Post-mortem, legend of Rufus the turkey grows

/ Source: The Associated Press

In life, Rufus transformed himself from a wild turkey into a tourist attraction by adopting a rural cafe and greeting visitors.

In death, the bird that befriended scores of cafe patrons and accepted food from them appears to be making the leap into legend.

"We weren't expecting something like this," Kristie McDaide, a cook at Jacques Spur Junction Cafe, told the Lewiston Tribune. "It's something I didn't think would take off quite so well. It's a bird."

For about six months Rufus was a fixture at the cafe. But on the opening day of turkey hunting season a week ago he was bagged by an anonymous hunter who flipped Rufus into his red Chevy Blazer and quickly drove away.

The cafe has since received notes of condolence and calls from as far away as the Netherlands and Canada. One note includes a poem to the hunter: "Hope you can sleep at nite (sic), hope you choke on every bite." Another person sent money for a memorial.

His story has been read in newspapers across the U.S., and on Web sites such as MSNBC, AOL, Yahoo, CNN, CBS and ESPN Outdoors. Some headlines: "Turkeys Gone Wild," "From Wild Turkey to Dead Duck," and "Birdbrain Hunter Kills Beloved Bird."

"People are really upset," said waitress Cherie Ankney. "One man said he'd like to tie the guy on the back of his pickup and drive around town a few times."

Steve Banks, a professor in the department of psychology and communication studies at the University of Idaho, said Rufus' story is one that draws people in for various reasons.

"We're saturated with bad news, and this is something people can personally relate to," he said. "It's a sweet tragedy with almost a Disney feel to it."

He also said a turkey choosing to make friends with humans could be part of Rufus' allure.

"We're talking about cross-species interaction," he said. "Turkeys are known for being skittish and wary of humans, and here is a turkey that walked into town and became everybody's pal."