This Thursday is a special day in Iowa. Many people will celebrate Thanksgiving. It is a time when lots of people have a big dinner with their family and friends. They eat together and say “Thank You” for the special people and things in their life. Having a day to say “Thank You” is an old idea. At Living History Farms, we like to remember how people in Iowa have said thank you in the fall every year.In the year 1700, the Ioway people held big meals together in the fall. They had a party to be happy for a good garden and plenty of food for the winter. Their harvest dinners might have pumpkin, corn, beans, deer, and buffalo!
By the year 1850, new settlers had moved to Iowa. Many of these people had moved here from states in the east, like Massachusetts. They had grown up having a fall party called Thanksgiving. In 1844, John Chambers—he was a territorial governor for Iowa and an important guy—decided to have Thanksgiving as a holiday in Iowa, too. He said in the Iowa City newspaper, “We believe this is the first Thanksgiving Proclamation ever issued in Iowa; we are glad to welcome the good old Pilgrim custom to our midst . . .” Many settlers were still living in log houses in the country. They did not have a lot of money to spend on fancy foods. Their meal was still pumpkin, corn and potatoes. They might roast deer and wild turkeys. This Thanksgiving meal might be for friends and neighbors and just the people who lived right there. People could not travel very far. Remember they did not have cars or planes!
Later in 1875, people who lived in towns like Walnut Hill also had Thanksgiving parties. Having family visit and eating a special meal were pretty important by then. A man in Iowa named Thomas Terrill wrote in his diary in 1871, “Thanksgiving Day . . . Folks here for dinner. Had a turkey roast.” In 1880, Thomas wrote, “Took our Thanksgiving dinner at home consisting of a stuffed hen and other good things. Were thankful that we had so much.” Trains could bring fancy foods to Iowa stores from faraway places. A fancy restaurant in Des Moines in 1870 let guests choose from oysters, trout, turkey, chicken, duck, goose, buffalo, and deer. All kinds of cake, nuts and fruit were for dessert. Trains would have brought most of these foods to Des Moines for the cooks at the restaurant.
Iowa farmers did grow many foods right here to eat at Thanksgiving. An Iowa farm lady near Iowa City, Iowa wrote about raising turkeys on her farm and selling them every year for people to have at Thanksgiving. Miranda Cline wrote in her diary in 1895, “I sold Turkeys at 5 cents per pound, brought home 8 dollars.” In 1900, farm wives might have cooked turkey, and mashed potatoes, squash, chicken pie, pumpkin and apple pie, and might have even served ice cream at dessert to be fancy. One 1887 cookbook did suggest just serving “cold roast turkey” for supper that night. Even then there were leftovers!
All of these foods and parties became something people had every year. Doing something over and over the way our parents and grand-parents did is called a tradition. What traditions do you have for Thanksgiving at your house? Do you eat a big meal? Do you watch football? Or a parade? Whatever your family’s tradition is for this holiday, everyone here at Living History Farms hopes you have a wonderful day! Happy Thanksgiving!