By Jim Harmon
In 2007 (bawk, bawk, bawk!), the vote was 8-4.
This past week (quack, quack!), the vote was 8-1.
By the way, if you want to hear some neat fowl sounds, check out soundbible.com. They even have one sound file titled, “Pissed Off Duck.”
Anyway, such will be the new melodies resonating through Missoula neighborhoods, now that the city council has approved adding ducks and quail to the list of approved backyard fowl.
Opinions aside, historically these refrains have been routine in the Garden City, and proudly so.
In 1914, Missoula hosted the Montana State Poultry show at the old Gem theater building on west Front street, downtown.
The business community backed the exhibition, big-time. Carpenters were busy for more than a week, creating display rooms. Missoula Light & Water Company provided all the electrical and lighting work needed, and Sid Coffee, the neighborly druggist (See Missoula Current’s article on the Hammond Arcade Building and John Coffee’s grandfather), “donated the disinfectant dope which will be used unsparingly so that both fowl and human will be safe.”
“Every train that pulled into Missoula seemed to be a chicken special,” chirped the Missoulian. “Every express car unloaded crate after crate of birds, and the trucks that moved up to the platform were piled high with coops, resembling, in size, loads of hay.” There were entries from all across Montana as well as Idaho and Washington.
By the time the poultry pageant opened there were well over a thousand feathered contestants roosting in the show rooms.
Judge George Holden of Owatanna, Minnesota, upon first seeing the displays, told reporters the show would likely outclass any such exhibition “held between the Twin Cities and Spokane.” At the same time, he declared he couldn’t possibly judge so many birds by himself, and an emergency call went out for another judge to be rushed in from Butte to help out.
More than 500 people attended the poultry party the first afternoon and, by evening, organizers gave up trying to keep count.
Similarly, it was hard to count the birds. There were White Leghorns, White Plymouth Rocks, Barred Rocks, Silver Campines, Single Comb White Orpingtons, White Wyandottes, Rose Comb Rhode Island Reds and most every other variety, as well as some ducks, geese, and turkeys.
Joe Wells, a “well-known colored man of this city, who claims to be 107-years-old” and who was an accepted expert in the field, called it, “the finest show I ever saw under one roof.”
“Henry Tripp, breeder of the famous Blue Jacket strain of Barred Plymouth Rocks, and Dr. Asa Willard, owner of the Bitter Root flock of the same breed of birds, cleaned up most of the prizes in that class,” reported the local paper.
But, the “high honors,” the “sweepstakes,” went to D. L. Doig of Sixteen Mile, for a “good old Brown Leghorn.” Doig also picked up the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul railway cup, valued at $50, for the best scoring pen of partly colored birds.
Then, as now, a lot of folks didn’t realize some of their friends were “chicken fanciers,” until they noticed the names on the coops.
The 1914 Missoulian pointed out, “There are a large number of these well-known people, but unknown fanciers at the show this year and it is one of the encouraging signs of the times in the chicken world. From an interest taken in a pen of birds kept in a small coop in the backyard – perhaps a corner of the woodshed – has often been developed a strong liking for poultry and a big yard of choice birds.”
Of course, that sort of expansion is unlikely today, given the city’s limit of six chickens or ducks, and 10 quail.
For those concerned over the sweet essence of fowl wafting across your neighbor’s hedge, show the true “Garden City” spirit and plant some fragrant western junipers, jasmine, peonies or a “Star Gazer” lily.
Or, if there’s a devil on your shoulder, you could plant a Starfish Cactus. I’m told its flowers put off “a rather horrifying odor.”
Then, there’s always the Voodoo Lily or the Corpse Flower.
Jim Harmon is a retired journalist whose 50-year career included nearly three decades at KECI-TV, Missoula in roles ranging from news anchor to weather forecaster. In retirement, Jim is a landscape gardener and history buff who’s spent years reading historical micro-film newspapers. You can read his weekly history column at the Missoula Current.