Although Thanksgiving is a holiday most think of in regard to the pilgrims and the Indians joining together in Plymouth, Massachusetts to feast in the fall of 1621, a year after the new settlers landed in America, Thanksgiving happened a lot earlier and in the Southwest.
Aaccording to historians, the first Thanksgiving actually took place near New Mexico in the city of San Elizario, Texas, just south of El Paso.
Ana Pacheco, the City Historian of Santa Fe writes:
According to American history, the founding at Plymouth Rock in 1620 is the oldest colony in the country. The reality is that the first European settlement in the United States occurred 22 years earlier. In 1598 the Spanish explorer, Don Juan de Oñate, and his army established the first colony in north America. The settlement was located at San Gabriel near Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, 30 miles north of Santa Fe.
On April 30, 1598 this nation’s first Thanksgiving took place. The event occurred near San Elizario, Texas. Oñate, and his contingent of soldiers, Franciscan missionaries and colonists celebrated their safe arrival. They had spent almost two months on a lengthy trek through the treacherous-desert terrain. The heroic expedition suffered from the elements marching from Santa Barbara, Mexico. Finally, they were able to take refuge at the northern boundary of the Rio Grande near El Paso.
The historical account of the first settlement was recorded as La Historia de Nuevo Mexico. It was written by the soldier/scribe Gaspar Perez de Villagra. It’s the only epic and historical book narrating the first European settlement of any state in the U.S. That is the true history of America’s first Thanksgiving.
According to History.com:
A second Texas town claims to have been the real site of the first Thanksgiving in America. In 1598, a wealthy Spanish dignitary named Juan de Oñate was granted lands among the Pueblo Indians in the American Southwest. He decided to blaze a new path directly across the Chihuahua Desert to reach the Rio Grande. Oñate’s party of 500 soldiers, women and children barely survived the harrowing journey, nearly dying of thirst and exhaustion when they reached the river. (Two horses reportedly drank so much water that their stomachs burst.)
After 10 days of rest and recuperation near modern-day San Elizario, Texas, Oñate ordered a feast of thanksgiving, which one of his men described in his journal:“We built a great bonfire and roasted the meat and fish, and then all sat down to a repast the like of which we had never enjoyed before…We were happy that our trials were over; as happy as were the passengers in the Ark when they saw the dove returning with the olive branch in his beak, bringing tidings that the deluge had subsided.”
Thanksgiving’s rich traditions across our nation may now hit harder here in the Land of Enchantment, with the men and women who founded our beautiful state helped make the first Thanksgiving following a long and treacherous journey through the Chihuahuan Desert to discover what we are blessed to call New Mexico today.
Although others may claim the “first Thanksgiving” took place in another part of Texas, and some even claim since settlers arrived earlier in St. Augustine, Florida that those were the first Thanksgiving, it is not true. There are documented accounts that Oñate’s Thanksgiving feast was the first.