Thanksgiving is near, and the story of buckle-hatted pilgrims breaking bread with Native Americans in Plymouth, Mass., is being told all across America.
That is, except for here in the Lone Star State, where some Texans swear we did it first.
As the story goes, Spanish explorer Juan de Onate and his men pioneered the Thanksgiving tradition before the Mayflower even hit the shores of Cape Cod. In April 1598, 23 years before those storied pilgrims sat down to feast in New England, Juan de Onate ordered a day of thanks for survival after a treacherous journey. His expedition’s arrival at the Rio Grande broke a five-day drought, and to give thanks, the Spaniards shared their game with the local natives, who brought fish, and they feasted together in thanks for the earth’s blessings in San Elizario, near El Paso.
A second Texas claim to the first Thanksgiving goes even further back in the 16th century. The expedition of Francisco Vazquez de Coronado is said to have feasted with thanks in Palo Duro Canyon in May 1541. However, since records say pecans and grapes were gathered for this feast, and neither naturally grow near Palo Duro Canyon, some doubt this story’s accuracy, or at least its location.
Our state’s ties to modern-day Thanksgiving are more clear, and center around the best part of Thanksgiving dinner: the pie. Texas farmers supply bakers across the country with 60 million pounds of pecans to fill their crusts each year, and don’t forget that Pumpkin Capital, USA is just northeast of Lubbock in Floydada, Texas.
We certainly can’t talk about Thanksgiving without paying homage to Texas’ biggest game bird. After all, the turkey has lent its name to Turkey Peak, Turkey Mountain, and most notably, the city of Turkey, located in the Panhandle. After nearing extinction in the late 19th century, Texas’ turkey population today is again alive and well. Three native species roam across the Lone Star State -- the Rio Grande, the Eastern, and the Merriam -- and about 20,000 Texas turkeys will be hunted and served fresh at the hunter’s Thanksgiving table.
But of course, the most Texan thing on our proverbial plate this Thanksgiving won’t be the turkey or the pie, but the annual tradition of giving thanks and giving back.
This year, to celebrate our many blessings, Texans have an abundance of opportunities. Whether you help prepare meals for the needy at one of H-E-B’s annual Feasts of Sharing in 21 cities across Texas, serve more than 25,000 seniors at the annual Raul Jimenez Thanksgiving Dinner in San Antonio, participate in a holiday food drive, run in a turkey trot fun run to support a local cause, or simply give thanks for those at your table, please remember the spirit of Thanksgiving -- no matter where it began.
Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, is a member of the Senate Judiciary and Finance Committees.