Sorry, I didn’t get a Christmas story written this year, but the characters in my current project are the jealous types and didn’t give me time to think of anyone else. That and Cookie invited the whole clan up for Christmas and we’ve been busy cleanin’ up the camp and gatherin’ the festive grub. Fact is, Cookie’s out beatin’ the blankets as we speak.
Don’t look at me like that ya ol’ rawhide, get to beatin’, there’s buttons to be put on the gingerbread men when you’re done with that.
As I was saying, while working on different projects, I’ve been sidetracked more than once by one of my favorite parts of research…looking through old newspapers. Thought it might be entertaining (not as entertaining as watchin’ Cookie swearin’ as he beats blankets and decorates sugar cookies) to share a few of the Yuletide traditions and fun articles I’ve found thumbing through the Sheridan papers of yesteryear.
Personally, I love digging through these treasure troves of information. Newspapers used to cover everything from world events, local gatherings, who’s visiting who, whose cow was found in whose pasture.
At the turn of the Century, the Sheridan Inn offered its annual Christmas dinner a menu including. According to the Sheridan Post the Inn would be serving dinner from 5-7 with a menu of:
Oysters, caviar, young pig with apple sauce, goose stuffed with chestnuts, Belgian Hare, Venison. For those with discriminating tastes: Opossum, braised, with Sweet Potatoes. After your opossum you can indulge in green apple, mince, lemon-meringue pie, or English plum pudding with hard or brandy sauce. (I’d like the brandy to wash down the opossum, thank you.)
Coffeen’s store offered a wide selection of dolls, drums, toy stoves, whistles, swords, books as well as candy and nuts for the young’uns Christmas joys in 1900. We all know where good St. Nick was doing his shopping that year.
Of course, romance is always a welcome story during the Christmas season. The wedding of Angus Beaton of Manderson, Wyoming and Miss Catherine McBeth of Torrindon, Rosehire, Scotland, reported in 1909 saw a ten year romance find a happily ever after (or at least I like to think so):
“Bride Comes from Scotland to Marry”
“Eight years ago Beaton came to America to seek his fortune and his sweetheart agreed to wait until he should send for her. Beaton settled in Wyoming and is now fairly well-to-do. Miss Beaton came from Scotland unaccompanied and arrived a few days before the wedding, being interim the guest of Mrs. Rogers of this place.”
The same edition of the Daily Enterprise advertised bobsled rides to the Beckton dance. Couples who could afford a dollar, per couple, could dash through the snow to the little community just outside Sheridan for an evening of dancing, refreshments and maybe their own romance.
Some years saw Christmas take on a new meaning in Sheridan. In 1917, as the shadow of the Great War oozed over the United States, Sheridanites prepared with pleas for Peace and Good Will. Combating the doom, papers announced traditional celebrations would continue.
Instead of advertisements filled with special goodies Sheridan stores announced gift giving would take the form of useful things to wear and keep with toys still going to the youngsters. Only, many stores were not joyfully filling full-page ads with all the games and toys.
A new face appeared in the papers. The Red Cross declared a huge success to their Christmas fund drive. The funds would go towards a vast number of programs including: “hospital distributing service sends supplies to 3425 French military hospitals and preparing immense stores of emergency supplies for our own army. ..Operating six canteens for use of French soldiers… and children’s refuge and hospital at a point in the war zone.”
In the midst of scaling back on giving and digging deeper for charity, the people of Sheridan and the surrounding area did indeed find time to celebrate the peace they still enjoyed. Churches announced musical programs, masses and special programs for children and adults.
Individuals and social groups opened their homes and community centers for dances and socials.
“The guests at the Foster House are entertaining their friends at a very enjoyable dancing parting this evening. The rooms are festive with holiday decorations, excellent music has been engaged and the good spirits co-incident with the season will make the occasion memorable for its pleasure…”
“Mr. and Mrs. L.H. Brooks were hosts Thursday evening to a company of friends, entertainment taking the form of a musicale. Dancing and the serving of light refreshments concluded the evening.”
Still the message Christmas 1917 was summed up in the following letter in the Sheridan Post.
“Therefore at this Yuletide, which may be the last in which we all gather about the old fireside, we put from us temporarily all thought of things abhorrent and enjoy in American fashion the pleasures of family and reunions, feasting and gift giving, mindful of a supreme power and grateful to the same for having postponed for so long a time (of) evil days that may be in store for us. In the midst of national peril and with what hope we can summon for brighter things, we wish the people of our country the happiest Christmas possible to them.”
What a transformation occurred the very next year in the December 24, 1918 edition. Despite the flu epidemic and the resulting cancellation of a few children’s programs, reading the articles and advertisements one feel the relief, hope and excitement of a country witnessing the end of war and praying they won’t see it again.
As always the Post gave a running account of the movements of Sheridan County residents and visitors crossing the county’s borders.
“Hon. A.M. Halbert and family left Tuesday for a holiday visit to their former home in Missouri.”
“Mrs. Silas Cotey of Wheatland is visiting her sister, Mrs. John Winterling. She will remain several weeks.”
Traditional Christmas programs resumed, but as stated in an announcement: “On earth, peace”, takes on a deeper meaning than ever before and the feeling of “Good will toward men,” is universal.
Churches celebrated the birth of Christ with special programs and “Christmas trees and treats for the little kiddies.” Also promised, were festive Christmas trees lighting the windows of Sheridan.
The Red Cross’ column, the previous year filled with gloom, proclaimed a feast fit for the returning heroes. The train depot in Sheridan was turned into a dining hall.
“Returning soldier boys who fail to reach their homes but who are fortunate enough to pass through Sheridan during the holidays are not going to miss the good cheer of Christmas time. The Red Cross depot canteen workers are seeing to this and have provided such a feed as to almost make the boys cease to regret their absence from mother’s table. Roast turkey, roast chicken, cakes.”
Of all the articles and ads in the 1918 issue one seized my attention and touched my heart. Its message is simple, but in all the early 20th Century language and questionable grammar lies a joy for the season we all should strive to attain, and lessons we should put into actions. I didn’t change a thing. It’s exactly as it appeared in the Post almost a century ago, but it’s my message to you. Merry Christmas, y’all!
GOOD CHEER TO ALL THIS CHRISTMAS DAY by DeLos E. Brandon
“Christmas this year will be the best of all. We have won the war and that, in itself, is cause enough for rejoicing. The past year has been one of the most prosperous of all. America has maintained its name as the champion of freedom. The boys, victorious, are returning home. Some of them will arrive home in time for this wonderful day. Some homes will receive a letter that the son or husband will be home in the spring. Others, that are on their way now. O’…there are a million things one could mention!
And you are happy. You are trudging home late tonight, your arms loaded with bundles—presents for all. You haven’t overlooked a single one. And they, too, will be happy.
What a wonderful world this really is. Despite all the sufferings and hardships. Christmas comes at just the right time of the year. Should it come in summer, spring or fall, it would not, could not be appreciated as it is now. There is something in the spirit of Christmas, coming in the winter season, that endears it to the heart. In the tropics, this day of the year is never appreciated as it is in the northern climes.
Maybe it is the contrast between the cold, dreary outside and the warm hearth with the loving ones at home. Maybe it is—well, you know what I mean. There is an undefinable something that we have learned to love.
And, with all the happiness that will come to you, the many and varied presents, are you going to overlook the more unfortunate friends, neighbors, or acquaintances this year? Let’s not. Try and do something that will bring joy to some needy family or some lonesome person of whom you know. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you and
A Merry, Merry Christmas to all!
Sheridan Post, Tuesday, December 24, 1918. Pgs 1-10
Sheridan Post, Tuesday, December 25, 1917. Pgs 1-8
Sheridan Post, Thursday, December 20, 1900, Pg 4
Sheridan Daily Enterprise, Friday, December 24, 1909, Pg 2