AUSTIN (KXAN) — Millions of families, friends and loved ones will gather this week to celebrate Thanksgiving. While many affiliate the first Thanksgiving with the pilgrims up in New England, some El Paso residents have wagered the Lone Star State is where the annual tradition first took root.
The history of Texas’ Thanksgiving celebration
Historic reporting from the Texas Almanac shared the tale of Juan de Oñate, a well-known family with deep ties to the Spanish crown. In a quest to explore new land, he was given access to land in the northern Rio Grande Valley, where the Pueblo Indians resided.
Approval of Oñate’s expedition was granted in 1597. Prior to the start of his trip, Oñate is said to have sent Vicente de Zaldívar to create a wagon trail from Santa Barbara in southern Chihuahua — that trail later became the modern-day highway route running between Chihuahua City and El Paso.
In early March 1598, the Texas Almanac reported his journey included 500 people in total, with soldiers, colonists, wives and children in tow. Along with 7,000 livestock animals, the group began to cross the Chihuahuan Desert.
Within the last five days of the 50-day march to the Rio Grande, the travelers ran out of food and water, per historic retellings of the tale. It led to some foraging in the desert vegetation and the loss of some livestock.
Once they reached the Rio Grande, it’s said Oñate called for a day of thanksgiving, in gratitude for them surviving the journey. Teachings of the story allege the celebration included a feast of game and fish, as well as mass overseen by Franciscan missionaries who accompanied Oñate on the trip.
Following the thanksgiving, it’s said he continued his trip up the Rio Grande before settling near Santa Fe.
Not the only Texas claim to the first Thanksgiving
While El Paso has now laid claim to being the site of the first Thanksgiving, it’s not the only Texas site to allege its inaugural spot in founding the American tradition.
The Texas Almanac reported the Texas Society of Daughters of the American Colonists laid a marker in 1959 on the outskirts of Canyon, located in the Texas Panhandle. It’s there where they allege the expedition of Francisco Vázquez de Coronado observed the first Thanksgiving in May 1541.
Some speculate over the validity of that claim. The Texas Almanac references, as part of the tale that, grapes and pecans were gathered and shared at the feast. However, neither of those crops grow in Palo Duro Canyon, it said.