Norris Chambers Old Timer's Tales

A Fighting Gobbler

by Norris Chambers

   It's been said that turkeys are about the dumbest of farm livestock. No doubt there is a lot of truth in that statement, but they have some pretty stiff competition - and it isn't all confined to the dumb animals. Some of we humans who inhabited the farms did some pretty stupid things at times. They say that a turkey will stick its head up in the rain and open its mouth, and will drown. I guess all that proves is that the turkey hasn't got sense enough to hold his head down in the rain. A chicken will run for the roost or the nearest shelter. A horse will turn his rear end toward it. A cow will let the water run off of her back and ignore it. A pig welcomes the rain and seems to enjoy it.

  We called this turkey gobbler Old Tom. I had more appropriate names for him, but didn't dare use them in the presence of adult audiences. He was just plain mean and had no love or compassion whatsoever for kids. If we came within a hundred feet of him, he would see us and start running toward us. That was our signal to run the other way, and usually he wouldn't pursue us very far.

  Once he caught me between the barn and the milk pen and was upon me before I had time to run. I heard a furious shuffling of wings and immediately was aware of him pecking on my legs and raking me with his feet. His wings fluttered continuously, no doubt supporting him while he raked me with his claws. I made a hurried departure for the barn with him fluttering behind me. I jumped inside the feed bin and closed the door. I could hear him scratching at the door. I outsmarted him that time by crawling over the low wall of the feed bin and leaving the barn through another door on the west side. I glanced back as I was heading for the house and I saw him still at the door. I knew then how a 'possum must feel when a good dog has him treed.

  Most people thought it was funny that he chased the kids. I guess it never occurred to them that we could get hurt. If he had got one of us down, he might have scratched or pecked out an eye. We avoided him every time we could. I had no love for that old character.

  In the Spring of 1925, Papa and Mamma bought a brand new 1926 Model T Ford. It was a glistening black color and had a shine that would put a ruby to shame. About the second time it was out of the garage, Old Tom spotted it and strutted over to examine it. The first thing he saw was his own reflection in the shining door. He didn't know it was a reflection and must have thought another old ugly gobbler was challenging him. He strutted and squawked and dragged his wings on the ground. The one in the door did the same thing. This really infuriated him. I was watching from behind the yard fence.

  In a few seconds he completed the preliminary challenges and flew into action. He jumped about three feet in the air and came down on the poor turkey in the door panel, his tough claws raking black paint all the way the bottom. Then he slapped it with him wings and took a vicious peck at it. Again he jumped and fluttered and raked the door again on his way down.

  I ran into the house to tell Mamma about Old Tom beating the car to death. She came out with me, not totally convinced that I was telling the straight truth. But what she saw immediately convinced her. She reached up and broke a long limb from a mesquite tree and started through the gate toward the fight.

  The fight didn't last long after she joined it. A few brisk swishes with the mesquite switch took Tom's mind off of the turkey in the door, and he took off at a brisk trot toward the barn. Mamma chased him a few feet then came back to survey the damage. He had completely wrecked the bright finish on the driver's side door. There were a few deep scratches in the paint, and a multitude of smaller ones running in all directions.

  When she told Papa about it that evening, his only comment was: "Well, it had to get scratched sooner or later." And he was right. Pretty soon it was scratched all over from driving too close to trees on the narrow trails that served as roads in that part of the country.

  When we fed the chickens and turkeys, Old Tom would chase any turkey hen or chicken away from the feed until he was full.

  We had a pig pen with a hollow tree rough extending outside. A hollow tree trough was made from a hollow tree that was split and a board nailed on each end. This made a good feeding arrangement for the hogs. They could drink from both sides and the slop could be poured in from the outside. It is difficult to pour a bucket in a trough that's completely in the pen. The hungry hogs will take it out of your hands before you can pour it.

  Old Tom insisted on eating out of the end of the trough that extended outside. When I slopped the hogs I had to watch for Old Tom and get away before he got there. The barnyard cats were afraid of Tom.

  Poor old Tom met his fate in a very undignified manner. One night while the horses were eating, he was scratching around behind the one we called Old Stranger. He must have got too close, because Old Stranger gave a swift, powerful kick with his right back leg and the hard hoof landed squarely on Tom's chest. He flew through the air for about six feet and landed against the pole fence. I saw this from the cow lot where Papa was milking. The loud thud of the kick got Papa's attention. He hung the milk bucket on the fence and went over to examine the damage.

  Old Tom was lying against the fence with his neck extended. He was opening and closing his mouth as if attempting to get some air. His legs were surprisingly still.

  "I'm afraid he won't make it," Papa observed.

  "Yeah, that's too bad." I was probably being a little hypocritical. I really didn't feel that bad about his apparent demise.

  That was the end of Old Tom, all right. He didn't recover. In fact, he died almost instantly. I can't say that I was too sorry to see him go.

  Eventually we got another old Gobbler, but he wasn't a fighter. He never bothered us and lived to a ripe old age. We kept fifteen or twenty turkeys. They roosted in the liveoak grove between the house and the barn, and we seldom fed them anything. They roamed the pastures for a half mile in all directions and found plenty of bugs and grasshoppers for food. We just fed them enough to make them know where home was.

  During nesting season, it was my job to trail the old hens and find where they made their nest. When we found it, we put a few artificial eggs in it and took the newly laid ones for safe keeping. It wasn't safe to leave them in the nest because varmints would steal and eat them. If a nest went undetected and the little turks were hatched, they faced the same danger from predators. We took the eggs and placed them under old setting hens in the hen house, and the old mother hen hatched them and raised them like chickens.

  The old turkey hen that laid the eggs finally quit sitting on the artificial eggs, and we gathered them up for future use.

  Sometimes a turkey hen would surprise us by coming in with a few little turks. She had managed to build a nest and hatch them in spite of the dangers.

  We usually didn't sell turkeys. We just kept them and ate one now and then. If we did get too many on hand, we would catch them at night off of the roost and take them to town. Most grocery stores would buy turkeys or chickens any time. The same stores also bought sour cream and hides.

  Turkeys are not the only fighting animals we had on the farm. At various times we had fighting goats, hogs, cows and roosters. All of these can cause a little kid a lot of misery.

  But as we grew older, they provided a lot of fun. We fought them around the farm like the gladiators of old fought in the Coliseum.


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