Thanksgiving Turkey Drive

By Grace Dunstedter

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    It was a bright autumn day in 1850. Dan Bishop moved along the road, proud and pleased to have his friend Jerry Stone going with him on this drive. They were going to the big city of Philadelphia to sell his father’s flock of turkeys to Mr. Burns, the butcher, for city folks’ holiday dinners. Weather permitting, the birds would be delivered a week before Thanksgiving.

    Dan was a little worried because he had always gone to market with his father, but now his father was home nursing an injured foot. “Turks are mighty skittish critters,” Dan told his friend.

    Jerry watched the flock dodge about, snatching grasshoppers, crickets, worms. “Your pa seems to think we can manage.”

    Dan swished a long, light pole to bring back a straying turkey. “We have to be back home before the cold weather sets in. That’s my worry.”

    Jerry smiled confidently and said, “Don’t worry. We’ll make it.” Jerry had a long stick of his own to help herd the turkeys. His main job, though, was to lead the old packhorse, Bob. Bob carried camping gear and food, including corn for the birds and oats for himself, for the fifty-mile journey.

    That night, over a small fire, the boys camped and ate salt pork and boiled potatoes. The turkeys went to roost in a nearby grove of maple trees. Bob was hobbled and given a bag of oats.

    The second day was also fine. The birds liked the deep dust of the road and slowed the drive up by dust-bathing in it. Dan laughed. “That’s a pretty sight—those bronze, red, and green feathers and the big red wattles against the sunset.”

    Going downhill went faster, but when a barking dog came at them, the birds scattered and had to be rounded up again. It was twilight when the boys saw old Mr. Birch’s place. “Pa knows him well,” said Dan. “We’ll camp here.” The birds filled up on fallen apples, and Jerry found a few good eating apples for himself and Dan.

    The third day was mild, but a cold wind blew the next day. Insects were scarce, and corn had to be scattered for the turkeys. Then the wind came up. Turkey cocks don’t like the wind, so when the boys tried to force the flock onward up a steep hill, the birds began to mill about. One flew away, squawking. Soon they had all taken cover in the thick underbrush.

    Again and again the boys tried to poke the turkeys out, but it was no use. Finally Jerry walked back onto the road and began to whistle a certain turkey call. One bird came out, then another and another.

    Dan made a count. “All here! That was scary!”

    Jerry grinned with relief. “Always heard turks were stubborn.”

    Turkeys like to roost in trees, and that day they decided to roost before sundown. Dan and Jerry settled in an old, empty shed.

    Pa had told Dan that turkeys often become alarmed at the whiteness of frost, and in the morning he found that it was true. He and Jerry scattered corn to gather the turkeys and get them moving. Cold corn bread and half-frozen buttermilk had to do for the boys’ own breakfast.

    The frozen ground was hard on the birds’ feet, and more dogs barked at them as the farms became more numerous. The flock scattered easily. That day a cock and a hen flew over a board fence and disappeared.

    “Can’t risk going after them,” Dan muttered. “Pa said we might lose a few.”

    At sundown the turkeys weren’t ready to roost. A full moon with a white ring around it bathed the world in light. “That ring means snow for sure,” said Dan. “We’ll let them go on as long as we can. That way we’ll make up for lost time and get to Philly on schedule.”

    When they halted at last, Jerry made a fire and began to strew warm mash. The birds stopped to eat, and the warm food made them drowsy enough to roost.

    At dawn, the world was white with snow. Dan tied a thin strip of red flannel to his herding stick. After the birds had been fed, he stepped out and held up the lure. The lead cock gobbled and jumped to get the rag. Dan began to walk rapidly, and the herd followed. Jerry smiled and began to eat his cold corn bread. He would relieve Dan soon. Before long they reached Dan’s cousin’s house. Darkness came early, and it began to snow steadily.

    When the turkeys had been fed and settled into a shed, the young herders went inside to greet Dan’s relatives. As they ate dinner, Dan said, “Pa said that a couple of these birds are for you. Take your pick.” The tired boys fell asleep as soon as their heads hit their pillows.

    Their last day dawned clear and sunny. Dan had had his moments of doubt, but now he was feeling quite good about their adventure. “We’re old hands at turkey driving now, eh, Jerry?” said Dan. “It’s time to get the job finished.”

    Illustrated by Dick Brown