Like many small Texas towns, Cuero has a rich history in agricultural industry. And just like much of those communities, Cuero chose to celebrate the farming product that made them famous: the turkey.
Starting in the early 1900s, area ranchers organized their small family turkey raising operations on the surrounding prairies into a regional force. In 1908 the first turkey processing plant opened on the edge of town near the rail road line where farmers could deliver their flocks, sell them at a fair market price, have them processed and packaged, put on rail cars, and shipped to anywhere in America.
Keep in mind that during this era the automobile was a rare sight. In order for a farmer to get his turkey flock to town he had to herd them on foot, much like a cattle drive, since large, fowl-carrying trucks had yet to be invented. Many farms were located far outside of town, so you can imagine the diligence needed to get these birds across fields, roads and river.
Once in town, thousands of turkeys strutted down the streets on the way to their final destination. You can imagine the spectacle that 10,000 turkeys would create. Visitors would come from far and wide to witness this annual November turkey drive, and the smart Cuero merchant would capitalize on this by opening up rooms for board and hot meals to enjoy.
It wasn't long before local business leaders got smart. Legend has it that visiting entrepreneurs commented that "You guys should really do something with this," meaning celebrate what has made your town famous and recognize this new annual tourism boom.
On November 25-27, 1912, Cuero had its first Turkey Trot. Estimates told of 30,000 people flocking to town to see over 18,000 turkeys herded down Main Street. Corn was scattered on the street in an effort to keep the birds moving. In addition to the fowl, visitors were treated to agriculture shows, a carnival, big band dances, a football game, floats festooned with turkey feathers, a visit from Governor Oscar Colquitt, and the crowning of the first Turkey Trot royalty, Minnie Lee Mangham.
There were 14 Turkey Trots held every so often between then and 1972, each being bigger than the previous. Besides the bird of attraction, the festival took on a Turkish theme with a pageant dedicated to exotic lands of the Middle East. A king and queen, Sultan Yekrut (turkey spelled backwards) and Sultana Oreuc (Cuero spelled backwards) were crowned and reigned over the fest and rode in the Grand Parade with hundreds of area children as their escorts.
With the turkey industry slowly moving out of town and turkeys themselves unable to march in the parades anymore, the Turkey Trot bowed out in 1972. But the history of the Trot lives on in photos, films, and local legend. In 2012 the Turkeyfest Association celebrated a once-in-a-lifetime milestone by staging a centennial Turkey Trot and Coronation just like it was back in the old days, though with fewer turkeys.
The Cuero Turkeyfest Association continues to collect film, photographs, and assorted memorabilia of the Turkey Trot era for continued public viewing of these important historical events. If you have an item you would like to contribute to this online collection, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
More photos can be viewed HERE in our Turkey Trot gallery.
And watch some historic film clips of the Turkey Trot HERE!