|Melleagris gallopavo, the Wild Turkey, was|
a very valuable animal.
Once upon a time, in Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico, "a mother and father died, leaving behind a baby daughter. As was the custom, the little girl was given to her mother's sister to raise. But the aunt already had many children to feed, so she did not welcome her niece." As soon as the little thing was old enough to walk, she was sent to mind the turkeys. Her job was to open their cages, take them out to forage by day, then bring them back at nightfall. All this without so much as a bite of corn cake for breakfast. As for clothing, she was the last in line for hand-me-downs, and "because of her aunt's neglect, the girl's face and hands were usually dirty, her hair tangled and unkempt." The villagers were too busy with their own affairs to pay much notice to the grubby orphan. When they spoke to her at all, they called her Turkey Girl. All of the love in this child's heart was therefore turned to her turkeys. She doted on the big birds, and imitated their behavior. They "taught her how to find food in the mountains and canyons, and how to gather berries, piñons, and acorns." They even pecked gently at her hair, combing their beaks through it. They spun "feathers into thread to mend her torn clothes." They taught their turkey language to her as well. The years passed, and Turkey Girl was no longer a child. Now "it was late summer and near the time for the TaTsa'Po, a ceremony at Puye." All of her cousins and aunts laughed merrily among themselves as they worked on new garments to wear at the celebration. No one gave a thought to the Turkey Girl. On the day of the great event, she snuck out of the before the sun was up. It would be more than she could bear to watch the others parade in their "mantas, or dresses", and to smell the food from the feast. She released her birds and set off for the canyon, "but she had gone only a little way when the turkeys stopped and surrounded her. One of them, the oldest, spoke to her, saying,' Strike us with this juniper branch." She did not want to do this. Again the old turkey asked this, and again she refused. Four times was this dialogue repeated and "finally, all the turkeys flew at her face. Frightened, Turkey Girl picked up the juniper limb to beat them off. Out from under the wing of the largest turkey fell a new and beautiful manta made of white cotton, with intricate red embroidery. From the second turkey's wing fell a wonderful red, green, and black sash. A gleaming pair of white buckskin moccasins fell from the third . From the wings of the fourth fell bright necklaces, and earrings of turquoise and shells." Now the girl bathed, and the turkeys dressed her hair. She put on the marvelous clothing, shoes, and jewelry, and the turkeys fluttered around her in an embrace. The oldest turkey bid her to dance and feast and make merry — and to remember her flock of turkeys. "Do not leave us in the canyon after dark." warned the bird, and Turkey Girl thanked her friends and promised that she would not forget. With a glad heart she went to Puye to attend the Ta'Tsa'Po. The festival was bright and crowded. At first, Turkey Girl did not know what to do. Soon, she was caught up in the joking and talking, and found herself eating from rich platters of food. A whirl of laughter and belonging engulfed her — and it seemed but a minute until shadows fell across the plaza. She knew that darkness had already fallen in the canyons. "Frightened and sorrowful, she raced to the canyon where she had left the turkeys. But the turkeys were not there." Crying now, and horrified at what she had done, the Turkey Girl stumbled into the dark canyon, calling and calling for her flock. "Soon her beautiful new moccasins were covered with dust. The brush and the thorns ripped her fine manta; and the strands of her necklace broke, flinging the turquoise and shells into the dark." At last there was nothing that the girl could do but to go home and admit the truth: she had lost the flock of turkeys through her own carelessness. She had no more dreams, nor friends to share them with. "To this day, because of Turkey Girl's broken promise, turkeys no longer trust people but flee whenever a human being comes near."
From The Girl Who Married the Moon: Tales from Native North Americans. Bruchac, J. & Ross, G. (1994) BridgeWater Books.
Notes: It has been confirmed that wild turkeys have been present in North America since at least the 1st century C.E. Spanish missionaries who observed the Zuni people recorded their use of turkey feathers in elaborately made head dresses. Due to their large size and hollow bone structure, turkey bones were used make tubular containers, beads, and a variety of other household objects. Their feathers were of ceremonial importance, used in precise ways in the making of prayer sticks. Offered to the gods at both Summer and Winter Solstice, as well as at other selected times, the sacred items required including a variety of feathers. The number and type on each stick depended upon which individual family member it was being made for. Women will have two feathers from a turkey to represent their forefathers, as well as a downy turkey feather for the self, and a downy eagle feather, representing the moon. Men get four turkey feathers, one of which represents the sun. These feathers are followed in sequence by others, including those of ducks, blue jays, and robins. Pueblo people of prehistory kept domesticated turkeys, and probably used them as a food source as well as for their plumage. (Bol, M. C. 1998. Stars Above and Earth Below: American Indians and Nature. Colorado: Robert Rinehart Publishers, Carnegie Museum of History, p. 105, 125-6) Stars Above Earth Below, American Indians &Nature - 1998 publicationThey were of great value to the tribe; thus we see how serious an offense the Turkey Girl committed by losing her flock.
Montessori Connection Ages 6-12 Fundamental Needs/American Indians/Food/Clothing/Spirituality
1. Read this story and notice that it does not have a happy ending.
2. Learn about the importance of turkeys in American Indian life in prehistoric times:Once There Were Anasazi - Time for Kids Readers Grade 5; The Anasazi.
3. Learn more about turkeys and their importance today: Colorado 4-H turkey raising project or 4-H Raising Turkeys or Eat This Not That! for Kids!: Be the Leanest, Fittest Family on the Block!Hole in the Wall Gang Cookbook: Kid-Friendly Recipes for Families to Make Together