A Christmas in the wilderness,
'Twas many years ago;
My locks then like the raven's wing,
Now white as winter's snow,
Still times relentless pendulum,
Swings ever to and fro.
According to my best recollection, it was in the winter of 1871, our party of seven persons was on a buffalo hunt. We had been having good luck and had loaded our wagons with choice buffalo and venison meat, and were camped for the night on Spring Creek, December 24th, near the site now comprising the flourishing city of Medicine Lodge, Kansas. After we had eaten our supper and lighted our pipes, I remarked, "Boys, what day of the month is it?" No one could give a definite answer, and I says, "Boys - this is Christmas eve, hang up your stockings, tomorrow will be Christmas." Everyone seemed suddenly endowed with the Christmas spirit and the evening was spent around the cheerful camp fire telling stories that had they all been recorded would have filled an entire page of the Index.
In the morning it was decided that we should separate and each hunt on his own hook, until time to prepare Christmas dinner. I went west across the river, I was walking up a canyon when I chanced to look up the side of the bank, I saw three full grown bobcats. It was quite chilly, and they eyed me, but made no attempt to escape. I fired one barrel of the shot gun that was loaded with double "B" shot, and potted the trio at one shot. I returned to camp and had two ovens of biscuits baked by the time the other boys rounded in. Each carried two or three wild turkeys which we soon dressed and in a short time they were in the ovens. For dinner we had coffee, turkey and biscuits. As no one hankered after bobcat dessert, their carcasses remained untouched though the pelts were taken with other spoils of the chase.
Right here let me digress: The three tall cottonwood trees in the bend of the river was a roost for wild turkeys, they would feed out in the canyons and come in to roost in the trees and the rumble of their wings sounded like distant thunder. That evening a band of Cheyenne Indians, out like ourselves in quest of game, camped near us. Several of the bucks came over to our camp and played "seven-up" with us. They told us the turkeys were not for eating -- only the feathers were to be used for decorating purposes. But their talk did little good as all of us had previously decided that turkey was good picking, on Christmas and at other sittings. So passed a Christmas in the Wilderness, that has since been transfered and now blossoms like a pair of Twin Roses.
As for what Indians preferred to eat instead of wild turkey, following is an excerpt from an account of the 1867 Medicine Lodge Peace Council:
"The chiefs of all tribes being now thoroughly reconciled and looking upon the member of this Commission as friends and benefactors, in recognition of the kind treatment they had received, they combined to provide a "dog feast" for the civil and military officials of our expedition. Now, for a feast, dog was to the wild Indian what turkey was to the white man. As the white man had to have turkey for Thanksgiving and Christmas, so the Indian had to have dog for his festive occasions. This feast tendered in honor of the commission and officers of its military escort seemed to be looked upon by these Indians as the biggest event in their history."
-- "Medicine Lodge Peace Council - A Graphic Description of Famous Peace Council By An Eye Witness, Gov. A. A. Taylor of Tennessee", The Barber County Index, September 29, 1927.
Lines, a poem from Musings of the Pilgrim Bard by Scott Cummins, "Rehearsed at the "Old Settler's Picnic in Paddock's Grove on Upper Elm Creek, Barber County, Kansas, September 16, 1886, on the grounds where Esq. Paddock and his entire family drowned in the flood of 1885."
Memorial Tribute by the Pilgrim Bard to the Memory of Capt. Byron P. Ayers -- The Medicine Lodge Cresset, March 15, 1888.
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Thanks to Frank Cummins for the gift of a copy of Twilight Reveries, the book by his great-grandfather, Scott Cummins, in which the above story was published at Alva, Oklahoma, in 1923.
The Index mentioned in the Christmas story was The Barber County Index, the Medicine Lodge newspaper in which the story was originally published.
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