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They Shoe Horses, Don't They?

A Visit to the Chicken Ranch

by Lois Zook Wauson
We decided to visit the site of the famous Chicken Ranch in La Grange Texas. It had been a well known brothel and it was known as the "Chicken Ranch" to give it an alias, I think.

We were just sightseeing that day. We meant no harm. We were on our way from Hurst in North Texas to San Antonio to take my mother and daddy home. They had been visiting us that week. We had been driving for some time and had finally found "the ranch" that warm day back in 1974. We had driven down County Road 130 to get to the notorious place.

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 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 for services. The girls had fried chicken every day to eat. There was a large chicken pen visible in the side yard that held 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 in Fayette County knew where it was and what it was.

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 naÔve country girl from Wilson County. I had to see for myself this so-called Chicken Ranch. So that's why were in La Grange that day in 1974.

The Chicken Ranch had 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 and Daddy 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!"

We left in a cloud of dust and I was still trembling miles down the road. But 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
"They shoe horses, don't they?" October 25, 2015 Guest Column


See also
La Grangeís Chicken Ranch by Mike Cox

Related Topics:
Texas Towns | People | Columns | Texas |
Lois Zook Wauson's book "Rainy Days and Starry Nights' (2004) is a collection of her stories about growing up in South Texas during the 1930s and 40s.
See Floresville, Texas

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