Thanksgiving, he informs me, is a Puritan Christian rite, but maybe I'm talking about a harvest feast they held some years back? The Pilgrims were firing off guns in celebration, he recalls, when their Wampanoag ally Massasoit arrived with 90 warriors, perhaps coming to their defense against their mutual enemy the Narragansetts. When the Wampanoags realized a party was going on, he says, they went out and killed five deer — "and maybe a turkey" — and brought them back as their contribution to the gala.
The natives' presence was somewhat unnerving, Winslow tells me, because they so outnumbered the 50-some English who hadn't croaked that first brutal winter in New England. That problem didn't continue for long.
Where it began
Back along the Eel River stands Plimoth Plantation's "Wampanoag Homesite," an imagining of the home of the Native American warrior and Pilgrim liaison Hobbamock. In 1623, he warned the Pilgrims that the Massachusetts tribe to the north planned to wipe out Plymouth and another English village that had been annoying them. So, without a pretense of weapons of mass destruction or anything, Captain Miles Standish joined with Habbamock and seven English colonists in launching a successful pre-emptive attack on that tribe.
Signs leading up to the "Wampanoag Homesite" warn PLEASE AVOID HARMFUL STEREOTYPES. Unlike the one at Plimoth Plantation, the re-enactment here is a hybrid of then and now. As the Web site explains, "Staff dressed in traditional deerskin clothing are Native People and speak in their own modern words about the experiences of the Wampanoag."
Komi Wild Horse, a Wampanoag and Iroquois woman, weaves a minoot, a basket traditionally used to store dried food in pits. When I ask her about Thanksgiving, she pauses, then says, "We give thanks every day to the time of our death. We give thanks every day for what is given to you. A lot of people think it comes from the air, but it don't."
Wild Horse tells me she has worked at Plimoth Plantation for 26 years. "This is where a lot of it began — genocide, replacement, learning to adjust, slavery. And it wasn't a happy time. Otherwise we wouldn't be feeling the way we do," she says of this land, where history unfolded. "This is one of the original planting sites. Just to live this way is a grand thing. If we could live this way again . . . "
Lunch is at Plimoth Plantation's Patuxet Café. The name comes from the Native American village at what became Plymouth. A 1605 map by the French explorer Samuel Champlain shows Plymouth harbor ringed by wigwams and cultivated crops. But an epidemic now thought to have been passed along by European adventurers — a centuries-old swine flu, if you will — wiped out up to 90 percent of native inhabitants in the late 1610s, leaving the land cleared but uninhabited for the Pilgrims.
Today's meal includes Native American succotash and the "Thanksgiving Dinner Sandwich," which may be the most American sandwich in existence. A whole Thanksgiving dinner — turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing — is squeezed between two buns, each bite a scrumptious taste of history.