Tuesday, December 28, 2021

What A Year

 Post by Doris McCraw

writing as Angela Raines

Photo property of the Author

As of December 28, 2021, this year has three more full days. How has it been for you? I confess I've been so busy that I'm not sure how to answer that question. Instead, I thought I'd look at one of the years from the 1800s. 

As of December 28, 1859, the Rocky Mountain News was still carrying the specifics of the Territory of Jefferson. 

The area was growing. This advertisement from the same issue reads as follows:

Rocky Mountain News (Weekly) December 28, 1859

Yet the Western Mountaineer, Golden's Newspaper talked about Jefferson Territory. They also talked about the New Years Ball, to be held on January 2, 1860.

The Western Mountaineer, December 28, 1859

Yet, life went on. There were many enterprising residents back then. Here is an advert for animal boarding through the winter.

The Western Mountaineer, December 28, 1859

I've always found that a look back puts current life in perspective. Life goes on, plans are made, and people continue to dream. Here's to the dreams you have for 2022.

Thursday, December 23, 2021


Growing up, traditions in my house included putting up a live Christmas tree every year—very few people had an artificial tree “back then”—and of course, setting up our little nativity set. Mom always made fudge and she’d make divinity for my dad and wait with fingers crossed to see if it would “turn out” like it should.

One thing we always had on our tree were the silver tinsel icicles—and back then, they were made of real aluminum—not this cheap plastic stuff you buy now! So, we saved those icicles from year to year and carefully placed them back on the cardboard holder as we “de-decorated” the tree. I thought we must be the only people who did that, but it turns out, that is a not-so-fond memory that many people my age have.

Our tree was usually not the best—when I wanted a nice, full Scotch pine tree, Mom would shake her head and frown. “Cheryl, those things cost SEVEN DOLLARS!” she’d say. We always got a “regular tree” that cost between $4-$5. I remember one year we paid $5.50, and that was the most I ever can remember paying for a Christmas tree.

My “smaller” tree–I downsized. I have a ladder with an elf and Santa climbing up on the side that has been a tradition since my kids were tots.

But our tree, though not “top of the line”, was decorated with love—and our traditional ornaments that had meaning. I inherited many of those ornaments, and I still use them, some that I made in kindergarten. Through the years, we’ve added ornaments made by our children, Jessica and Casey, and ornaments that we bought for them for their own collections.

Jessica, age 3, ornament made in Mother’s Day Out, and Casey age 1.

I’ve never had a “theme” tree. My theme is the same every year. Just memories that are so precious, through the preservation of the ornaments I remember as a child, and those that have been added since, each one with a special story of its own. Handmade items from school years, “our first Christmas” from the year hubby and I were married, a set of little cheap plastic bells and lanterns that my dad bought when I was little and loved the tree a bit too much. Those are special because he wanted me to be able to enjoy Christmas, too, and those were indestructible!

Plastic pink bell and plastic silver lantern–Dad bought these for me when I was learning to walk and loving the tree! Talk about antiques!

Yes, I still use icicle tinsel. My kids roll their eyes, but to me, it wouldn’t be Christmas without it!

This is a small tree I bought a few years back when I was really sick with the flu before Christmas–it was all I could manage that year–the only year I didn’t have a regular tree with tinsel–and now I use it as a decoration on my old 78 record player top along with the ceramic train my mom made many years ago.

Another tradition that always is a must at our house is making fudge. Although we have to be careful about how much of it we eat, that’s the only time of year I make it. That always brings back great memories of home and growing up, for me, and I hope it will for my kids, too. There is no replacement for certain tastes and smells, is there?

Our first Christmas together–that was 42 years ago!

My third just “couldn’t, wouldn’t ever miss doing” tradition at Christmas is setting up our old nativity set. It’s the same one my parents bought before I was ever born. Oh, has it been through some rough times! But it’s so precious to me. I still remember how enthralled I was as a child with that cardboard stable and the figurines. The manger is cardboard too, with bits of straw glued to it. It’s not beautiful by any means. But it is to me, because of the memories.

This angel always goes near the top of my tree. My mom gave each of us girls one of these one Christmas–back in the ’70’s–and I always think of her when I put it on the tree. Another tradition I just couldn’t miss!
Sammy, directing the decorating and enjoying the Christmas ambience!

Do you have a tradition at your house that you just wouldn’t be able to do without at Christmas? Let’s hear about them!

Everyone have a wonderful Christmas and enjoy your holidays!

Thursday, December 9, 2021

On This Date in the Old West: December 10

 The Territory of Mississippi existed from April 7, 1798 to December 10, 1817, when the western half of the territory was admitted as a state. The eastern half was redesignated as Alabama Territory until its admission to the Union on December 14, 1819. Before becoming a US Territory, the area was divided between France, Great Britain, and Spain. Spain, the last European power to control the region, signed the Treaty of San Lorenzo in 1795, recognizing the 31st parallel as the boundary between the United States and Spanish Florida—although they immediately regretted this decision and made numerous excuses for not evacuating the area for the next two years. They finally relinquished their control in March of 1798.


The original Mississippi Territory was a strip of land about 100 miles north to south and from the Mississippi River to the Chattahoochee. The boundary between Mississippi Territory and Georgia was defined to follow the Chattahoochee River north from the border with Spanish Florida—however, the river’s upper course veered northeast and cut deep into Georgia, so the boundary was redefined to follow the river until it turned, and from that point, to follow an angled line north to the 35th parallel. This angled boundary stopped at the Tennessee River. 


The attraction of vast amounts of high quality, inexpensive cotton land enticed settlers to the territory, mostly from Georgia and the Carolinas, and from tobacco areas of Virginia and North Carolina (at a time when tobacco farming barely made a profit) From 1798 to 1820, the population soared from less than 9,000 to more than 22,000. Migration came in two fairly distinct waves—a steady movement until the outbreak of the War of 1812, and a flood afterward from 1815 to 1819. The postwar flood was caused by several factors, including high cotton prices, the elimination of Native titles to much of the land, new and improved roads, and the acquisition of new direct outlets to the Gulf of Mexico. 




After seizing the city of Atlanta during the Civil War, Union Major General William Tecumseh Sherman embarked on a scorched-earth campaign intended to cripple the South’s war-making capacity and wound the Confederate psyche. Sherman’s army marched 285 miles east from Atlanta to the coastal city of Savannah, arriving on December 10, 1864.


In the spring of 1864, Union Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant conferred with his generals to devise a strategy to bring the Confederate war-machine to its knees. Sherman was charged with three armies totaling some 100,000 men: the Army of the Cumberland, the Army of the Tennessee, and the Army of the Ohio. His primary objective was to capture the city of Atlanta, a major railroad center, supply depot, and manufacturing hub for both Georgia and the Confederacy. The ensuing campaign and siege occupied most of the summer, with Sherman finally forcing a surrender on September 2. Sherman remained in Atlanta for a little over a month, during which time he ordered the evacuation of some 3,000 civilians, seizing their homes for his soldiers’ living quarters.


On October 9, Sherman sent the following telegram to Grant:


I propose we break up the railroad from Chattanooga and strike out with wagons for Milledgeville, Millen, and Savannah. Until we can repopulate Georgia it is useless to occupy it, but the utter destruction of its roads, houses, and people will cripple their military resources. By attempting to hold the roads we will lose a thousand men monthly and will gain no result. I can make the march and make Georgia howl. We have over 8,000 cattle and 3,000,000 pounds of bread but no corn, but we can forage in the interior of the state.”


Although he had reservations, Grant gave his official approval to Sherman’s plan on November 7. Through this “March to the Sea,” Sherman hoped to deny Georgia’s resources to the Confederacy. In a November 6 telegram to Grant, he had argued that to every onlooker, the destruction of Georgia’s economic and industrial potential would be “proof positive that the North can prevail in this contest, leaving only open the question of its willingness to use that power.” Far more than a mere display of brute force, Sherman’s wager would prove to be equal parts political and psychological.

On November 10, following Sherman’s orders, Union troops began torching military and industrial buildings in Atlanta. By the following day, soldiers were setting unauthorized fires and the flames spread to business and residential districts. Within a week, some 40 percent of the city was in ashes. On the morning of November 16, Sherman set out for the coast at the head of roughly 62,000 men. Although clearly headed eastward, he was determined to conceal his movements from Confederate eyes. Because of this, he divided his expeditionary force into two infantry groups. The Army of the Tennessee, headed by Major General Oliver O. Howard, comprised the right wing, while on the left, Major General Henry W. Slocum commanded the Army of Georgia. Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick led the force’s single cavalry division.


With Kilpatrick as a mobile screen, Howard took the right wing southeast of Atlanta in the direction of Macon, while Slocum’s left wing marched east toward Augusta. Sherman gave explicit instructions to his troops regarding their conduct while on this march. He encouraged foraging and the confiscation of livestock but forbade home invasions. However, if antagonized by Confederate soldiers, Union officers could destroy private and industrial property. The field order also permitted able-bodied Black laborers to join the march, but commanding officers were instructed to remain cognizant of supplies intended for their army group. Most men complied with Sherman’s orders. However, some, called “bummers,” roamed the countryside to intentionally terrorize and loot Confederate civilians.


Although bummers engaged in prohibited activity, the overall psychological impact on the local population was precisely the purpose of the march. This effect was likely compounded by the army’s continued railroad destruction. Railroads doubled as a conduit for industrial growth and transportation for the military. By ripping up and melting down tracks, Union soldiers slowly crippled the state’s industrial and military potential in full view of its civilians.

Confederate leadership was never able to discern the final destination of the two-pronged Union force and in early December, troops arrived at Savannah, which surrendered without the siege its sister city had required. Georgia was effectively pacified.


Your characters may well have experienced either of these occurrences, or at least read of them in the newspaper (or heard stories from soldiers). These December 10 events had a major impact on life in the Old West, as your characters would have known it.


J.E.S. Hays