Butch Cassidy’s Thanksgiving Feast

The title, An Outlaw Thanksgiving, caught my eye and sparked my curiosity.  The two words – outlaw and thanksgiving – seems ironic being side by side.  But Emily Arnold McCully creates a piece of history that isn’t published in the school history books.  In 1896, the wild west was changing from untamed country to the “railroad’s golden age”.  Territory had been settled from the east to California, and the railroad opened many an opportunity for people to begin anew.

New territory does not come without its challenges.  Winter was hard on the prairie states and travel was often stopped by the devastating blizzards.  Just the thought of icy winds, bitter cold, and frozen snow makes me want to snuggle up in my warm home.  I love my heaters, blankets, and flannel PJs.  This story begins with Clara and her mother traveling cross country by train only to be stopped by the snow.  You get a taste of adventure from the little girl, Clara, as she is eager to explore and see all that is new.

When the train is stopped by blinding, heavy snow, Clara and her mother are left with a dilemma.  A kind “Mr. Jones” invites them to join friends for Thanksgiving at Brown’s Hole, “just over the border in Utah.”  Taking a frigid sleigh ride, they arrive in time for the grandest Thanksgiving feast ever.  Cowhands and townspeople welcome them in.  Through Clara’s inquisitiveness, she learns that her host is Butch Cassidy.  I wonder what it would have been like to meet an outlaw.  Although somewhat suspicious, Clara finds out that even outlaws can be thankful for their home.

This book takes on a totally different angle on Thanksgiving.  It’s unique and will grab the attention of your students, especially the boys.

Author’s Note:  This story is based on historical events that happened at Brown’s Hole, Utah.  Emily Arnold McCully has an excellent author’s note that supports the story’s basis.  Ann Bassett, a town member, wrote an account of some unexpected guests attending the annual Thanksgiving feast hosted by Butch Cassidy and other outlaws, who made their home in the valley.  She recorded the food and trimmings that later was used by high society ladies in Colorado.  I find it fascinating that history can come alive through the eyes of an author, connecting us to the past in unique, but ordinary ways.

Savorings for reading and in writing for An Outlaw Thanksgiving:

  • Characterization – Clara’s mother is cautious and nervous throughout the story; Clara is an adventurer.  “‘Clara!  You worry me so!’  She glannced at the poster {of Butch Cassidy} and shuddred.
  • compare/contrast – today’s travel to the past; roads paved then versus now
  • Map Skills – railroad maps included
  • Decision making – prediction with discussion – what would you do if…(you were Clara)?
  • Historical fiction and author’s note
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