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Mike the Headless Chicken of Fruita, CO

| Updated Jan 29, 2024

Off the Beaten Path, there's a lot of fascinating small town stories in America. Take the case of Fruita, CO, and a headless chicken named Mike.

This report comes from Tom and Patti Burkett, the RV Lifestyle's roving off-the-beaten-path reporters

Every small town has a story

Did you know the most common town name in the USA is Washington?  

No surprise, right, that there are eighty-eight of them.  

Franklin comes in a distant second at forty-two.  

You might be surprised, though, to know that there are two towns named Fruita, and both have been the subject of our off the beaten path reports.  

One is Fruita, Utah, a tiny Mormon settlement in the heart of Capitol Reef National Park, and home to some amazing orchards.  The other is the subject of today’s report, the much larger (relatively speaking) Fruita, Colorado.

How do you get to Fruita, CO?

You might end up here if you were visiting the spectacular Colorado National Monument, a landscape of cliffs and canyons that exemplifies the topography of the old west.  

You might be coming off a day on the twenty-three mile long Rim Rock Drive.  Or maybe you hiked the Serpents Trail, a National Historic Landmark laid out in 1911 and looked over the valley from the trail’s end at Cold Shivers Point.  Or maybe you’re on a pilgrimage to see dinosaur sites and have stopped here for a visit to the notable museum in town.

Mike the Headless Chicken of Fruita, CO 1
Fruita, CO also has a statue of a T-Rex they call Gretta. Lots of dinosaur bones were found in the area

Whatever the case, you’ll have driven around the traffic circle to look at the bright green t-rex in the city park.  Hardly lifelike, it’s been named Grrr-eta by local school kids and is said to be from the Goofy Epoch.

The headless chicken of Fruita has a statue in its honor!

All frivolity aside, though,  it’s unlikely you’ll pass through town without seeing the odd statue that sits on the curb at the corner of Aspen & Mulberry Streets.  A chicken!  Yes, a chicken, but there’s something odd about it.  If you’re driving, you’ll circle the block for another look, or pull over and park.  

This chicken has no head!  And therein lies the tale.

There really was a headless chicken!

Fruita resident Lloyd Olsen went out one Monday morning to kill a chicken.  His mother-in-law was coming for dinner, and he’d been given the word that this was an important meal and that she especially enjoyed the chicken neck.  

That being so, Lloyd left plenty of neck when he chopped the head off a tender young rooster.  Leaving its head behind, the bird flopped off the chopping block and ran into the bushes.  Try as he might, Lloyd couldn’t find it.  

This headless chicken…. lived!

The next morning, the rooster was back among the flock, sleeping with his headless neck tucked under his wing.

A week later, with regular eyedropper feedings down its exposed gullet, the rooster seemed healthy enough that his owner packed him into the pickup truck for a trip to the closest university, where the agriculture teachers told Lloyd that he’d missed the bird’s brainstem when he severed the head, so it just kept on cluckin’.  

They named the headless chicken Mike

Over the next year and a half, Mike (yep, that’s what they named him) tripled in weight and made a national tour of county and state fairs.  Folks across the country paid two bits to see him, as the Olsens took him to New York City, San Diego, Miami, and Atlantic City.

Fruita gained a bit of notoriety as the home of Mike, the Headless Wonder Chicken, and still honors his contributions to civic service with the annual headless chicken festival.  

Here's a Video all about Mike the headless Chicken of Fruita, CO:

Fruita celebrates the headless chicken with a festival every spring!

Come visit, and you can take part in the chicken wing or peep eating contest, run the Headless Chicken 5K, or shake your booty in the world’s largest chicken dance. 

Even if you miss the festival, there’s plenty of Mike memorabilia at local shops.  And just keep looking. 

And as you travel, you’ll see towns that honor banana slugs, manatees, Gila monsters, sand crabs, and armadillos, all out there off the beaten path.

Mike Wendland

Published on 2020-12-10

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

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