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Boiseans loved Christmas balls and parties in early Idaho

On Dec. 22, 1864, 153 years ago this week, the Idaho Tri-weekly Statesman enthused over a “Grand Christmas Ball” to be given at the Overland House at 8th and Main streets, on Monday the 26th. Floor managers L.B. Lindsey and J.P. Lockwood noted in an ad for the event that “Good music will be in attendance, and good order will be preserved.” There were always a few at such events who indulged too freely in alcoholic beverages, and it was the floor managers’ job to remove them.

“The finest supper ever spread in this country” will be served and “no one shall go away displeased,” said the Statesman. “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.” (H. C. Riggs was a force in moving the capital of Idaho Territory from Lewiston to Boise City, and Ada County was named for his daughter.)

The Statesman thought Boise’s Christmas ball of 1864 “eclipsed anything of the kind ever had in Boise City. Most perfect 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.”

“Christmas was generally observed by our citizens last Sunday in a manner becoming a Christian Community” noted the Statesman on Dec. 27, 1864. “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.”

On Dec. 25, 1865, Episcopal services were held by the Rev. M. Fackler at the school house in the morning. A Christmas tree “free to all who wish to communicate through it with their friends,” was a feature of the Sunday school concert given that year. A committee was in attendance to receive presents and put them on the tree. Of the concert the Statesman noted, “The little miss who sang ‘If I Were a Sunbeam’ possesses a voice of rare richness, and will someday afford her friends great delight with the warbles of her song.”

On Christmas Eve 1865, about 50 couples “partook of the hospitality of the officers at Fort Boise. It was the first annual sociable given at the Fort, and was every way worthy the liberality of Uncle Sam’s ‘boys in blue.’ The supper was well and tastefully gotten up, 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 it 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 55 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.”

Statesman founder and editor James Reynolds obviously enjoyed reporting on Boise’s social life, especially in the holiday seasons of the 1860s.

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email histnart@gmail.com.

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