Happy Thanksgiving to all
Last updated 11/24/2020 at 5:08pm
If you’re tackling a turkey today, or having it out with a ham, imagine roasting up a small herd of cattle in preparation for several thousand guests.
That was exactly what happened in 1933 in Portales for what may have been the largest Thanksgiving gathering that ever took place in eastern New Mexico.
Franklin Roosevelt was in the White House and the United States was smack dab in the middle of both the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Thanksgiving was still celebrated on the last Thursday in November, so that year it fell on Nov. 30.
The Board of Regents of what was then called the Eastern New Mexico Normal School decided that Thanksgiving would be a perfect day to invite the community to tour its new facilities - slated to open the following summer - and feast on a free barbecue.
“Portales will do herself proud in entertaining the public,” the Portales Valley News pledged in an article leading up to the event. “Ten beeves will be slaughtered for this occasion, and the meat will be well prepared in the ovens of the Portales Bakery and Snelson’s Bakery.”
New Mexico Gov. Andrew Hockenhull was invited to dedicate the building, part of what is the current administration building at Eastern New Mexico University.
Visitors were encouraged to stick around for the “football game of the season” between the Clovis High School Wildcats and the Portales High School Rams.
The entertainment committee members — Coe Howard, Floyd D. Golden, J.G. Greaves, and Turner Hensley — announced they were expecting 5,000 to 10,000 people and requested “all to arrange their Thanksgiving dinner for the evening so that they will be able to attend this barbecue and inspect the Normal.”
How many folks actually turned up that day will never be precisely known. The Portales Valley News estimated the crowd between 5,000 and 7,000; the Clovis Evening News-Journal speculated it was 4,000.
Hockenhull rode in a parade that led from Portales High School to the Normal school campus, where he and other dignitaries were treated to a half-hour long concert by the combined bands from Portales and Clovis High Schools.
In a newspaper report of his keynote address, Hockenhull “told the boys and girls that every day spent in school was worth $15 to them, and that he was looking forward for this great school here to bridge that great opening between high school and when they go out into life.”
The Portales Woman’s Club, “assisted by a number of young ladies,” served paper plates with barbecue beef sandwiches (made from all those beeves) and sweet potatoes (made possible by “liberal contributions” from the Sweet Potato Association and Charles Goodloe).
Many in the crowd stayed on for the afternoon football game, but only the Wildcats fans left happy (except for, arguably, the four who were injured when a portion of the stands collapsed).
The Clovis Evening News-Journal reported the following day that Wildcats co-captains Cash Ramey and Eugene Snyder led their team to a 52-0 shellacking of their PHS rivals.
“Despite the one-sided score, it was an eventful game,” the anonymous soft-hearted sportswriter noted. “Portales, it seemed, never quit fighting until the last whistle.”
Happy Thanksgiving, eastern New Mexico.
Betty Williamson will gratefully be serving turkey to two, and watching no football. Reach her at: