Thursday, December 19, 2013

Fossils, Hoaxes, and Christmas Trees in the Old West by @JacquieRogers #western

December in the 
Old West

Winter months in Owyhee County in Idaho Territory brought plenty of inclement weather and the citizens couldn’t do much in the way of prospecting or farming. Nevertheless, they kept themselves busy, and the Christmas season brought plenty of opportunity, which The Owyhee Avalanche took great delight in reporting. The following articles all came from December issues.

December 14, 1867
SOCIAL BALL. We had the pleasure of attending a Social Ball given at the Mechanics hall on Tuesday evening last. A general invitation was extended and a large number were present, who appeared to enjoy themselves hugely. There was good music, and the new Hall is certainly a splendid place in which to “twist your heel around.” One of the best features of the arrangement was the magnificent supper prepared and eaten at the Idaho Hotel, the proprietors of which can’t be excelled in their line of business. We return thanks for complimentary tickets.

I think it would be rather painful to “twist your heel around,” but it is a colorful term for dancing. Besides the larger events, plenty of spirit found its way to smaller venues, such as the Avalanche office.

December 21, 1867
Thanks to Messrs. Chase & Brooker of the Owyhee Exchange for a liberal supply of champagne. “Fenian dew drop,” and a box of fragrant Havana’s. The boys use everybody first rate—give them a call.

Another article on the same day shows that the people of the Old West had a variety of interests besides finding the next big strike, drinking, and gambling.

FOSSIL RESEARCH. There is an extensive and interesting field for geological research on and in the vicinity of Sinker Creek, commencing at its junction with Snake River and extending several miles up the creek. Mr. J.C. Holgate of this place, who is quite a practical geologist has recently made of some interesting discoveries in that section, showing abundant evidence of its having been densely populated by animals that existed during the Cretaceous period of the Reptilian age. Among other things of interest that were shown us by Mr. H were a number of bones that from their size and appearance, unmistakably have belonged to the Microgigarous, long before a man’s appearance on the earth. It is thought the entire skeleton in which these bones belong can be exhumed. In the collection we observed the head of a reptile, well preserved and almost entire somewhat resembling that of an alligator of the present day. It had fearful looking teeth and its jaws were firmly set as it was sealed by some great and sudden convulsion of nature. Marine shells and petrified rocks also abound. Facts like these, if investigated by Agassiz would form valuable to science. As it is, they exhibit one among the many interesting features of Owyhee County.

One thing about people—there have always been scammers. And so it went in Owyhee County, although they seemed to have good humor about it.

December 7, 1872
A HOAX. As referred to in our last issue the great diamond excitement has proved as complete a hoax as was the South Sea Bubble. Owyhee, too, has her diamonds, which can be gathered by the quart on Sinker Creek. Perhaps we can dig up old Caleb Lyons diamond, and get up another first-class excitement.

Nothing went to waste. People moved often and those who stayed or had just moved in were beneficiaries, either by gift or by sale.

December 7, 1872
THERE WILL BE AN AUCTION TODAY, commencing at 11 o’clock A.M. at the house recently occupied by W.D. Walbridge, near the Owyhee mill. Carpets, stoves, and household furniture of every description will be sold to the highest bidder. A conveyance will be in readiness to accommodate ladies who desire to attend the auction.

I’ve heard lots of talk lately about whether they had Christmas trees in the Old West. They did in Silver City.

December 21, 1872
THE CHRISTMAS TREE. The Christmas Tree Festival will be held in Jones & Bonney’s Hall. We will stake in addition to what was said in our last issue, that the Brass Band, composed at present of Messrs. Charles Leonard, Joe Gross, Benj. Davis, Rufus King, Ferd. W. Frost and E. Douglas, will perform some of their best pieces, which will add greatly to the pleasure of the occasion.

The singing, accompanied by the organ, will be done principally by young girls who have learned all the music they know in Silver City, and who by virtue of talent, industry and a good teaching have acquired, in our judgment, wonderful proficiency in the beautiful art over which the Muses preside. They are our little folks, and not imported singers, which will make it all the more interesting; that they will do their part in first-class style for their ages, we have not the least doubt, in fact, we know they will.

The tree will be a prolific one no doubt. The Argosy of Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, & Co. arrived at the port of San Francisco four days ago, as we are informed per telegram, and a large cargo of its merchandise is on its way up here, and will not fail to arrive in time.

In 1871, the livestock business was just taking hold.  The oldest ranch had been in business only five years. New stock, especially blooded animals, whether horses, cattle, or hogs, always made the news.

December 23, 1871
THOROUGH-BRED STOCK. We regard the man, who introduces an improved breed of horses, cattle, or hogs into our Territory, as a greater public benefactor than he who discovers a rich quartz mine. Messrs. Hoffer & Miller, well known, highly esteemed and enterprising citizens of this place, are taking steps in the right direction. Last summer they imported from Kentucky nine thorough-bred Durham bulls and two young Berkshire hogs—a bore and a sow. From some cause or the other one of the bulls died not long ago, but the remaining eight are doing finely. The hogs are beauties and can be seen at Sommercamp’s Brewery. Mr. Hopper started for Kentucky again last week after more stock, and will bring back with him in the spring several thorough-bred Durham heifers, some genuine White Chester hogs, and also a number of Durham bulls for Mr. W.F. Sommercamp, who intends to engage quite extensively in the business of stock raising... It costs no more to raise good stock than inferior, and it is vastly more profitable to the owners after getting rightly started in the business. Although they will have expanded a large amount of money, before they can hope for an return, yet they are certain to reap the substantial benefits that their energy and enterprise so well deserve.

The editor of The Owyhee Avalanche reported something about the suffragist movement in nearly every issue. It appears as though he’s amused by the whole idea of women voting, and I doubt he thought such a thing would ever come about.

December 14, 1872
COLONEL SUSAN B. ANTHONY and fourteen other strong-minded females have been arrested in New York for voting. Col. Susan has long been anxious to have her action at law against the State for depriving her of the elective franchise; now has her lawsuit, but the State is a plaintiff. This is pilling on the outrage. Susan went to one of the registrars in the city of Rochester and demanded registration; like a man of gallant and chivalrous disposition, he said “Yea, yea,” and now the lady must fight the word “male” in the State Constitution. Susan’s constitution is by far the strongest.

I’ve seen this next item on the internet several times, although never in a contemporaneous newspaper. But here it is, the language of handkerchiefs. Saratoga is in New York, so I’m not quite sure what this article had to do with the local citizens, especially when there weren’t enough ladies to go around as it was.

December 14, 1872
THE HANDKERCHIEF LANGUAGE.—The young ladies at Saratoga are so closely watched by their parents that they can’t flirt half as well as they used to. The fellows complain that they can’t get five minutes talk with a young lady alone, and that accounts for so few engagements this year. They say they don’t want to propose before the young ladies’ mothers. To foil the fathers and mothers, some of the fellows have invented the following language of the handkerchief. Thus they can set an talk for hours, and the savage and Kroll parent can’t understand a word. This is the new handkerchief language:
Drying a cross the lips—Desirous of acquaintance.
Handing it to mother—Mother objects.
Putting it in the pocket—Meet me at the spring.
Letting it rest on the right cheek—Yes.
Letting it rest on the left cheek—No.
Drawing it across the eyes—I am sorry.
Taking by center—You are too willing.
Dropping—We will be friends.
Twirling in both hands—Indifference.
Drawing it across the cheek—I love you.
Drawing through the hands—I hate you.

You can just imagine the poor editor scrambling for anything he could find to fill the pages during the slow months. Here’s the very definition of a slow news day—he reported a man’s dream. Not kidding. Here it is.

December 16, 1871
ED. SMITH’S DREAM. A comical genius, of War Eagle Mountain, named Ed. Smith, relates that he dreamed of dying the other night and going to heaven, or at least to the gate of the celestial city whose streets are said to be paved with gold. Knocking at the portal, Smith was confronted by St. Peter who told him he must cut 15 cords of dry tamarack wood, or take a ticket for “the other place.” He took the ax, and after performing the task imposed, returned to the gate, where he was somewhat surprised to meet his old friend Ike Culp, of the Oro Fino saloon. St. Peter directed Ike to take the ax and cut 14 1/2 cords of dry tamarack as a preliminary to the right-of-way through the gate. Ike didn’t seem very well pleased with the idea and went off grumbling. In a short time he returned, threw down the ax, and told St. Peter he would take a through ticket for Pandemonium rather than cut the d.m.d wood. Ike’s boisterous manner and loud talk awoke Smith and thus ended the dream.

All those who wonder whether or not they cussed have it right there. I’m sure we all know what d.m.d means.

If you need to know about stage lines, this next tidbit could be useful:

December 24, 1870
CHANGED HANDS. Wells, Fargo, & Co. have sold out their stage line between Virginia and Reno to Hill Beachey. That was the last of W.F. & Co.’s stage lines.

And here’s a variety of local events and happenings collected from several issues:

  • Our old friend Fred Hibb is again driving stage from Silver City to the Sheep Ranch.
  • Crowley & Glynn have leased Maj. Brookey’s Restaurant, and will dish things up in tip-top shape. Their advertisement will appear next week.
  • There are some tattling busybodies in Silver City, who would do well to mind their own business instead of continuing meddling with that of others.
  • Andy Baker has taken the place of Charles Haybes in the management of the stage line from Boise City to Winnemucca. He is a clever, genial gentleman, and has the reputation of being a good stage man.
  • J.F. Dye, of MTN City, whose settlement of the Pacific Coast antedates old ‘49-ers 20 years, passed through Elko on Thursday last for San Francisco where he will spend a few weeks with his children, after which he contemplates a visit to Texas with a view of driving a band of cattle to Nevada. Mr. Dye is an old pioneer on this coast, and although aged 65 years, still has the vim and the enterprise of one in the prime of life.
  • We are informed that a gay deck of hardies will all arrive here this week.
  • Joe Short has just received an extensive stock of liquors, &c, from San Francisco.
  • Another an effort has been made to get a Governor for Idaho, the President having nominated a carpet bagger named A.H. Connors.
  • Yesterday we noticed a large quantity of goods being brought into town. We understand that our townsman G.W. Grayson, Esq., has gone into merchandising and will do business in the building formerly occupied by Creed & Bro.
  • Every time that Thos. Ewing & Co. make a big sale of goods they consider the printers and send us a bottle or two of something nice to take. They have made it rather lively for us during the last two weeks.

December Events

  • December 18, 1860: Texas Ranger Sul Ross found Cynthia Ann Parker during the Battle of Pease River, in Foard County. She’d been captured in 1839 and married Peta Nocona. 
  • December 3, 1864: Gold was discovered near Confederate Gulch in Montana Territory. 
  • December 3, 1866: Nelson Story and his cowboys drive his herd of a thousand cattle into Gallatin Valley in Montana Territory. This was the first cattle drive from Texas to Montana, a distance of 2,500 miles. 
  • December 9, 1867: Denver becomes the capital of Colorado, taking the honor from Golden.
  • December 11, 1869: About 65 vigilantes lynched the Reno brothers, who’d been jailed for the country’s first train robbery (Ohio and Mississippi Railway, Indiana) in 1866. 
  • December 25, 1869: In Towash, Texas, John Wesley Harding got his reputation as the fastest gun in the West when he out-drew Jim Bradley. (This event is reported as occurring Jan. 5, 1870, at some sites, including Wikipedia.)
  • December 10, 1871: Lots go on sale for the first time in Phoenix, Arizona.
  • December 8, 1874: Lt. Lewis Warrington III attacked a Comanche camp in the Mushaqua Valley, Texas, while on a scouting mission during the Red River War. He was awarded the Medal of Honor. 
  • December 4, 1876: Jack McCall’s second trial for the murder of Wild Bill Hickock begins in Yankton, Dakota Territory. He was convicted on December 6. 
  • December 10, 1878: Henry Wells, of Wells, Fargo, & Co., died.
  • December 15, 1890: Lakota police officers shot and killed Sitting Bull, saying he resisted arrest. 
  • December 24, 1894: Harvey Logan (Wild Bunch) shot and killed deputy sheriff Pike Landusky at a party in Jew Jake’s Saloon. 

 May your saddle never slip.

Hearts of Owyhee
Much Ado about Miners
(coming Dec. 2013!)

Jacquie Rogers


  1. Jacquie,

    Always enjoy your blogs.

    Merry Christmas to you and everyone else.


  2. Thanks, Charlie. Merry Christmas to you, too!

    The December issues have a lot of filler in them, but even so, it's interesting to see what the editor thinks his subscribers want to read.

  3. Story ideas bubbled up all over as I was reading. Thanks for a great post, Jacquie!

  4. What a wealth of information you have uncovered Jacquie.
    I really like your posts.

  5. I just love these posts. My favorite thing to do is visit the old newspapers for an area. So much fun and detail. Thank you for finding and sharing these. Doris

  6. Tracy, isn't that the truth! You just can't read these old newspapers without another story barging in. So writer beware. :)

  7. Doris, a lot of myths can be debunked, too. Yes, most houses (at least, in Owyhee County) had Christmas trees of some sort, even if just a decorated sagebrush. And yes, they cursed. It also seems as if the merchants went out of their way to show the newspaper staff a good time. Some things don't change much. :)

  8. What a terrific post, Jacquie. There is inspiration in each and every one of those tidbits! I loved the info on the handkerchief. I knew gestures with fans had symbolism, but the hankershief was new and very interesting. Thanks!

  9. Thanks, Tanya. I do love old newspapers. :)

  10. Jacquie, I love these columns of yours! I loved the handkerchief language--I had never heard of that. All so interesting!

  11. Great post, Jacqui. I've always been hesitant to mention Christmas trees in anything set as early as the 70's because I couldn't find references to them in the West, although only one of my books really has Christmas scenes, and it's set in 1885.

    Love the other info too.

  12. That anon post was supposed to have my name on it. Trying again.... And putting it here just in case. :-)

    Ellen O'Connell

  13. What a fabulous post, Jacquie. I just loved it, especially the article about the hankie. Giggle.
    Merry xmas my friend and happy new year.

  14. I love it when you post these news articles. I liked the cigars and champagne the boys at the news office received. I wondered what the tattle-tail ladies gossiped about that led to the comment in the news. Can you imagine such a thing being printed in the news today? LOL The fossil discovery was newsworthy. What was the sea bubble hoax? and what in the world are gay hardies?
    Your articles were certainly entertaining and always, Jacquie.