Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Turkey Herding Garretts

The search for family history can point us to interesting pastimes, practices, and occupations that our ancestors followed.  It caught my attention when my husband’s grandfather told me that his Garrett family used to herd turkeys in Tennessee.

During the 1820’s, 30’s, 40’s the John Garrett family was living in Benton county Tennessee, about ninety miles west of Nashville.  Farming was their primary pursuit, but they may also have done some building in the area.  Isaac Walker Garrett , born in 1831, was the second son of John Garrett and his wife Jemima White Garrett.  He grew up in Benton county Tennessee, and his grandson, Otis Garrett, gave me this little clue to some of his youthful activity:

When the Garrett family was still living in Tennessee IW Garrett had a horse, a dog and a gun and he travelled around buying Turkeys and driving them to New Orleans to market.

When I closely considered this statement, I found it pretty amazing!  - first, because the Garrett family removed from Tennessee to Illinois in the early 1850’s, suggesting that Isaac Garrett was a rather young lad when he pursued this turkey-herding avocation, and second because New Orleans was five hundred miles to the south.  Driving turkeys five hundred miles would have been no small feat!

I had a great time reading through several turkey-herding “memories” posted on the internet.  One article suggested that turkeys were sometimes moved great distances overland.  For the Garretts in Middle Tennessee, it seems slightly more plausible that their turkeys were gathered locally, and driven west to the Mississippi River for a boat ride to New Orleans.  But, I can’t confirm that scenario.  Whatever the case, the process of moving, hundreds, or sometimes thousands of turkeys, must have required monumental patience, tempered with a dose of good humor.  Turkeys are not counted among the most intelligent of creatures, and it took quite an effort to keep them moving along in the right direction.  Apparently, young boys were often hired to scatter feed, and entice the turkeys forward.  This might have been an appropriate task for a boy with “a horse, a dog and a gun”.   Otis Garrett’s statement describes the “buying” and “driving” of turkeys though; which might suggest the entrepreneurial pursuit of a young man.

It is unlikely we will ever know just what role young Isaac Garrett played in the movement of turkeys in 19th Century Tennessee.  But, the memory of driving turkeys to market must have come out of a real experience.  So, the next time we are enjoying our Thanksgiving turkey we can consider the challenge of the Great Turkey Walks, and appreciate Isaac Garrett’s commitment.

For more details on Isaac Walker Garrett, visit his page at Family Stories,

Photo:  Wild Turkey in twilight found in Zion National Park, USA; by Philipp Kuchler, 2011 (CC, Wikimedia Commons).

Moving back in time:   Richard William “Dick” Garrett 1925 > Otis Sylvester Garrett  1894 > Isaac Sylvester Garrett 1860 > Isaac Walker Garrett 1831 > John Garrett 1805.

For further Reading:
Turkey Herding; Peter A. Gilbert, director of Vermont Humanities Council.
Bullitt Memories - Herding Turkeys; David Strange, originally appeared in The Courier-Journal (Louisville Kentucky), 21 November 2012.
Herding Turkeys in Hancock County; Fred Sauceman, 2013.

Just for fun:
The Great Turkey Walk; a novel for young people by Kathleen Karr (2000).
Big, brawny Simon Green, who's just completed third grade (for the fourth time), may not be book smart, but he's nobody's fool. When it's time to be done with school and make his way in the world, Simon hatches a plan that could earn him a bundle. He intends to herd a huge flock of bronze turkeys all the way from his home in eastern Missouri to the boomtown of Denver, where they'll fetch a mighty price. In the year 1860, the hazards of such a trek are many - how does one shepherd the birds across a river, for instance? - but Simon is undaunted. Accompanied by a faithful drover, and eventually to be joined by two boon companions, he undertakes the biggest journey of his young life, in this high-spirited Wild West adventure by an acclaimed author of historical fiction.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Back to Blogging

Life Happens, . . . and sometimes it changes our direction.  Over the past year I have needed to focus more attention on my living family, and have mostly set aside my search for family in the past.  Now I have an opportunity to return to some work on my Family Stories website and blog, and I am delighted to be posting new notes and stories on some of my husband’s family lines.

Richard William “Dick” Garrett, born 1925 to Otis S Garrett and Elba J Hoffman.

I will be adding all that I know about my husband’s Garrett and Hancock families to my database at the Family Stories Website, and I hope to add a few articles here at the Family Stories Blog to introduce these family branches.

So far, I can only carry the Garrett line back to the 1820’s in Benton county Tennessee, where my husband’s 3xgreat-grandfather, John Garrett, was living with his wife Jemima Walker.  All the research I have done seems to point to John Garrett being a descendant of Stephen Garrett of Buckingham county Virginia, but the connection remains elusive.  Recent DNA evidence is suggesting that there might be more to the Stephen Garrett story than researchers have credited.

I am also excited to share a collection of mostly early 20th century photographs for the Hancock family of Dekalb County Missouri.  Isaac Sylvester Garrett, grandson of the above mentioned John Garrett and Jemima Walker, married Margaret Susan Hancock in 1890 Dekalb County Missouri. She was the daughter of Richard White Hancock and Elizabeth “Betty” Taylor, and the granddaughter of Edward Hancock and his wife Jemima White.  The Hancock photos will appear, along with family data, at the Family Stories website. 

Coming up next – The “Turkey Herding” Garretts.

For more details on John Garrett and Edward Hancock, visit their pages at Family Stories,

Moving back in time:   Richard William “Dick” Garrett 1925 > Otis Sylvester Garrett  1894 > Isaac Sylvester Garrett 1860 > Isaac Walker Garrett 1831 > John Garrett 1805.

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