Smile, Pardner – It’s Christmas!

 Margaret  Brownley

margaretbrownleyIf you’re like me, you’ve probably had your full of Christmas cheer and gift wrappings about now, and are longing for a little bit of that “peace on earth” we keep hearing about.  

Still, no matter how hectic our lives might seem at the moment, nothing compares to  Christmas in the old west.  Instead of forging their way through crowded malls and reams of wrapping paper, early pioneers living in canvas homes, soddies and log cabins battled blizzards, bitter cold and driving winds. In 1849, Catherine Haun wrote in her diary that her family’s Christmas present was the rising of the Sacramento River that flooded the whole town.

santa-claus-train_~k2571843Those of you planning to travel this holiday season might empathize with the passengers who spent the Christmas of 1870 on Kansas-Pacific trains stuck in snow.   Fortunately soldiers from a nearby fort provided fresh buffalo meat, which is a whole lot more than you get if you’re stuck at the airport.

We don’t generally associate fireworks with Christmas, but for some early settlers it was the only way to celebrate. In 1895, a riot broke out in Austin on Christmas Day when revelers shot off Roman candles. Animals stampeded, but law and order was soon restored.   Other parts of Texas didn’t have it so lucky.  The Fort Worth Gazette reported several incidences of people being shot and stabbed on Christmas Day over the use of Roman candles.  In some places, fire crackers were encouraged as this piece in a 1880s newspaper attests: “Firecrackers are in evidence creating the genuine Christmas atmosphere of gunpowder smoke.” 

While most pioneers decorated their Christmas trees with strung popcorn, berries and pictures from Arbuckle’s coffee, McCade Texas takes the prize for the most unusual ornaments.  On Christmas morning in 1883, three men were found hanging from a tree.  If that wasn’t festive enough, the shootout that followed provided “genuine atmosphere” a-plenty.  

What is Christmas without a feast?  Even the poorest of families managed to splurge a little.  Oysters were considered a luxury and one bride in Montana proudly served them to her guests on Christmas Day, unaware that the oysters had spoiled during transport. Her guests fared better than the man named Avery who, on Christmas day in 1850 set out to bag a deer for his dinner and was killed by Indians. 

Margaret’s Christmas tree

Christmas TreeCrime never takes a holiday and that was as true back then as it is now. On Christmas day in 1873, a group of Indians stole five army horses near the Concho River resulting in a shootout.  In 1877 Sam Bass robbed a Fort Worth stagecoach of $11.25, and in 1889 Butch Cassidy pulled his first bank holdup on Christmas Eve at a Telluride, Colorado bank.  That same year, Christmas day proved to be unlucky for a couple of cattle-rustling brothers who were tracked down and shot by the Texas Rangers. 

In the early days of the west, Christmas gifts were modest if not altogether non-existent.  Not so for Johnny Wesley Hardin who got an unexpected gift after he won a duel following a disputed card game.  The good citizens of Towash, Texas spread the word that he was the “fastest gun in the west,” which probably did wonders for his card game. He was also the meanest gun in the west, though he claimed he never killed anyone who didn’t need killing.

a-lady-like-sarahIn case you were wondering, Christmas wasn’t all gunfire and fireworks. In 1881, Tombstone in Arizona Territory made news for having a “quiet” holiday.  Not to worry, they made up for it the following year.

Come to think of it, maybe those crowded malls aren’t so bad, after all, even without the “genuine Christmas atmosphere.” 


A Lady Like Sarah is available now.  He’s a preacher; she’s an outlaw.  Both are in need of a miracle.  Ride on over to my homestead and say howdy:




+ posts

29 thoughts on “Smile, Pardner – It’s Christmas!”

  1. Howdy Margaret! Merry Christmas and congratulations on your first Filly post. What a fun topic! The Old West makes my local Walmart seem tame. The mall? It’s still crowded with holiday shoppers, but the decorations are nice. I like the idea of fireworks on Christmas. My husband has been known to set them off on New Year’s Eve : ) It’s fun.

  2. Howdy, Margaret! Welcome to the Junction as a full-time filly. It’s so good to have you here. Some years back, I attended your workshop in Thousand Oaks CA. Needless to say, you totally inspired me! oxoxoxox

    What a fabulous post. I loved every word of your Wild West Christmas trivia. I braved the mall yesterday and the lines weren’t too bad. FOrtunately most stores have “bankers’ lines” now where everybody single-files it in an orderly fashion and you don’t have a stampede when a cashier randomly says, “Who’s next?” and a billion people think it’s their turn.

    I’m recalling the year we had our kids string popcorn for the tree. The smell totally overpowed the pine scent of our tree LOL. Never did it again.

    Good post. oxoxoxoxoxox

  3. Howdy Victoria,
    Mighty nice of you to stop by. It sounds like your husband would have fit right in with revelers of the Old West. That’s my kind of guy.

    Merry Christmas!

  4. Howdy Tanya! That was awhile back. I don’t think the word “blog” had even been coined yet. I remember the first time I ever heard a cell phone ring in my class. We thought the woman was wired and about to explode. One man was ready to tackle her and toss her out the 2nd floor window. Ah, those were the days. Who’d ever think that you and I would end up as fillies?

    Can’t wait to for your next book, Marrying Mattie.

    Sending chocolate hugs your way.

  5. Good morning, Margaret and congratulations – you’re now an official Filly. 😀

    Love the post. The use of “gunsmoke” to set the proper mood seems appropriate. Where I grew up, many of my neighbors would fire their shotguns into the air in celebration. Some around where I live now still do. lol

  6. Welcome, Margaret. What a great look at Christmas in the West! Who would have equated Christmas atmosphere with gunpowder smoke? Those cowboys sure liked their guns.

    And what a fun Christmas cactus you have! I love it.

    Looking forward to getting to know you better here at the Junction.

  7. “Firecrackers are in evidence creating the genuine Christmas atmosphere of gunpowder smoke.”

    I find that a hilarious statement.

    Great post, Margaret. Isn’t it odd that they could preserve oysters way back then. Have we ever had a blog post about the invention of the tin can? Seems like we ought to.

  8. Hi Margaret – Wonderful blog today and I’ll add my own welcome to Wildflower Junction! You’re a wonderful addition to the Fillies! Great info on Christmas in the West. It’s pretty wild and woolly present day too, with all the crowds and traffic. My hubby came home last night saying the spirit of Christmas was lost, as so many people in the stores in line were grumbling and complaining. Where’s the Peace on Earth, he asked? Even still, I love the holiday season. 🙂

  9. Hi Margaret!

    Yeah, things get so busy at this time of year — but I’m really behind also as I try to catch up on work and shop and wrap and — well, you know.

    Great blog! Have a wonderful Christmas! Oh, and I love your new cover.

  10. Welcome to Wildflower Junction, Margaret. What a pleasure to have you here on a regular basis.
    Still smiling over your stories of Christmas in the old West. Those were the days. And your Christmas “tree” is the best!
    Your cover is beautiful, and your story makes me think, “Gee, I wish I’d thought of that.”
    Counting my blessings here.

  11. Yes, we do have some badges/buttons to wear at conference. LOL

    Margaret, you are a special lady and I’m so excited to welcome you here at Wildflower Junction–hope you’re not sick of hearing me say it, but I really am delighted.


  12. Margaret, all us Fillies are so thrilled to have you join our corral. We have a lot of fun here and oftentimes learn something in the bargain. I’m always astounded by the varied subject matter about things I never knew. Love you blog today. It’s very interesting to see what some pioneers (and outlaws) did back in the old West at Christmas.

    Love your cactus Christmas tree! Very nice and most unusual.

  13. Hello Margaret, and a GREAT BIG WELCOME TO THE P&P. Your going to love it here! We are so thrilled to have you join us here and we are really looking forward to your post! Your cactus tree is so cool!

  14. Welcome, Miss Margaret! Love the picture of your
    Christmas “tree.” Thanks for all the interesting Christmas information.

    Pat Cochran

  15. Hi Margaret and here’s a belated welcome to Wildflower Junction! Sorry I didn’t come on sooner – been buried in a slew of last minute Christmas prep. Anyway, loved your post and sooooo happy to have you on board

  16. Shoot outs, hangings, fireworks, and indians. The mall doesn’t seem so bad after all that. Thanks for an interesting post. Enjoyed it. Like your tree.
    Look forward to more of your posts.

  17. Margaret, what a great wealth of information. Looks like the old west had their share of holiday crime just as we do today. I enjoyed reading all the little snippets you shared. And, I’m so excited about your new release. I love the cover and the premise. Merry Christmas to me!

  18. How do you keep a people down? ‘Never’ let them ‘know’ their history.

    Keep telling that history; read some great military history.

    The 7th Cavalry got their butts in a sling again after the Little Big Horn Massacre, fourteen years later, the day after the Wounded Knee Massacre. If it wasn’t for the 9th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers, there would of been a second massacre of the 7th Cavalry. Read the book, “Rescue at Pine Ridge”, and visit website/great military history,

Comments are closed.