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Saturday, November 17, 2012

The First Thanksgiving Dinner in Kansas City: A Barbecue, of Course

Henry Perry Ad-The Kansas City Sun - December 22, 1917

The Evening Public Ledger of October 20, 1920, has this article written by Mrs. M.A. Wilson about the food served at the first Thanksgiving in Kansas City back in 1856 which was five years before President Abraham Lincoln made the national proclamation of Thanksgiving in November of 1861. I'm not too sure that Mrs. Wilson didn't embellish a bit, but I still found it an interesting read. Here is an excerpt.

Mrs. Wilson Describes an Olden Kansas Barbecue
By Mrs. M.A. Wilson
A recent visit to Kansas City, Mo., while looking for good things for this corner, led me out to the Shawnee Missions, in the beautiful misty mission hills of Kansas, which are in a spur of the Ozarks. High upon the summit of the hills stands the council grove, or as it is now called, Shawnee Park. Here, shaded by magnificent century old trees, are many relics and monuments of the Indians and warriors of bygone days. In this little place parties and rallies have always been a feature, for here was established the first school for the Indian: the women and girls were taught weaving, spinning, sewing, cooking and other house-wifely arts, while the boys and young bucks were taught to till the soil, shoe making and other industrious occupations. This district is now about in the heart of the hard red winter wheat fields. 
The beautiful and soft old Spanish name Earansa soon developed into Canza or Kanza, meaning south wind; this soon became Kansas and today one hears frequently the Indian word -kaw- the name for Kansas. This is in reality the gateway of the West and Southwest. The Shawnee hills are about ten miles, as the crow flies, from Kansas City, Mo.
Mrs. Belle Robinson, now about eighty five years of age, though she is as straight as a sapling and has a very merry twinkle in her eyes recalls the early pioneer days about the Shawnee Missions. These missions are so called because a group of Indian missions were located close together in these hills, where one may stand today, shading the eyes with the hand, and watch the sun sink amid the splendor of a riotous color into the west. 
The air in this section of the country is a wonderful rejuvenator, and few of the people ever need either a tonic or physic. The country in those days contained wild game, fish from the nearby waters, moose, buffalo, and, as Mrs. Robinson said, it came back to her, just as if it were yesterday, the most troublesome period, when Governor Geary appointed November 20, 1856, as a day of Thanksgiving for the advent of peace. She was a young woman of sixteen in those days and, as she remembers it, the celebration was done in a right hearty manner. As you will imagine, the greatest attraction of the day was the dinner. 
The early days had left their mark upon the mannerism and taste of the people of Kansas, and true to those days a combination of French, Spanish and New England cooking prevailed. Here is an old 1856 Kansas City Thanksgiving dinner: Onion Soup, Barbecue of Beef, Homemade Relishes, Yams, Succotash, Homemade Relish and Pickles, Roast Duck, Pepper Cabbage, Wapsie Pudding, Tea and Coffee. 
Of course, the men folk took care of the barbecue, but with it all they had their hands full, for out at the mission at that time they had about 100 people to feed, and after dinner, when all hands helped to clear things up, the afternoon and early evening were spent in dancing and games, and then most of the guests were in bed by 9 o'clock.

The Kansas City Journal of December 1, 1899 offered this account of an early Thanksgiving dinner in Kansas City. We are told "It was a sort of a barbecue affair."

Thanksgiving in 1864 Kansas City
Uncle "Bill" Mulkey, who was here before Kansas City was on the map, sat in an office on the second floor of the Hall building, at Ninth and Walnut streets, yesterday with his old style boots braced against the window sill and tried to recall his first Thanksgiving dinner in Kansas City. 
The first he had any distinct recollection of was in 1864. Mr. Mulkey came to this conclusion after gazing down absent mindedly for several minutes upon the rumbling wagons and gliding street cars on Walnut street. 
"It was a sort of a barbecue affair," he said, "held in Tom Smart's pasture." "Where was Tom Smart's pasture?" "Why, it was in this same eighty," replied Mr. Mulkey with mild surprise. Mr. Mulkey, as his friends all know, has never accustomed himself to the new style of referring to localities by streets or numbers. With him it is always "this eighty" or "that eighty." 
"Yes, this same eighty that this building is on - Old Tom Smart's pasture was over there on Twelfth street, about Twelfth and Holmes, I guess. It was this side of the old fair grounds, anyhow." "What did we have to eat? Beef and sheep and bread - I don't remember about the cranberry sauce, but I 'spose, of course, we had it. One thing 'at I remember very well is that Frank Kumpf, the brewery man's wife was sent off the grounds because she 'hollered' for Jeff Davis. The war wasn't over then, you know, and there were a lot of soldiers, Union soldiers, at the barbecue. I 'spose there were 300 or 400 people altogether, there. No, there wasn't any building where we are now. What buildings there were in town were down on the river and this up here about the Junction was still in the woods. There were a few residences as far out as Twelfth street. There was no railroad then, but steamboats came up the river." 
Father Dalton came to Kansas City In 1872. He thinks the Thanksgiving dinner of today is not much changed from the dinner of that day. "We always had turkey and cranberry sauce as far back as I can remember," he said.
 For an old school Kansas City Barbecue basting/mop recipe, check this link.

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