Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Smile, Pardner--It's Christmas!


If you’re like me, you’ve probably had your fill of Christmas cheer and gift wrappings about now, and are longing for a little bit of that “peace on earth” we keep hearing about.

Still, no matter how hectic our lives might seem at the moment nothing compares to Christmas in the old west.  Instead of forging through crowded malls early pioneer women living in canvas homes, soddies and log cabins, battled blizzards, bitter cold and driving winds. In 1849, Catherine Haun wrote in her diary that her family’s Christmas present was the rising of the Sacramento River that flooded the whole town.

Those of you planning to travel this holiday season might empathize with the passengers who spent Christmas of 1870 on the Kansas-Pacific train stuck in snow.  Fortunately, soldiers from a nearby fort provided fresh buffalo meat, which is a whole lot more than you get today if stuck at the airport. 

We don’t generally associate fireworks with Christmas, but for some early settlers it was the only way to celebrate. In 1895, a riot broke out in Austin on Christmas Day when revelers shot off Roman candles. Fortunately, law and order was soon restored, but other parts of Texas weren’t so lucky.  The Fort Worth Gazette reported several incidences of people being shot and stabbed on Christmas Day over the use of Roman candles.  In some places, fireworks were encouraged as this piece in a 1880s newspaper attests: “Firecrackers are in evidence creating the genuine Christmas atmosphere of gunpowder smoke.” 

While most pioneers decorated Christmas trees with strung popcorn, berries and pictures from Arbuckle’s coffee, McCade, Texas takes the prize for the most unusual ornaments.  On Christmas morning in 1883, three men were found hanging from a tree.  If that wasn’t festive enough, the shootout that followed provided “genuine atmosphere” a-plenty.  

What is Christmas without a feast?  Even the poorest of families managed to splurge a little.  Oysters were considered a luxury and one bride in Montana proudly served them to her guests on Christmas Day, unaware that the oysters had spoiled during transport.

Crime never takes a holiday and that was as true back then as it is now. On Christmas day in 1873,  Indians stole five army horses near the Concho River resulting in a shootout.  In 1877 Sam Bass robbed a Fort Worth stagecoach of $11.25, and in 1889 Butch Cassidy pulled his first bank holdup on Christmas Eve at a Telluride, Colorado bank.  

In case you were wondering, Christmas wasn’t all gunfire and fireworks. In 1881 Tombstone, Arizona Territory made news for having a “quiet” holiday.  Not to worry, they made up for it the following year.

Come to think of it, maybe those crowded malls aren't so bad, after all, even without the “genuine Christmas atmosphere.”

 Merry Christmas 

from All of Us to All of You!


  1. You dig up the most interesting stuff, Margaret. I really feel for the gal who served the oysters. Nothing like getting a bad case of food poisoning for Christmas. My mil used to put them in her stuffing. Shudder. I always managed to avoid eating it. Merry Christmas Eve!

    1. Hi Vickie, Oysters were a favorite Christmas treat in the Old West--something I've never understood. There's just no accounting for taste.

      Merry Christmas Eve to you, too!

  2. I truly enjoy her books and these tidbits were quite interesting. Merry Christmas.

  3. Love the post! You are a dandy, Margaret! May you and your family have a Merry Christmas and a healthy and happy 2015,

    mauback55 at gmail dot com

  4. Melanie, thank you! Never been called a dandy before.:) Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  5. Glad our Christmas isn't that exciting. I've discovered online shopping and only go shopping in stores for stocking stuffers. Merry Christmas! Sm. wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

  6. Hi Sharon, on line shopping sure does makes things a lot easier, and the speedy delivery is amazing. I also tend to spend less money when I shop on line as there's less opportunity for impulse buying.

    Happy New Year!