Iowa History
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Iowa History

Auctioneers Ed Meinkey (left) and D.R. Jones with the Red Cross rooster Jack Pershing.

Iowa Rooster Crowed for Cash During WWI

Don’t let his size fool you. The little Red Cross rooster known as Jack Pershing could raise a ruckus. He could also raise a lot of cash.

His overnight rise to celebrity status began 100 years ago — on Dec. 15, 1917 — when auctioneers Ed Meinkey and D.R. Jones of Casey, Iowa, were gathering items to auction off in support of the American Red Cross during World War I.

“Jack Pershing” (Iowa Heritage Illustrated).

Mark Dunkerson, a farmer from Fontanelle, wanted to contribute something for the local auction that night but could only spare a chicken.

“I don’t have much to offer,” Dunkerson told the auctioneers, according to an account in the Audubon County Journal published years later, on March 23, 1944. “But there are a couple of roosters in that little flock of chickens. You could have one of them, if that would help any.”

Meinkey and Jones rummaged through the barnyard and found an unhappy little brown-black rooster in a yeast box and brought him out for auction.

As the Audubon County Journal put it: “A scrub rooster is a scrub rooster — just that — and, as an article of value, is reckoned somewhat lightly.”

But this was for a good cause, after all, so someone made a 50-cent bid.

Mark Dunkerson (State Historical Museum of Iowa)

“Sold,” Jones said. “Here’s your bird. Come and get him.”

The buyer, however, thought the rooster was “too darn cantankerous to take home,” so he told the auctioneer to sell it again, according to a colorful account on an Adair County tourism website.

“The rooster was sold over and over as the crowd quickly got into the spirit of this new twist in sale activities. Bidding on the rooster became a game with one rule: No one could keep the rooster for more than five minutes. When the evening ended, the sale and resale of the little rooster in the cramped yeast box netted $292 for Red Cross coffers.” — Atlantic News-Telegraph, Oct. 31, 1986.

Jones, the auctioneer, named the bird Jack Pershing in honor of Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing, a hero of the war’s Western Front, and soon enough, people across Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota quickly learned about “Jack and Jones.”

During World War I, Private C.W. Gill of Exira, Iowa, carried this postcard of auctioneer D. R. Jones with the rooster Jack Pershing. Gill gave it to Jones after the war and asked that he donate it to the Iowa State Historical Department. (State Historical Society of Iowa)

For the next several months, the famous duo traveled the three states, coaxing a “stream of cash and checks from the laughing, weeping, war-frenzied throngs. While Jack, seemingly appreciative of the demands and dignity of his new station (and without a moment’s training) perched proudly on Jones’ shoulder, cocked his head understandingly and mingled his shrill tones with the cheering crowds by crowing lustily, Jones unloosed his inspired eloquence in a plea for action.” — Audubon County Journal, March 23, 1944.

In a friendly rivalry, the people of Exira invited the pair to town in hopes of breaking the Audubon record of $3,255. By the end of the Exira auction, locals had raised $7,075 for Jack. The rooster was so popular, in fact, that Jones posed for a photograph with the bird perched on his shoulder, and hundreds of copies were distributed to the auction buyers as souvenirs.

By the war’s end, Jack and Jones had traveled more than 8,000 miles together, mostly by train, and raised for the Red Cross more than $40,000, the equivalent of $835,000 in today’s dollars.

In November 1918, Jones retired Jack to the bird’s farm near Casey and returned to regular work at his auction company. In May 1919, while Jack “was yet plump, and husky, and handsome, he was humanely put to death” and mounted by taxidermist E.C. Wilson of Exira, according to the Audubon County Journal.

In January 1920, Jack was presented to the Iowa State Historical Department and given a permanent roost on the second floor of the old State Historical Building, where he presided over other World War I artifacts for nearly 70 years.

King Neptune

Jack’s success story has inspired similar animal auctions, including a pig named King Neptune, who starred in a similar tradition with the U.S. Navy. The 700-pound porker raised $19 million at war-bond rallies during World War II.

More recently, Jack was pressed into service again to raise money for the Red Cross September 11th Disaster Relief Fund. The beloved bird brought in more than $1,800 before returning to its glass case at the State Historical Museum of Iowa.

“It’s amazing,” farmer Mark Dunkerson’s great-grandson Ted Wallace of Greenfield said during a recent telephone call. “It’s so interesting once you get to talking about it … It’s unbelievable that you’re associated with it. They raised that kind of money from somebody who had nothing.”

To learn more about Iowa’s role in the war, visit the “Iowa and the Great War” exhibit at the State Historical Museum of Iowa.

Jeff Morgan, Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

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State Historical Society of Iowa. Preserving and providing access to Iowa History.

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The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs empowers Iowa to build and sustain culturally vibrant communities by connecting Iowans to resources. iowaculture.gov

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