On one of my little road trips, I found myself rather aimlessly driving south out of Mount Pleasant, Texas on Highway 271. It was a good day for aimless driving on backroads - late spring before the heat becomes uncomfortable for even us native Texans, just me in the pickup singing along to music I grew up with (songs the middle-age adults call "Oldies, but goodies" and the teenagers call "old timey stuff") and raising an index finger in greeting to the few oncoming cars I encountered. You never know what you might find when you drive off the interstate, but I was still a bit surprised when I starting seeing numerous poultry processing buildings, but no chickens to go with them. Just a few more miles down the road and before hitting the town limit signs for Pittsburg, I came upon a large, white-columned pavilion topped off with the bust of a man wearing a big, black Pilgrim hat complete with a buckle. I knew right away what I had stumbled upon - the headquarters for Pilgrim's Pride, the largest producer of chickens in America.
Lonnie "Bo" Pilgrim and his brother Aubrey, started Pilgrim's Pride in 1946 as a feed store right there in little Pittsburg, Texas, population just a bit over 4,400. One of the brother's successful gimmicks was to give a live baby chick with every order of feed. The local farmers and children loved the free chickens, which were very cheap to provide, and to raise them required feed. In effect, the more cheap baby chickens they gave away, the more higher-profit feed they sold.
Bo capitalized on his last name by wearing his signature Pilgrim's hat wherever he made an appearance. As he became more famous through personal appearances and TV advertising, Pilgrim's Pride became larger and larger. Eventually they became the supplier of chickens and chicken parts to Kentucky Fried Chicken, Wendy's, Wal-Mart, and Publix among many other large sellers to the public. There are now about 38,000 employees selling 36 million chickens each and every week. In a year's time, Pilgrim's Pride provides 9.5 billion pounds of live chickens which earns the company over $8.1 billion per year. Not bad for a little small-town feed store!
In the pavilion under the 37-foot tall Bo head is another sculpture depicting a younger Bo Pilgrim seated on a bench reading his Bible. Scattered around on one end of the bench are "Good News For Modern Man" pamphlets which the devoutly religious Bo has had printed in many different languages and distributed around the world. The Bo statue holds his Bible and is reading the five loaves and the two fishes story from the Book of Luke. On the other end of the bench is a statue of Bo's pet chicken, Henrietta, who was a regular feature in Pilgrim's Pride advertising."
Strangely, there were very few workers around the plant and the beautiful mansion-looking building across the street was for sale. And what about those missing chickens? Well, after getting back home that evening, I did a little research and found that controlling interest in Pilgrim's Pride had been purchased by a Brazilian multi-national company and the headquarters moved to Greeley, Colorado. A good number of the local folks lost their jobs and evidently the missing chickens were all being raised somewhere else. It wasn't bad news for old Bo though. At last report, he is still with us and very comfortably retired. Living in a large mansion on the outskirts of Pittsburg which the locals call "Cluckingham Palace," he is occasionally spotted around town - always without the hat.