LIFE With Mike the Headless Chicken: Photos of a Famously Tough Fowl

Mike the headless chicken, October 1945. According to some accounts, the day the ax fell, Mike slept with his head under his wing.
Bob Landry—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Mike the headless chicken, October 1945. According to some accounts, the day the ax fell, Mike slept with his head under his wing.
Animals
'40s

Beheaded Chicken Lives Normally After Freak Decapitation by Ax

No, it’s not the latest eye-popping item from the Weekly World News. Instead, it’s an actual headline from the October 22, 1945, issue of LIFE magazine, from an article about … well, a headless chicken.

“Ever since Sept. 10,” LIFE breezily informed its readers, “a rangy Wyandotte rooster named Mike has been living a normal chicken’s life though he has no head.”

Mike, LIFE went on to say, “lost his head in the usual rooster way. Mrs. L.A. Olson, wife of a farmer in Fruita, Colo., 200 miles west of Denver, decided to have chicken for dinner. Mrs. Olson took Mike to the chopping block and axed off his head. Thereupon Mike got up and soon began to strut around…. What Mrs. Olson’s ax had done was to clip off most of the skull but leave intact one ear, the jugular vein and the base of the brain, which controls motor function.”

The rest is poultry history. Mike lived for 18 months after losing his head, finally succumbing at a motel in the Arizona desert in 1946 during one of his many appearances as a sideshow attraction in the American southwest.

Here, LIFE.com presents Mike’s unlikely story, as well as the utterly unsettling pictures that ran (and some that never ran) in LIFE. Brace yourself. . . .
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