No turkeys in the Badlands

There were none a few years ago in the North Dakota Badlands. And the Turkey Trot was condemned, too.  Here’s why.

domestic and wild turkeys in McLean County

In McLean County, an odd assortment of domestic and semi-wild turkeys huddle along the roadside.

Drive down many gravel roads in Western North Dakota, and you’ll see the impressive, clumsy-looking flocks along the road, or sometimes on the road.

Turkeys are a relatively new addition to the North Dakota Badlands. They didn’t live much further north of southern South Dakota. Then about 65 years ago, they were introduced to the Little Missouri Region of the state.

A flock of wild turkeys in the brush

A flock of wild turkeys hides in the brush near Beaver Creek in Golden Valley County.








Turkeys in the Red River Valley

It was a different story on the other side of the Dakota Territory.  They had been quite prolific in the northern Red River Valley near the Canadian border. An 1885 article in the Pembina newspaper said  social interaction and home life was limited because “most everyone was out on a hunt for turkey for Thanksgiving”

30 years later,  turkeys were nearly hunted out. A Grand Forks newspaper editorial in November 1912 asked, “What shall we do for Thanksgiving Dinner when the turkeys are all gone?  The wild turkey will be extinct by 1920.”

No more turkey trot

The turkey population was not extinguished, but social watchdogs hoped the turkey trot would become extinct.

The Ward County Independent of Minot reprinted an Edinburg editorial on June 20, 1912:

A newspaper clipping against the turkey trot

Ward County newspaper clipping warns against dancing the way turkeys walk.

In passing an ordinance prohibiting the dancing of the turkey trot, grizzly bear and the moonbeam waltz in the dance halls in Minot, the Minot authorities forget to include the barn dance. We admit being unfamiliar with the contortions necessary to properly execute the three dances placed under the ban, but we do know that the once popular schottische and its graceful glides and slides has been prostituted into what they fitly name the barn dance. … It should have no audience except for the cow’s…it is resembles a stampede more than anything else.” 

The turkey trot was nearing extinction.  It had already been banned in Milwaukee

Meanwhile, back in the North Dakota Badlands

The Williston Graphic was taking a stand against immorality, drunkenness and stay husbands who frequented turkey trot restaurants.

The Williston Graphic, November 20, 1913

 “…good cooking and good homes will prevent drunkenness. That rate and fortunate combination will do much more than that. It will keep the husband away from the club and put the “turkey trot” restaurants out of business.

Those poor turkeys, forcibly shipped in to the Badlands to populate the region when just years before, there was concern they would be wiped out in the Red River Valley.  And all the while, cultural watchdogs were warning that people shouldn’t dance the way that turkeys trot.

So, there. Are you tired of turkey, yet?


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