Richard of Jamestown - James Otis

Trapping Turkeys

[Illustration] from Richard of Jamestown by James Otis

The wild turkeys had appeared in the forest in great numbers, but few had been killed by our people because of the savages, many of whom were not to be trusted, even though the chiefs of three tribes professed to be friendly. It was this fact which had prevented us from doing much in the way of hunting.

Now that we were in such stress for food, and since all had turned laborers, whether willingly or no, much in the way of provisions was needed. Captain Smith set about taking the turkeys as he did about most other matters, which is to say, that it was done in a thorough manner.

Instead of being forced to spend at least one charge of powder for each fowl killed, he proposed that we trap them, and showed how it might be done, according to his belief.

Four men were told off to do the work, and they were kept busy cutting saplings and trimming them down until there was nothing left save poles from fifteen to twenty feet long. Then, with these poles laid one above the other, a square pen was made, and at the top was a thatching of branches, so that no fowl larger than a pigeon might go through.

From one side of this trap, or turkey pen, was dug a ditch perhaps two feet deep, and the same in width, running straightway into the thicket where the turkeys were in the custom of roosting, for a distance of twenty feet or more. This ditch was carried underneath the side of the pen, where was an opening hardly more than large enough for one turkey to pass through. Corn was scattered along the whole length of the ditch, and thus was the trap set.

The turkeys, on finding the trail of corn, would follow hurriedly along, like the gluttons they are, with the idea of coming upon a larger hoard, and thus pass through into the pen. Once inside they were trapped securely, for the wild turkey holds his head so high that he can never see the way out through a hole which is at a level with his feet.

[Illustration] from Richard of Jamestown by James Otis

It was a most ingenious contrivance, and on the first morning after it had been set at night, we had fifty plump fellows securely caged, when it was only necessary to enter the trap by crawling through the top, and kill them at our leisure.

It may be asked how we made shift to cook such a thing as a turkey, other than by boiling it in a kettle, and this can be told in very few words, for it was a simple matter after once you had become accustomed to it.


Front Matter

Who I am
Left Alone in the World
An Idle Boy
Captain Smith Comes to London
Meeting Captain Smith
Captain Smith Speaks to Me
Plans of the London Company
The Vessels of the Fleet
How I Earned my Passage
When the Fleet Set Sail
The Voyage Delayed
Nathaniel's Story
We Make Sail Again
The First Island
Captain Smith Accused
Captain Smith a Prisoner
I Attend My Master
Several Islands Visited
A Variety of Wild Game
The Tempest
The New Country Sighted
The Leader Not Known
Arrival at Chesapeake Bay
An Attack by the Savages
Reading the Company's Orders
Captain Smith on the Council
Smith Remains Aboard
Exploring the Country
People Land from the Ships
Captain Smith Proven Innocent
We Who were Left Behind
Baking Bread without Ovens
Unequal Division of Labor
Building a Home of Logs
Keeping House
Lack of Cleanliness
Cave Homes
The Golden Fever
Ducks and Oysters
Roasting Oysters
Leaning to Cook
The Sweet Potato Root
A Touch of Homesickness
Master Hunt's Preaching
Neglecting the Future
Surprised by Savages
Strengthening the Fort
Sickness and Death
Smith Gains Authority
Disagreeable Discipline
Signs of Rebellion
Second Proclamation
Building a Fortified Village
Trapping Turkeys
A Crude Kind of Chimney
Cooking a Turkey
Candles or Rushlights
The Visit of Pocahontas
Captain Kendall's Plot
Death of Captain Kendall
Captain Smith's Expedition
An Exciting Adventure
Taken Before Powhatan
Pocahontas Begs for Smith
Captain Smith's Return
A New Church
Captain Newport's Return
A Worthless Cargo
Condition of the Colony
Captain Newport's Return
Gazing at the Women
Hunt Brings Great News
Captain Newport's Instructions
The Story of Roanoke
The Crowning of Powhatan
Preparing for the Future
Stealing Company Goods
What the Thieving Led To
Fear of Famine
The Unhealthful Location
Gathering Oysters
Sturgeon for Food
Turpentine and Tar
Making Clapboards
Providing for Children
Dreams of the Future
A Plague of Rats
Treachery During Smith's Absence
Captain Smith's Speech
The New Laws
The Accident
Captain Smith's Departure
The "Starving Time"
Our Courage Gives Out
Abandoning Jamestown
Lord De la Warr's Arrival
The Young Planters