LITTLE ROCK – An Arkansan you probably don’t know about was responsible for a lot of the turkey that made it to the Thanksgiving table a hundred-twenty years ago, Governor Asa Hutchinson said in his weekly radio address this week.
That was long before Arkansas became the Number 3 producer of turkeys in the United States. Did you know that every Butterball turkey that shows up at Thanksgiving in the United States came from Arkansas?
Every year, our turkey farmers raise 32 million turkeys, which weigh in at 595 million pounds, or 30,000 tons. The turkey industry creates and supports 20,000 jobs in Arkansas with an average of $46,000 in wages and benefits. Turkeys contribute $304 million a year to our economy. In 2018, the industry was responsible for nearly $5 billion in total economic activity throughout the state.
But in the late 1800s, a Thanksgiving turkey wasn’t always so easy to get. Today, I’m going to share the story of a man who changed that, at least for people who wanted wild turkeys for their table, the governor said.
Henry C. Gibson was a farmer who lived in Dardanelle. He was a manager for the Western Arkansas Hedge and Wire Fence Company.
In 1897, he and a partner from Arkadelphia patented a turkey call that was a simple wooden box. A thin paddle is attached to the top of the box. When you scrape the paddle across the top, it makes the various sounds of a turkey.
Randy Zellers of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission says the Gibson Box Call is the most trusted and copied turkey call in the history of turkey calls. To the untrained human ear, the sound is like fingernails on a chalk board.
Randy says that while many others have built similar calls over the years, the basic design hasn’t changed. With a couple hours of practice, even a beginner can sound like a turkey. The sound from the Gibson box has a way of cutting through the wind better than other types of turkey calls.
Collectors have paid thousands of dollars for a Gibson Box. Fathers hand them down to their children.
Will Primos is a call-maker in Mississippi who has hunted turkey in Arkansas. He calls the Gibson Box the Stradivarius of turkey calls. Several years ago, an elderly customer at his family’s restaurant gave him a Gibson Box that her father had given her. He later donated it to the National Wild Turkey Federation’s museum in North Carolina.
At the turn of the last century, the Gibson Box helped hunters put a lot of Thanksgiving turkeys on the family table. The story of Henry Gibson is like the story of so many entrepreneurs in Arkansas. He invented a quality product, people liked it, and bought it, and he turned his idea into a successful venture that endures more than a century later.
Arkansas continues to be that kind of a state. Our entrepreneurs pursue their dreams and find success. Of the many things about Arkansas for which I’m thankful this Thanksgiving, people such as Henry Gibson are high on my list.