Thursday, November 20, 2014

Cuero, Texas: Turkey Capital of the World

by Lyn Horner

When our kids were young, my husband and I once took them to a drive-thru wildlife preserve here in Texas. Among the animals we saw that day was a small flock of wild turkeys. They roamed free and showed no sign of fear as we stopped to snap pictures. Those birds were impressive, a lot bigger than I expected and a little bit scary. I mean I wouldn’t care to meet one on foot, especially a large male with his tail spread out in challenge like a huge fan.

Male turkey with tail spread; Wikipedia commons
 

Now imagine watching thousands of these birds trotting along the main street of a small town in south Texas in the early 1900s. That’s exactly what happened in Cuero, TX, (pronounced Quair-oh) beginning around 1908, when a processing plant opened on the outskirts of the town. Turkey raising soon became a major industry in the area. Buyers bought flocks of birds from outlying farms and herded them through town to the plant.

J. C. Howerton, publisher of the Cuero Record, is credited with suggesting a Turkey Trot. The local chamber of commerce took up the idea in order to advertise South Texas turkeys and encourage turkey raising. The Cuero Fair and Turkey Trot Association was formed, and the first official Turkey Trot took place in 1912, at the opening of the fall marketing season.

Named for the popular "turkey trot" dance of the period, the event was a hit, attended even by Texas governor Oscar Colquitt and other dignitaries. They were entertained by a parade of “floats festooned with turkey feathers” as well as 18,000 or more turkeys strutting down Main Street. Cuero merchants reaped benefits by providing visitors with food, drink and lodgings.

Cuero Turkey Trot, 1912; Wikipedia commons, public domain
 

The following year, a Turkish theme was introduced for the Turkey Trot. Sultan Yekrut (turkey spelled backwards) and Sultana Oreuc (Cuero backwards) reigned over the festivities. Over time, the pageantry became more elaborate. The Sultan and Sultana acquired an entire royal court with attendants in Turkish costumes. Cuero became, for a short time each autumn, an exotic oasis amid the mesquite trees and sagebrush.


Apparently, the event was not held every year. The thirteenth Turkey Trot took place in 1967. Unfortunately, many of the broad-breasted feedlot turkeys collapsed, and thereafter the Trot was replaced by a seven-county South Texas Livestock Show. However, as part of Cuero's centennial in 1972, the Turkey Trot was revived, using hardy range-raised turkeys in the parade.

Today, Cuero holds "Turkeyfest" each October, featuring a parade, arts and crafts show, food booths and a Miss Turkeyfest beauty pageant. A highlight is the "Great Gobbler Gallop," a race between prize turkeys from Cuero and Worthington, Minnesota. This competition resulted from a Worthington newspaper editor's claim that his town was the world's turkey capital, not Cuero. Contestants’ names are always Ruby Begonia for the Texas turkey and Paycheck for the Minnesota bird. They vie for the title of World's Fastest Turkey, racing in two heats, one in each city over a two-year period.
 
Cuero's population in 2010 was 6,841. It is the county seat of DeWitt County, Texas, and is unofficially known as the "turkey capital of the world." Cuero High School teams are called the Gobblers. Also in 2010, Cuero was named one of the 'Coolest Small Towns in America,' by Budget Travel Magazine. ~ Wikipedia

All thanks to our wild Texas turkeys!

Three Turkey Facts from TEXAS PARKS & WILDLIFE

  1. If Wild Turkeys could smell, they'd be nearly impossible to hunt. The eyes and ears of a turkey make it one of the toughest of all Texas game animals. Their vision is the keenest among all Texas game animals. They are especially astute at pinpointing movement and can hone in on noises from a mile away.
  2. Wild Turkey Revival! A hundred years ago, turkeys almost disappeared from Texas due to unregulated hunting and loss of habitat. Now, thanks to hunter and landowner support, bag limits and a restocking program, they are making a steady comeback.
  3. Where the Wild Turkeys are. Turkeys now inhabit 223 of the 254 counties in Texas. You can see them roam at many Texas State Parks. One of the most substantial and oldest winter turkey roosts is at South Llano River State Park near Junction.

 


8 comments:

  1. Lyn, you always find such interesting subjects for your posts. This is fun info about our state. By the way, as a teen, my mom raised turkeys. She said they are dumb and will stand in a rain downpour and look up with their mouths open until they drown. She hated them. She was raising them to get money to go to beauty school.

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  2. Fun post, Lyn. On several occasion when I lived in California and drove down the mountain to my RWA meetings, I had to stop on the road and let the wild turkeys cross ahead of my car. They are strange birds and oblivious to their surroundings. I wouldn't want to deal with them on foot, though.

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  3. Thank you, Caroline. I always enjoy your posts too. Goodness, turkeys really are dumb to stand there and drown! Good for your mom, putting up with them in order to pursue her goal!

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  4. Paisley, they aren't the prettiest of birds either, but they sure do taste good roasted!

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  5. I think turkeys are about the ugliest birds in the world. And yes, they are dumb.
    We have a small flock of wild turkeys out here in Central Texas where we live. Once in a while we see them, and once in a while we hear them! I'm surprised someone has not killed one...or two...
    Only Texas would have a Turkey Capital. Thanks goodness it's not the town where I live.
    Great stuff, Lyn! Happy Thanksgiving.!

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  6. Celia, I don't think I'd want to live near Cuero back then, but it might have been fun to see the Turkey Trot just once. I do wonder about the odor of all those pesky birds, though. Not to mention the mess they'd make!

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  7. Fun post, Lyn! I never realized how many wild turkeys were in Wyoming until I started seeing them in the neighborhood when I moved back.

    Maybe we should start a Turkey Trot! :)

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  8. Kirsten, if you start one, I'll come watch. :)

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