Texas, Not New England, Probably Had the First Thanksgiving

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They say that everything is bigger in Texas, maybe even its history.

The old Thanksgiving tale always includes some starving European colonists in Plymouth, helpful Native Americans and New England lore (queue the flashbacks to your childhood reenactments in school). But it turns out El Paso, Texas might have played host to the first Thanksgiving celebration.

Depending on who you ask, this gut-busting American tradition might have really happened back in 1598 (not 1621 like we've always been told, sorry Plymouth Rock).

The story goes that Spanish explorer Juan de Oñate went on a fame and land seeking trek north from Mexico in 1598. He followed the Rio Grande to the new world with a group of about 500 spaniards and ended up in San Elizario, modern-day El Paso.

Oñate's expedition, including women and children, went without supplies for a number of days. They traveled across the difficult landscape of the Chihuahuan Desert and barely survived. When they hit water, an official thanksgiving feast was definitely in order.

Oñate said a mass, a prayer of thanks and claimed the land for King Philip II of Spain. After the celebration he eventually settled in Santa Fe, New Mexico which had already been established as part of the new world.

El Paso residents have been reenacting this little-known nugget of Texas history since 1989 and they don't plan on stopping. El Paso Mission Trail Association hosts the annual event to preserve this piece of Texan history.

The Texas society Daughters of the American Colonists also claim an original right to Thanksgiving in Texas. They claim the famous Coronado expedition held a mass and had a drink of thanks in the Texas Panhandle in 1541. Texans definitely have some bragging rights on the first Thanksgiving.

Historians also mark this as the beginning of Spanish colonization in the American Southwest. Some disagree the Oñate feast was an actual harvest festival but it's clear that it was a feast of thanks (and survival). It seems New England has plenty of competition on her hands for the title of best first Thanksgiving story.

This post was originally published on November 16, 2016.

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Texas, Not New England, Probably Had the First Thanksgiving