"Obviously, the Pilgrims didn't discover anything. It wasn't empty here. There were people living here already. And I think part of the mythology is that the Pilgrims were really nice and they treated the Indians well and they were very fair in their dealings. And that's not true. They killed Native people. They stole land from us. They did all the things that all the other European settlers did."
"We feel really strongly that we want to place native people in the present day, too," says Munro. "Partly, we're just plain invisible. It's almost like we're dinosaurs and we're these creatures of the past. One of the things we do at the Day of Mourning also is we make it clear that we're still here — we have survived, we're not going anywhere."
Food and folks
The truth of Thanksgiving — in fact and fiction, good and bad — is certainly a variation of what we thought it was: a story about neighborliness and food. It just isn't as touchy-feely as its legacy. One of the first things the Pilgrims did when they arrived was steal buried Native food caches. Many of these Old Worlders starved through their first winter. The Wampanoags taught them how to plant and did indeed celebrate the first Thanksgiving meal with them. But after a generation, the Pilgrims spread out, squeezing their native neighbors. The English let their pigs run loose, getting into the Wampanoag's cultivated crops and gobbling up wild groundnuts and acorns that were a key part of their diet.
Tensions escalated and eventually peaked in flat-out warfare, during which (according to Nathaniel Philbrick's 2008 book Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War) the colonials lost as many as eight percent of their men. The Native American population, which numbered perhaps 20,000 before the fighting, saw some 2000 killed in battle, 3000 die from sickness or starvation, and 1000 sold by the English into slavery. A tactic used by both sides was to destroy enemy's food stores, which frequently left combatants near starvation.
The alliance between the Native Americans at war with the English was tenuous. And as the English brought their own native allies into the fight, the Wampanoags and allied tribes at war with the English became boxed in, ran low on food and weapons, and splintered. Massasoit's second son, Metacom, led his people back toward their homeland in what is now Plymouth County, perhaps in search of buried food. He survived a series of close shaves, but during the early morning hours of August 12, 1676, was surrounded at his Rhode Island headquarters and shot dead as he tried to escape.
The ending of this story is the dark-side mirror image of our traditional Thanksgiving tale, one conveniently skipped over as grandpa carves the turkey. The reflections aligned so perfectly that it would stretch credibility in fiction: they cut Metacom's body into pieces, and displayed his head in public in Plymouth for more than two decades.
Read Greg Cook's blog at gregcookland.com/journal.