Christmases in Idaho more than a century ago, as they were described in the Idaho Tri-weekly Statesman, have a special charm all their own.
An ad in the Statesman of Dec. 22, 1864, tells of “a Grand Christmas Ball” to be given at Boise’s Overland House at Eighth and Main. The “Committee of Arrangements” was made up of four leading citizens from Boise City and three from Idaho City. The ad promised that “Good music will be in attendance, and good order will be preserved.” This last, no doubt, was because some of the men were certain to have had a couple or more of alcoholic drinks before arriving at the ball. It was the custom to have one or two “floor managers” at early dances to maintain order.
Two days later, on Dec. 24, the Statesman promised that the Christmas Ball would be accompanied by “the finest supper ever spread in the country, and that no one shall go away displeased. With splendid music and pretty ladies an elegant time is anticipated. Sleighs will be in readiness, to be found at the hotel or Riggs & Agnew’s, to convey to and from all who wish to attend.” Since the telephone would not be available in Boise for another decade, the modern reader wonders how one let the operators of the sleighs know who needed to be picked up at home and when. Of course, a few of the city’s wealthier citizens had sleighs of their own.
On the day after the ball the Statesman was pleased to report that “Christmas was generally observed by our citizens last Sunday in a manner becoming a Christian community. Shooting-matches, horse-races, dog-fights, and man-fights, with a fearful consumption of bad whiskey, are the usual popular sports throughout California and Oregon on that day. There was none of that sort in Boise City, but instead thereof numerous family gatherings and social parties were had all over the city, which, while they set no bad example nor confirm any bad habit, do make the people better acquainted with each other and strengthen the ties of friendship in the community. May every Christmas be as well spent. Episcopal service was held by Rev. M. Fackler at the school-house in the morning.” (St. Michael’s church was yet to be built.)
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On Dec. 29, the Statesman was still enthusing over the Christmas ball at the Overland House. “It eclipsed anything of the kind ever had in Boise City. Most perfect good order prevailed through the whole night. A driving storm of mixed rain and snow did not keep the hall from being crowded to its utmost. There were from 75 to 80 couples present. Never were ladies more lovely and gay nor gentlemen more gallant, and when daylight reminded them too soon that the merry hours had flown, all joined to wish that they might see many another such a merry Christmas.”
In December 1865, “about fifty couples partook of the hospitality of the officers at Fort Boise on Christmas evening. It was the first annual sociable given at the Fort, and was in every way worthy the liberality of Uncle Sam’s ‘boys in blue.’ The supper was well and tastefully gotten up, and moistened with much wine. The spacious hall was brilliantly illuminated and tastefully decorated with flags and evergreens, and at either end large fireplaces piled with blazing fir wood gave the appearance and air of comfort rarely seen outside of a New England sitting room. The dancing continued until daylight ‘peeped over the hills,’ but as to indulging in any mention of the ‘fair women’ or the ‘brave men,’ we dare not do it. If we should individualize we should expect to get ‘suppressed,’ so we shall only say the ladies all looked and danced like angels, and the men didn’t; but Capt. Walker, Dr. Cochran and others whom we do not know, are entitled to much credit for the superb manner in which they conducted the Christmas Sociable.”
Nothing can bring our history to life like such wonderful stories.
Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.