The Great Cabarrus Turkey Scam

25 Nov 2015

Buying Thanksgiving Turkey, c.1910-1915. Library of Congress,

In late November of 1915, a slick-tongued stranger came to No. 10 Township (Midland area) and Bost Mill. He represented himself to be the agent of a large poultry concern in Danville, Virginia, and was looking to buy all the turkeys the farmers would sell: and so began the great Cabarrus turkey scam.

The stranger identified himself as E. S. Bowen. After securing lodging, he began making the rounds with a wagon and driver to the area farmers. Bowen hired one of the farmers to make crates to hold turkeys. The going rate for turkeys was 15 cents a pound, and many of the farmers had already committed their birds to area sellers for the holiday season. Bowen said he wanted the birds for his Danville connection and would make it worth their while. He said they had provided him with a big checkbook and he would be able to pay much more than the going rate at markets in Concord and other places, so why not sell to him? Bowen began manipulating the market to bump up prices. The result was that the price of turkeys in No. 10 Township, as well as in Concord and other nearby markets, suddenly went up to a 17 and 18 cent per pound minimum. The news of the high prices spread all over southern Cabarrus and the turkeys were sold in such numbers that Bowen soon purchased about $800 worth.

The deal sounded too good to be true, but was not without controversy. It was reported in the December 7, 1915 Concord Daily Tribune that one housewife came near to severing relations with her family because it was suggested that the family turkeys had already been committed to markets in Concord. She responded:

“They only pay 15 cents a pound. They are my turkeys, my means of making Christmas money and buying a few extra things and I am going to sell for 17 cents.”

She did sell them for 17 cents and accepted a check for $66. Many others did as well. It was expected that Christmas money would be plentiful as there were an unusually large number of turkeys.

Bowen convinced everyone he was good for the purchase because he would take one of the No. 10 farmers to Danville and show him the place where the turkeys were prepared for market. Additionally, a prominent well-known farmer was letting him take his team [of horses] to haul in the turkeys. Bowen and the unnamed farmer made the trip, but after arriving in Danville, Bowen became unusually busy. After spending a part of a day looking after various matters, Bowen informed the Cabarrus citizen that it was necessary for him to make a trip to another town, and so the Cabarrus man returned home. 

Soon after the Cabarrus man’s return, the checks began to bounce. They were marked “No Account Here” by the First National Bank of Danville. Needless to say, none were too happy. They retained the service of T. D. Maness, a local lawyer to track down Bowen and bring him to justice. By all accounts, efforts proved unsuccessful and there was no trace of  “Bowen” or the destination of the turkeys. Not everyone was sympathetic to the scam victims, for it was felt they had gotten what they deserved for being greedy and reneging on commitments to local buyers. Now everyone would have to suffer without turkey for Christmas.

The Tribune further reported that not since a photographer “passed through a certain section of the county, took a number of pictures, collected money for them and then departed to “return no more” had such a ‘skin game’ been pulled off in the area.”