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 clean.

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 Breasted Turkeys

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 grandma!

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