Governor pardons Bates Thanksgiving turkey

Published 7:00 am Thursday, November 16, 2023

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The 75th Annual Turkey Pardoning was hosted by Governor Ivey at the Alabama Governor’s Mansion, ensuring the community’s beloved Bates House of Turkey birds would return to the farm on Nov. 6. 

The tradition that began due to the idea of William C. “Bill” Bates, the founder of the one-and-only commercial turkey farm in the entire state, meant two turkeys that were voted to be named Giblet and Puddin’ were saved from being a Thanksgiving meal and accented the 100-year anniversary of the well-known local business founded in 1923. 

Rebecca “Becky” Bates Sloane, one of the five children of founders Bill and Teresa Bates and current owner of the business, said it is an honor to keep the cherished family enterprise alive.

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“It’s very humbling that we’re able to carry Bates on as a small business when so many small businesses get eaten up by the big boys these days,” Sloane said. “So it’s rewarding to know that we were able to do something that our father was so passionate about, and to continue his legacy.”

The legacy was born when nine turkey eggs were given to the Bates newlyweds as a wedding gift a few years after the end of World War I. Bill Bates began the turkey farm in Lowndes County, where he was known as the first Republican of the county, and nurtured his turkeys in an “open ranch” style. 

In 1949 the first Bates turkey was pardoned by Governor James “Big Jim” Folsom, and in 1970 the brick and mortar restaurant was opened in Greenville. Now five generations and 100 years later, the business is still a success and a second location has been opened in Montgomery. 

Michelle Bates Sloane, daughter of Becky Bates Sloane, said the family will never franchise the business, and it will stay in family hands to fulfill her grandfather’s vision. 

“I’m super proud and always have been to be born into this family, and I feel lucky and privileged to be able to carry on the traditions,” Michelle said. “It’s just something that I’ve always felt passionate about, making my grandparents proud knowing they’re looking down saying, ‘They’re keeping it going like we wanted it to be and making it bigger and better.’”