Vermont Turkey Drives

I found this story on the VPR (Vermont Public Radio) website here. It tells of a little-known Vermont tradition called Turkey Drives.

"'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.

"'We're talking about thousands [of turkeys] in each trip … Up to 10,000,' Peter Gilbert, chair of the Vermont Humanities Council, tells Vermont Edition. 'One of the largest drives in the fall of 1824 involved 40 homesteads … They went all the way from northern Vermont and the Canadian border by a variety of routes, through Ferrisburgh in the west, down the Connecticut River [in the east].'

"Farmers' children often acted as drovers, scattering cracked corn in the turkeys' path to coax them along the route." And apparently making quite the dashing display while doing it. Just your average turn around the park in her curricle-and-two:

Gobble gobble, mother fucker.

"The going was slow, Gilbert says — just 10 to 12 miles a day — and not without casualties. 'They lost a lot of turkeys on the way — maybe 10 percent of them were drowned in river crossings or taken by foxes or died of natural causes. And one of the natural causes would be … farmers’ families. As the turkeys walked by the farm, a couple of them might lose their way into a pot in the farm family’s kitchen.'

"And the turkeys presented their own challenges, namely their tendency to roost where they were not welcome. 'Wherever they are when the sun sets, that’s where they perch for the night," says Gilbert. "And their collective weight shatters trees; occasionally birds end up perching on a farmer’s shed or barn and the building collapses. In fact, in one town, they roosted on top of the school building and the school collapsed. That was in Burke.'

Yeah, not really impressed with your school safety standards there. You live in Vermont. You have got to expect weird shit like this will happen ALL THE TIME. Build accordingly.

"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.'

This is why the musical is Oklahoma!, and not Vermont!. The song would have to be changed to "Surrey with the Turkey Guano on Top".

"Turkey drives became less common in the 1850s, when railroads began servicing Vermont and farmers chose to ship their turkeys in refrigerated box cars. 'Also adding to their [drives'] demise was the rise of steamboat traffic on Lake Champlain and New York State's canal ways, which were coming into their own in the early 19th century.'

"'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.'"

As someone who is from Vermont, I can't begin to tell you how happy this ridiculous, ridiculous story makes me.

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One Response to Vermont Turkey Drives

  1. hibiscusrose says:

    This is really too ridiculous to not be true! And I can see it being done, as the best way to keep food fresh back in the day was to keep it alive (as one of the commenters on the VPR site said), so how else would you do it? But you left out the part about the bridges! That’s what really sealed it, I think.


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