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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Chicken Thievery in New Gretna

I got the following email from Donald Maxwell about chicken thievery in old time New Gretna and thought I would share it with you. I was glad to hear that he got a chuckle out of last Sunday's Chicken Tattoos Blog entry. "Cackle" would have been a better description!


I couldn't help chuckling while reading about the chicken tattooing. I don't think your readers realize the chicken theivery that went on in the 30's. it wasn't uncommon for someone to report that their chickens had been stolen in the night. I know that we were one of those that had experiences with chicken theives. There were a lot of chicken yards and henhouses around New Gretna about that time. Nearly everyone kept their own chickens.

I know we were victims. One night someone got into our fatteneing pen and took out two big old hens that we were fattening up for Sunday dinner. Another time we heard a lot of chicken commotion in the back where we had the large chicken house. My brother and I slept in the back bedroom facing the chicken house so we could hear it better than the rest. My brother, Jack, loaded up his shotgun which he kept handy and fired a load out there deliberately high so as not to hit anyone. Needless to say, it alerted the whole household out of deep slumber. My dad rushed into the bedroom wanting to know what that shot was all about. We told him what we heard, so he went out with a flash light and discovered the chicken house had been broken into. He found a knife the thief had dropped plus a lot of feathers and some chicken blood.

I remember Les Allen lost his whole flock one night, some 30 some chickens including Rhode Island Reds, Wyondots, and Dominics. They were considered a very good brand. We always kept mostly leghorns with some other brands mixed in. Earl Cramer also lost a good part of his flock one night.

Les Allen
Photo courtesy of Alston and Claie Allen 

Earl Cramer and his wife, Elizabeth
Photo courtesy of Norman & Leila Cramer
A lot of people would call the State Police which mostly was a futile gesture. I remember reading, in the Tuckerton Beacon, about a chicken thief being caught in West Creek, so it wasn't just a New Gretna problem but was pretty well widespread at the time, especially during the war years.

During the war years there was hardly a family that didn't keep and raise their own chickens plus a lot of people had a hog out back of the house for their pork. They had what was known as a hog slaughtering day. We kids would gather around to watch it. It was so gory that most of us left shortly after it started. Some places wouldn't let us kids watch, as it was pretty bad, but that was a way of life then all along the South Jersey shore and inland also.

Don Maxwell

Following are a few old New Gretna chicken photos that you might enjoy. New Gretna-ites out in the Blog-O-Sphere may remember some of the people.

Pauline Berry, Bobby Quinn's mother
Photo courtesy of Bobby Quinn

Clarence Berry, Bobby Quinn's uncle
Photo courtesy of Bobby Quinn

Bucky Lamson
Photo courtesy of Betty Lamson West

(l-r) Debra, Barbara, and Marilyn West in 1962
Photo courtesy of Betty Lamson West

Pete S

PS- I couldn't help showing one of my favorite chicken jokes, courtesy of The Far Side.


  1. Did any chicken thief ever get caught-thanks to tattoos or not? ;-)
    Beverly Mathis Robinson

  2. My great-grandfather Joseph K. Mathis got the nickname Joe 'Potty' back in the 20's or 30's because he had stolen a chicken to put in his family's pot.