By Robert Lucke
Havre had a disturbing early history when it came to eating turkey dinners for Thanksgiving and Christmas. In the first place, even though many homesteaders came to this new land from areas of the United States where turkey for holiday fare was king, it was not necessarily so in Montana.
Old-timers like Charlie Russell were quick to point out in print to anyone who could read that a good roast beef was preferable for those holiday meals because Montana owed a lot more to the beef cow than to any scrawny old turkey.
Not only that but turkeys were very difficult to find in this country around the turn of the century. Wild turkeys were few and far between in this part of Montana, and tame turkeys, well, they had not yet entered the scene.
One Christmas a rancher out on Clear Creek needing some extra cash for the holidays and having an excess of eagles in the skies above his spread, killed 30 or 40 of them, dressed them, hauled them to Havre by wagon and sold them as dressed turkeys. He sold out just before the holiday and although there was a little grumbling about the consistency and color of the meat, most people were just glad to get a turkey to share with their family. It made them feel more like they were back home.
Another year, the man who owned the Board Of Trade Saloon had 50 Missouri turkeys shipped to his saloon and he proceeded to raffle them off a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving. These were live turkeys and the raffle went well. That is until, as the Havre Plaindealer reported, all the turkeys awarded to raffle winners were mysteriously stolen, save for those that were kepts in the kitchens or bedrooms of their new owners. And then, most unbelievable of all, that saloon owner came up with 45 more turkeys to raffle off. This time each came with a box, lock and key so these "would not get stolen."
Such was the turkey mess year after year until once again Havre pioneer merchant Frank Buttrey came to the rescue. He took up the turkey cause. He had a full train car load of turkeys shipped in and put an ad in the paper asking farm children who wanted to raise turkeys to come to a meeting at his store. Children from all over Hill County came to the meeting. Each child was given a hen and a gobbler, told to raise as many that summer as they could and return a few of them to Buttrey. The rest they could sell or keep.
That they did for many years. In fact, there are still old-timers around Havre who raised some of Frank Buttrey's turkeys. And from then on, Havre always had enough turkeys to get through the holiday season and any other time of the year.