When most Americans think of the First Thanksgiving, we envision pictures of Plymouth Pilgrims in knickers and brass buckled shoes, sharing their fall harvest with peaceful Indians, after reading grace from the King James Bible.
Those were the stories we saw in our history books and Disney movies.
Those were the pages we colored in our elementary school coloring books.
Those were the images we cut out to hang as mobiles in our classrooms.
No disrespect to our history teachers, but the first Thanksgiving on the American continent didn’t happened as we were taught.
It didn’t happen in Plymouth Massachusetts in 1621.
And it wasn’t celebrated by Protestants.
The first recorded “Thanksgiving” on North American soil actually occurred on May 29, 1541 in the American West.
Catholic explorer Francisco Coronado, his men and accompanying missionaries held a celebration in thanksgiving for the conversion of the Jumano Indian tribe. Father Juan Padilla. O.F.M. (fated to become the first martyr for the Faith in North America) offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. A Thanksgiving feast followed. Spanish and Indians attendees shared a sumptuous meal contributed to by both groups.
The setting was Palo Duro Canyon in what was to become the Texas panhandle.
It happened 80 years before the “celebrated” Plymouth event in 1621.
Another “Thanksgiving” happened in 1598, again, years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.
Catholic nobleman Juan de Onate led an expedition of soldiers, their families, colonists, Franciscan friars and Christian Indian converts into New Mexico. After surviving an attack near present day El Paso, they all celebrated a Thanksgiving Mass and held a banquet afterwards. The diverse assembly shared a bountiful meal of fish, game, fruits, and vegetables. After the festivities, the expedition went on to establish the mission-town of San Juan (still populated to this day).
This particular Thanksgiving Feast is still commemorated by the Spanish citizens and Christian Indians of New Mexico.
Each April 30th, they give thanks to God for His many blessings and for His help through hardships, just like their ancestors did. The event is officially celebrated by the New Mexican Culture Preservation League as the first Thanksgiving ever held in present United States.
Just think, if our history books weren’t written with English bias or anti-Catholic prejudice, we all might been taught that the Spanish were the first Europeans in America to celebrate Thanksgiving with their native American brothers.
We may have had to memorize names like Francisco Coronado or Juan de Onate rather than William Bradford.
We may have learned about the Jumano rather than the Wampanoag Indians.
Stories of the first American martyr may have been told in our history rather than religion classes.
Catholics would have been granted their rightful place in early American history.
NOTE: This a revision of an article I published earlier. Posting for it for Thanksgiving weekend has become a tradition. Hopefully it will become an inspiration for Scott Wolder and an episode for America Unearthed.