Benton County Pioneer Life

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Pioneer life in the Benton Co. WA area

Tri-Cities was White, Cold/ Christmas day in 1888

Tri-City Pioneer
Tri-City Herald, Sunday, December 25, 1960, page 1633.

The 23rd of December, 1888 was cold and crisp in the Tri-City region. Fresh snow covered all. It would be a “White Christmas”. A Pioneer and his wife, while their three children slept, decorated a Christmas tree. It was not an evergreen tree, none grew there. It was a wild willow tree without leaves. It had but trunk and bare branches. They covered the bare trunk and branches with silver tobacco foil and decorated it with five-pointed cardboard stars covered with foil and tiny foil bells they had molded over the mother’s sewing thimble. Festoons and strings of red, wild rose hips which they had picked and strung, were draped around the branches of the tree. The tree had been erected on a wooden box which had been covered with white cotton batting, then placed in the corner of the living room. They arranged the family presents around the base of the tree and then hung a blanket across the corner of the room hiding all. A young boy, a girl in her teens, and an older youth were the children.

The morning of the 24th, the family arose as usual during the winter at 6:00 a.m. The father and sons fed, watered the horses and cattle, milked the cows, swilled the pigs, and fed the chickens. The mother and daughter prepared a hearty breakfast of oatmeal mush, graham muffins, fried potatoes, bacon and eggs, dried applesauce coffee and milk. The Pioneer and wife were God-fearing people. Grace was always returned. God was thanked and his blessings asked. The chores and house work having been done, the Pioneer, his wife, and their three children were celebrating the event and waiting its arrival at midnight.

The mother possessed a beautiful voice. She accompanied herself on the old melodian and sang all the old Christmas carols and yuletide songs. The daughter recited “the night before Christmas” the older son played “Silent Night, Holy Night” on his mouth organ. The younger son sang “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”. The father told of a Christmas he had experienced in New Orleans while a steamboat captain on the Mississippi. He said, throughout the South, Christmas was celebrated with fireworks similar to our celebration of the 4th of July in the North. The mother served hot doughnuts and coffee. At the arrival of midnight all went out-of-doors. They gazed on the ground all white with snow. They turned their faces above to behold the beauty of the heavens aglow with brilliant stars. Not a sound was heard. It was Silent Night, Holy Night. It was cold.

They all came in. The children hung their stockings up on the wall as there was no fireplace. The children went to their rooms, said their prayers and slept. Santa Claus filled the stockings with nuts and home-made candy, then took down the blanket to reveal all. The children awoke at break of day on Christmas morn all shouting “Merry Christmas” at once. They rushed into the living room to behold the Christmas tree, their stockings and presents.

Two large boxes, several weeks earlier, had been received, one from the father’s family in Iowa, and one from the mother’s family in Oregon. The father and mother took the presents from the tree and gave to each their proper gift. The youngest boy was thrilled by a pair of copper-toed boots from his grandparents in Iowa, and a cowboy hat from his grandparents in Oregon, also, stockings and mittens knit by his mother and a jack-knife from his father. The girl received a book of poems, many hair ribbons, a new red coat, fancy slippers, and a head comb. The older son was given a fine horse bridle, a pair of Mexican spurs, a pair of knitted sox and mittens. The mother received a black-knit jersey jacket from her parents in Oregon and a beautiful pair of black Morocco leather shoes from her husband’s parents in Iowa. They were just her fit, being the smallest woman’s shoe made, size 1, triple A. The children had pooled their dimes and bought her a scarf to be worn over the head or shoulders. Her husband gave her a beautiful rosewood hair brush and comb. The father got a pair of Russian Calf dress boots from his parents in Iowa, an astrakhan cap from his wife’s parents in Oregon. His wife gave him a toothbrush and knitted sox and mittens. The children gave him a mustache cup.

The presents having been distributed, breakfast was served. It was quite cold. The family stayed within the house to enjoy their presents. The Christmas letters that had been sent by friends marked “not to be opened until Christmas,” were read. (There were no greeting cards, in these early days, to sign and send.) These letters were long and gave a resume of the important news, events, and happenings of the writer for the entire year. Christmas dinner was served at noon. The center piece was not a turkey or a suckling pig. It was a wild goose that the father had shot a few days before. The afternoon and evening was spent with everyone enjoying the gifts they had received. After the evening chores were done, bedtime came. Christmas festivities are over until next year.

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