By Danny Crownover
Back when it was a small village, Gadsden had a few citizens protesting against the idea of allowing stock, particularly hogs and cows, to roam the streets at will, and those complaints became vociferous enough to attract the attention of local authorities.
There was no serious attempt to remedy the situation until a local newspaper began calling for a hog law. In the 1870s and 80s, when farmers parked their wagons and carts in the middle of Broad Street and unhitched their horses, mules and oxen and fed them on the spot – or attempted to feed them – downtown residents and businesses were annoyed by roaming cows and hogs. Cows were allowed to run at large at night and wreaked havoc with flower and vegetable gardens. Many cows would snatch a bundle of fodder from the back end of a wagon and be a block away before the farmer was aware of their presence. Some citizens recalled cows hightailing it up and down Broad Street with stolen fodder or oats with angry men and boys giving chase. Hogs snatched an ear of corn from a box and were half a block away in a minute’s time. Mules, horses and goats occasionally joined in during such foray.
All such animals running loose constituted a menace to health as well as a nuisance to everybody. There were literally droves of hogs housed within the city limits. Some families had as many as 50 hogs located within a stone’s throw of Broad Street. Whenever anyone wished to do anything about such a nuisance, he or she was met with the plea, or the threat, that blacks and poor whites had to raise hogs and keep cows in order to make a living.
The campaign for and against livestock roaming downtown streets proved to be a bitter contest, with the animals winning handily. A local newspaper received some ammunition in its fight for a livestock law when the two-year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. Tip Fortenberry was attacked by one of the hogs that ran loose on the streets.
Mrs. Fortenberry had put the child on the back porch to play and went inside to attend to her household duties. The hog opened the gate and, after wandering around in the backyard, climbed the steps, seized the child by the shoulder and made off with it. The mother, attracted by the child’s screams, ran out and called to the neighbors. B.F. Smith, Tom Wright and a woman had to beat the hog before they could make the animal turn the child loose.
Politicians steered clear of the matter, as they knew that many residents would vote solidly against any man who wanted a stock law. In 1897, the voters of Gadsden decided by a majority of 267 to 74 to continue to allow hogs, cows, horses, sheep, goats and mules to roam the streets of the city.
Nevertheless, the campaign for such a law continued. A newspaper report read, “The Gadsden and Attalla Union Railway Company runs a dummy [engine] through Broad Street hourly, and on account of so many hogs being on the street, a steam contrivance has been attached to the engines to get the hogs off the track. Almost any time one can see the operation of this novel device, for the Lord knows there are enough hogs on the street to stop a locomotive. It is almost a first-class stock farm, which is a very bad commentary on the city. The city ought to pass some sort of stock law.”
Around 1880, a man came to Gadsden to operate a bakery and soon purchased some pigs with the intention of feeding them in an alley back of his shop with stale bread and other scraps. He noticed that other residents were cutting slits and forks in the ears of the hogs. He decided to establish a mark of his own by cutting off the hogs’ ears smooth with the head.
The baker did not know that he was violating the law in doing so. In no time, he noticed that strange pigs began coming into the alley at feeding time, and it was not long until he was feeding more than his share. Since he was doing that on a regular basis, the baker laid claim to the strangers and proceeded to cut off their ears smooth with the head, thus destroying the usual identification marks.
In due time, practically every hog in the downtown area appeared on the streets without ears. There were protests from owners and threats of prosecution, but the old baker merely shrugged and declared that he had fed and raised his hogs and that he had a right to his way of marking them.
The baker did not change his attitude until somebody swore out a warrant. He promised to quit the practice and was not prosecuted, but he had scrambled the brands so much that nobody could swear to the ownership of any particular hog around here for months.
Gadsden’s first ordinance prohibiting stock from running at large on its streets finally was passed on April 9, 1903 when Robert Campbell was mayor. The ordinance was not passed until the state legislature made it obligatory on the part of the governing bodies in all towns of 5,000 population and over to adopt a law of that kind.