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The True Story Behind The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

A question many a person who’s seen the 1982 film (or the Broadway musical) The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas has likely asked is, “Umm, okay, but is that a real place?” The answer is yes. The movie, starring Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds, is based on the very real Chicken Ranch in La Grange, Texas. The Chicken Ranch was a mainstay in tiny little La Grange until it closed in 1973. (Yeah, Nine. Teen. Seventy. Three. This was not an old cowboy hangout. It probably existed at the same time you did.)

A charcoal drawing of Bonnie and Clyde at The Chicken Ranch by Houston artist Al Bates.

So what’s the story behind this piece of Texas history? It’s a pretty fascinating one. In 1905, Miss Jessie Williams moved from Waco to La Grange. By 1915, she had a full-fledged escort service up and running. It turns out the, um, services her establishment provided were quite durable in standing up to the times. The brothel survived prohibition and even the Great Depression. It wasn’t until after the stock market crashed that the Chicken Ranch got its name. Needing a way to keep customers in the door in tight times, Miss Jessie decided the brothel would take chickens as payment. Seriously. Soon the brothel and the land surrounding it were covered in chickens, and the establishment got its name… read more >

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