Probably no avian form received more notice in the journals and accounts of foreign sojourners in this country than the wild turkey.
Explorer La Salle (January 1687) finds “the Plenty of wild Fowl, and particularly of Turkeys, whereof we killed many, was an ease of our Suffering and Help to bear our Toil with more Satisfaction.”
Other travelers brought their muskets with them “to shoot the wild geese and turkies that some of our travelers in America describe so fluently.” They “were always on the watch for an opportunity of practising (on shipboard), believing that they should have such excellent sport in America shooting turkies,” said Richard Weston in 1833.
Samuel Kercheval in his A History of the Valley (Shenandoah), 1833, said “the native youth is taught the wiles of the turkey hunter.”
A different writer wrote that “the inhabitants of this country were wonderfully expert in the use of it [rifle]; thinking it a bad shot if they missed the very head of a wild turkey.”
Another writer stated in 1810: “One important pastime of our boys was that of imitating the noise of every bird and beast in the woods. This faculty was not merely a pastime, but a very necessary part of education, on account of its utility in certain circumstances. The imitations of the gobbling and other sounds of wild turkeys often brought those keen-eyed and ever watchful tenants of the forest within reach of the rifle. The Indians, when scattered about in the neighborhood, often collected together, by imitating turkeys by day, and wolves or owls by night.”
Around the same time, 1818, H.R. Schoolcraft remarked on the cheapness of wild turkeys at “25 cents in the White River Country of Arkansaw Territory.”
At the Chickasaw Bluff (Memphis) on the Mississippi River, E.A. Monteille, who recorded his travels in North America in 1817, shot on June 2 “a very fine wild turkey which proves excellent eating. Its fat was not confined to a particular part, as with our domesticated turkeys, but spread throughout the flesh, which renders it much more savoury. We had often seen them upon the banks surrounded by eight or ten young ones; but on approaching, they fled to the forest.”
Much earlier than Monteille was M. Le Page Du Pratz, who visited the Chickasaw countryside in 1724. He reported: “I have often heard of a turkey chase, but never had the opportunity of being at one. On coming to the spot, we soon discovered the hens, which ran off with such speed that the swiftest Indian would lose his labour in attempting to outrun them. My dog soon came up with them, which made them take to their wings, and perch high on the next trees. I came near the place of retreat and killed the largest.”
The King of France, Louis XVI, sent Andre Michaux to America in 1785. He recorded: “In the east, particularly in the neighborhood of the sea-ports, they cannot be approached without difficulty; they are not alarmed by a noise, but they have a very quick sight, and as soon as they discover the hunter, fly away with such rapidity, that it takes a dog several minutes to come up with them; and when they see themselves on the point of being caught, they escape by taking to flight.”
At Little Rock, C.J. Latrobe, in his The Rambler in North America, 1835, tried to imitate the turkeys as did the Indians. He said: “Yet I plead guilty to having sometimes tried to coax the turkeys in rather an extraordinary way. The practical hunter will induce them to approach him as he steals through the grass, by skilful imitation of their gobble and piping.”
According to our early chroniclers, no bird enters the life of the early days of this country more than the wild turkey. Therefore, rightly, it has been called “America's noblest game bird.”