By Bill Baker
It happened in the year 1911. In the sleepy little hamlet of Vonore, Tennessee, Mrs. James Pace was preparing a chicken for Christmas dinner. In those days folks ate every part of the chicken that was eatable, not just the boneless breast fillets and hot wings that we prefer today. They would eat the neck, liver and heart, and the funny little thumb-Iooking thing on a chicken's butt that the tail feathers grow out of, and also the crop more commonly known as the craw, or gizzard.
As anyone that was raised in the country knows, and most city folks too ...a chicken ain't got no teeth. But, they like to eat a lot of hard stuff, like shelled corn and grain. Everything goes straight into their gizzard as soon as they swallow it. A chicken's gizzard is like a little bag made out of muscle, a sort of preliminary, first-stage stomach. Inside the gizzard are rocks, which take the place of teeth and do the actual grinding up of the things that they eat. That is why you see chickens pecking at the ground all the time ...they're not only eating bugs and worms and grass seeds, they're picking up rocks too.
So, that said, as Mrs. Pace was preparing the chicken for the holiday dinner, she cut open the gizzard of the Christmas bird to clean it and get it ready for cooking. Lo and behold, as the knife sliced through the tough outer skin that covered the gizzard and the contents inside were exposed, not only was there some of the chicken's last meal in the process of being digested, and some rocks, there was also ...about a thimbleful of tiny gold nuggets.
Word quickly got out, and soon, all of Vonore was buzzing with excitement. An epidemic of gold fever struck ...young and old alike ...man, woman and child. They looked everywhere. A great bonanza awaited the person lucky enough to find where the gold had came from. It had to be lying on the ground somewhere, just waiting to be picked up ...not over a chicken scratch deep at the most. But, to everyone's frustration, no gold could be found.
The chickens ...everyone finally realized that the key to finding the gold lay with the chickens. Folks began keeping a close eye on their poultry. They took to following their flocks around. Kids were assigned as chicken watchers in addition to their regular chores. When a Vonore chicken scratched the ground and picked something up with its beak, as often as not, some human would come right behind it to see what it was up to. Many a young Vonore pullet and cockerel was sacrificed to the skillet and the dumpling pot prematurely, just on the speculation that its gizzard might contain some gold.
But, after a few weeks of chicken watching and prospecting not a single fleck of gold had been found. Maybe somebody had played a trick on the Pace family, and in turn, on the whole town. Dreams of great wealth slowly ebbed away, and things started returning to normal in Vonore. Then it happened…
On January 19, 1912, a fast moving freight train high-balling through Vonore on the L&N line accidentally killed three residents of that town. Exactly how the tragic event happened is uncertain. The details were never recorded in a police or coroner's report. No investigations were made, no train engineer's were interrogated. As a matter of fact, the train didn't even stop… because the three unfortunate Vonorians that got themselves killed ...were chickens. Although there were no autopsies performed upon the deceased, their gizzards were checked, just in case...
Sure enough, the combined contents of the three chicken gizzards yielded 37 tiny bits of gold. Of course, this set off another round of prospecting and chicken watching. The exciting story was reported in the newspapers. Soon, word went out allover the State that gold had been found in Vonore. Folks were digging and scratching the ground, looking everywhere, running around (pardon the pun) like chickens with their heads cut off.
But alas, as before, no gold was ever found. If it was, the person who found it managed to keep it a secret. But that didn't keep folks in Vonore from dreaming that they might accidentally find the gold and strike it rich some day. And, not only that, for years and years afterwards, Vonorians relished every opportunity to kill a chicken ...and check out its gizzard.
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