October 31, 2023
The chickens were the real heroes of the “war” named in their honor – the Chicken War. They came out of the fray with more dignity than the dignitaries, soldiers and empire builders who made the war, if not necessary, at least possible. They were also the only ones that fought back.
It happened way back in 1719, when both the French and Spanish had plans for Texas. Their respective plans did not include each other. They were rivals, which is one step away from being enemies. Here in the new world, the French claimed Louisiana and the Spanish controlled Mexico. In between was a sparsely settled region – Texas – and dozens of Indian tribes whose people had lived there for centuries.
In those days, this or that expedition would wander into a region, plant a flag, build a mission or presidio and try to explain to the natives why such actions meant the tribes now had to give up their land, possessions and human freedom. The Spanish built missions in hopes that God would will the natives to lay down their arms peacefully. Both countries also built forts, in case the natives failed to do so or the other country attacked them.
None of this worked according to plan. The tribes were not interested in working at the mission or doing what the priests and friars told them to do. Some would show up, praise Jesus for a while and then revert to their pagan ways as soon as they had enough to eat or their enemies were gone. Sometimes they showed up at the missions as a group and tried to kill everybody. That’s to say nothing of the rattlesnakes and other perils of frontier living.
So it’s not surprising that in 1693 the Spanish abandoned the Texas missions. The French had also enjoyed about all of Texas they could stand. Since the Spanish no longer considered consider France a threat to their ambitions, they showed no further interest in Texas until the French did.
We’ll get back to the chickens in a minute.
Back in Europe, the French and Spanish were at loggerheads with each other over control of the Mediterranean islands of Sicily and Sardinia. Both sides insisted to each other that this meant war. Lieutenant Philippe Blondell, in charge of seven soldiers at a French post in Natchitoches, Louisiana, received orders from his government to find some Spanish and attack them. He gathered his entire force and led them to the Spanish post of Los Adias, where he encountered only a lay priest, an old solider and…a bunch of chickens.
In the battle that wasn’t, the priest and soldier surrendered without a fight. Blondell decided to claim total victory, along with supper, by taking the chickens as well. Doing his best sly fox impersonation, Blondell raided the henhouse, strapped the chickens to his saddle and prepared to depart victorious when some of the prisoners – the chickens – began to squawk.
The squawking spooked Blondell’s horse, which reared and, without ceremony, threw Blondell to the ground, butt first. In the commotion that followed, with feathers flying and Blondell sprawling and soldiers rushing to his aid, the priest got away. We don’t know the ultimate fate of the chickens.
Perhaps intending to impress upon others the magnitude of the military brilliance he survived at Los Adias, the friar took it upon himself to report the presence of a large French force marching on Texas, even as he spoke. That’s all the Spanish needed to hear. They pulled out of East Texas and western Louisiana in droves, heading for San Antonio de Bexar
The French and Spanish eventually settled their diplomatic differences and didn’t have to fight each other, at least not for a while. Word of Blondell’s battle with the chickens got around and people referred to the incident and events that followed it as the Chicken War. It’s catchy name, but maybe it’s not quite right.
Considering how the Spanish basically ran from a nonexistent threat with a battle cry of “The sky is falling!” we think a better name for the fowl resurrection might be The Chicken Little War.