Wild Turkey for the Old Timers!

By Norris Chambers

    Thanksgiving was well established when Clifton and I were growing up. It was so well established that history classes told how it originated. Apparently the friendly Indians introduced the newly arrived colonists to some of the food sources of the new land. Wild turkeys were at the top of just about every menu. The wild turkey was so well known as a dinner preference that Benjamin Franklin wanted to have it chosen as the national bird. I guess the group that chose the eagle must have taken the final vote before eating a typical turkey dinner.
    During the days before Thanksgiving our teacher taught us a lot about Thanksgiving. He said the wild turkeys were native to America and that tame turkeys were only civilized descendants of the wild ones.
    Clifton said that it would be nice to have an old fashioned Thanksgiving dinner featuring a wild turkey. We had heard that there was an almost unapproachable valley a few miles up Red Creek where there were wild turkeys, deer and unclaimed hogs.
    Thanksgiving Day was usually celebrated at our house with several other families and guests. These varied from year to year but my older brother and sister were always there with their families. My mother said that two turkeys would be enough. She would make pecan pies, cakes, jelly rolls and other desserts. Most of the guests would bring a favorite food. There had never been a shortage of something good to eat.
    Clifton suggested that he and I should go hunting on the upper end of Red Creek and see if we could get a real wild turkey or two. Papa didn’t think the hunt was a good idea. “There might not be any wild turkeys up there and it’s awfully rough country to travel through. There are places where you have to travel up the creek bed. The cliffs come so close to the creek you can’t travel on the bank!” He made it sound like a foolish thing to do, but we were foolish kids and insisted on making the trip. We were convinced we could supply the meat for an old time Thanksgiving dinner.
    On a nice, sunny November morning we started on the big trip. We were equipped with double barreled shot guns and we were confident that we would have wild turkey for the feast. In a couple of hours we reached a portion of the area where the nice trails along the banks began to disappear. Thick brush made it difficult to travel and provided excellent hiding for any game in the area. We were about ready to admit failure and return without our turkey when we heard a faint but distinct gobbling sound. It was definitely the sound of a turkey gobbler and it sounded like it was coming from somewhere further up the creek. Our confidence returned and we began walking up the bed of the stream in about a foot of water. The water deepened as the creek bed became narrower. As we were beginning to have doubts as to the wisdom of continuing the creek started widening and the water level fell drastically.
    We heard the gobble again as the creek continued to widen and the water receded to just a trickle. The sound was coming from the left bank. The brush barricade had thinned and we decided it was time to leave the stream and see if we could find the turkey. We traveled as quietly as possible and were elated when we saw a large gobbler and two hens pecking at something they had discovered among the dead leaves. “I’ll get the gobbler and you take the hen closest to him.” Clifton whispered as he raised his shotgun and prepared to shoot. The two guns fired almost together and the third turkey disappeared into the brush. The gobbler and the hen we had shot lay on the ground kicking feebly. We quickly pulled our pocket knives and removed the heads to speed the bleeding. It didn’t take much discussion to convince us that we should grab out prizes and head for home. I grabbed the hen and Clifton lifted the gobbler by its legs. “He’s heavy,” he commented. “We’ll have to take turns carrying him!” he continued. Before I could answer a big man dressed in overalls and wearing a straw hat climbed from the creek bed.
    “What’s going on” he inquired after looking at us for awhile. “What are you shooting my turkeys for?” Clifton tried to tell him that they were wild turkeys and we were planning on eating them. The man quickly explained that he lived less than a hundred yards to the west and had been there all his life. He had raised the turkeys from chicks and he didn’t appreciate us stealing them. He asked us who we were and if we wanted him to take us to the sheriff or to our folks.  We chose the embarrassment of the long motor trip home.
    My dad paid the man for the turkeys and apologized for the error. He told the man to take his turkeys back and have a good Thanksgiving! He told us that we needed another lesson on the recognition of wild turkeys. I told Clifton that it wasn’t all bad. We didn’t have to carry the heavy birds home.