December 17, 2017

1864: Prescott's First Christmas

Winter began early in 1864, "and by the middle of December the trails were mostly snowed under and lost--all but those often traveled which led to the placer gold mines on Lynx Creek, or to Walnut Grove and the camps on the Hassayampa."

In what would be a rare "white" Christmas, "the snow lay white over the hills; the tops of the high peaks were crystal white and cold; and the pine and cedar and juniper trees were sparkling like trees on a Christmas card."

There were roughly 200-300 anglos around the Prescott area and the few houses that did exist in the tiny burg happily opened their doors to all that arrived.

"There were half a dozen families, mostly with several children; the bulk of them from a train which arrived in October and decided to try their fortune in Arizona instead of going to California."

Come Christmas Eve, "more than one horseman following the trail in from Walker on Lynx Creek, or other camps in the hills, must have stopped a minute to look down on the spot where he was going to spend 'a white man's Christmas' with men of his own color and speech."

The delightful story of the 1st Christmas tree ever erected on the Courthouse Plaza in 1916. 

From a distant view one could see two welcoming American flags flying in the wind. "One flag flew from a tall staff that stood on the parade ground of the little log and stockade military post--Fort Whipple. This tall pine, cut from the forest north towards Bill Williams, floated its flag first at Camp Clark beside the big springs in Chino Valley where the first brief camp was made--then it travelled on down to the new Fort Whipple and for years told every incoming traveler on the mountain trails that here was a corner of the good old USA."

"The other flag floated from the trimmed-up top of a young pine tree and back of it stood the biggest of log houses; the home of the very new governor of the (territory) of Arizona."

"There were only a few dozen log houses in Prescott--along the plaza and the banks of Granite Creek, and the only large house was the home of the governor...There were 2 or 3 little eating places where they could get a meal of Mexican beans and chile and lots of venison and wild turkey and other game."

The town's streets only existed on the papers of Robert Groom, the surveyor / miner "who had just laid out a capital city among the forest trees of the little valley"

"In the very center of the bit of flat, where the plaza now lies, campfires burned under trees; tents and shelters stood haphazard; and a few wagons with dirty canvass covers drawn close to keep out of the snow, were pulled up under the best tree shelter their owners could find."

"Little bells tinkled from the neck of grazing animals--all hobbled to keep them from wandering too far and being picked up by watchful Indians to whom horse or mule, or even burro, was welcome meat. The work oxen and milk cows were pastured under watchful guard in grassy corners of Miller Valley; or other open bits of grass, and in every cabin a loaded rifle stood read to the owner's hand in case bold Indian thieves started raiding the stock."

The delightful and sentimental story of Christmas in Prescott, AZ (and America) in 1966.

"Through the window shutters of whip-sawed boards the light of the fireplace or candles filtered out to cheer late travelers. There was not a glass window in Prescott that year, not even the Governor's Mansion. But there was Christmas cheer even if no windows reflected it."

"Big fires burned in the fireplaces of stone or 'dobe or 'stick 'n mud'; and good smells came up from the campfires on the plaza."

The women welcomed in everybody they could and their home cooking was "as good a Christmas present as any man in the wilderness would ask." The children all had little presents--most of them homemade.

"Every home opened its door to as many guests as it would hold and the governor reckoned his guests by the dozen. "The governor had a very big dinner which was cooked by his private secretary who was the best cook in the whole country. He had roast venison and wild turkeys and also beef which was a great treat even if it was a tough old work steer."

"No doubt the gray and grizzled Captain Walker was among the guests in the governor's log house that day, and it may well be that he and Captain Weaver sat side by side and talked of the fur trade in the 30's and 40's, when they were young men and pushed their way to Santa Fe and on into California far in advance of Fremont and Kearney."

Story of the first anglo Christmas celebrated in Northern AZ by the Whipple 35th parallel survey team.

"Bright uniforms, too, mingled with the dark coats around the governor's table that Christmas Day, for the commander of the small army lived at the mansion with the jolly crowd of officials, and the military band played for the ball that night--where dancers found the floor of hard beaten earth no bar to their fun."

"This was the first ball at which there were women enough left for a full set and some left over; little girls danced with grave and dignified officers whose tall shoulders were far above the pig-tailed heads of their little pardners, and one little girl told of how she carried her Christmas doll in one hand as she danced."

"There were gifts, even though stores were far away; gifts mostly home-made, but treasured for years and even in a few instances handed down to the present. There was a little service of song and homely talk in the home of Mrs. Ehle, who lived to become 'Grandmother Ehle' of later day Prescott, and another at the Mansion with Parson Reed, the first minister in Prescott, in charge."

Prescott's first Christmas was beautiful. Those early settlers displayed the kind of community they desired to raise their children in--one that was friendly, generous and patriotic.

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Prescott Evening Courier 12/24/1930 Pg. 1, Col. 3; Pg. 6, Col. 3.

"Christmas 1864", Unknown Author. Sharlot Hall Museum Archives, Vertical File: "Christmas".

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