At Thanksgiving time starting in 1953, Bentonville had annual Turkey Races and drawings on the Bentonville square. The event was sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. There were 40 to 50 merchants who took part in the event, and each merchant would have a turkey to be given away after the race. About a week before the race, people could go and register to win one of the turkeys. Two days before the race, the turkeys would be put in cages outside each store. The Saturday of the race they would have about 2000 people to show up to watch the event.
The rules were pretty simple. Each merchant must race his own turkey. They were to tie a rope around their turkey so it couldn't get away, but it couldn't be so tight as to choke it. They weren't allowed to push or pull or touch the turkey during the race. The merchants and their turkeys lined up in four groups on the streets leading to the square, and the race track was one block long. The race was started by City Marshall "Tater" Black by firing his gun. That's when the fun began.
Some turkeys went straight for the finish line to get the whole thing over with. There were those who went the wrong way. Some turkeys they couldn't get to go no matter what they did. At least one hid under a car. Eventually they all crossed the finished line even if they had to be carried. In 1958, Otis Corley of Western Auto won the race and received a free turkey as a prize.
After the race, the turkeys were returned to their cages in front of the stores. The crowd would then move to the front of the courthouse for the drawing. At the time of the drawing, people needed to be present to win. If your name was called you would then go to that store and claim your turkey. In this day and age, most of us wouldn't know what to do with a live turkey if we got one!
1958 Turkey Races - In photo L to R: Bob Bogle. Otis Corley, Bob Noble, Harlan Phillips, Rosemary Wall(?), Henry ________?
Turkey Race 1958 Bentonville - Otis Corley and his winning turkey.