Christmas Trees … 1800’s Style

In “Away in the Manager” for our anthology “A Texas Christmas”, my grumpy, blacksmith hero Randall Humphrey who wants to be left alone and celebrate Christmas in the only way he knows how – in solitude, is faced being snowed in with a beautiful woman and two little tykes. And, Christmas is only a couple of days away.

But, how could they have Christmas without a tree? Caught in a raging blizzard a real tree was out of the question; but it didn’t take long for the little twins, Damon and Addie Claire, patterned after my own granddaughter, Addison Claire, to remind him that he’d said, as a blacksmith, he could make anything. So, Rand was pressed into action to create something to please the children.

With the twins, and of course the feisty, mother hen Sarah melting his heart, Rand set about crafting a tree.  That became a challenge for me as a writer, but I knew if he could make nails, hinges, cooking utensils, and pot hooks, surely he’d be ingenious enough to create a Christmas tree.

I did some research and low-and-behold I figured out how he could make one in a cone shape. Crude, but he thought it’d make the children happy.  He was so wrong.  While they liked it, there was no way to add the ornaments which consisted of round cookies tied with red ribbon fixed up by Sarah.  The little darlings wanted more … gingerbread men, angels, and bears, because they thought that was what the gruffly clad blacksmith looked like to them.  Rand could manage the star, but he had no idea how to make the other ornaments they requested.  It didn’t take him long to decide if he fashioned some cookie cutters then Sarah could design the rest of the ornaments out of cookie dough.  That worked, but he still hadn’t figured out how to attach them to the tree he had designed.

While playing in the hayloft with a homeless kitten who had taken up residence at the blacksmith’s shop, the twins come down with some barbed wire that had been stored there.  That gave me … I mean Rand… an idea.  Why not fashion a tree out of the cone shape he’d already done and add barbed wire?  But would it work?

That’s when real life came into the picture.  Fellow Filly, Linda Broday, also one of my co-authors, found a story in her local newspaper about a Christmas tree constructed from barbed wire taken from the famous XIT Ranch here in the Panhandle.  There was my answer, oops, I meant Rand’s answer!

Sallie Sinclair of Shallowater, Texas, had fashioned a Western Christmas Tree out of Brinkerhoff barbed wire from the 1800’s and decorated it with miniature boots and saddle bags, along with regulation-size sheriffs’ badges made from five-peso coins, she’d worked on over a period of time.  Because the Brinkerhoff wire could not be cut from the post, a single strand was removed from one post, rolled loosely, and unfastened from the next post down the fence line.  It was some of the original wire that the XIT had used in fencing the gigantic ranch property that had been granted to its owners when they offered to build Texas’ Capitol building in Austin as a trade for land.

Of interest, as Ms. Sinclair and her friends built the tree, the wire could only be cut to length by scoring the metal, then flexing it until it broke. I’m sure there was plenty of pricked fingers and blood, during the process.

In my story, Rand would have likely used the King of Barbed Wire, Joseph Glidden’s simple wire locked into place by twisted barbs onto a double-strand wire. His invention made the fencing more effective not only because he perfected a method for locking the barbs in place, but also because he developed the machinery to mass-produce the wire.

Back to my story, while the twins where thrilled with the tree, there was still one thing missing … a star!  That ended up being one of the easier challenges for the blacksmith, as he used his failed attempts at making cookie cutters to sculpt a cone shape where he added wings; thus, providing an angel.

At last the tree was perfect, and they shared a very Merry Christmas … and something else special.  But, you’ll have to read the book to see what else happened around the best Christmas tree in the world.

After forty-three years of Christmases with my husband, we’ve had our share of absolutely beautifully, perfect trees and some not so perfect.  One I particularly remember was special but about as ugly as they come.

We have friends who have a ranch that extends down into the bowels of the Palo Duro Canyon, so years ago we decided to cut our own tree.  It was fun, but trust me a tree from the Palo Duro compared to those grown and cut specifically for tree lots are very different.  I laugh when I think back to the pictures, and wish I could find one to add to this post, because we actually had to use duck tape to hold on some of the branches.  But, you know, kinda like Rand, Sarah, and the children, it didn’t matter because it was the most perfect tree in the world because we shared it as a family.

I’d love to hear your favorite Christmas tree story.  So, come on and share.

To one commenter, I am giving away your choice of either an autographed softback or  hardback copy of

“A Texas Christmas”.

Phyliss
A native Texan, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Phyliss Miranda still believes in the Code of the Old West and loves to share her love for antiques, the lost art of quilting, and the Wild West.

Visit her at phylissmiranda.com
Updated: November 28, 2011 — 11:36 am

37 Comments

  1. My favorite Christmas tree was the year we had a Charlie Brown tree. We had just moved and we were so tired but still wanted a tree to decorate. So, we cut down the prettiest branch and hung our favorite items on our tree. It was so sad but cute just the same. It will always be one of my favorites.

  2. Hi, Phyliss! What a wonderful story–it’s the spirit of the season that changes a tree into a Christmas tree. The emotions that went into creating Rand’s tree are what the holidays are all about : )

    My grandfather loved the holidays more than all the rest of my family put together. He came from a close-knit, loving family unit. They didn’t have a lot of money, but they had a lot of heart, and he had a happy childhood. He was a Christmas Tree Expert Extraordinaire! It was my duty, and my honor, to go with him each year to pick out our Christmas tree. We always went on the Sunday which was closest to about a week before Christmas day. He very precisely added the lights. Then we added the ornaments (and I mean all the ornaments). The silver icicles had to placed on the tree one by one. More than once, I got scolded for throwing little handfuls of icicles at random. Hey…I was a kid! I have to admit, they were beautiful trees. My grandfather knew what he was doing!

    When I was growing up, we had two Boston Terrier dogs who also loved the holidays. We always wrapped presents for them under the tree, and they loved to rip up the paper and find their rawhide chews and other goodies. They had a couple of other holiday habits which took us a while to discover. We kept finding broken Christmas ornaments under the tree. These were the delicate, old-fashioned glass kind, and at first we thought they were falling off the tree and breaking on their own. Then we discovered the real cause of the destruction: the BT sisters were grabbing the little glass balls from the lower limbs of the tree and crunching them! They didn’t seem to be swallowing the pieces, they just enjoyed the snap, crackle, pop of the crunching glass. We had to put all non-glass ornaments on the limbs within their reach, and they would sit and look at the tree like they were expecting something! Those dogs were also nog-nippers. Anyone who sat a glass of eggnog within their reach would notice eggnog missing from their glass. When we caught the BTs with eggnog mustaches, we knew who to blame!

  3. My FIL was a sheet metalworker. He does have a cone shaped tree! It was one of his first projects and is a family heirloom treasure!!

    Christmas tree story I have 4 children. In December 1990 my youngest was 5 months old, the others were 2, 4 and 7. We always went as a family to cut down a tree. In 1990 we had a bitter cold December. I did not want to take all the children out especially a small baby. So my husband went by himself. He eventually found a tree at a cut your own lot. We have a lot of Christmas tree farms here in central Wisconsin. After paying for the tree he discovered that he had lost his keys!!. The wonderful young owner took him on a snowmobile back to where he had cut the tree and retraced his steps all the way back. They found the keys! UNBELIEVABLE!!

  4. I just came across this yesterday and thought it was so ingenious for a Christmas tree:
    http://www.thepickygirl.com/?p=1820

  5. Hi Phyliss!

    I loved Rand’s story, but then again I loved the whole anthology. It was a super way to get me in the holiday mood.

    The Christmas tree we still talk about is the one (and there’s a reason it was only one) my dad picked out. It was so straggly and sad looking, and we had to place the ornaments on gently for fear of knocking the poor thing over. We used extra garland that year to try to fill in the holes, but there were too many. My mom, who is more soft hearted than her children, thought it was nice to give the poor tree a chance to be pretty.

    –Kirsten

  6. THanks for the great post,,I remember having a silver tree as a kid with a revolving light that made it green,red,yellow,,,,those were sooooo ugly ,lol..now my husband always wants a real tree as big as he can get,one time it exploded like the one on National Lampoons Christmas,he had to do a lot of hacking to get it to fit,,omg,it was sooo funny an so big I expected to see a live squirrell run out ,,,didnt decorate any of the back of it cause I didnt have enought ornaments

  7. I like Rand already! What a wonderful character.

    One year, we were living in California for Christmas and didn’t have enough room to store a tree/decorations. We bought a small potted fir tree, and our extended family each sent one ornament. After Christmas, we planted the tree in the yard. I visited California about ten years ago, and the tree was still growing strong!

    (My mother still has all those gifted ornaments.)

    Sherri Shackelford

  8. Good morning all you early-birds out there! Cindy B. what a special story. I think everybody loves Charlie Brown, and I think about everyone has been in a position where a lot of Christmas decorations and a big tree just wasn’t what could happen. Thanks for sharing. Hugs, P

  9. Virginia C, what wonderful and precious memories you and your grandfather made together! And, oh do I ever remember getting tired of adding the icicles one at a time and throwing a whole handful on the tree. Thanks for helping me bring back that memory. So much fun! We have a lot in common, my parents raised Boston Bulldogs when I was growing up. I love the breed. We always wrap gifts for both of our kitties and the two rescue border collies. After all, they are part of the family. We have a new kitty and this is her first Christmas, so I can only imagine what she’ll do when she sees the tree, with all the things that sparkle and move. I might need that barbed wire around our tree this year, just to keep Miss Kitty out of trouble!

    Your eggnog story is so funny! Thanks for sharing your memories, which triggered a whole bunch for me. Big Texas hugs, Phyliss

  10. Great pictures.

  11. Thank you for sharing that lovely story with us!
    We always had a real tree. They weren’t always picutre-perfect but to us they were the best. I know many of our neighbours had fake ones but my parents always got a real one. I can remember one year they were thinking about getting a fake one, too, but my brother and I vetoed it and we were successful. 🙂

  12. For years we cut our own tree from this scraggly, former CHristmas tree forest that had been abandoned. The trees had grown large and dozens of smaller trees had grown up from the badly cut-off larger trees, when someone would come in and lop off the top of the tree and leave the rest. (we might’ve done that a few times ourselves)

    So, one year I convinced my parents to cut their own tree, I was a SUPER cheerleader for it. so my dad and mom came with me and my kids and we hiked around that side hill full of warped, twisted, overgrown trees until we found a BRANCH of one tree sticking out sideways that had a decent shape (well semi-decent)
    Dad had his chain saw and I could tell he was skeptical but eager to get done so he cut off the branch and there were an odd collection of smaller branches, some sticking out way too far and we were trimming it to make it a better tree shape. Dad had lapsed into apathy and I … the Cut Your Own Tree enthusiast was pointing to places to trim and I pointed to one branch, kinda low down and said, “That one”.
    Dad cut it and the whole back half of the tree fell off. Ruined.
    My kids all wanted to give up on that tree and search some more.
    Dad just sighed and said, “We’re putting that side against the wall.”

    And we did.

    I still feel guilty.

    The end.

  13. Laurie, how wonderful that you have your grandfather’s inique tree! Although I’d researched blacksmithery, it was still pretty hard for me to figure out how Rand could form a tree without it being bulky and really, really heavy … but like Addie Claire and Damon, he’d said he could “make anything”, so I trusted him! And, he came through.

    Love your story about cutting your own tree. I can’t imagine anything any better than living some place where you could go out and cut your own tree. In this part of the country it just doesn’t happen very often. In other parts of Texas, yes. As a matter of fact, Texas has a number of large farms that are dedicated to Christmas trees only and with the drought there’s real concern over the next couple of year’s production, since the small trees newly planted didn’t have root systems strong enough to carry them going through the drought.

    Love your story and thanks for sharing. Hugs, P

  14. Loved your blog, Filly sister! Your Christmas story is one of your very best. Those children really stole the show. So adorable. Glad you could use the article I found by chance in our Lubbock newspaper. It sure added to your story. I don’t care what a person comes up with for a Christmas tree, it’s always special. This is the first time though that I’ve seen or heard of one made from barbed wire. Very ingenious.

  15. I remember as a kid we didn’t have any money for a tree so my Grandfather gathered some small tumbleweeds and brought them outside on the poarch. We did have lights so they decorated the tumbleweeds andbwebputbsomebfakebsnow on it. A few bright red ribbons made it more festive. I probably complained about that situation as a kid but it is one of the Christmas memories I vividly remember.

  16. Gorgeous pictures, Phyliss, and what wonderful ideas you have. I’ve got this in my Kindle and waiting for time to start it. Taking the train to new baby grandson tomorrow–will read on the train!

    In my Christmas for Ransom antho, Eliza makes a Christmas tree out of a tumbleweed. My hubby has totally nixed me doing the same, more’s the pity.

    Looking forward to another terrific read, Phyliss and Linda, too. I love you guys. oxoxo

  17. Wonderful story Phyllis. what a great idea for this tree.. It goes to show we can make anything into to something…
    I think my fav memory of Christmas trees, is my very first one when I was first on my own. It was a real tree and I decorated it all in blue and silver. I still have some of those first ornaments today.. about 28 yrs later… I have artficial ones now.. But it hold the same memories.

    I am really looking forward to reading this book.. by all these terrific authors.

  18. Hi Phyliss! Love the post. I tried to make a Christmas tree out of barb wire…once. I still have scars and didn’t get it done. So when I read A Texas Christmas I really wanted to meet Rand.

    When I was a kid, all five of us had been after mother to let us each get a small tree to put in our rooms. She agreed with a smile, took us all to Dalhart and bought spray on snow and the smallest bulbs we could find. Coming home we stopped along the road and picked up five tumbleweeds. Daddy, being a farmer/rancher came in after a long day of clearing the tumbleweeds from the fence lines. He walked into the kitchen to find the five freshly snowed trees on the table. This year we’ve been so dry, I couldn’t even grow tumbleweeds.

  19. When I was a little girl, my favorite Christmas memories are when we would go up in the mountains behind our house and cut down an evergreen tree and carry it home to decorate. I always loved how it smelled.

  20. Great post. I love the ingenious way you wove the blacksmith’s talents into a heartwarming holiday story. Right after we got married, I flocked tumbleweeds and stacked them high. Very cheap and very festive.

  21. When I was growing up we would go out in the field and cut down an old cedar tree. They were never the prettiest tree but we where thrilled with them. Now I just put up an artificial tree, no tree needles like that. Even an artificial tree can be a mess when it gets turned over. I remember my son turning our tree over about three time before Christmas. Wasn’t sure the tree was going to make it until Christmas. It made it to Christmas but it wasn’t in the best of shape by then.

  22. Hello Phyliss – This year we will have a little artificial tree and I will decorate it with simple country decorations like little tin stars and wooden gingerbread men.

    No need to include me in your book give-away today because I have it and hope to get time real soon to read those wonderful Christmas stories. Love your anthologies – please keep them coming!

  23. Hi, Phyliss. I’m reading your story right now. I’m about halfway through and am enjoying it! 🙂 Christmas trees are so much fun, especially now that the kids are big enough to help put it together and decorate it. My favorite part is getting out the ornaments and all the menories they hold with baby pictures and handmade gifts from school or ones we made as a family. Love it!

  24. What a lovely story. I have been putting up a live tree at Christmas for 42 years. We tried a real one with the rootball a couple of times but other than a wrenched back and a mark on my ceiling it didn’t survive. First time we didn’t have the hole dug and the ground was frozen. Second time we waited too long. I have had trees where when taking it down just about every needle fell off and we had to use a shovel to pick up the needles. We’ve gone and cut down trees which is a cold experience. I had one huge tree that fell down at 4 in the morning and I broke so many precious ornaments, redid the tree and it fell again!!! No sleep that night lol. I love collecting ornaments so my trees are usually big (much to my husband’s dismay lol).

  25. The funnest part of having the Christmas tree was definitely decorating it. I remember we had candy canes wrapped the trees and putting the ornaments on. There was no rhyme or order, we just put the decorations anywhere and in the end it still looked beautiful. Thank you for sharing your story.

    Speaking of stories, Christmas ones always set me in the mood. They are heartfelt and very sweet.

  26. Hi Phyllis, My Mother’s tree this year is a very special one to me. My sisters and I have each had an angel ornament that we have hung on her tree for over 50 years. Each angel held a musical instrument and every year there was a sisterly fuss over who got the angel with the “tuba” (really a French horn). A few years ago, after my Dad passed away in the fall, the angels went missing. This year they flew home again and were found under the paper liner in the bottom of a box of ornaments. It made us all so happy to see them on the tree again.

  27. Love the smell of fresh cut trees… My mom loves to tell us how our grandfather would wait till Christmas Eve to get a tree… he would find one that people overlooked and somehow cut, trim, tie and glue the branches in new places to make it into the most perfect looking tree around…

    Happy Holidays!

  28. LOL. My favorite Christmas tree story was back at home a couple of years ago. My mother wanted to put up the Christmas tree but my dad (the scrooge!) decided that, since all the kids were gone from home it just wasn’t worth the hassle of setting it up, making a “mess” and breaking it down again. My Mom got so aggravated that she took the furniture, scooted it out of the way of where the tree is supposed to go…and threw the tree skirt down on the floor…and just left it there. So. She had an “invisible” tree that Christmas. It looked so funny…a tree skirt…with some presents piled on it…sitting there in the living room.

    Needless to say my dad gave in and they have put the tree up every year since!! 🙂

  29. Liz, thanks for the link. I’m going to check it out after I’ve caught up a little with everyone who stopped by the visit today.

    Kirsten, what great memories and thank you so much for the compliment about Rand and our anthology. We’re all really pleased with how it turned out. I got a good laugh out of your description of the tree your dad picked out and the extra tensil. I’ve done that before, too! Just too funny. Thanks for sharing your memories.

    Oh Vickie C, I remember my grandmother having an aluminum tree, too. There was a light at the bottom that rotated, so it’d change colors. Gosh, everyone is bringing back memories today. Goes to show, if you live through enough Christmases you might well have seen and done it all. LOL Thanks for stopping for a visit. Hugs, Phyliss

  30. Sherri, what a great story. I don’t recall ever trying to plant a tree here, but it makes sense. How wonderful that it was still there when you went back to California.

    Claudia GC, stick in there about a live tree. I love the smells, but unfortunately, after many years of being sick at Christmas, I finally was diagnosed as being allergic to mold; thus there’s mold between the bark and the wood of a Christmas tree (which I wouldn’t have ever thought about), so no real tree for me in years. Glad you vetoed down the fake one, I would if I could.

    Mary, you are too funny. I absolutely love that story and can just imagine how everyone felt at the time, but what great memories … and they are all because of you, my friend. Love your story. I’m really getting into wanting to put up my tree and it’s 70 degress out today. All I have to do is wait until tomorrow because the weather is goind down into the 30’s … definitely puttin’ up Christmas tree weather! Hugs, P

  31. Stephanie, I absolutely love your story and how your mother brought your father to reason. Such a cute story and something you’ll remember forever. Linda B., if it hadn’t been for your article, I’d never thought about the barbed wire. Thanks so much.

  32. Tanya, I’ve seen the tumbleweeds made into a tree before, and as dry as it’s been here, I’m surprised there aren’t more of them. And, big waves to Stephanie (the second one) who talks about making a tree out of tumbleweed. I want everyone to know that Steph actually lives on the XIT Ranch north of us … where the barbed wire came from that the lady in Shallowater used for the tree I have above. Steph, did you know about the tree? I can just about pick out the Panhandle area Texas gals because almost all of you have done the tumbleweed tree. Nat, I can’t imagine flocking it, but great idea!!! Phyliss

  33. Judy H, your story so touched my heart. Finding the angel was a miracle. Growing up, we had an angel topper and we always used it, without fail. As an adult I ran across the same topper and bought one for each of my sisters and me. Unfortunately, I now have the original, plus mine, plue one of my sister’s, but my other two sisters use their topper every year. That way, we’re all together. Such a wonderful story, Judy. Thanks for sharing.

  34. Na, I can really relate to what you wrote. My daughters loved our tree because it was filled with decorations from everywhere and everyone. Pieces of green and red paper rolled and stapled together to make a chain from one of the girls; decorations that belonged to my grandmother and my parents. For the first ten or so years after my daughters arrived, I always selected an ornament for each of them. A special one for that year. Well, after a lot of Christmases and after the girls were in college they said that although they loved all the mismatched ornaments I’ve collected over the years, they’d prefer to use a “theme” on their own trees. This worked for a few years. The perfect tree with a “perfect theme” for each of them. Then guess what happened … they each have their own little ones and after a few years both of their trees like pretty much like mine. As I remind them, eventually you will turn into your mother … guaranteed!

  35. Thanks everyone for dropping by Wildflower Junction today and sharing your memories of special Christmas trees. Although I wasn’t able to respond to every post, I truly thank you for leaving comments and I read every one of your posts. I truly thank you for sharing some fun and some not so fun experiences with your Christmas trees. I wish everyone a very happy Holiday Season. I fixin’ to put all of you all’s names in a big green bowl fitting for Christmas and pull one of your names. I’ll announce it later this evening and contact you via email.

    Good luck to all you all! Hugs from Texas, Phyliss

  36. I am really looking forward to reading this one!! I love Christmas stories!!

    One of my favorite stories about Christmas trees was one a friend of mine had early in her marriage when money was really tight and trees not plentiful where they lived so the used tumbleweeds stacked upon each other and other standard hand made ornaments, including the few cards they recieved that year!

  37. Lovely post. Wish I had been able to get to it earlier. I just might have to have my son work on a tree and ornaments in our forge and have both he and my husband hit the wood working shop for some more.
    A few years ago we were at a resort in the NC mountains for Christmas. I purchased a 2 foot artificial tree at the craft store and a spool of red ribbon. We all (our daughter, her husband, and our grandson were with us) went for a walk in the woods and collected small cones, moss, feathers, a snail shell and berries & seed pods for our little tree. I had a few little feather birds to add and it was really a delightful tree. Not sure what we will do this year.

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