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Wild turkey population booms, and little-known Thanksgiving history

By Sam Penrod and Carole Mikita | Posted - Nov 21st, 2012 @ 6:15pm


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NEPHI — It's a scene Utah hasn't always been able to offer - wild turkeys roaming the hillside.

"We have a really good turkey population in the state. A conservative estimate is over 25,000 birds in the state," said Scott Root with the Division of Wildlife Resources.

He says spotting wild turkeys while driving in the canyons of Utah is very common. "Anywhere you have cottonwood trees in a river bottom and scrub oak," he said.

The mild winter last season also helped. There is a good crop of young wild turkeys right now. DWR is using nets to trap them and transplant them in new areas of the state.

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"It is our largest upland game bird in the state, so there is a lot of intrigue about turkeys just for that reason. But they are enjoyable to have around. They also taste pretty good," Root said.

But if you want to enjoy a wild turkey on Thanksgiving, you'll have to store it for several months in the freezer. Utah's only turkey hunt is in the springtime.

"We're not quite ready to have a fall turkey hunt, so our hunts do take place in April and May," Root said.

Root pointed out a fun fact: Of course a male turkey is a tom and a female is a hen. But a young tom is called a Jake and a young hen is known as a Jenny.

Thanksgiving History

The First Thanksgiving

How much do we really know about the first Thanksgiving? William Bradford and Edward Winslow later each wrote a paragraph about it (in original 17th century spelling).

Edward Winslow:
"Our harvest being gotten in, our governour sent foure men on fowling, that so we might after a speciall manner rejoyce together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labours ; they foure in one day killed as much fowle, as with a little helpe beside, served the Company almost a weeke, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Armes, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoyt, with some ninetie men, whom for three dayes we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deere, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governour, and upon the Captaine and others. And although it be not always so plentifull, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so farre from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plentie."

William Bradford, Of Plimoth Plantation:
"They begane now to gather in ye small harvest they had, and to fitte up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health & strenght, and had all things in good plenty; fFor as some were thus imployed in affairs abroad, others were excersised in fishing, aboute codd, & bass, & other fish, of which yey tooke good store, of which every family had their portion. All ye somer ther was no want. And now begane to come in store of foule, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besids water foule, ther was great store of wild Turkies, of which they tooke many, besids venison, &c. Besids, they had about a peck a meale a weeke to a person, or now since harvest, Indean corn to yt proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largly of their plenty hear to their freinds in England, which were not fained, but true reports."

Here's another Thanksgiving-related fact: Many people believe America began celebrating Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November hundreds of years ago. Actually, it was not until the 20th century.

That's just part of the history of Thanksgiving many people may not be aware of.

In the fall of 1621, colonists of the Plymouth Plantation held a feast. Indian chiefs Massasoit, Squanto and Samoset came with 90 of their men for the three-day event.

Then during Pres. George Washington's first year in office, he created a proclamation calling Nov. 26 "to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God."

But Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, influential writer and editor, is credited for making Thanksgiving a national holiday. She began in 1846, writing letters to five U.S. presidents.

It took 17 years but she convinced Pres. Abraham Lincoln to support legislation, establishing it on the fourth Tuesday in November 1863. He reminded Americans of the bounties of the Most High God. And implored His "Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and union."

But when did it become the fourth Thursday?

History teacher Joe Mardesich knows.

"It was FDR," he said. "They needed some extra shopping time."

In 1939, Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday to the third Thursday of November, to extend the Christmas shopping season and boost the economy. After a storm of protest, Pres. Roosevelt changed the holiday again in 1941 to the fourth Thursday, where it stands today.

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