Thanksgiving Travel? Vermont Turkeys Used To Walk To Boston
November 27, 2014 10:30 AM   Subscribe

"Turkey drives" were an autumnal tradition from the 1800s to the early 1900s, and involved the overland strolling of flocks of turkeys from all corners of Vermont to their destination — and demise — in Boston.
posted by terrapin (11 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
In 1840, a Father John O'Sheehan had a traumatizing run-in with a flock: "He was headed north in his surrey towards Brattleboro and he met a turkey drive headed south. The turkeys began to roost on his surrey and on the backs of his horses, and so he had to drive for dear life to get out of there – but he still ended up with a good coating of turkey guano all over himself and his surrey and his horses."
I always figured that turkeys were Lutherans.
posted by Etrigan at 11:06 AM on November 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

What would be really cruel is if they made them wear little backpacks of cranberry sauce.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:23 AM on November 27, 2014 [10 favorites]

"They lost a lot of turkeys on the way — maybe 10 percent of them were drowned in river crossings.... It stands in delightful contrast to the celebrated, heroic cattle drives from the American West that are portrayed in so many cowboy films," Gilbert observes. "And here in the East we have turkey drives. It’s just a wonderful contrast."

Yeah, I'm picturing that scene in half the Westerns ever filmed where the cowboys on horseback lead the cattle (or a band of horses) across a river, but with turkeys instead of cattle or horses, and it's making me laugh at you, you Yankees.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:27 AM on November 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is one of my favorite bits of lesser known American history. I always wanted to write about it, but never could find much information anywhere. As far as I can tell, there’s only one book on the subject, a young adult novel – called, succinctly, The Great Turkey Drive – written 50 years ago by Charles Morrow Wilson (1905–1977), a guy from Arkansas who later moved to Vermont and is buried in Putney. He worked over the years for The New York Times, Reader's Digest, and the Encyclopedia Britannica.

I had a hard time finding a copy of the book, but finally tracked one down a few years ago at the University of Vermont, in the main library's Special Collections. Which meant that I couldn't take it out, so I sat there one afternoon and read the whole thing cover to cover. Just like the famous cattle drives out West, but without horses, and with turkeys!
posted by LeLiLo at 11:27 AM on November 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

mudpuppie, driving huge herds of birds happens all over the world.
posted by tavella at 11:47 AM on November 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Of course, when this happened, the turkey would have been a lot closer to its wild ancestors than today's intensively bred birds which are engineered to be essentially fast-growing meat-spheres, with traits such as mobility being surplus to requirements.
posted by acb at 12:28 PM on November 27, 2014

Head 'em up, goose 'em out!

The good old days--when breasts were tasty and legs were ... tough.
posted by BlueHorse at 1:35 PM on November 27, 2014

London Turkey Drive

Bonus: origin of the bird's name in English.
posted by notyou at 2:01 PM on November 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

From that last link: In America, turkey drives rivalled some of the cattle drives: there are records of an 1863 drive from Iowa to Denver (600 miles) and flocks of 20,000 were common.

Between the coyotes and other predators, not to mention the difficulty to herding a flock of turkeys through all kinds of terrain and weather, I'm surprised someone tried that kind of drive even once.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:11 PM on November 27, 2014

posted by maryr at 10:01 PM on November 27, 2014

"Exciting, that is, in a New England sort of way"

Ha! Wonderful post, intriguing. Thanks terrapin!
posted by Miko at 1:34 PM on November 29, 2014

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