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When a visiting rooster flew the coop, the people of Cullman stepped up to help reunite the owner with his feathered friend.
It all started when 18-year-old Thomas Ramsey, a student at Copiah Academy in Gallman, Miss., and founder of the Muddy Rabbits Mess, a 32-member military reenactment group and the largest youth group nationally, was returning from a Civil War reenactment in Springhill, Tenn., and stopped for lunch on Jan. 31 at Cracker Barrel in Cullman. With him was his friend Jonas Patrick and his Buff Orpington rooster, Peep.
Peep is a handsome fellow, in keeping with the standards of this heritage breed of chicken: heavy, with a broad body and low stance and having a “bold, upright and graceful” carriage. He’s been the cock of the walk ever since Ramsey found him on a roadside last summer when he was still a young chick.
Ramsey has been participating in reenactments since he was 14. It’s a way, he said, to really connect with history as they reenact wars from the late Colonial time up to World War II. Most of the reenactments he participates in, though, are from the Civil War.
“It’s a part of history that needs to be represented and we represent it as accurately as we can,” he said. He’s been around the country, from Pennsylvania to West Texas, participating in 16-20 reenactments each year. He’ll spend three hours a day for six to seven months researching for an event. When he’s been part of organizing event, the research kicks up to six to seven hours a day over a multiple months. For one event, he said, “I had all my men spend a minimum of 10 months preparing with accents and everything.”
The experience, he said, humanizes history. He said he’s not focused on being on any particular “side” of history, but on representing the people and times accurately. “I don’t like to think of it in terms of who was ‘right,’ I like to think of it as individuals going to war for whatever reason,” he said.
In his research, he said, there have been numerous accounts of soldiers going to war with animals, including camels, and, yep, roosters. “You’ll read journals of people caring not just fighting roosters but other support animals,” he said. In one undisputed account, said Ramsey, a Confederate soldier carried his rooster with him for two years. That particular rooster’s tale did not end well, though, as he ended up in the bellies of some Union soldiers.
So when Peep entered into Ramsey’s life, it didn’t seem unheard of to take the young bird with him into battle. “We were at the house, getting ready for an event and we’re sitting there playing with him, and we’re like, ‘let’s take him with us,’” he said.
At the first event, one of Ramsey’s friend’s was carrying Peep in a bag by his side, but when the friend got “hit,” Peep hopped out and just strolled about.
“There’s about 10 cannons just blazing and all the rifle fire and he’s not going crazy. He’s pretty chill,” said Ramsey. Peep is, said the teen, “a real solider.”
The Springhill event was the third Peep has been part of, and they were headed home when they stopped in Cullman. The young men took the rooster out of the cab of the truck, attached him to his leash and walked him around until their order was called. While they went in to eat, they tied the rooster’s leash to the bed of the truck as they had done several times before.
But, an hour later, Ramsey’s friend went outside and came back with bad news: “He said, ‘he’s gone, man,’” said Ramsey. “At first I thought he was joking; he messes with me like that.”
It wasn’t a joke, though. Peep had flown the coop.
“I went back into the Cracker Barrel and it was very hard for me to say this with a straight face, even though I was panicking: ‘Do you have cameras in the parking lot? I think someone stole my chicken,’” he said. Someone overheard and said they’d seen Peep wandering in the parking lot.
He called the police and Cullman Animal Control Officer Cooper Harris responded to the call. Harris has been an animal control officer for about five months, and this was only his second call regarding a chicken and the first that involved one that had gone missing.
“I’d say it’s very, very, very rare,” said Harris.
Ramsey was impressed by Harris’ dedication to finding Peep.
“He spent an hour and half riding around looking for him,” said Ramsey. Harris even checked with a nearby farmer to see if he’d picked up the roaming rooster, and, with the farmer’s permission, checked the coop to see if Peep, following the “birds of a feather flock together” adage, had wandered there on his own. But there was no sign of him.
By this time, Ramsey had posted a “missing chicken” post and photos to several Cullman Facebook pages. “Every five minutes there was someone responding that they were looking for him,” said Ramsey.
Ramsey continued on to his home in Mississippi, hopeful that someone would find his feathered friend. Thirty minutes away from his home, he received the news that Jeremy Cox had found Peep. Wherever the rooster wandered to or whatever roads he may have crossed, he’d found his way back to the Cracker Barrel parking lot where Cox found him. His adventures continued from there.
“He’d changed hands like three times that day,” said Ramsey, but it was John Watson, a local farmer who’d been posting advice on finding and catching Peep, who drove the rooster to Birmingham where teen and bird were reunited.
Watson said he stepped up to help because it’s important to him to “spread love for a fellow man or woman.”
“I believe in paying it forward,” said Watson. “God has blessed my family so much throughout the years, I believe we should be kind to our fellow man. Yes, it was ‘just a chicken,’ but it was his and he clearly cared for it.”
Ramsey agreed that Peep is special. “Most of the time I would not drive four hours for just any chicken,” said Ramsey. “He’s interesting.”
Orpington’s are known as docile, friendly and affectionate birds. Ramsey isn’t entirely sure that’s true. “I don’t know if its affection or him just knowing how to manipulate the system,” he said.
But Ramsey felt like Peep was happy to be back with him. “He stood up and kind of jumped when I got him,” he said.
There’s no doubt about Ramsey’s affection for Cullman. “I was really impressed; I love y’all’s town now,” he said. “I can’t think of many places where there are that many people willing to take the time to help out like that.”