Sunday, September 15, 2013

Cows, Hogs, and Chickens in Munichburg

In the good ol’ days, folks in Munichburg (Jefferson City’s Southside) kept barnyard animals on their properties. In those days, all families had vegetable gardens for their food supply, and more than a few raised animals for food. A property was like a mini-farm.

For a long while, well into the twentieth century, animals were given free rein to roam. Folks had to put up fences to keep roaming animals off their properties and out of their gardens. That’s why you see such a huge network of fencing in old photographs. Today those fences are gone, and when people put up fences today, they’re to keep other people out.

Hogs roamed all over town in the nineteenth century. In 1873 it was reported that “cattle graze and hogs root in the City Cemetery upon the graves,” though the neighboring National Cemetery, well protected by a stone wall, was free from roaming animals. Newspaper articles were still calling in 1919 for hogs to be controlled in Jefferson City.

Cows could also roam about. The congregation of Central Evangelical Church gathered outside its church one Sunday morning in February 1891 after worship service for a congregational photo.

In that sharp photo taken by professional photographer Carl Deeg, a cow is standing just behind the congregation in the middle of muddy Ashley Street, looking straight at the camera. A roving critter to be sure. It seemed to be saying, “Just what do you people think you’re doing, invading my territory?”

In the early 1900s, residents kept a cow in order to have fresh milk in those days before refrigeration. My mother related that, as a young girl, her parents would send her the four blocks over to Mulberry and Atchison to get a bucket of milk from Mr. Petry, who kept cows.

When I was a young boy around 1940, Affolter’s pasture occupied the hillside from the end of Broadway (where four-lane US 54 now crosses over it) up to Swift’s Highway and included the site of today’s South School and Pamela Street. Grandpa led me through the cow pasture on our trips to visit his old German friends on Swifts Highway. Dozens of cows grazed that hillside.

People kept horses, too. Before cars, horse-drawn wagons and carriages were the way to get around. If you had a carriage, you probably had a horse and stable in the back of your property on the alley, or else you had to rent one from the several neighborhood liveries. When a horse- or mule-drawn wagon came by our house on Broadway, Grandpa was quick with his shovel to go out and scoop up droppings for manure for his garden. Until motor vehicles took over in the 1920s, businesses had hitching posts and horse-watering troughs in front of them. Today we feed parking meters in front of stores instead of horses.

Every week a buggy or wagon accident occurred and made the newspaper. The corner of Jefferson and Atchison had more than its share. In October 1906, two women in a buggy collided with another there. “Both women were flung and the hardly three month old child of one fell between the spokes of a front wheel. Fortunately the horse was steady and remained in place, otherwise the baby would have been slit to death.” At that same corner, farmer Ulrich Zehender, standing alongside his wagon, slipped and fell and was run over by his own wagon. And on the adjacent Jefferson Street hill, in front of what is now the Salvation Army, a team of horses bolted, causing a woman to fall backward out of the wagon. Her head struck a rock, “causing the blood to flow freely.” One day in 1916, thunder spooked the horses of Crandell’s ice cream wagon, and they ran away. Crandell was heavily bruised, but no ice cream was lost. These wagon and buggy accidents of the past have been replaced by car accidents today.

In 1915, the newspaper reported that a band of gypsies had moved onto the low ground along Wears Creek at Washington Park. “The gypsies turned their horses and cattle loose and permitted them to roam about the country. Residents complained that the stock was devastating their gardens. The protest had little effect upon the gypsies, who in effect told them to go jump in the creek.”

Some folks, like the Pash family on West Atchison, raised pigeons in dovecotes. From what I hear, boys raised these for “homing pigeons,” but it is likely that some were eaten, if the tastes of the family were such. Likewise, some families raised rabbits in hutches. Of course, men would still go rabbit hunting out in the country, but domestic rabbits didn’t have the “wild” taste, and they were there to butcher whenever you wanted. Our neighbors raised white rabbits during the hard years of the Great Depression. They also raised chinchilla rabbits for their valued fur, which they shipped by rail to fur markets in the big cities. In those days, people out of work did not get unemployment checks, so they had to be resourceful in finding ways to make money.

Apparently no one raised turkeys. Turkeys are an American bird and not part of the customary diet handed down from German immigrants. Nevertheless, it was common in the few days before Christmas for grocers to give away fresh-killed turkeys to shoppers. A news item in 1912 reported that “thirty-five turkeys are to be given away at the Southside pool hall Wednesday night.” That pool hall must have been busy that evening! Even barbershops got in on the turkey promotional giveaways.

Geese seldom appear in the records. “Goose Bottom,” the name used for the low ground around the junction of the west and east branches with the main Wears Creek (the area around the present junction of Missouri Boulevard with Highway 50/63) either got its name very early from wild geese there, or later from geese being raised there by someone. Max Baer (no relation to the boxer or to his actor son), who had a junkyard at Broadway and Miller, advertised for goose feathers. Someone was raising geese.

Chickens were everywhere. Roosters came with them, and their cock-a-doodle-doo’s crowed out at the crack of dawn across Munichburg. Of course, everyone was already awake by then. In fact, in summer housewives generally already had done their three loads of wash, put it through the ringer, and hung it out on clotheslines by seven o’clock to avoid the heat of the day. Today, roosters have been replaced by alarm clocks.

Hungry folks and rascals stole chickens. Hardly a week went by without some family reporting chickens stolen in the Southside, and the thieves were hardly ever caught. Since dogs roamed also, chickens were lost during the night to hungry dogs.

Chickens were kept in fenced pens and coops. If the property was large enough, a couple dozen could be kept this way, providing eggs as well. Others kept just a few chickens in small cages for shorter times. The space under the back porch served this purpose. Today, many people don’t have back porches.

By time the 1920s came, families began to have iceboxes and refrigeration, so that keeping chickens was dispensed with and replaced by a short trip to buy fresh meat from Hott & Asel’s butcher shop or one of the chain groceries that were moving in. But when the hard times of the Great Depression hit in the 1930s, which were then followed by the frugal years of World War II, families returned to keeping chickens along with their “victory gardens.”

We kept a few chickens in a chicken-wire cage behind our garage on Elm Street. My brother and I took care of them. When it was time to kill one for Sunday dinner, Dad grabbed a fat hen, took it to the gravel driveway under the purple martin box, put the hen on a wooden chopping block, and whacked off its head with one blow from an axe. The martins would go crazy and dive-bomb us (we thought in terms of planes fighting in the war going on). Sometimes Dad wrung the hen’s neck: He grabbed the hen by its head and whirled it around his head several times until the head twisted off and the body sailed off onto the gravel. I watched the headless body flop around for a couple of minutes, spewing off blood in all directions. It was great excitement! Then it was Mom’s job to dunk the critter into hot water and begin plucking the feathers, cutting it up, and getting it ready to fry for dinner. We ate every bit of it, except the head and feet. Dinner doesn’t come any fresher than that! Today we buy processed foods instead of eating our home-grown vegetables and chickens.