I Heard It at the Icehouse: The Chicken Ranch

(The Chicken Ranch whorehouse in La Grange, Texas, is so well known as a play and a movie that many people probably think it’s fictional. But it was a real place and everybody in Texas knew all about it. Even I could tell you how to get there back when I was in college, and I was the wrong gender to patronize the place and not inclined to work there. My father wrote several blog posts about it. If he ever visited the place for any non-reporting reasons, he never told me about it.)

by John M. Moore John Moore

There has been a lot of publicity about the Chicken Ranch, the country whorehouse at La Grange, including a magazine article, a play and a movie. It was the favorite destination of students from Texas A&M when the college was all male.

I first visited the Chicken Ranch a number of years ago when a murder trial was transferred from Houston to La Grange by a district judge. The sheriff was Will Loessin, a popular man who served as sheriff for 20 years. During a recess in the trial, the jurors appeared to be divided. The sheriff called us together — six journalists from the major newspapers of Texas — and told us he was going to take us on a tour of the area. The tour was a visit to the Chicken Ranch.

Those of us who made the trip included Margaret Mayer of the Austin American, Dawson Duncan of the Dallas Morning News, myself and several others. We were introduced to Miss Jessie, the madam of the whorehouse, who told us her life story. She had started out hustling in the oil boom at Longview, where she was robbed and beaten. She had been madam at the Chicken Ranch for a long time.

The sheriff bought us a round of drinks while she told her story, and about five young women, wearing shorts, joined our group. In the beginning, during the Depression, money was scarce, and the farmers brought several chickens to pay for their visit. That is where the name Chicken Ranch came from.

[Some years later] Marvin Zindler popped up. Marvin was trying to build a rep. He wrote for a newspaper and appeared on television. He also wore a large wig.

Marvin showed up at the Chicken Ranch with a camera. Things had changed. Miss Jessie was in a rest home in Austin. Sheriff Loessin had died and the new sheriff was named Flournoy. Marvin confronted Sheriff Flournoy in downtown La Grange. The sheriff jerked off [Marvin’s] wig and stomped on it and told Marvin to get out of town. What Marvin did was to go to Austin and complain to the governor.

At that time the governor was Dolph Briscoe, who did not like to rock the boat, but under this much pressure he called the sheriff and told him to close the whorehouse. The girls packed their bags and left. Marvin went on the air with his slogan, “Marvin Zindler, Eyewitness News.” You would have thought that was the end of it, but that was just the beginning.

An Austin writer wrote a magazine story entitled “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” This soon was expanded to a play which appeared on Broadway in New York. And after that was a movie.

[My wife] Marie and I were in New York so we went to see Best Little Whorehouse in Texas on Broadway. It was a good play, not entirely accurate, but amusing.

The scene I liked best was when the Texas A&M football team won a game and a wealthy alumni showed up to congratulate them. They were seated on board seats in the locker room, still wearing their uniforms and cleats. This fat cat told them he had a bus outside and as a reward was going to take them to the Chicken Ranch. The choreography was marvelous. With flashing lights, the Aggies shed their cleats and put on street clothes and ran out to board the bus in minutes.

I understand there is a movie but I have not seen it. All this is taking place after the Chicken Ranch was closed, and after A&M became coeducational. As the saying goes, don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Flashes of Illumination

Writing runs in the family, obviously. Flashes of Illumination, a collection of my short-short fiction, is now available here from Book View Cafe. This 52-story ebook collects the flash fiction I published weekly during the first year of Book View Cafe, and adds in a few later stories as well.

My novella Changeling remains available as an ebook through Book View Cafe. It’s a coming of age story.

Both books are $2.99 and available in four DRM-free formats: mobi, epub, and pdf.



I Heard It at the Icehouse: The Chicken Ranch — 4 Comments

  1. I know a man whose “first” was on a visit to the Chicken Ranch when he was at A&M. He has a memento of the place in his home, a board (as I recall) that he picked up on the property when it was being demolished.

    It’s very real, and the Broadway musical was fabulous.

  2. I wish he was still telling them. Fortunately some of them are written down and I remember a lot of others. But when I first moved back to Texas and took him on a couple of trips, I heard some new ones, and I fear there are plenty of good ones I don’t know.