This 1879 picture details a parade by Rex, an all-male krewe (semi-mythological creature) whose leader is known as the “King of Carnival.” The Krewe of Rex established the official Mardi Gras colors of green, gold, and purple. Photo Credit: Howard Tilton Memorial Library/Tulane University/AP/TIME
The earliest date given to the beginning of the Mardi Gras celebration in the United States is 1703. However, New Orleans was not its birth place, it was in fact Mobile, Alabama and was originally called Boef Gras (Fat Beef). [Zim's Side Note: New Orleans was not founded until 1718, fifteen years after the first Mardi Gras celebration.]
Joe Cain dressed as the make-believe Chickasaw chief Slacabamarinico. Photo Credit: The University of South Alabama Archives/Alabama Heritage
One of the earliest, well-known celebration occurred in 1830 on New Year’s Eve. It was begun by Michael Krafft and his friends who did not want to end a dinner party. After raiding a nearby hardware store, the group proceeded down the town streets with their stolen rakes, hoes and cowbells and woke the town up. Afterwards, the group formed Moblie’s first modern mystic organization called the Cowbellion de Rakin Society. Ten years later the Cowbellions presented their first parade with floats and a carnival theme.
During the Civil War, Mobile was under Union occupation and city soon became discouraged. The stress of the war had halted the Mardi Gras celebration until 1866 when Joseph Stillwell Cain dressed as “Chief Slacabamorinico” in full Chickasaw Indian regalia. Unbeknown to the Union army as well as the United States Government, Cain was making a political statement with his attire. It was meant to be a reminder that the Chickasaw never surrendered during the war and by suit, the people of Mobile should never surrender as well. Cain revived the celebration for future generations and while donning feathers and a skirt he rode the streets while encouraging the city. He was not punished because the government did not understand the meaning behind his costume. Because of his efforts in reviving Mardi Gras, the Sunday before Mardi Gras Day is called “Joe Cain Day,” where the city dresses in costume and celebrates him.
The date of Easter determines the date of Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras Day also known as “Fat Tuesday,” takes place on the Tuesday before the Ash Wednesday.
Mobile Mardi Gras website.
Carpenter, Allan and Carl Provorse, compl. Facts About the Cities. 2nd ed. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1996, 5.