Tale of Turkey Witch wasn’t uncommon in early West Virginia

A witch or a turkey? Some old-timers in West Virginia believed it could be either.
A witch or a turkey? Some old-timers in West Virginia believed it could be either, especially if it could not be shot.

It wasn’t all that long ago that country folk in West Virginia might tell tales of a turkey witch.

Of all the forms that a witch might take, that of a was apparently most to be feared, especially among the farmlands on the edges of the deep forests where turkeys are most at home.

Nearly hunted to extinction, the North American bird could be found only in parts of the Appalachia Mountains south of Pennsylvania and predominantly in West Virginia until management programs began to return them to their former habitations.

But for years, the turkey, growing more elusive, and the turkey-witch captured the imaginations of tale-tellers. Jim Comstock, among the best of the Mountain State’s tale-tellers, once wrote of the matter in his West Virginia Heritage Encyclopedia.

“If a turkey comes and perches on your woodshed each night and you can’t shoot it, you had better just make up your mind that it is a witch, not a turkey,” he wrote.

Thankfully, witch lore was a common currency in olden times, and a perplexed farmer who was troubled by such a bird was soon able to find a solution among his neighbors.


“A West Virginia man had this nerve-wracking experience, so he went to a neighbor who was quite an authority on witches, and he learned what to do,” according to Comstock.
“He went home and made an X out of two pieces of hickory wood and laid them on his front porch, then he shot the turkey.”

Why the man was instructed to use hickory, who can say?—though the wood is hard and strong, and that may have increased its efficacy in witchcraft.

“But when he went for the turkey,” Comstock wrote, “it wasn’t there! He went into the house to tell his wife about it and found her dead on the floor with a bullet through her heart. Then he knew he had been married to a witch.”

The Pumpkin—West Virginia tradition steeped in lore

Jack O’Lanterns were used to ward off evil spirits.

With the exception of corn, perhaps no vegetable is as all-American as the pumpkin. Carved as a Jack-O’-Lantern or pureed into a Thanksgiving pastry, the pumpkin—and the pumpkin pie—are as American as, um, well, apple pie. In many ways, they’re especially important in West Virginia where they sustained families isolated in the mountains through the winter, and state agriculture officials are now promoting them as a high-yield crop.


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