December 5, 2021

1934: Christmas Spirits Prevail!

Pioneers' Home, Christmas Dinner

As Christmas 1934 approached, the Great Depression was hanging on doggedly. Yet by this time people were anxious to begin to get back to normal. Although money and (due to prohibition,) whiskey was scarce, people adapted and determined to make the season bright.

After two especially poor years in the economy, people began to open up their wallets and spend what little money they had. “Christmas business in Prescott this year had exceeded that for 1933 by a wide margin,” the Evening Courier observed. Upon inquiry by the paper, the Bashford-Burmister store reported sales as being “very favorable.” The local JC Penny store reported sales as being “40% better.” No business reported a downturn. “Christmas [inventories] have been depleted,” the paper reported. “In all stores, extra clerks had to be added.” 

Outside the city, in the rural areas, the situation continued to be a bit bleak. Despite increased sales of gifts in the city, the cattle industry was still struggling. 

In the article “Christmas Spirit Endures Hardship,” by Budge Ruffner, the same Christmas in Walnut Grove is described. In order to make ends meet and Christmas more memorable, the community there banded together for a celebration at the schoolhouse Christmas Eve night.

Prohibition was in its last throws and it was hoped that Yavapai County Sheriff George Ruffner (who never thought much of prohibition and rarely made arrests for it,) would be able to provide some “evidence” from “the county garage which might be donated to the community party as a masterful stroke of public relations,” Ruffner described.

Money was collected from every family in the Grove for the purchase of toys and candy in Prescott, and a bachelor named Billy was entrusted with the bankroll and the errand. Some were apprehensive about giving him the task. He was “sometimes forgetful, if not down right irresponsible,” Ruffner wrote, “and not renowned for total abstinence.”

After swearing an oath not to go into any soda shops or cigar stores where he might be tempted, Billy started driving north toward Prescott in his blue Dodge pick-up.

Christmas 1909 in Prescott AZ would be remembered for a large blizzard and two generous gifts by railroad entrepreneur Frank Murphy.

Meanwhile, back in the city, the Christmas tree celebration in the Plaza was occurring and the Goodfellows club would live up to their name. They made stockings for each of the children in the city which contained oranges, candy and nuts. The Yavapai County Recorder's office was commandeered for the task of stuffing each stocking. Before the Plaza cleared, they handed-out nearly 1200 of them. A second phase of their generosity would commence later in the day.

As Billy arrived downtown, he found it abuzz. Federal workers were given half a day off and were scrambling to make last-minute purchases. According to the paper, last minute buying on Christmas Eve went "unabated.”

Billy had plenty to do and the crowds would slow him down. First stop was to Bashford-Burmister where he competed to get toys and candy from the depleted stock. He would also need to go to the post office to collect the community’s mail; the express company to retrieve any parcels; and, of course, that important visit to Sheriff Ruffner. As the people of Walnut Grove were anxious about Billy completing his tasks, he looked at the crowds and began to have his own misgivings.

High on a hill above the busy commotion of downtown, residents of the Pioneers’ Home began their Christmas celebration. 158 men and 7 women had a “big time.” Back then, every year, “a cash gift from a California donor” was given to each pioneer at the home. Although the donor always remained anonymous, it was rumored that he “made his money in Yavapai many, many years ago and has the Bank of Arizona draw on his account to place crisp bills in envelopes” that included a Christmas greeting.

The celebration there started with music by a duo followed by the youth choirs of several churches singing carols. In the morning, Santa Claus paid a visit passing out stockings filled with candy. 

The big Christmas dinner started at 3:45pm. The appetizer was a crab cocktail. Besides turkey, stuffing and gravy, fresh vegetables were served along with mashed potatoes, creamed asparagus, fruit salad, pies, cakes, candy, nuts, bonbons and beverages.

Workers in the Civilian Conservation Corps, which was highly prevalent all over Yavapai County, would not be able to write home complaining about their Christmas suppers. They received “as fine a Christmas dinner as anybody,” the paper revealed. “It open[ed] with roast turkey—then oyster dressing with giblet gravy, new creamed potatoes, buttered peas, celery hearts, fresh radishes, green onions, sliced tomatoes, cranberry sauce, fruit cake with cherry wine, hot plum pudding, hot mince pie, chocolate ice cream bars, apples, oranges, candy, nuts, and coffee.”

1934 ad for dinner and dance at the Hassayampa

Those wanting Christmas dinner at a restaurant had several options including the Owl Drugstore and the Hassayampa Inn which offered full meals for $1 (about $20 today.) The Hassayampa also featured a dance from 9pm to 1am both Christmas Eve and Christmas night.

As the stores were closing and the sun dipped behind Granite Mountain, snow began to fall giving the area a beautiful white Christmas.

Snow also began to fall in Walnut Grove, and in that higher elevation, it was heavier. The schoolhouse had been decorated with the bounty of the forest—mistletoe, mostly, which is relatively abundant in the Grove. It was 6pm and there was still no sign of Billy. “The women were bringing the food in; and a huge pinyon [pine] stood in one end of the room sparkling with colored lights and tinsel.”

While Walnut Grove worried about Billy’s whereabouts, the Goodfellows’ charity continued in the city by providing 161 boxes “of substantial foodstuffs” to hungry families “to bring [them] Christmas cheer.”

“The assembly room of the chamber of commerce was literally converted into a first class grocery store and butcher shop with headquarters for Santa,” the newspaper described. Indeed, the baskets must have been the size of small shopping carts considering the abundance they contained.

The effort included sacking, packing and the sorting of: over a half-ton of beans, 1602 pounds of potatoes, 362 pounds of onions, over a ton of flour and cornmeal, 561 pounds of sugar, 312 pounds of tea, 782 pounds of beef, 154 pounds of whole corn, and 225 pounds of Christmas candy and nuts.

Each family would also receive at least one each of the following: a can of milk, jam, salt, pepper, lard, corn, tomatoes, beans and peas. Also included were a pound each of rice, macaroni, coffee, butter, and bacon. There were packages of rolled oats, pancake flour, and chili; as well as 2 apples, 2 oranges, a loaf of bread, a bar of soap, and “miscellaneous supplies of vegetables, etc.” Attached to each box was “a beautiful hand-made Christmas card bearing the name and address and a cheery good wish from the Goodfellows.” The doldrums of the Depression would be shaken off in one of Prescott’s rare white Christmases.

Meanwhile, in Walnut Grove, hope began to deteriorate into despair. Some worried about Billy himself, while others thought things should get started without him. When his blue Dodge pick-up finally pulled into the schoolhouse yard, he was greeted by everyone and his efforts were considered saintly. 

However, as the men helped unload the truck, something was notably missing.

“Billy, did you stop by the sheriff’s office?”

“Sure did,” Billy said.

“What did the old man tell you?”

“He swore that there wasn’t a drop of evidence in town—Christmas and all—there just wasn’t any available.”

Disappointment swept the little schoolhouse like a frozen mountain gust. “Hell, he knew we had this party and he knows damn well how tight money is,” someone declared.

“That’s right,” said Billy. “He told me the only whiskey left in the county was in a barrel tied in that big cottonwood tree right in back of this schoolhouse!”

On that Christmas in Walnut Grove, “there was fine hot food, toys and candy for the kids, music, love and hope. Even the men who had worked all year and gained little, began again to believe in Santa Claus,” Ruffner wrote.

There were still tough times ahead, but good Christmas “spirits” of all kinds flowed abundantly in 1934.


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Prescott Evening Courier, 12/24/1934; Pg. 1, Col. 3 and Pg. 3, Col. 5.

“Christmas Spirit Endures Hardship” by Budge Ruffner. Prescott Courier, 12/23/1984.

Prescott Evening Courier, 12/24/1934; Pg. 1, Col. 2 and Pg. 2, Col. 1.

Prescott Evening Courier, 12/24/1934; Pg. 1, Col. 6 and Pg. 5, Col. 3.

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