One of Marfa’s wild turkeys looks for a new victim – or perhaps a new friend? (Meredith Griffin)
For many, Thanksgiving conjures up images of friends and family, warm bodies and full bellies.
But in the West Texas town of Marfa, Thanksgiving reminds folks about a local controversial figure, and restarts the conversation about what to do with him.
I’m riding in a truck with Officer George Gonzalez in Marfa, heading to a spot just a few blocks from the local elementary school for an early morning stakeout. Our mission: to make sure a local menace doesn’t get too close to campus.
“He hasn’t been by the last few months, but I’m just there to make sure he stays away,” Gonzalez says.
Gonzalez stakes out this corner every morning, trying to prevent another attack like one that was caught on video.
Jessica Allen, the victim, remembers it like it was yesterday.
“I was running, I was actually dogsitting at the time so I was in a different part of the neighborhood than I normally occupied. It was spring. I ran by Plateau street on this run,” she says. “Which is apparently where this turkey hung out.”
That’s right: our local menace is a turkey.
“My real fear was definitely getting pecked in the ankle,” she says. “I stayed away from Plateau Street the rest of my time in Marfa actually.”
No one really knows where this turkey or his group of friends came from, or really when they started roaming the streets. Some say it was as early as 2008, but they were definitely terrorizing the local townspeople by 2011.
Marfa resident Bill White says there were six of them in those early days, three toms and three hens.
“They would walk around town, and the toms would lead, and the hens would be behind them,” he says.
Dig back through the archives of the Big Bend Sentinel – the local newspaper – and you’ll find an iconic image from 2011. Three turkeys waddling down Highland Street toward the courthouse, right in the middle of the road, acting like they own the place. For a while, the turkeys were a novelty, but eventually the novelty started to wear off, and public opinion started to shift. White remembers how that happened.
“Then they started bothering the school kids,” he says. “After a couple years or whatever, so they had to go.”
That’s when Officer Gonzalez came to the rescue.
Oh and by “officer,” we mean “Animal Control Officer.” The only one in Marfa. Gonzalez is the local animal control department.
He started laying out turkey traps. He caught the first turkey and took it to a ranch in the Davis Mountains. One by one, he plucked the others. Trapping them, bringing them to the ranch. Eventually, there was just one left. But this last one does not want to cooperate – Gonzalez says he’s been trying to catch him for two years now.
He’s tried everything. He even once enlisted the help of Texas Parks and Wildlife.
“We chased it from the elementary [school] all the way up North Gonzales, into houses. We were all over the place,” he says. “Never caught a feather of ‘em.”
Meanwhile, this last holdout is not getting any friendlier. If anything, he’s coming up with new ways to terrorize people here.
“He does come up on my entranceway of my house and leaves a present,” he says.
By “present”, White says he means…excrement.
Turkeys are known for being aggressive. One much-discussed theory among Marfans is that this turkey is lonely, that he just misses his flock.
Dr. Louis Harveson is a wildlife biologist at Sul Ross State University in Alpine. He says it’s tough to make any claims about animals’ emotions, but there could be some truth to that.
“I know this tom, I’ve seen him before,” he says. “That’s probably just his defense strategy for being isolated for so long. He’s just a little bit more aggressive. Turkeys are gregarious animals, so they flock up.”
“You know, he’s looking for food and water, and really looking for counterparts,” Harveson says.
Just over 2,000 people live in Marfa, and in a town this small, bullies stand out. This last lonely turkey has had plenty of victims over the years, some people, multiple times. So you’d think he’d be public enemy number one.
But that’s not the case. Talking to people about this turkey, you get the sense that although he may be a bully, but he’s our bully. Even this week, as we approach Thanksgiving, no one seems to be thinking about what he’s made of.