June 15th, 2006 by The Lexington Herald-Leader
DSTEPHENSON@HERALD-LEADER.COM
AWILSON1@HERALD-LEADER.COM

The uncertain boundaries of the town seem to be anything that rises up above the bottomland. Stand at the low point of the road. The half-mile length of Ky. 78 with the six houses sprinkled roadside -- that's Chicken Bristle. That hill over there, just past the A.M.E. church, that's not Chicken Bristle. The folks who live in the house near Murphy Road and before the railroad tracks, they're not Chicken Bristle either.

The uncertain population of town is something like 10, give or take.

The religion is either African Methodist Episcopal or Baptist. The churches take turns alternating services so that the church looks fuller on any given Sunday.

At one time, black farmers owned every piece of land down here, says Eugene Jones, who has spent all of his 82 years in Chicken Bristle, except those few he spent in the South Pacific serving his country.

"We got at this house when my wife was carrying one and one was just walking."

His mother lived next door. His great-granddaddy is buried close by. He says he's proud that his 23 acres have been in the hands of a black man since the Civil War. He has no need to sell now either.

The land will go to his son, Larry, a natural-born farmer.

Traditions matter.

Up on the ridge, Dwight and Tammy Gillock note that the folks of Chicken Bristle are a tight bunch.

"They mow each other's yards," says Dwight. "They garden together. They don't ask for help but we go down when the creek floods or a barn's on fire."

You have to. It's 3 miles to Hustonville and a full 6 miles to Stanford, and sometimes barns can't wait for proper firefighting.

Of course, disasters do tend to reveal things to neighbors in the outskirts. Like the time the creek rose into Miss Mattie Bell's chicken coop and folks gathered to help her save her chickens. After the chickens were passed hand to hand safely out of the coop, cases of liquor and beer came down the assembly line of safety.

Miss Mattie Bell was a bootlegger -- no one in town argues with that assessment -- which explains why traffic in Chicken Bristle has died down some since she passed.

The Gillocks say they don't know much about the history down there but they do have a soft spot for one house in town where Miss Jane McKinney is buried. Rumor has it, says Dwight, that Miss Jane was caught in flagrante delicto and was shot while she lay. Now she's buried by herself out back while everybody else named McKinney who died thereabouts is buried together out front.

Nobody in town knows how the town got its name. Some folks, through time, have insisted it be called Turnersville but you walk up to the Jones front door and ask Eugene where Chicken Bristle is and he says, "Right here."

Dallas McCowan owns up to it, too. He sits on the porch of the house he was born in some 59 years ago. "Hit the floor by the bed and was picked up by my aunt, been spoiling me ever since," he says.

He says he doesn't much like cities. "Neighbors don't know their neighbors," he says.

He can't say who exactly is in charge of Chicken Bristle but guesses, if he has to, that it'd be "Nell Davis, up there (he points west and a little high), we let her think she's the mayor."

Of course, there's also Mrs. Douglas McKinney, who is 101, and there's "a lady at the Methodists," who is 95. Sad to say, the folks of Chicken Bristle buried the last Hun family member last Monday. Nobody says it out loud but it's a town with no children and an uncertain future.

"I'm satisfied," says Mr. Jones, who sits most mornings shaded by a huge maple, planted as a seedling by his wife.

He mentions the one-room schoolhouse where the soup was set to warming every morning in winter. It was there where the store now stands abandoned and forlorn.

"All us kids were the happiest poor children you ever saw in your life," Jones says. "A lot have gone on to glory."
He smiles. "I ain't too far off."

The Lord knows where to find him. On Ky. 78, in the bottomland, where the train whistles barely drown out the sound of a thousand birds.
He's the one with the really low blood pressure.

3 Responses to “Chicken Bristle: Six houses and a state of mind”

  1. I was surprised and so glad to find this site.I have always been curious about Chicken Bristle ever since I first heard of it, many years ago. My father, b. 1909, said he used to visit his grandparents there. I have been there once a few years ago. Now I am on a quest to find out which grandparents lived there. The names of 2 possible families are: Jeremiah M Baker (a Civil War veteran), and Francis Marion and Sarah Howe. It is possibly Baugh, though the first two are the most likely. My great grandfather Jeremiah had a sawmill in Liberty. He married Emily Baugh of Highland.
    On the census records, places are identified by district, so it is difficult for me to figure out what district Chicken Bristle is in.
    If anyone can help shed some light on this for me , I would appreciate it.
    Carolyn

  2. I went to Chicken Bristle once, and it was closed!

  3. I grew up near Chicken Bristle in the 1950’s. I was delighted to see this article and the photos.