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Turkeys 365: North American Indians Had History With Turkeys

The wild turkey

American Indians were very familiar with wild turkeys.

The Aztecs and Mayans weren't the only pre-colonization New World tribes that were familiar with turkeys. North American Indians also ate turkeys and used the birds’ feathers for ornamentation.

“The cliff-dwelling regions in the Four Corners region had Merriam’s turkeys of some kind of semicaptive state and probably had to trap them," said Lovett Williams, a well-known turkey biologist and contributing editor to Turkey & Turkey Hunting. "But I’ve seen no credible reference to the trapping part. Dried-up turkey carcasses were found in their dwellings after the Indians disappeared.

“They were not the Navajo Indians, however. The Navajo are the Indians there in modern times, and they probably knew how to trap wild Merriam’s turkeys left behind by the cliff-dwellers. Also, there might have been Gould’s there before the whites showed up. Some of that is quite hazy.”

American Indians in the Northeast and Midwest also hunted and ate turkeys, though legends maintain that some tribes believed turkeys were cowardly and refused to eat them, fearing the trait would transfer.

“Indians ate turkeys every chance they got, but I’m aware of the myths to the contrary,” Williams said. “The early writers, mostly from England, generated a lot of (untrue stories) about turkeys, Indians, cowboys and everything else and sent it back for consumption in England.”

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