Stephen F. Austin State University

Clucking Heard 'Round the City - Part III - Wars, Wars, and more Wars (December 2012)

Clucking Heard 'Round the City - Part III - Wars, Wars, and more Wars
By Marvin Mayer

World War I indirectly revived the "restrain the chickens" battle. Charles Peck organized the National War Garden Commission in March, 1917, and launched the war garden campaign to increase food production. As garden planting season approached in February, 1918, the City Council finally acted on the Chicken Ordinance, proposing that "the running at large of chickens and other domestic fowls is a public nuisance," and persons convicted for allowing chickens to run at large would be subject to a fine not exceeding $25. A victory for the "freckled -faced women" mentioned earlier? Perhaps the battle had been won, but the war raged on.

"A Voter" promptly wrote in to the Tyler paper, charging the ordinance retarded food production and was undemocratic. "I believe the greatest service that can be rendered by the citizenship of our country is in an effort to win the war, and I think the only method is strict democratic principles. Now, as I see it, those principles are based on the wishes of the majority of the people. As I see this chicken ordinance, it is altogether a one-sided affair because it pleases about ten percent of the people and is a detriment to the other ninety." He continued, "I can't see where our boys in France, or our sick in Tyler, will derive any benefit out of the production of flowers. As I see it, this ordinance originated from the agitation against chickens for the sole purpose of protecting flowers. The majority of the people who have garden spots have them fenced; also, many people who have gardens have chickens, too. We read every day that anyone that interfered with production in any form is interfering with the prosecution of the war. Therefore, if my chickens interfere with my neighbor's garden, he has a perfect right under the law to kill them, brand me as a traitor to my country, and I should be tried in the courts as such. So let's stop legislating against production, and put our shoulder to the wheel, win this war, and down Kaiserism. Let the chickens go; make gardens; put our time in doing something for humanity. Let us get together and ask the City Authorities, in their law making, to eliminate everything that will retard production, and give us the right to grow chickens and a pig." He ended his letter-to-the-editor with this olive branch; "Now Dear Editor, these are only my personal views and ideas of Democracy versus Kaiserism. Yours truly, for more chickens and eggs, gardens and flowers."

Compelling arguments some may say, but they didn't sway the councilmen. The so-called "Chicken Ordinance" was passed March 1, 1918 with the council citing its position, "The present emergency and crisis confronted by our government make it necessary that the conservation of food products be encouraged and protected." It added "The growth, cultivation and the production of food products in gardens materially augments the supply of foods." Then apparently addressing the core of the problem, concluded its explanation, "the cultivation of gardens in this city is not engaged in by its inhabitants to the extent that should be, because chickens and other domestic fowls are permitted to run at large and, as a consequence, to destroy the same." (emphasis added.)
One would think the issue was settled, but the battle was far from over.

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.