How John Walter Stephens Became Known as "Chicken" Stephens
"My homeplace in Wentworth was the location of one of Stephens' residences there. His name was quite familiar there during my childhood but today mostly forgotten. He was a member of our Methodist Church there as he was later in Yanceyville. Sometime around the end of the war JWS killed the chickens of the town postmaster and merchant, Thomas A. Ratliffe. Supposedly, the Ratliffe chickens had "strayed" over to Stephens' yard next door. JWS killed the chickens and so the story goes offered them to a much-upset Mrs. Ratliffe who then had Stephens arrested and placed in the Wentworth jail for theft. The next morning JWS was released next door to Ratliffe's Store and had an altercation with the merchant.
"No official documents or contemporary news articles have survived from the time of the event as this happened around the end of the war - in nearly forty years research in local history and I've yet to find any documentation. Nevertheless by the time JWS moved from Wentworth to Yanceyville his nickname was duly applied. His mother soon joined the family in Yanceyville and suffered a very strange death - falling out of her sickbed and cutting her throat on the broken edge of a chamber pot. Many Caswell and Rockingham County residents suspected that her throat was deliberately cut - possibly by JWS.
"Ratliffe's family lived in Wentworth until 1987 and the story about JWS in Wentworth was essentially what has been given in other accounts."
March 15, 2011 AT 9:56 AM, Michsel Perdue
Posted to the weblog of Charlotte Observer Associate Editor Jack Betts.