Celebrating 400 Years of Turkey Shoots

John Tarleton Dec 2, 2004


The Mayflower lands near what is now Provincetown, on the tip of Cape Cod. The pilgrims raid Indian burial grounds where winter provisions are stored. Eleven days later, they disembark in Plymouth. More than half of the original 100 settlers perish over the winter.

Local Wampanoag Indians take pity on the pilgrims and teach them how to survive in their new environment. Chief Massasoit and 90 Indian warriors attend an end-of-harvest feast in the autumn of 1621. No mention is made in the Pilgrims’ records of celebrating a day of Thanksgiving.

English and Dutch militia massacre 700 Pequot Indians who have gathered to celebrate the annual Green Corn dance on the Mystic River, in what is now Connecticut. Massachusetts Gov. William Bradford calls for America’s first official day of Thanksgiving to celebrate the victory.

Metacom, son of Massasoit, is captured and executed after leading a failed rebellion against English settlers. Metacom’s severed head is left on a pike in the middle of Plymouth for over 20 years.

During the darkest days of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln declares the final Thursday in November to be a day of Thanksgiving. Lincoln’s proclamation was a triumph for Sarah Hale, who had doggedly campaigned for the holiday for nearly four decades. Hale, editor of a popular ladies journal, was also the author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

Days after the first anniversary of the new Thanksgiving holiday, 150 Cheyenne Indians are massacred at Sand Creek in southeastern Colorado by the Colorado Volunteers. The victims are mostly women, children and the elderly. The victorious soldiers scalp all the dead bodies and cut off women’s genitals to decorate their hats and their saddle horns.

300 half-starved Lakota Indians are massacred at Wounded Knee, South Dakota after leaving the reservation in the middle of the winter. This marked the end of more than 250 years of warfare between European-descended settlers and native peoples.

Jennie Brownscombe’s idealized painting (above left) of the First Thanksgiving becomes a symbol of the holiday for many Americans. It reached a wide audience and influenced the national understanding when it was later printed in Life magazine.

President Franklin Roosevelt moves Thanksgiving up to the fourth Thursday in November to add more time to the Christmas shopping season.

Hundreds of American Indian activists upstage the 350th anniversary celebration of the landing of the pilgrims by taking over a replica of the Mayflower and by shoveling dirt over Plymouth Rock. National Day of Mourning protests have been held on Thanksgiving in Plymouth every year since.

Police use pepper spray and tear gas to assault protesters. Twentyfive people are arrested. In a subsequent court settlement, the town of Plymouth agrees to allow future Thanksgiving protesters to march without a permit, as long as they notify the town in advance of their parade route.

About 300 protesters rally in Plymouth to commemorate the annual National Day of Mourning in Plymouth while thousands of U.S. Marines carry out a new offensive in southern Iraq called Operation Plymouth Rock.

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