Turkey Drop, er Plummet

I just returned from a weekend with two of my friends from high school. We caught up with each other two years ago, decided to get together for our first slumber party at Campbell Town and have since made it an annual event.

This year, we returned to our native Kansas City, where Lora still lives. We had a fantabulous time; it’s always good to see old friends.

While I was gone, I was largely unaware that a huge international controversy was brewing right in the backyard of my adopted home.

Definitely one of the things I’ve had a hard time adjusting to here is the culture toward animals. Pets are often tied up or confined in small runs. There is also a lack of shelters in rural communities such as mine and the local humane society is on the verge of closing due to the lack of donations.

Vet care is extremely expensive in a state that ranks #47 in wages, making it difficult for those who do want to take care of their pets and spay/neuter.

It’s also still jarring and sickening to me to open the paper on Sunday morning and see a photo of a bloodied, dead black bear hanging from a chain with a smiling, proud hunter standing near who has “harvested” this majestic creature (they do not call it “hunting” here).

One of the things I’ve always loved about the Ozarks is the myriad of fall festivals and I was so excited to hear about the Turkey Trot Festival, held in the town very near to us. When I asked my aunt that first fall if she had ever attended, she told me no and explained:

“They drop live turkeys from planes and I just don’t care to see that.”

I could hardly believe it. That sounded more like the episode from the old television show WRKP in Cincinnati.

The local newspaper, The Baxter Bulletin confirmed it with their preview story that year that described the turkey drop as birds “gliding and sometimes plummeting to the ground.”

According to PETA, that’s because wild turkeys can in fact fly, but only at low altitudes for short distances. Birds that are tossed from planes 1,000 feet high at 70 mph have a difficult time getting their bearings and gliding to a safe landing.

PETA this year brought national and international attention to the event, which has been a tradition here since 1946. They posted a video, obviously made by a local, showing birds in fact, plummeting into cars and buildings. They also offered a $5,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of what the local paper has heroized as “The Phantom Pilot” who flies the plane, and asked the FAA to get involved.

It did stop the live turkey drop this year, but it didn’t stop the fervor of people in this town, many of whom were angry the drop was halted. A Facebook page immortalizing the pilot as a local folk hero had over 600 “likes” when I wrote this post and a local woman making t-shirts reported selling over 1,000.

I very rarely agree with PETA on any issues, but they’re right on with this one. I’ve always found the idea of going to see this spectacle, much less taking children to watch turkeys plummet with a thud, very barbaric.

I get tradition. This past weekend while we were in Kansas City, our local hometown festival was held in conjunction with homecoming. We didn’t attend, but I reminisced a little when we were caught in parade traffic of taking my mother to the parades, meeting up with old friends and neighbors and browsing the craft booths.

I wondered how I would feel if our town homecoming had also included throwing live animals from planes?

The same as I do now, definitely. I cannot imagine the depth of ignorance by people of the fear, horror and pain these birds must endure for people’s entertainment.

It’s things like this I think that will always make me feel like an outsider, a visitor in my own adopted town, and an unwelcome one at that.

When I read news stories about this turkey drop and readers comment that the Ozarks or Arkansas is full of uneducated hillbillies and rednecks, this particular custom, which I do not view as progressive, makes it hard to defend that it is not. It is a beautiful state with many good, educated people, and I wish people saw more of that side, but stories such as this do not help the stereotype.

Have you ever moved to a new place where the morals/values did not match your own? How did you handle it?

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41 Responses

  1. mat says:

    The way I see it, values are certain things…rules, perhaps…you hold dear or live by. Lots of people have similar values. Lots of people also have radically different values. Morals are what it’s called when Group A pushes their values on Group B.

    Obviously, I’m speaking in broad generalizations here, but… Eskimos consider dogs to be coworkers (not family members). Thais consider dogs to be food. You and I consider them to be pets. Thing is…each situation is contextually correct. “Correct” is whatever the controlling majority says it is. That could be polyamory in Utah, childhood plastic surgery in Rio, or nude beaches in Barcelona.
    And that’s not a defense of turkey drops, but I’m saying…to you, it’s morally reprehensible. To “them”…it’s good sport. Cow pie bingo.

    Of course, back in 1946, things were a *little* different. The US has made a few social advances since then…civil rights…desegregation…UFO crashes in Roswell. Little stuff like that. Personally, I’d chalk it up to an archaic practice that was too weird to believe that it still went on. Here’s to hoping the 65-year anniversary of the turkey plunge is the last one.

    • kerri says:

      That’s true, Mat, but even in Utah, polygamy has been outlawed for quite some time. I think one of the writers was trying to say something similar in an editorial last week. He said basically, there was no reason for PETA to come in and “piss people off,” they could have come in with pamphlets and tried to educate, blah blah. The reality is that this is not the first time this has come up. The chamber, which sponsors this festival, long ago, quit paying for and publicly anyway, supporting the turkey drop. It has been a long standing tradition now, to give a wink of the eye and a nod of the head, as long as the “animal extremists” are not paying attention. Seriously? Having someone from PETA come in and try to educate and play nice with these folks would be akin to civil rights people going into Alabama and registering voters in the 1950s. It would be a wonder if they didn’t turn up missing. It’s one thing to not know you’re not progessing with the rest of the world, ignorant, in other words. It’s quite another to keep doing it when you know it’s not in step. That’s called stupidity.

  2. Merr says:

    This post made me heartsick and I am so grateful that the drop was stopped. That is really, truly what matters.

    • Kerri says:

      Well, there was an editorial in the paper this morning about PETA’s tactics – why didn’t they help with several high profile horse rescues we’ve had in the area this year? Why didn’t they volunteer to come and educate the people, maybe do something else to replace this activity instead of basically just pissing everyone off? This has been going on since 1946, the chamber officially withdrew from its involvement in this practice long ago. They really think that education and niceties would stop it at this point? Mind boggling.

  3. Sheryl says:

    This is just so sickening. It always amazes me that some people can be so cruel.

  4. Frugal Kiwi says:

    It was funny when Less Nessman covered it for WKRP. Not so much in real life. Ugh.

  5. judy stock says:

    Kerri-
    so sorry you are going through this. I am sure it must be tough to understand what goes on around you in town when the majority think very differently than you. Personally, it would make me feel very uncomfortable. But we all have our own comfort zones. Are you going to change them, probably not. You have to figure out what will make you most comfortable. it is a tough choice.

  6. As long as I live, I will never understand taking pleasure in the suffering and killing of helpless animals, and there is so much of it in the world. I’m so glad that PETA stepped in and got it stopped. I don’t agree with their agenda always, but they have addressed many situations that cried out for intervention and they’ve been successful at ending many cruel practices simply by holding them up to public attention.

    A lot of people might not realize it, but domestic turkeys are actually very social and bond with humans, unlike chickens, who really care only about their food and water being supplied and a cozy coop to shield them from predators.

    Turkeys are different, they are easy to tame and can be trained to come when called and they actually enjoy the attention of humans. My parents, sister and many friends who live nearby, have had turkeys. They are gentle birds who will follow you around like a puppy dog, hoping for a gentle caress of their feathers.

    My sister had a pair of turkeys that lived in her horse barn, right alongside the horses. Any time I was at the barn to ride my horse, the turkeys came right up to me, clucking and seeking a little attention, which I was happy to give. The thought of tossing those sweet, gentle animals out of an airplane, and taking pleasure in their terror and pain, makes me sick to my stomach. Thank God it was stopped, but how depressing that people are actually angered by the ending of such a cruel and stupid activity.

    • Kerri says:

      Just to clarify, Kathleen, these are wild turkeys. Domestic turkeys, I’m told, cannot fly at all because they’ve been bread so unnaturally large that they can no longer fly. These are wild turkeys and I’m told some do glide to the ground unharmed, but I think the “fun” in this is seeing if they can. I don’t know, because I don’t understand it. I have friends who will differ with you on the chickens. I had a friend recently lose her last one and she was very upset, it was a pet to her.

      • Wild turkeys- beautiful, intelligent birds- just as terrible of course.

        My sister has both chickens and turkeys, and though she does love her chickens and thoroughly enjoys them, they are quite different in how they relate to people. The turkeys are clearly interested in interacting with humans in a way the chickens are not. That has been my experience, but I’m sure it’s possible to tame a chicken and have it form an attachment.

        My ninety four year old aunt told me that when she and her sister,My Aunt Peggy, were little, Aunt Peggy had a pet chicken that she raised from a chick. It followed her around and my aunt spoiled it with kitchen scraps and crushed corn. One day, the chicken flew through an open window into my aunt’s bedroom. My aunt came in to find the chicken had laid an egg right on her bed! Isn’t that funny? So- I’m sure that it’s possible for chickens to be tamed and form a bond, but it seems to come more naturally to domestic turkeys, at least from what I’ve seen.

  7. Tonia says:

    I moved to the Ozarks about 7 years ago after living in New England for 17 years. It was quite a culture shock but mostly in a good way. I found the people here kinder, definitely more friendly, and the pace of life was much saner. I agree though, the one thing that has been really hard for me to adjust to is the very different perception about animal welfare. I read the story about the turkey drop and cringed, realizing my friends back East would have one more reason to add to the long list of why they thought I was crazy for moving to Arkansas. It is hard for me to believe that grown people can justify this sort of cruelty towards other living creatures.

    • Kerri says:

      Yes, Tonia, there are many good things here and many good people. I know you understand about what I hear from my own friends on the stereotyping though.

  8. Jane Boursaw says:

    Oh my lord. I remember that WKRP episode, but didn’t realize that people actually do this in real life! That’s awful!

  9. Becky says:

    this story broke my heart.. plain and simple.. this is wrong on every level.. and should be STOP… someone who thinks this is ok.. must have been dropped from a plane on their heads..

  10. Alexandra says:

    I think you ask a good question. That has not really happened to me. I was aware of the turkey drop and shocked by it. Must have been organized by descendants of the same folks who shot at buffalos from airplanes and wolves from helicopters.

  11. That’s so strange–I’ve never heard of anything like that. The closest I’ve ever come to is they do a marshmallow drop at a park in Michigan…nothing like what you’ve described. Did I miss it–is the turkey dropped and then roasted or something? This just doesn’t make much sense.

    • Kerri says:

      No, these are wild turkeys. I’ve heard stories if the birds survive the drop, of people chasing them down and either letting them go into the woods or taking them home and eating them. So, some of them that DO survive are killed anyway. Makes no sense.

  12. I heard a report about this on NPR the other day and it took me a while to understand they were actually talking about LIVE birds (at first I thought it had to be frozen turkeys — which people bowl with here in Buffalo at Thanksgiving). This is appalling and shocking and should be stopped.

    • Kerri says:

      I know. It took me awhile to understand what my aunt was telling me. I was talking with a friend who moved here from Little Rock and we just don’t get it.

  13. Bob says:

    I also find that the way animals are treated in Arkansas, and the world for that matter, disgusting.
    At least for now and hopefully forever, this practice has been discontinued for good.
    I also know that disgusting things happen in Kansas City and as a native Arkansan, I resent you painting the entire state as “uneducated rednecks and hillbillies”. Why would you want to live in such a place?

    • Kerri says:

      Bob, I did not paint the entire state as uneducated rednecks and hillbillies, at least that was not my intent. My father was also a native Arkansan and I certainly did not think of him in such a manner. What I wrote was that it is hard to defend it, particularly in discussions as it pertains to the way animals are thought of and treated here, in general, and in the particular instance of the turkey drop. While reading news coverage, particularly national and international coverage of this particular custom, the commenters overwhelmingly used those terms to describe people who would think such things are fun and entertaining. As a native Arkansan, you must have fielded questions about hillbillies and the other not so pleasant stereotypes. I don’t think I’ve been interviewed once by the national press about Our Little House in which the reporter did not ask me if we have running water or an outhouse. There is a view that people in rural areas, particularly in the south, are backwards and customs such as this, which I wouldn’t describe as progressive, don’t help. Each area has its own crosses to bear, for sure. It was only 15 years ago that a boss from NYC asked me to show her the cattle crossings in Kansas City. She really thought we had cows just wandering the streets as in the old west. However, as a native Kansas Citian, I’m about 99.9 percent confident that we don’t throw turkeys from planes to see if they can fly. While KC has problems of its own regarding pet overpopulation, BSLs (which are cruel unto themselves) and animal cruelty cases, I found it easier to find more like minded folks who work together for animal rescue and welfare there than I have here. That doesn’t mean they aren’t here, it’s just that they’re the fewer, less vocal people. My husband said his co-workers are absolutely outraged that PETA got this turkey drop stopped this year and they’re all threatening to never attend the festival again. He’s the lone minority, and doesn’t voice it, that wonders why in the world you would want to attend it if they did. Why do we live here? Because this is where my mother and aunt purchased land and its where we built Our Little House. As one like minded friend told me today, there is a reason for everything and a reason we both must be here. Maybe we can ultimately help change some minds, or at least help some animals. I know I have helped some already being involved with the rescue I volunteer for. We’ve also been in the right place at the right time to directly save 4 dogs since we’ve lived here. If I never did anything else, those 4 lives alone have been well worth it.

      • Kerri says:

        And thank you for your question. It made me look at what I wrote and realize your misinterpretation. I adjusted the ending so hopefully, it better represents my feelings.

        • Bob says:

          I do appreciate your reply and you do have a way with words. I now better understand where your heart is. My wife, Betty, of 46 years and I have always had at least one dog in our family (three house dogs right now)and they have all been rescue dogs. I would never buy a dog. Rescue dogs are loyal and loving and are always there when you need a friend.
          When we see a lost or stray dog that we can’t coax to us so we can try to help find their home, we just give our family dogs some more lovin and tell ourselves we cant help them all.
          I also admire your courage to live your dream in a small home. I advocate living small and hope to do that someday myself.

          Politics
          I think Republicans and Democrats, all citizens of this great nation, have tasted the cool aid. We let our elected leaders divide us so they can push their self serving agenda and we forget we are one. I am guilty and I am tired of the bickering in Washington. Politicians act like they are in an adult day care with no supervisors. We the people should be the supervisors but we have let it get turned around over the last century. I still believe there is hope.

  14. Vida says:

    Hi Kerri,

    Unfortunately we face something of this situation here in Greece regarding mismatched morals and values. The first thing that most bothers me is obviously, how animals are treated here. The other thing that I have found is that many Greeks are overly patriotic, to the point of being Nationalistic or Xenophobic. With some of the older Greeks rational discussion does not exist. They literally stare off into the horizon without saying a word when you try to make a point to the contrary.

    How do we deal with it? Well, we just keep company with people who share our values and try to have as little contact as possible with those who do not. It’s as simple as that. Luckily there are many similar minded people here, foreign residents and even some Greeks. Maybe that is not the right way but to try to change the world takes so much energy! At the same time I try to keep an open mind and remember that no one is 100% good or bad. The Xenophobic Greek is also capable of incredible hospitality. So we live and let live and hope that others let us live too…

    Regarding animal welfare, like you I cannot just keep my head down so I do lots of work in the area, as you know. Slowly I find that through our actions, local opinions have become more receptive.

    In Spain there is a festival in a small village where they throw a goat off a bell tower. Naturally I have never seen it for myself….

    • kerri says:

      Well, see, my town in rural USA is not the only town with what I would consider less than progressive rituals towards animals. I know you can identify and I’m glad to hear that slowly, more minds are being changed Vida. That gives me hope.

  15. Laura says:

    I completely agree. absolutely barbaric, no different from ‘hunters’ who park roadside and send the dogs in to chase the deer into the road. My husband and I have been over this discussion many times over the years.. and although he does hunt, he agrees that is also a horrible way of going about it. Yet, we so frequently see it in our rural area. And yes, I’ve been in your shoes. There are many aspects that have jolted me.. Example: This happened just this week. I am a vegetarian and it’s for a variety of reasons, including my personal health issues (which also keeps me from enjoying ‘nightshade’ plants that I love). So beef isn’t the only thing on my no no list. A recent visit to a country grocer, resulted in the young, male bagger shoving my vegetarian protein away from him. I asked him calmly, why he did it. He made up his response as he went along.. In the end, I hope that I educated him that people choose to eat vegetarian for a variety of reasons.. and that he should be more respectful of their choice (and of his way of handling their food!). The overall vibe in our rural community is that ‘us’ vegetarians are freaks.. without fully understanding the ‘why’s’ of our choice to omit animals from our plate. While I do like to have a voice in sharing my reasons.. there is a time and place, and I tire of the constant antagonizing questions and old, ignorant comments that have been heard over and over again. 😉

    • kerri says:

      My sympathies to you, Laura. I actually know quite a few vegetarians here. While I’m sure that stereotype exists, I think there are more people here who abstain from meat, maybe because there are more transplants in this area due to the fact it is a recreational area. I’m glad you were able to help educate. I know when we’re young, particularly, we think the ways we have been taught are the only ways. It isn’t until we enter the world that we start to understand different choices and cultures.

  16. susan says:

    Oh my god. That’s horrible. I know what you mean about feeling like an outsider. We moved from Texas, where I was raised and lived the bulk of my life, about 12 years ago to the east – Maryland. I miss so many things about Texas but the political/religious climate there has become so untenable that I simply cannot imagine moving back. My poor parents are still there, smack dab in the middle of enemy territory. My mother has to bite her tongue to keep from alienating people. She actually had enough with her church group and gave them what-for and now doesn’t feel like going back.

    I hope you can find enough like-minded people to give you a real sense of home. That helps.

    • Kerri says:

      Thanks, Susan. I’ve learned to return to my roots about politics and religion. These things were not discussed in public when I was growing up, so I just learned very quickly, during the ’08 campaign, to go back to that. Animal welfare, though, is not so easy for me and it isn’t easy for me to think, “Well, we just have differing opinions.” I think this is a barbaric practice and I cannot even fathom the level on which someone believes this to be “fun” or entertaining.

      • Gail says:

        I am so glad to see that there are people out there with the same values as I have. I get that people eat meat its just the cruel way they go about the killing that upsets me or more like angers me and just the thoughtless way that mans” best friend is treated including horses. I don’t get how we are so caring about murderers and violent criminals. Whats up with that?