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.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Christmas Festivities Reported, 1875

Holiday happenings in Garrettsburg, Pleasant Grove, Bennettstown, and Montgomery


On January 15, 1875, the Kentucky New Era of Hopkinsville, KY, published a "Garrettsburg Letter" on its front page. The letter was written by a correspondent from Garrettsburg who signed himself simply as "P." It was dated 136 years ago, today -- January 9, 1875. The following is an excerpt:

The Christmas Holidays in our city passed off tolerably pleasant and without any serious accidents which is to be wondered at considering the amount of spirits floating around loose and the number of pugnacious young gentlemen upon their muscle.

The quality and not the quantity of our whisky is to blame, for you take a drink of it upon the first dawning of Christmas day, and the effects thereof depart not, until the close of the day upon which the dying year tells its last tale. This must be so, for I saw a young man on Thursday evening who told me he had not tasted a drop of the "Creetar" since Friday morning, and lo! he was then three sheets in the wind. One more drink of the same sort, taken straight, will carry him to harvest time.

But Christmas is gone and "Our Boys" have quit their frolicsome ways, washed the dirt from their faces, bathed their swollen eyes, and with healing plaster sticking all over their battered noses, have gone to work in earnest swearing they "will never get drunk any more." Until next Christmas.


Source: January 15, 1875, Kentucky New Era, page 1.

Garrettsburg was a hamlet in southern Christian County, about halfway between present-day Oak Grove and Lafayette.

I wonder if the whiskey at Garrettsburg was bought by the bottle or made by the jug. In plainer words, was it legal whiskey or was it locally-produced moonshine? The Federal government imposed a national excise tax on whiskey in 1862, but small-scale Kentucky distillers widely ignored it.

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The Kentucky New Era's front page also includes a "Pleasant Grove Letter" from correspondent "Hiram". He described a wild Christmas celebration in that community.

Christmas came along about the 25th of December, bringing with it the usual supply of fire crackers, egg-nog &c, and went -- well, we were not in a condition much of the time to tell exactly how it did go. We know this much, that the night air was made hideous by the neighing of studs, peals of laughter, and the endless pop, pop of guns. All Pondriverans know how to shoot a gun accurately. In fact, the man who lives 'mid these hills and does not own a yellow dog and a gun is hardly respectable.

Source: January 15, 1875, Kentucky New Era, page 1.

Based on Hiram's comment about "Pondriverans", I looked for Pleasant Grove along the various forks of the Pond River of northern Christian and adjacent counties, but I wasn't able to locate it. I did find a Pleasant Grove Road in Christian County southwest of Crofton, but it's a significant distance from there to any fork of the Pond River. I may be seeking a clue where none exists -- perhaps when Hiram wrote about the "endless pop, pop of guns", it reminded him that Pond River folk were good shots, so he wrote that too.

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Bennettstown was a small village, just a few miles northeast of present-day Lafayette in Christian County, KY. If holiday festivities in that community were rowdy, it was not reported by correspondent "Tacitus" who wrote the "Bennettstown Letter".

Christmas has come and gone with about its usual festivities. We had a great many parties, which were attended by the many beaux and belles of our city and vicinity, and if you have any doubts Mr. Editor, of the asserition in my last letter, "that we could beat the world for pretty girls," just by way of variety drop in some time when you are in our section at Capt. Cooper's or Squire McKenzie's or any where else around (we mean upon business) and see if we are not correct.

Source: January 15, 1875, Kentucky New Era, page 2.

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Montgomery was located in Trigg County, just west of the present-day intersection of Highway 68/80 and Interstate 24. Correspondent "Jim Jay" described an orderly Christmas celebration in his "Montgomery Items".

We of this little town ushered in the Christmas holidays on Christmas eve by a nice Christmas tree... [unreadable]... with all kinds of fruit in the dry goods and notion line; on which occasion your humble correspondent was remembered by a liberal supply of gifts. In connection therewith we had a concert which is something new in this village. All were pleased, feeling that Montgomery can do what she undertakes and that well. We propose to get up a "Thespian society" and "Minstrel performance" to give monthly entertainments.

Source: January 15, 1875, Kentucky New Era, page 2.

A regularly-performing theater group sounds like a great way to keep the guys busy, out of trouble, and away from the whisky and guns!

Moonshine still at the McCreary County Museum
in Stearns, Kentucky.
I have taken the liberty of breaking a long single paragraph in the "Garrettsburg Letter" into three shorter paragraphs.

Photo credits: Moonshine still by Brian Stansberry (Own work). CC-BY-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
19th-century whisky bottle by National Park Service.

2 comments:

RunAwayImagination said...

From the autobiography of my great-great-great-great-great grandfather Reuben Philips (1795-1877): Also about the first of July an application was made to my father for me to teach another school some 18 miles from home in the neighbourhood of Newfound Creek, on the west side of French Broad River. I commenced this school on the 14th day of July 1814. I taught one Session of six months and closed up at Christmas. At the Examination we had a treat given by the principle employers, and my school was full to overflowing, some 40 scholars. And on that day there were a great number of persons in attendance. There was Sweetened Brandy and Cakes, and pies in abundance. Some of my Small Students became intoxicated. From this time I resolved never to allow any spirits at an examination over which I had any control.

Genevieve said...

Oh my goodness. Well, at least your grandfather had some common sense, even if the parents lacked it.

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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.