Pioneer life in the Benton Co. WA area
New Year’s in the 1890’s/No Time for Celebrating
By BURTON 0. LUM
Tri-City Herald, Sunday, January 1, 1961, page 11
New Year’s Day in the early Tri-City region was not celebrated to any great extent. It was too close to Christmas. The Pioneers had not the funds or the time to spend in celebrating an event just seven days after Christmas. The Pioneers of Scotch descent, however, would take their jug and call on their friends for a friendly nip on New Year’s Day. The majority of the pioneers made resolutions on the first of January to do or not to do certain things during the coming year. These same resolutions were made each year by about the same makers. Few of the resolutions were ever kept over a year; however, much good was obtained for the space of time they were observed.
The pioneers, during their Christmas shopping, were always sure to pick up a patent medicine almanac that contained the monthly phases of the moon and a daily calendar of the coming year. This would be hung on the kitchen wall not too far from the warmth of the kitchen stove. Here the Pioneer could take it from the nail, find the information he desired and hang it back. These were days prior to the advertising calendars.
The first of the advertising calendars given out by the local merchants of this region were pictures of the famous trotting and pacing animals, “Nancy Hanks,” “Dan Patch,” “J.I.C.”, and “Maude S.” Rubber tired sulkies were just beginning to be used. A mile trotted or paced in two minutes and forty seconds was fast travel in these days.
New Year’s Day came into its own on Jan. 1, 1899, 1900 and 1901. One or the other of these dates marked not only the beginning of the New Year but also the beginning of a new century. The savants of these days did not agree on the time the present century passed and the next century began. The pioneers being practical people, did not worry their heads over the different theories. They solved the problem by celebrating each of the three dates as they arrived. They were thereby sure that they had celebrated the correct date.
About this time the earth’s orbit passed through a field of falling stars or meteors. The falling stars were so numerous that the pioneer’s children could not wish fast enough to keep up with them. The night skies of the Tri-City region are the most clear, star lit, and beautiful, of all that I have beheld in the entire United States. It must have been such a firmament that inspired the 19th Psalm. The moon, however, does appear to be larger in the Deep South, especially when the fragrance of the honeysuckles, the beauty of the magnolias and the spell of the night bird’s song arouses romance in one’s soul.
The pioneers believed that the phases of the moon had quite an effect on the planting and growing of their crops. They had their theories as to what should be planted in the light of the moon and what should be planted in the dark of the moon. They also believed that stock brands healed faster if the branding was in a certain phase of the moon. The Pioneers were short on science. Everything was too new, uncertain and untried to be classified. There were no daily published weather reports. The newspapers arrived only every week or 10 days. The news was always history by the time they received it.
The Pioneers had to do their own guessing on the weather. For the immediate weather, they studied the clouds and the sky at sunset. Mackerel clouds would denote one thing, thunderheads another, clear sky something else. The chinook wind could arise so quickly and without sign or warning and warm everthing so rapidly that it was hard to prophesy its coming. The Pioneers were alway happy when January was over as the worst weather of the year always came in January. February brought spring.Return to Index of Burton Lum Articles