From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Friday, January 09, 2009

1870s Fourth of July

Twisting the tail of the English lion


On the Library of Congress website, I found a 1938 interview with Miss Nettie Spencer of Portland, Oregon, in which she remembered her childhood during the 1870s. The interviewer and writer was Walker Winchell of the Federal Writers Project.

Miss Spencer talked about the annual Fourth of July celebration held in her rural community. It was the one event of the year that everyone in the entire area attended.

Early in the morning, the family and great quantities of food were loaded into the wagon for the trip to town. When everyone had gathered, the celebration began with a parade.

The first float always carried that year's "Goddess of Liberty," a pretty local girl who had won the contest. She was surrounded by little girls who represented the states of the Union. Cadets from the local agricultural college and a band followed, and there might be floats with political effigies behind them.

Now for the interesting part:

Just before lunch - and we'd always hold lunch up for an hour - some Senator or lawyer would speak. These speeches always had one pattern. First the speaker would challenge England to a fight and berate the King and say that he was a skunk. This was known as twisting the lion's tail.

Then the next theme was that any one could find freedom and liberty on our shores. The speaker would invite those who were heavy laden in other lands to come to us and find peace. The speeches were pretty fiery and by that time the men who drank got into fights and called each other Englishmen.

In the afternoon we had what we called the 'plug uglies' -- funny floats and clowns who took off on the political subjects of the day. There would be some music and then the families would start gathering together to go home. There were cows waiting to be milked and the stock to be fed and so there was no night life.

The Fourth was the day of the year that really counted then. Christmas wasn't much; a Church tree or something, but no one twisted the lion's tail.

Source: Life History of Miss Nettie Spencer, Portland, Oregon


Fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers of many Americans of the 1870s had fought in the American Revolution and the War of 1812. This community's formal "twisting of the lion's tail" each year honored the sacrifices made for independence and took pride in winning a hard fight.

(Right: UK coat of arms, 1837-present. Image from Wikipedia)

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.