Was the first Thanksgiving feast actually held in Texas?!

first-thanksgivingIn 1990, Governor Ann Richards triggered a lively debate when she signed a proclamation declaring Texas as the home of the first true thanksgiving. For all you people scratching your heads out there, it is undeniable that the Thanksgiving Americans celebrate each November originated with a dinner in Massachusetts in 1621 between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag. But was that really the first feast between European settlers and American Indians celebrating a successful harvest? According to many (or many Texans at least), the answer is no.

The funny thing is, Texans can’t even seem to agree on when and where in Texas the first “real” thanksgiving took place. Some claim that it happened on May 23, 1541 in Palo Duro. What is known is that Spanish explorer Coronado and his crew had made a long and arduous journey through the Llano Estacado, and on that date, a friar traveling with the Coronado expedition suggested that a ceremony, which was witnessed by several Teyas Indians, be held to thank God for his mercy and bounty. However, some details of the feast, which was reported to include pecans and grapes (neither of which grew in Palo Duro at the time) are sketchy.

The Texas thanksgiving that Governor Richards’ resolution referred to, and that was subsequently named the official day of the “First Thanksgiving for Texas” by Governor Rick Perry in 2001 (even making it into the state’s education curriculum), was April 30, 1598. The story centers around Juan de Oñate, another Spanish explorer who set out to explore territories he’d been granted north of the Rio Grande. But instead of taking the traditional route, he decided to make his own way across the Chihuahuan Desert. He and the more than 400 people traveling with him encountered terrible conditions on the trek, including spending the last five days of their 50-day journey with no food and water.

The group finally arrived at the Rio Grande and spent 10 days recuperating, after which Oñate declared a day of thanksgiving, with the Spaniards hunting for game, the natives of the region supplying the fish, and the Franciscan missionaries saying a mass.

Today, on the fourth Saturday of every year in April, the people in San Elizario, the small town outside El Paso where the important meal took place, reenact the event and talk about its importance. Costumed actors and dancers represent the Native Americans and Spaniards, who give thanks and celebrate after their treacherous journey and safe arrival at the banks of the Rio Grande.

As for the rivalry with Massachusetts for the title of the first “real” Thanksgiving, the El Paso Mission Trail Association went so far as to travel to Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1992 to debate another group dressed as Pilgrims about which group had really held the first Thanksgiving. The visit culminated in the Texans’ “arrest” on charges of “blasphemy and spreading false rumors,” and a subsequent mock trial.

The following year, a group of Pilgrims made the trip from Massachusetts, traveling to El Paso and San Elizario. They, too, were “arrested,” thrown in jail, and threatened with hanging (all in fun, we presume!).

Whatever you believe, and whatever you’re giving thanks for this November 26, we at Blairfield Realty hope you’re celebrating Thanksgiving with people you love. Happy Thanksgiving!

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