The untold story of our forebears’ meeting with the Indian prophet who foresaw what would become of Thanksgiving Day.
From the mouth of a stark eastern Massachusetts woods emerged a man with pale English skin. He stood motionless at the edge of a grassy field and stared into the distance with an expression as bleak as the gray November sky.
Suddenly, a voice came from his right, causing him to spin around anxiously.
“Good day to you, William!” said the voice.
The pale man collected himself.
“John, good day to you,” William replied. “You startled me, I confess.”
“My apologies, indeed,” John said, as he studied the face of his friend. “How is it that thou lookest so disquieted?”
“I am disquieted, ’tis true,” William answered, before adding, “I have just come from the Wampanoag prophet, Wonohaquaham.”
“God have mercy!” John nearly shouted, “They will surely hang thee for witchcraft!”
William lifted his hands in an appeal.
“’Tis not as it appears. I was at the edge of these woods gathering acorns for our Thanksgiving feast to Almighty God tomorrow, when a voice beckoned to me from yonder thicket. Thereupon, I found the Indian in a trance when he laid hold of me and prophesied.”
John relaxed a bit and moved closer to his companion.
“Pray, what did he tell thee?” he whispered.
William shifted on his feet and took a breath.
“He said the Great Spirit had revealed to him the future of our Thanksgiving Day and how our progeny shall come to celebrate it many years from now.”
“Well, if we are to believe him, then Jesus Christ be praised!” John said, looking to the sky with raised hands. “Our children’s children shall endure in this land and continue to bless the Providence that brought us hence!”
“The prophet’s vision of our future may not be as thou thinkest.”
“The Indian spoke of a tradition marked by great tables of bounty, filled with wild game, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and berries.”
“Ah! This must mean that abundance shall come to Massachusetts!” he said.
“Yes, John,” William answered, “But Wonohaquaham also saw two great bottles coming out of the earth; one pink bottle to salve stomach ailments due to excessive feasting, and the other filled with spirituous liquors to ameliorate rancorous family gatherings.”
John’s mouth turned downward.
“Fie! Drunkenness and gluttony, here in Plymouth Colony? What an evil prognostication!”
“But that is not the strangest thing he told me”, William offered.
John’s face grew inquisitive as his interlocutor continued.
“The prophet foretold of a vast multitude in the streets of a great city to the south where each Thanksgiving they will witness creatures of enormous size fill the sky.”
“Creatures?” John asked. “Of what variety?”
“Strange and marvelous creatures I knew not of. A great turkey sporting a capotain like the one on thy head, but with a buckle round it; a giant black and white beagle accompanied by an equally large yellow bird; an immense purple dragon with a green underbelly standing upright and wearing a man’s smile.”
“This savage must surely be filled with the devil to see such things!” John said, indignantly.
“Peradventure, he is possessed or a lunatic. But he spoke convincingly of a day called ‘Black Friday’, which was to immediately follow our feast of Thanksgiving,” said William quietly.
John’s expression changed again, this time to grief.
“Christ have mercy!” he cried. “A day of death and plague?”
William raised his eyebrows and answered matter-of-factly, “No, but a day of national commerce, where men and women go mad with the spirit of greed. He saw a vision of many trampling their neighbors underfoot in an effort to purchase goods for the white man’s ancient winter festival.”
“What! Christmas!?” John sneered. “That perverse, popish holiday, celebrated on these shores!? What else did he see?”
“Throngs filling the markets and shoppes, fighting and devouring one another over children’s playthings and women’s clothing and flat-screen televisions and –”
“’Flat-screen televisions’, thou sayest?”, John interrupted. “Pray, is that another vain imagining of the Indian?”
“No, but a leisure device our offspring will indulge in on the Day of Thanks. ‘Tis like a window, the prophet said, that allows one to look into events in other parts of the world as they occur!”
“What does it show, William… this ‘window to the world’?” John prodded, gently grabbing his friend by the arm.
“I know not. I was inquiring on it when the spirits seized him, causing him to speak this riddle thrice in a strange tongue:
Turkey leg, galloping gobbler.
Mrs. Simms’ blackberry cobbler.”
“’Tis the language of Satan, no doubt!” John exclaimed.
“Yes, but perchance the devil sees things mere men cannot,” William replied.
John considered his words for some time, then carefully spoke.
“If this prophecy be true, even though it be fitting and right to give due honor to God for his hand of provision on our colony, perhaps it would be better to forego the Thanksgiving ceremony altogether and spare our progeny from certain folly, sin, and suffering.”
The two men stood contemplating this suggestion for a moment, when the sound of acorns falling behind them caused both to turn simultaneously. There, at the mouth of the barren forest, stood Wonohaquaham, still as a stone.
William and John looked at him intently. A minute passed in silence. Then the Indian raised his hand to speak.
“There is one thing more I need to tell thee, William of Plymouth,” he said in polished English.
“Yes?” William called.
“My chief says he will bring the pumpkin pie tomorrow.”
A crow cawed overhead, causing the men to glance up for an instant. When they looked back toward the forest, the Indian had vanished into the trees.
The pilgrims were alone in the clearing. Neither of them moved from the spot where they were standing, but instead watched their breath hang in the air for some time. Finally, John looked at the ground, pawed his boot in the damp earth, and spoke rather sheepishly.
“Well… I did not know there was going to be pumpkin pie.”
And with that, he turned on his heels and walked back toward the town, leaving William, mouth agape, at the edge of the woods.