Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
Pardon a little Texas chauvinism today, but we would like to weigh in on the always-entertaining dispute between Plymouth and Berkeley Plantation in Virginia, on which was the site of the first Thanksgiving in the New World. (Berkeley just happens to be the birthplace of William Henry Harrison, one of our favorite characters in our novel The Fairest Portion of the Globe.)
But while the Berkeley commemoration in 1619 may have beaten out Plymouth’s iconic feast by two years, the truth is that Texas answered the Thanksgiving call way back in 1598, beating out the Pilgrims by a whopping 23 years. It seems that Juan de Oñate, a Spanish explorer, was charged with leading some 400 colonists across the Chihuahuan Desert to settle the Rio Grande Valley and claim the area of modern-day south Texas for Spain. In the final days of the trip, the pioneers ran out of both food and water, making their journey a true ordeal.
When they finally reached the Rio Grande near present-day El Paso, the Spaniards found an enjoyable campsite in the willows, with plenty of firewood; ducks, geese, and fish for eating; grass for the horses; and all the water they could drink. No wonder Oñate declared a day of Thanksgiving. As one member of the expedition recorded, “We were happy that our trials were over; as happy as were the passengers in the Ark when they saw the dove returning with the olive branch in his beak, bringing tidings that the deluge had subsided.”
To this day, the people of San Elizario, the town nearest the site of Oñate’s camp, commemorate this Thanksgiving on the last Saturday in April. And while San Augustine, Florida, lays claim to the first Spanish Thanksgiving, way back in 1565, Texas certainly can proudly claim to have held the first Thanksgiving west of the Mississippi.
So whether you stuff your turkey with sagebread, sausage, cornbread, or tamales, remember the tradition of giving thanks. We give thanks for all of YOU!