It’s a tough time of year for turkeys.
The turkey, as Founding Father Benjamin Franklin once wrote his daughter Sarah, is a “true original native of America.” In fact, Franklin felt the ungainly turkey a much more apt symbol of American virtue than the stately bald eagle.
“For my own part I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country,” Franklin wrote. He thought the eagle a “rank coward” and a “bird of bad moral character” that “does not get his living honestly” because it steals food from the fishing hawk and is “too lazy to fish for himself.” Franklin considered the turkey a “much more respectable bird” — even a bird of courage” that “would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his farmyard with a red coat on.”
Nonetheless, instead of adorning flagpoles and courthouses, the turkey now adorns the American Thanksgiving table.
Turkey became incredibly popular as a holiday meal long before the days of refrigeration or interstate truckers. And so in order to fulfill the demand for turkey back in the day, birds were marched, like condemned prisoners, to the market.
These were called turkey drives, much like their kissing cousin out West, the cattle drive — but without the cowboys. Although the threat of being trampled by a turkey pales in comparison to a cattle stampede, try keeping a turkey from wandering off the road — and you’ll see how challenging these turkey drives were.
From farms in New England to the mass markets of Boston, turkeys had to get to the big city alive. How did they do this? They walked them en masse!
The trick was not only not to lose the turkeys, but also for the turkeys not to lose too much weight. As we walkers know, you have to keep yourself fed when you’re ticking off long miles. And these turkey drives were often more than thirty miles long!
The solution was found to both dilemmas by providing food all along the way. Quite literally. Scattered on the road itself from covered wagons filled with feed, the drovers urged the turkey to eat and therefore stay fat — and on the road.
Coyotes and other predators were, of course, a concern, as was the random villager who thought this might be an easy way to get a free dinner. . .but the real challenge was darkness.
The moment dusk arrived, turkeys want to roost. Try as they might, drovers could never overcome the natural instinct of the turkeys. They tried bringing lanterns, but maybe gained only an additional hour. And so as the turkeys climbed into the trees to roost, the drovers climbed into the wagon and roosted, too.
One unexpected challenge was the covered bridge. Turkeys often mistook the darkness of the roof covering for night and promptly fell asleep. Drovers were reduced to carrying the turkeys through the covered bridges where they woke back up in the daylight.
Turkey drives existed long before America, however. In 1650, an observer noted that Oliver Cromwell marched thousands of Scottish prisoners “like turkies”. And in 1724, Robinson Crusoe author Daniel Defoe observed the turkey drives from East Anglia (where turkeys were primarily bred) to the markets in London. Defoe estimated that these journeys took up to a week and that over the course of one year, hundreds of thousands of turkeys made their death march.
But it wasn’t until 1912 that a small town in Southeast Texas by the name of Cuero decided to turn their own turkey drive into a tourist attraction. Calling it the Turkey Trot, after a dance craze of the time, 30,000 people watched 18,000 birds march down Main Street. Even the Texas governor attended. This ritual lasted until the 1970s.
What ended this spectacle? Consumerism. As Americans demanded more and more white meat, the most popular turkey became the broad-breasted white. So broad-breasted was this turkey, that it can hardly walk. Let alone trot.
And so, if this peculiar Thanksgiving tale of turkeys and trotting and drovers hasn’t turned you vegetarian, let it instead inspire you to make walking part of your Thanksgiving ritual.
After eating and eating and eating, the worst thing you can do for yourself is to sit down and watch six hours of football. Why not take a walk instead?
In fact, after eating the typical Thanksgiving meal, you run the risk of going the way of the broad-breasted turkey yourself. Did you know that most people costume 4,000 calories or more on Thanksgiving? That’s about 2,000 more calories than most of us need in a day.
To burn off those extra 2,000 calories, an average person would need to walk briskly (3.5 miles an hour on a level surface) for five hours or more. Given that it gets dark early these days, take a flashlight. Or, better yet, make walking part of your activity throughout the holiday season. Walk The EverWalk Mile each day — or more — every single day. Try upping it to two. That way you can indulge in a little eggnog or figgy pudding in December when it’s offered. (You can download your EverWalk Mile Calendar for December by clicking right HERE!)
Turkey is loaded with tryptophan, so it will make you sleepy. Don’t be like those turkeys and get up in your tree to sleep. Walk after your meal. Walk before it. Make it a family affair. It’s a wonderful way to see your neighbors, stretch your legs, and even check out the early holiday decorations in your neighborhood.
So this year, do the Turkey Trot yourself — and see how much better you feel!