Tom Sawyer, the fictive alter ego of Mark Twain, was no fan of labor. As the famous white-washing scene in Tom Sawyer shows, if Tom could find a way to persuade, convince, or coerce someone else to do the work for him, that would be a task worth putting effort into—not the drudgery of painting a fence.
Twain, something of a fiction in his own right—Samuel Clemens was the author’s birth name, while “mark twain” was a cry from boatmen denoting a certain depth of water in the Mississippi—apparently took a page from Sawyer when it came to raising poultry. The most excellent website Chickens in Literature recently posted a letter that Twain sent to the Western New York Poultry Society after it conferred an honorary membership on the author. In it, he crows about his raising ability, writing, “The very chickens came to know my talent by and by. The youth of both sexes ceased to paw the earth for worms, and old roosters that came to crow, ‘remained to pray,’ when I passed by.”
The Sawyer-like twist here is that by “raising” Twain means stealing.
So are you paying attention, you mustachioed, urban-homesteading hipsters with a penchant for nostalgic, vintage-inspired projects? Here’s how to steal chickens, 1870s style.
Arrived at the henroost (your neighbor’s, not your own), you light a match and hold it under first one and then another pullet’s nose until they are willing to go into that bag without making any trouble about it. You then return home, either taking the bag with you or leaving it behind, according as circumstances shall dictate. N. B.—I have seen the time when it was eligible and appropriate to leave the sack behind and walk off with considerable velocity, without ever leaving any word where to send it.
That’s the warm-weather approach, and Twain provides cold-weather tactics too, as well as recommendations for relieving your chicken-obsessive neighbors of their Black Spanish hens—“an exceedingly fine bird and a costly one”—along with a few other valuables too.