Wild Turkey hens had a special place in Native American culture. Eastern tribes enjoyed the bird as one of their favorite meals. Turkey feathers found their way into rituals and adorned often adorned tribal headgear of many tribes; for example Catawba chiefs in the Carolinas traditionally wore turkeyfeather headdresses.

The tradition of European Americans eating turkey on Thanksgiving Day has its roots in 19th century New England, where geese and turkeys were plentiful in the fall. Many New England towns held both raffles and "shoots," with these unfortunate birds as the targets.

A century earlier Benjamin Franklin hoped to raise the turkey from the object of dining to the object of honor as the country's national bird.

Franklin expressed this idea in a letter he wrote to his daughter Sarah Bache in 1784. He protested Congress's choice, saying that the eagle had "bad moral character."

"He does not get his living honestly," Franklin wrote to Sarah about our current national symbol. "You may see him perched on some dead tree near the river, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him."

Franklin found the turkey to be a much more respectable bird and "a true original Native of America." He admitted that he found the turkey "a little vain and silly," but said that the turkey had courage, "and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on."

Congress had spent six years studying the matter, before choosing the bald eagle. Some say that Franklin was simply having fun with his daughter as he never officially advocated elevating the turkey to the austere status Congress assigned to the bald eagle. Instead the turkey remains a staple on dinner tables across the country on Thanksgiving day.

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