Friday, March 27, 2015

Chicken Ranch anniversary: Miss Jessie (1885-1952)

On this date in 1952, Faye Stewart, otherwise known as Jessie Williams or simply "Miss Jessie," passed away at the age of 67 in San Antonio, just a couple of months after selling the infamous Chicken Ranch brothel in La Grange to Edna Milton. Her sister-in-law, Eddie Ledda Moody, traveled from McLennan County to oversee Miss Jessie’s burial in Sunset Memorial Park. I still have not obtained any photographs of the lady, although I know they exist. If anyone can help a guy out, I'd be grateful!

So, that photo above. This is indeed a thing. When The Wife brought it home, my eyes just about popped out. One dozen eggs from the "Texas Chicken Ranch," otherwise known as "The best little henhouse..." Wow. This is not something that just happened. Reading the fine print, I quickly discovered that these eggs were packaged for H-E-B, the ever-expanding Texas grocery chain. This, friends, means two things: 1) Texas Chicken Ranch eggs will soon be available all over the state, if they aren't already, and 2) H-E-B knew exactly what it was doing when it staked it's claim to the "Texas Chicken Ranch" label. The infamous brothel has now passed from myth, on through legend and directly into the fabric of Texas history, where it has become a family-friendly double-entendre, not unlike the adult jokes Warner Brothers peppered throughout the old Looney Tunes cartoons.

This goes directly back to a conversation I had following my presentation to the La Grange Lions Club. One attendee asked me what they should say when certain members of the community come down hard against acknowledging the Chicken Ranch, or using it in any way to promote La Grange. I answered that the Chicken Ranch was very much a part of Texas history and not just limited to La Grange or Fayette County. I would argue that the Chicken Ranch is actually more significant to Texas history, because the brothel's closure in 1973 marks a very real symbolic break between the rural, agrarian Texas and the modern, metropolitan state. That no matter how much some people in La Grange want to pretend it never existed, the rest of the state will never allow that to happen. H-E-B's Texas Chicken Ranch eggs is emblematic of that truth.

Look, I said. The next time someone makes the argument that La Grange is wrong to acknowledge the Chicken Ranch, ask them this: What is worse? The Chicken Ranch or the JFK assassination?

Dallas has a museum on the sixth floor of the former Texas Schoolbook Depository. Does this glorify, condone, endorse or encourage the shooting of national leaders?

The story of La Grange is the story of Texas. If they ever want that story known by a larger audience, they need to seriously embrace the Chicken Ranch's place therein. It's a shame the city hasn't done so already.

Now Playing: Stevie Ray Vaughan Live at Carnegie Hall
Chicken Ranch Central

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