted. No cars, men, chickens, girls, or dogs. I talked my husband into driving up the road to the house. We were about 50 yards from the house and he stopped with the car idling. My mother and I always took pictures of everything when we went anywhere. So we told Eddie to wait in the car, as we wanted to get out to take a good picture of the place. I was on one side of the car near the front and Mother was on the other side. We began snapping pictures.
Suddenly a man came out of the house, and pointed a monstrous shotgun at us! (Well, it seemed huge to me!) He shouted, “Get off this property right now! Get out!” He kept yelling at us and pointing that gun, so Mother and I scrambled back in the car as I shouted to Eddie, “Get out of here now! He’s gonna kill us!”
I was still trembling miles down the road as we left in a cloud of dust. But then we laughed over the memory for years as we reminisced about the trip to the Chicken Ranch. Isn’t there a saying, “Curiosity killed the cat”? Well, I felt like a curious cat that day.
Lois Zook Wauson is the oldest of eight children who grew up on a farm in Wilson County in the mid-20th century. After many years living in other parts of Texas, she now lives and writes in Floresville. Her two books are available from the Wilson County News office. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The Marcelina Muse
Dry Tank, TX
October 24, 2013 1:24pm
4 th Generation Texan
October 24, 2013 9:25am
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