El Paso Area Claims First Thanksgiving on Record

POSTED: Monday, November 23, 2009 - 7:19pm

UPDATED: Wednesday, February 17, 2010 - 3:25pm

Some historians say the first Thanksgiving dinner on record took place right here in the borderland, in San Elizario.

When we think of Thanksgiving, we think of Pilgrims, Native Americans, food, Plymouth Massachusetts, 1621. You remember the stories.

"It didn't start back east because the Pilgrims hadn't quite arrived yet," said local historian Leon Metz. He says 23 years prior to Thanksgiving dinner in Plymouth, Spanish settler Don Juan De Onate crossed the Rio Grande with family and livestock. They stopped to say thanks, and have dinner. "Now whether or not they, the Indians, celebrated Thanksgiving from then on, we don't know," said Metz, "But we do know that that specific date marked it. The first Thanksgiving on what would now be the El Paso bank of the river.

San Elizarians seem to know their history. There are books about their Thanksgiving too, but outside of El Paso, you won't hear much about Don Juan De Onate and his special Thanksgiving dinner.

"That's because nobody wants to admit it," says Metz.

Whether we think about it or not, Thanksgiving originally was about the Pilgrims making their way to this land, breaking bread with Native Americans. Perhaps that's why the story of Plymouth sticks a little better. It's a great story, but Metz says it's not the "only" Thanksgiving history lesson we should learn.

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