Long before the Pilgrims celebrated Thanksgiving at Plymouth in 1621, a similar feast of thanks was conducted in a region now known as Texas. In 1598 Mexican conquistador Juan de Oñate led an expedition northward to establish the colony of Nuevo Mejico. After surviving life-threatening hardships in the deserts of northern Mexico, the expedition emerged to safety at El Paso del Norte. To celebrate their salvation, Oñate and his colonists joined Native Americans in a feast on April 30, 1598 - the First Thanksgiving.
|Our little book about the first Thanksgiving|
was published in hardback in 2000, and
remains in print in softcover.
|Lynn O'Neal Martinez|
translated our book with
the help of her students.
This photo credit should
go to her older daughter,
Chloe, while little sister
Jessie directed her mother
to raise her head and
|Throughout the book a page of English faces a corresponding page of Spanish.|
Illustrations were created by Polsky Morgan.
Juan de Oñate was one of the wealthiest men in Mexico during the late 1500s. His wife was a granddaughter of conquistador Hernan Cortes and a great-granddaughter of the great Aztec chief, Montezuma. Oñate wanted to conquer a new frontier for Mexico, and he persuaded the Viceroy of Mexico, a personal friend, to appoint him as governor and captain-general of New Mexico to the north. Governor Oñate spent three years organizing a colonization expedition. He collected wagons and carts, supplies and livestock. Peasants were enlisted as colonists with the promise of the rank of hidalgo (from hijo de algo - "son of something"). Early in 1598 Governor Oñate assembled his colonists - more than 400 men, women, children, and soldiers. In addition there were 11 Franciscan priests. On the trail the expedition stretched for four miles.
Governor Oñate intended to blaze a new route northward. But on the deserts of northern Mexico the expedition ran low on food, water, and shoe leather. As the situation grew perilous, Governor Oñate sent eight men ahead to find water. At last they came upon the Rio Grande at a passage soon known as El Paso del Norte. They fished and hunted ducks and geese, and Native Americans from a nearby village brought a supply of fish.
By April 26, 1598, the entire expedition was encamped beneath cottonwood trees beside the river. Governor Oñate proclaimed that before the column crossed the river to march into New Mexico, there should be a celebration of gratitude to God for delivery. A feast was planned, which would include the friendly Native Americans. On March 30 everyone dressed in their best clothing: soldiers donned polished breastplates, priests wore vestments laced with gold, and Governor Oñate was resplendent in full armor. At a candlelit altar, the priests sang High Mass, and Father Alonso Martinez preached an appropriate sermon.
A captain from Spain put together a pageant about the expedition, with soldiers playing the various parts. At the end of the play the Indians knelt in the sand and were baptized. Trumpets then sounded as Governor Oñate steeped forward to claim New Mexico for Spain. Finally a bonfire was started, and fish and venison and duck were roasted. A feast ended the first Thanksgiving - 23 years before the Pilgrims feasted and prayed at Plymouth.