November 25, 2018

Indian Wars Dispirited Early Thanksgiving Celebrations

The first Thanksgiving Day, November 9th, 1866, was a solemn one in Prescott. Some were thankful that the Union had been preserved, while others that the killing and destruction had finally ceased.

It was “the first time a day of Thanksgiving (had) been set apart in this territory,” the newspaper reported, and was “duly respected” with a community remembrance. However, the annual festivity would soon slip into neglect in Prescott and elsewhere in Arizona.

In describing the events of that first Thanksgiving, the newspaper reported that “at 11 o’clock, religious services were held at Council Hall, and an appropriate and very acceptable discourse (was) delivered by Rev. Charles M Blake, Chaplain at Fort Whipple.”

“Thanksgiving to God is always appropriate for us,” the Reverend proclaimed. “Shall anyone dare say that we as a nation, as a government, as a people; we of the United States, we of the Territory of Arizona have no reasons for thankfulness?”

“Abundant harvests throughout the land is an occasion for devout thanksgiving,” he continued. “The well-filled granaries, barns and storehouses proclaim that no want for food need distress us.”

“It is an honor to serve God and the country here on this distant frontier; to maintain the great principles of national union, law and liberty; to uphold the glorious flag; to lay the foundations and plant the precious germs of freedom, civilization and Christianity here in the wilds of the great Southwest.” The Reverend also believed that Thanksgiving should be an annual holiday like the Fourth of July or Washington’s birthday.

Of course, that would become the case. Yet the following year, 1867, Prescott held no community function. Instead, the paper simply expected “our people to do various and sundry good things.”

Delightful story of Prescott, AZ's first Christmas in 1864. Residents opened their homes to all.

The following Thanksgiving brought a gala social function—a Grand Ball and Supper. 

The event was held at “Dr. Moeller’s new building, on Montezuma St. It was a ball gotten up expressly to give those who love to dance a show to ‘trip the light fantastic,’” and was "given to all-who had $10, radical money, to pay for participating in the enjoyments.” (That was about 50 hours of skilled labor at the time.) 

There were roughly forty women present with “four times as many masculines in the room… It was, no doubt, a ‘splendid affair;’ all balls are splendid affairs,” the paper quipped, “and we are told that barring one or two slight circumstances, the ball and supper gave entire satisfaction.” Still, the affair was not repeated and that would be the last Thanksgiving celebration Prescott would hold for years.

Trying to drive the anglos out, Native Americans would often step up their attacks during the autumn season by burning or purloining the crops. Friends, acquaintances, and workers were lost.  For the farmers and ranchers who fell victim, it was a crippling and potentially fatal blow.

In 1869 the paper reported: “Thursday last was Thanksgiving Day. Our people did not seem to be aware of the fact. Their hearts were saddened by recent Indian news, and their minds were upon other things than feasting and praying. Could the people of the States, who enjoyed themselves on that day in their comfortable, secure habitations, have known how we Arizonians felt on that day over savage outrages upon person and property, they could not but sympathize with us.”

Indeed, Thanksgiving began to evoke sad and unpleasant memories. By 1870, feelings towards a Thanksgiving Day became cynical and even bitter: “Our people thanked God for their lives, which is about all they have,” the paper declared, “and then ‘thanked’ Grant and the Radical Party over the murders recently committed by their savage pets, the Indians.” 

Succeeding years maintained the same sentiment. Ultimately it would take the end of the Indian Conflicts for Prescott to fully celebrate the joy surrounding Thanksgiving.

Heart warming story of a genius toymaker and his benevolence to children in 1940's Prescott, AZ.

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