Stephen F. Austin State University

Clucking Heard 'Round the City - Part II - The Battle Rages on via Letters to the Editor (November 2012)

The Clucking Heard 'Round the City - Part 2 - The Battle Rages on via Letters to the Editor
By Marvin Mayer

It didn't take long for the "opposition" to respond. One respondent wrote "… they have voted out the saloons so we can't drink; they've voted out the pool halls so we can't play pool; they won't let us spit on the sidewalk and they even send an officer down to our homes to make us clean up whether we want to be clean or not; they won't let us keep a hog within a mile of the court house and now they want to make us shut up the chickens. A man don't have any liberties at all any more."

The battle raged on. On both sides of the issue, emotions ran high. Tyler's Woman's Progressive Association issued a statement its members unanimously endorsed. "Unless an ordinance be passed to the effect that all chickens must be confined to the owners' own premises, no attempt to beautify the town can possibly be successful."

Shortly thereafter, Judge Waldon Beaird offered the following suggestion relative to the chicken freedom question. "All married women, widows and others over 21 years of age should be allowed to vote. Women should hold the election, and no men be allowed to have anything to do with it," explaining his position this way: "Men do not raise the chickens nor the flowers, and therefore are not entitled to have any part in the disposition of them." In view of the fact that women didn't win the right to vote publicly on anything until 1918, this was a radical position to hold. Perhaps that's why the 'women only' election didn't happen.

The power of the press couldn't have been more evident. A man calling himself "Free Rooster" submitted an article titled "The Other Side." He wrote, "Are the people of Tyler going to be so foolish as to surrender up their last rights just to gratify some little freckle faced woman who has nothing to do but get in an automobile and fly through the wind while her hundreds of humble sisters in this town are struggling with the present high cost of living to feed her children and self, and as for East Tyler we will say that we intend to fight for Polly and her babies' right to a finish, and that her chickens shall not be put up to gratify her freckle faced sister who has no babies to feed and who is too busy with high society to raise a few kinds. And as to the few flowers the old hen and her babies scratch up they are nothing as to compare to the good eating that comes from old domaneck to nine little hungry waifs of the average poor man's family of Tyler and are you going to take the last luscious mouthful from these poor folks' children just to gratify the little freckle-faced woman who has only three pots of flowers and is too fussy to get along with herself, let alone her neighbors." (Hmmm. Sounds like chauvinism and a bit of class warfare to me!)

The war of words continued in newspaper articles and counter articles. In an attempt to bring the matter to a head, a petition was drafted and presented to local government, identifying the problem thusly: "We, the undersigned citizens of Tyler, respectfully petition your honorable body, the mayor and city council, to pass an ordinance to take effect within ten days after passage, confining all domestic fowls to the owner's premises, within a mile of the square, with proper penalties for failure to comply therewith." The petition garnered signatures of 375 residents - both men and women - and was presented to the City Council May 1, 1912. The proposal basically was ignored.

Three years later, the topic again surfaced and again died. In 1916, The Stroller was asked to champion the debate again, but he declined. While he sympathized with the concept of animal regulation, he stated he would not continue to the chicken fight. It appeared that the fight to restrain chickens was over, and the ladies of Tyler had lost. But all was not lost! Tyler's chicken's feathers were being ruffled by events in Europe.

To be continued …

The author acknowledges the contribution of Smith County Historical Society member, Vicki Betts, who not only did all of the research relative to the newspaper articles, but willingly allowed me to use her script from a presentation to Smith County Historical Society titled "The Great Chicken Wars of Tyler" as the basis for this series of articles.