Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Famous Turkey War of 1859

By Lyn Horner

Have you heard of the “Famous Turkey War of 59?” Me neither until I read an article that was posted in western newspapers in 1924. The article is included in Christmas in the Old West, A Historical Scrapbook by Sam Travers.

Wild Turkeys, image purchased on dreamstime.com
 
The story goes that turkeys were scarce at Christmastime in 1859 around Denver and Auraria, neighboring towns located at the mouth of Cherry Creek. This was very early in the settlement of that area, only the second Christmas since the founding of Denver. Auraria was the larger of the two towns. They had a combined population of about 2,000 people, most of them men.

Denver 1859, image in the Public Domain


Evidently a lawless group of toughs who called themselves the Bummers had been causing trouble for the good citizens. Both sides wanted turkey dinners for Christmas and were not above using pistols to obtain them.

It seems a rancher brought a wagonload of wild turkeys into Auraria, thinking he’d make a tidy profit on the sale of them. He stopped on Ferry Street, which was lined with saloons and gambling halls. A crowd soon gathered around his wagon and he began dickering on the price of turkeys. Meanwhile, several Bummers snuck out of the saloons and somehow managed to grab every last turkey out of the wagon.
 
That theft of all the turkeys brought matters to a head between the respectable folks and the toughs. Indignant citizens held a meeting, listened to a number of witnesses and concluded that several Bummers were guilty of stealing the turkeys. The citizens armed themselves while the thieves and their friends boldly paraded through both towns, firing their guns in the air and terrifying people.

Late one evening Asa Middaugh, one of the most important witnesses, was shot at two different times and slightly wounded. This resulted in the “Jefferson Rangers,” a group charged with keeping the peace in the unofficial Jefferson Territory, being called in. Later reorganized as the Colorado Rangers, they were patterned after the Texas Rangers and served as Colorado's only statewide law enforcement agency thru the 1920s.

The Bummers left before the Rangers arrived, but because the toughs had threatened to burn the town, the peace keepers patrolled the streets. Meanwhile, one of the men who fired at Mr. Middaugh was killed by a man named Tom Pollock. Another of the turkey thieves went after Pollock with a gun but was met by a number of arms residents who sent him running.

At a later meeting, a resolution was passed that the remaining turkey thieves had five hours to leave town or be hanged. Most of the guilty ones departed. Peace returned although the Rangers and citizens kept a close watch for several days. And that is how the great Denver Turkey War ended.

Now don't you go fightin' over turkeys at the market. Just might get yuh hanged, partner!

 

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12 comments:

  1. gobble gobble. what an interesting post. Thanks for sharing, and Merry Christmas.

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  2. Hi Gini, I'm glad you enjoyed reading about Denver's Turkey War. Thank you for stopping by. Merry Christmas to you too!

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  3. I wonder what happened to the turkeys? Quite a story, Lyn, and one I hadn't heard before. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. I fear they lost their heads, Caroline. Wink!

    Thanks for popping in. Merry Christmas!

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  5. Enjoyed this blog Lyn. Funny yet not to think men killed each other over turkeys!

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    1. Sharla, it seems outrageous to me too. I guess they really, really wanted turkey dinners. :)

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  6. Lyn, what a story! You told it so well. I giggled all the way through. Thanks for such an interesting post. :-)

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    1. Kathleen, I'm glad the great turkey war gave you some laughs. The article written in 1924 is even funnier thanks to the old-fashioned style of writing.

      Merry Christmas!

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  7. Thanks for sharing this story. I'm going to share this with my husband, he'll love it. Merry Christmas.

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    1. OH, Erin, I do hope your hubby enjoys it! Mine did. :)

      Merry Christmas!

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  8. I never knew turkeys were so important. Of course, when they're scarce..or totlly absent...I can see that they'd become very valuable. I've read of all kinds of wars in Texas, but none beat the turkey story. Thanks for the tale, and yes, a bit of laughter. You have to admit, it is funny.

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    1. Definitely laughter, even though a man died, less due to the turkey theft than to bad blood between the good folks and the Bummers. Men can make war over just about anything, it seems. Thanks for stopping by, Celia. Merry Christmas!

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