Published November 1968 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
From the Office of United States Senator Robert C. Byrd 105 Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510 November 22, 1968 Volume VIII - Number 47 Byrd's Eye View A Public Service Column By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd TURREY TIME When father sits down to carve the traditional Thanksgiving turkey this week, he may not realize how much history is packed between those two drumsticks. Today's domesticated turkeys are authentically American, tracing their ancestry back to the wild birds on which Indians feasted and which still live today in remote parts of our country, including West Virginia. How the turkey became everyone's first choice for Thanksgiving, and almost the National Bird, is a fascinating story. Columbus is said to have discovered the turkey on his journeys to the New World and to have brought it back to Spain as evidence that he discovered a new route to India, the turkey being thought to be a variety of Indian peacock. This case of mistaken identity, incidentally, is how the turkey got its name. For in India the peacock in question was called "toka" and Jewish merchants in Spain, who merchandised turkeys during Columbus's time, translated this word into Hebrew as “tukki." From that to "turkey" was only a short step as the fowl's fame spread to England and the bird became anglicized. The turkey almost became the National Bird. It was Ben Franklin's choice, as seen in a letter to a daughter where he said: "I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as a representative of our country; he is a bird of bad moral character, like those among men who live by sharping and robbery, he is generally poor and often lousy…The turkey is a much more respectable bird and withal, a true original native of America.” Turkeys are big business. Nearly 126.4 million were raised last year, and West Virginia sells her share. State turkey producers sold $4.7 million worth of turkeys in 1967. The state ranked 20th among all states in gross income from turkey-growing. Turkeys are traditionally baked for long hours in a slow oven, but they can be cooked on a spit, fried (if cut into small pieces), and even steamed. One novel way to cook a turkey is in the fashion of a clam bake. A large pit is dug in the earth and stones are laid into it. A fire is then built atop the stones and kept burning fiercely for several hours. Then the fire is raked out of the pit and the covered pan containing the stuffed turkey, some water, cider, and spices, is laid atop the stones. The pan is covered with burlap, then a layer of leaves, and then sufficient earth to make a tight seal. After a three-to-four-hour wait, the turkey is resurrected and the taste of it is guaranteed to make all the waiting well worthwhile. But, however cooked, Thanksgiving's turkey is sure to be a treat both to the eye as well as to the palate.