losing population, according to the popu lation research center at the University of Texas comparing 1967 estimates with the 1960 census. The losses in all cases added 305,055 persons, to total 1,424,315. were slight. Houston has grown by 352,The largest percentage increases were 933 since 1960, to 1,771,256; Dallas has Dallas’ 3.4% and Houston’s 3.2%. The Chicken Ranch La Grange Going north, State Highway 71 begins at Palacios, on the coast, pauses at Blessing, then takes off for the hills where it’s famous. It’s called the “Texas Hill Country Trail” north and west of Austin and it gets attention from land speculators, tourists, reporters, and the state highway department as it travels through the heart of Lyndon Land. To the south, between Austin and Columbus, 71 is being replaced by a superhighway, and to assuage the fears of folks along the old road, it has been designated part of the stuff of history. Blue and white signs with an upraised arm and rifle, calling the highway the “Texas Independence Trail,” mark the route. This ought to amuse at least two generations of Texas menfolk. For them, Highway 71 has been part of the history of stuff; their favorite spot on the road has been an obscure turnoff, just south of La Grange. About a quarter-mile east of the main road, at the end of a dirt and gravel lane, in the middle of a cow pasture surrounded by pin oaks and willows, is the Chicken Ranch the oldest established continuously operating non-floating whorehouse in Texasmaybe the nation. It would not be good to be more specific about its location. The law knows where it is, but believes there is no sense killing a good thing. Besides, any freshman at Texas A&M, the University of Texas, or the Texas legislature who gets money from home, or elsewhere, can find out where it’s at. The dirt road, which is posted \(“Bad and looked after by helpful Fayette county officials, leads only to the Chicken Ranch. And when one drives up for the first time, there is no mistaking what it is. In the sultry heat of a Texas summer night, shiny cars surround the house and wait in the darkness. The only sound is the loud whisper of a dozen air conditioners in the louvered windows of a dozen rooms. The house, a one-story, white, clapboard building, is rambling and jerrybuilt because a room at a time has been added over the years as business increased. There was, incidentally, no interruption in the commerce within during construction; indeed, the carpenters often enjoyed long afternoon breaks, which diminished their hourly wages. A gravel area surrounds the house for the sporty, late-model cars of the girls around back, and in the front the pickup The writer is a Washington correspondent for Knight newspapers who formerly ivas with the Houston Chronicle. 8 The Texas Observer trucks and rented cars of the day customers, and the collegiate Volkswagens and executive Pontiacs of the night trade. Over the screened front door is a yellow light, to keep bugs away. Arrayed around the house are spotlights to discourage burglars, peeping toms, and assorted oth Saul Friedman er trouble makers. During the busy nighttime hours on Fridays and Saturdays a local, off-duty law officer is hired to patrol the area against drunks or unruly students, for the Chicken Ranch is anxious to protect its long reputation for being peaceful and law-abiding prostitution aside, naturally. THERE IS a reason its customers, law officers, politicians, .and even the folks in Fayette county protect the Chicken Ranch. It’s a throwback, the last of the old time houses of pleasure which used to spice the life of Texas. In Houston there was a place where the madam kept the girls honest by counting towels. In Bell county there was a house in the country which the district attorney and most of his cronies visited until one’day when he appeared sheepishly and reluctantly at the front door, having been forced by some churchwomen to lead a raid. “Not now, George!” the owner of the establishedment hollered from inside. “The law has got me surrounded.” And of course, Hattie Valdez’ place in Austin was one of the busiest spots in town during a session of the legislature. It was destroyed by fire a few years ago and all that was left standing was the chimney. There are still places in Galveston and Sealy and other parts of the state, but they get closed now and again as reform movements and new police officers come and go. In the big cities there are few, if any houses now. Hookers, some of them dope addicts, most of them working for pimps, hustle on the streets or in hotels. More respectable looking girls work as stenographers or behind counters during the day and answer calls at night. But the girls on the streets and the call girls prices are too steep for the student, the farmer, or the drummer without an expense account. The Chicken Ranch has always been priced just right for the more plebeian trade, and with its seclusion, its homelike comforts, its carefully screened girls, and its reputation for staying out of trouble, it has remained in business for nearly 55 years. \(That’s not old, as Texas businesses go; the Dallas Morning News, es tablished in 1842, calls itself the state’s was opened by two sisters who had made a modest bundle among the roughnecks and wildcatters around Beaumont after the turn of the century when the Spindletop oil boom began, then decided to settle down and let the business come to them. They picked their spot south of La Grange, in the hills above the Colorado river, because it was secluded, yet not far from the colleges and large cities, and on the way to the state capital, where every business and political hustler had to come. After a few years one of the sisters left to get married and the other, whom we shall call Miss Sarah, owned it until a few years ago when she died in her eighties. Before prohibition Miss Sarah’s place was a rough and Texian version of the more classic houses of the evening in New Orleans. There were drinks and dancing to the latest music in the big front parlor of the house, and there was no pressure on the girls or the customers to get their business done and the money paid. Prohibition in Texas took some of the romance and fantasy from Miss Sarah’s and made it more mercenary. She used to remember how she laughed when the Fayette county sheriff came to see her one day. “Miss Sarah,” he told her gravely, “I don’t like it any more than you do. But the drinkin’ has just got to stop.” IT WAS A MEASURE of the crazy contradictions Miss Sarah encountered in the area around La Grange. It was a strange place to open a whorehouse. Most of the farmers, ranchers, and merchants thereabouts come from German or Slavic stock religious, prudish, conservative, strict. And yet they’ve never seriously bothered the Chicken Ranch or the girls who come in to town to do a little shopping. The women must know their menfolk visit the house and even take their sons there the first time to teach them. And the townspeople must know that many travelers hear of La Grange and come through it only because of the Chicken Ranch. Maybe it’s allowed to exist because of the little commerce it brings the town. Or because it’s a way to keep ’em down on the farm. Or because the American puritan is unconcerned with sin which falls in some distant forest and cannot be heard. Once a new woman in town heard about the Ranch and decided she would see it closed. She went to the sheriff, who told her it was the first he’d heard of it and he would sure check on it and if it was true, what she heard, he would
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