Bessie Layton Davis
Pioneer Minnesota Turkey Farmer
From the Country Woman Magazine
|When you give thanks
for your feast this Thanksgiving, you may want to include a few words of
gratitude for someone new ~ a little known Minnesota farm wife from the
1920's, without her, Thanksgiving just wouldn't be the same.
Because of her dedication, turkey is still
the traditional Thanksgiving treat. But just a few decades ago, due to a
deadly disease called "blackhead" that wiped out entire flocks, turkey
almost disappeared from the table.
A young vet worked with a small band of farm
wives in Aitkin County Minnesota who agreed to follow his advice. Doing
so wasn't easy, each poult's beak had to be dipped in water to teach it
to drink, then the young birds had to be fed dry bread and boiled egg
every two hours. The brooder houses and pens had to be kept scrupulously
The farm wives persevered and out of nearly
400 turkeys that they hatched, all but 15 birds survived. Those highly
dramatic results impressed farmers and permanently changed their
thinking on raising turkeys.
Today, many millions of turkeys are raised
successfully each year, thanks to those almost forgotten women ~ Bessie
Layton Davis, Averile Wright, Myrtle Shisler and Lena Quinn ~ the farm
wives who saved Thanksgiving.
|Axel Broselle, Clifford Flood, Bessie
Layton Davis, Dr. William A. Billings, Sam Davis and Broad Bronze
|Bessie moved from
Minnesota to Portland, Oregon in about 1943. She started a small
restaurant (were talking small, about 10 seats at a counter, no booths)
in an industrial area of Portland. A frequent customer, unknown to her
at that time was the old time movie actor Eugene Paulette. He liked her
chili and told her so, but thought she could do better. Together they
found a building in South East Portland, he purchased the needed cooking
utensils, and brought her authentic Mexican recipes. Bessie operated the
Estrelita Cafe for 20 years. I have many fond memories of her cafe, the
small paintings on the wall by each table, the serapes and huge Mexican
hats on the walls, the smell of pungent spices, and Mr. Paulette's
picture over the door, with it's personal greeting to my grandmother,
Bessie Layton Davis.
Grandmother was ahead of her time, apparently
she missed it when someone said "women can't do that" or "a woman's
place is in the kitchen". Lessons learned from grandmother have helped
me to achieve what I want in life, for that I say thank you, and
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