CHRISTMAS IN ALBION, 1875

CHRISTMAS OF 74 YEARS AGO AT ALBION

REMEMBERED VIVIDLY BY DECLO SETTLER

 

Editor's note: Hyrum S. Lewis, 81, turns his memory back 74 years for his daughter, Rachel Lewis, to describe a frontier Christmas in Magic Valley. The Rachel Lewis mentioned in the article was his sister, the late Mrs. Thomas Harper. Lewis is the only surviving member of the Christmas party described below.) Five times a state representative and 26 years the president of the '79ers organization, he has served as a highway commissioner and been active in the LDS church. The only Christmas since 1875 he spent away from Albion or Declo was in 1892 while on an LDS mission at Fort Gibson, Okla. In contrast to last winter's snowbound conditions, it is interesting to note his father went to Utah early in November, 1875, and because of snow could not return to what is now Albion until late March, 1876, nearly five months later.

DECLO, Dec. 23 -

Blue smoke from juniper fires slipped from the stone chimneys of a handful of scattered frontier cabins and rose straight up into a calm blue sky. It was a clear morning, Dec. 24, 1875, in Marsh Basin, now known as Albion. Mrs. Mary Lewis stood in her doorway and looked down wistfully at those cabins. She shaded her eyes against the glare from tremendous wastes of billowing, glistening snow, broken here and there by fringes of willows along stream banks and by distant basalt bluffs of rimrock bounding what is now called Albion valley.

Mrs. Lewis was hemmed in by this snowy valley and sentenced by a queer prank of fate to pass a lonely winter here alone with her two small children, Rachel, 9, and Hyrum, 7. The first of November her husband, James S. Lewis, went to Corrine, Utah, for goods and winter supplies and was blocked there by an early and heavy fall of snow. Roads were quite impassable. Freight wagons from Kelton and Corrine no longer lumbered through Marsh Basin and roads were unbroken. The few families had left the bleak and dreary little valley to spend the winter among friends and relatives in Utah, as the food supply was low.

The Lewises had moved from Brigham City, Utah, to Marsh Basin, arriving with all their belongings in a covered wagon on June 1, 1875. During the summer they had built a one-room log cabin which had a dirt roof and a dirt floor. Only a few of the new settlers had put up a little wild hay and kept a milk cow or two. The outlook was not encouraging for those hardy settlers who had elected to winter in Marsh Basin and it was truly discouraging to the lonely and homesick little mother who looked hopelessly toward the Cassia creek summit, the way her husband would come.

Now as Christmas was near, she realized her man could not cross that pass blocked with drifts from three to 30 feet deep which would not melt until spring. She wondered how to make their food last until then. She had plenty of wood which had been hauled during the summer and stored along side the one-room cabin. She also knew she and her children would have to cut the wood to burn in the open fireplace. They had no stove. Her little home looked dreary and comfortless this morning, the day before Christmas.

She gazed toward the present site of Albion and wondered what sort of holidays her neighbors miles away could possible enjoy. She also thought of the happy times she had in her native land of Sweden. And as she looked, she seemed to see something moving down below on the surface of the snow.

She called her children and they watched the moving object. As it came closer and seemed to be bound toward their home, their excitement could not be restrained. Finally, slowly battling through the heavy drifts, the object came close. It turned out to be a chariot of deliverance in the form of a sled driven by a representative of Santa Claus himself.

It was Hebe Potter with an invitation to spend the holidays with the Potter family six miles away. Never was an invitation more heartily and joyously accepted and never was a Christmas time more thoroughly enjoyed.

They had a real cedar Christmas tree, and the decorations were of shavings whittled from soft pine. On Christmas morning, each of the children was given two pieces of fancy, bright colored store candy.

And so with arousing welcome and good cheer and joyous laughter the first Christmas celebration in Marsh Basin came to an end. It was truly a frontier holiday.

Those were the days of log cabins with dirt roofs. Sometimes the dirt floors were covered with flat rocks and perhaps a deer or cowhide, pegged to the dirt with the hair up, as a rug. Those were the days, too, of rock fireplaces with iron pots and bake ovens, rough-hewn tables, home made bunks, patchwork quilts, tallow candles and frontier food. With them went wholehearted hospitality, friendliness, neighborly interest, cooperation and unity of purpose. These attributes broke the stern antagonism of the wilderness and bound into a firm brotherhood the steadfast men and women of that time.