A Petition, Stop Dropping Turkeys from Airplanes, is
currently circulating on the Internet urging Yellville, Arkansas NOT to revive the annual “Turkey Drop” from an airplane. Here is some
background on this event and on a formerly held “turkey trot/drop” in Collinsville, Alabama.
From Chapter 6, “Rituals of Spectacular Humiliation,” More Than a Meal:
The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual, and Reality, by Karen Davis,
PhD, President of United Poultry Concerns.
In December of 1989, THE NATIONAL ENQUIRER did an exposé of a festival tradition in Yellville,
Arkansas known as the turkey drop.  That
coverage, with its photographs of turkeys in mid-air being dropped from airplanes, put an end to the town’s
official sponsorship of the turkey drop.
However, pictures speak louder than words only to an extent. Journalistic cues—attitude and
interpretation—are crucial in determining how a
mass audience will respond to graphic depictions of certain kinds of cruelty
such as the turkey drop. In this instance, the Enquirer deplored the “nightmarish scenes”
of turkeys being thrown from moving aircraft a
thousand feet above the ground, plunging through the air at fifty miles an hour, crashing,
and being chased down, cornered, and captured by local youths.
Through the years, the Enquirer explained, turkeys subjected to the
Yellville turkey drop have slammed into power lines, telephone poles, office buildings, and trees:
“One turkey slammed into a power line so hard the wire bent down about three feet before snapping back up.
The bird hit the ground, shocked and
dazed, and tried to walk . . . pitifully trying to run on two obviously broken
legs before it was crushed to death by a pileup of kids. . . .
After smashing into a tree and coming to rest on a branch,
one of the birds was pursued
by a gang of kids who captured and fought over it—using it in a grisly
tug-of-war that ended when one boy tore the turkey’s wing off.”
The turkey drop was the highlight of Yellville’s annual October
Turkey Trot Festival, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. Festival
chairwoman Janie Purdom told the Enquirer:
“We have a wonderful festival. Each year we also drop 10 to 12 wild turkeys from a plane.
Townspeople gather below and try to catch one to take home and eat.
We LOVE turkeys! The festival is to recognize the wild turkey, a popular
hunting bird throughout Arkansas.”
However, the Enquirer called the turkey drop “sick,” a “bizarre
Arkansas celebration,” and a “Festival of Death.” These words, together
with the photographs, produced such an outcry around the country
that the Yellville Chamber of Commerce cancelled its sponsorship of
the turkey drop in 1990. Had the Enquirer chosen instead to represent
the turkey drop as a “charming” or “quaint” American tradition, it
might still be going on.
Turkey Trot Days at Oliver Hall’s Store in Collinsville, Alabama
A similar entertainment took place in Collinsville, Alabama, which
each year held a “turkey trot,” along with the more ominous sounding
“turkey drop.”  In the turkey trot, derived from driving turkeys to
slaughter on foot, as discussed in Chapter 4 [of More Than a Meal],
Collinsville residents chased turkeys, chickens, ducks, and geese through the
streets with brooms and other farm and household implements. According to the Alabama Review:
“Turkey Trot Day at Oliver Hall’s store in Collinsville in DeKalb County in northeast Alabama was held annually the day before Thanksgiving
from 1912 through the mid 1930s. The brainchild of Irby Hall, the colorful,
innovative elder son of the store’s founder, the event brought crowds of 8,000 to 10,000 people to a
town of only 700 residents to watch the
release of turkeys, guineas, chickens and geese. . . .
“Crowds gathered around Hall’s store and on roofs of adjoining buildings, with some of the more daring men and boys stationing themselves
in nearby trees and on telephone poles. The appearance of Sol Kerley, an
elderly black employee of the Halls, signaled that action was to begin. Wearing a tall, silk top hat,
the black man climbed to the roof of the store
where stood a scaffold approximately twenty-five feet high. A springboard about ten feet long extended
from the scaffold over the street. With an
air of authority the master of ceremonies cracked a buggy whip to force various sizes and colors of fowl to walk the plank and with a
long pole prodded those unwilling to fly.
“The turkeys usually fluttered into the air, soared for short distances, and then skimmed just over everyone’s head before tiring and
dropping into the crowd. Following a frantic crush of people with outstretched arms, feathers flew, and some jubilant farmer emerged with his
While the pictures in the Alabama Review are almost as appalling
as the ones in the National Enquirer, the writers treat the Collinsville
turkey trot and drop as a colorful American festival tradition. Turkeys
trying desperately to balance themselves on telephone wires after being
dropped head down from a scaffold are said to be performing “acrobatic
stunts.” The authors give no hint that there was anything wrong with treating the birds this way.
– Karen Davis, PhD, More Than a Meal: The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual, and Reality
PDF Format: More Than a Meal
 Blosser, John, and James McCandlish. “It’s Sick! Yellville Turkeys Tossed Out of Planes – For Fun.” National Enquirer,
Dec. 5, 1989.
 Purdom, Janie (President, Yellville Area Chamber of Commerce). Letter to Karen Davis, Oct. 29, 1996.
“Dear Ms. Davis: Thank you for your recent letter concerning the Turkey Trot Festival. The Yellville Area Chamber of Commerce is the official
sponsor of the National Wild Turkey Calling Contest and Turkey Trot Festival held in Yellville. The Chamber does not currently sponsor or sanction the
dropping of live turkeys from airplanes and has not done so for a number of years.”
 Kuykendall, James R., and Elizabeth S. Howard. “Turkey Trot Days at Oliver Hall’s Store.” Alabama Review 38.2, 1985: pp.
MORE THAN A MEAL
The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual, and Reality
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