Wednesday, December 20, 2017


post (c) Angela Raines-author

Christmas and the mad Holiday season is upon us. Many of us are hurrying to get last minute presents, planning the meal and preparing for family. In the 1800s many people were away from loved ones, or had lost them to disease or disaster. How was the Christmas celebrated back then. We've had post on the subject. So I thought I'd add a bit of Colorado's story to the mix.

Imagine it is 1858 and you've followed the siren's call to Colorado in search of the 'golden fleese' of gold and silver. The one thing about life on the high plains, it doesn't often snow and the temperatures stay fairly warm for December. If you don't have a calendar, how do you know when December 25th is? Or perhaps you've been on the trail or traveling by train and you find yourself in the middle of nowhere. What would you do to celebrate? Over the years of research a few stories have stood out. I share them with you.

According to some of the the records, what is now the Denver 'metro' area had around 200 men and 5 women (four of whom were married) and assorted children. The two 'towns' that made up the area were only about sixty days old.  Each camp made plans for a festive meal. One camp planned candles for a tree that they'd cut in the foothills. A German couple where trees were a part of the home country festivities were instrumental in this plan. The other camp planned a meal of buffalo, rabbit, wild turkey, rice pudding and peach and apple pie,  which is just a part of the food on that menu.

USGS Topographic Mapping Field Camp

On that Christmas morning of 1858 the weather was 'soft and genial as a May day...'. Into this lovely mix "Uncle Dick" Wootton (sp) brought his gifts to the camps. That gift, "Taos Lightening". With such a gift the day was one to be remembered, that is if you hadn't taken in too much of the free gift Uncle Dick brought to the party. (For some fun and interesting research, you can't go wrong with Uncle Dick!)

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'd been working their claim, even in the heart of winter. Again remember, Colorado weather has always been tricky. 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 served up a feast. That feast, mock turkey, from beef and beans, and substitute coffee, made from browned bran. The parents were the guest of honor. 

. Harding sandstone on gneiss and schists 1.5 miles northwest of Canyon [City]/USGS. “

Of course no story of early Colorado Christmas would not be complete without a story from the early trapper days. Around 1842, in the Northeast corner on the border of Colorado and Utah a holiday took shape with the help of the Indians who were in the area. The trappers and their Indian friends had a Holiday meal that consisted of appalost, which is a type of shish kabob with lean meat and fat roasted over a low fire.  There was also buffalo cider, a liquid found in the stomach of buffalo, which was supplemented with washena, marrow fat and pomme blanc.

By the time 1888 rolled around, the state had grown. Leadville was booming thanks to the silver strike. In Dick Berryman's Saloon the following was offered for the Christmas day: Possum, Turkey, Roast Pig, Sweet Potatoes and Corn Dodgers.

Leadville, Colorado, mining district, subject of an early mining-geology study, 1879.

It seems, no matter what the time, people did what they could to celebrate the day and season. The following passage is from Isabella Bird's book, "A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains", a compilations of letters Isabella wrote to her sister back in England.. As Isabella traveled the Rocky Mountains, alone, she wrote letters back to her sister in England. "...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." The above passage is from 1873 as she traveled alone with her horse Birdie through the fir covered mountains near the the Estes Park area of Colorado. 

I wish each and everyone of you a joyous Christmas and Holiday season and that the New Year brings you all that your heart desires.

snowfall - by the author
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 
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Every step you take should be a prayer.
And if every step you take is a prayer then you will always be walking in a sacred manner. 
Oglala Lakota Holyman.

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