by Susan Bates

Most of us associate the holiday with happy Pilgrims and Indians sitting
down to a big feast. And that did happen - once.

The story began in 1614 when a band of English explorers sailed home to
England with a ship full of Patuxet Indians bound for slavery. They left
behind smallpox which virtually wiped out those who had escaped. By the time
the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts Bay they found only one living Patuxet
Indian, a man named Squanto who had survived slavery in England and knew
their language. He taught them to grow corn and to fish, and negotiated a
peace treaty between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Nation. At the end of
their first year, the Pilgrims held a great feast honoring Squanto and the

But as word spread in England about the paradise to be found in the new
world, religious zealots called Puritans began arriving by the boat load.
Finding no fences around the land, they considered it to be in the public
domain. Joined by other British settlers, they seized land, capturing strong
young Natives for slaves and killing the rest. But the Pequot Nation had not
agreed to the peace treaty Squanto had negotiated and they fought back. The
Pequot War was one of the bloodiest Indian wars ever fought.

In 1637 near present day Groton , Connecticut , over 700 men, women and
children of the Pequot Tribe had gathered for their annual Green Corn
Festival which is our Thanksgiving celebration. In the predawn hours the
sleeping Indians were surrounded by English and Dutch mercenaries who
ordered them to come outside. Those who came out were shot or clubbed to
death while the terrified women and children who huddled inside the
longhouse were burned alive. The next day the governor of the Massachusetts
Bay Colony declared "A Day Of Thanksgiving" because 700 unarmed men, women
and children had been murdered.

Cheered by their "victory", the brave colonists and their Indian allies
attacked village after village. Women and children over 14 were sold into
slavery while the rest were murdered. Boats loaded with a many as 500 slaves
regularly left the ports of New England . Bounties were paid for Indian
scalps to encourage as many deaths as possible.

Following an especially successful raid against the Pequot in what is now
Stamford , Connecticut , the churches announced a second day of "thanksgiving"
to celebrate victory over the heathen savages. During the feasting, the
hacked off heads of Natives were kicked through the streets like soccer
balls. Even the friendly Wampanoag did not escape the madness. Their chief
was beheaded, and his head impaled on a pole in Plymouth , Massachusetts --
where it remained on display for 24 years.

The killings became more and more frenzied, with days of thanksgiving feasts
being held after each successful massacre. George Washington finally
suggested that only one day of Thanksgiving per year be set aside instead of
celebrating each and every massacre. Later Abraham Lincoln decreed
Thanksgiving Day to be a legal national holiday during the Civil War -- on
the same day he ordered troops to march against the starving Sioux in
Minnesota .
This story doesn't have quite the same fuzzy feelings associated with it as
the one where the Indians and Pilgrims are all sitting down together at the
big feast. But we need to learn our true history so it won't ever be
repeated. Next Thanksgiving, when you gather with your loved ones to Thank
God for all your blessings, think about those people who only wanted to live
their lives and raise their families. They, also took time out to say "thank
you" to Creator for all their blessings.

It is sad to think that this happened, but it is important to understand all
of the story and not just the happy part. Today the town of Plymouth Rock
has a Thanksgiving ceremony each year in remembrance of the first
Thanksgiving. There are still Wampanoag people living in Massachusetts . In
1970, they asked one of them to speak at the ceremony to mark the 350th
anniversary of the Pilgrim's arrival. Here is part of what was said:

"Today is a time of celebrating for you -- a time of looking back to the
first days of white people in America . But it is not a time of celebrating
for me. It is with a heavy heart that I look back upon what happened to my
People. When the Pilgrims arrived, we, the Wampanoags, welcomed them with
open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end. That before
50 years were to pass, the Wampanoag would no longer be a tribe. That we and
other Indians living near the settlers would be killed by their guns or dead
from diseases that we caught from them. Let us always remember, the Indian
is and was just as human as the white people.

Although our way of life is almost gone, we, the Wampanoags, still walk the
lands of Massachusetts . What has happened cannot be changed. But today we
work toward a better America , a more Indian America where people and nature
once again are important."