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The Rose

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.

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Davis Family

Sam and Bessie Davis Family   About 1938

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Turkeys are Turkeys

     Bessie brought the Broad Breasted Bronze turkey to Aitkin County from Battleground, Washington starting the tradition in Aitkin. The whole family was involved in the care and feeding. When the girls came home from school they helped with the turkeys. Eggs were hatched in incubators in the basement. Young poults were given special treatment. When the poults were moved to brooder houses, late night checks were made to make sure the poults were settling down with out crowding or suffocating themselves. My father once told me, "he was sure that when there was a rain storm, the young turkeys would walk around with their heads in the air and mouth open, just so they could drown." That's why we call them turkeys!


Axel Broselle, Clifford Flood, Bessie Layton Davis, Dr. William A. Billings,
Sam Davis and Broad Bronze Breasted Turkeys

mid 1920 or 30's

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Life after 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. Paulettes 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,  you really are a Notable Women Ancestor.

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Richard Davis

Aitkin County, Minnesota

Harrison County

Notable Women Ancestors

Modale, Iowa

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Michael Taggert Layton

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Last Updated Friday, September 05, 2008 09:31:13 AM