The all-time granddaddy of all turkey tales in Clay County

Mary Jo McTammany
Posted 11/21/17

Clay County leads the pack in great storytellers and this tale, in a variety of forms, has become legendary. Through the years the verbal sharing of stories whenever relatives gathered has been lost …

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The all-time granddaddy of all turkey tales in Clay County

Posted

Clay County leads the pack in great storytellers and this tale, in a variety of forms, has become legendary. Through the years the verbal sharing of stories whenever relatives gathered has been lost in many families and replaced by televised parades and football games and most recently staring at telephones.

But in the early 1900s, the time at the end of harvest season meant a respite from the heavy demands of summer farming. Larders were full, and everyone was ready for a break. It was the time of church and family reunions bringing people who had settled out of the county back home. It was a time of sharing the family stories and making new ones.

It was around this time in the late 1920s, maybe early ‘30s and this version is supposed to have taken place southwest of Green Cove Springs near a settlement known as Quigley.

A family from Jacksonville with two young boys drove deep into the woods of Clay County to visit relatives.

Feeling a little out of place with their country cousins, the boys boasted of city life with its indoor toilets, running water, paved streets…on and on it went. Naturally, the country lads plotted to teach them a lesson.

Since they were just standing around in the yard jawboning and killing time until the food was ready and had heard the bragging too, the men decided to cooperate. Close to 20 men and boys climbed into two rusty pickup trucks and headed into the deep woods.

A couple of the uncles began setting things up for the townies to fire a shotgun. Over by the trucks, the rest of the men sucked on pipes or cut plugs of tobacco, and passed the shine jug while keeping a casual eye on the proceedings.

The rural lads managed to get the oldest boy to stand on a stump and pull both triggers of the gun simultaneously. After seeing his brother fly in the air about eight feet and crash into a stand of palmetto, the younger boy declined his turn.

Now it was time to call up the turkeys. The newcomers were instructed to stomp around a hollow tree whooping and beating on it with branches. It was a ridiculous sight. Everyone laughed and cheered them on.

Then, suddenly the screeching and crashing from inside the tree became louder than the boys and their racket outside the tree. Crashes and clouds of sand started at the top of the tree and worked down to the base and dust and debris exploded out of a hole at the bottom. Visibility was limited by the spinning sand, but it was a whirling, hissing, snarling thing that went every which a way and scattered men and boys in all directions.

It was not unusual for a hollow tree to attract animals to nest and feed. This one had evidently become a sort of varmint condominium with several separate floors. The whirling monster paused briefly when it crashed into a pickup truck. It was in fact a turkey, a rattlesnake and a raccoon all wound-up together and brim-full of fear and fury.

In the confusion of flight, the twirling tumult had skittered between the men and their shotguns leaning against the truck. But this was Clay County in the early decades of the 1900s so several of the uncles pulled revolvers from pockets and emptied them into the gyrating dust whirl. The raccoon and the rattlesnake fell dead in the dust.

The turkey hesitated only a split second then with a fierce screech began attacking men and boys with a vengeance. They had never even heard of a killer turkey but figured for sure that’s what they were facing. After going round and round with a rattlesnake and a raccoon, this turkey was ready to take on the world.

Somehow, the story gets cloudy here. The shotguns and rifles were reclaimed and the ground shook with the simultaneous discharge of weapons resulting in a turkey so full of lead pellets it was not fit to eat.

What started as a prank on the young visitors had backfired for they had indeed “called up” a turkey. The men, embarrassed by the turn of events that left them separated from their guns swore not to tell. But obviously someone told.

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