Subtexts The Last Madam: A Legend of the Texas Chicken Ranch by Joy Jones
The Chicken Ranch was a brothel in La Grange, Texas, that opened in 1905 and closed in 1973. It was tolerated by local law enforcement for decades because the women who worked there did not drink or get rowdy, and they were also happy to pass on tips about their customers’ criminal activities to the cops. The Chicken Ranch — the basis for the 1978 Broadway musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and the 1982 film adaptation starring Dolly Parton — earned its name during the Great Depression, when food and money were so scarce that the madam, Miss Jessie Williams, charged one chicken per sexual act. In 1952, a plucky young prostitute named Edna Milton took over management of the Chicken Ranch and quickly turned a tidy profit. In the 1960s her employees earned $300 a week — which, adjusted for inflation, is about $2,300. Milton encouraged the women to develop some special sensuous frills, because ordinary girls were becoming sexually active outside of marriage, and the Chicken Ranch had to offer a little something extra.
Texas native Joy Jones has penned The Last Madam: A Legend of the Texas Chicken Ranch (Treaty Oaks Publishers, 2016), a voice-driven historical novel about the life and times of Milton, beginning with her rape, at age ten, at the hands of her uncle. At sixteen, Milton’s brother marries her off to an abusive man in California, but she makes her way to Texas and starts working for Miss Jessie. Jones imagines Milton as an intelligent and resourceful product of her time, rendering her alternately endearing and ignorant as she learns to make her way in the world. Jones reads from The Last Madam at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 6, at Collected Works Bookstore (202 Galisteo St., 505-988-4226).