Tuesday, 18 November 2014

A Competing Claim for the First Thanksgiving

Everyone has heard about Thanksgiving, right? Last year we posted a video and some activities about Thanksgiving that you can find if you go to the menu for November 2013 at :http://bilinguismoiesdre.blogspot.com.es/2013_11_01_archive.html.

But, according to some, the 1621 celebration in Plymouth, Massachusetts  wasn't the first American Thanksgiving. There are other claims to the first Thanksgiving in what is today the United States. The strongest is a claim by the descendants of Spanish settlers.

It's based on an expedition led by Don Juan de Oñate that left Santa Barbara, in Nueva Vizcaya, in January 1598. There were 400 men (of whom 130 brought families), eighty-three wagons and carts to carry the baggage and provisions, and more than 7,000 head of stock--cattle, horses, pigs, sheep--assembled. The settlers hoped to find the riches of the Seven Cities of Cibola. Besides mineral wealth, they also hoped to find land for ranching and native labor.

The Medanos of the Chihuahua Desert,
south of Cd. Juarez, Chih.
Oñate took a new route north: he turned away from the Conchos River that those before him had followed, and struck out across the Chihuahua Desert.  A scouting party was aided by natives in finding the Rio Grande. But it was quite another thing for the heavily burdened caravan to follow the trail the scouts made across the desert to the river.

Scrub desert turned to shifting sand dunes. Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá, one of the officers, wrote that the group had to eat roots, cactus, berries and weeds as they crossed the desert for they exhausted their food supply. Their clothes and shoes wore out, the hot sand burned their feet, and their tongues swelled up and their throats dried up from thirst. His account relates that "the horses suffered most…they were almost frantic with thirst and their eyes nearly bulged from their sockets."

For four days, there was no water.  Then they reached the Rio Grande del Norte. They stayed for over a week, resting and celebrating their survival. A great feast is said to have taken place there on the banks of the river, with meat supplied by the Spaniards and fish contributed by local natives: the first Thanksgiving, near what is now El Paso, Texas, on April 30, 1598.

The route that Oñate's expedition carved from the desert with such effort became the preferred route for later settlers. Today's highway between Chihuahua City and El Paso follows the same route. Dunes still confront the traveler, from Samalayuca north. They shift constantly, as if trying to bury the highway with their quarts grains, for around 30 kilometers. It is hard to imagine what it must have been like to cross them on horseback or on foot. No wonder the expedition rested when they finally reached the river, and gave thanks for its waters and their survival!

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