December 1, 2019

1890s Thanksgivings Sported Turkey Shoots and Football

When Thanksgiving first became a holiday, Prescott was newly born. The first celebrations were muted in both Prescott and the Southwest, however, due to the ongoing Indian Conflicts. Stories of the Pilgrims and the friendly Indians who helped them survive seemed farther away than Plymouth Rock itself. In the 1890s, however, most of the local conflict had been put to rest. Prescott started to celebrate Thanksgiving “quietly,” the paper observed, but by the middle of the decade the town began to create some of its own Thanksgiving traditions. 

Prior to the 1890s several churches in Prescott would hold morning services. Starting in 1868 the evenings would feature gala balls. These annual traditions continued through the 1890s and by the middle of the decade, two sporting events were added to the list: turkey shoots and football games.
The earliest of these sporting events was an annual Thanksgiving turkey shoot. Starting in 1892 the Prescott Gun Club would purchase several birds that were destined for the butchers’ block anyway and use them as targets for the event. They would be leashed and set 200 yards away. The Gun Club paid, on average, $2.00 per bird and would charge 25 cents per shot as a fundraiser. The money was first used “for the purchase of a medal which will be put up monthly, the members winning it each time being entitled to wear it for a month,” the paper reported.

These were held at the Gun Club’s grounds in West Prescott. If one was an excellent shot, he could get the centerpiece for his Thanksgiving dinner table cheaply. However, in 1895 one turkey “with a stout heart” survived 112 shots aim at him earning the Gun Club $28. A similar occurrence happened the following year as the paper related: “Yesterday’s Turkey shoot proved more profitable to the managers of it, than it did to the general run of shooters. One bird...brought $10 in the shoot, having been shot at 40 times before being hit. Those who participated in the pistol practice fared better than those with the rifles. Ed Block was the champion with the sixshooter, killing six birds.” 

The turkey shoots were for Gun Club members only, but in the last years of the decade, Julius Jacoby started a competing event “north of the ice works” that was open to all. “No one will be barred,” the paper promised.

The other annual Thanksgiving sporting event was football (or “foot ball” as it was often spelled back then.) The first Thanksgiving football game played in Prescott occurred in 1895 and featured the team from Ft. Whipple hosting a team from “Phenix.” In 1896 the paper observed that “foot ball and turkey shooting were revival entertainments in West Prescott (on Thanksgiving day).”

Most often the Prescott gridiron team played against a team from the Valley. The most common opponent for turkey day in the 1890s was a team of Native Americans from the Indian School. In 1897 Prescott received a challenge from the Indian team to come to Phoenix and play them. This was a matter for the team to vote on because the roundtrip railroad ticket would cost $8.20; (that’s over $250 today!) The team decided to accept the challenge, bringing with them several fans despite the cost.

2000 people showed up to watch the contest in Phoenix Park. “A large number of Prescott enthusiasts where there to yell for (their) team,” the paper reported, “and they did ample justice to the occasion."

The story of the first football game ever played in Prescott, Arizona against Phoenix and how the early game differed from the game today.

“The stronghold of the Indian boys was the revolving wedge,” the paper explained, “and against this the Prescott lads directed their efforts, with the result that in three downs the ball went to Prescott, and the power of the wedge was broken.

“In the first half, (Prescott) scored two touchdowns making the score 8 to 0. In the last half, the Indians rallied sufficiently to make a touchdown and kick a goal thereby placing six points to their credit. On top of this, however, the Prescott's piled three touchdowns and a goal kick, running their score up to 22. Every man in the team played ball, even to the new and experienced.

“The boys returned this morning and are well pleased over the result, as well as the cordial reception they received in the capital city. They say Coach Masten is all right, and they will be in fine shape for the return game, which will be played in Prescott on Christmas day.”

The Prescott eleven returned to Phoenix the following Thanksgiving to play the Indian team again. Also in November of ’98, this announcement appeared in the Journal-Miner: “The Prescott junior football team hereby challenges the Phoenix junior team to play a matched game of football on Thanksgiving, November 24. No boy weighing over 130 pounds to be allowed on either team. (signed) Prescott Juniors.”

Remarkably, in 1899 Prescott played Phoenix on Thanksgiving day and Jerome three days later on Sunday. 

Once Prescott began to embrace Thanksgiving, it quickly became a day rich in traditions.

Descriptions of the first Thanksgiving Day celebrations (and eventual lack there of) from 1866-1870 in Prescott, AZ.


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Weekly Journal-Miner, 11/16/1892; Pg. 3, Col. 2.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 11/30/1892; Pg. 3, Col. 2.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 12/2/1896; Pg. 3, Col. 4.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 11/29/1899; Pg. 3, Col. 6.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 10/16/1895; Pg. 3, Col. 6.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 12/4/1895; Pg. 4, Col. 2.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 11/18/1896; Pg. 3, Col. 4.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 12/2/1896; Pg. 3, Col. 4.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 11/17/1897; Pg. 3, Col. 4.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 11/24/1897; Pg. 3, Col. 1.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 11/24/1897; Pg. 3, Col. 6.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 12/1/1897; Pg. 1, Col. 8.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 11/16/1898; Pg. 3, Col. 3.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 10/19/1898; Pg. 1, Col. 4. 
Weekly Journal-Miner, 11/22/1899; Pg. 3, Col. 8.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 11/29/1899; Pg. 3, Col. 3.

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