Chickens ruled the roost near turn of the century
Frontier Historical Society
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
“It is just as dishonest to steal the fruits of your neighbor’s enterprise as to steal his fuel or chickens.”
– Rocky Mountain Sun, Aspen, Dec. 3, 1881
A little yellow-legged hen strolled from yard to yard on Colorado Avenue in the summer of 1911. For many residents of Glenwood Springs, this sight was as common as the sun rising in the east each day.
History does not record who brought the first chicken to Glenwood Springs. However, with the coming of settlement to the frontier, the demand for eggs and meat was great. With few convenient grocery stores and refrigeration nonexistent, residents were self-sufficient, relying on their own backyards to produce food. A coop of chickens was sometimes included to fill the nutritional needs of a household.
By the late 1890s, newspapers were filled with advice on how to raise a successful flock of chickens for profit. The Garden and Ranch column in the Glenwood Post and Weekly Ledger newspaper of March 27, 1897, dedicated its entire space to the “hard but rewarding work” of chicken husbandry.
The columnist provided details on the proportion of roosters to hens needed for a successful flock, proper food, the construction of nesting boxes and coops, the rearing of chicks and lice control. The weekly column also provided prices for various local agricultural commodities including eggs.
Those who raised chickens for their own use soon discovered that predators occasionally raided flocks.
In June 1890, employees of Carbondale’s Avalanche newspaper noted that bold hawks had swooped down upon a brood of chickens behind the newspaper’s office, killing one and injuring many others. In 1898, Mrs. William Cardnell of Glenwood Springs, mystified by the disappearance of her chickens, baited a carcass with poison. She later found a dead owl, which she declared the culprit.
As the 19th century closed, the Glenwood Post proclaimed Glenwood Springs an open field for chicken farming. By 1905, a commercial chicken-raising enterprise, to be located near the Glenwood Hot Springs and utilizing the heat of the water for incubation, was proposed. The business did not receive support.
This brings us back to August 1911 and the yellow-legged hen. This free range bird happily roamed from yard to yard, until her ownership became disputed by two neighbors, Mrs. Swartzman and Mrs. Scroggins. With the fight over the fowl becoming heated, the women sued each other for ownership.
Due to the pending legal action, Justice of the Peace Charles White ordered the bird placed in the custody of Constable Hopkins until the matter could be heard in his court. As the days passed, the suits became the subject of jokes, which only became heightened when Constable Hopkins requested compensation of $2.50 per day for each day he had charge of the hen – a charge allowed by law under “custodian of property in litigation.”
White’s decision was never published, but the Avalanche newspaper stated, “When all is cleared, expenses of suits are paid, this yellow hen will be the most valuable in the world.”
As the 20th century progressed, consumers moved toward the convenience of supermarkets and away from their own food production.
What has not changed for those who wish to reconnect to their food sources is the hard but rewarding work of raising chickens.
Willa Kane is former archivist of and a current volunteer with the Frontier Historical Society and Museum. “Frontier Diary,” which appears the first Tuesday of every month, is provided to the Post Independent by the museum, 1001 Colorado Ave., Glenwood Springs. Fall, winter and spring hours are 1-4 p.m. Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. For more information, call 945-4448.
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