Tuesday, December 11, 2018

CHRISTMAS IN EARLY COLORADO #Christmas #Colorado #History

In honor of the upcoming Holiday Season, I thought I would share some of the research I've done on early Colorado. I will return with the discussion on writing in January. 

Imagine if you will, the 1800s. You have followed the siren's call to Colorado. Life has been busy and the high desert with its mild weather has fooled you. Or perhaps you've been in the mountains trapping. You do some figuring and realize it's Christmas, what do you do? 

Around 1842, the northeast corner of Colorado/Utah saw the trappers celebrate the holiday with the help of the Indians in the area. Their festive meal consisted of appalost, a type of shish kabob with lean meat and fat roasted over a low fire, buffalo cider, a liquid found in the stomach of buffalo, supplemented with washena, marrow fat and pomme blanc from the Indians.

If you were in what is now the Denver area in 1858, perhaps you would have partaken of one of two celebrations in the new towns that were approximately sixty days old.
Records show the area had about 200 men and 5 women (four were married) and assorted children. One town had candles for a tree that had been cut in the foothills. A German couple were doing the planning and trees were a part of the home country festivities. The other town had a meal of buffalo, rabbit, wild turkey, rice pudding and peach and apple pie, listing just part of the menu. Now add into this mix some  "Taos Lightening" compliments of good ol 'Uncle Dick' Wooten and you would probably have a day to remember, that is if you didn't indulge in too much of the gift 'Uncle Dick' brought to the festivities.
In 1863 one family on the Arkansas river, up close to the cut off to what is now Monarch pass, had been cut off from others and the towns due to heavy fall snow storms that year.  They had been working their claim, even in the heart of winter. When Christmas arrived, they had plenty of food, but not much variety. One daughter, with the help of her siblings decided to bring out the good china brought from their home in Nebraska and serve up a feast of mock turkey made from beef and beans along with substitute coffee, made from browned bran. The parents were the guest of honor. 

Leadville Mine 1908
Even the boom towns celebrated the holidays. In Leadville in 1888, Dick Berryman's Saloon offered the following bill of fare for patrons on Christmas: Possum, Turkey, Roast Pig, Sweet Potatoes and Corn Dodgers.

Two other stories, with unknown dates, show yet another side of the Christmas holiday. 

On a train ride a woman and her two children were leaving Kansas to go to Denver to live with her mother. The ranch she had tried to maintain after her husband’s death had been too much for her to handle. As the train proceeded from Kansas to Colorado, it was stopped by a large drift across the tracks on Christmas Eve. The two children were upset that they would not be able to spend Christmas with their grandmother. The train crew and the three male passengers made the children comfortable. While the children slept near the stove, the crew and male passengers used the wealthy ranchers socks and filled them with gifts. On the morning of Christmas day the children had their Christmas thanks to the kindness of strangers.

For another family, living in the high mountains, the father had gone to a nearby town to purchase sweets and some gifts. On the way home, he and his traveling companions were caught in a blizzard. They dug down the three feet of snow that had accumulated to the bare ground and burning wood during the night along with the insulation of the snow were able to keep from freezing. Although he returned later than expected he made it home to spend Christmas with his family.

I will leave you with a description of an 1873 Colorado winter from Isabella Bird found in her book "A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains". As Isabella rode her horse Birdie through the fir covered area near what is now Estes Park she wrote  "...I think I never saw such a brilliant atmosphere.That curious phenomena called frost-fall was occurring in which, whatever moisture may exist in the air, somehow aggregates into feather and fern leaves, the loveliest of creations, only seen in rarefied air and intense cold. One breath and they vanish. The air was filled with diamond sparks quite intangible. They seemed just glitter and no more. It was still and cloudless, and the shapes of violet mountains were softened by a veil of the tenderest blue."

I hope you enjoyed the journey through the past in Colorado during the Christmas time of year. Some of these stories helped to inspire my novella "Gift of Forgiveness" which takes place in the Colorado Mountains during the same time of year. 

purchase e-book here
May your Holiday Season be filled with joy, love and the promise of even more in the upcoming year.

Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History

Angela Raines - author: Where Love & History Meet
For a list of Angela Raines Books: Here 
Angela Raines FaceBook: Click Here


Sarah J. McNeal said...

What a wide varieties of Christmas celebrations from trees with candles with pies for dessert to those meat and fat-kabobs of the Indians and trappers. But for all the different foods and manner of celebrations, it strikes me as warm and uplifting that people celebrated Christmas even in austere circumstances.
A wonderful holiday blog, Doris. I hope your Christmas is merry and bright!

Renaissance Women said...

Sarah, Thank you for the wonderful wishes. I wish the same to you.

I agree with your comment. Even in the most challenging circumstances, the holiday time was celebrated in the bes way possible for the time. Doris

Agnes Alexander said...

As usual, your blog always teaches me something. It's good to know that Christmas was celebrated, with or without the family at the time. I knew men outnumbered women in the west, but I was shocked to see there were only 5 women in an area of 200 men. Thanks for the post.

Patti Sherry-Crews said...

Well, now I know what to say if anyone offers me buffalo cider. No, thank you. I loved this post because it proves how much we carry Christmas and other traditions in our hearts even when away from home and relatives and facing trying conditions. It helped me this year because we're going to have such a different sort of holiday with grown children out of the nest, etc., I was having a struggle finding my Christmas spirit. But now I feel inspired. Thanks, Doris!

Renaissance Women said...

Agnes, I am thrilled that these stories spoke to you like they did me. Some were inspiring, some made me question the meal, but they all were about celebrating with people you care about.

When I read the 'Denver' Christmas story, I also was surprised at the disparity between men and women.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts with me. Doris

Renaissance Women said...

Patti, you made my day when I read you comment a few days ago. Like so many others, this is a busy time, but I wanted to say thank you. I am glad the stories of these determined people were able to connect with you. I have adapted to my new normal for the Holidays and I still enjoy time with those who are near and dear to me.

Happy Holidays Patti. Doris