Sub­texts The Last Madam: A Leg­end of the Texas Chicken Ranch by Joy Jones

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - — Jen­nifer Levin

Ranch un­dress­ing

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).

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