Our true tale of Tahoe turkeys took place in the 1860’s, when a young man by the name of Henry Clay Hooker had decided to risk everything he had to bring a flock of turkeys over the Sierra, from Placerville to Carson City, where he knew people would pay almost anything to enjoy a holiday turkey dinner.
So he purchased a flock of 500 turkeys from local ranchers for $1.50 each and then prepared them for the 60 mile journey by walking them through a puddle of warm tar, and then through some sand which coated their feet…to help protect them from the snow-covered rocks during the journey. And with that done he headed off cross-country to Lake Tahoe.
The journey was slow and tedious because the turkeys were excitable and since their wings hadn’t been clipped in those early days, they’d fly off whenever something spooked them, but Henry and his dogs would patiently gather them together and continue trudging towards the lake. And he was doing fairly well until he suddenly came up on a sheer cliff that was hundreds of feet high.
Unfortunately his dogs didn’t know about the cliff and kept nipping at the tails of the turkeys at the back end of the flock trying to drive them forward, and they did…right over the cliff! All 500 of them. Henry sat down in a daze…his flock was gone, and he just knew he was ruined. Heartsick, he worked his way down to the bottom of the cliff.
But when he got to the bottom, he heard a familiar sound…a gobble, first one, and then a whole chorus of them…his entire flock was simply standing around, waiting for him to show up. Henry then realized that when they went over the cliff, they’d simply stuck out their wings and glided down to the bottom…and with a little corn and herding, he soon had them all back together again and on their way to Carson City, where the happy citizens eagerly paid him $5 a head for his flock…and everyone in the Carson Valley enjoyed a wonderful turkey dinner for Thanksgiving.
And now that you’ve read this tale, you can honestly say that at one time long ago, wild turkeys used to walk through the Lake Tahoe Basin, and you also have a holiday safety message, to always keep your eyes sharp ahead…avoid stepping off any cliff, for us humans can’t flap our wings and glide safely to the bottom. Happy Thanksgiving!!