By Mick Woodcock
Thanksgiving, as a holiday in Prescott, has its roots in 1866, when the Arizona Miner, reported: “Thanksgiving. – The President has issued a proclamation, recommending Thursday, the 29th of November, to be observed as a day of thanksgiving and praise to God for all his mercies and benefits, and also recommending that the people humbly and devoutly implore him to grant to our national councils, and the whole population, that Divine wisdom which can alone lead the nation into ways of all good. The Governor has issued a proclamation which will be found in another column, recommending the observance of the day in Arizona, and we learn that Rev. C. M. Blake will preach in Prescott at 11 a. m. This is the first time a day of thanksgiving has been set apart in the Territory, but we trust it will be only respected. While as a people we have much to contend with, we certainly have much to be thankful for, and we should be glad to introduce here a custom so pleasant and proper as that of annually acknowledging the blessings we have received, and imploring a continuation of the Divine favor.”
Despite mentioning the Governor’s proclamation, it doesn’t appear in the newspaper. Whether this was an editor’s oversight or because the newspaper was only printed twice a month and its first obligation was printing the legislature’s acts, is anyone’s guess. Arizona people would wait a year to read Governor Richard McCormick’s official proclamation.
The 1866 notice also advertised a service by Reverend Charles M. Blake, Chaplain at Fort Whipple. It was not unusual for Chaplain Blake to hold Sunday services in Prescott. The unusual aspect was that excerpts from his sermon were printed in the newspaper. Since the editor apologized in advance for not having space to print the entire sermon, we don’t know exactly what was preached, but the excerpts sound more like a politician looking to be elected than a preacher exhorting his flock.
The next year, Governor McCormick’s proclamation appeared in the Arizona Miner, proclaiming, “Now, therefore, I, Richard C. McCormick, Governor of the Territory of Arizona, do recommend that the day be observed in this new country, where, even amid unusual exposure and trial, the pioneer is constantly reminded of the goodness and mercy of Him who controlleth the destinies of men.”
He went on to encourage settlers to get along and be good citizens, saying they should ask, “…for strength to resist the manifold temptations of unorganized society struggling for wealth; for harmony in local action and interests; for increased fidelity to national liberty, union and law…. “
In 1868, a Thanksgiving Ball was held, and while it was a lively time, it cost $10 to attend, a large sum of money for entertainment. Apparently, there were unplanned festivities, the newspaper noting that an unnamed individual was arrested “For getting drunk and firing a shot from a pistol at some soldiers who were standing at the bar of the Arizona Brewery, on Thanksgiving night….”
While Thanksgiving Day as we know it, with roast turkey and family gatherings, was followed on the East Coast, it took time to become established in territorial Arizona, as evidenced by an 1873 newspaper article. “Many a one in Arizona who had been used to the observance of the day from childhood in eastern States, had his memories of years past quickened last Thursday by the knowledge that at home on that day, his friends and relations were performing the ancient festive rites of hospitality and gratulation, and that those members of the family circle who were absent far away across land or water would not be forgotten.”
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