Gleason column: Thanksgiving — a time to think about nation’s appetites
Driving down a quiet county road at dawn, I’m stopped by a flock of turkeys on one side and a herd of deer on the other. Ahead of me a truckload of hunters in orange watch from the other direction as animals navigate the blacktop between us.
Did the hunters get itchy trigger fingers? They smiled as we passed and saluted each other; perhaps the encounter just seemed like a good omen.
Still, those turkeys would be wise to keep a low profile this time of year.
With maturity, Thanksgiving replaced Halloween as my favorite holiday of the year, both for what it does and does not stand for.
It’s a feast still made at home from scratch with foods of the season. But what puts Thanksgiving at the top of my list is its gentle reminder to count up and be grateful for everything we normally take for granted. Year by year it teaches us that it’s better to want what we have than to have what we want.
Most trace Thanksgiving to a harvest celebration in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1621 shared with Wampanoag Indians. The first one featured “wildfowl” including turkey, venison, corn, bread and porridge — all of it locally sourced.
With the harvest in, Massachusetts Gov. William Bradford sent men to hunt fowl. Edward Winslow wrote home to England, “At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among 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.”
Few accounts of Indians meeting up with whites are so heartwarming.
In October Ed and I drove home by back roads from the middle of Kansas after giving talks at the state honey producers meeting. An Indian pueblo ruin on the map a few miles off the route would have been worth a stop even if it weren’t so out of place.
El Cuartelejo consists of reconstructed foundation walls of a seven-room pueblo built in the 1600s by Tiwa-speaking Taos and Picuris pueblo Indians. They journeyed from New Mexico to escape the Spanish, who in 1706 seized and returned the Indians to New Mexico and Spanish rule. The northernmost pueblo survived as a meeting place for French trappers and a trading post until it was weathered away and silted over.
On the way to the Cuartelejo, road signs led us down a dirt spur to a trail kiosk and a chapter of Indian history even more gripping. The place is variously known as Punished Woman’s Fork, Battle Canyon and Squaw’s Den.
In early September 1878, starving and homesick, a band of Northern Cheyenne removed to Oklahoma stole away from the reservation, intent on finding their way home to the Yellowstone territory of Wyoming and Montana. The cavalry caught up with them in Kansas. A game of cat-and-mouse ensued as the military tried to capture and return the Indians to Oklahoma, who in return kept giving them the slip.
Chiefs Dull Knife and Little Wolf led 120 women and 141 children out of bondage, along with 92 warriors. In the lush, protected ravine near a flowing spring, the women and children hid in a limestone cave at the head of the canyon while the warriors dug rifle pits, still visible on the bluffs, and prepared to ambush the cavalry. In the battle that erupted when 250 soldiers arrived on Sept. 27, the lieutenant in command took a shot to the thigh that would make him the last officer to die in Kansas Indian wars.
After night fell, the Cheyenne slipped out onto the plains through a shallow draw and disappeared like smoke in the wind, leaving behind their ponies.
Little Wolf’s band wintered in Nebraska and eventually made it to the north country, at least for a little while. What locals still call The Last Raid the Cheyenne refer to as the Great Escape during the War to Save the Buffalo.
Soon Ed and I crossed the border into Colorado a few miles south of the national monument at Sand Creek. What looked like green apples scattered in clumps alongside the powdery dirt road were really dried gray vines with wild pumpkin or buffalo squash still attached. I put a few in the car to bring home.
The Sand Creek Massacre was perpetrated in 1864 as the Civil War raged elsewhere and Colorado Gov. John Evans vowed to “kill and destroy … hostile Indians.”
Once gold was found in Colorado, treaties were torn up and tensions soared. Starving under U.S. protection at Fort Lyon on the Arkansas River, 700 Indians including women, children and several peaceable chiefs left to camp and hunt at Sand Creek, the northern border of a greatly shrunken reserve set aside for Cheyenne and Arapaho.
Meanwhile Col. John Chivington assembled a regiment of bloodthirsty volunteers with little military experience. On Nov. 28, 700 armed men and howitzers aimed for the unarmed encampment.
Indians dug into the sand in the dry river and bluffs to try to hide in pits while the cavalry mowed them down, then returned to scalp, loot and dismember.
I won’t recount the atrocities, but you can visit the windswept bluff above the cottonwoods where the Indians camped and talk to Ranger Keegan to learn some Colorado history.
Fast forward to 2016. On the Sioux reservation at Standing Rock, North Dakota, momentum is building and arrests mounting in a months-long protest against an oil pipeline rerouted to the reservation to avoid threatening white communities with spills and pollution. This Thanksgiving, we may remember one more conflict between Native Americans and a nation’s ever-expanding appetites.
Marilyn Gleason writes Eating Local periodically for the PI’s Good Taste pages.
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