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Collection Spotlight: Pioneer Christmas Memories


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(reference and excerpts: Steamboat Pilot, December 22, 1960)

Mary Crawford King left a written record of the first Christmas gathering in Steamboat Springs in 1877. Those who attended were Mr. and Mrs. James H. Crawford, their children, and Mr. and Mrs. S.D.N. Bennett.

On this occasion there was a small tree strung with ropes of popcorn and paper cornucopias which Mrs. Bennett had made and decorated with pictures and pink ribbons. The cornucopias were filled with Mrs. Crawford's homemade candies and raisins.

The Bennetts arrived at the Crawford house in the morning to enjoy the tree and stayed for dinner. The two families ate trout, venison roasts, mince pie and cottage cheese. They ate in the one room of the cabin that was completed at this time.

Early pioneers only received mail about once a month and it was carried by snowshoe from Hahns Peak. This particular year, a few days before Christmas, a package of popcorn and books arrived from Crawford relatives in Sedalia, MO.

The second Crawford family Christmas in Steamboat Springs was in 1880. Between 1877 and 1880, Mr. Crawford had served in the legislature in Denver and, because of the incidences with the Ute Indians in 1879, it had been deemed unsafe to remain in Steamboat Springs during that winter.

For Christmas of 1880, Ed Coburn, the mail carrier, came from Hayden to eat dinner with the Crawford family. After dinner, Mr. Coburn set out for a cabin on Morrison Creek where he usually exchanged mail with the carrier from Hot Sulphur Springs. However, a very hard snow storm engulfed the poor man and he became lost for five days. He had lost all his matches but one. With this one match, he miraculously started a fire and cooked a porcupine which he had killed. A wolverine had followed him for many hours until Coburn found safety at the cabin. There a rescue party found him and trail-sledded him back to the Crawford home where he stayed until spring. He had been badly frozen and lost most of his toes to frostbite. What a Christmas!

William Leahy remembered his first Christmas in Routt County in 1877 on the Snake River, at the home of Alfred McCargar: “There was four or five feet of snow, and we started on snowshoes on the night of December 23, making the distance during the night and arriving early for Christmas Eve, when the celebration was to occur.”

“There were about 30 (people) at McCargar’s for Christmas and there was a fine time with a big dinner and a dance, but I never went in for dancing much. Two of the McCargar girls were there, and I can truthfully say they were the most beautiful girls in Routt County, so far as I knew, as at that time, I hadn’t seen any other women in the county.”

“The Christmas celebration at McCargar’s broke up when the liquid refreshments gave out, which was some time Christmas day, and a large portion of the crowd went to Dixon for a good time. All of us had plenty of gold dust and it was surely a good time we had.”

Pioneer banker and merchant, F.E. Milner remembered his first Christmas in Routt County in 1884: “I enjoyed a turkey dinner as a guest of Mr. and Mrs. James H. Crawford at their home near the Iron Spring. . . . In 1884, there were but three families here, those besides the Crawfords being those of Henry Woolery and Horace Suttle. Mr. Woolery was postmaster and his wife kept a roadhouse, a stopping place for those en route to Hahns Peak, Hayden and other points in the county.”

Milner later bought Woolery’s roadhouse, then a log building on the corner of 10th and Lincoln, and opened the first store in the valley.
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