By Linda Murray Berzok
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Extra resources for American Indian food (Food in American History Series)
In Plymouth, 19 AMERICAN INDIAN FOOD the ﬁrst harvest took place in 1621. A letter written in that year describes a three-day celebratory event, which occurred sometime in October. Only one document, a church record from 1636, suggests that the event included a feast. When the earlier letter was published in 1841, some sources seized on it retrospectively (over 200 years later) as evidence of the “ﬁrst” Thanksgiving. As many as ninety Indians were said to have attended, including Chief Massasoit, and they were credited with having brought ﬁve deer.
The Indians of the Great Basin were master foragers and were not dependent on any single source of food. It was possible to travel from desert to the juniper-pinyon, oak–ponderosa pine and even aspen-ﬁr forests by foot in one day, so these peoples had access to a greater range of food resources. Their diet depended on the season. In spring, they camped at the edge of the marsh and captured water fowl and gathered plants. On the rivers they netted newly hatched ﬁsh. By full summer, they moved into the hills to gather plants, berries and rice grass.
The Pima and Maricopa developed elaborate irrigation systems. Although the Pima lived near the Gila River, every ﬁfth year, on average, the river failed in midwinter so they had to eat supplementary gathered wild foods. If they could not ﬁnd enough, they were forced to make long trips to the mountains in 6 INTRODUCTION search of animal foods, roots, berries and agave. These journeys inevitably took them into enemy territory belonging to the Apache. At other times, ﬂooding destroyed the crops. Because the Tohono O’odham further to the south did not live near a major river, they had much less agriculture.