The Fourth of July was celebrated big time in the Old West. From mining camps to wild cow towns, those early settlers used the day to whoop it up with dances, speeches, parades, foot races, and turkey shoots. Not to be left out, even American Indians celebrated the day with pow-wows and dances.
Some celebrations even took place in remote areas. In 1830, Mountain man William L. Sublette, on his way to Wind River with 81 men and 10 wagons, celebrated the holiday next to a large 130-foot-high rock. Claiming to have “kept the 4th of July in due style,” Sublette named the large boulder Independence Rock.
Located in what is now Wyoming, the rock became a signpost for travelers on the Oregon and Mormon trails. Companies arriving at the rock by July fourth knew they had made good time and would beat the mountain snows. Celebrations included inscribing names on the rock and shooting off guns.
Not every community celebrated with guns and fireworks. In 1864, a mining town in Nevada decided to celebrate its first fourth with a dance. Music, flag, and dance committees were formed. Of the three, the music committee was the most challenging as the only musician was a violinist who had an affinity for whiskey. His drinks had to be carefully regulated before the celebration.
Since the town lacked a flag, the flag committee pieced one together from a quilt. Fortunately, a traveling family camping nearby provided the blue fabric. The family included a mother and four girls, which meant more women for the dance. The problem was the girls had no shoes, which would have made it difficult to dance on the rough wood floors. The miners solved the problem by taking up a collection of brogans, and the dance went off without a hitch.
William “Buffalo Bill” Cody made history in North Platte, Nebraska on July 4, 1882, when he mounted an exhibition of cowboy “sports.” This was the beginning of his Wild West shows and what we now call a rodeo.
Not to be outdone, Dodge City did something different two years later for the Fourth of July to attract attention and business; It hosted the first professional Mexican bullfight on U.S. soil. Though the event was a financial success, it was not without controversy. Many, including Henry Bergh, founder of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals, denounced the sport as barbaric.
Compared to the rest of the country, Denver’s first Fourth of July celebration was oddly subdued. Drinking or carousing was not allowed. Instead, the Declaration of Independence was read, followed by prayers, “chaste and appropriate oration” and wholesome band music.
This year, most public celebrations have been canceled. But we Americans will find a way to keep “the 4th of July in due style.” Just like they did in the Old West.
How are you and your family celebrating the Fourth this year?
He may be a Texas Ranger, but he only has eyes for the outlaw’s beautiful daughter. Amazon