The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Old Time Turkey Drives

By Imogene Turman © 1984

Issue: November, 1984

old time turkey drivesTrever Marshall in 1960.This is an account of the ways some of the Blue Ridge Mountain pioneer families made a few dollars. Although it didn't take so many dollars to get by on in those days, it was real hard to make even a few dollars. These folks had a talent for finding a way and making do with what they had.

Trever Marshall of Laurel Fork, Virginia tells of his father, William Cosley Marshall (nicknamed "Bruz") and his venture in the turkey business. He grew, bought, dressed and marketed turkeys for awhile in Patrick and Carroll Counties.

The farmers raising turkeys had a year round job. Early in the spring, the turkeys began to lay eggs. They had to be watched going to their nests, sometimes it even meant tracking them through the snow as they weren't always penned up, but ran loose. Every kind of varmint was after the eggs and the young and old turkeys. A crow could find a nest, snatch an egg and be gone. The possums, raccoons, foxes, dogs, snakes and hawks were all waiting their turn. So, if a farmer had safely guarded his flock through all these perils, plus the weather storms, then he could pocket some money well earned.

From 1905 to 1910, Bruz Marshall went through the neighborhoods of Laurel Fork, Keno and Bell Spur buying turkeys. He paid 15 to 30 cents a pound on foot. The birds had to be healthy and grain fed, using corn and buckwheat mostly. These birds roamed the fields feeding on insects and berries and in the garden if not watched.

When autumn came and the days got cool, they began the drive. Bruz took his sons, Trever and Tommy and sometimes Grover Worrel. They went to each farm with a set of scales called stillards. Each turkey was caught, feet tied and a stick run between their legs and weighed. Then, one wing's feathers were cut short. This kept the bird from flying.

These birds were then driven along a path to the road to join the rest of the flock. Next, the birds were herded down the road. Usually a big Tom was the leader. They gobbled and strutted and stayed together as the boys with big sticks kept them in the road.

After a day of buying and gathering and night began to come on, those birds began to refuse to go on. They looked for a roosting place. Usually a rail fence provided the right place. So, with the birds gone to roost, the drivers had to bed down. Sometimes it was close enough to home they could go in and catch some sleep, but had to be back before daylight for the birds would be up and ready to go.

When they got home, the birds were driven into pens and fed buckwheat and corn. There was a good crowd, sometimes a hundred or more turkeys. Then, they waited for the weather to get cold. When the right day came, the family, with help from neighbors, came in and killed and picked the turkeys. The help was paid with feathers, using them to make bed ticks and pillows.

Trever remembers some of the neighbors that helped as Charlie and Sonora Worrell and Otis and Clemmie Worrell.

The turkeys were scalded and picked clean with feet, head and internals left. They were hung up to cool or freeze if weather sent the freeze. Then, the turkeys were packed in flour barrels (these were big, wooden barrels that flour was sold in the country stores). White cloths lined these barrels. The turkeys were pushed down tight and covered with white cloths.

Then the barrels were loaded on wagons and driven to Sylvatus to the train depot. One company buying the turkeys was D.W. Ballander of Richmond. He paid the freight and sent Mr. Marshall a check for the birds. There was but a few dollars profit for all those involved, but it did provide the necessary money for these mountain folks and always there was the dream, "Maybe next year we'll do better."

Not only were the turkeys driven locally, but some drove turkeys as far as Mount Airy and some to Danville. This was a long drive on foot, and a lot of camping out.