Thanksgiving and the American Indian Plus a Giveaway


Welcome, welcome to another terrific Tuesday.

Autumn, how I love it — the crisp air, scented delicately with falling leaves and the smoke from wood stoves;  Cinnamon and fresh apple cider, pumpkin pie, turkey and cranberry sauce, apple pie, the last of the corn on the cob…

And what about the “feels” of autumn? Traipsing through leaves, racking them up and jumping in them; picking up a leaf and tracing its pattern; warm days, cool nights, the pleasure of feeling Mother Earth prepare for a few months’ sleep.

And how about the touch of the Fall atmosphere upon one’s skin? And don’t you love the sounds of autumn?  Cold nights and warm blankets, football games announcing the players; the sounds of cheerleaders and marching bands; long practices — even the quiet sound of leaves falling to the ground.  How I love it.

Of course, to the people who lived close to the earth in our not-so-distant past, the look and feel of Fall was as beloved then as it is today.  So much was this the case that the Eastern American Indians devoted an entire festival of fun and merriment to Autumn — and that festival was called the Harvest Festival.

Naturally, we are all pretty much aware that our Thanksgiving has a lot to do with the colonists’ association of the Eastern Indian tribes, and in particular Squanto who helped the new people who had come into this country.  Although sometimes the history of our Thanksgiving is attributed to an English celebration, I’d like to put forth a differing point of view, if I might.  At the end of this blog I’d love you to tell me your point of view..

When the colonists first came to this country, history tells us that the colonists were escaping religious persecution, and, indeed, this is true.  But a deep dive into history also reveals that many people came to America as slaves or indentured servants because England was at that time emptying its prisons.  But, regardless of why they came to America, we also know that their first winter in the new world saw the colonists ill-prepared for what was to come and many of those people suffered that first winter.

Seeing this, a particular American Indian man and a Native American tribe decided to help these colonists and taught them about the earth and how to plant the corn, beans and squash so they could obtain a bountiful harvest.  They showed them the best hunting grounds also, as they went about trying to help these people survive.

The particular man who came to the aid of the colonists was Squanto, who had been captured by the English and brought to Spain.  He somehow found his way to the monks in England, who, in turn, helped Squanto to return to his home.  Some versions of this story say Squanto escaped incarceration in England and in doing so, was discovered by the monks.  Some say he was sold to the monks as a slave.

But, whatever was the cause, Squanto came to live with the monks in England and was taught how to speak and how to read and write English.  Imagine the colonists’ surprise when an Indian stepped out of the woods and spoke English to them.

Because of the American Indians’ help and their teaching the colonists how to plant the food that would grow in the soil of New England, as well as the Eastern American Indians sharing the knowledge of the best hunting grounds, when Harvest came, the Indians and the colonists had a bountiful harvest and they came together to celebrate what the Indians called the Harvest Festival.  Th colonists came to call the same celebration Thanksgiving.

It is written the Indians bought much food to the colonists:  deer meat, turkeys, corn, squash, beans and shared it all with their new friends, the colonists.  And the colonists, in turn, shared what they had with the Indians.  Also, there were many games and much fun celebrated on this first Thanksgiving which were common to the Harvest Festival of the American Indian tribes.

Now, the Harvest Festival was only one of six festivals of the Eastern American Indians.  It was part of an ancient celebration wherein He who was and still is known as the Creator, was thanked for a good harvest season

Before the Harvest Festival began, the women would have already harvested the corn, beans and squash.  Much of it would be dried.  Corn husks were made into many different items, such as dolls, rugs and mats.  Did you know that the dolls didn’t have faces?  It was also a time to gather more nuts and berries.  Men were busy, too, with hunting far away.  Bear, moose, beaver were all sought after and hunted.  When the Festival began, there would be much celebration, such as dancing, speeches and prayer.  And of course — food.  From the American Indian point of view, it was this particular festival that was shared with the newcomers to this continent.

Perhaps it’s because this one festival — Thanksgiving — was shared by the American Indians and Colonists alike that set the tone of Thanksgiving for future generations of Americans.  And I do believe that the love of autumn and giving thanks for that which the Creator had given has its roots in The Harvest Festival, so beloved to the Eastern Indian Tribes.

Thanksgiving to me is also about family.  Besides Christmas, which has many other distractions, for me Thanksgiving centers in on family.

SHE PAINTS MY SOUL is my most recent release — only a few months ago.  In this particular book, besides it being a tale of romance and adventure, there is a strong element of family in this story.

The hero and heroine in this book are who they are in the story because of what has happened to them and their families.  The hero is ruined by what happened to his family, and he has completely lost his way.  The heroine, never having had a family, yearns to marry and create a family of her own.

And so, because I think of Thanksgiving as a celebration of family, I’ll be giving away an two e-book copies of SHE PAINTS MY SOUL.

Leaving a comment enters one into the drawing — just please refer our Giveaway Guidelines — over to the right of this page.

And so, in closing I’d like to ask your opinion.  Do you think the roots of our Thanksgiving comes from a celebration that is found only in England, or do you think it comes from our American Indian heritage and their Harvest Festival?  Is it uniquely American with its roots in Native America?  Or do you think it might a combination of the two?

For me, I think our Thanksgiving has deep roots in Native America, not necessarily England, and that the ancient celebration of the Harvest Festival is still celebrated as a time of giving our thanks to God, The Creator, for the gift of plenty that was and is to be found within this country.

Thank you for reading, for coming to the blog today and for being loyal readers of the Petticoats and Pistols blog.

Happy Thanksgiving.


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KAREN KAY aka GEN BAILEY is the multi-published author of American Indian Historical Romances. She has written for such prestigious publishers as AVON/HarperCollins, Berkley/Penguin/Putnam and Samhain Publishing. KAREN KAY’S great grandmother was Choctaw Indian and Kay is honored to be able to write about the American Indian Culture.
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44 thoughts on “Thanksgiving and the American Indian Plus a Giveaway”

  1. I wonder if the idea was the effect of both civilizations working together? I love that the indigenous people had a festival already in place and can imagine that the Europeans would combine that with their feelings of gratitude and friendship that I’m sure they hoped would grow.

    • Hi Amy! You make a good point and it’s a good question. Was there ever any thought of both civilizations working together? In the book written by Pocahontas’s people, I think perhaps it was on those people … at least originally. They could not let them starve that first winter and I do believe the thought in the mine of Pocahontas’s people was to extend friendship in the hope of uniting them together. Thanks so much for your thoughts.

  2. Although the ancients in England might have had a harvest festival of some kind by the time the Pilgrims came to America, by way of Holland, it was no longer the case. The first Thanksgiving was indeed an Indian celebration. The Pilgrims of Plymouth were the only colony who had peace with the Natives for fifty years They were Separatists and those who came along not of their cngregation agreed to follow the rules they would use to govern their colony. They Praised God for Squanto. They were starving after their first year there. If not for the Natives they would not have survived. The gracious kindness of Squanto’s people was truly a blessing. Now the other colonies that came later had an awful attitude toward the natives and that seemed to dominate our history. Thanksgiving seems to be one of the few times Natives are presented as the wonderful, caring people they are in History books. I appreciate you sharing so many interesting things about them. I already have and read She Paints His Soul. It was a moving read. Thank you for sharing your talent with the world..

    • Hi Cindy! Thank you so much for your kind and gracious words. They took my breath away and I thank you very much! I agree with you very much. In history there is also Pocahontas’s people who helped the settlers, but those were under contract to merchants in England and so those people did not respect or further kindly relations,. But, without her people helping them through a tough winter, they would have been wiped out. But that’s a whole other story. : ) You’ve brightened my day. Thank you.

  3. Hey Karen! I love reading your books and these posts of our native people. I wish I knew more about my great great grandmother. My grandmother was a Lanier. Her grandmother was full blooded Cherokee.I do know that French trappers married Indians. I would like to know her story! My blood line has watered down some. My father would have been 1/8th blooded Cherokee. Hearing my grandmother talk about it, has always made me interested in hearing about the Indian culture. The Cherokee people(makes me want to sing that song!) are here in Florida. I know a classmate of my son’s family had deep roots there. I could go on….especially on the Lanier side of my family! And all our Indian names such as the Suwannee River.

    I guess I will always think of the first Thanksgiving being the time of the Pilgrims and friendly Indians sharing a feast together. Thanksgiving means family to me also. This is my favorite time of year. I love everything about it.

    I have also read your series! Loved them! I would like to know, without looking back, if you have any Indian blood in you? I’m sure you wrote about it…..and I may have read it years ago and have forgotten! Anyway, I’m now curious! I’m sure you have mentioned many times! Thanks for the post! I enjoy them!

      • Hi Tracy! I’m also adopted Blackfeet — it’s in the above post. The Blackfeet were friendly to all people who approached them on friendly terms, including white people. Right now I’m reading the true adventures of teenage Thomas Fox (a trader’s nephew) and Pitamakan — or Running Eagle — of the Blackfeet. Oh, my goodness. Talk about adventure. If you ever get a chance to get and read the book AN INDIAN WINTER by James Willard Schultz, you might not be able to put it down. My husband has read the book now 3 times.

        The Blackfeet were at war with the Crow, the Lakota, the Shoshone, the Assiniboine and a few other tribes who stole their horses and killed their people in tribal wars. However, all these tribes, if one approached them on friendly terms, treated even enemies with kindness and respect — and an eye to what they intended…sometimes suspicious of them…and perhaps rightly so. : )

    • Hi Tracy! Thank you so much for your in depth post. It’s hard to do a Native American search and if one goes on line there’s a reason for it. But, a wise man once said, what’s in the blood doesn’t count, it’s what’s in the heart and I can see the American Indian people are in your heart. My American Indian lineage is Choctaw. We only know of it from a family tree (now lost) and word of mouth. My great-grandmother was either full Choctaw or half. We don’t know which. My own grandmother was very proud of her heritage and spoke of it to her best friend (my neighbor’s mother). It is from my neighbor and word of mouth passed along that I know of it.

      I’m also adopted Blackfeet because of the work I did with them concerning literacy. The name I was given in the adoption ceremony means Antelope Woman. I am very proud of both of these. Thank you, Tracy, for asking.

      • Thank you Karen for opening up everyone’s eyes to the Harvest Celebration.
        200 years later I wish we would know better but still don’t hold the first Americans yes I said first Americans in highest regards. Given them nothing and still want their land, breaks my heart.

  4. Good morning Karen, I think it is a mixture of both. I really enjoyed your blog post. Thank you so much for sharing all this awesome information. Have a great day and a great week. God Bless you and your family.

    • Hi Barbara! I think both groups were thankful for many things back then. For friendship, for the help in getting through the winter, and as a celebration of thankfulness to the Creator for the harvest of plenty. Both peoples were deeply religious and I think it was the Indians sharing their Harvest Festival with them and the colonists celebrating the joy of friendship and getting through a particularly bad winter. Thank you so much for your comment.

  5. I believe it does come from the Native American’s as they were always thanking and praising their gods. Yes, we worship a different GOD but it doesn’t separate us from the American Indian. We always went around our dinner table at Thanksgiving, each person stating what they are thankful for in the year past. It was a beautiful custom only known to happen in my family. It was never discussed with others I knew as to whether they had a custom on Thanksgiving Day. I still recall those meals and the togetherness of family.

    • Hi Judy! Thank you for telling me about your custom. I love it. When I was growing up, we didn’t have this custom, but as we made our own family, it became more and more a custom with us to say what we were thankful for, but not in the beautiful way you mention here. Thank you for telling me about this.

  6. I think I have always felt Thanksgiving was brought anout by the Native American’s sharing of their culture.

    Fall has long been my favorite time of year. Married in September, all four babies were born in September and October. Camping and hunting with bows thise same months were a big part of our lives.

    • What a beautiful thing, to have been born in September and to have your marriage and all four babies also around this same time period. Camping and hunting with bows is quite during these same months. This really struck me as something to bring all the family together. We camped a lot when my kids were young, but we didn’t hunt with bows. I bet you have stories to tell about it, too. Have a wonderful holiday.

  7. I like how the native Americans and the pilgrims worked together. My family came here in the 1600’s fleeing religious persecution (we were Jews).

    • Hi Becky! Yes, it was one of those times in history, I think, where there was love, peace and friendship. I also think it’s terrific you know your family’s history going all the way back to the 1600’s. Wow! We can trace our history back to the Revolutionary War, but it rather stops there. Thank you for your post.

  8. I am new to your books, but will be looking them up soon. I grew up knowing my Great Grandmother was Blackfoot, her son (Grandpa) never spoke of his heritage, and my mother doesnt know much more than i do. I’m now in my 60s and searching for what little information I can. I love learning more about traditions from around the world. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

    • Hi Audrey! Hope you’ll enjoy my books. They are all Native American Historical Romance and many of them evolve around the Blackfeet Indians. My most recent series, The Medicine Man series, is centered around the Blackfeet tribe, or as they call themselves the Pikuni. I can sympathize with you on learning about your heritage. Luckily I had a neighbor when I was growing up (the mother of one of my very good friends) and she knew quite a bit about the heritage in my own family because her mother had been best friends with my grandmother and my grandmother was proud of her heritage and spoke of it often. I wish you well in discovering your lineage. : )

  9. The last picture you shared of the couple and their daughter is my favorite of all you have shared. They are such a beautiful and happy family.
    Celebrations of thanksgiving are found in many cultures around the world. They may be celebrated at different times of the year and structured differently, but the sentiment behind them is the same. England did not and does not now have any type of thanksgiving festival. so it would seem our celebration of Thanksgiving in America is directly due to the Native American celebration of the harvest bounty. Cultures that are close to the Earth and Nature understand the importance of both in their survival. After a year of work growing, gathering, and hunting food supplies and storing them for the coming lean times, a celebration is called for. Thanking those elements (earth, sun, rain) which made the bounty possible makes sense and hopefully will bring more of the same for the coming year. It is the perfect time to relax, celebrate, and enjoy the results of your labors.

    Thank you for the interesting post. I hope you and your family have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

    • Hi Patricia! As usuall, I so love your posts. I didn’t know this about England — I hadn’t thought they celebrated a Thanksgiving, but I wasn’t sure. I do know the Pilgrims were thankful the Indians had helped them get through the winter. The Indians, on the other hand, were participating in their Harvest Festival. Thank you for your insights. Happy Thanksgiving to you, too.

  10. Great post, Karen. Love reading your about your insight on the Indians. Hope you and your family have a wonderful Thanksgiving. I think it comes from the Indian heritage and is a time for giving thanks.

    • Hi Sally! I think so, too. I’ve thought this way for a while, but of late, I’ve heard others tell a different story and so I wanted to get others’ thoughts on it. Happy Thanksgiving to you, too!

  11. I love the idea that Thanksgiving was given to us from Squanto. It makes more sense than an English tradition. Love your books, Karen. Wish I had the knowledge about Indians that you have in your head.

    • Hi Charlene, I’m inclined to think the same way. It was a tradition in the American Indian’s World and because they were friends with, they all shared in the festival. Thank you for your gracious and kind words, Charlene. They have truly touched my heart. Happy Thanksgiving.

  12. There is a similar event celebrated in Paraguay where a Welsh colony was helped by a local tribe. The Welsh were brought in to settle the area.

  13. Thankyou for sharing this history. I think the Harvest Festival was really the first Thanksgiving, but very thankful the Indians were willing to come to the aid of the English and I’m sure the English were very thankful and happy to participate in the festival. Thanksgiving as we know it started there!

    • Hi Ginni! I like the spelling of your name, by the way. After posting this, I am inclined to agree with you on this. It was a very special time when the two cultures were helping one another and i believe as long as Squanto lived, they celebrated it thereafter. Thank you so much for your thoughts. : )

  14. I think it is a combination of many things-Both English tradition, Indian Culture as well as people comeing to a new place to create new traditons and culture to fit with thier new lives,

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