Once Upon a Tom: “Wild Turkeys in Every Tree”

On this Thanksgiving eve, a word about the bird: When from-the-git-goers such as Roger Tandy, Lemuel Edwards, Archibald Franklin Leonard, and Ed Terrell settled here in the 1840s and 1850s, wild turkeys were abundant—and not just on their “special day.”

FB turkeys

Terrell, who came here in 1843, recalled: “In those days this country was infested with Indians, and herds of buffalo were all around us. There were more panthers in these parts than I have ever seen before or since; antelopes without number, wild turkeys in every tree—in fact, in those days this was God’s own country.”

An Englishman traveling in Texas in 1852 wrote: “At a distance was plainly to be distinguished the sharp, shrill cry of the tiger cat; more near, the querulous bark of the grim wolf was heard; blending with the wild turkey’s note were the screams of the wild goose and prairie hen, whilst that ‘bird of night,’ the owl, in several varieties, was hooting through the air, and every now and then showing his ‘spectre form,’ like some unquiet exile from the land of spirits.”

And rancher John Lovelady recalled that in 1875 wild turkeys on the Brazos River had never seen a man and were unafraid.

But in an editorial entitled “Wild Turkeys May Become Extinct” the Star-Telegram wrote: “It would be a misfortune for this grand creature, the wild turkey, perhaps the bird most closely associated with the progress of our race on this continent, to become extinct. Yet this has already happened in most of the states in the Union. . . . Destruction of forests, facility of transportation and modern weapons combine to hasten the deplorable end. . . . [But] Year by year more of our people hunt with cameras and fewer with guns. Turkeys shot with a camera remain to fill the forests with interest, enliven the landscape and perpetuate subjects of study and enjoyment for generations to come. There is yet time to save this beautiful bird.”

The editorial was written in 1909.

Below are two video clips of “turkeys shot with a camera” on the Clear Fork in 2013 on the former homestead of Lemuel Edwards. But, much as the editorial of a century ago anticipated, development along the Trinity River (e.g., Waterside, Clearfork, Chisholm Trail Parkway) has taken much of the habitat of wild turkeys, and I have seen neither snood nor wattle lately.

Update: These wild turkeys inspected my bike at Art Cowsen Trailhead in Benbrook in January 2020.

More Trinity River video clips

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2 Responses to Once Upon a Tom: “Wild Turkeys in Every Tree”

  1. Jypsycat says:

    There’s a few still left. Several months ago I went in the back yard where my cat was sitting staring up at something. When I turned to look, I saw a wild turkey on my garage roof. I ran into the house to grab my camera and I saw it through a window hot-footing it down my driveway towards the street. Ran the other direction and when I got to the front yard he was truckin’ across my neighbors yard. Last I saw he was still running down 5th Avenue. I live in Fairmount, just south of downtown Fort Worth.

    • hometown says:

      In Fairmount! Amazing. I saw a small flock crossing Altamesa near Southwest High School a few months ago but have not seen any on the river in months.

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