Wild Turkeys and Creeks

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Published on: Aug. 2, 2003

Last revision: Nov. 15, 2010

facing the major wildlife species in Missouri. The results of their study were published in 1937 in "A Survey of the Resident Game and Furbearers of Missouri." They reported that there were 3,584 turkeys in 45 counties, mainly in the southern part of the state.

Using Leopold's theory that Missouri's turkey range could support five turkeys per square mile, they calculated that there were at least 250,000 turkeys in the early 1800s. However, this figure was probably conservative. Bennitt and Nagel, like Leopold, apparently considered only the two-thirds of the state (50,000 square miles) originally in forests as turkey habitat. Had they used the entire state in their calculations, they might have estimated as many as 500,000 turkeys in the state, which is very close to the present estimates.

Wild turkey numbers reached their lowest point in 1952, when 2,379 birds were counted in a statewide survey. Beginning in 1954, the Missouri Department of Conservation initiated a wild turkey restoration program. Since then, Department employees and volunteers have released 2,611 native, wild-trapped turkeys in 142 areas in 91 counties.

Wild turkeys may have had a greater influence on the lives of the early settlers in Missouri than perhaps any other wildlife species. Turkeys were a source of food and income, and at Thanksgiving they were a symbol of the riches of a great new land. They even gave the holiday its nickname of "Turkey Day."

Wild turkeys affected the lives of settlers in other ways; in their music ("Turkey in the Straw"), their speech and geography. If you've ever traveled the back roads of this country, you've doubtless encountered names like, Gobbler's Knob, Turkey Creek, and Turkey Foot Mountain.

According to a 1997 report from the U.S. Geological Survey, there are 5,974 rivers and streams in Missouri. Creeks were not listed separately but were identified as streams. The survey listed 40 "Turkey Creeks" in the state, dispersed among 33 counties. Two Turkey Creeks were reported in seven of those counties.

Correspondence, notes, drafts and other materials relating to Missouri place names compiled by Robert L. Ramsay and his students are housed in the Western Historical Manuscript Collection at the University of Missouri Library in Columbia. They provide a brief description and possible origin of just about all of the place names in the state. The Ramsay files included information about 26 of the 40 Turkey Creeks listed by the survey.

A notation from the Ramsay files for

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