Friday, March 13, 2009

The evolution of anti-chicken ordinances in Mankato

Dan Linehan has written in the Mankato Free Press a fascinating account of the evolution of ordinances regulating animals in the city of Mankato, Minnesota.

Of all the news stories I've read about the issue of chickens in the city, Linehan's goes the deepest into exactly how the anti-chicken laws got on the books in the first place.

As you can imagine, things were mighty different back in the early 1900s anywhere outside of a major metropolis. There was much more of a live-and-let-live attitude to keeping all manner of "barnyard animals" in the backyard: people really were growing their own food.

Linehan relates:
Before Mankatoans developed urban sensibilities, they co-existed with horses, cows, poultry and even hogs — sometimes to hilarious effect. After a proposal to legalize chickens in the city was set aside recently by the City Council, people on both sides of the issue gave accounts of a time when people shared Mankato with their animals.

Take the account of Mr. C. A. Chapman, a founding member of the Blue Earth County Historical Society. The account, provided by the historical society, describes a contest in about 1919 to decide whether hogs would be able to run free through the city.

“Some of the more easygoing residents thought this was all right” while others said pigs “were not dignified animals to have running about a budding city,” Chapman wrote.

It was decided that the will of the people would settle the matter, though not in typical fashion.

A rope was stretched across Front Street and the opponents took opposite ends.

“Then the fun began.”

Chapman lived in South Bend and could not “vote,” but he watched and laughed as those “opposing the hog’s liberty” finally won the tug of war.

“This shows you how primitive we were in those days.”

“The animals aren’t going to be a problem until you had enough people who thought of themselves as urbanites,” said Bill Lass, a retired Minnesota State University history professor.
Sure, the swine vote makes for a good story, but I wonder how many other laws got on the books through methods like this?

(Linehan's article really warrants a full reading so please go and read it. Don't worry, I'll be here when you get back.)

Maybe if they held a tug-of-war over the urban chicken issue today in Mankato, those in favor of chickens just might win? Heck, maybe the City Councile should try a little mental tug-of-war and actually discuss the issue in an urban hearing.

The Free Press also runs a nicely worded, logical letter to the editor urging a public hearing by someone more local than I, concluding "It seems that the democratic thing to do would be to allow a hearing of the issue and see how much sentiment for or against the issue there really is, and then go forward from there."

Hear, hear.

1 comment:

KatoChicks said...

It was nice to be able to see the evolution of the laws rather than going on memories and speculation as to how the laws evolved.

What I find most bothersome is that this research shows the laws mostly came about based on class issues - wealthy vs. working class - and we know who historically wins that battle.

Definitely time to get the ordinance revisited and changed!


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