Thanksgiving is next Thursday. Perhaps like you, I have been thinking about family and turkey lately. I assume most of you are among the 90% of American households getting ready to formally attack your Thanksgiving Turkey. The first Thanksgiving occurred way back in 1621, but there is little evidence that turkey was actually part of that first Thanksgiving. Turkey really didn’t become the traditional fare for Thanksgiving dinner until the twentieth century. And it wasn’t until 1969 that turkey consumption reached an all time high. That’s when Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin made history by eating roast turkey in foil for their first meal on the moon. By the way, the landing was historical too!
Some North Dakotans may dine on wild turkey this Thanksgiving. Although North Dakota is outside the turkey’s native range, introductions of wild turkey began in North Dakota in the 1930’s, and they became a game bird in the 1950’s. Wild turkeys can now be found across much of the state, from the Red River Valley to the woody draws of the badlands. They can also be found along river bottom lands such as that along the Missouri River as well as the Killdeer Mountains, Turtle Mountains, and Pembina Hills.
The turkey has played an interesting part in American history and culture. Ben Franklin campaigned hard to get the turkey as our national bird. Of course the turkey lost out to the bald eagle, but the wild turkey now at least has its own bourbon. It has even been a White House pet, thanks to Tad Lincoln.
Most of you probably recall making a “hand turkey” in elementary school. They still do it today. You just outline your hand on a piece of paper and transform the fingers into tail feathers and the thumb into the turkeys head. No doubt many households will celebrate this Thanksgiving with one of these hand turkeys posted on the refrigerator.
As you enjoy family and all that good food this Thanksgiving, give a little thought about how this bird that has become such an important part of our heritage and culture.
Here’s wishing you and yours a great Thanksgiving.
Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.
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