181205_co_opin_Massasoit label.jpg

This 19th century salmon label from the Lower Columbia River paid tribute to Massachusetts Indian Chief Massasoit, who is said to have led the tribal delegation at the first Thanksgiving dinner hosted by colonists in New England.

The season of blessings and of being thankful is upon us and I have to say that I am inordinately thankful that our official day of Thanksgiving is over. So much bellyaching this year! And I mean the nitpicking and carping that went on before the feast, itself — never mind the honest-to-goodness bellyache that any of us might have had afterwards.

I’m talking here about all the ballyhoo over what the schools teach concerning Thanksgiving. What most of us learned (and some of us taught) was that in 1621 the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony held a harvest celebration and gave thanks for surviving their first winter. The local Indians came and brought venison. They also had wild turkeys. The feast lasted for three days.

“Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!” came the hue and cry from teachers and parents and church personages. “Change the textbooks! Tell the truth!” “There were no turkeys!” “They did not invite the Indians!” Over and over, the media informed us that all those cute little paper Pilgrims and those bountiful cornucopias that we made in kindergarten and first grade were perpetuating lies, lies, lies!

I couldn’t help but wonder how many of those nay-sayers were actually present at that first Thanksgiving. I’m pretty sure the answer is “none.” So why didn’t any of them try to find out how it was from someone who was actually in attendance? Remember what our history teachers advised? “Go to the source,” they said.

There are two contemporary sources for that first Thanksgiving (whether it’s called it that or not) in 1621. First is a written account by Edward Winslow who had come on the Mayflower, lived in Plymouth Colony, and served as its third governor. In his booklet, “Mourt’s Relation,” he describes the celebration in detail:

“Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the Company almost a week, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deer, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governor, and upon the Captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”

The other first-hand account is by signer of the Mayflower Compact and Governor of Plymouth Plantation, intermittently, for 30 years, William Bradford. He wrote:

“They begane now to gather in ye small harvest they had, and to fitte up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health & strenght, and had all things in good plenty; For as some were thus imployed in affairs abroad, others were excersised in fishing, aboute codd, & bass, & other fish, of which yey tooke good store, of which every family had their portion… And besids water foule, ther was great store of wild Turkies, of which they tooke many, besids venison…

I couldn’t help think about the founding of Oysterville and the various stories that I’ve heard over the years — that there was already a settlement here when Espy and Clark came; that the Indian who helped them was Nahcati; and… None of us were here in 1854, either — not even my sainted uncle Willard or any of the many other authors and historians who have written as if they were. Check out the sources, say I! Here’s what the founders, themselves had to say:

According to R.H. Espy’s oral testimony taken on July 13, 1913, he and Clark arrived in Oysterville this way:

Toward Spring met Clark at Parker’s Mill above Tongue Point and in week or so came over here, Clark was there looking around for opportunity like myself. While on Palix [where Espy had lived the preceding summer and fall] Old “Klickeas,” Indian, had told of oysters here and on my telling Clark he became interested and came over as partner,

We came in sail boat to old Chinook, down beach to Wallicut, where we secured large canoe and John Edmunds, or Pickernell [Edmunds went by both names] hauled it across portage to Tarlett Slough ½ mile or so from bay, west of point where was house, think owned by Pickernell’s son. Staid overnight then took canoe down slough and down bay.

When came along in front of Oysterville tide was out, was foggy — could not see shore but heard something tapping in shore; tied up and came and found Klickeas pounding on old stump on beach (one had been washed in). He had seen us coming and tried to call us. We staid a few days then went down to Bruceport for supplies…

Clark wrote his own account which was saved in a well-marked envelope by one of his children:

In the early spring of 1854 I first landed in Shoalwater bay. I fell in with R.H. Espy at Bruceport, and we worked in company at that place for three or four months.

Indians had reported that there was a bed of oysters on the west side of the bay, some four miles south of the point of the peninsula. We decided to investigate the matter. We had come into possession of an old broken-nosed canoe, and, taking our blankets and grub, we paddled over to where Oysterville now stands.

We found the oyster bed all right and decided to set our stakes right here. I set stakes for a donation land claim of 160 acres. We built a cabin 10 x 17 feet of alder logs, eight to ten inches in diameter which we lived in some two or three years when a vessel was chartered to bring lumber from Astoria and we ordered lumber for a box house.

We were here but a few months before other settlers came — the Crellins, Stevens and others — and by fall we had quite a little settlement.

And… here we are in December.

The stories of Thanksgiving and of the founding of Oysterville pale when one thinks of what is in store for us this month. I wonder how many controversies we can come up with and how many arguments we can find to ruin the traditional Christmas Story this year.

But wait! Did we already take Christmas out of the public schools? It’s really hard to keep up…

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