Photo from American Hunter
Turkey and Thanksgiving have become almost synonymous in America, so it seemed appropriate to share the Cherokee tale “How the Turkey Got His Beard” this month.
The story begins after a race between a terrapin, or a turtle, and a rabbit. As in Aesop’s Fable, the turtle beat the hare, but this time around the turkey doesn’t believe the terrapin actually won. He tells all the other animals that it must be some kind of trick, that the turtle can’t run, and announces that he will test the terrapin.
The turkey meets the terrapin who is coming home from war, and the terrapin has a fresh scalp hanging around his neck. The turkey laughs and tells the terrapin that he looks silly, his neck is too short to wear the scalp like that since it is hanging all the way to the ground. He offers to show the terrapin how to wear it and the terrapin agrees, handing the scalp to the turkey. The turkey fastens it around his own neck and tells the terrapin he will walk a bit away so the terrapin can see how it looks. The terrapin commented how nice it looked, then the turtle fixed it slightly differently and walked a little bit further so the terrapin could get a good look. You see where this going, right? The turkey keeps walking away and the terrapin calls for him to bring back the scalp. The turkey then breaks into a run. The terrapin has no hope of catching him, but, using his “conjuring art,” takes out his bow and shoots cane splints into the turkey’s leg to cripple him so that he could not run, which accounts for all the many small bones in the turkey’s leg, that are of no use whatever.” The terrapin never did catch the turkey, who still wears the scalp around his neck.
I guess in this tale intelligence wins, but so does speed. Yes, the turkey tricked the turtle into giving him the scalp, but he wouldn’t have been able to keep it if he couldn’t outrun the turtle. Personally, I’m not sure why he wanted. I don’t think turkeys are the most handsome birds.
You can read the story on-line in several places, including here. This version was included in Myths of the Cherokee by James Mooney from Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology 1897-98, Part I, published in 1900.
Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all.