VT Untapped

Episode 16: 2020 Thanksgiving Special!

November 25, 2020

Driving turkeys


As we’re all gearing up for what is likely to be one of the most, shall we say “unusual,” Thanksgivings of our lifetimes (thanks again, 2020), here at VT Untapped™ we reached out VFC founder Jane Beck once more in search of suggestions for a seasonal story. Not surprisingly, once again Jane came through!

Jane directed us to a series of interviews she conducted with Earle Fuller of Warren, VT between 1979 and 1983. Jane interviewed Earle over 45 times during that period, discussing his family’s history in the area, and the Fuller family tradition of raising, training and trading horses during the era of horse power. Earle was born in Warren in 1888.

In two interviews, one from 1979 and one from 1981, Earle recounted to Jane the experience of driving turkeys from Vermont to market in Boston. To be clear, when we say “drive” we mean “herd”—literally marching a flock of (in Earle’s account) over 500 turkeys by road, through towns, over bridges on a journey that lasted 10 days round trip.

Turkey drives were a seasonal sight to behold in New England in the 18th and 19th centuries, with flocks as large as 2,000 birds traveling from farms to cities for slaughter and sale. As Earle shares, even railroads were unwilling to transport the live birds, so herding turkeys through the countryside persisted as the simplest way to transport them to urban markets.

Based on a number of clues embedded in the stories we’re honestly not sure if Earle is reporting from personal experience or if he is recounting someone else’s. For one, Earle begins his initial account in the third person—as if he is talking about someone else—then gradually shifts to telling it in the first person, setting himself in the tale. In addition, Earle states that he was 11 when the drive he describes occurred, which would set the date around 1899. As we understand it, the turn of the century would have been pretty late for a turkey drive like this to have taken place. This stated, we really just don’t know with any certainty and—truly—we don’t think it really matters all that much. Earle’s evocative account of trouping a bunch of red-headed, gobbling turkeys from VT to Boston rings true to other sources that describe similar trips, so what he shares is accurate based on comparison. Earle’s own story or not, it’s a trip well worth joining him on.

VT Untapped™ is produced by the Vermont Folklife Center. For more information visit www.vtfolklife.org/untapped

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